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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Mackenzies of Seaforth


THE clan Mackenzie, of which the Earls of Seaforth were the chiefs, has been conspicuous in Scottish history from the days of King Robert Bruce down to the present century. As is usually the case with Highland families, there is a difference of opinion respecting their origin. According to one account, the Seaforth family are descended from a younger son of COLIN OF THE AIRD, progenitor of the powerful Earls of Ross, and their designation was derived from KENNETH, the grandson of their founder, who received from David II. a charter of the lands of Kintail in 1362. This view of the origin of the Mackenzies is corroborated, and, Mr. Skene says, completely set at rest by a manuscript of date 1450—the oldest Gaelic genealogical account on record—which states that the Mackenzies are descended from a certain Gilleon Og, or Colin the Younger, a son of Gilleon na h’Airde, the ancestor of the Rosses, and consequently must always have formed an integral part of the ancient and powerful native Gaelic tribe of Ross. The Mackenzies held their lands of the Earls of Ross until the forfeiture of those potent and turbulent chiefs. [See Mr. Skene’s Highlands of Scotland, pp. 223-5, and Celtic Magazine, iii. pp.41-9.] On the other hand, an old and cherished, though erroneous, tradition represents them as having derived their origin from Colin Fitzgerald, a cadet of the great house of Geraldine in Ireland, who, having been driven from his native country, took refuge in Scotland, and, as a reward for his valour at the battle of Largs, received from Alexander a grant of the barony of Kintail. [In confirmation of this statement, a charter has been produced, professing to be dated at Kincardine, on the 9th of January in the sixteenth year of the reign of Alexander Ill. But Mr. Skene declares that ‘it bears the most palpable marks of having been a forgery of later date and one by no means happy in the execution.’ He is supported in this opinion by Mr. Cosmo Innes. See Origines Parochiales, ii. pp. 392-3.] He was also appointed governor of the royal fortress of Ellandonan. According to a legend handed down from early times, an important service rendered to Alexander III. by Kenneth, son of this Colin, greatly advanced if it did not lay the foundation of his fortunes. That monarch, it is said, on one occasion held a royal hunting-match in the Forest of Mar. It was at the season when the deer are fiercest, and the King, accidentally separated from his attendants, was exposed to imminent peril by a stag which assailed him, when young Kenneth hastened to the rescue of the King, exclaiming ‘Cudich an Righ! Cudich an Righ!’ and sprang between Alexander and the deer, with his naked sword in his hand, and severed its head from its body at one stroke. The brave youth was immediately attached to the royal service and liberally rewarded with grants of land. The Caberfae (the deer’s head) was taken as his crest, and Cudich an Righ became his motto and that of his descendants. [It is quite possible that the tradition respecting the service which the ancestor of the Mackenzies rendered to the King may be substantially correct, though he was certainly the son of Colin of the Aird and not of Colin Fitzgerald.]

Kenneth’s maternal grandfather, it is said, was a powerful native chief, designated Coinneach Grumach — Kenneth the Gloomy or Grim—who had an only daughter, a lady of great beauty. According to the traditions referred to above, she was courted by Colin Fitzgerald, but Coinneach Grumach refused to bestow the hand of his daughter on her Irish suitor, intending to marry her to a member of his own clan — the Mathesons — in fulfilment of a vow which he had made. The gallant Irishman, however, as frequently happens still, succeeded in gaining the lady’s affections and in persuading her to elope with him. The clan disliked the alliance as much as did their chief, and they attempted to carry off by force the eldest son of the heiress from Ellandonan that he might be brought up under his grandfather’s roof. In the struggle that ensued the infant was killed, but the second son, who was named after the old chief—Coinneach, or Kenneth—was given up, as the heir-apparent, to his grandfather’s management According to the traditions of the clan, Coinneach Grumach was subsequently assassinated through a perfidious plot of the chief of Glengarry, with whom he was at feud, and his family, with the greater part of the clan, were cut off at the same time, having been murdered by the Macdonalds, in cold blood, in their beds. Young Kenneth alone escaped through the affection and fidelity of his nurse. The quarrel contrived to be fastened on Coinneach Grumach, in consequence of which his tribe was massacred, was whether a certain dish presented at a solemn banquet was goat’s flesh or lamb’s flesh. ‘One might imagine,’ it has been said, ‘the whole story fabulous or a stroke of satire upon clan feuds, did we not know that when the world was five hundred years older a Highland chief lost his life in a dispute about the proper mode of carving a duck.’

Young Kenneth, thus saved from the exterminating vengeance of the Macdonalds, became the ancestor of the house of Seaforth and the founder of Brahan Castle, the family seat of the Mackenzies, by whom it was regarded with such reverence that the heads of the different branches of the clan at one time forcibly interfered to prevent the Earl of Seaforth from pulling down the roof-tree of Kenneth I.

Whatever may have been Kenneth’s descent, there can be no doubt that he was a powerful and popular chief, and held the castle of Ellandonan against his ‘overlord,’ William, third Earl of Ross, who endeavoured to carry it by storm, but was defeated with great slaughter. The Mackenzies embraced the patriotic side in the War of Independence, and Kenneth’s son JOHN is said to have sheltered Robert Bruce after his defeat by Macdougall of Lorne, at Dalreigh, near Tyndrum. There is good reason to believe that the fierce enmity which afterwards existed between the Mackenzies and the Earls of Ross, who, like other powerful chiefs of Argyllshire and the Western Isles, were the determined foes of Bruce, originated in the part which the former took in the struggle for the independence of Scotland; and as a reward for their loyalty the house of Kintail received liberal grants of the forfeited possessions of their feudal superiors, and ultimately absorbed the ancient inheritance of all the original possessors of the district. The Mackenzies, by warlike feats or strokes of policy, and by fortunate marriages, became numerous and powerful. Strathconan, Strathbran, Strathgarve, and Strathpeffer, which had belonged to the Earl of Ross, the sunny braes of Eastern Ross, the fertile church lands of Chanonry, the barony of Pluscarden, in the fertile low country of Moray, and even the distant and extensive island of Lewis (originally the property of the Macleods) were added to the Caberfae possessions. It is stated by a contemporary writer that about the beginning of the seventeenth century ‘all the Highlands and Isles, from Ardnamurchan to Strathnairn, in Sutherland, were either the Mackenzies’ property or under their vassalage, some few excepted.’ It is a curious circumstance that the first six chiefs of Kintail had each only one lawful son to succeed the father. They seem all to have borne distinctive sobriquets from some personal peculiarity or incident in their history. One was named ‘Kenneth of the Nose,’ in consequence of the great size of his nasal organ. Another was called ‘Black Murdoch,’ from his complexion. ‘Murdoch of. the Bridge’ was so designated from the circumstance that ‘his mother, being with child of him, had been saved after a fearful fall from Conon Bridge into the water of Conon.’ ‘Alastair lonraic,’ ‘Alexander the Upright,’ was so called ‘for his righteousness‘—an uncommon quality among the Highland chiefs in those days. ‘Coinneach a Bhlair,’ that is, ‘Kenneth of the Battle,’ obtained his cognomen from the distinguished part he took in the sanguinary battle of Blair-na-Pare with the Macdonalds in 1491. ‘Coinneach na Cuirc,’ or ‘Kenneth of the Whittle,’ was so called from his skill in carving on wood.

Like the other Highland septs, the Mackenzies were involved in constant feuds with their neighbours, and they fought many bloody battles for supremacy in Ross with the Macdonalds of the Isles, the Macleods, the Munros, and the Macdonnells of Glengarry, in which they were generally victorious. They succeeded at last in driving the Macdonalds, who were once all-powerful there, completely out of Ross-shire, and became, next to the Campbells, the most powerful clan in the West Highlands. Though they frequently bearded the sovereign himself when he attempted to bring the Highland tribes under subjection to law and order, they were ever ready to take the field at his call against ‘our auld enemies of England.’ They fought under the national banner at Bannockburn, Otterburn, Flodden, and Pinkie. CAILEAN CAM, or ONE-EYED COLIN, the eleventh Chief of Kintail, supported the cause of Queen Mary, and took part in the battle of Langside, which ruined her interests in Scotland. He obtained a remission for this offence from Regent Moray, and was afterwards made a Privy Councillor by James VI. His eldest son, KENNETH, twelfth chief, was created a peer, in 1609, by the title of Lord Mackenzie of Kintail. An earldom was conferred upon his elder son COLIN, second Baron Mackenzie, by King James in 1623. On Colin’s death in 1633, without male issue, his titles and estates devolved upon his half brother, GEORGE, second Earl of Seaforth—a nobleman fickle and changeable in his views and unstable in his character and conduct. He was at first opposed to the unconstitutional and high-handed attempt of Charles I. to force a new liturgy upon Scotland, and in 1639 took the command of a large body of Covenanters assembled north of the Spey. He soon, however, became lukewarm in the cause, and in 1640 was imprisoned as a suspected royalist. In the following year he joined Montrose, who had now seceded from the Covenanting party, and accompanied him to Elgin with the avowed object of supporting the King, to whom he took an oath of allegiance. Shortly after he again joined the ranks of the Covenanters, and excused himself in a letter to the Committee of Estates by alleging that he had gone over to the royalists through fear of Montrose, but declaring that he would abide by ‘the good cause to his death.’ Seaforth took the field against the royalist commander at the head of five thousand horse and foot, and was present at the battle of Auldearn, where the Covenanting forces were defeated. He is said to have had an interview with Montrose after the battle, and to have agreed to join him in supporting the royal cause against the Parliament. Nothing, however, came of this agreement, for Montrose, having soon after been ordered by the King to lay down his arms, left the kingdom, and Seaforth was excommunicated by the General Assembly for holding intercourse with an ‘excommunicated traitor,’ as Montrose was termed, and was threatened with forfeiture by the Parliament He was kept in prison for two years, and was with much difficulty released from the sentence of excommunication. After the execution of the King, in 1649, the Earl repaired to Charles II. in Holland, and was nominated by him Principal Secretary of State for Scotland. ‘He died in banishment,’ says the Earl of Cromarty, ‘before he sawe ane end of his King’s and his country’s calamities or of his own injuries.’ His vacillating and time-serving career came to an end in 1651. He died at Schiedam, in Holland, in the forty-third year of his age, and was succeeded by his eldest son—

KENNETH, third Earl of Seaforth, who, for his lofty stature, was known among the Highlanders as Coinneach Mor. Like his father, he devoted himself to the service of Charles II. during his exile. After the battle of Worcester, in 1651, he was kept a close prisoner till the Restoration. He was excepted from Cromwell’s Act of Grace and Pardon in 1654, and his estates were forfeited without any provision being allowed from them for his wife and children. After he regained his liberty, he received a commission of the Sheriffship of Ross, 23rd of April, 1662. He died in December, 1678, and was succeeded by his eldest son—

KENNETH, fourth Earl of Seaforth. The sufferings which his father had undergone in the cause of the Stewarts did not prevent him from perilling life and fortune at the Revolution of 1688 on behalf of the expelled monarch, for whose cause he suffered repeated imprisonment and, ultimately, died in exile. King James created him Marquis of Seaforth, a title which was, of course, not recognised by the British Government. His elder son—

WILLIAM, fifth Earl, known among the Highlanders as ‘William Dubh,’ was brought up in France, and imbibed strong Jacobite feelings from his parents. When the Earl of Mar raised his standard at Braemar, in 1715, Seaforth was one of the nobles who repaired to the Jacobite gathering. He lost no time in calling forth his clan, but he was detained for some time in the north by the Earl of Sutherland and the chiefs of the Mackays and Munros, until his followers amounted to three thousand men, when he attacked and dispersed the Whig clans who had hindered his march to the south to join the Earl of Mar. On Seaforth’s arrival at Perth, the incompetent Jacobite leader made up his mind to proceed towards the Lowlands, a movement which led to the battle of Sheriffmuir. The Earl fought at the head of his clan, and four of his kinsmen, who had greatly distinguished themselves in the conflict, were slain. After the Chevalier St. George quitted the country, Seaforth retired to France. He was attainted by Act of Parliament, and his estates forfeited. In 1719, along with the Marquis of Tullibardine and the Earl Marischal, aided by three hundred Spanish soldiers, he made another and final attempt to ‘bring the auld Stewarts back again;’ but he was dangerously wounded in an encounter with the Government troops at the Pass of Strachell, near Glenshiel, in the midst of his own estates, and was compelled to abandon the enterprise. The Highlanders retired during the night to the mountains, carrying their wounded chief along with them, and the Spaniards next morning surrendered themselves prisoners of war. Seaforth was carried on board a vessel which lay off the coast, and, along with Marischal and Tullibardine and the other principal officers, made his escape to the Western Islands, and afterwards found his way to France.

The Earl was attainted by Act of Parliament, and his estates were forfeited; but all the efforts of the Government to penetrate into Kintail or to collect any rent in that remote district were baffled by the tenantry, ‘the wild Macraes,’ the faithful vassals of the house of Seaforth, under whom they had fought in many a bloody conflict from the battle of Bannockburn down to the Jacobite rebellion. The soldiers who were sent on several occasions to take possession of the forfeited estates were encountered and driven back with some loss of life, and the attempt was at length relinquished in despair. The Commissioners of Inquiry reported, in 1725, that they had not sold the estate of William, Earl of Seaforth, ‘not having been able to obtain possession, and, consequently, to give the same to a purchaser.’ The rents of the Seaforth estates in Kintail were, however, duly collected among the devoted clansmen, and, by some means or other, regularly transmitted to their exiled chief in France. The person who managed the Seaforth estates and drew the rents for ten years during the Earl’s absence was Donald Murchison, who had acted as lieutenant-colonel of the regiment which Seaforth led to fight for the Stewarts in 1715. He was the son of the Castellan of Ellandonan, but had been bred a writer in Edinburgh, and had, for a short time, acted as factor to Sir John Preston, of Preston Hall, in Midlothian. He is described in the notes to a poem published in 1737 as ‘a kinsman and servant to the Earl of Seaforth, bred a writer, a man of small stature, but full of spirit and resolution.’ He headed the clansmen who defeated the royal troops at the pass of Aa—na-Mulloch, near the end of Loch Affaric, and compelled the royal commissioner who accompanied them, and whose son was killed in the conflict, to give up his papers, and to promise, under a penalty of five hundred pounds, not to officiate again as factor on the forfeited estates. The tenantry, without hesitation, continued to pay their rents to Donald for the benefit of their exiled and forfeited chief, setting at naught all apprehension of being compelled to pay the money a second time to the Commissioner.

General Wade, writing a report to the King, in 1725, which is published in the Appendix to Burt’s ‘Letters,’ says, ‘The rents continue to be collected by one Donald Murchison, a servant of the late Earl’s, who annually remits or carries the same to his master into France. The tenants, when in a condition, are said to have sent him free gifts in proportion to their several circumstances, but are now a year and a-half in arrear of rent The receipts he gives to the tenants are as deputy-factor to the Commissioners of the forfeited estates, which pretended power he extorted from the factor (appointed by the said Commissioners to collect these rents for the use of the public), whom he attacked with above four hundred armed men, as he was going to enter upon the said estate, having with him a party of thirty of your Majesty’s troops. The last year this Murchison marched in a public manner to Edinburgh to remit eight hundred pounds to France for his master’s use, and remained fourteen days there unmolested.’

Donald visited Edinburgh a second time about the end of August, 1725. Lockhart of Carnwath, writing to the Chevalier St George, mentions, amongst other news, that Murchison had come to Edinburgh on his way to France. They had missed each other; but Lockhart states that he expected to see him in a day or two at his country house, where he would get time to talk fully with him. ‘In the meantime,’ he adds, ‘I know, from one that saw him, that he has taken up and secured all the arms of value in Seaforth’s estate, which he thought better than to trust them to the care and prudence of the several owners; and the other chieftains, I hear, have done the same.’

It is very painful to relate that Seaforth proved unworthy of the devotion which his heroic clansmen had shown to him, and treated Murchison with shameful ingratitude. When the Earl obtained possession of his estates, which Donald had been the means of preserving for him, he discountenanced and neglected him. He had promised Murchison a handsome reward for his services, but, according to the traditional account, he offered him only a small farm called Bundalloch, which pays at this day to the proprietor no more than sixty pounds a year; or another place opposite to Inverinate House, of about the same value. Donald refused these paltry offers and shortly after left Seaforth’s country. His noble spirit pined away under this treatment, and he died in the prime of life, near Conon, of a broken heart. On his deathbed Seaforth went to see him, and asked how he was. ‘Just as you will be in a short time,’ he replied, and then turned his back. They never met again. He was buried in a remote little churchyard on Cononside, in the parish where the late Sir Roderick I. Murchison, the distinguished geologist, great-grandson of John Murchison, Donald’s brother, has erected an appropriate monument to the memory of the devoted clansman. [See Chamber's Domestic Annals of Scotland, iii.pp. 459-71].

Lockhart mentions that after the passing of the Disarming Act of 1725, General Wade was waited on by a body of about fifty gentlemen of the name of Mackenzie, headed by Lord Tarbat, Sir Colin Mackenzie of Coul, and Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Cromarty, who informed the General that the rent of Seaforth’s tenants and vassals had for several years been uplifted by Donald Murchison, and that they were not able to pay them a second time, but if they were discharged of these rents they would pay them in future to his Majesty’s receiver for the use of the public, deliver up their arms, and live peaceably. Wade at once acceded to this request, and informed the deputation that if the clan fulfilled what they had promised, he would use his influence in the next session of Parliament to procure a pardon for their chief and his friends. Accordingly, on the 25th of August, 1725, the General, accompanied by the deputation and a small body of dragoons, proceeded to Castle Brahan, where the clan marched in procession along the great avenue that leads to the mansion, and laid down their arms in the courtyard. But it turned out that all the weapons of any value had been secreted by Donald Murchison, and only the worn-out and worthless arms were given up.

General Wade was as good as his word, and his intercessions on behalf of Seaforth were successful. In July, 1726, the Earl was relieved by George I. from the penal consequences of his attainder so far as he was personally concerned, and George II. made him a grant of the arrears of feu duties due to the Crown out of his forfeited estates. Seaforth died in the island of Lewis in 1740.

KENNETH MACKENZIE, his eldest son, who held the courtesy title of Fortrose, was elected member of Parliament for the burgh of Inverness in 1741, and for Ross-shire in 1747 and again in 1751. The Seaforth estates, including the lands of Kintail and the barony of Islandonaan, were sold by the Crown in 1741, and were purchased on behalf of Lord Fortrose for the sum of 25,909 8s.3d., under the burden of an annuity of 1,000 to the Countess-Dowager of Seaforth. When the Jacobite rebellion broke out in 1745, warned by the sufferings which adherence to the cause of the exiled family had already brought upon his ancestors, he kept aloof from the ill-fated enterprise. As a reward of his loyalty at that critical period, the honours of his house were in part afterwards restored. He died in London, in 1761, and was succeeded by his only son—

KENNETH MACKENZIE, who from his small stature was commonly known among the Highlanders as the ‘Little Lord.’ He entered the army at an early age, and in recompense of his father’s support of the Government during the troubles of 1745 and his own loyalty, he was raised to the peerage in 1766, by the title of Viscount Fortrose and Baron Ardelve, in the kingdom of Ireland, and in 1771 he was created Earl of Seaforth, in the peerage of the same kingdom. In 1771 he raised a regiment of eleven hundred and thirty men from his own clan, being five hundred of that number the tenantry on his own estates, a large portion of whom were Macraes of Kintail. The regiment was designated the 78th or Ross-shire Regiment of Highlanders, and Seaforth himself was appointed their colonel. While they were lying at Leith a mutiny broke out among them on account of the infringement of their engagements, and some pay and bounty which they alleged was due them. They refused to embark for the East Indies, and marching out of Leith with pipes playing, took up a position on Arthur’s Seat, where they remained for several days. After a good deal of negotiation an arrangement was made for the removal of their grievances, and they marched down the hill with pipes playing and the Earls of Seaforth and Dunmore and General Skene at their head. They entered Leith and went on board the transport with the greatest readiness and cheerfulness. The intention of sending them to India was in the meantime abandoned. After spending some time in Guernsey and Jersey, they embarked for that country in June, 1781, but suffered so much from scurvy during the voyage that before they arrived at Madras no fewer than two hundred and forty-seven of them died. Their colonel and chief himself died before they reached St. Helena, to the great grief of his clansmen, who were well aware that it was for their sake alone that he had resolved to sacrifice the comforts of home, and to encounter the privations of a long voyage and the dangers of military service in a tropical climate.

As Lord Fortrose left an only daughter, but no male issue, his titles became extinct. In 1779, finding his property heavily encumbered with debts from which he was unable to extricate himself, he conveyed his estates to his cousin and heir-male, Colonel Thomas F. Mackenzie Humberston, on payment of 100.000. The Colonel was the great-grandson of Kenneth, fourth Earl of Seaforth, and the eldest son of Major Mackenzie by the daughter and heiress of Matthew Humberston, of Lincolnshire, and assumed that name on succeeding to his mother’s estate. He held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the 78th regiment, and succeeded to its command on the death of Seaforth. On his arrival in India he was appointed to a separate command on the Malabar coast, where he greatly distinguished himself, and inflicted a severe defeat on Tippoo Sahib. In 1782 he served under General Mathews against Hyder Ali, and when that officer was superseded for misconduct and incapacity, he accompanied Colonel Macleod, who was appointed to succeed him, when he sailed from Bombay to assume the chief command. On their voyage the sloop Ranger, in which they had embarked, was attacked by a squadron of large ships of war belonging to the Mahrattas. All the officers on board were either killed or wounded, among them the gallant young chief of the Mackenzies, who was shot through the body, and died of the wound at Geriah, a seaport of the Mahrattas, 30th April, in the twenty-eighth year of his age. Dying unmarried, he was succeeded in his estates by his brother—

FRANCIS HUMBERSTON MACKENZIE, twenty-first chief of the Mackenzies, who was created a peer of Great Britain in 1797 by the title of Lord Seaforth and Baron Mackenzie of Kintail. Under this nobleman, who was in many respects a very able and remarkable man, occurred the predicted downfall of this great historical house, which was attended with circumstances as singular as they were painful. ‘The last Baron of Kintail, Francis, Lord Seaforth,’ says Sir Walter Scott, ‘was a nobleman of extraordinary talents, who must have made for himself a lasting reputation had not his political exertions been checked by painful natural infirmities.’ Though a severe attack of scarlet fever when he was in his twelfth year deprived him of hearing, and for a time almost of speech, he was distinguished for his extensive attainments as well as for his great intellectual activity. He took a lively interest in all questions of art and science, and especially in natural history, and displayed both his liberality and his love of art by his munificence to Sir Thomas Lawrence in the early straits and struggles of that great painter, and also by his patronage of other artists. Before his elevation to the peerage, Lord Seaforth represented Ross-shire in Parliament for a good many years, and was afterwards nominated Lord-Lieutenant of that county. During the revolutionary war with France he raised a splendid regiment of Rossshire Highlanders, the second that had been raised among his clan, of which he was appointed lieutenant-colonel, and he ultimately attained the rank of lieutenant-general in the army. He held for six years the office of Governor of Barbadoes, and by his firmness and even-handed justice he succeeded in putting an end to the practice of slave-killing, which was at that time not unfrequent in the island, and was deemed by the planters a venial offence to be punished only by a small fine. He held high office also in Demerara and Berbice.

Lord Seaforth was the happy father of four sons and six daughters, all of high promise, and it seemed as if he were destined to raise the illustrious house of which he was the head to a height of honour and power greater than it had ever yet attained. But the closing years of this accomplished nobleman were darkened by calamities and sufferings of the severest kind. The mismanagement of his estates, combined with his personal extravagance, involved him in inextricable embarrassments. When he exposed to sale the fine estate of Lochalsh his tenants unanimously addressed to him the pointed and significant remonstrance, ‘Reside amongst us and we will pay your debts.’ His lordship’s improvidence, however, rendered this expedient hopeless. A part of the barony of Kintail, the ‘gift-land’ of the house, was next disposed of, a step which the Seaforth clansmen in vain endeavoured to avert by offering to buy in the land for him that it might not pass from the family. In deference to this strong feeling on the part of the clan, the intended sale of the estate was deferred for about two years. The Earl had previous to this time been bereaved of three of his sons, but one—Frederick William, a young man of marked ability and eloquence—still survived, and was the representative in Parliament of his native county. He, too, passed away in 1814, unmarried, like his brothers. The heart-broken father lingered on a few months longer, and died 11th January, 1815, in his sixtieth year; and thus, as Sir Walter Scott expressed it,—

‘Of the line of Fitzgerald remained not a male
To bear the proud name of the chief of Kintail.’

This sad event is thus mentioned by Scott in a letter to his friend Mr. Morritt of Rokeby:-

‘You will have heard of poor Caberfae’s death. What a pity it is he should have outlived his promising young representative! His estate was truly pitiable — all his fine faculties lost in paralytic imbecility, and yet not so entirely lost but that he perceived his deprivation as in a glass darkly. Sometimes he was fretful and anxious because he did not see his son; sometimes he expostulated and complained that his boy had been allowed to die without his seeing him; and sometimes, in a less clouded state of intellect, he was sensible of and lamented his loss in its full extent. These, indeed, are "the fears of the brave and the follies of the wise," which sadden and humiliate the lingering hours of prolonged existence.’

The character of the last Lord Seaforth and the extinction of the male line of his house seem to have greatly interested Sir Walter. In his ‘Lament’ for the last of the Seaforths he says—

‘In vain the bright course of thy talents to wrong,
Fate deadened thine ear and imprisoned thy tongue;
For brighter o’er all her obstructions arose
The glow of thy genius they could not oppose;
And who in the land of the Saxon or Gael
Could match with Mackenzie, high Chief of Kintail?

‘Thy sons rose around thee, in light and in love,
All a father could hope, all a friend could approve;
What avails it the tale of thy sorrows to tell,
In the spring-time of youth and of promise they fell !
Of the line of MacKenneth remains not a male
To bear the proud name of the Chief of Kintail.’

The most remarkable circumstance connected with this sorrowful tale is the undoubted fact that centuries ago a seer of the clan Mackenzie predicted that when there should be a deaf and dumb Caberfae the ‘gift - land’ of their territory (Kintail) should be sold, and the male line become extinct.

This prophecy was well known in the north long before its fulfilment, and was certainly not made after the event. ‘It connected,’ says Lockhart in his ‘Life of Sir Walter Scott,’ the fall of the house of Seaforth not only with the appearance of a deaf Caberfae, but with the contemporaneous appearance of various different physical misfortunes in several of the other great Highland chiefs, all of which are said to have actually occurred within the memory of the generation that has not yet passed away.’ These peculiarities were, that there would at that time be four great lairds, of whom one would be bucktoothed, another hare-lipped, another half-witted, and the fourth a stammerer. It is asserted that contemporaneous with the deaf Caberfae were Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch, who was the buck-toothed laird, Chisholm of Chisholm the hare-lipped, Grant of Grant the halfwitted, and Macleod of Raasay the stammerer.

The story was firmly believed not only by Scott, but by Sir Humphrey Davy also, who mentions it in one of his journals, and by Mr. Morritt, who testifies that he heard the prophecy quoted in the Highlands at a time when Lord Seaforth had two sons alive and in good health. The late venerable Duncan Davidson, Esq., of Tulloch, Lord-Lieutenant of Ross-shire, in a letter to Mr. Alexander Mackenzie, author of the ‘History of the Mackenzies,’ of date May 21st, 1878, states ‘that he heard of these prophecies upwards of seventy years ago, when two of Lord Seaforth’s sons were still alive, and there appeared to be no probability that he would survive them.’

On the death of Lord Seaforth his titles became extinct. The chiefship of the clan passed to Mackenzie of Allengrange, but the remaining estates of the family, with all their burdens and responsibilities, devolved upon Lord Seaforth’s eldest daughter, MARY ELIZABETH FREDERICA MACKENZIE, born in 1783, widow of Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. She took for her second husband (21st May, 1817) the Hon. James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, a cadet of the Galloway family. Sir Walter Scott, who held Lady Hood in high esteem, expressed his sympathy for her on the loss of her husband, father, and brothers in the well-known lines—

‘And thou, gentle dame, who must bear to thy grief
For thy clan and thy country the cares of a chief,
Whom brief rolling moons in six changes have left
Of thy husband, and father, and brethren bereft;
To thine ear of affection how sad is the hail
That salutes thee the heir of the line of Kintail!’

Sir Walter, in his letter to Mr. Morritt on the death of Lord Sea-forth, says, ‘Our friend, Lady Hood, will now be Caberfae herself. She has the spirit of a chieftainess in every drop of her blood, but there are few situations in which the cleverest women are so apt to be imposed upon as in the management of landed property, especially of a Highland estate. I do fear the fulfilment of the prophecy, that when there should be a deaf Caberfae the house was to fall.' Scott’s forebodings proved only too well-founded. One section after another of the estates had to be sold. The remaining portion of Kintail, the fairest portion of Glenshiel, the church lands of Chanonry, the barony of Pluscarden, and the island of Lewis—a principality in itself—passed in succession into other hands. The late non-resident owner, who was under trustees, attempted, in 1878, to dispose of the remnant of the patrimony of the house of Seaforth, which, according to the Doomsday Book, comprises 8,051 acres, yielding a rental of 7,905, but was prevented by the interposition of his two daughters—one the widow of the Hon. Colonel John S. Stanley, the other the dowager Marchioness of Tweeddale. He succeeded, however, in bringing to the hammer the family portraits and other precious heirlooms.

The Hon. J. A. Stewart Mackenzie—who was held in great esteem by the clan, and, indeed, by the whole county—represented Ross-shire in Parliament for several years, and was afterwards successively Governor of Ceylon and Lord High Commissioner to the Ionian Islands. The accomplished Lady Ashburton was his sister. He died on the 24th of September, 1843. His widow, the chieftainess, survived till the 28th of November, 1862. Of their son and successor there is nothing creditable to be recorded. The remnant of the Seaforth estate is now in the possession of his only son, an officer in the army.


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