CESSION OF ISLES BY NORWAY
TO SCOTLAND—THE LORDSHIP OF THE ISLES—INTERNAL WARS BEFORE 1266— EXTERNAL
WARS IN 13th, 14th, 15th, AND 16th CENTURIES—INTERNAL WARS IN 15th AND
16th CENTURIES—CONDITION OF THE COUNTRY—WARS ON BEHALF OF THE STUART
Up to 1266, while the Norse
Kings still ruled in Man and the Isles, the Islands were the scene of much
internal warfare. In 1158, Somerled reduced the Kingdom of Man to the
verge of ruin. In 1230 (says the Saga of King Haakon) there was great
"unrest in the Syderies," due to the efforts of Olaf the Black to regain
his rightful inheritance. In the same Saga we are told that in the summer
of 1262, Haakon received a letter from the King of Man. This informed him
that the Scots had invaded Skye, burnt houses and churches there, killed
men and women, and spitted little children on their spears. It was this
letter which caused Haakon to decide on his own invasion of Scotland,
which took place in 1263.
After the fall of the Norse
Kingdom, the Western Clans were constantly at war, but it was no longer
internal warfare, it was external warfare waged in parts of Scotland far
removed from the Western Isles. This was certainly the case at the end of
the thirteenth century.
We are apt to imagine that
Robert Bruce won the Crown at Bannockburn, and we forget that during many
years he was engaged in a desperate struggle, in the course of which
scores of battles and skirmishes were fought with varying success. It is
more than probable that men from the Hebrides were engaged in all of
these; it is certain that many of them had their share in the crowning
victory of Bannockburn. John Major, a 16th century writer, says "That
great-souled King, Robert Bruce, gives this counsel in his last will and
testament, that the Kings should never part themselves from these Islands,
inasmuch as they could thence have cattle in plenty, and stout warriors."
These words shew how warmly the King appreciated the help which the
Islanders had given.
The history of Scotland during the remainder of the fourteenth century is
one long record of desperate battles. Dup-plin, Halidon Hill, Neville's
Cross are only three out of the many that might be named.
At this time each of the Island Chiefs was a
vassal of one or other of the four mesne Lords amongst whom the Western
Isles were then divided. All of these Barons were taking part in the wars
to which I have referred. It is certain that, when they were themselves
engaged in warfare, they summoned their vassals to join the array of their
Baronies, and fight under their banners, and, I think, it is no less
certain that, since they possessed ample power to enforce their commands,
their orders were obeyed. It is true that the old chroniclers never
mention the names of particular clans which were engaged in the battles
they describe, probably because they regarded even the most powerful clans
as no more than units in the array of their superior Lord.
As time went on, by a remarkable series of
accidents, the four Baronies which Alexander III. had created were united
into one, and the Islay Chief became Lord of the Isles. After the triumph
of Robert Bruce, John de Ergadia, who had been one of the bitterest
enemies of the King, was forfeited, and his estates were divided between
Angus of Islay and Allan Mac-Ruari. A little later the latter was killed
in a quarrel with the Earl of Ross. He left no male heir, his sister Amy
became his heiress, and brought all her estates to her husband, the "good
Lord John of Islay." It was then that the latter assumed the proud title
of Dominus Insularum, and became the first Lord of the Isles.
In his son's time some of the clans, notably
the MacLeods, refused to acknowledge the authority of the Island Lord, and
between 1390 and 1400 some desperate fighting took place between him and
these recalcitrant clans, but, by the beginning of the 15th century, by
persuasion or force, all the Island Chiefs had been brought to accept him
as their superior Lord, and he was practically an independent sovereign
for nearly a hundred years. Although some of the clans had unwillingly
acknowledged the Island Lord as their superior, as time went on the
successive Lords of the Isles earned the whole-hearted affection and
devotion of their vassals, and probably the period during which they ruled
over the Islands was a golden age in West Highland history.
The relations between the Island Lords and the
Chiefs should be studied. Each of them, though he acknowledged the Island
Lord as his superior, and followed him in his wars, remained the absolute
ruler of all the people who lived in his own country. The Island Lordship
was a confederacy, made up of a number of semi-independent clans, under a
head who never acted without the advice of his Council. This Council
consisted of seventeen Chiefs, who met at first in Islay, afterwards in
Eigg, to settle such great questions as peace and war, and to deal with
all matters, external and internal, in which the interests of the Lordship
as a whole were involved.
It is possible that the Lordship of the Isles
at different times may have included a larger or a smaller number of
clans, and, when its Lord was also Earl of Ross, the mainland Chiefs in
that Earldom owed him obedience, but seventeen was the number of Chiefs
who in 1545 entered into negotiations with Henry VIII., and swore
allegiance to him. These are named in a State paper published by Tytler,
and given in Gregory's history, page 170. Besides Donald Dubh, who claimed
to be Lord of the Isles, were Hector Maclean of Doward. Murdoch MacLean of
Loch Buy. Allan MacLean of Torlusk John MacLean of Coll. John MacLean of
Ardgour. Donald MacLean of Kengarloch. John MacQuarrie of Ulva. John
MacAllaster, Captain of Clan Ranald. Angus MacDonald, brother german of
James Macdonald. Archibald MacDonald of Sleat. Alexander MacIan of
Ardnamurchan. Angus Ranaldson of Knoydert. Alexander Ranaldson MacDonald
of Glengarry. Rorie MacLeod of Lewis. Alexander MacLeod of Dunvegan.
Gilleganan MacNeill of Barray. Ewin MacKinnon of Straguordell.
The MacQuarries followed
the MacLeans. I have therefore placed them in the column in which MacLean
Chiefs are mentioned. The MacIans were a branch of the MacDonalds.
This list enables us to form an idea of the
territory included in the Lordship of the Isles. All the Western Islands
belonged to the Lordship, and some territory on the mainland, namely,
Garmoran, which included Moydart, Arisaig, Morar, and Knoydart, Ardgour,
Ardnamurchan, Glenelg, Assynt, and Gairloch, which belonged to the
MacLeods. Though Glengarry's country lies inland, he was a descendant of
Somerled, and belonged to the great Clan Donald, so he acted with the
formation of this powerful confederacy is the most important event in the
history of the Western Clans, and distinguishes them from those on the
mainland. The latter were joined together in such unions as that which
formed the Clan Chattan, but none of these equalled in power the Lordship
of the Isles, neither were they so firmly united as were the Western
Early in the
fifteenth century the Lord of the Isles obtained a great accession of
power. A little earlier, the O'Beolans, Earls of Ross, had become extinct
in the male line. Mary Leslie, the grand-daughter of the last Earl, had
become the heiress, and eventually her son Alexander, the Lord of the
Isles, became Earl of Ross. The Regent was most unwilling to see this
great earldom united to the Lordship of the Isles, realising that the
possession of such vast power by one man would be a source of great danger
to the kingdom at large. For this reason he resisted the claims of the
Island Lord by all the means in his power, and the result was the Battle
of Harlaw, which was fought in 1411. The Lord of the Isles after the
battle became the de facto possessor of the Earldom, and in 1425 his claim
was acknowledged by James I.
As time passed the Regent's fears were
abundantly justified. These great feudatories of the Crown were filled
with a new ambition ; they sought to make themselves absolutely
independent, and to become monarchs themselves, owing obedience to no man.
To attain this object, again and again they rose in rebellion against the
King, and the consequence was that, during the whole of this troubled
period, the Western clans were engaged in external warfare, just as they
had been in earlier days.
In all these battles, at Bannockburn, Harlaw,
Inverness, Inverlochy, and many other places, the Islanders were not
opposed to rival clans armed, equipped & trained like themselves, but to
armies, largely composed of cavalry, in which the knights, the
men-at-arms, and the horses were protected by armour, which was well-nigh
impenetrable by their missiles. As an old writer puts it, they had to
attack a mobile wall of living steel.
We are told how they did it at Harlaw. They
charged the wall of steel with splendid courage. Many were cut down, but
the survivors fought their way into the very midst of the hostile army,
ham-strung the horses with their dirks, grappled with the fallen riders as
they struggled on the ground, sought out the joints in their harness, and
through these they drove their daggers home, showing themselves to be a
match even for the magnificent chivalry of Scotland. At Harlaw they lost
900 men, but, when night put a stop to the carnage, among them lay, dead
and cold, 500 of Mar's mail-clad knights and men-at-arms.
Another important matter remains to be noted.
When a mediaeval Baron was constantly at war, his first thought was to
maintain the fighting strength of his Barony at the highest possible
level. Nothing would tend to diminish this more than dissentions among his
vassals, and therefore he would exert himself to the utmost to prevent
them from fighting with each other, or from entering into feuds with their
probable that the four Barons did this in early days; it is certain that
the Lord of the Isles did so at a later period. He employed two methods:
he mediated between any of the Chiefs who were quarrelling with each
other, using all his authority to prevent a war from breaking out; and
when he did not himself require their services in his own wars, in order
to keep the turbulent spirits over whom he ruled occupied, he organised a
series of raids on the Orkneys. These began in 1418, and were the subjects
of bitter complaints from the Earls of those islands. The most important
of them took place in 1460, when MacLeod of Dunvegan, "and the young
gentlemen of the Isles " went on such an expedition.
Consequently I believe that, while the Island
chiefs were under the control of feudal superiors who were really able to
exercise full authority over them—that is, roughly speaking, between the
years 1275 and 1475—though the clans were frequently engaged in external
warfare, the Western Isles were enjoying peace and quiet.
I only know of two occasions on which the
tranquility of the Islands was seriously disturbed during the fourteenth
century. About 1320 the MacLeods were at war with the Frasers, and between
1390 and 1400 the Lord of the Isles was consolidating his confederacy, and
severe fighting took place between him and the Dunvegan Chief, who had
refused to acknowledge him as his superior Lord. In 1431 the Royal forces
invaded Skye and occupied Sleat, but I am under the impression that during
the first three-quarters of the fifteenth century there were no serious
clan feuds. There may have been some minor disturbances; indeed, the
records of a few have come down to us, but the authority exercised by the
Lord of the Isles and his Council was powerful enough to prevent any
serious outbreaks from taking place. Scott, in his "Tales of a
Grandfather," draws an appalling picture of the conditions of anarchy and
misery in which most of the kingdom was then plunged, and, strange as it
seems to us with our preconceived ideas as to unceasing warfare in the
Highlands, I think that probably the Western Isles were in a more peaceful
and prosperous state at this period than any other district in the realm.
But this state of affairs was not destined to
last. About 1475, the Island Lordship was rent in twain. The intrigues in
which John, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, had been engaged with
Edward of England a few years earlier, came to the knowledge of the
Scottish Government. The Earl was pronounced a traitor, and his estates
were forfeited. He submitted to the King, he was pardoned, and he was
restored to the Island Lordship, but was forced to surrender the Earldom
submission his son and heir, Angus, was furious, and rose in rebellion
against his father. Some of the clans supported the old Lord ; some,
specially the different branches of the great Clan Donald, took sides with
his son. After many less important battles between the rival clans, about
1480—the exact date is uncertain—a great naval battle was fought in a bay
on the north coast of Mull, since known as the Bloody Bay, in which all
the West Highland clans were engaged on one side or the other. In this
battle the old Lord of the Isles was defeated and taken prisoner. Angus,
the old Lord's victorious son, hastened to take vengeance on all those who
had supported his father. He, however, was assassinated by an Irish harper
some time before 1490. The old Lord of the Isles then recovered his
estates, but gave over his authority to his nephew, Sir Alexander of
Lochalsh, who rose in rebellion, and endeavoured to regain the Earldom of
Ross. This led to the final forfeiture of the Island Lordship in 1493. The
old Lord then retired into the Monastery of Paisley, where he died in
Lordship of the Isles at this time ceased to exist; but it was the one
all-absorbing desire of the Island Chiefs to see it restored in the person
of Donald Dubh, the son of Angus Oig. He was at the time of the forfeiture
a prisoner in the hands of the Government, but their loyalty to him was no
less remarkable than that which their successors displayed towards the
Royal House of Stuart, and during the fifty years which followed the
forfeiture they rose in rebellion four times against the King, hoping that
by doing so they would bring about the restoration of the Island Lordship.
This, however, was the one thing the King was determined to prevent; all
the risings were suppressed, and after the Lords of the Isles became
extinct in the direct line, no further efforts were made to restore the
Meanwhile a new and terrible era had begun in the history of the Isles. In
the civil war between John, Lord of the Isles, and his son, great injuries
and wrongs had been inflicted and endured; the Chiefs were full of angry
passions against each other; there was no Lord of the Isles to mediate
between them, and the dreadful period, during which the clan feuds were
raging, began, and lasted during the next 120 years.
It would be impossible to make a complete list
of these feuds, but the following record will give some idea of what the
state of affairs in the Islands was. Concerning all of these feuds, except
three, there is authentic documentary evidence. Those three depend on
tradition, and I have marked them with an asterisk:—
* About 1480.—Clan Ranald attacked the
MacLeods in Skye.
* About 1483.—The MacDonalds invaded and conquered Trotternish.
In 1501.—The MacLeans and the Camerons were at war.
1501-1506.—Donald Dubh's insurrection was going on.
1513-1519.—Sir Donald of Loch Alsh was in rebellion.
1528.—War broke out between the MacLeods of Dunvegan and the MacDonalds of
1529.—The Macdonalds and MacLeans attacked the Campbells.
1539.—The MacDonalds of Sleat and the Mackenzies of Kintail were at mortal
1539.—The MacDonalds of Islay and the MacLeans of Dowart commenced a long
1544.—The Frasers and Clan Ranald fought the Battle of Kinloch Lochy.
1545.—Donald Dubh's rebellion took place.
1561.—MacLean of Dowart was in arms against MacLean of Coll.
1561-1564.—For a long time the lands of Rinns, in Islay, had been in
dispute between the MacLeans of Dowart and the MacDonalds of Islay. There
had been fighting between them in 1539. This was now renewed.
1569.—Mackintosh and Keppoch were at war.
1581.—Glengarry and Kintail fell out.
* 1581.—A frightful feud, which lasted a long time, was raging between the
MacLeods of Dunvegan and Clan Ranald. 1585.—War between the Camerons and
the Mackintoshes was raging.
1585.—The feud between the MacLeans and MacDonalds of Islay broke out
afresh, and, as the MacLeods and the Camerons joined the former, and the
MacDonalds of Sleat the latter, this was, perhaps, the most terrible feud
1588.—The MacLeans attacked the MacIans.
1595.—About this time MacLeod of Dunvegan invaded Coigeach and Loch Broom,
estates belonging to Kintail.
1598.—The MacAllasters and the MacDonalds were at variance.
1599.—The MacDonalds of Sleat and the MacLeods of Dunvegan were engaged
for a long time in a war, which reduced both clans to the verge of ruin.
Besides these wars between rival clans, in
individual communities there were several cases of disputed succession,
which caused civil wars to take place. In one of these the Chief of the
Camerons was murdered; in another Ian Dubh, a monster of inquity,
committed a succession of murders in order to make himself Chief at
Dunvegan. But the worst of all occurred in Lewis, where anarchy reigned
for something like 40 years, and unheard-of atrocities were committed.
These wars were prosecuted with relentless
ferocity, and the slaughter on the field of battle was tremendous. It will
suffice to describe three battles, the records of which have come down to
Donald Gruamach of Sleat, and Allan of Moydart, the Clan Ranald Chief,
invaded the MacLeod country in Skye. They landed at Loch Eynort, ravaged
Minginish, Bracadale, and Duirinish up to the very gates of Dunvegan, and
swept on into Glendale. Alasdair Crottach, the Chief of the MacLeods, was
in Harris when the invasion took place, but, as soon as he heard the news,
he hastened to the scene of action, and called his clan together to meet
the foe. He was joined by MacLeod of Lewis, so four of the most powerful
clans in the Islands were engaged in this strife.
Macleod occupied an impregnable position
facing the MacDonalds, and lay there for ten days till his last
reinforcements had come up. Then he attacked the enemy. A tremendous
struggle ensued, and things went badly for the MacLeods, hundreds of them
were killed, and irretrievable disaster seemed imminent. The Chief's
mother was present, and she ordered the fairy flag [According to tradition
this flag had been given to MacLeod by the fairies in the fourteenth
century with the promise that on three occasions, the waving of it would
bring supernatural power to save the clan in times of great peril. It is
still preserved at Dunvegan. Full details concerning the flag are given in
the " MacLeods of Dunvegan." The battles of Glendale and Trompan are also
described in this work.] to be displayed. The sight of the wizard banner
of their clan gave the MacLeods fresh spirit; they renewed the combat with
intense fury, and both sides suffered great losses. Allan of Moydart broke
the MacLeod line, cutting off the Chief and the band of survivors who
guarded the magic flag from the rest of the clan. But, at this moment,
Donald Gruamach was killed by Murdo MacCaskill. The head of the MacDonald
Chief was cut off, and raised on a spear, so that all men could see it.
Immediately the MacLeod pipers played the MacDonald Lament. At the sound
of this ill omened music, the MacDonalds were seized with a panic and
began to give way on all sides. Allan of Moidart made desperate efforts to
rally them, fighting himself with the utmost valour. He quickly avenged
Donald's death, killing MacCaskill and his three brothers with his own
sword; but all his efforts were vain, and he was compelled to retreat with
the remnant of his followers. The MacLeods were so weakened by their
losses that they could not pursue their enemies, and the MacDonalds
eventually reached Loch Eynort, and embarked in their galleys.
Such was the slaughter in this battle, that
the ravens, which stood on "Creagan nan Fitheach" (the Rock of the Ravens)
drank the blood and ate the flesh of the slain, who were piled in heaps
around, without descending from their airy perch. The seannachies say that
this was the most tremendous battle which was ever fought in the Western
Isles, and that both victors and vanquished were crippled for years by the
losses they had sustained.
In his history (page 161), Gregory describes a
battle, which was fought in 1544 at Loch Lochy, between Lord Lovat and
Clan Ranald:—"The contest began with the discharge of arrows at a
distance, but, when their shafts were spent, both parties rushed to the
combat, and attacking each other furiously with their two-handed swords
and battle axes, a dreadful slaughter ensued." The Frasers were defeated,
surrounded, and cut to pieces. Out of three hundred men, only one
gentleman, Fraser of Foyers, and four clansmen survived this bloody day,
and the Macdonalds lost almost as heavily.
About 1580, Clan Ranald, with a large force,
landed at Trompan, in Skye. He found the MacLeods in church. He surrounded
the sacred building, threw burning brands on the thatched roof, and set it
on fire. The whole congregation lost their lives, some being burnt, some
being cut down as they rushed out. One woman escaped, and carried the news
to Dunvegan. The Chief gathered all the men he could, and rushed forward
to meet the enemy. A terrific battle took place. One tradition says that
the fairy flag was again waved. The MacDonalds were driven back, and tried
to launch their galleys. One was launched, and her crew escaped, but the
tide was low, the galleys were high and dry in the bay, and it was
impossible to get them into the water. The MacDonalds put up a desperate
defence, but large reinforcements had come up to join the MacLeods; the
former were greatly outnumbered, and before the night came they were all
killed. Their bodies were laid in a long row beneath a dyke, and the dyke
overturned upon them. The battle is called "Blar Milleadh Garaidh," The
Battle of the Destruction of the Dyke.
These descriptions may give us some idea of
what clan warfare was like. One would have thought that such battles as
these would have satisfied the souls of the most ardent warriors, but it
is on record that many of the islanders, not content with all this
fighting at home, went to Ireland to take part in the wars which were
constantly going on there. In 1545, a Highland army assisted Surrey, who
commanded the troops of Henry VIII. in that country ; and in 1595, Hugh
MacDonald of Sleat, and Rory MacLeod of Dunvegan each took 500 men to aid
the Red O'Donnell and Shane O'Neil in their rebellion against Queen
that such expeditions to Ireland were not uncommon from a report on the
state of the Islands, which was written about 1590, for the information of
James VI. In this report the following rule is given :—"And in raising or
furthbringing of thair men, ony time of zeir, to quhatsumever cuntrie or
weiris (wars), na labourers of the ground are permittit to steir furth of
the cuntrie, quhatever their maister have ado, except only gentlemen
quhilkis labouris not, that the labour of teiling thair ground, and
wynning thair corns may not be left undone, albeit thai byde furth ane
haill zeir, as offtymes it happins quhen any of thair particular islands
has to do with Irland or neighbours."
When we remember that one Lord of the Isles
took 10,000 men with him to Harlaw in 1411; that another took 4000 men
with him to Ireland in 1545, and that there were 1000 MacLeods at
Worcerster, it becomes difficult to believe that this rule was habitually
obeyed, and that only "gentlemen" were engaged on those distant
these frightful feuds were raging the Islands were in a terrible state,
and the sufferings endured by the people were appalling.
In the raids which were constantly taking
place, the homes of the people were burnt, their growing crops destroyed,
their cattle and other live stock killed or carried off. Famine often
stared them in the face, and they had to kill and eat their horses, dogs,
and cats, to maintain life Hand-fasting had to a great extent superseded
marriage. Under this curious custom an agreement was made between two
Chiefs that the son of one should live with the daughter of another as her
husband for a year and a day ! If there were issue, or a prospect of
issue, the union became permanent; if there was no issue, each of the
parties was at liberty to terminate the arrangement, and marry, or
hand-fast, some one else. Though these irregular unions had not been
blessed by the Church, the issue of them was held to be legitimate.
This not only aimed a blow at the sanctity of
marriage, but was a fruitful cause of clan wars. When Donald Gorm
MacDonald sent home his handfasted wife, who was a sister of MacLeod of
Dunvegan, the latter declared that, though there had been no bonfires to
celebrate the marriage, there should be some very fine ones to celebrate
the divorce, and a feud was begun which brought both clans to the verge of
had become a second cave of Adullam, to which resorted, as of old,
"everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and
everyone that was discontented," and, it may be added, criminals of all
descriptions, who had made their own countries too hot to hold them. The
Chiefs were glad to welcome these turbulent spirits, as they added to the
fighting strength of their clans, but, as they quartered them on their
tenants, their presence was a heavy burden on the people of the country,
and caused many difficulties.
Christianity had almost ceased to exist, most
of the churches were burnt, and most of the clergy driven away.
As a consequence of all this the once kindly
Highlanders had become possessed by an evil spirit of hatred and revenge,
which showed itself in the dark deeds of revolting cruelty, deliberately
planned and carried out in cold blood, concerning which so many dreadful
stories are told. I do not love horrors, but to show how terrible the
conditions were under which our forbears lived I relate three of these
A party of
twenty men who were crossing the Minch in a galley were forced to put into
Loch Stockernish, on the east coast of Harris. Alasdair Dubh MacLeod, who
lived there without asking who they were, received them with the greatest
hospitality. At supper one of them let out that they were Clan Ranald
MacDonalds. On hearing this their host slipped out, roused six of his men,
and posted them well armed outside his door. He then came back and told
his guests that, now he knew that they belonged to a hostile clan, he
could no longer harbour them. The door was low and narrow, so that only
one at a time could leave the house, and as each of these men passed out
into the darkness he was struck down and killed by an unseen enemy.
Another tale relates how the MacGhittichs, a
lawless tribe who lived in Harris, attacked the home of a man against whom
they had a grudge. The man escaped, but, returning next day, found his
wife and family all lying dead amid the smoking embers of his home. A fire
still smouldered beneath a tripod which had been erected outside the
house. Over this was hanging a pot; in the pot were the remains of his
infant grandson, who had been killed, cut in pieces, and boiled over the
A party of
MacLeods, who had been captured by the MacDonalds, were flung into a
dungeon, and starved to death. It is said that they ate each other till
not one was left. The story of the massacre of Eigg is so well-known that
I need not do more than refer to it.
Criminals were punished with horrible
severity. There are records of men being flogged to death, or flayed
alive, of their homes being burnt, and their wives and children, down to
the babe in arms, being utterly exterminated. A man who had planned the
murder of Donald Gorm was dropped into a fearful dungeon at Duntulm, and
left to die a hideous death from thirst.
I imagine that, during the sixteenth century,
such a frightful state of anarchy prevailed in the country, that any trade
there may have been at an earlier period was killed. The destruction
wrought by the incessant raids of hostile clans must have been such that
there was nothing to export, and, if there is nothing to export, nothing
can be imported, for it is only by exports that imports can be paid for.
There was yet another cause at work which must
have tended to check trade. Piracy on the high seas was now very common.
About 1590, MacNeill of Barra went with a fleet of galleys to the coast of
Ireland, where he did such dire mischief that complaints were made to
Queen Elizabeth. She, in her turn, complained to the Scottish King. James
employed Rory Mackenzie, afterwards tutor of Kintail, and he,
by a trick, succeeded in capturing MacNeill. The chief was brought before
the King, and, when charged with the piracies he had committed on
Elizabeth's subjects, replied that he thought that he was doing the King a
service by "annoying the woman who had killed his mother." His ready wit
saved his life. In 1604, Rory MacLeod of Dunvegan had to pay £500 for "certaine
wairs, guids and geir reft and spulzeit and tane from a bark in Loch Hourn
in April 1587."
1625, Clan Ranald seized a Leith ship near Barra Head. As late as 1636 the
same Chief plundered an English vessel, called the Susannah.
But were the Islands of the West really in
such a dreadful state? There are four descriptions of them written in the
16th century, one by Macgregor, Dean of Lismore; one by Monro, also Dean
of Lismore; and two by anonymous authors. One of these mentions the
massacre at Eigg, but with this exception, they say nothing about the
condition in which the country was, and, indeed, they give so favourable
an impression of the state of affairs there that one author, after reading
them, expresses the opinion that the 16th century was the "golden age in
West Highland History." But all four were writing a description of the
Western Isles, not a history, and they probably thought that the condition
of the country was beside the questions they wished to discuss.
One can imagine that a modern traveller,
visiting some islands in the Pacific, though he knew they had been the
scene of terrific battles between native tribes, might entirely pass over
these, and only relate his own experiences. I do not think, therefore,
that the silence of these writers as to the terrible conditions which I
have described is any proof that they did not exist, and, indeed, the
evidence is so overwhelming, that I do not consider that there can be any
doubt on the subject.
The pacification of the West Highlands will be
described in the next chapter. In order to complete the story of clan
warfare, it is necessary to briefly refer to the campaigns, beginning in
1644, in which the clansmen fought with such splendid courage and devotion
in the cause of the Royal House of Stuart. They were now again engaged in
The history of these most
gallant attempts to restore their rightful Kings to the throne has been
written again and again, and it need not be repeated here, but the
following very short sketch will bring home to the minds of my readers the
wholehearted devotion of the Western clans to the Royalist cause. Leaving
out of account one or two less important efforts, such as the one which
ended so disastrously at Loch Garry in 1654, and the still more
unfortunate attempt in 1719, the clans were engaged in five really serious
attempts on behalf of the Stuarts.
In 1644, the brilliant campaigns under
Montrose made the great Marquess Master of Scotland, and filled him with
hopes that he would be able to march into England, and establish his Royal
master again on the throne, hopes which were dashed to the ground by the
crushing defeat at Philiphaugh.
In 1651, a Highland army was with Charles II.
in the South of Scotland, shared in the defeat at Dunbar, marched with the
King into England, and was almost destroyed at Worcester, losing 13,000
In 1689, many of
the Chiefs responded to the appeals of James II., then in Ireland, and,
under the command of Dundee, began the campaign so splendidly by winning
the Battle of Killiecrankie. But, having lost their brilliant leader in
that battle, their subsequent efforts under less capable commanders
accomplished little or nothing.
In 1715 the Royal Standard was again raised at
Braemar, and an army of Highlanders was gathered together, which, under
Montrose or Dundee, might have done great things, but which, under Mar,
In 1745, the last, and perhaps the greatest,
effort of all, was made. The Prince occupied Edinburgh, he marched into
England as far as Derby. Some writers maintain that, had he pushed on to
London, the Crown would have been won; and yet it all ended in disaster at
Camerons and MacDonalds of Clanranald were engaged in all of these
glorious, if unfortunate, enterprises. The Macleans took part in the first
four, and were only prevented from joining Prince Charles in 1745 by the
arrest of their Chief at Edinburgh in June 1745, charged with being in the
service of the French King.
The Mackinnons joined in all, excepting the
campaign which ended at Worcester.
The Mackenzies had their share in the battles
fought by Montrose, they joined Lord Mar in 1715, and again rose in 1719.
The Macdonalds of Sleat were with Montrose,
were present at Worcester, and fought under Lord Mar.
The MacLeods lost so heavily at Worcester that
it was agreed among the other clans that they should not be asked to take
part in any further enterprises till they had had time to recover. For
various reasons they never again drew the sword in the cause of the
of the Highlanders to the Stuarts is one of the most amazing paradoxes in
history. For more than two centuries they had been constantly in a state
of rebellion against Kings who belonged to the house of Stuart. In 1545
they had actually renounced their allegiance to one of these monarchs, and
very reluctantly they had submitted to the Royal authority early in the
seventeenth century. Then suddenly they turned round, they became
intensely loyal, and were ready to sacrifice anything and everything in
the King's service.
And it was not only the Chiefs who were full of loyalty to their King.
Even among the clans which did not join the Prince in 1745, the feeling
was intensely strong. Sir A. MacDonald, writing on September 5, 1745,
says:—"I need not tell you the difficulty of recruiting 100 men. The men
here are almost as fond of the young gentleman as their wives and
daughters are." The young gentleman was the Prince, and Sir Alexander was
trying to raise men to fight against him.
I am not sure that the paradox is as
remarkable as it seems at first sight. The spirit of loyalty to a superior
was deeply rooted in the character of the Islanders. In the 14th century,
King Robert Bruce and his successors had no more faithful subjects than
they. In the following century they transferred their allegiance to their
own immediate superior, the Lord of the Isles, and they remained faithful
to him and his successors, not merely till the Lordship was forfeited, but
until there was no scion of the house of Somerled in the direct line who
claimed the dignity.
Though some of the Chiefs were firmly attached to Mary Queen of Scots, for
a time the flame of loyalty burnt low in their hearts. But, when they saw
their King fighting for his Crown against enemies, whose religious and
political opinions they detested, when they saw him laying down his life
on the scaffold, when they saw his son robbed of his inheritance, and
driven into exile, all the generosity and romance in their natures caused
the flame of devotion to the King to kindle anew in their hearts.
We need not be surprised that, when they
beheld another King driven from his throne to find refuge at St Germains,
their devotion to him, to his son, and to his grandson, became with them
the passion of their lives, and that, again and yet again, they strove to
place their Royal Master on the throne.
Why was it that none of these enterprises
succeeded? Probably ultimate success was not possible in any of them. The
forces which were arrayed against the Stuarts on all these occasions were
so strong that a few thousand Highlanders, however brave they might be,
could not hope to overcome them. But there were contributory causes in the
character of a Highland army. Their valour was indisputable, but the pride
of the Chiefs, and the jealousy of each other which prevailed among them,
made it very difficult for a general in command to exercise due control
over them. Tradition says that at Harlaw the MacLeods refused to fight
unless they were given the post of honour on the right wing, and, more
than 300 years later, something of the same sort occurred, when the
MacDonalds were put on the left wing of the Prince's army at Culloden.
This is only one instance of the difficulties which were constantly
arising. The officer in command of a Highland army required, not only
military capacity, but infinite tact and judgment. Montrose and Dundee
possessed these gifts. Buchan, Cannon, Middleton, Mar, even Lord George
Murray, did not possess them, and, for lack of them, their leadership
source of weakness in a Highland army was the desire of the men, when a
battle had been won, to go home for a time, to see their families, to
secure their crops, to dispose of any spoil they might have taken. Even
Montrose could not prevent them from doing this. It was because so many
men had left the army that he was defeated at Philiphaugh. Even if this
habit did not lead to a defeat, it often made it impossible to secure the
fruits of a victory, and was a source of weakness, which it is difficult
failure of these efforts, certainly the failure in the '45, has given us a
more splendid page of history than their success could have done. Had he
been victorious the Prince might have been a stately figure as, robed in
silk and satin, he stood in the Court of his triumphant father at St
James's. But he showed himself a veritable hero as, clad in a ragged kilt,
he sat in the boat of Donald MacLeod, of Gualtregill, his devoted pilot,
bearing incredible hardships with unfailing courage, and cheering the
spirits of his men with songs and jests, or again a little later as, clad
this time in the dress of a Highland maid-servant, with Flora Macdonald as
his companion, he crossed the Minch, and, by her help and guidance, eluded
But if the
Prince was a splendid figure, all those who helped him were splendid
figures, too. Not only Flora MacDonald, Donald MacLeod, and a host of
others, without whose aid he must have been captured; but all those who
knew where he was, and who could have earned the £30,000 which the
Government had offered for his capture. That no single Highlander tried to
earn this shameful money is a source of pride to us all.
The fighting days of the Highlanders by no
means came to an end at Culloden. In every war which has been waged since
1760, they have rendered splendid service to King and country. But they
have been fighting as soldiers in the regular army, and the 16th of April
1746 was the last day on which they went into battle as clans, under the
command of their Chiefs, wearing their distinctive tartans, and practising
their old methods of warfare.
In 1745, the officers of the independent
companies raised by MacLeod of Dunvegan were all of them his own clansmen.
In 1780 the officers in the battalion raised and commanded by his
grandson, were all of them professional soldiers transferred from other
battalions to train the Highlanders according to the rules of the
drill-book. This well illustrates the change which had taken place.