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A Short History of Clan MacKintosh
by Jean Mackintosh Goldstrom

A Short History of Clan MacKintosh


The history of Scottish clans is not easy for non-native Scots to read. It is filled with words like "mor," which means "big," "beg", which means "small" and "tacksman," which is a chief's helper and has nothing to do with hammer or nails. There's even the chief's "tail," which doesn't resemble that of a Scottie dog. It means the group of close friends and followers who accompany the chief on his journeys.

Outside of Scotland, these words do not mean anything like they do in Scotland. In histories of Scotland written by Scots for Scots, this is not a problem. But non-native Scots, meaning people of Scots heritage who weren't born in Scotland, are usually struggling by the second chapter, and ready to give up by the third. One has read many facts, but can understand only a few of them.

Imagine, for example, a citizen of the United Kingdom reading a United States history of the Civil War, or the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression. They're all the same war, as United States-born people know. But how confusing would those terms be to someone who didn't learn them in school?

This history is an effort to report the facts of Clan Mackintosh history, without letting the telling of them get in the way. It doesn't include every detail, because it would take another, larger book to explain the details. There may be errors, for it was written by a non-native Scot who lives in the United States. Please pardon the errors, and enjoy the narrative of the fascinating Clan Mackintosh. If this account inspires the reader to go to the Scottish sources, acquire the necessary vocabulary and historical knowledge, we salute the reader. Meanwhile, we offer this history in the hopes that the reading of it will be as enjoyable and interesting as was the writing of it.

-- Jean Mackintosh Goldstrom

The First Chief of Clan Mackintosh

The first histories of Clan Mackintosh were written about 1500, long after the clan's origin. According to these works, the first chief of Mackintosh was Shaw MacDuff, the third son of the Earl of Fife. This Shaw played an important part in putting down a rebellion against King Malcolm IV in Moray. His reward from the king came in 1163, in the form of land in Petty and Breachly, and the forest of Strathdearn, as well as the job of Keeper of the Royal Castle in Inverness.

That castle is not to be confused with the castle overlooking the Ness River today. The castle now occupying the hilltop above Inverness is a nineteenth century creation. It's the latest of many "Inverness Castles." Why so many? Because the Inverness Castle was usually the first kingly building seen, attacked and demolished by irate Highlanders sweeping down from the north to vent whatever grievance they held against the current king.

Nonetheless, "Keeper of the Inverness Castle," was an important title, bestowed only on someone the king liked and trusted. The Inverness Castle was, after all, the place where the king stayed when he was in that part of the country, and he couldn't trust it to anyone who was less than a friend.

After the uprising in Moray was put down and the gifts of royal favor were bestowed, things seemed to quiet down for Shaw MacDuff. At least as far as the records show, this historic clan-founding chief lived on his lands in peace and comfort until his death in 1179. His birth date appears to have been unrecorded. As a result, his age at death was unknown.

The Second Chief of Clan Mackintosh

The second chief of Mackintosh, also named Shaw, succeeded his father in 1179 and headed the clan until his death in 1210. What he did in the intervening years either was nothing notable, or the records were lost.

(Note: The narrative goes on like this, naming the chiefs in order and reporting their accomplishments - if any. Let's skip ahead, however, to one of the all-too-numerous, but interesting battles, that earned the Mackintoshes the label of one of the Highlands' "fightingest" clans. For example, we couldn't pick a better example than this one occuring during the rule of...)

The Eighth Chief of Clan Mackintosh

Lachlan, William's oldest son, became the eighth Chief of Mackintosh in 1368. He headed the clan for nearly 40 years, until his death in 1407.

During his time, one of the most bizarre events of Highland history took place, known as The Battle of North Inch. It took place in 1396, and deserves its own story, as follows:

The Battle of North Inch

The Battle of North Inch would have been almost a comedy if it were not for the very real, and very useless, loss of life involved.

The battle climaxed ten years of bitter feuding between Clan Chattan and Clan Macpherson. No cruel insult launched this feud, but something as mundane as unpaid rent. The feud began when some members of Clan Cameron took up residence on Clan Chattan lands in Lochaber. They didn't pay any rent, which was a constant source of aggravation to Clan Chattan as well as Clan Mackintosh, whose chief headed both clans.

Since these events took place hundreds of years before the invention of landlord-tenant courts, Chief Lachlan Mackintosh decided to collect his unpaid rent in the form of Cameron cattle. However, the Camerons' contribution of cattle was involuntary, meaning the Mackintosh chief sent a number of his men, probably by night, to remove at least enough cattle to pay the back rent owed.

When they discovered their rent had been collected in this unexpected fashion, the Camerons took serious umbrage and gathered some 40 clansmen to look for their cattle.

The Mackintoshes heard about the Cameron quest. They called their friends, the Macphersons and the Davidsons, to help them teach the Camerons the rudiments of landlord- tenant relationships.

Eventually, 400 Camerons squared off against an even larger number of Mackintoshes, Macphersons and Davidsons. But before anyone could swing a claymore, a dispute arose on the Mackintosh-Macpherson-Davidson side, about who would stand where in the line of battle. A trivial issue? Certainly not in those days. Where one stood in the battle line had much to do with the amount of honor available to those who fought. The center was the most important, meaning honorable, place. There was no question the Mackintoshes would stand at the center of the battle line. That was the most important spot, and the Mackintoshes were the most important clan among this group. The dispute was over whose men were going to battle on the right-hand side of the Mackintoshes. The right-hand side was the second-most-honored position after the center. Both Cluny of Macpherson and Inverhavon of Davidson demanded the place of honor at the right of the Mackintoshes.

Chief Lachlan of Mackintosh had to settle this controversy.. He immediately made a decision, and in practical terms it was the wrong one. Mackintosh decided in favor of the Davidsons. What was wrong with that decision was there were far more Macphersons that both Davidsons and Mackintoshes combined. The Macphersons, profoundly offended by the decision, immediately stomped off the battlefield, sat down and declared themselves spectators rather than participants in the coming set-to.

That cleared the battleground, but only for a moment. The Camerons, now in greater numbers than their enemies, fell upon what was left of the Mackintosh-Chattan-Davidson fighters and proceeded to reduce as many of them as possible to small, bloody shreds.

The Macphersons were too loyal to comfortably sit and watch the annihilation of friends and kin, no matter how insulted they might be. They decided to charge the Camerons, who were by that time exhausted from their nearly complete wipeout of the Mackintoshes and Davidsons. The Macphersons had no trouble overwhelming the remaining Camerons, thus bringing the victory to their clan and the surviving Davidsons and Mackintoshes.

Of course, this being Scotland, it was not the end of the quarrel. Ten years of bitter squabbling ensued between the Macphersons and the Davidsons.

Everyone involved became weary of the dispute; not weary enough to end it, but weary enough to ask King Robert III to intervene. King Robert III, being the sort of sovereign who made sure his own interests ranked first in any dispute he settled, came up with an ingenious solution. The squabble had come down to a quarrel between two clans, the Davidsons and the Macphersons (both of whom were septs, or sub-groups, of Clan Mackintosh). Each clan, the king ordered, was to send 30 of its best warriors into a battle to the death. The winners would win the argument.

Site of this battle was a beautiful, level field (an "inch" in Gaelic) called North Inch in Perth. It's still a popular site for sports today, although far less bloody ones.

This order by King Robert III the first and last king in Scots history to have a battle-to- the-death staged for his amusement.

Historians, however, have theorized that Robert may have sought more than amusement from the grim contest. The troublesomeness of the two clans would be greatly reduced, he is believed to have thought, if their main warriors were permanently removed from action.

Because the Battle of North Inch was recorded rather sketchily, historical records indicate that no less than six clans took part in it. Who won? All six of them, according to the records of the six participating clans. But the majority of historic references indicate those who took part in this combat were the Macphersons and Clan Chattan, of whom the Davidsons of Invernahavon were a part. As to the victor, let the story unfold.

The conflict was set for the Monday before Michaelmas, October 23. As to weapons, some historians say only the broadsword was used, but others say that bows, battle-axes and daggers were also permitted. This view would be supported by the following account of the event.

Royal carpenters had been busy building a grandstand from which the king, his queen, Annabella Drummond, Scots nobles and a number of foreign dignitaries could view the proceedings. On the selected day, the king and queen led a procession to the grandstand. Following them were the nobility and honored foreign guests. As the upper classes jammed the grandstands, the commoners packed the sidelines behind barriers designed to keep them off the field of battle.

The combatants, Macphersons and Clan Chattan-Davidsons, marched in, each preceded by their pipers and drummers and armed with their swords, targes (shields), bows and arrows, knives and battle-axes. Each side glared at the other until something happened.

Exactly what happened depends on which historian's account is read. Some say one of the Macphersons became sick. Others say the Macpherson in question wasn't sick but stricken with a bolt of common sense, causing him to slip through the crowd, plunge into the nearby Tay River and swim away to safety, pursued in vain by thousands of screaming spectators. One historian, Sir Robert Gordon, described it this way: "At their entry into the field, Clan Chattan lacked one of their number, who was privily stolen away, not willing to be a partaker of so dear a bargain."

What to do, what to do? That was the question to which no answer seemed obvious. Somebody proposed one of the Davidson men should retire. Nobody liked that idea. For want of another idea, the King was about ready to break up the assembly when a man stepped forward and spoke.

This man was described by a historian as "diminutive and crooked, but fierce, named Henry Wynd, a burgher of Perth, a smith," known to readers of Sir Walter Scott as "Hal o' the Wynd, and an armourer by trade." He was also known as Henry Gow or Smith.

This man is said to have leapt the barriers onto the field and addressed the crowd: "Here am I. Will anyone fee me to engage with these hirelings in this stage play? For half a mark will I try the game, provided, if I escape alive, I have my board of one of you as long as I live. (Meaning someone would provide his food for the rest of his life.) Greater love, as it is said., hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. What, then, shall be my reward, who stake my life for the foes of commonwealth and realm?"

An excited buzz of conversation likely broke out in the upper class grandstand as well as among the commoners standing around the barriers. Knowing the crowd was wild for entertainment, the king and nobles agreed to the demand of "Gow Cromm," or "Crooked Smith," as he was known.

News that the blood letting was on again was likely greeted with a huge cheer from a presumably entertainment-starved crowd.

The battle began.

"Gow Cromm" shot the first arrow into the Davidsons and immediately killed one of them. According to one historian, "After showers of arrows had been discharged on both sides, the combatants, with fury in their looks and revenge in their hearts rushed upon one another, and a terrific scene ensued, which appalled the heart of many a valorous knight who witnessed the bloody tragedy. The violent thrusts of the daggers and the tremendous gashes inflicted by the two-handed swords and battle-axes, hastened the work of butchery and death.

"Heads were cloven asunder, limbs were lopped from the trunk. The meadow was soon flooded with blood, and covered with dead and wounded men."

The crowd loved it, naturally.

But after Henry Wynd or "Gow Cromm" had killed his man, he supposedly either sat down or drew aside. The Macpherson battle leader noticed this and asked Wynd why he stopped when he was doing such a good job of slaying the opposition.

To this, Wynd replied, probably airily, "Because I have fulfilled my bargain and earned my wages."

The Macpherson leader showed himself to be a motivator of men by observing, "The man who keeps no reckoning of his good deeds, without reckoning shall be repaid. " Whatever this remark may have meant, it inspired Wynd to leap into action again and take the lives of several more opponents.

Finally, the Macphersons were declared the winners. Some 29 Davidsons and 19 Macphersons were dead with the remaining Macphersons severely wounded. Only Henry Wynd escaped without serious injury, his excellent swordsmanship clearly contributing to the day's victory.

Did he receive his promised payment? History does not record this detail, but it is hard to imagine Henry Wynd being cheated out of whatever he considered his just desserts. Clan Chattan leadership, however, knew a good man when they saw one. They adopted Henry Wynd (or Gow or Smith) into their clan. As the progenitor of the Gow or Smith branch of the clan, his name remains an honored one today.

And for several years following the Battle of North Inch, things remained quiet in the Highlands, at least relatively quiet, for the Highlands.

The battle seemed to settle the feud for a while, but only until 1430, when it broke out again. Chief Lachlan, however, missed it, having died in 1407.

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