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The Highlanders of Scotland
Part II -
Chapter VIII

III. – Ross.

THE district of Ross is very frequently mentioned in the Norse Sagas along with the other districts which were ruled by Maormors or Iarls, but we find it impossible to extract from these authorities the names of many of its Maormors, for the proximity of the extensive district of Moray, and the very great power and influence to which its chiefs attained, would naturally force the less powerful Maormor of Ross into a subordinate situation, and thus prevent his name from being associated with any of the great events of that early period of our history.

      It was consequently only upon the downfall of that powerful race that the chiefs of Ross first appear in history, and by that time they had already assumed the new appellation of Comes or earl. That these earls, however, were the descendants of the ancient Maormors, there can be little doubt, and this natural presumption is in this instance strengthened by the fact that the oldest authorities concur in asserting the patronymic or Gaelic name of the earls of Ross to be O’Beolan, or descendants of Beolan; and we actually find, from the oldest Norse Saga connected with Scotland, that a powerful chief in the north of Scotland, named Beolan, married the daughter of Ganga Rolfe, or Rollo, the celebrated pirate, who became afterwards the first earl of Normandy. From this account, extracted from almost a contemporary writer, it would appear that the ancestor of the earls of Ross was chief of that district in the beginning of the tenth century.

      The first known earl of Ross is Malcolm, to whom a precept was directed from Malcolm IV., desiring him to protect and defend the monks of Dunfermline in their lawful privileges, possessions, & c. This precept is not dated, but from the names of the witnesses it must have been granted before the year 1162. the next earl who is recorded in history is Ferchard, surnamed Macintagart, or son of the priest. At this period the tribe of Moray, after a series of rebellions, of which each had proved to be more fatal to them than the preceding, was rapidly approaching its downfall; and in proportion as it declined, the earls of Ross appear to have obtained more and more of the power and influence in the North, which had hitherto been possessed by the Maormors of Moray. By the defeat of Kenneth Macheth, the last of the line of the old earls of Moray, that family became extinct, and the ruin of the tribes was completed, while Ferchard, earl of Ross, who had judged it prudent at length openly to join the king’s party, and had been mainly instrumental in suppressing that insurrection, at once acquired the station in the Highlands which had been formerly held by the earls of Moray. The designation of this earl of “son of the priest,” shews that he was not the son of the former earl, but that the older family must have become extinct, and a new line come into possession of the dignity. Of what family this earl was, history does not say, but that omission may in some degree be supplied by the assistance of the MS. of 1450. It is well known that the surname of Ross has always been rendered in Gaelic, clan Anrias, or clan Gilleanrias, and they appear under the former of these appellations in all the early Acts of Parliament; there is also an uncvarying tradition in the Highlands, that on the death of William, last earl of Ross of this family, a certain Paul Mac Tire was for some time chief of the clan; and this tradition is corroborated by the fact that there is a charter by this same William, earl of Ross, to this very Paul Mac Tire, in which he styles him his cousin. There appears, however, among the numerous clans contained in the MS. of 1450, one termed clan Gilleanrias, which commences with Paul Mac Tire, so that there can be little doubt that this clan is the same with that of the Rosses, and in this MS. they are traced upwards in a direct line to a certain “Gilleon na h’Airde,” or Collin of the Aird, who must have lived in the tenth century. In this genealogy occurs the name of Gilleanrias, exactly contemporary with the generation preceding that of Ferchard.

      The name of Gilleanrias, which means the servant of St. Andrew, would seem to indicate that he was a priest; and when, in addition to this, we consider the time exactly corresponds – that the earls of Ross, being a part of the clan Anrias, must have been descended from him – and that among the earls who beseiged Malcolm IV. in Perth, in the year 1160, appears the name of Gilleandres, it seems clear that Ferchard, “the priest’s son,” was the son of Gillieanrias, the founder of the clan Anrias, and consequently, that he succeeded to the earldom of Ross on the failure of a former family. Ferchard appears to have rendered great assistance to Alexander II. in his conquest of Argyll in 1221, and on that occasion obtained from that monarch a grant of North Argyll, afterwards termed Wester Ross. The only other act recorded of his life is the foundation of the Abbey of Ferne; and on his death at Tayne, in 1251, he was succeeded by his son William.

      It was during the life of this earl that the expedition of Haco to the Western Isles took place. The more immediate cause of this expedition was the incursions which the earl of Ross had made into various of th Isles; but although, in a Celtic country, the proximity of powerful tribes was always accompanied by bitter feuds, and accordingly there might have existed some hereditary enmity between the Rosses and the Gael of the Western Isles, yet the history of the period shews very clearly that the hostilities of the earl of Ross were in all probability instigated by the king; and that that monarch, aware of the danger of attempting the subjugation of the Isles, from the ill success of his father, had by these means called forth a Norwegian armament, and brought the war to his own country, a policy the sagacity of which was fully justified in the result. The cession of the Isles, however, although an event of so much importance and advantage to the general welfare of the country, did not affect the interests of the earl of Ross so favourably; as previous to that occurrence they had, ever since the decline of the Maormors of Moray, been the only great chiefs in the Highlands, and had possessed an absolute influence in the North. But now a new family was thus brought in closer connexion with the kingdom of Scotland, whose power was too great for the earls of Ross to overcome, and who consequently divided with them the consideration which the latter had alone previously held in the Highlands. It would lead to too great length to enter in this place into a detailed account of the history of these earls, particularly as their great power involved them so much with the general public events of Scottish history, that such a detail becomes the less necessary; suffice it therefore to say, that notwithstanding the powerful clan of the Macdonalds having by the cession of the Isles been brought into the field, they continued to maintain the high station they had reached in point of influence; and their policy leading them to a constant adherence to the established government of the time, they were ready to take advantage of the numerous rebellions of their rival chiefs to increase their own influence, although the actual strength of the Macdonalds, and the advantage they derived from the distant and inaccessible nature of their extensive possessions, was too great to allow any very permanent advantage to be obtained over them. such was the reciprocal position of these two great families in respect to each other; and each of them would perhaps in the end have proved too much for the strength of the government, had they not at all times had to apprehend the enmity of the other; so that they remained in an attitude of mutual defiance and respect until the extinction of the direct male line of the earls of Ross, when the introduction, through the operation of the feudal principles of succession, of a Norman baron into their territories and dignities, not only deprived the lords of the Isles of a dreaded rival, but eventually even threw the whole power and resources of the earldom of Ross into the hands of these Island lords; and thus, no Highland chief remaining powerful enough to offer any opposition to the Macdonalds gave birth to that brief but eventful struggle between the lords of the Isles and the crown, which could only terminate with the ruin or extinction of one of the contending parties.

      This termination of the male line of the earls of Ross, and introduction in their place of a Norman baron, although it was but for a short period that the Lowland family remained being soon succeeded by the Macdonalds themselves, had the usual effect of bringing the subordinate clans into notice; and the first of these to which we have to direct our attention is the clan Anrias, or the Rosses.


Clan Anrias.

      On the death of William, the last of the old earls of Ross, it is unquestionable that the chiefship of the clan devolved upon Paul Mac Tire, who in the MS. of 1450 is given as chief of the clan Anrais. Paul appears from that manuscript to have descended from a brother of Ferchard, first earl of Ross of this family, who bore the same name of Paul, and to have been a person of no ordinary consequence in his time. “Paul Mactire,” says Sir Robert Gordon, “was a man of great power and possessions. In hys tyme he possessed the lands of Creich, in Sutherland, and built a house there called Douncriech, with such a kynd of hard mortar that at this day it cannot be known whereof it was made. As he was building this house and fortefieing it, he had intelligence that his onlie son was slayen in Catteness, in company with one Murthow Reawich, ane outlaw and valiante captaine in these days, which made him desist from further building, when he had almost finished the same. There are manie things fabulouslie reported of this Paul Mactire among the vulgar people, which I do omit to relate.” Sir Robert is perfectly correct in calling Paul a man of great power and possessions, for he held the whole of Strath Carron, Strath Oikill, Scrivater, and Glenbeg, in Ross, besides the extensive district of Braechatt including Lairg Criech and Slischilish, or Ferrincoskie. He had also a charter of the lands of Gerloch from the earl of Ross, but his title to be considered as the inventor of vitrified forts, Duncriech being one of the most remarkable specimens remaining of these curious object of antiquity, although admitted, strangely enough, by the sceptical Pinkerton, may by some be considered doubtful. “Paul Mactyre,” says an ancient historian of Highland families, “was a valiant man, and caused Caithness to pay him blackmail. It is reported that he got nyn score of cowes yearly out of Caithness for blackmail so long as he was able to travel.” On this chief, whose actions seem to have dwelt so long in the recollection of after generations, being removed by death, we find the Rosses of Balnagowan appearing as the head of the clan, and in this family the chiefship has remained for upwards of three hundred years. The descent of the Rosses of Balnagowan has hitherto been considered as perfectly distinct, and it has never been doubted that their ancestor was William Ross, son of Hugh de Ross, who was brother to William, the last Earl of Ross. The family have in consequence claimed to be the male representatives of the ancient earls, but to this the objection naturally occurs, that if the Rosses of Balnagowan are the descendants of the brother of the last earl, how came Paul Mactire, a remote collateral branch, to be considered chief of the race, as we know from the MS. of 1450, and other sources, he unquestionably was? The descent of the Balnagowan family from a William de Ross, the son of a Hugh de Ross, who lived in the reign of David II., is undoubted; but it unfortunately happens that the records prove most clearly that there lived at the same time two Hugh de Rosses, one of whom was certainly brother to the last earl, and that each of these Hugh de Rosses had a son William de Ross.

      In 1375, Robert II. confirms “Willielmo de Ross, filio et haeredi quond Hugonis de Ross,” a charter of William, earl of Ross, to the said Hugh, his brother, of the lands of Balnagowan, and in 1379 he grants consanguineo suo Hugoni de Ross de Kinfauns, and Margaret Barclay his spouse, an annual rent from the lands of Doune in Banff. The one Hugh Ross thus got a charter in 1379, while the other was already dead in 1375. [Mr. Wood, in his Peerage, quotes these charters as of the same Hugh de Ross; and in quoting the last, remarks, with the utmost gravity, that Hugh appears at this time to be dead. No doubt he was, but a grant of an annual rent to a dead person does not seem to have struck Mr. Wood as singular.]

      In 1383, however, we find a charter to John Lyon of lands in Fife, que fuerunt Roberto de Ross, filio et heredi Hugonis de Ross de Kinfauns, and in 1377 the king confirms a charter by the earl of Caithness, Willielmo de Ross, filio juniori quond Hugonis de Ross, of the lands in Caithness, which had belonged to Walter Moray.

      From these charters, then, it appears that there existed in the North, at the same time, two William de Rosses, each of them son of a Hugh de Ross. The one William de Ross, however, was the eldest son of Hugh de Ross, the brother of the last earl, while the other William de Ross was the younger son of a Hugh de Ross who, in consequence of a connection with the royal family, obtained a grant of Kinfauns in Perthshire, Kinfauns being inherited by the eldest son, Robert, while William obtained property in the North. It is, of course, impossible to fix with certainty from which of the two Williams the Balnagowan family are descended, but the presumption certainly is, that William de Ross, the son of the earl’s brother, died without issue, and that the other William de Ross, who must have been of a remote branch, is their ancestor. That the Rosses of Balnagowan were of the same branch with Paul Mac Tire is rendered probable by their own tradition, for when a family is led by circumstances to believe in a descent different from the real one, we invariably find that they assert a marriage between their ancestor and the heiress of the family from which they are in reality descended, and the Rosses of Balnagowan have accordingly invariably accompanied the assertion of their descent from Hugh, the brother of the last earl, with that of their ancestor having married the daughter and heiress of Paul Mac Tire.

      Of the history of the Rosses during the fifteenth century we know little; and they may have acquired the property of Balnagowan either by marriage or as male heirs of the last family. Towards the end of that century they very narrowly escaped being annihilated in a feud with the Mackays, who were at that time in great power. Angus Mackay, after having for a long period constantly molested and irritated the Rosses by frequent incursions into their territories, was at length surprised by them in the church at Tarbat, and there burnt to death. When his son John attained majority, he determined to take a deep and bloody revenge for his father’s death, and having raised as many of his own clan as he could, and also obtained considerable assistance from the earl of Sutherland, he unexpectedly burst into the district of Strathoykill, wasting the country with fire and sword. Alexander, then laird of Balnagowan, collected forthwith all the men he could, and met the invader at a place called Aldycharrich. A battle followed, which was contested with unusual fierceness and obstinacy, until at length the Rosses were totally routed, and their chief, together with seventeen landed proprietors of the county of Ross, were slain. The Rosses do not appear ever to have recovered the great slaughter which took place upon this occasion, and they remained afterwards a clan of no great strength, until at length the family became extinct in the beginning of the eighteenth century, in the person of David, the last of the old Rosses of Balnagowan, who, finding that in consequence of the entail of Balnagowan ending with himself, he was enabled to sell the estate, disposed of it to General Ross, brother of lord Ross of Hawkhead, from whom the late Rosses of Balnagowan are descended, thus occasioning the somewhat curious coincidence of the estates being purchased by a family of the same name though of very different origin.


Oldest coat – Sa on a chev. ar. a lion rampant, or, between two torteauxes.


The uva ursi plant.

Principal Seat.



Ross Munro, of Pitcalnie, now represents this family.


In 1427, 2000. In 1704 and 1715, 300. In 1745, 500.


Clan Kenneth.

      The Mackenzies have long boasted of their descent from the great Norman family of Fitzgerald in Ireland, and in support of this origin they produce a fragment of the records of Icolmkill, and a charter by Alexander III. to Colin Fitzgerald, the supposed progenitor of the family, of the lands of Kintail. At first sight these documents might appear conclusive, but, independently of the somewhat suspicious circumstance, that while these papers have been most freely and generally quoted, no one has ever yet declared that he has seen the originals, the fragment of the Icolmkill rrcord merely says, that among the actors in the battle of Largs, fought in 1262, was “Peregrinus et Hibernus nobilis ex familia geraldinorum qui proximo anno ab Hibernia pulsus apud regem benigne acceptus hine usque in curta permansit et in praefacto proelio strenue pugnavit,” giving not a hint of his having settled in the Highlands, or of his having becomr the progenitor of any Scottish family whatever; while as to the supposed charter of Alexander III., it is equally inconclusive, as it merely grants the lands of Kintail “Colino Hiberno,” the word “Hibernus” having at that time come into general use as denoting the Highlanders, in the same manner as the word “Erse” is now frequently used to express their language: but inconclusive as it is, this charter cannot be admitted at all, as it bears the most palpable marks of having been a forgery of later times, and one by no means happy in its execution.

      How such a tradition of the origin of the Mackenzies ever could have arisen, it is difficult to say; but the fact of their native and Gaelic descent is completely set at rest by the manuscript of 1450, which has already so often been the means of detecting the falsehood of the foreign origins of other clans. In that MS., the antiquity of which is perhaps as great, and its authenticity certainly much greater than the fragments of the Icolmkill records, the Mackenzies are brought from a certain Gilleon-og, or Colin the younger, a son of “Gilleon na h’airde,” the ancestor of the Rosses.

      The descendants of Gilleon na h’airde we have already identified with the ancient tribe of Ross; and it follows, therefore, that the Mackenzies must always have formed an integral part of that tribe.

      Until the forfeiture of the lords of the Isles, the Mackenzies held their lands of the earl of Ross, and always followed his banner in the field, and there is consequently little to be learned of their earlier history, until by the forfeiture of that earldom also they rose rapidly upon the ruins of the Macdonalds to the great power and extent of territory which they afterwards came to possess.

      The first of this family who is known with certainty, appears to be “Murdo filius Kennethi de Kintail,” to whom a charter is said to have been granted by David II. as early as the year 1362; and this is confirmed by the manuscript of 1450, the last two generations given in which are “Murcha, the son of Kenneth.” After him we know nothing of the clan, until we find the chief among those Highland barons who were arrested by king James I., at his treacherous Parliament held at Inverness in 1427; and the clan appears by this time to have become one of very considerable strength and importance, for Kenneth More, their chief, is ranked as leader of two thousand men.

      It was during the life of his son Murdoch that the earl of Ross and lord of the Isles was forfeited; on that occasion the chief of the Mackenzies did not neglect the opportunity so eagerly seized by the other clans that were dependent on the Macdonalds, but not connected by descent with that clan, to render himself altogether independent; and therefore he steadily opposed, to the utmost of his power, every attempt on the part of the Macdonalds to resume possession of the earldom which had been wrested from them. One of the principal attempts of the Macdonalds for this purpose was that of the rebellion under Alaster Mac Gillespic, the nephew of the last lord, when, after having succeeded in regaining possession of the Isles, he at length invaded Ross; but the Mackenzies were not willing to resign without a struggle their newly acquired independence. They accordingly exerted all the interest they could command to excite opposition to the attempt of Alaster Mac Gillespic upon Ross, and finally attacked him at the head of his own clan, together with a large body of the inhabitants of the country, near the river Connan. A fierce and obstinate engagement between the parties ensued, but the Macdonalds, being unable to cope with the numbers opposed to them, were at length completely overthrown with very great slaughter. This battle is known in history and in tradition by the name of the conflict of Blairnapark; after this, various other encounters took place between the Macdonalds, which ended in the complete independence of the former.

      From this period the Mackenzies gradually increased, both in power and extent of territories, until they finally established themselves as one of the principal clans of the north, and in the words of Sir Robert Gordon: – “From the ruins of the family of clan Donald and some of the neighbouring Highlanders, and also by their own vertue, the surname of the clan Kenzie, from small beginnings began to flourish in these bounds, and by the friendship and favour of the house of Sutherland, chiefly of earl John, fifth of that name, earl of Sutherland (whose chamberlains they were in receiving the rents of the earldom of Rosse to his use), their estate afterwards came to great height, yea, above divers of their more ancient neighbours.” The establishment of the clan at once in so great power, upon the ruins of the Macdonalds, was much furthered by the character of the chief of the time, who appears to have been a person of considerable talent, and well fitted to seize every occasion of extending their influence. “In his time,” says an ancient historian of the clan, “he purchased much of the Braelands of Ross, and secured both what he had acquired, and what his predecessors had, by well ordered and legal security – so that it is doubtful whether his predecessors’ courage, or his prudence, contributed most to the rising of his family.” The endeavours of the Mackenzies thus to possess themselves of a portion of the now scattered territories of the Macdonalds, had with them the same result as with the other clans engaged in pursuit of the same object, for they soon found themselves involved in bitter feuds with several branches of that great but fallen clan.

      Proximity of situation, and peculiar circumstances, occasioned tye Glengarry branch of the Macdonalds to become their principal antagonists; and the causes of this feud, which for some time raged with great fierceness, and at length ended in the additional aggrandisement of the Mackenzies, and in the loss of a great part of Glengarry’s possessions, are these: During the period when the earldom of Ross was held by Alexander, lord of the Isles, that chief bestowed a considerable extent of territory in Ross upon the second son Celestine. The descendants of Celestine having become extinct, after the failure of the various attempts which had been made to regain the possessions and dignities of the forfeited lord of the Isles, their estate in Ross descended to Macdonald of Glengarry, whose grandfather had married the heiress of that branch of the Macdonalds. But these possessions were, from their proximity, looked upon with an envious eye by the Mackenzies, and they consequently attempted to expel the Macdonalds from them. Various success for some years attended the prosecution of this feud, and many atrocities had been committed on both sides, when Mackenzie resolved, by assistance from government and under cover of law, to obtain that which he had otherwise found himself unable to accomplish; and the mode of procedure adopted by him for this purpose is thus described by Sir Robert Gordon: – “The laird of Glengarry (one of the clan Donald) being inexpert and onskilful in the laws of the realme, the clan Chenzie easily entrapped him within the compass thereof, and secretly charged him (boy not personallie) to appear before the justice of Edinburgh, having in the meantime slayn two of his kinsmen. Glangarry, not knowing, or neglecting the charges and summonds, came not to Edinburgh at the prefixt day, bot went about to revenge the slaughter of his kinsmen, whereby he was denounced rebell and outlawed, together with divers of his followers; so by means and credit of the earl of Dumfermlyn, lord chancellor of Scotland, Kenneth Mackenzie, lord of Kintayle, did purchase a commission against Glengarry and his men, whereby proceeded great slaughter and trouble.” Mackenzie having thus obtained the authority and assistance of the government, and being joined by a party of men sent by the earl of Sutherland, soon succeeded in driving the Macdonalds from the disputed territory, and at length besieged the only remaining detachment of therm, who occupied the castle of Strome.

      After a siege of some duration, the Macdonalds were obliged to surrender, and the Mackrnzies forthwith blew up the castle. He then invaded Glengarry at the head of a numerous body of troops, which he had collected for that purpose, and attacked the Macdonalds, who had taken arms in defence of their territory. The Macdonalds were beat, and their leader, Glengarry’s eldest son, was killed, with great slaughter on both sides; the Macdonalds defended their possessions for a considerable period with such desperation, that at length Mackenzie, finding that he could not make any impression upon them in their own country, and Glengarry being aware that he had now little chance of recovering ther districts which had been wrested from him, the contending parties came to an agreement, and the result was, a crown charter obtained by Mackenzie to the disputed districts, being those of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, & c., with the castle of Strome. The charter is dated in the year 1607 – “Thus doe the tryb of clan Kenzie become great in these pairts still encroaching upon their neighbours, who are unacquainted with the lawes of this kingdome.”

      This Kenneth Mackenzie was soon after raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, and his son Colin received the additional dignity of earl of Seaforth honours which they appear to have owed entirely to the great extent of territory which they had then acquired – “All the Highlands and Isles, from Ardnamurchan to Strathnaven, were either the Mackenzies’ property or under their vassalage, some very few excepted; and all about him were tied to his family by very strict bonds of friendship.”

      The Mackenzies took an active share in all the attempts made by the Highland clans in support of the cause of the Stuarts, with the exception of the last; and having been twice forfeited, the dictates of prudence, strengthened by the eloquence of President Forbes, induced them to decline joining in that unfortunate insurrection.

      In the next generations, however, the family became extinct and the estates have passed by the marriage of the heiress into the possession of a stranger.


Az. a stag’s head embossed, or.



Principal Seat.


Oldest Cadet.

Mackrnzie of Gairloch.


The family of the chief is said to be represented by Mackenzie of Allangrange.


In 1427, 2000. In 1704, 1200. In 1745, 2500.


Clan Mathan.

      The Macmathans or Mathiesons are represented in the manuscript of 1450 as a branch of the Mackernzies, and their origin is deduced in that document from Mathan or Mathew, a son of Kenneth, from whom the Mackenzies themselves take their name.

      This origin is strongly corroborated by tradition, which has always asserted the existence of a close intimacy and connexion between these two clans. The genealogy contained in the manuscript is also confirmed by the fact that the Norse account of Haco’s expedition mentions that the earl of Ross, in his incursions among the Isles, which led to that expedition, was accompanied by Kiarnakr, son of Makamals, while at that very period in the genealogy of the manuscript occur the names of Kenneth and Matgamma or Mathew, of which the Norse names are evidently a corruption.

      Of the history of this clan we know nothing whatever. although they are now extinct, they must at one time have been one of the most powerful clans in the north, for among the Highland chiefs seized by James I. at the Parliament held at Inverness in 1427, Bower mentions Macmaken, leader of two thousand men, and this circumstance affords a most striking instance of the rise and fall of different families; for, while the Mathison appears at that early period as the leader of two thousand men, the Mackenzie has the same number only, and we now see the clan of Mackenzie extending their numberless branches over a great part of the north, and possessing an extent of territory of which few families can exhibit a parallel, while the once powerful clan of the Mathisons has disappeared, and their name become nearly forgotten.


Siol Alpine.

      The general appellation of Siol Alpine has been usually given to a number of clans situated at considerable distances from each other, but who have hitherto been supposed to possess a common descent, and that from Kenneth Macalpine, the ancestor of a long line of Scottish kings. These clans are the clan Gregor, the Grants, the Mackinnons, Macquarries, Macnabs, and Macaulays, and they have at all times claimed the distinction of being the noblest and most ancient of the Highland clans. “S’rioghail mo dhream,” my race is royal, was the proud motto of the Macgregors, and although the other Highland clans have for centuries acquiesced in the justice of that motto, yet this lofty boast must fall before a rigid examination into its truth. For the authority of the manuscript of 1450 puts it beyond all doubt that that origin was altogether unknown at that period, and that these clans in reality formed a part of the tribe of Ross.

      The clans which formed the Siol Alpine seem to have differed from all others in this respect – that, so far back as they can be traced, they were always disunited, and although they acknowledged a common descent, yet at no time do they appear united under the authority of a common chief. But the principal tribe was always admitted to be that of clan Gregor, who, in the words of a late illustrious writer, are described to have been a race “famous for their misfortunes and the indomitable spirit with which they maintained themselves as a clan, linked and banded together in spite of the most severe laws, executed with unheard-of rigour against those who bore this forbidden surname.”


Clan Gregor.

      A great deal of romantic interest has of late years been attached to the history of this clan from the conspicuous part which it performs in many of the productions of the inimitable author of the Waverley novels, by which their proscription and consequent sufferings have become familiar to every one. But in the following short sketch I shall only attempt to throw together as many authentic facts regarding their early history as are still to be traced. The earliest possession of this family appears to have been the district of Glenurchy in Lorn, and from that district all the other septs of clan Gregor proceeded, for the common ancestor of all these clans is in tradition styled Ey Urchaych, or Hugh of Glenurchy, and his epithet of Glenurchy apparently points him out as the first of the clan who took possession of that district. Glenurchy forms a part of those territories in Argyll which were forfeited by Alexander the Second, and given to the principal chiefs in his army. As the earl of Ross had in particular joined him with a considerable force, and obtained no inconsiderable extent of territory in consequence, it is probable that Glenurchy was given to the chief of the Macgregors, at that time a vassal of the earl of Ross.

      Glenurchy appears among the possessions of the Argyll family as early as the reign of David II., and was afterwards settled upon a second son of that family, who became the founder of the house of Braedalbane. But notwithstanding that the Campbells had thus a legal right to that district, the Macgregors maintained the actual possession of it as late as the year 1390, for in that year there is mention of the death of John Gregorii de Glenurchy, and from the earliest period in which this clan is mentioned, their whole possessions appear to have been held by them upon no other title than that of the “Coir a glaive,” or fight of the sword.

      Prior to the death of John Macgregor, of Glenurchy, we are not acquainted with anything more of their history than the mere genealogy of the family. John Macgregor, who died in 1390, appears to have had three sons – Patrick, who succeeded him; John Dow, ancestor of the family of Glenstrae; and Gregor, ancestor of the family of Roro. Patrick appears, in addition to his lands in Glenurchy, to have possessed some property in Strathfillan, but the Campbells, who had obtained a feudal right to Glenurchy, and reduced the Macgregors to the situation of tenant at will, were apparently determined that they should not possess a feudal right to any property whatever. Malcolm, Patrick’s son, was in consequence compelled to sell the lands of Auchinrevach in Strathfillan to Campbell of Glenurchy, who in this manner obtained the first footing in Braedalbane, and after this period the Macgregors did not possess one acre of land to which they had a feudal title. As long as the clan remained united under one chief, they were enabled to maintain possession of their ancient estates by the strong hand, but the policy of the Argyll family now occasioned the usual disunion among the various families of the clan. The chief of the Macgregors, with the principal families, had been reduced to the situation of tenants on the lands of the Campbells of Glenurchy with one exception, viz., the family of Glenstray, who held that estate as vassal of the earl of Argyll. From Glenurchy, the Macgregors experienced nothing but thr extreme of oppression. The Argyll family, however, adopted the different policy of preserving the Macgregors on their property in a sufficient state of strength, to enable them to be of service to these wily lords in annoying their neighbours. The consequence of this was that the chief was for the time in no situation to protect his clan, and that the Glenstray family gradually assumed their station at the head of the clan with the title of captain, which they afterwards bore. The state of the principal branches of the clan now presented too favourable an opportunity for expelling them from the lands to be neglected, and accordingly the powerful families of Glenurchy, and others who had acquired a claim upon the chief of the Macgregors’ lands, and have commenced a system of annoyance and oppression, which speedily reduced the clan to a state of lawless insubordination, and obliged them to have recourse to a life of robbery and plunder as their only means of subsistence. It was not unnatural that a spirit of retaliation should direct their attacks against those who thus acquired possession of their lands, but this conduct, though natural, considering the country and the time, was studiously represented at court as arising from an untameable and innate ferocity of disposition, which it was said nothing could remedy, “save cutting off the tribe of Macgregor, root and branch.” And in truth, the treatment they had received had so utterly exasperated this unhappy clan, that it became the interest of these barons to extirpate them altogether, for which purpose every means was used to effect their object under the colour of law.

      The minority of King James the Fourth having thrown the poeer of ther state into the hands of the principal barons, they appear for the first time to have attained this object by means of the enactment obtained in the hear 1488, “for staunching of thiftreif and other enormities throw all the realme”; and among the barons to whom powers were given for enforcing the Act, we find Duncan Campbell of Glenurchy, Neill Stewart of Fortingall, and Ewine Campbell of Strachur. This Act must have fallen with peculiar severity upon the clan Gregor, and of course must rather have aggravated than alleviated the evil apparently sought to be remedied. But in numbers the Macgregor was still a powerful clan. The chieftainship had been assumed by the Glenstray family, which was descended from John Dow, second son of John Macgregor, and they still in some degree maintained their footing in Glenurchy. Besides this, a great number of them were now settled in the districts of Braedalbane and Atholl, among whom were the families of Roro, descended from Gregor, third son of John Macgregor, and those of Brackly, Ardchoille and Glengyll, the only remaining descendants of the ancient chiefs; and those families, although they acknowledged Glenstray as the chief, were yet by distance and jealousy dissevered from that sept.

      In order to reduce these branches, Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenurchy obtained, in 1492, the office of baliary of the crown lands of Disher and Toyer, Glenlion and Glendochart, and the consequences of his obtaining this office speedily shewed themselves, for in 1502 he obtained a charter of the lands of Glenlion, and he seems nearly to have accomplished the extermination of the other families of Macgregor in his neighbourhood. From this period the history of the Macgregors consists of a mere list of acts of privy council, by which commissions are granted to pursue the clan with fire and sword, and of various atrocities which a state of desperation, the natural result of these measures, as well as a deep spirit of vengeance against both the framers and executors of them, frequently led the clan to commit. These actions led to the enactment of still severer laws, and at length to the complete proscription of the clan.

      The slaughter of Drummond of Drummondernoch in the year 1589, and the conflict of Glenfruin in 1603, are well known to every one; the former affording a foundation for the incident detailed in Sir Walter Scott’s Legend of Montrose, and the latter being the result of the remarkable raid of the Macgregors into Lennox, where they were opposed by the Colquhouns, whom they defeated with great slaughter. Previously to this latter event, the king, despairing of being able to reduce the clan, had constituted the earl of Argyll king’s lieutenant and justice in the whole bounds inhabited by the clan Gregor, and this appointment was the means of at length effecting the utter ruin of the tribe; for that politic nobleman, instead of driving the Macgregors to desperation, determined to use them as tools for executing his own vengeance on any of the neighbouring families who had the misfortune to offend him.

      There seems little doubt that almost all the incursions of the clan after this period may be traced to that earl as their cause. But when the conflict of Glenfruin drew the attention of government once more upon them, the earl deemed it time to sacrifice his unfortunate instruments to the laws of his country. The chief of the clan Gregor was at this time Alaster Macgregor, of Glenstray, and the earl of Argyll having inveigled him into his power by a promise that he would convey him in safety to England and plead his cause at court, proceeded with him as far as Berwick; but having crossed the border, he declared that he had, to the letter, now fulfilled his promise, though not to the sense. He forthwith conveyed his victim back again to Edinburgh, and, after the form of a mock trial, had him hanged along with even of his followers. But unfortunately for the fame of the earl, Macgregor had, before his death, make a declaration, which affords so curious an exposure of that nobleman’s policy that we shall subjoin an extract from that document, as printed in Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, Vol. II., p. 435. “I, Alaster Macgregor, of Glenstray, confess heir before God, that I have been persudit, movit, and intycit, as I am now presently accusit and troublit for; alse gif I had usit counsall or command of the man that has entysit me, I would have done and committit sindrie heich murthouris mair. For twewlie syn I ewes first his majesties man, I could never be at ane else, by my Lord of Argylls falshete and inventiones, for he causit Macklaine and Clanhamrowne commit herschip and slaughter in my roum of Rannoche, the quhilk causit my pure men thereefter to begg, and steill, also thereefter he movit my brother and some of my friendes to commit baith heirschip and slaughter upon the Laird of Lues; also, he persuadit myself with message to weir againes the Laird of Boquhanene, whilk I did refuse, for the whilk I was contenuallie bostit that he would be my unfriend, and when I did refuse his desire in that point, then he entysit me with other messengeris, to weir and truble the Laird of Luss, quhilk I behuffit to do for his false boutgaittes; then when he saw I was in ane strait, he causit me trow he was my gude friend, & c., but with fair wordes to put me in ane snare that he might get the land of Kintyre in feyell fra his majesty beganne to put at me and my kin. The quhilk Argyll inventit maist shamfullie, and persuadit the Laird of Ardkinglass to dissave me quha was the man I did maist traist into; but God did relif me in the meantyme to libertie maist narrowlie, & c. I declare befoir God that he did all his craftie diligence to intyse me to slay and destroy the Laird of Ardinkaiple Mackally for ony ganes kyndness or friendship that he might do or give me. The quhilk I did refuse in respect of my faithful promise maid to Mackallay of befor; also he did all the diligence he culd to move me to slay the Laird of Ardkinglass in like manner. Bot I never grantit thereto. Throw the quhilk he did envy me gretumly, & c., & c.”

      The result of the representations which were made to the king against the Macgregors on account of this conflict, were the acts of proscription.

      By an Act of the privy council, dated 3rd April, 1603, the name of Macgregor was expressly abolished, and those who had hitherto borne it were commanded to change it for other surnames, the pain of death being denounced against those who should call themselves Gregor or Macgregor, the names of their fathers. Under the same penalty, all who had been at the conflict of Glenfruin, or accessory to other marauding parties charged in the Act, were prohibited from carrying weapons, except a pointless knife to cut their victuals. By a subsequent Act of council, death was denounced against any persons of the tribe formerly called Macgregor, who should presume to assemble in greater numbers than four. And finally, by an Act of Parliament, 1607, c. 26, these laws were continued and extended to the rising generation, in respect that great numbers of the children of those against whom the Acts of privy council had been directed, were stated to be then approaching to maturity, who, if permitted to assume the name of their parents, would render the clan as strong as it was before. The execution of these severe and unjustifiable Acts having been committed principally to the earl of Argyll, with the assistance of the earl of Atholl in Perthshire, were enforced with unsparing rigour by that nobleman, whose interest it now was to exterminate the clan; and on the part of the unfortunate Macgregors were resisted with the most determined courage, obtaining sometimes a transient advantage, and always selling their lives dearly.

      After the death of Alaster of Glenstray, that branch of the Macgregors remained nominally captains and chiefs of the clan, with little real power over the other houses of the clan, until the end of the seventeenth century, when they appear to have become extinct; although when Montrose raised his Highland army greater part of the clan Gregor joined him under the command of Patrick Macgregor of Glenstray. The Brackly family, however, seem constantly to have asserted their right to the chiefship, and at length, when the clan obtained full redress from the British government, by an Act abolishing for ever the penal statutes which had so long been imposed upon this race, they entered into a deed recognizing John Murray of Lanrick, afterwards Sir John Macgregor, Baronet, representative of this family, as lawfully descended from the ancient stock and blood of the lairds and lords of Macgregor, and therefore acknowledged him as their chief. This deed was subscribed by eight hundred and twenty-six persons of the name of Macgregor capable of bearing arms, and in this manner the descendant of the ancient chiefs of the clan again assumed the station at the head of the clan which his ancestors had possessed, and to which he was entitled by right of blood.

      Their claim, however, is opposed by the Glengyle family, to which branch belonged the celebrated freebooter, Rob Roy, whose deeds have been lately brought so conspicuously before the public.


Argent a sword in bend azure, and a fir tree eradicated in bend sinister proper; in chief, a crown gules.



Principal Seat.


Oldest Cadet.

The Macgregors of Glenstray were oldest cadets and captains for a period of two centuries.


Sir Even Macgregor Murray, Baronet.


In 1745, 700.


Clan Grant.

      Nothing certain is known regarding the origin of the Grants. They have been said to be of Danish, English, French, Norman, and of Gaelic extraction; but each of these suppositions depends for support upon conjecture alone, and amidst so many conflicting opinions it is difficult to fix upon the most probable. It is maintained by the supporters of their Gaelic origin, that they are a branch of the Macgregors, and in this opinion they are certainly borne out by the ancient and unvarying tradition of the country; for their Norman origin, I have upon examination entirely failed in discovering any further reason than that their name may be derived from the French, grand or great, and that they occasionally use the Norman form of de Grant. the latter reason, however, is not of any force, for it is impossible to trace an instance of their using the form de Grant until the fifteenth century; on the contrary, the form is invariably Grant or le Grant, and on the very first appearance of the family it is “dictus Grant.” It is certainly not a territorial name, for there was no ancient property of that name, and the peculiar form under which it invariably appears in the earlier generations, proves that the name is derived from a person epithet. It so happens, however, that there was no epithet so common among the Gael as that of Grant as a perusal of the Irish annals will evince; and at the same time Ragman’s Roll shews that the Highland epithets always appear among the Norman signatures with the Norman “le” prefixed to them. The clan themselves unanimously assert their descent from Gregor Mor Macgregor, who lived in the twelfth century; and this is supported by their using to this day the same badge of distinction. So strong is this belief in both the clans of Grant and Macgregor, that in the early part of the last century a meeting of the two was held in the Blair of Atholl, to consider the policy of re-uniting them. Upon this point all agreed, and also that the common surname should be Macgregor, if the reversal of the attainder of that name could be got from government. If that could not be obtained it was agreed that either Mac Alpine or Grant should be substituted. This assembly of the clan Alpine lasted for fourteen days, and was only rendered abortive by disputes as to the chieftainship of the combined clan. Here, then, is as strong an attestation of a tradition as it is possible to conceive, and when to this is added the utter absence of the name in the old Norman rolls, the only trustworthy mark of a Norman descent we are warranted in placing the Grants among the Siol Alpine.

      The first of this family who appear on record are Domini Laurentius et Robertus dicti Grant, who are witnesses to an agreement between Archibald, Bishop of Moray, and John Bisset, dated in September, 1258, and they are said to have been the sons of Gregory de Grant, who acquired the lands of Stratherrick by marriage with a Bisset. This is so far borne out, that there is reason to think that Stratherrick was the earliest possession which the Grants had, and remained for some time in the family, while we find in Alexander the Third’s reign a charter to Walter Bisset of Stratherrick. By this marriage the Grants at once took their place as barons of considerable power, and accordingly we find Laurence Grant bearing the high office of sheriff of Inverness in the reign of Alexander III., and taking a leading part in the transactions of that period. Laurence still further increased the possessions of the family by marrying the daughter and heiress of the baron of Glencharny, in Strathspey, and obtained, in consequence, an extensive tract of country on the north side of the Spey. From this period the family took the name of Glencharny; and it seemed as if the family were to owe their whole advancement to their fortunate marriages, for Laurence’s son and successor, Gilbert de Glencharny, added to his other possessions a considerable extent of property in the counties of Elgin and Banff, by marriage with Margaret Wiseman, heiress of the Wisemans of Molben. Gilbert had but one son, of the same name, by whose death without issue these properties came to his sister Christina, with the exception of Stratherrick, which descended to the male heir, [Robertson’s Index.] Malcolm le Grant, probably a descendant of Robert the younger son of Gregory the Grant. Christina had married Duncan Fraser, a cadet of the house of Lovat, and Fraser, finding that a peaceable possession of these properties in the midst of the clan Grant and at a distance from his own chief, was not to be expected, exchanged the properties in Strathspey with Malcolm Grant for that of Stratherrick, which its vicinity to Lovat rendered the more desirable possession for a Fraser. In this manner the greater part of Strathspey remained in the possession of the chief of the Grants, while their original property went into the family of the Frasers.

      After Malcolm we know little of the Grants, until we find Duncan Grant de eodem at the head of the clan in the middle of the fifteenth century, and from this period they began gradually to increase in extent of possessions and of power, until they rose to be a clan of no ordinary importance.

      At different periods they acquired Glenmorison, Glenurchart, and many other estates, and continued in the ranks of the principal clans, until at length the extinction of the noble family of Finlater added the peerage of Seafield to their former possessions.


Gules, three antique crowns, or.


Cranberry heath.

Principal Seat.


Oldest Cadet.

The Sliochd Phadrick, or Grants of Tullochgorum, appear to have been oldest cadets.


Grant of Grant, now Earl of Seafield.


In 1715, 800. in 1745, 850.


Clan Fingon.

      Of the history of this clan but little is known; having settled at a very early period in the island of Sky, they became followers of the lords of the Isles, in whose history they are very often mentioned, but they do not appear to have been engaged in many transactions by which their name is separately brought forward as a clan. Although so great a distance intervened between the country of the Macgregors and that of this family, they are unquestionably a branch of the former clan. In the MS. of 1450 they are brought from Finguine, a brother of Anrias or Andrew, who appears in the Macgregor genealogy about the year 1130. This connexion is farther proved by a bond of friendship entered into between Lauchlan Mackinnon, of Strathardill, and James Macgregor, of Macgregor, in 1671, in which bond, “for the special love and amitie between these persons, and condescending that they are descended lawfully fra twa breethern of auld descent, quhairfore and for certain onerous causes moving, we witt ye we to be bound and obleisit, likeas be the tenor hereof we faithfully bind and obleise us and our successors, our kin friends and followers, faithfully to serve ane anither in all causes with our men and servants, against all wha live or die.”

      In consequence of their connexion with the Macdonalds, the Mackinnons have no history independent of that clan, and the internal state of these tribes during the government of the lords of the Isles is so obscure that little can be learned regarding them, until the forfeiture of the last of these lords. During their dependence upon the Macdonalds there is but one event of any importance in which we find the Mackinnons taking a share, for it would appear that on the death of John of the Isles, in the fourteenth century, Mackinnon, with what object it is impossible now to ascertain, stirred up his second son, John Mor, to rebel against his eldest brother, apparently with a view to the chiefship and his faction was joined by the Macleans and the Macleods. But Donald, the elder brother was supported by so great a proportion of the tribe, that he drove John Mor and his party out of the Isles, and pursued him to Galloway, and from thence to Ireland.

      The rebellion being thus put down, John Mor threw himself upon his brother’s mercy, and received his pardon, but Mackinnon was taken and hanged, as having been the instigator of the disturbance.

      On the forfeiture of the last lord, Mackinnon became independent, but his clan was so small that he never attained any very great power in consequence. In the disturbances in the Isles which continued during the following century, the name of Sir Lauchlan Mackinnon occurs very frequently, and he appears, notwithstanding the small extent of his possessions, to have been a man of some consideration in his time. From this period they remained in the condition of the minor clans in the Highlands, and with them took a part in all the political events in which these clans were engaged.


Clan An Aba.

      The Macnabs have been said by some to have been Macdonalds, by others, Macgregors; but there exists a bond of Manrent, dated 1606, which proves them to have been a branch of the Mackinnons, and consequently of the Siol Alpine. This bond was entered into between Lachlan Mackinnon, of Strathardel, and Finlay Macnab, of Bowaine, and narrates that “happening to foregadder togedder with certain of the said Finlay’s friends in their rooms, in the Laird of Glenurchay’s country, and the said Lauchlan and Finlay having come of one house and being of one surname and lineage, notwithstanding the said Lauchlan and Finlay this long time bygone oversaw their awn duties till uders in respect of the long distance and betwixt their dwelling places, quhairfore baith the saids now and in all time coming are content to be bound and obleisit, with consent of their kyn and friends, to do all sted, pleasure, assistance, and service that lies in them ilk ane to uthers: The said Finlay acknowledging the said Lauchlan as ane kind chieff, and of ane house; and likelike the said Lauchlan to acknowledge the said Finlay Macnab, his friend, as hie special kynsman and friend.”

      This account of their origin is fully confirmed by the MS. of 1450.

      The Macnabs originally possessed considerable territories lying west of Loch Tay, but having followed Lorn in the opposition which he made to the Bruce, and having taken a conspicuous part in the struggle, their possessions were, on the accession of that monarch, restricted to the barony of Bowain, in Glendochard, to which they have a charter as early as 1536.

      The Macnabs remained for a long time an independent clan in the heart of the possessions of the Campbells, and adopted a different line of politics from these great lords. The line of their chiefs, however, has at length become extinct, and their property is now in possession of the Braedalbane family.


Clan Duffie.

      The Macduffies or Macphees are the most ancient inhabitants of Colonsay, and their genealogy, which is preserved in the manuscript of 1450, evinces their connexion by descent with the Macgregors and Mackinnons, among whom accordingly they have been placed. Of their early history nothing is known, and the only notice regarding their chiefs at that period, is one which strongly confirms the genealogy contained in the MS. On the south side of the church of St. Columba, according to Martin, lie the tombs of Macduffie, and of the cadets of his family; there is a ship under sail and a two-handed sword engraven on the principal tombstone, along with this inscription – “Hic Iacet Malcolumbus Macduffie de Colonsay.” And in the genealogy the name of Malcolm occurs at a period which corresponds with the supposed date of the tombstone. The Macduffies certainly remained in possession of Colonsay as late as the middle of the seventeenth century, for we find them mentioned on several occasions during the troubles of that period; but they appear at that time to have been nearly exterminated, as we find in the criminal records for 1623, Coil Mac Gillespic Macdonald, in Colonsay (afterwards the celebrated Collkitto), was “delaitit of airt and pairt of the felonie and cruell slaughter of Umquhill Malcolm Macphie of Colonsay,” with others of his clan. From this period their estate seems to have gone into the possession of the Macdonalds, and afterwards of the Macneills, by whom it is still held; while the clan gradually sunk until they were only to be found, as at present, forming a small part of the inhabitants of Colonsay.


Clan Quarrie.


      The Macquarries first appear in possession of the island of Ulva and part of Mull, and like the Mackinnons, their situation forced them, at a very early period, to become dependent upon the Macdonalds. But their descent from the clan Alpine, which has constantly been asserted by tradition, is established by the manuscript of 1450, which deduced their origin from Guaire or Godfrey, a brother of Fingon, ancestor of the Mackinnons, and Anrias or Andrew, ancestor of the Macgregors, the history of the Macquarries resembles that of the Mackinnons in many respects; like them they had migrated far from the headquarters of their race, they became dependent upon the lords of the Isles, and followed them as if they had been a branch of the clan.

      On the forfeiture of the last lord of the Isles, they became, like the Mackinnons, in a manner independent, and although surrounded by various powerful clans, they maintained their station, which was that of a minor clan, without apparently undergoing any alteration; and survived many of the revolutions of fortune to which the greater clans were exposed in the same station, bearing among the other clans the character of great antiquity, and of having once been greater than they now were.


Clan Aula.

      The Macaulays, of Ardincaple, have for a long period been considered as deriving their origin from the ancient earls of Lennox, and it has generally been assumed, without investigation, that their ancestor was Aulay, son of Aulay, who appears in Ragman Roll, and whose father, Aulay, was brother of Maldowan, earl of Lennox. Plausible as this derivation may appear, there are yet two circumstances which render it impossible, and establish the derivation of the clan to have been very different.

      In the first place, it is now ascertained that these Aulays were of the family of de Fasselane, who afterwards succeeded to the earldom, and among the numerous deeds relating to this family in the Lennox chartulary, there is no mention of any other son of Aulay’s than Duncan de Fasselane, who succeeded to the earldom and left no male issue. Secondly, there exists a bond of friendship entered into between Macgregor of Glenstray and Macaulay of Ardincaple, upon the 27th May, 1591, in which the latter owns his being a cadet of the house of the former, and promises to pay him the “Calp.” There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Macaulays were a branch of the clan Alpine, and the mistake as to their origin has probably arisen from the similarity of name, and from their situation necessarily making them, for the time, followers of the earl of Lennox.

      The Macaulays appear to have settled, at a very early period, in the Lennox, and the first chiefs who are mentioned in the Lennox chartulary are designed “de Ardincapill.” Their connexion with the Macgregors led them to take some part in the feuds that unfortunate race were at all times engaged in, but the protection of the earls of Lennox seems to have relieved the Macaulays from the consequences which fell so heavily upon the Macgregors. The Macaulays never rose above the rank of a minor clan, and like many others in a similar situation they have latterly become extinct.

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