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The Highlanders of Scotland
Part II -
Chapter IX

IV. – Garmoran.

IN the oldest list of the Scottish earldoms which has been preserved, appears the name of Garmoran. There was afterwards a lordship of Garmoran, consisting of the districts of Knoydart, Morer, Arisaig, and Moydart; and the situation of this lordship indicates the position of the earldom to have been between north and south Argyll, including, besides the lordship of the same name, the districts of Glenelg, Ardnamurchan, and Morvern.

      At no period embraced by the records do we discover Garmoran as an efficient earldom; but as the polity of earldoms was introduced by Edgar, its appearance in the old lists proves that it lasted in the possession of its native earls till after his reign. The grant by Alexander III, of a great part of the earldom as a lordship of the same name, likewise proves that it must have been for some time in the crown.

      In consequence of a singular mistake of our earlier historians, the existence of this earldom has been entirely forgotten, and its history merged in that of another earldom, of nearly the same name. Garmoran is known to the Highlanders by the name of Garbhcriochan, or the rough bounds. The identity of the first syllables of the two names shews that the name of Garmoran is descriptive of the district, and that it is properly Moran, with the prefixed qualification of garbh or rough. Now it is remarkable, that there is a Lowland earldom bearing the same name, without the prefixed qualification of Rough, for the old name of the Merns is Moerne. The name is certainly descriptive of the situation of the earldom, and must have been imposed at a very early period; but it is singular, that with reference to the Pictish nation, the original inhabitants of both, their position is identic, for the Merns bears exactly the same position towards the southern Picts, forming a sort of wedge-like termination to their territories, which Garmoran does to the northern Picts. There can therefore be little doubt of the absolute identity of the names of these two earldoms. [In the red book of Clanranald, the name Morshron, pronounced Moran, and signifying “great nose,” is applied to the districts forming the earldom of Garmoran.]

      The people and earls of Moerne are frequently mentioned in the older chronicles, principally as rebelling, along with the Moravians, against the government. It has invariably been assumed that Moerne here implies the Lowland Merns, but the constant and close connexion between the people of Moerne and the Moravians in the history of the Scottish rebellions has been remarked by historians as singular and inexplicable.

      If, by the Moerne, the Northern earldom is meant, which is adjacent to Moray, the connexion is natural, but it is impossible to account either for the language of the chronicles, or for the circumstances themselves, if it is to be understood of the Lowland Merns.

      This will appear more clearly from a review of the particular instances in which the name occurs. Moerne is mentioned in ancient chronicles four times: –

      I. In A.D. 950, Malcolm, king of Scotland, went into Moray, and slew Cellach, and shortly afterwards he is slain by the Viri na Moerne, or Men of the Moerne in Fodresach. Cellach we can prove to have been Maormor of neither Moray nor Ross. He must have been of some neighbouring Maormorship. If Moerne is Moran in the north, the transaction is natural; the king slew their chief, and was slain by them in Forres. If the Merns, we neither know why the first event should have been mentioned or the second taken place. Moreover, another authority says he was slain by the Moravians at Ulurn. Ulurn was near Forres. We see how the Moravians might have been mistaken for the people of Garmoran – not for the Merns – or how the people of the Merns should have been in Moray.

      II. Duncan, king of Scotland, is slain A.D. 1094 by Malpeder Macloen, Comite de Moerne. This however, could not have been the Southern Merns, because we have strong reason to think that until the reign of Edgar some time after, the Merns formed a part of the Maormorship of Angus. The older historians all agree that Merns was originally a part of Angus and it certainly was so in the tenth century, for when Kenneth, the third king of Scotland, was slain by the daughter of the earl of Angus, the scene of his slaughter is placed by the old chronicles in Fettercairn in the Merns. The ancient dioceses of the Culdee church, however, afford the most certain information as to the number and extent of the Maormorships previous to the reign of Edgar, and they place the matter beyond a doubt, for the diocese of Brechin unquestionably included the Merns along with Angus, and prove that it must have formed a part of the Maormorship of Angus until the reign of Edgar. If the earl who slew king Duncan was earl of Garmoran, the event is more intelligible, for he did so for the purpose of placing Donald Bane on the throne; and Donald, we know, received the principal support from the Celtic inhabitants of the west.

      III. Alexander I. in his palace at Invergowry is attacked by the “Satellites” of Moerne and Moray. He drives them across the Month – across the Spey and over “the Stockfurd into Ros.”

                        “And tuk and slew thame or he past
                        Out of that land, that fewe he left
                        To tak on hand swylk purpose eft.”

      The connexion between Moray and Garmoran is intelligible – not so if this was Merns; for it is quite impossible to account for the people of the Merns taking refuge in Ross, when the Grampians would afford them a securer retreat in their own neighbourhood. The language of Winton, however, is quite inconsistent with the supposition that the Southern Merns is here meant; if by this, the Northern Moerne or Garmoran is here meant, it agrees with our previous deduction, that the earldom must have been forfeited after the reign of Edgar.

      It is thus plain that these transactions are connected with the Northern Moran only, and we trace from them three of the old earls of Garmoran.

      1. Cellach, slain by Malcolm, king of Scotland, A.D. 950.

      2. Cellach, who appears in the Sagas under the name of Gilli; he lived A.D. 990-1014, and was certainly maormor of this district.

      3. Malpeder Macleon, forfeited by Alexander I.

      The earldom of Garmoran remained in the crown until the reign of Alexander III., with the exception of Glenelg, which had been given to the Bissets, A.D. 1160, and the support of the great chiefs of the Macdonalds at the convention of 1283 was purchased by the grant of Ardnamurchan to Angus More of the Isles, and of the remaining part of the earldom to Allan Mac Rory, lord of the Isles, under the name of the Lordship of Garmoran.

      The ancient inhabitants of the earldom can, however, be traced by the assistance of the old manuscript genealogies. The various clans are, as we have seen by these genealogies divided into five tribes, of which four can be identified with the tribes of the Gallgael, Moray, Ross, and Ness. The fifth consists of the Macleods and the Campbells, who are, by the oldest genealogies, deduced from a common ancestor. These two clans must have taken their descent from some of the ancient tribes, and we ought to find in their early history traces of a connexion with the earldom from which they proceed. The earliest charter which the Macleods possess is one from David II. to Malcolm, the son of Tormad Macleod, of two-thirds of Glenelg. He could not have acquired this by a marriage connection, and as these two-thirds came to the crown by forfeiture of the Bissets, it bears a strong resemblance to a vassal receiving his first right from the crown, and consequently an old possessor. Glenelg, however, was in Garmoran, and the connection of the Macleods with this earldom is strongly corroborated by the fact that in their oldest genealogy occur two Cellachs, grandfather and grandson, exactly contemporary with the two earls of Garmoran of that name.

      The Campbells are not old in Argyll proper, or the sheriffdom of Argyll; it was, we know, the peculiar property of Somerled II., and we have distinct authority for its being planted with strangers. Campbell’s ancestor was made sheriff by Alexander II.’ his successor adhered to government, and received many grants of land in the sheriffdom, so that we should expect to find traces of his original property in the possession of cadets, who came off before his acquisition of property in Argyll.

      Allan Mac Rory obtained a grant of the lordship of Garmoran about 1275; his feudal heir was his daughter Christina, and her first act of possession is a charter Arthuro Campbell filio Domini Arthuro Campbell militis de terris de Muddeward Ariseg et Mordower et insulis de Egge et Rumme et pertineri.

      Christina was never in actual though in feudal possession of the lordship, for though vera haeres, her nephew Ronald [Ronald and Christina are so styled in a charter in the Inchaffray Chartulary.] was verus dominus, this is therefore apparently a feudal right given to an old possessor, otherwise we do not see its object.

      Thus, when we find from the manuscript genealogies that the Macleods and Campbells were branches of the same ancient tribe, and when we find that the oldest notices of each tribe separately, connect them with the district of Garmoran, there can be little doubt that these two clans are the remaining descendants of the ancient inhabitants of that district.


Clan Leod.

      There are few clans whose Norwegian origin has been more strenuously asserted or more generally believed than that of the Macleods, and yet, for that origin there is not the vestige of authority. In this matter it is usual to find the chronicle of Man referred to as expressly sanctioning the assertion, and this reference has been again and again repeated, but notwithstanding the confidence with which this chronicle has been quoted as authority, it is a singular circumstance that that record is nevertheless destitute of the slightest hint of any such origin, or even of any passage which could be assumed as a ground for such an idea. Neither does the tradition of Norwegian descent, if such a tradition ever did exist, appear to be very old, for in a manuscript genealogy of the Macleods, written in the latter part of the sixteenth century, there is not a trace of such a descent, but, on the contrary, as we have seen, they are deduced from one common ancestor with the Campbells, and were certainly a part of the ancient inhabitants of the earldom of Garmoran.

      From the earliest period in which the Macleods are mentioned in history, they have been divided into two great families of Macleod of Glenelg, or Harris, and Macleod of Lewis, and these families have for a considerable period disputed as to which of them the right of chief belongs. As occurs in the somewhat parallel case of the Macneils, this dispute appears to have arisen from the possessions of the Macleods having necessarily been so little connected together, and from both families being nearly of equal power and consequence; but from the few data which have remained to guide us on this point there seems every reason to think, that Macleod of Glenelg, or Harris, was of old the proper chief of the clan. Macleod of Harris was originally invariably designated “de Glenelg” and Glenelg was certainly the first and chief possession of the clan. In various charters of the fifteenth century, to which the heads of both families happen to be witnesses, Macleods de Glenelg always appears before that of Macleod of Lewis, and finally the possessions of the Lewis family formed no part of the original possessions of the clan, for the first charter of the family of Lewis is one by king David II., to Torquil Macleod of the barony of Assint. And it is certain that Torquil obtained this barony by marriage with Margaret Macnicol, the heiress of the lands, and in that charter he is not designated “de Lewis,” nor has he any designation whatever. These facts seem conclusive that the claim of Macleod of Harris to be chief of the clan is well founded, and that the marriage of a younger son of that family with the heiress of Assgut and Lewis gave rise to the family of Macleods of Lewis, who were the oldest cadets of the clan, and who soon came to rival the family of the chief in power and extent of territory.

      The original possessions of the Macleods then appears to have been Glenelg, of which district King David II. grants a charter to Malcolm, the son of Tormod Macleod, and the reddendo of the charter is to keep a galley with thirty-six oars for the use of the king. The Macleods are said to have acquired the extensive lands in Sky, which they still hold, by marriage with the daughter of Macraild, or Macarailt, one of the Norwegian nobles of the Isles; and from this connexion, and the succession which was obtained by it, arose probably the tradition of their being descended from the Norwegian kings of the Isles. Malcolm was succeeded by his son William, who, although from his having been a younger son, he had been brought up for the church, appears to have involved himself in numberless feuds with the neighbouring clans, and to have become one of the most noted and daring of the restless chiefs of that period.

      Among the first of his plundering incursions he ravaged the estates of Lovat in the Aird, in order to avenge an insult which he had received in that country in his youth. He afterwards on some occasion called down upon himself the resentment of the lord of the Isles, who invaded his estates with a considerable body of Macdonalds; William Macleod, however, possessed no small portion of military skill, and having a perfect knowledge of the country, he succeeded in surprising the Macdonalds at a place called Lochsligichan, where he defeated them with great slaughter. But notwithstanding this feud with the Macdonalds, John Macleod, his successor, is said to have followed the banner of Donald of the Isles in his invasion of Scotland in 1411, and to have taken a part in the battle of Harlaw.

      From the accession of the Macdonalds to the earldom of Ross, the Macleods seem to have acknowledged them as their lords, and to have followed them on all occasions. On the unfortunate dissension occurring between John, the last lord of the Isles, and his son Angus Ogg, when both parties at length took to arms, the one to reduce a rebellious son, and the other to depose a person whom he considered incapable of governing his extensive territories, Macleod of Glenelg embraced the cause of the injured father, and took an active share in the civil war which thus divided the Macdonalds and finally caused their ruin. He was present at the battle of the Bloody Bay and lost his life in that unnatural engagement.

      On the forfeiture of the last lord, the Macleods, as well as the other clans connected with the Macdonalds, assumed independence, and in consequence Alexander Macleod received from king James IV. a crown charter of all his lands, which included those of Harris and his extensive possessions in Sky; which charter narrates that these lands were held of the earls of Ross and lords of the Isles before their forfeiture, but were now to be held of the crown upon condition of holding in readiness one ship of twenty-six oars, and two of sixteen, for the king’s service when required. After this period, the Macleods, like the other clans who had formerly been dependent upon the Macdonalds, appear to have become involved in a succession of feuds with the remaining branches of that great but now reduced clan, and these feuds seem to have been prosecuted with all the bitterness and barbarity of the age. The Macleods took an active share in the conflicts and mutual injuries inflicted upon each other in the contest between the Macleans and the Macdonalds of Isla, towards the end of the sixteenth century, and by means of their support were mainly instrumental in causing the success of the former, and consequent ruin of the latter. But the most barbarous perhaps of any of these feuds was that carried on between the Macleods themselves and the clan Ranald.

      The Macleods had long been in a state of irritation against the latter, in consequence of the bad treatment which a daughter of Macleod of Glenelg had some time before experienced from her husband, the captain of clan Ranald, and they only waited for a fitting occasion to satisfy their vengeance on that ground. Towards the close of the sixteenth century an opportunity presented itself, when a small party of Macleods having accidentally landed on the island of Egg, they were at first received with hospitality, but having been guilty of some incivilities to the young women of the island, the inhabitants resented it so far as to bind them hand and foot and turn them adrift in their boat to perish if assistance did not reach them; they had the good fortune, however, to be met by a boat of their own clansmen, and brought to Dunbegan, where they gave an account of the treatment they had met with. Macleod eagerly availed himself of the opportunity of executing his long mediated revenge on the clan Ranald, and having manned his galleys, set sail for the island of Egg. When the inhabitants became aware of his approach, and feeling conscious of their inability to offer any effectual resistance against the force that threatened them, they took refuge, along with their wives and families, to the amount of two hundred, in a large cave, the situation and difficult discovery of which rendered it admirably adapted for concealment. Here for two days they succeeded in eluding the search of the Macleods, which was pursued with ineffectual industry, until at length their retreat was discovered in consequence of their impatience having led them to send forth a scout; when they refused to surrender themselves to the pleasure of the Macleod, he caused the stream of water which fell over the entrance of the cave to be turned aside; and having caused all the combustibles to be fond on the island, had them piled up against the entrance, and so furious a fire maintained for many hours that every creature within was suffocated; thus, at one blow, exterminating the entire population of the island. This atrocity was one of the worst instances arising out of the feuds which at that period distracted the whole Highlands, and by which one family rose upon the ruins of another.

      The possessions and power of the Macleods appear to have been very much increased by Sir Rorie More Macleod, and it was during his life that the rival family of Lewis became extinct, – a circumstance which, as it removed the division and disagreement hitherto existing in the clan, also tended to render the family of still greater influence. During the civil wars of the seventeenth century, the Macleods joined the royal army with seven hundred men, and took an active share in all the campaigns of that period; but when the clans again took arms in support of the cause of that family, the Macleods were induced by the persuasion and active urgency of the Laird of Culloden, to abstain from taking any share in that insurrection, and while their presence would not probably have altered the ultimate result, they thereby escaped the numerous forfeitures of the period.


Az. a castle triple towered and embattled, or, masoned sa. windows and port, gu.


Red whortle-berries.

Principal Seat.


Oldest Cadet.

Macleod of Lewis, now represented by Macleod of Rasay.


Macleod of Macleod.


In 1704, 700. In 1715, 1000. In 1745, 700.


Clan Campbell.

      To the Campbells a Norman origin has been very generally ascribed, and this numerous clan, who, although their possessions in Argyllshire were at first small, rapidly rose to considerable eminence, seems of late to have been tacitly surrendered by the supporters of the Celtic race to their antagonists, the admirers of William the Norman’s motley band, yet no clan do these southern antiquaries claim more unjustly. Their claim is principally founded upon the assumption that the name Campbell is a mere corruption of that of de Campo Bello, which they assert to have been a Norman family. Now to this the answer is easy, for there never was a Norman family of the name Campo Bello. Battel Abbey and other Rolls, Doomsday Book, and similar records, are equally silent about them, while the farther back we trace the spelling of the Scotch name, the more unlike does it become to his supposed Campo Bello, the oldest spelling of it, that in Ragman Roll, being Cambel or Kambel. There is thus no authority whatever for their Norman descent; and while the most ancient manuscript genealogies attest their Gaelic origin, the history of the earldom of Garmoran proves, as we have seen, that they formed a part of the ancient inhabitants of that district. There is one feature, however, in the tale of their Norman descent which deserves attention. While they say that their ancestor was a Norman de Campo Bello, they add that he acquired his Argyllshire property by marriage with the daughter and heiress of Paul O’Duin, lord of Lochow. This story is so exactly similar to those in the other clans, where the oldest cadet had usurped the chiefship, that it leads to the suspicion that the same circumstance must have given rise to it among the Campbells. We have shewn it to be invariably the case, that when a clan claims a foreign origin, and accounts for their possession of the chiefship and property of the clan by a marriage with the heiress of the old proprietors, they can be proved to be in reality a cadet of that older house who had usurped the chiefship, while their claim to the chiefship is disputed by an acknowledged descendant of that older house. To this rule the Campbells are no exceptions, for while the tale upon which they found a Norman descent is exactly parallel to those of the other clans in the same situation, the most ancient manuscript genealogies deduce them in the male line from that very family of O’Duin, whose heiress they are said to have married, and the Macarthur Campbells, of Strachur, the acknowledged descendants of the older house, have at all times disputed the chiefship with the Argyll family. judging from analogy, we are compelled to admit that the Campbells of Strachur must formerly have been chiefs of the clan, and that the usual causes in such cases have operated to reduce the Strachur family, and to place that of Argyll in that situation, and this is confirmed by the early history of the clan.

      The first appearance of the Campbells is in the reign of Alexander III., and we find them at that time divided into two great families, afterwards distinguished by the patronymics of Mac Arthur and Mac Cailinmor.

      The first notice of the Mac Cailinmor branch is Gillespic Cambel, who witnesses the charter of erection of the Burgh of Newburgh by Alexander III. in 1266. and there is the strongest reason to think that he was heritable sheriff of the sheriffdom of Argyll, which had been erected by Alexander II. in 1221. It is certain, however, that until the reign of Robert the Bruce, the Campbells did not possess an heritable right to any property in Argyllshire. The situation of the Mac Arthur branch at this time was very different, for we find them in possession of a very extensive territory in the earldom of Garmoran, the original seat of the Campbells. It is therefore impossible to doubt that Mac Arthur was at this time at the head of the clan, and this position he appears to have maintained until the reign of James I. Arthur Campbell of this branch embraced the cause of Robert the Bruce, as well as Sir Neil Campbell, the son of Colinmore, and appears to have been as liberally rewarded by that monarch with the forfeited lands of his opponents. He obtained the keeping of the Castle of Dunstaffnage, with a considerable part of the forfeited territory of Lorn, and his descendants added Strachur in Cowall, and a considerable part of Glendochart and Glenfalloch, to their former possessions. In the reign of David II. the Mac Cailinmor branch, who since the marriage of Sir Neil with the sister of Robert Bruce had been rapidly increasing in power and extent of territory, appear to have taken the first steps towards placing themselves at the head of the clan, but were successfully resisted by Mac Arthur, who obtained a charter, Arthuro Campbell quod nulli subjicitur pro terris nisi regi; and the Mac Arthurs appear to have maintained this station until the reign of James I., when they were doomed to incur that powerful monarch’s resentment, and to be in consequence so effectually crushed as to offer no further resistance to the encroaching power of Mac Cailinmor.

      When James I. summoned his parliament at Inverness for the purpose of entrapping the Highland chiefs, John Mac Arthur was one of those who fell into the snare, and he seems to have been among the few especially devoted to destruction, for he was beheaded along with Alexander, the lord of Garmoran, and his whole property forfeited, with the exception of Strachur and some lands in Perthshire, which remained to his descendants. His position at the head of the clan is sufficiently pointed out by Bower, who calls him “princeps magnus apud suos et dux mille hominum,” but from this period the Mac Cailinmore branch were unquestionably at the head of the clan, and their elevation to the peerage, which took place but a few years after, placed them above the reach of dispute from any of the other branches of the clan. The Strachur family, in the meantime, remained in the situation of one of the principal of the Ceann Tighe, preserving an unavailing claim to the position of which they had been deprived. After this period the rise of the Argyll family to power and influence was rapid, and the encroachments which had commenced with the branches of their own clan soon involved most of the clans in their neighbourhood; and their history is most remarkable from their extraordinary progress from a station of comparative inferiority to one of unusual eminence, as well as from the constant and steady adherence of all the barons of that house to the same deep system of designing policy by which they attained their greatness.

      It would be inconsistent with the limits of this work to follow the history of this family farther, and the omission is of the less importance, as during the early part their history is identic with that of all the other Highland clans of no great notoriety; while in the later part, when they began to rise upon the ruins of the great families of the Isles, it becomes in some degree the same with that of the Highlanders generally, and consists principally of the details of a policy characterised by cunning and perfidy, although deep and farsighted, and which obtained its usual success in the acquisition of great temporal grandeur and power.


Gyronne of eight, or, and sable.



Principal Seat.

Originally the lordship of Garmoran, afterwards Lochow.

Oldest Cadet.

Maccailinmore, or Campbell of Lochow, now Duke of Argyll, was oldest cadet, but has been at the head of the clan since 1427.


Previous to 1427, Macarthur Campbell of Strachur.


In 1427, 1000. In 1715, 4000. In 1745, 5000.


V. – Caithness

      The northern districts of Scotland were those which were most early exposed to the ravages of the Norwegians, and it was in these districts where they effected their first permanent settlement in Scotland. But the nature of the country itself had always a considerable influence upon the effect produced on the population by the Norwegian settlements. Where the country was open and exposed the population was in general altogether changed, and in process of time became purely Norse; but where the conquered districts possessed in whole or in part the mountainous, and at that period, almost inaccessible character of the rest of the Highlands, the actual population commonly remained Gaelic, although the chiefs were reduced to subjection and became tributary to the Norwegians. This distinction in the character of the different conquered districts can be traced without difficulty in the Sagas, and these invaluable records afford sufficient reason for thinking that a considerable portion of the Gaelic population remained, notwithstanding the long occupation of the country by the Norwegians. The districts which were subjected to the most permanent occupation of the Norwegians in Scotland, were those of Caithness, Ness, and Sudrland, or Sutherland.

      The district of Caithness was originally of much greater extent than the modern county of that name, as it included the whole of the extensive and mountainous district of Strathnaver. Towards the middle of the tenth century the Norwegian Iarl of Orkney obtained possession of this province, and with the exception of a few short intervals, it continued to form a part of his extensive territories for a period of nearly two hundred years. The district of Strathnaver, which formed the western portion of the ancient district of Caithness, differed very much in appearance from the rest of it, exhibiting indeed the most complete contrast which could well be conceived, for while the eastern division was in general low, destitute of mountains, and altogether of a Lowland character, Strathnaver possessed the characteristics of the rudest and most inaccessible of Highland countries; the consequence of this was, that while the population of Caithness proper became speedily and permanently Norse, that of Strathnaver must, from the nature of the country, have remained in a great measure Gaelic; and this distinction between the two districts is very strongly marked throughout the Norse Sagas, the eastern part being termed simply Katenesi, while Strathnaver, on the other hand, is always designated “Dölum a Katenesi,” or the Glens of Caithness. That the population of Strathnaver remained Gaelic we have the distinct authority of the Sagas, for they inform us that the Dölum, or glens, were inhabited by the “Gaddgedli,” a word plainly signifying some tribe of the Gael, as in the latter syllable we recognise the word Gaedil or Gael, which at all events shows that the population of that portion was not Norse.

      The oldest Gaelic clan which we find in possession of this part of the ancient district of Caithness is the clan Morgan or Mackay.


Clan Morgan.

      There are few clans whose true origin is more uncertain than that of the Mackays. By some they have been said to have descended from the family of Forbes in Aberdeenshire; by others, from that of Mackay of Ugadale in Kintyre, and that they were planted in the North by King William the Lion, when he defeated Harold, earl of Orkney and Caithness, and took possession of these districts. But when we take into consideration the very great power and extent to which this clan had attained in the beginning of the fifteenth century, it is difficult to conceive that they could have been a mere offset from families in the South of comparatively small extent, or to give credence to stories in themselves improbable, and which have nothing further to support them than similarity of name in the one case, and of armorial bearings in the other. It happens, unfortunately for the solution of this question, that the clan Mackay is not contained in the manuscript of 1450; and in the absence of direct testimony of any sort, the most probable supposition seems to be that they were descended from the ancient Gaelic inhabitants of the district of Caithness. If this conclusion be a just one, however, we can trace the early generations of the clan in the Sagas, for we are informed by them that towards the beginning of the twelfth century “there lived in the Dölum of Katanesi (or Strathnaver) a man named Moddan, a noble and rich man,” and that his sons were Magnus Orfi, and Ottar, the earl in Thurso.

      The absence of all mention of Moddan’s father, the infallible mark of a Norwegian in the Sagas, sufficiently points out that he must have been a native; but this appears still more strongly from his son being called an earl. No Norwegian under the earl of Orkney could have borne such a title, but they indiscriminately termed all the Scottish Maormors and great chiefs earls, and consequently Moddan and his son Ottar must have been the Gaelic Maormors of Caithness, and consequently the Mackays, if a part of the ancient inhabitants of Caithness, were probably descended from them.

      A very minute and circumstantial history of the first generations is narrated in the ponderous volume of Sir Robert Gordon; he deduces them from the Forbeses, but states that the first who obtained possessions in Strathnaver was named Martin, and adds “that he wes slain at Keanloch-Eylk in Lochaber, and had a son called Magnus. Magnus died in Strathnaver, leaveing two sones, Morgan and Farquhar. From this Morgan the whole familie of Macky is generally called clan-wic-Morgan in Irish or old Scottish, which language is most as yet vsed in that countrey. From Farquhar the clan-wic-Farquhar in Strathnaver ar descended.”

      The striking coincidence between Martin and his son Magnus, of Sir Robert Gordon, and Moddan and his son Magnus of the Sagas, strongly confirms the supposition that the Mackays are descended from these old Maormors of Caithness. The first chief of this clan who appears on record is Angus Dow, towards the beginning of the Fifteenth century, and to him the latter chiefs can all be traced. At this time the clan had extensive possessions in Sutherland and Caithness, and seem to have been of no ordinary power and consideration among the Highland clans. Their territories included the greater part of Strathnaver, and a considerable portion of the district of Sutherland proper, and these were confirmed by Donald, lord of the Isles, after he had married the countess of Ross. “Angusis eyg de Strathnaver et Nigello filio suo seniori inter ipsum et Elezabetham de insulis sororem nostram procreato,” on the 8th of October, 1415. Among the chiefs arrested by King James I. at the parliament held at Inverness in 1427, Angus Dow is mentioned and designated as the leader of no less than four thousand men, a fact which places the Mackays among the most powerful of the Highland clans, and shews that they must have occupied their territories for a very long period of time. Angus Dow was chiefly remarkable for the resistance which he made to Donald of the Isles, when that ambitious leader made his well known attempt to obtain possession of the earldom of Ross, and it is this event which has principally preserved the name of Angus Dow Mackay from oblivion. Donald of the Isles had claimed the earldom of Ross in right of his wife, but had been refused possession of it by the Duke of Albany, then governor of Scotland, “whereat,” says Sir Robert Gordon, “Donald of the Isles took such indignation and displeasure, that raising all the power of the Isles, he came into Rosse and spoiled the country, which Angus Dow Mackay of Farr endeavoured to defend, because that Donald had molested some friends which he had in that province. He met the lord of the Isles at Dingwall, where he fought a cruel skirmish against him. In end, Donald overthrew Angus Dow, took him prisoner, and killed his brother Rory Gald Mackay, with divers others.” In another part of his work, alluding to the same conflict, Sir Robert Gordon says, “Donald of the Isles having detayned Angus Dow a while in captivitie released him and gave him his daughter in marriage, whom Angus Dow carried home with him into Strathnaver, and had a son by her called ‘Neill Wasse,’ so named because he was imprisoned in the Basse.” Shortly after this Angus Dow appears to have brought the attention of the energetic James upon him, in consequence of an incursion which he had made into Caithness. The inhabitants of Caithness had resisted his inroad, and a battle had been fought at Helmsdale between the parties, “when ther wes much slaughter on either syde.” In consequence of this Angus was included in the summons to attend the parliament at Inverness in 1427, and feeling that it would not have been prudent to disobey that order, he was arrested with the other Highland chiefs, on which occasion Fordun has transmitted his name to us in the following passage, “Ibi arrestavit Angus Duff, alias Macqye, cum quatuor filiis suis ducem quatuor millium de Strathnaveri.” Angus obtained his liberty from the king, but his son was detained as a hostage, and committed to the prison of the Bass for security.

      After this period, the history of the Mackays consists almost entirely of constant incursions into Caithness, together with the usual feuds in which the Highland clans were at all times engaged, and they do not appear to have maintained the power and influence which they possessed under Angus Dow, but with diminished territories to have assumed a somewhat lower station in the scale of the Highland clans. The first crown charter obtained by the Mackays of their extensive possessions in Strathnaver appears to have been as late as the year 1499. This charter was obtained in consequence of Y. Mackay, at that time chief of the clan, having apprehended Alexander Sutherland of Dalred, his own nephew, who had incurred the vengeance of government in consequence of the murder of Alexander Dunbar, brother of Sir James Dunbar, of Cumnock, and delivered him over to the king with ten of his accomplices. The power of the government had now so far penetrated into the Highlands that the Highland chiefs began to feel the necessity of possessing some sort of feudal title to their lands, while the government, aware of the advantage to its influence which the want of such a title occasioned, were not always willing to grant it; in consequence of this, the Highland chiefs now began to take advantage of any service which they might have rendered to the government, to demand, as their reward a feudal investiture of their estates; and to this was probably owing the charter which Y. Mackay now obtained, and which his descendants took especial care that when once procured, it should be frequently renewed.

      It would be tedious and uninteresting to follow this clan through all the domestic broils and feuds with the neighbouring clans, of which their history is entirely composed, and in which in no respect differed from that of the other Highland clans. It may be sufficient to mention that considerable military genius, some talent, and more good fortune, contributed to raise the chief of the clan to the dignity of the peerage in the person of Donald Mackay, first Lord Reay, and thus to confer upon the clan a fictitious station among the other clans, which their power had not previously enabled them to attain. Donald Mackay had raised a regiment of fifteen hundred men of his clan, which he carried over to Germany to the assistance of the king of Bohemia; and after having taken a distinguished part in all the foreign service of the time, he returned to England, at the commencement of the civil war in the reign of Charles I., with some reputation, acquired during the Continental wars, and having been of considerable service to that unfortunate monarch, he was by him raised to the peerage with the title of Lord Reay.

      His successors in the peerage maintained the station to which they had been thus raised, but, being as willing to remain in the peerage as their ancestor had been to be raised to it. Lord Reay found it as much his interest to oppose the family of Steward, as Donald Mackay had to support that family in their difficulties with all his interest, and accordingly throughout the insurrections in favour of that royal house in the years 1715 and 1745, the existing government found in Lord Reay a staunch and active supporter; while the Stewarts found that in rewarding the loyalty of the chief of the Mackays with a peerage, they had but changed a steady friend to a bitter enemy, and that Charles Edward was to find one of his most powerful opponents in the great-grandson of the person who had been most indebted to his grandfather.

      The lineal descendant of this ancient line of Highland chiefs still remains in possession of the peerage, but having sold the estates which had been the property of the family for so many generations, the clan are left in reality without a chief of their race.


Azure, on a chevron, or, between three bears’ heads couped, argent, and muzzled, gules. A roebuck’s head erased, of the last, between two hands holding daggers, all proper.



Principal Seat.


Oldest Cadet.

Makey of Auchness.


Erick Mackay, Lord Reay.


In 1427, 4000. In 1745, 800.


VI. – Ness

      Among the Rikis or districts in Scotland mentioned in the Sagas, and which are exactly synonymous with Maormorships, as they may be called, or the earldoms of Scottish writers, the name of Ness occurs frequently. This designation has generally been supposed to be nothing more than a variation of the word Kateness, and has accordingly been so translated in most of the Latin translation of the Sagas; but a strict comparison of the different passages in which it occurs will show clearly that Ness and Caithness must be held to have been names applied by the Norwegians to different districts. Thus, in describing the civil war which took place in the Orkneys about the year 1040 between Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, and Rognvald, his nephew who claimed a part of the Islands of Orkney, in right of his father, the Orkneyinga Saga says that “Rognvald sent messengers to Nes and the Sudereyom to say that he had taken possession of the kingdom which was Thorfinn’s; and that none in these districts opposed him, but that Thorfinn was in the meantime in Katenesi with his friends,” thus showing distinctly that Nes and Katenes could not have been applied to the same district, but that there must have been a marked difference between them. This is confirmed in another passage of the same Saga, in which it is mentioned that Swen having gone to Nes to plunder, was detained there by stormy weather, and sent a messenger to that effect to Iarl Erland, at that time in Katenes, and the same passage shows that Nes must have been a district of considerable size, as it mentions Swen having overrun the country and carried off an immense booty; and also that at this period, namely, towards the beginning of the twelfth century, Nes belonged to the native inhabitants, otherwise it would not have been made the object of a plundering expedition; a circumstance which was not the case with regard to Caithness. It appears, in fact, distinctly from the Sagas, that Ness was situated somewhere on the Northern shore of Scotland, and that it included the north-western angle of the country; for the Earls of Orkney are frequently mentioned as crossing the Pentland Firth into Nes, and on one occasion Swen is stated, in the Orkneyinga Saga, to have gone from Lewes into Scotland to meet the king of Scotland, and as having passed through Ness on his way.

      The district of Strathnaver, as we have seen, formed part of the Riki of Katenes, and was known to the Norwegians by the name of “Dölum a Katenesi.” The only districts therefore which at all answered to the description of Ness are those of Assint Edderachylis and Diurnes; these districts are not included in any of the other earldoms comprehended in the north-western corner of Scotland. And in the latter the appellation Ness appears to have been preserved. There seems therefore little reason to doubt that there was an ancient maormorship or earldom, comprehending these districts of Assint Edderachylis and Diurnes, and that that earldom was known to the Norwegians under the designation of the Riki of Ness.

      The most ancient Gaelic clan which can be traced as inhabiting these districts, is the clan Micail or Macnicols.


Clan Nicail.

      “Tradition, and even documents declare,” says the Reverend Mr. William Mackenzie, in his statistical account of the parish of Assint, “that it was a forest of the ancient Thanes of Sutherland. One of these Prince Thanes gave it in vassalage to one Mackrycul, who in ancient times held the coast of Coygach, that part of it at the place presently called Ullapool. The noble Thane made Assint over in the above manner, as Mackrycul had recovered a great quantity of cattle carried off from the county of Sutherland by foreign invaders. Mackrycul’s family, by the fate of war in those days of old, being reduced to one heir female, she was given in marriage to a younger son of Macleod, laird of Lewis, the thane of Sutherland consenting thereto; and also making Assint over to the new-married couple, together with its superiority. The result of this marriage was fourteen successive lairds here of the name of Macleod.” The same gentleman also adds, in a note, “Mackry-cul is reported by the people here to be the potent man of whom are descended the Macnicols, Nichols, and Nicolsons.” With the exception of the part performed by the Thane of Sutherland, which is disproved by the fact, that the charter to Torquil Macleod, who married the heiress of Mackry-cul, of the lands of Assint was a crown charter and does not narrate any grant whatever; this account is substantially confirmed by the manuscript of 1450, in which MS. the descent of the clan Nicail is traced in a direct line from a certain Gregall, plainly the Krycul of the reverend minister of Assint.

      From a calculation of generations it appears that Gregall must have flourished in the twelfth century, and as we have seen that this district was certainly at that time occupied by a Gaelic tribe, it follows that the Macnicols must be of Gaelic origin. But the clan Nicol are not connected by the manuscript of 1450 with any of the four great tribes into which the clans contained in that manuscript are divided, and which tribes have been shewn to be synonymous with the ancient districts of Moray, Ros, Garmoran, and the tribe of the Gallgael. It seems therefore clear, that we must look upon the Macnicols as the descendants of the ancient Gaelic tribe who formed the earliest inhabitants of the district of Ness. This clan is now nearly extinct, and of its history, when in possession of these districts, we know nothing. But these ancient possessions certainly comprehended Edderachylis and Duirnes as well as Assint and Coygach, as we find these districts in the possession of the Macleods of Lewis, who acquired their mainland territories by marriage with the only daughter of the last Macnicol. The district of Assint remained in the possession of Macleod for many generations until about the year 1660, when it became the property of the earl of Seaforth, by the usual mode in which the powerful barons obtained possession of the properties of the chiefs in their neighbourhood, whom circumstances had reduced into their power, viz., by the fatal operation of the old system of wadset and apprising. By purchase it afterwards fell into the hands of the Sutherland family, in whose possession it has ever since remained. The northern portion of this district continued for some time to be held by the Macleods, until a feud between Macleod of Edderachylis and the Morisons of Duirnes gave the Mackays, who were then at the height of their power, an opportunity of wresting these estates from both families, and accordingly these districts have ever since formed a part of the Mackays’ possessions, or what is called Lord Reay’s country.


VII. Sudrland.

      The ancient district of Sutherland or Sudrland, so termed by the Norwegians, in consequence of its position in respect to Caithness, which for a long time was their only possession on the mainland of Scotland, was of much less extent than the present country of the same name; for the districts of Strathnaver, Edderachylis, Duirnes, and Assint, which are included in the same county at present, formed no part of the ancient earldom, but belonged the first to Caithness, while the others constituted, as we have seen, the ancient district of Ness. This district, therefore, included merely the eastern portion of the county, and although it is unquestionably of a mountainous and Highland character, yet it did not, like the other Highland districts, retain its Gaelic population in spite of the Norwegian conquest, but became entirely colonized by the Norse, who thus effected a permanent change in its population. This result, however, arose from circumstances altogether peculiar to the district of Sutherland, and which, in no respect, apply to the case of other Highland regions.

      It will be in the recollection of the reader, that the principal cause of the extensive conquest of Thorfinn, the Norwegian Iarl of Orkney, on the mainland of Scotland, in the year 1034, was from the king of Scotland having bestowed Caithness and Sutherland upon Moddan, his sister’s son, with commands to wrest these districts from the Norwegian Iarl, to whom they had been ceded by the preceding monarch. But there is considerable reason to think, from the expressions of the Norse writers, and from the events which followed, that Moddan must have been the Gaelic chief or Maormor of Sutherland; for independently of the improbability of this district having been bestowed on any other Gaelic chief than its own proper Maormor, when the only object of the king was to wrest it from the hands of the Norwegians, the Saga expressly mentions that Moddan went north to take possessions of these two districts, and levied his army for that purpose in Sutherland, – a fact which, in these times, is sufficient to prove Moddan to have been the Maormor of Sudrland. The natural consequence of the complete success of Thorfinn, and of the total overthrow of his opponents must have been, in accordance with the manners of the times, that his vengeance would be peculiarly directed against the Gaelic chiefs, to whose race Moddan belonged, and against the Gaelic population who had principally sup0orted him in his war with Thorfinn. We may hence conclude with certainty, that on the establishment of the Norwegian kingdom of Thorfinn, the Gaelic inhabitants of Sudrland would be altogether driven out or destroyed, and that during the extended duration of the Norwegian occupancy, its population would become purely and permanently Norse.

      There are consequently no Highland clans whatever descended from the Gaelic tribe which anciently inhabited the district of Sutherland, and the modern Gaelic population of part of that region is derived from two sources. In the first place, several of the tribes of the neighbouring district of Ross, at an early period gradually spread themselves into the nearest and most mountainous parts of the country, and they consisted chiefly, as we have seen, of the clan Anrias. Secondly, Hugh Freskin, a descendant of Freskin de Moravia, and whose family was a branch of the ancient Gaelic tribe of Moray, obtained from King William the territory of Sutherland, although it is impossible to discover the circumstances which occasioned the grant. He was of course accompanied in this expedition by numbers of his followers, who increased in Sutherland to an extensive tribe; and Freskin became the founder of the noble family of Sutherland, who, under the title of Earls of Sutherland, have continued to enjoy possessions of this district for so many generations.

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