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The clan Kenneth or Mackenzie has long cherished a traditionary belief in its descent from the Norman family of Fitzgerald settled in Ireland. Its pretensions to such an prigin are founded upon a fragment of the records of Icolmkill, and a charter of the lands of Kintail in Wester Ross, said to have been granted by Alexander III to Colin Fitzgerald, their supposed progenitor. According to the Icolmkill fragment, a personage described as "Peregrinus et Hibernus noblis ex familia Geraldinorum", that is "a noble stranger and Hibernian, of the family of the Geraldines", being driven from Ireland, with a considerable number of followers, about 1261, was received graciously by the king, and remained thenceforward at the court. Having given powerful aid to the Scots at the battle of Largs two years afterwards, he was rewarded by a grant of Kintail, erected into a free barony by charter dated 9th January 1266. No such document, however, as this pretended fragment of Icolmkill is know to be in existence, at least, as Mr. Skene says, nobody has ever seen it, and as for King Alexander's charter, he declares that "it bears the most palpable marks of having been a forgery of later date, and one by no means happy in the execution". Besides, the words "Colino Hiberno", contained in it, do not prove the said Colin to have been an Irishman, as Hiberni was at that period a common appellation of the Gael of Scotland.

The ancestor of the clan Kenzie was Gilleonog, or Colin the younger, a son of Gilleon nahair'de, that is, Colin of Aird, progenitor of the Earls of Ross, and from the MS of 1450 their Gaelic descent may be considered established. Colin of Kintail is said to have married a daughter of Walter, lord high steward of Scotland. He died in 1278, and his son, Kenneth, being, in 1304, succeeded by his son, also called Kenneth, with the addition of Mackenneth, the latter, softened into Mackenny or Mackenzie, became the name of the whole clan. Murdoch, or Murcha, the son of Kenneth, received from David II a charter of the lands of Kintail as early as 1362. At the beginning of the 15th century, the clan Kenzie appears to have been both numerous and powerful, for its chief, Kenneth More, when arrested, in 1427, with his son-in-law, Angus of Moray, and Macmathan, by James I in his parliament at Inverness, was said to be able to muster 2,000 men.

In 1463, Alexander Mackenzie of Kintail received Strathgarve and many other lands from John, Earl of Ross, the same who was forfeited in1476. The Mackenzie chiefs were originally vassals of the Earls of Ross, but after their forfeiture, they became independent of any superior but the crown. They strenuously opposed the Macdonalds in every attempt which they made to regain possession of the earldom. Alexander was succeeded by his son, Kenneth, who had taken for his first wife Lady Margaret Macdonald, daughter of the forfeited earl, John, Lord of the Isles, and having, about 1480, divorced his wife, he brought upon himself the resentment of her family.

Kenneth Oig, his son by the divorced wife, was chief in 1493. Two years afterwards, he and Farquhar Mackintosh were imprisoned by James V in the castle of Edinburgh. In 1497, Ross and Mackintosh made their escape, but on their way to the Highlands they were treacherously seized at the Torwood, by the laird of Buchanan. Kenneth Oig resisted and was slain, and his head presented to the king by Buchanan.

Kenneth Oig having no issue, was succeeded by his brother, John, whose mother, Agnes Fraser, was a daughter of Lord Lovat. She had other sons, from whom sprung numerous branches of this wide-spread family. As he was very young, his kinsman, Hector Roy Mackenzie, progenitor of the house of Gairloch, assumed the command of the clan, as guardian of the young chief. "Under his rule" says Mr. Gregory, "the clan Kenzie became involved in feuds with the Munroes and other clans; and Hector Roy himself became obnoxious to government, as a disturber of the public peace. His intentions towards the young Lord of Kintail, were considered very dubious; and the apprehensions of the latter and his friends having been roused, Hector was compelled by law to yield up the estate and the command of the tribe to the proper heir". John, at the call of James IV marched with his clan to the fatal field of Flodden, where he was taken prisoner by the English.

On King James the Fifth's expedition to the Isles in 1540, he was joined at Kintail by John, chief of the Mackenzies, who accompanied him throughout his voyage. he fought at the battle of Pinkie at the head of his clan in 1547. On his death in 1556, he was succeeded by his son, Kenneth, who, by a daughter of the Earl of Athole, had Colin and Roderick, the latter ancestor of the Mackenzies of Redcastle, Kincraig, Rosend, and other branches.

Colin, eleventh chief, son of Kenneth, fought on the side of Queen Mary at the battle of Langside. He was twice married. By his first wife, Barbara, a daughter of Grant of Grant, he had, with three daughters, four sons, namely, Kenneth, his successor; Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Kilcoy, and other families of the name. By a second wife, Mary, eldest daughter of Roderick Mackenzie of Davochmaluak, he had a son, Alexander, from whom the Mackenzies of Applecross, Coul, Delvin, Assint, and other families are sprung.

Kenneth, the eldest son, twelfth chief of the Mackenzies, soon after succeeding his father, was engaged in supporting the claims of Torquil Macleod, surnamed Connanach, the disinherited son of Macleod of Lewis, whose mother was the sister of John Mackenzie of Kintail, and whose daughter had married Roderick Mackenzie, Kenneth's brother. The barony of Lewis he conveyed by writings to the Mackenzie chief, who caused the usurper thereof and some of his followers to be beheaded in July 1597. In the following year he joined Macleod of Harris and Macdonald of Sleat in opposing the project of James VI for the colonization of the Lewis, by some Lowland gentlemen, chiefly belonging to Fife.

In 1601, Neill Macleod deserted the cause of the colonists, and Mackenzie, who had detained in captivity for several years Tormod the only surviving legitimate son of Ruari Macleod of Lewis, set him at liberty, and sent him into that island to assist Neill in opposing the settlers. In 1602, the feud between the Mackenzies and the Glengarry Macdonalds, regarding their lands in Wester Ross, was renewed with great violence. Ultimately, after much bloodshed on both sides, an agreement was entered into, by which Glengarry renounced in favour of Mackenzie the castle of Strone, with the lands of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and others, so long the subject of dispute between them. A crown charter of these lands was granted to Kenneth Mackenzie in 1607. The territories of the clan Kenzie at this time were very extensive. "All the Highlands and Isles, from Ardnamurchan to Strathnaver, were either the Mackenzie's property, or under their vassalage, some few excepted", and all about them were bound to them "by very strict bonds of friendship". The same year, Kenneth Mackenzie obtained, through the influence of the lord-chancellor, a gift, under the great seal, of the Lewis to himself, in virtue of the resignation formerly made in his favour by Torquil Macleod; but on the complaint to the king of those of the colonists who survived, he was forced to resign it. He was created a peer, by the title of Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, by patent, dated 19th November 1609. On the abandonment of the scheme for colonising the Lewis, the remaining adventurers, Sir George Hay and Sir James Spens, were easily prevailed upon to sell their title to Lord Kintail, who likewise succeeded in obtaining from the king a grant of the share in the island forfeited by Lord Balmerino, another of the grantees. Having thus at length acquired a legal right to the Lewis, he procured from the government a commission of fire and sword against the islanders, and landing there with a large force, he speedily reduced them to obedience, with the exception of Neil Macleod and a few others, his kinsmen and followers. The struggle for the Lewis between the Mackenzies and the Macleods continued some time longer. The Mackenzies ultimately succeeded in obtaining possession of the island.

Lord Kintail died in March 1611. He had married, first, Anne, daughter of George Ross of Balanagowan, and had, with two daughters, two sons, Colin, second Lord Kintail, and first Earl of Seaforth, and the Hon John Mackenzie of Lochalin. His second wife was Isable, daughter of Sir Alexander Ogilvie of Powrie, by whom, with a daughter, Sybilla, Mrs. Macleod of Macleod, he had four sons, viz, Alexander, George, second Earl of Seaforth; Thomas of Pluscardine; and Simon of Lochslin, whose eldest son was the celebrated Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, lord advocate in the reigns of Charles II and James VII.

Colin, second Lord Kintail, was created Earl of Seaforth, by patent dated at Theobald's, 3d December 1623, to him and his heirs male.

The great-grandson of the third Earl of Seaforth, and male heir of the family, was Colonel Thomas Frederick Humberston Mackenzie, who fell at Gheriah in Indian in 1768. His brother, Francis Humberston Mackenzie, obtained the Seaforth estates, and was created Baron Seaforth in the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1796. Dying without surviving male issue, his title became extinct, and his eldest daughter, the Hon Mary Frederica Elizabeth, having taken for her second husband J.A. Stewart of Glaserton, a cadet of the house of Galloway, that gentleman assumed the name of Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth.

The clan Kenzie from small beginnings had increased in territory and influence till they became, next to the Campbells, the greatest clan in the West Highlands. They remained loyal to the Stuarts, but the forfeiture of the Earl of Seaforth in 1715, and of the Earl of Cromarty in 1745, weakened their power greatly. They are still, however, one of the most numerous tribes in the Highlands. In 1745 their effective strength was calculated at 2500. No fewer then seven families of name possess baronetcies.

The armorial bearings of the Mackenzies are a stag's head and horns. It is said that they were assumed in consequence of Kenneth, the ancestor of the family, having rescued the king of Scotland from an infuriated stag, which he had wounded. "In gratitude for his assistance", says Stewart of Garth, "the king gave him a grant of the castle and lands of Castle Donnan, and thus laid foundation of the family and clan Mackenneth or Mackenzie". From the stag's head in their arms the term "Caberfae" was applied to the chiefs.

Eilean Donnan Castle
Eilean Donnan Castle
©Scottish Panoramic

The progenitor of the Gerloch of Gairloch branch of the Mackenzies was, as above shown, Hector, the elder of the two sons of Alexander, seventh chief, by his second wife, Margaret Macdowall, daughter of John, Lord of Lorn. He lived in the reigns of Kings James III and IV and was by the Highlanders called "Eachin Roy", or Red Hector, from the colour of his hair. To the assistance of the former of these monarchs, when the confederated nobles collected in arms against him, he raised a considerable body of the clan Kenzie, and fought at their head at the battle of Sauchieburn. After the defeat of his party, he retreated to the north, and, taking possession of Redcastle, put a garison in it. Thereafter he joined the Earl of Huntly, and from James IV he obtained in 1494 a grant of the lands and barony of Gerloch, or Gairloch, in Ross-shire. These lands originally belonged to the Siol-Vic-Gilliechallum, or Macleods of Rasay, a branch of the family of Lewis; but Hector, by means of a mortgage or wadset, had acquired a small portion of them, and in 1508 he got Brachan, the lands of Moy, the royal forest of Glassiter, and other lands, united to them. In process of time, his successors came to posses the whole district, but not till after a long and bloody feud with the Siol-Vic-Gilliechallum, which lasted till 1611, when it was brought to a sudden close by a skirmish, in which Gilliecallum Oig, laird of Rasay, and Murdoch Mackenzie, a younger son of the laird of Gairloch, were slain. From that time the Mackenzies possessed Gairloch without interruption from the Macleods.

Kenneth Mackenzie, eighth Baron of Gairloch, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia in 1700. He married Margaret, daughter of Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Findon, and was succeeded, in 1704, by his son, Sir Alexander, second baronet. His eldest son, Sir Alexander, third baronet, married - first, Margaret, eldest daughter of Roderick Mackenzie of Redcastle, issue one son, Hector; second, Jean, only daughter of John Gorrie, Esq, commissary of Ross, issue two sons, John, a general officer, and Kenneth, an officer in India, and three daughters. He died 13th April 1770.

Sir Hector Mackenzie, his eldest son, fourth baronet of the Gairloch branch, died in April 1826. His son, Sir Francis Alexander, fifth baronet, born in 1798, died June 2, 1843. The eldest son of Sir Francis, Sir Kenneth Smith Mackenzie, sixth baronet, born 1832, married in 1860 the second daughter of Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay.

The first of the Mackenzies of Tarbet and Royston, in the county of Cromarty, was Sir Roderick Mackenzie, second son of Colin Mackenzie of Kintail, brother of the first Lord Mackenzie of Kintail. Having married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Torquil Macleod of the Lewes, he added the armorial bearings of the Macleods to his own. His son, John Mackenzie of Tarbet, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, 21st May 1628. He had four sons.

The eldest son, Sir George Mackenzie, second baronet, was the first Earl of Cromarty. His eldest son becoming a bankrupt, his estate of Cromarty was sold in 1741 to William Urquhart of Meldrum. He was succeeded by his brother, Sir Kenneth, fourth baronet, at whose death, without issue, in 1763, the baronetcy lay dormant until revived in favour of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, lieutenant-colonel in the East India Company's service, great-great-grandson of the first baronet. Colonel Mackenzie's father was Alexander Mackenzie of Ardlock, and his mother the daughter of Robert Sutherland, Esq of Langwell Caithness, twelfth in descent from William de Sutherland, fifth Earl of Sutherland, and the Princess Margaret Bruce, sister and heiress of David II. Sir Alexander, fifth baronet, was in the military service of the East India Company. On his death, April 28, 1843, his brother, Sir James Wemyss Mackenzie, became sixth baronet of Tarbet and Royston. He died November 24, 1858, and was succeeded by his son, Sir James John Randoll Mackenzie.

The first of the family of Coul, Ross-shire, was Alexander Mackenzie, brother of Kenneth, first Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, who, before his death, made him a present of his own sword, as a testimony of his particular esteem and affection. His son, Kenneth Mackenzie of Coul, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, October 6, 1673. His eldest son, Sir Alexander, second baronet, died in 1702. His son, Sir John Mackenzie, third baronet, for being concerned in the rebellion of 1715, was forfeited. He died without male issue, and the attainder not extending to collateral branches of the family, the title and estates devloved upon his brother, Sir Colin, fourth baronet, clerl to the pipe in the exchequer. He died in 1740.

The Mackenzies of Scatwell, Ross-shire, who also possess a baronetcy, are descended from Sir Roderick Mackenzie, knight, of Tarbet and Cogeach, second son of Colin, eleventh feudal baron of Kintail, father of Sir John Mackenzie, ancestor of the Earls of Cromarty, and Kenneth Mackenzie of Scatwel, whose son, Kenneth, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, February 22, 1703. By his marriage with Lilias, daughter and heiress of Sir Roderieck Mackenzie of Findon, that branch of the Mackenzie family merged in that of Scatwell.

Other principal families of the name are Mackenzie of Allangrange, heir male of the Earls of Seaforth; of Applecross, also a branch of the house of Seaforth; of Ord, of Gruinard, and of Hilton, all in Ross-shire.

Another account of the Mackenzies

BADGE: Cuilfhion (hex aquifolium) holly.
SLOGAN: Tuliach aid.
PIBROCH: Failte rnhic Choinneach, Fear Comerach, or Applecross, and Cumha mhic Choinneach.

MacKenzieFROM the seventeenth century down to the later nineteenth the origin of the great Clan Mackenzie was commonly supposed to be from a certain Colin Fitzgerald of the great Norman family of the Earls of Desmond and Dukes of Leinster in Ireland. This Colin or Cailean is said to have been driven from Ireland in 1262, and to have found refuge at the Court of Alexander III. of Scotland, under whom he distinguished himself by his valour at the battle of Largs in the following year. So much is stated in the Record of Icolmkill. After that battle he is said to have been established by the King as Governor of Eileandonan, a strong castle in Kintail at the junction of Loch Duich and Loch Long, which has been identified as the Itus of Ptolemy and Richard of Cirencester. The charter of 1266 on which this statement is founded is quoted by Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, first Earl of Cromarty, in his MS. history of the Clan Mackenzie written in the seventeenth century, and it has been quoted from his work by later historians of the clan, including the Laird of Applecross in his genealogy of the Mackenzies in 1669.

This last writer proceeds to tell how Cailean acquired the coat of arms first used by the Mackenzie chiefs. The King, it appears, was hunting in the forest of Mar, when a furious stag, brought to bay by the hounds, made straight at him, and he would doubtless have been slain had not Cailean Fitzgerald stepped in front of him, and shot the beast with an arrow through the forehead. For this, it is said, the King granted him for arms a stag’s head puissant, bleeding at the forehead, on a field azure, supported by two greyhounds, with, as crest, a dexter arm bearing a naked sword, surrounded with the motto "Fide parta, fide aucta." At a later day the Mackenzies changed this crest and motto for those of the MacLeods of the Lews, to whose possessions they had succeeded in that island.

According to the Earl of Cromarty, Cailean Fitzgerald married a daughter of Kenneth MacMhathoin, the Mathieson chief, and had by her one son whom he named Kenneth after his father-in-law. Cailean was afterwards slain by MacMhathoin out of jealousy at the Irish stranger’s succession to his ancient heritage, and it was from the son Kenneth that all the later members of the family and clan took their name MacKenneth or Mackenzie.

Cosmo Innes, however, in his Origines Parochiales Scotiae, vol. ii, pp. 392-3, points out that the original charter on which this Norman-Irish descent is founded does not exist, and is not in fact genuine, and Skene in his Celtic Scotland, quoting an authenic Gaelic MS. of 1450, printed with a translation in the Transactions of the lona Club, shows the Mackenzies to be descended from the same ancestor as the old Earls of Ross. Their common ancestor, according to the MS. genealogy of 1450, was a certain Gillean of the Aird, of the tenth century. Mr. Alexander Mackenzie, author of the latest history of the clan, quotes unquestioned Acts of Parliament and charters to show that the lands of Kintail, with the Castle of Eileandonan, were possessed by the Earls of Ross for a hundred years after the battle of Largs. It seems reasonable that the Mackenzie chiefs, as their near relatives, were entrusted with the lands and castle at an early date, and in any case there is a charter to show that the lands of Kintail were held by Alexander Mackenzie in 1463.

The first chief of the clan who appears with certainty in history is " Murdo filius Kennethi de Kintail" who obtained the charter from David II. in 1362. According to tradition, filling out the Gaelic genealogy of 1450, the name of the clan was derived from this Murdoch’s great-grandfather, Kenneth, son of Angus. This Kenneth was in possession of Eileandonan when his relative William, third Earl of Ross who had married his aunt, in pursuit of his claim to the Lordship of the Isles, demanded that the Castle be given up to him. The young chief, however, refused, and, supported by his neighbours the Maclvers, Macaulays, and other families in Kintail, actually resisted and defeated the attacking forces of the Earl. He married a daughter of Macdougall of Lorne, and granddaughter of the Red Comyn slain by Bruce at Dumfries, but his son Ian, who succeeded him in 1304, is said to have taken the part of Robert the Bruce, and actually to have sheltered that monarch for a time within the walls of Eileandonan. He is said to have fought on Bruce’s side at the battle of Inverury in 1308, and to have waited on the King at his visit to Inverness in 1312, and he also led a following said to be five hundred strong of the men of Kintail at the battle of Bannockburn, three years later. His loyalty to Bruce is better understood when it is known that he was married to Margaret, daughter of David de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, the warm supporter of that monarch.

Ian’s son, Kenneth of the Nose, had a severe struggle against the fifth Earl of Ross. According to Wyntoun’s Chronicle, Randolph, Earl of Moray, paid a visit to Eileandonan in 1331, for the punishment of misdoers, and expressed himself as right blythe at sight of the fifty heads "that flowered so weel that wall," but whether the heads were those of Mackenzies or of Ross’ men we do not know. In 1342 the Earl of Ross granted a charter of Kintail to a son of Roderick of the Isles, which charter was confirmed by the King, and in 1350 the Earl actually dated a charter at Eileandonan itself, from which it may be gathered that he had seized the castle. Finally, the Earl’s men raided Mackenzie’s lands of Kinlochewe; Mackenzie pursued them, killed many, and recovered the spoil; and in revenge the Earl had him seized and executed at Inverness, and granted Kinlochewe to a follower of his own.

Mackenzie had married a daughter of MacLeod of the Lewis, and on his execution his friend Duncan Macaulay of Loch Broom sent Murdoch, his young son and heir, to MacLeod for safe keeping, and at the same time prepared to defend Eileandonan against the attacks of the Earl of Ross. He kept the castle against repeated attacks, but a creature of the Earl’s, Leod MacGilleandreis, the same who had procured the death of the late chief, and had received a grant of Kinlochewe, laid a trap for Macaulay’s only son, and murdered him. At last, however, the young chief Murdoch, having grown up a strong brave youth, procured one of MacLeod’s great war galleys full of men, and with a friend, Gille Riabhach, set sail from Stornoway to strike a blow for his heritage. Landing at Sanachan in Kishorn, he marched towards Kinlochewe, and hid his men in a wood while he sent a woman to discover the whereabouts of his enemy. Learning that MacGilleandreis was to meet his followers at a certain ford for a hunting match, Murdoch fell upon him there, and overthrew and slew him. He afterwards married the only daughter of his brave friend and defender Macaulay, and through her succeeded to the lands of Loch Broom and Coigeach. Then, after the return of David II. from his captivity in England, he obtained in 1362 a charter from that monarch confirming his rights, and he died in 1375. He was known as Black Murdoch of the Cave, from his resort to wild places for security during his youth and while laying his plans for the overthrow of his enemies.

Brahan Castle, Ancient seat of the Earls of Seaforth

His son, Murdoch of the Bridge, got his name from a less creditable incident. His wife having no children, and he being anxious to have a successor, he had her waylaid at the Bridge of Scatwell, and thrown into the river. She, however, managed to escape, and made her way to her husband’s house at Achilty, coming to his bedside, as the chronicler puts it, " in a fond condition "; whereupon, pitying her case and repenting of the deed, he took her in his arms. A few weeks afterwards she gave birth to a son, and they lived together contentedly all their days. Murdoch was one of the sixteen Highland chiefs who took part under the Earl of Douglas at the battle of Otterbourne, and against all threats he refused to join the Lord of the Isles in his invasion of Scotland which ended at the battle of Harlaw. Murdoch married a daughter of MacLeod of Harris, and as that chief was fourth in descent from Olaf, King of Man, while his wife was daughter of Donald Earl of Mar, nephew of King Robert the Bruce, the blood of two royal houses was thus brought to mix with that of the Mackenzie chiefs.

The next chief, Alastair lonric, or the Upright, was among the Highland magnates summoned by King James I. to meet him at Inverness in 1427. With the others he was arrested, but, while many of them were executed for their lawless deeds, he, being still a youth, was sent to school at Perth by the King. During his absence his three bastard uncles proceeded to ravage Kinlochewe, whereupon Macaulay, constable of Eileandonan, sent a secret message to the young chief, who, leaving school forthwith, and hastening north, summoned his uncles before him, and, on their proving recalcitrant, made them "shorter by the heads," and so relieved his people of their ravages. In similar case, Alexander, Lord of the Isles, had been sent to Edinburgh by the King, but, escaping north, raised his vassals, burned Inverness, and destroyed the crown lands. On this occasion the young chief of the Mackenzies raised his clan, joined the royal army, and helped to overthrow the island lord. Later, during the rebellion of the Earl of Douglas, the Lord of the Isles, and Donald Balloch, against James II., Mackenzie again stood firm in loyalty to the Crown. For this in 1463 he received a charter confirming him in his lands of Kintail, and in various other possessions. So far these possessions had been held of the Earls of Ross, but after the rebellion of the Earl of Ross in 1476, when he was compelled to resign his earldom to the Crown, Mackenzie, who again had done loyal service, became a crown vassal, and received a further charter of Strathconan, Strathbran, and Strathgarve, which had been taken from the Earl.

Of Alexander Mackenzie as a young man a romantic story is told. This is to the effect that Euphemia Leslie, Countess Dowager of Ross, set her fancy upon him, and desired him to marry her. Upon his refusal she turned her love to hatred, and made him a prisoner at Dingwall. Then, by bribing his page, she procured his ring, and sending it to Eileandonan induced Macaulay the constable to yield up the castle to her. To secure his master’s freedom Macaulay seized Ross of Balnagown, the countess’s grand-uncle. He was pursued by the vassals of the Earl of Ross, and at Bealach na Broige a desperate conflict took place. Macaulay, however, carried off his man, and presently, managing to surprise Eileandonan, kept the countess’s governor and garrison, along with Balnagown, in captivity until they were exchanged for the Mackenzie chief. The conflict of Bealach na Broige, the Pass of the Shoe, took place in 1452, and was so named from the Highlanders tying their shoes to their breasts to defend themselves against the arrows of their opponents. Many other romantic stories are told of the sixth chief. He was so far the greatest man of his name, and when he died at the age of ninety in 1488 he left the house of Mackenzie one of the most powerful clans in the north.

Till now the succession to the Mackenzie family had depended always upon a single heir. Alexander the sixth chief, however, was twice married. By his first wife, Anna daughter of MacDougall of Dunolly, he had two sons, the elder of whom succeeded him, and by his second wife, daughter of MacDonald of Morar, he had one son, Hector who became ancestor of the Gairloch family.

The seventh chief, Kenneth of the Battle, got his name from his part in the battle of Blair na pairc, fought during his father’s lifetime near their residence at Kinellan, a mile and a half from the modern spa of Strathpeffer. To close the old family feud, Kenneth had married Margaret daughter of John of Isla, Lord of the Isles, but John of Isla's nephew and heir, Alexander of Lochalsh, making a feast at Balcony House, invited to it, among other chiefs, Kenneth Mackenzie. On Mackenzie arriving with forty followers he was told that the house was already full, but that a lodging had been provided for him in the kiln.

Enraged at the insult, he struck the seneschal to the ground, and left the house. Four days later he was ordered with his father to leave Kinellan, which they held as tenants of the island lord. Kenneth returned a message that he would stay where he was, but would return his wife, and he accordingly sent the lady back with the utmost ignominy. The lady had only one eye, and he sent her on a one-eyed horse accompanied by a one-eyed attendant and a one-eyed dog. A few days later, with two hundred men he besieged Lord Lovat in his castle, and demanded his daughter Anne in marriage. Lord Lovat and his daughter agreed, and ever afterwards Kenneth and the lady lived as husband and wife.

Meanwhile MacDonald had raised an army of sixteen hundred men, marched northward through the Mackenzie lands, burning and slaying, and at Contin on a Sunday morning set fire to the church in which the old men, women, and children had taken refuge, and burned the whole to ashes. Then he ordered his followers to be drawn up on the neighbouring moor for review. But Kenneth Mackenzie, though he had only six hundred men, proved an able leader. He succeeded in entangling his enemies in a peat bog, and when they were thrown into confusion by a discharge from his hidden archers, fell upon them and put them to flight. This invasion cost the Macdonalds the Lordship of the Isles, which was declared by Parliament a forfeit to the Crown.

Kenneth was on his way with five hundred men under the Earl of Huntly to support James III. when news reached him of his father’s death, and Huntly sent him home to see to his affairs, and so he missed taking part in the battle of Sauchieburn, at which James fell. He was afterwards knighted by James IV., and died in 1491.

The eighth chief, Kenneth the Younger, was the son of the daughter of the Lord of the Isles whom his father had so unceremoniously sent home. Along with the young Mackintosh chief be was secured in Edinburgh castle by James IV. as a hostage for his clan. After a time the two lads escaped, and reached the Torwood. Here they met the Laird of Buchanan, then an outlaw, and he, to secure the remission for his outlawry, surrounded the house at night with his followers and demanded surrender. Mackenzie rushed out sword in hand, and was shot with an arrow.

This was in 1497. The next chief, John of Killin, Kenneth’s half-brother, was considered illegitimate by many of the clan, though the marriage of his mother had been legitimated by the Pope in the last year of her husband’s life. The estates were seized by the young chief’s uncle, Hector Roy, ancestor of the Gairloch family. But Lord Lovat procured a precept of dare constat to protect his nephew’s interest, and Munro of Fowlis, Lieutenant of Ross, proceeded to Kinellan to punish the usurper. As Munro was returning, however, he was ambushed at Knockfarrel by Hector Roy, and most of his men slain. Hector also defeated a royal force sent against him by the Earl of Huntly in 1499. At last, however, his nephew John, with a chosen band, beset him in his house at Fairburn, and set the place on fire. Hector thereupon surrendered, and it was agreed that he should possess the estates till the young chief was twenty-one years of age, whereupon Eileandonan was delivered up to the latter. Both the chief John and his uncle Hector Roy took part in the battle of Flodden, and, strange to say, both escaped and returned home, though most of their followers fell. The chief was taken prisoner by the English, but escaped through the kindness of the wife of a shipmaster with whom he was lodged, and whose life had been saved in dire extremity by a clansman in the Mackenzie country, who by killing and disembowelling his horse and placing her inside during a terrible storm had preserved her and her new-born child.

Upon coming into possession of Eileandonan John Mackenzie made Gilchrist MacRae constable of the castle, and before long the MacRaes had an opportunity to show their mettle in this post. In 1539 MacDonald of Sleat laid waste the lands of MacLeod of Dunvegan and his friend the Mackenzie chief, killing the son of Finly MacRae, then Governor of Eileandonan. Mackenzie thereupon despatched a force to Skye which made reprisals in MacDonald’s country. MacDonald, hearing that Eileandonan was left ungarrisoned, made a raid upon it with fifty birlinns. The only men in the castle were the governor, the watchman, and Duncan MacRae. Presently the governor fell, and MacRae found himself left with a single arrow. Watching his chance, however, he shot MacDonald in the foot, severing the main artery, and causing him to bleed to death. For the overthrow of the MacDonalds King James conferred further possessions on Mackenzie. Old as he was, Mackenzie fought for the child-Queen Mary at the battle of Pinkie, where he was taken prisoner. His clansmen, however, showed their affection by paying his ransom. John Mackenzie added greatly to the family estates in Brae Ross, and many a quaint story is told of his shrewdness and sagacity before he died at the age of eighty in 1561.

Like so many of the early chiefs John had an only son, Kenneth of the Whittle, so named from his dexterity with the skian dhu. He was among the chiefs who helped Queen Mary to get possession of Inverness Castle when refused by the governor, Alexander Gordon; and on the Queen’s escape from Loch Leven, his son Colin was sent by the Earl of Huntly to advise her retreat to Stirling till her friends could be gathered. The advice was rejected, and Colin fought for the Queen at Langside. In Kenneth’s time a tragedy occurred at Eileandonan. John Glassich, son and successor to Hector Roy Mackenzie of Gairloch, fell under suspicion of an intention to renew his father’s claim to be chief of the clan. Mackenzie therefore had him arrested and sent to Eileandonan, and there he was poisoned by the Constable’s lady. This chief married a daughter of the Earl of Atholl, and from his third son Roderick was descended the family of Redcastle.

The eleventh chief, One-Eyed Colin, was a special favourite at Court, and, like all his forebears, an able administrator of his own estate.

Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, Seat of the MacKenzie of Tarbat, Earls of Cromartie

The Mackenzies were now strong enough to defy even the Earl of Huntly. This great noble was preparing to destroy Mackintosh of Mackintosh, whose wife was Mackenzie’s sister. Mackenzie sent asking that she should be treated with courtesy, and Huntly rudely replied that he would "cut her tail above her houghs." The Mackenzie chief was at Brahan Castle in delicate health, but next day, his brother Roderick of Redcastle crossed the ferry of Ardersier with four hundred clansmen, and when Huntly approached the Mackintosh stronghold in the Loch of Moy he saw this formidable force marching to intercept him. "Yonder," said one of his officers, "is the effect of your answer to Mackenzie." The effect was so unquestionable that Huntly found it prudent to retire to Inverness.

In One-Eyed Colin’s time, about 1580, one of the most desperate feuds in Highland history broke out, between the Mackenzies and the MacDonalds of Glengarry, whose chief owned considerable parts of the neighbouring territories of Lochalsh, Loch Carron, and Loch Broom. The feud began by Glengarry ill-using Mackenzie’s tenants. It came to strife with the killing of a Glengarry gentleman as a poacher, and before it was ended, in the next chief’s time, it had brought about some of the most tragic events in Highland history.

This next chief Kenneth, twelfth of his line, was a man of singular ability, who managed to turn the MacDonald and other feuds directly to the increase of his house’s territory and influence. While Mackenzie was in France, Glengarry’s son, Angus MacDonald and his cousins, committed several outrages, slaying and burning Mackenzie clansmen, and, on the Mackenzies retaliating, had the chief summoned at the Pier of Leith to appear before the Council on pain of forfeiture. Through the prompt action of a clansman, however, Mackenzie managed to return in time, turned the tables on his enemy, and had him declared an outlaw, and ordered to pay him a very large sum by way of damages. He then marched into Morar, routed the MacDonalds, and brought back to Kintail the largest creagh ever heard of in the Highlands. The MacDonalds retaliated with a raid on Kinlochewe, killing women and children, and destroying all the cattle. Angus MacDonald also proceeded to raise his kinsmen in the Isles against Mackenzie, and while the latter was absent in Mull, seeking help from his brother-in-law, MacLean of Duart, he made a great descent, burning and slaying, on Kintail.

Then a notable incident occurred: Lady Mackenzie at Eileandonan had only a single galley at home, but she armed it and sent it out to waylay MacDonald. It was a calm moonlight night in November, with occasional showers of snow, and Mackenzie’s galley lay in wait in the shadows below Kyle-rhea. Presently as the tide rose a boat shot through. He let it pass, knowing it to be MacDonald’s scout. Then they saw a great galley coming through, and made straight for it, firing a cannon with which Lady Mackenzie had provided them. In the confusion MacDonald’s galley ran on the Cailleach rock and every one of the sixty men on board, including Angus MacDonald himself, was slain or drowned.

Mackenzie also took and destroyed Glengarry’s stronghold, Strome Castle. Then Allan Dubh MacDonald, Glengarry’s cousin, made a raid on Mackenzie’s lands of Brae Ross, and on a Sunday morning, while all the people were at divine service in the church of Cillechroist, set fire to the fane, and burnt men, women, and children to ashes, while his piper marched round the building, drowning their shrieks with a pibroch which ever since, under the name of " Cillechroist," has remained the family tune of Glengarry. As the MacDonalds returned home they were pursued by the Mackenzies, who came up with them, as morning broke, on the southern ridge of Glen Urquhart above Loch Ness. Like Bruce on a famous occasion, Allan Dubh divided his men again and again, but the Mackenzies were not thrown off his track, and presently he found himself alone with Mackenzie of Coul at his heels. In desperation he made for the fearful ravine of the Aultsigh Burn, and sprang across. Mackenzie followed, him, but missed his footing, slipped, and hung suspended by a hazel branch. At that MacDonald turned, hewed off the branch, and sent his pursuer to death in the fearful chasm below. He himself then escaped by swimming across Loch Ness. The feud was ended by Mackenzie, in 1607, obtaining a crown charter of the MacDonald lands in Loch Aish, Loch Carron, and elsewhere, for which be paid MacDonald ten thousand merks, while MacDonald agreed to hold his other lands off him as feudal superior.

Another great addition to Mackenzie’s territories occurred in the time of the same chief. Torquil MacLeod of the Lews had married as his second wife a daughter of John Mackenzie of Killin, but he disinherited her son Torquil Cononach, and adopted his eldest son by a third wife as his heir. Torquil Cononach was protected by Mackenzie, and recognised as the heir by the Government, and upon his half-brother raiding Mackenzie’s territory the latter obtained letters of fire and sword against him. At the same time Torquil Cononach, his two sons being slain, made over his rights in the island to Mackenzie. Then came the attempt of the Fife adventurers, who obtained a grant of the Lews and tried to colonise and civilise it. After much disturbance they were ruined and driven out, and a later effort of the Earl of Huntly fared no better. Mackenzie then in virtue of Torquil Cononach’s resignation, had his possession of the Lews confirmed by charter under the Great Seal, and, proceeding there with seven hundred men, brought the whole island to submission. In recognition of this service to law and order James VI. in 1609 conferred a peerage on the chief, as Lord Mackenzie of Kintail.

Only a small band of MacLeods kept up resistance in the Lews, and this was brought to an end in a dramatic way. On the death of Lord Mackenzie in 1611 he was succeeded by his son, Colin the Red. During his minority, the estates were managed by Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Coigeach. The remnant of the MacLeods had held out on the impregnable rock of Berrissay for three years when the tutor of Kintail gathered all their wives, children, and relations, placed them on a tidal rock within sight of MacLeod’s stronghold, and declared that he would leave them there to drown unless MacLeod instantly surrendered. This MacLeod did, and so the last obstacle to Mackenzie’s possession was removed, and "The inhabitants adhered most loyally to the illustrious house, to which they owed such peace and prosperity as was never before experienced in the history of the island."

This latest addition vastly increased the possessions of the Mackenzie chief, who was moreover a great favourite at the court of James VI., and in 1623 he was created Earl of Seaforth and Viscount Fortrose. The Earl lived in his castle of Chanonry in the Black Isle in great magnificence, making a state voyage with a fleet of vessels round his possessions every two years. He built the castle of Brahan and Chanonry while his tutor, Sir Roderick of Coigeach, ancestor of the Earl of Cromartie, built Castle Leod.

His brother George, who succeeded as second Earl and fourteenth chief in 1633, played a very undecided and self-seeking part in the civil wars of Charles I., appearing now on the Covenant’s side and now on the King’s, as appeared most to his advantage. He fought against Montrose at Auldearn, but afterwards joined him. Upon this he was excommunicated and imprisoned by the Covenanters for a time, and he died while secretary to King Charles II. in Holland in 1651, upon news of the defeat of the young King at Worcester.

His eldest son, Kenneth Mor, the third Earl, joined Charles II. at Stirling in his attempt for the crown, and after the defeat at Worcester had his estates forfeited by Cromwell and remained a close prisoner till the Restoration, when he was made Sheriff of Ross. He died in 1678.

His eldest son, Kenneth Og, the fourth Earl, was made a member of the Privy Council and a companion of the Order of the Thistle by James VII.

It was the time of the later Covenanters, and two of Seaforth’s relatives had the chief direction of affairs in Scotland—Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, afterwards first Earl of Cromartie, as Lord Justice-General, and Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh as Lord Advocate. Both were, in private, amiable and learned men, but as officials they showed little mercy to rebels, as they considered the upholders of the Covenant.

At the Revolution the Earl accompanied King James to France, and after taking part in the siege of Londonderry and the battle of the Boyne, was created a Marquess at the exiled court. But the fortunes of his house had reached their climax, and he died an exile.

It was his only son, William Dubh, the fifth Earl, who took part in the Earl of Mar’s rebellion in 1715. As a Jacobite he raised three thousand men, and fought at the battle of Sheriffmuir. For this his earldom and estates were forfeited. Four years later, on the breaking out of war with Spain, he sailed with the Spanish expedition, and landed in Kintail, but was wounded and defeated by General Wigbtman at Glenshiel. During his exile afterwards in France the Government completely failed to take possession of his estates. These were defended by his faithful factor, Donald Murchison, who had been a colonel at Sheriffmuir, and who now skilfully kept the passes and collected the rents, which he sent to his master abroad. At last, in 1726, on his clansmen giving up their arms to General Wade, they and Seaforth himself received a pardon. Sad to say, on the chief returning home he treated Murchison with rude ingratitude, and the factor died of a broken heart.

The Seaforth title remained under attainder, and the Earl’s son Kenneth, the eighteenth chief, who succeeded in 1740, remained known by his courtesy title as Lord Fortrose. The estates were purchased on his behalf for £26,000, and on the outbreak of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 he remained loyal to the Government. His kinsman, the Earl of Cromartie, who had then probably more influence with the clan, took the side of the Prince with a considerable number of men, and in consequence lay under sentence of death for a time. It was one of the name, Roderick Mackenzie, son of a goldsmith in Edinburgh, who, on being cut down in Glen Morriston, called out, "You have slain your Prince! " and from his likeness to Charles threw the scent off his royal master for a space, and so helped his escape.

Lord Fortrose died in 1761. His only son Kenneth, known as "the little Lord," was created Earl of Seaforth in the peerage of Ireland in 1771. Seven years later he raised a regiment of 1,130 men, but on his way with it to India died near St. Helena in 1781.

The Earl was without a son, and in 1779, being heavily embarrassed, had sold the Seaforth estates to his cousin and heir male, Colonel Thomas F. Mackenzie Humberston. The father of the latter was a grandson of the third Earl, and had taken the name Humberston on inheriting the estates of his mother’s family. Colonel Humberston had been chief for no more than two years when he was killed in an attack by the Mahrattas on the "Ranger" sloop of war out of Bombay.

He was succeeded by his brother Francis Humberston Mackenzie, as twenty-first chief. In the war with France this chief raised two battalions of his clansmen, which were known as the Ross-shire Buffs, now the Seaforth Highianders, and as a reward was made lord-lieutenant of Ross-shire, and a peer of the United Kingdom, with the title of Lord Seaforth. As Governor of Barbadoes he put an end to slavery in that island, and altogether, though very deaf and almost dumb, achieved a great reputation by his abilities. These drew forth from Sir Walter Scott an eloquent tribute in his Lament for the last of the Seaforths:

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

It was in the person of this chief that the prediction of the Brahan Seer was fulfilled. This prediction, widely known throughout the Highlands for generations before it was accomplished, declared that when a deaf Mackenzie should be chief, and four other heads of families should have certain physical defects, the house of Seaforth should come to an end. So it happened. At this time Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch was buck-toothed; Chisholm of Chisholm was hare-lipped; Grant of Grant was half-witted; and MacLeod of Raasay was a stammerer. So it came about. Lord Seaforth’s four sons all died before him unmarried; from his own indulgence in high play he was forced to sell, first a part of Lochalsh, and afterwards Kintail and other estates, and when he died the remainder passed to his eldest daughter, Lady Hood, then a widow. This lady afterwards married Stewart of Glasserton, a cadet of the house of Galloway, himself distinguished as a member of parliament, governor of Ceylon, and Iord High Commissioner to the lonian Islands. He took the name of Mackenzie, and at his lady’s death at Brahan Castle in 1862, she was succeeded in possession of the estates by her eldest son Keith William Stewart Mackenzie, of Seaforth.

Meanwhile the chiefship of the clan passed to James Fowler Mackenzie of Allangrange, as lineal representative of Simon Mackenzie of Lochshin, seventh son of Kenneth, first Lord Mackenzie. It is interesting to note that the eldest son of Simon Mackenzie was Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, Lord Advocate, author of the famous Institutes of Scots Law, founder of the Advocate’s Library, and well known as" the Bluidy Mackenzie" of Covenanting folklore. Sir George’s sons, however, all died without male heirs. Through his daughter Agnes, who married the Earl of Bute, his estates passed to that family, and the succession was carried on by his younger brother, Simon. Since the death of Allangrange some years ago the title to the chiefship has been uncertain. It probably remains with a descendant of the Hon. Simon Mackenzie of Lochshin by his second wife, until recently Mackenzie of Dundonnell; but several of the sons of this family are untraced. Besides this line there are many cadet branches of the ancient house, and it remains for one of those interested to trace out the actual chiefship. In several instances, such as those of the houses of Gairloch and of Tarbat, the latter of whom became Earls of Cromartie, the history is only less romantic than that of the chiefs themselves; but for these the reader must be referred to the work already quoted, The History of the Clan Mackenzie, by Alexander Mackenzie, published in Inverness in 1879.

Septs of Clan MacKenzie: Kenneth, Kennethson, MacBeolain, MacConnach, MacIver, MacIvor, MacKerlich, MacMurchie, MacVinish, MacVanish, Murchison, Murchie.