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A history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) online

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Border lairds — Rutherfords, Elliots, Kers, and Scotts — were removed
from the Border, and warded in northern or inland towns ; and the
same policy, in 1608, was exercised on a crowd of gentry of the
house of Maxwell; all were sent north of Tay. By July 1609 the
doers of the work could congratulate themselves that the Borders
were tranquil.^

One noble victim perished in the persistent massacres of rough
justice. This was Lord Maxwell, who was a Bothwell for reckless
mischief. He was the son of the sixth Lord Maxwell, who, after
Morton's execution in 1581, for a while bore the title and brooked
the lands of Morton. In 1585 Morton's attainder was reversed,
Maxwell lost his prize, and took to intriguing with Spain. He was
taken prisoner, and Johnston succeeded to his wardenship of the
West Marches. Though the wardenship was restored to Maxwell,
his clan and that of the Johnstons entered on a feud : and in a
great battle (Dec. 7, 1593), on the Dryfe Sands, Maxwell was de-
feated and slain. Some 2000 men fought on either side; and the
phrase, "a Lockerby lick," is said to be derived from the ghastly
wounds inflicted on the fugitives in the streets of Lockerby. Max-
well's son inherited the feud, and, at a meeting for reconciliation,
shot Sir James Johnston through the back (April 6, 1608). He
was warded in Edinburgh Castle, but made a dexterous escape,
wounding several of the warders. In 1612, being in the north of
Scotland, he was betrayed by his kinsman, the Earl of Caithness,
and, on May 21, 16 13, he was beheaded at Edinburgh. This
execution was procured by the Laird of Johnston's friends, specially


by Sir Robert Ker, Earl of Rochester (Somerset the favourite), " the
chief guider of the court at that time," says Calderwood. There
was a great deal of sympathy with Maxwell though he was a Catholic.
He certainly had the charm of recklessness, and though he had
treacherously murdered a man under trust, the man had been his
feudal foe.^

At this distance of time (with all respect to the name of Maxwell),
we feel more pity for poor Tom Armstrong, who was hanged merely
for being suspected of knowing too much about the stealing of a
nag. The execution of the Mures of Auchendrane, in 161 1, for a
series of cold-blooded murders, later to be described, proceeding
from a murder-band or contract of the usual sort, proved that, in
Scotland, the law was beginning to be a terror to evil-doers, even
when of good county families. It may be remarked that fifty years
of an open Bible, and of the Truth constantly preached, seem in no
way to have mollified the ferocity of the Scottish people, but rather,
if anything, to have increased their bloodthirsty dispositions. A few
mounted police and the expense of some miles of rope were infinitely
more efficacious. The reduction of the Highlands was undertaken
simultaneously with the settlement of the Borders, but was a task
much more difficult, and, by the Stuart kings, never fully accom-


In various parts of the Highlands Presbyterianism is still called the
Religion of the Yellow Stick. There is a legend that a chief caned
all his tenants into kirk, where or at what date is unknown. The
great Lauchlan Maclean of Dowart, as we have seen, was a Presby-
terian, and took the Covenant in " the Little Kirk " on the day of
the Edinburgh riot of December 17, 1596. Mackintosh also spoke
generously of planting kirks, and James Melville was convinced that
the Celts would make good Presbyterians. But the West High-
lands and the Isles, like Nithsdale and Galloway, were not yet
" planted " with ministers, and the West was little visited by the
few wandering and skulking Catholic missionaries. These regions,
therefore, like Galloway and Annandale, were especially turbulent.
Macleods, Mackenzies, Macgregors, Macdonalds, and Macfarlanes
lived in a state of open war, or, in the case of the two latter clans
adjacent to civilisation, of brigandage.


It was necessary to try to bring the Celts into order, a task in
which the Crown never succeeded for want of money, of a standing
army, and of poUce. The difficulties, when a royal expedition was
attempted, were of a kind not unfamiliar. The castles of the island
chiefs were of a strength impregnable to the weak artillery of the
assailants. To burn the cots and destroy the crops of the clansmen
might irritate but could not subdue the hardy recalcitrants. Swift-
footed and mobile, they succeeded in night surprises of camps,
.and, if hard pressed, easily escaped by boats to other islands. A
common ruse was to attack a camp, and then fall back among their
unmapped hills and glens, alluring the pursuers into ambushes for
which every wood and corry afforded shelter. Driven far from their
base, the royal forces were no>v attacked by overwhelming numbers ;
now returned to find that their camp had been fired, and that their
supplies were in the hands of the enemy.^

On July 9, 1599, the Privy Council tried what could be done by
a vigorous proclamation. The Celts were persecuting what may be
called the Chartered Company of the Lewes, which was an associa-
tion of Fifeshire and other gentlemen to exploit and establish towns,
agriculture, and fisheries in that island. A commission was given
to Lennox and Huntly to quiet the Lewes and collect the royal
rents. The two lieutenants were to be assisted by a council of
nobles and gentlemen.^ Negotiations were entered into in the
September of the same year for reducing the southern isles and pro-
montories of the West coast. The focus of trouble was the Castle of
Dunyveg in Isla, the old royal seat of the sons of Somerled. For
sway in Isla, and the long, narrow, but fertile peninsula of Kintyre,
Macdonalds had been cutting each other's throats, while Macleans
took part in the fray, and Campbells waited for their opportunity,
which was soon to come. Probably the rightful holder of Dunyveg
was the truculent old Angus Macdonald, whom his son, Sir James,
■once burned out of his house. In 1599, in September, negotiations
were begun with Sir James Macdonald. He was to evacuate Kin-
tyre in favour of new settlers ; was to place the Castle of Dunyveg,
in Isla, in the king's hands ; and was to receive, as royal tenant, the
lands of Isla, and make provision for his father, Angus, whom he
had once nearly burned to death. ^ No good came of all this, for
which Sir James and his friends blamed Argyll and Campbell of
-Calder. Sir James was a polished ruffian, but the Campbells usually
bear the weight of all turmoils which turned to their own advantage.


In October 1599, fortified by hopes from Lennox and Huntly, the
Lowland settlers, with an armed force, set off to " plant " the Lewes.
Unsheltered in the wild weather, they sickened and died. Leirmont
of Balcomy was taken at sea and held prisoner by Murdoch Mac-
leod ; the curse of Andrew Melville, with whom he had quarrelled
in St Andrews, was thought to pursue " this jolly gentleman," who
died in the Orkneys. But Murdoch was given up to the adven-
turers by his brother Neil Macleod, who allied himself with the
Lowlanders. Murdoch was executed at St Andrews, and the Lord
of Kintail, a Mackenzie and a foe of the settlers, was imprisoned.
He escaped, and continued to oppose the " planters."

James, in 1600, thought of visiting the Isles with a large array,
but ships, money, men, and perhaps inclination, were deficient.
The Highland historian, Dr Gregory (one of the Gregarach), accuses
James of cowardice, but we know how destitute he was of money
in 1600. Nicholson (July 9) writes to Cecil about the king's poverty ;
the Convention in which Gowrie spoke refused supplies ; and (July
22) Nicholson says that the expedition to the Isles was abandoned
"on account of the great scarcity in the country."^ In June 1601
increased powers were given to Lennox and Huntly, but these
powers were not used. In Skye, Macdonald of Sleat and Macleod
were at feud ; they were brothers-in-law, and Macdonald had re-
pudiated Macleod's sister with insult, divorced her, and wedded a
sister of Mackenzie of Kintail. Then began expeditions of murder
and rapine through Skye, Harris, and the Long Island ; the natives
were driven to eat their horses and cats. Government interfered ;
Macdonald was to surrender to Argyll, Macleod to Huntly, and the
clans were reconciled. The Lewes settlers now quarrelled with
Neil Macleod, and had the worse of the strife ; while Mackenzie of
Kintail slipped on the settlers a chief who was the nephew of Neil,
and had been a prisoner. Round this young Tormod the Celts
rallied as the representative of the true Macleod dynasty, and they
reduced the Lowland settlers to a capitulation. They kept two
hostages, turned the other Lowlanders out, and secured a pardon,
but the settlers did not observe the conditions, and the war was
renewed, or rather was deferred, till 1603.

The Glengarry Macdonalds now went to war with the Mackenzies,
and young Glengarry was slain in a night surprise of his galley. By
burning a church full of Mackenzies the Macdonalds avenged this
disaster, Glengarry's piper strutting round the edifice playing a


pibroch. The singular point is that there was any church to burn.
But it is fair to add that Dr Gregory could find " no public notice
taken of such an enormity," so we may trust that the story (so
unfavourable to Glengarry) is a Mackenzie myth. The Celtic
excesses in West Ross and the Isles were nearly as remote, in eflect,
as now is a rising in Fiji. But the Macgregors, in the Lennox, were
much nearer home. This unlucky clan seems to date its misfortunes
from Bruce's forfeiture of the Macdougals. They were harried from
one reservation to another, a fleeting race, the Children of the Mist.
As Argyll " gave them wood and water " down to the days of Rob
Roy, he was responsible for their behaviour. But just as a much
later Argyll, " Red Ian of the Battles," found Rob Roy a useful spy
and secret ally in 1715, so the Argyll of 1603 is accused of "hound-
ing out" the Gregarach against Colquhoun of Luss. The Mac-
gregors invaded the Lennox, it is said, by virtue of a commission
from the king. The great fight, or slaughter, of Glenfruin occurred
on February 7 or 8, 1603. On January 20, 1604, Macgregor of
Glenstra was tried for his feat of arms. His idea, it is alleged, was
to extirpate the Colquhouns and Buchanans, and he was aided by the
Camerons, the Clananverich (not Clan Vourich, the Macphersons ?),
and " other broken men and sorners." The Glencoe Macdonalds
appear to have been in the fray." The invaders wore coats of mail,
and had muskets, bows, two-handed swords, and pole-axes. They
entered Glenfruin, in Luss's territory, and slew, among others,
" Tobias SmoUet, bailie of Dumbarton," and bearer of the name
made immortal by the author of " Peregrine Pickle." About a
hundred and forty persons were slain, many of them as disarmed
prisoners. The house of Luss was burned, and a very large creagh
was driven. Nothing is said in the indictment about the massacre
of a number of students or schoolboys who had made a trip to see
the sport.^

While most writers accuse Argyll of " hounding out " the Mac-
gregors, Calderwood says that Lady Lennox was believed to have
instigated the raid. The Macgregors, one might conceive, needed
little hounding out by lord or lady. In October 1603 Ardkinglas
invited the chief of the Macgregors to dinner, seized him, and was
taking him by boat to Arg}'ll, when Macgregor leaped overboard
and escaped. Argyll then betrayed Macgregor, under promise of
sending him to England, to the king. He did carry the chief to
Berwick, that is, into England, and then brought him back to


Edinburgh, where the chief was tried and executed on January 20,

Poor Macgregor left a statement, written in the hand of James
Primrose, Clerk of Council. Argyll, he said, had been his ruin.
First he hounded the Macleans and Camerons on to the Macgregor
lands in Rannoch. Then, these Macgregors being destitute,
Argyll urged them to attack the Buchanans and the Colquhouns
of Luss. Next this Macchiavelli suborned Ardkinglas to betray
Macgregor, and Macgregor to slay Ardkinglas. How much truth
there is in all this we have no method of discovering. It is
certain that the very name of Macgregor was abolished by an
Act of April 3, 1603.^*' The results were that many of the clan,
changing their name, became sober and distinguished citizens,
like the family of Gregory, which, for several generations, produced
men of learning if not of genius. On the other side the body
of the clan became Ishmaelites, their hands against every man's

In 1 608 considerable preparations were made for the sub-
jection of the islands, and a guard of 500 was allotted to the new
lieutenant, Lord Ochiltree. He was assisted by a council, with
the Bishop of the Isles at its head, the warlike preacher, Andrew
Knox. In August, when a handful of 200 rather useless Scottish
soldiers had been sent to aid in subduing an Irish rebellion, a
force of English soldiers from Ireland joined the royal levies
at Isla. The Irish rebels and the islanders were apt to work into
each other's hands, hence the junction of Scots with recruits from
the English army in Ireland to guard against their combinations.
O'Dogherty's rebellion in Ulster having been put down, English forces
in Ireland were free to deal with the insular Celts.^^ Meanwhile the
king and Council were occupied with plans for the " plantation of
Ulster " with English and Scottish settlers, each in his peel or tower,
and holding lands from which the Irish had been evicted. On the
island side, the castle of Dunyveg in Isla, a hold of the Macdonalds,
was surrendered and garrisoned for the Crown, as (August 17) was
the Maclean fortress of Dowart in Mull. Ochiltree held a durbar
of the chiefs, at Aros in Mull, and received them into the king's
peace, or pretended to do so. Next, inviting them to dinner on
board his vessel, he carried them off, and the Council warded them
in Dumbarton, Blackness, and Stirling, much as the Maxwells had
already been treated. The Macleods of Harris and the Lewes

VOL. II, 2 L


were not captured. The imprisoned chiefs capitulated, and in
February 1609 a large body of commissioners was appointed to
deal with the island affairs. ^^ By way of striking terror, that old
prisoner, Sir James Macdonald, son of Angus of Dunyveg, and
slayer of the valiant Maclean of Dowart, was tried for the burning
of the house in which he nearly roasted his father, and for his
attempted escape from the Castle, when he was taken, and Lord
Maxwell got free. James, we know, had of old rather favoured
this chief, who produced, but withdrew, a royal warrant for the
capture of his father. He was convicted, and sentenced to death
and forfeiture, but was not executed. Six years later he succeeded
in escaping. Possibly it was not thought well to push him to
extremities, as he had some more or less compromising old
document of the king's.

Meanwhile the Bishop of the Isles had been surveying these
territories and negotiating with the natives. In July he met the
released chiefs and others at lona or Icolmkill, and in August
the Statutes or Band of Icolmkill were ratified. The great chiefs,
mainly Macdonalds and Macleans, professed the true religion.
and obedience to the king and the laws of the realm. They
vowed that they would respect and pay the stipends of ministers
already planted or to be planted, repair the churches, and abandon
the custom of handfasting, or temporary marriages. Next they
denounced the custom of sorning, or forced hospitality, and
ordained that inns or hostelries should be established. Each
chief bound himself to harbour and entertain only a small fixed
number of gentlemen. Once more they denounced " the extra-
ordinary drinking of strong wines and aqua vitce" and the trafific
in these comforts. But everybody might distil his own whisky,
so that the cause of temperance took little advantage. Every
gentleman owning sixty cows must educate his eldest child in the
Lowlands. Unlike their ancestors in the time of Henry VIII.,
the chiefs at Icolmkill were themselves able to read and write.
The law against using firearms was accepted. Bards and other
vagabonds were to be put in the stocks, or expelled.^^

From these statutes the historian, Dr Gregory, dates the loyalty
of the Celts, as displayed under Charles I., and onwards, we may
add, to the last Jacobite rising. But perhaps the natural attach-
ment of the Celts to the lost cause, with the chances of authorised
raids on the Lowlands, and loyalty to "the Kirk malignant," that


of Prelacy or of Rome, were not without influence on the later
Highlanders. Even now the river Sheil and Loch Shell are the
frontiers of Presbyterianism, farther north is a large Catholic
district, while in Glencoe, and Appin, and Lochaber there are
Celtic adherents of James's Church, the Scottish Episcopal. Where
the modern Celt does not adhere to these faiths he shows a strong
tendency to beliefs and usages like those of the austere Presby-
terians with whom James VI. was always at war.

Despite the submission of many chiefs the affairs of the Lewes
remained unsettled. New managers and adventurers — Balmerino,
Sir George Hay, and Spans of Wormiston — had undertaken to
settle the Lewes in 1608. But Balmerino was disgraced and
imprisoned on the old affair of the letter to the Pope, and Hay
and Spens were thwarted and driven out of the island by the
arms of Neil Macleod, and the intrigues of Mackenzie of Kintail.
They disposed of their useless concessions to this chief, who drove
out or reduced the Macleods of the Lewes. These appearances
of quiet and order were, of course, delusive. Many great chiefs
made solemn promises. The Bishop of the Isles (Andrew Knox)
received the much contested Castle Perilous, Dunyveg in Isla,
and became Stewart and Justice for the Isles, while Lochiel and
Clanranald were joined with Argyll in the ferocious efforts to
exterminate the Macgregors, a task for which the other clans had
no heart.

Disturbances arose from a discovery casually made by Argyll
in his muniment room. As far back as the reign of James V. the
third Earl of Argyll had procured, through Campbell of Calder,
what Calder had acquired from Maclean of Lochbuy in Mull, title-
deeds to certain superiorities over the lands of Lochiel, Duror,
and Glencoe. It was about 1527 that Calder, having purchased
these rights from Lochbuy, and having discovered that the
Camerons, Appin Stewarts, and Macdonalds or Maclans were
hard to deal with, transferred the title-deeds to his brother Colin,
third Earl of Argyll. The claim seems to have been forgotten
for some eighty years, when Argyll happened to find the old
documents, and got a new charter from the king. The man
who was astonished was Lochiel, but he consented to come under
Argyll's superiority. History was to prove, in the Civil War, and
in 1715, and 1745, that the Argyll suzerainty was but the shadow
of a name. Huntly, who had regarded Lochiel as his man, took


umbrage, and seduced away from Lochiel the Camerons of
Erracht and Glen Nevis, the beautiful valley which runs up the
south-east side of Ben Nevis. Even after the Forty-Five we
still find the Glen Nevis Camerons (really MacSorlies) engaged
against Lochiel and Fassifern, in intrigues so dark that blushing
History averts her eyes, and leaves the gloomy Celtic secret in
the Duke of Cumberland's MSS. Huntly's Cameron friends were
put by him into lands which Allan Cameron of Lochiel held
either from Huntly or Argyll. Lochiel tried to negotiate peace-
fully with the intruders, who gave a verbal, but refused a written
promise, and asked Allan to come with them to meet Huntly.
Allan mildly put the motion by ; he knew what Huntly was capable
of, and he rode to Edinburgh to take legal advice.

In Edinburgh he learned that " his friends " (kinsmen) were laying
a plot against the life of their chief. He heard where they were to
meet, hurried back to Lochaber, gathered six score fellows of the
right sort, and placed them within half a mile of the scene of the
hostile gathering. He set them in ambush in a wood, which lay
convenient, and then, with six boys of the belt, strolled towards "his
friends," asking them to meet him with other six. He had first
instructed his ambushed men to lie still if all went well, if he were
attacked he would fly past the wood. He went forward, was ill
received, and fled under a shower of arrows. When the pursuers
reached the wood, Lochiel's hundred and twenty arose from the cover
of birch, and rock, and bracken ; Allan turned and stood at bay, his
men fell on his pursuers from the rear, slew twenty, took eight alive,
and, writes James Primrose, Clerk of Council, " learned a lesson to
the rest of his kin who are alive in what form they shall carry them-
selves to their chief hereafter.*' But the " form " of the Glen Nevis
Camerons continued to be deplorable, though one of them "died
the death of fame " at CuUoden.^^

James Primrose tells the tale, though a peaceful man, with spirit
and sympathy. However, in December 1613 the Privy Council
most unfeelingly outlawed the brave Lochiel, and gave Huntly a
commission of fire and sword against him. He had slain, in fair
fight, "the Bodach " John Cameron, also Allaster of Glen Nevis,
for which who can blame him ? ^^ But it is a far cry to Loch Arkaig,
and Huntly made little use of his letters of fire and sword.

A disturbance among the Macneils of Barra and the Macleans
was characteristic. Old Barra had a family by a Maclean lady, to


whom he was only handfasted, and another family by a sister of
Clanranald, to whom he was legally married. The oldest of the
senior family (Macleans on the spindle side) was arrested by
Clanranald for piracy against a ship from Bordeaux. He was help-
ing himself to the claret. He died before his trial, and his brothers,
with Maclean of Dowart, seized one of the legitimate family, who
happened also to have been engaged in robbing the liquors of
Bordeaux. He was sent to Edinburgh to be tried, but was acquitted,
thanks to Clanranald. The brethren of the elder (Maclean) but
illegitimate family of old Barra now seized that chief, their father,
and put him in irons. The Council therefore gave Clanranald
letters of fire and sword against these " lymmars " in their island.
The result was the succession of one of the legal branch, Clan-
ranald's nephew, to old Barra, who did not long survive his severe
imprisonment by his sons.^^

Old Angus of Dunyveg, father of the now imprisoned Sir James
Macdonald, died, and Sir Ranald, Sir James's brother, succeeded in
Isla. He must have been an ill-advised man, for he tried to intro-
duce " the Irish laws," the Brehon laws and customs of land tenure,
probably.^'^ It is not surprising to hear that the Bishop of the Isles
was not long permitted to retain Dunyveg Castle, which was but
slenderly garrisoned. Old Angus had left a bastard, Ranald Oig,
who suddenly seized the fortress early in 16 14. Thereon Angus Oig,
a younger brother of the imprisoned Sir James, set about recovering
the castle "for the king." His kinsman Left-handed Coll (Coll
Keitache, " Colkitto ") succeeded in taking the place. Ranald Oig
escaped by sea, and Angus retained the castle, offering to restore it
to the Bishop of the Isles on conditions. The Council bade him
surrender under pain of rebellion, and told the warlike prelate to
seize the place. The bishop preferred to negotiate, then approached
in force, but was deserted by his Celtic levies, and had to see his
boats destroyed by Angus Oig. With Angus the bishop had to
make terms, he would endeavour to get for him a lease of the Crown
land, held in Isla by Sir Ranald, and he left, as hostages, his son
Thomas, and his nephew John Knox. His letters reached the
Council on October i, 1614.^^ The Council was heartlessly indiffer-
ent to the fate of John and Thomas. They gave a commission to
Campbell of Calder to subdue Isla ; for which, when he had reduced
it, he was to pay a rent. But Argyll, if we can believe the bishop,
had iiecn encouraging Angus to hold out.^^ It may be remarked


that, whenever the Macgregors or Macdonalds did anything especially
lawless, they always said " Argyll told us to do it." If so, they
ought, of course, to have found out this policy of the house of

Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 55 of 60)