Angus Macdonald.

The clan Donald (Volume 3) online

. (page 4 of 48)
Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


24 THE CLAN DONALD.

of Kiiitail. The supposed issue ot* this marriage was
Torquil Coiianach, so called from his residence among
his maternal relations in the region of Strathconan.
This Torquil Conanach was, however, disowned and
disinherited hy his father, on the ground of the
infidelity of his wife, that is Torquil's motlier.
Roderick Macleod of Lewis consequently divorced
his first wife, and mariied Barbara Stewart, by whom
he had another son Torquil, designated " Oighre "
or heir, to distinguish him from Torquil Cunanafh.
That the Chief of tiie Clan Torquil had good grounds
for his action there cannot be the shadow of a doubt.
On the 22nd August, 1566, a declaration was made
before Patrick Miller, notary public, by Sir Patrick
McMaster Martin, parson of Barvas, to the effect
that " Hucheon Breve of Lewis " confessed on his
death-bed to his being the father of Torquil
Conanach. In 1566, the very year of this strange
disclosure, Torquil Oighre, the rightful heir, was
drowned at sea on the way from Lewis to Troternish,
and Donald Gormeson, as nearest heir through his
mother, the heiress of " John MacTorquil Macleod,"
advanced his claim to the succession, in which,
apparently, he was not opposed. Donald Gorme-
son's territorial ambitions were destined to be
disappointed. The baron of Lewis was not to be
tiiwarted as to a successor through an heir of his
c'vn body, and his second wife dying, he married as
K"s third wife a sister of Lacldan Maclean of Duart,
by whom he left Torquil Dubh to conteu'l with
Torquil Conanach in future years for the possession
of his father's estate.

During all these years Macleod of Dunvegan had
been — so far as recent charters could constitute a
right — the legal holder of the Clan Uisdein lands,



THE MACDONALDS OF SLEAT. 25

though tlie Macdoualds enjoyed possession, which is
nine points of the law. This anomalous state of
ntatteis seemed in a fair way of heing remedied in
15G7, when Donald Gormeson entered into a contract
with the Earl of Argyll for the purjjose of acquiring
legal titles to his estates. The contract was, in
brief, as follows : — ( l) The Earl of Argyll was to get
himself infefted in the lands of Troternish, Sleat,
and N. Uist ; (2) he is for various good causes,
particularly for future service, to make Donald
Gormeson and his heirs vassals in these lands, they
paying him a penny more duty than the Earl was to
pay to the Crown ; (3) Donald was to pay lOUO
merks to the Earl as soon as he should be received
as the Earl's vassal, with 500 merks additional to
form part of the dowry of Mary Macleod, grand-
daughter and lieiress of line of Alexander Macleod,
to the gift of whose ward and marriage Alexander
had acquired right; (4) he is to deliver to the said
Earl at the same time, under penalty of all the other
proceedings being declared void and null, a bond of
manrent and service from himself and his successors
to the Earl and his successors in the most strict
form and against all and sundry, the royal authority
only excepted, and upon their failure to serve the
said Earl with their whole force whenever they
shall be required, all the provisions in their favour
contained in the present contract shall become null ;
(5) lastly, the said Donald is to concur with, assist,
and defend Tormod Macleod, uncle of Mary, heir
male of the family, when he shall be required to do
so by the Earl. The contract is dated 4th March,
1566-7, but we have no evidence that the provisions
were ever implemented,^ though the document

' Gen. Keg. of Deed» IX., 20.



26 THE CLAxV DONALD.

throws valuable light upon the ikvourable [)usition
occupied by the Chief of Sleat in the esteem of the
powers that were.

Donald Gormeson appears to have been regarded
in his day not only as the lineal descendant of the
Lords of the Isles, but as the actual possessor of that
dignity. In 15G8 he joined Sorley Buy in his
canipaigns, and in the Calendar of State Papers he
appears on more than one occasion as " Lord of the
Oute Isles." The following year we find Donald
Gormeson at feud with Colin Mackenzie of Kintail,
the old enmity having doubtless been intensified by
the connection of the Sleat family with the Macleods
of Lewis, with whom the Mackenzies were at daggers
drawn. The two Chiefs — Macdonald and Mackenzie
— appeared before the Council at Perth, and the
settlement of their quarrel was referred to the good
offices of the Earl of Murray. They agreed to forgive
each other and forget the past. Donald was to cause
Pcory Mc Allan, aliaa Nevynauch, to cease from
molesting the Laird of Gairloch's lands ; Mackenzie
was ordained to cause Torquil Conanach to cease
from molesting the lands of Donald.

In 1571-2 Donald Gormeson, who by his loyalty
had risen high in the estimation of the King and the
Protestant party, began to reap the fruits of his
discretion, He had already promises of gifts of land
tliat miiiht fall vacant throuo-li forfeiture, and now
further favours were bestowed. He received the
patronage of the Bishopric of Boss, while out of the
Bishopric of Aljerdeen 1000 merks a year were voted
to him, pending the fulfilment of the royal promise
as to the bestowal of landed estates. On the 16th
January, 1572, and at the Castle of Dunskaith, the
Chief of Sleat entered into an obligation with the



THE MACUONALDS OF SLEAT. 27

Bishop of the Isles regarding arrears of teiiids due
by liiiii to that dignitary, an obligation which after-
wards devolved upon the guardian of hie successor.
This is the last notice recorded of Donald Gornie
Sassenach, his death having taken place in 1573.
The succeeding Chiefs, as well as the whole Clan
Uisdein, owed much to his sagacity in having brougiit
the prestige and prosperity of his house to a higher
pitch than they had enjoyed since the days of Hugh,
the first Baron of Sleat.

Donald Gormeson was succeeded by his oldest
son, Donald Gorme Mor, who was a minor at his
father's death. The young Chief was placed under
the guardianship of James Macdonald Gruamach,
his grand-uncle. This James Macdonald was styled
of Castle Camus, and was known in his time as
Sen mas a Chaisteil. He was the founder of the
Kingsburgh family. In 1575, James, as the repre-
sentative of the House of Sleat, subscribes an
important obligation to the Bishop of the Isles
respecting the payment of dues owing in the lands
of North Uist, Sleat, and Troternish, that he had
intromitted with since the death of Donald Gorme-
son.^ This obligation to pay church dues proves, at
least, that the family of Sleat, though technically
unconfirmed in their estates b}^ the Crown, were still
regarded as the legal possessors. We gather from
the tenor of this obligation that the granter — James
Macdonald of Castle Camus and the Clan Gilleasbuig
Clerich, the descendants of his uncle the clerk — had
made a division of the lands belonging to the late
Chief, and that the accounting for church dues was
to date from his death down to the division referred
to. The principle of the division can only be

' Coll. de lleb. Alb., p. 9.



28 THE CLAN DONALD

gathered iiifereiitially ; but it seems quite clear that
the Gilleasljuig C'k-rach Sept were in occupation of
Troternish, with Donald MacGilleasbuig as bailie of
that region, vvhil«" James Macdonald of Castle Camus
held the bailiary of Sleat. How North U'st \Aas
held we cannot exactly say. It appears that the
Bishop had suffered loss at the hands of John Og,
son of James Macdonald, the tutor of Sleat, who in
March of the previous year had broken the " blak
boitt " belonging to the same, and the Bishop was to
be satisfied and recompensed as to the damage thus
inflicted.

In 1580 there is evidence that the intromitters
with the teinds and other dues pertaining to the
Bishopric of the Isles and the Abbey of Icolumkill
were behind time in their payments — so much so
that an Act of Council and Session was passed
ordaining that a summons, which had already been
issued more than once, should again be raised
against the tutors of Donald Gornie — among others —
that is to say, Donald and Hucheon MacGilleasbuig
Clerach. Althouo-h the name of James Macdonald
of Castle Camus does not appear in the list of
defaulters, we must not infer that his intromissions
were regularly conducted, for the following year he
and the Clan Gilleasbuig tutors w ere declared rebels,
put to the horn, and forfeited for failure to pay, and
their escheit was granted to the Bishop of the Isles,

The fact that James Macdonald of Castle Camus,
the tutor of Sleat after the death of Donald Gorme-
son, consented to divide his authority with the Clan
'Illeasbuig sept of Troternish, was an acknowledg-
ment of the power and influence the latter possessed
in that part of Clan Uisdein territory. This influ-
ence and prestige were of course largely owing to



THE MACDONALDS OF SLEAT. 29

the long period during which Archibald the Clerk
exercised sway as the Captain of the Clan, in con-
sequence of the lon_;^ minority of Donald Gormeson.
This, in addition to the fact that Archibald the
Clerk was assassinated by John Og, son of Donald
GruaiTiach, and that the reins of ^-overnment passed
to a large extent from the Clerk's family to anothei-
son of Donald Gruamach, necessarily embittered their
mutual relations and sowed the seeds of discord
which was prolific in future trouble.

We have seen that in 1581 the leading members
of the Clan 'Illeasbuig — Donald, bailie of Troternish,
and Hugh — had been put to the horn and denounced
as rebels. By that time, however, Donald was dead,
and Hugh was the leading surviving member of the
sept. When Donald Gorme Mor steps on the scene
in 1585 as the leader of his Clan — tliat probably
being the year of his majority — Hugh also appears,
and is then and for some time thereafter the evil
genius of the House of Sleat. According to some of
the authorities Hugh was the nephew of Donald
Gorme Mor, and the younger son of Archibald the
Clerk, son of Donald Gormeson. We cannot enter
here into the full details of the genealogy, but it is
clearly impossible that Donald Gorme Mor's nephew
could in 1585, and several years previous, have
been of an age to act the part that was played
by Uisdein Mac \TUeashuig Chleireich, who must
have been either the son or grandson of the original
Archibald the Clerk, the son of Donald Gallach. In
the latter case the designation Mac 'Illeasbuig
Chleireich must have been simply a sept name or
patronymic rather than a description of whose son
he was. It is not, however, by any means impossible
that the fomier supposition is correct.



30 THE CLAN DONALD.

The outlawry of Hugh which commenced in 1581
seems to have continued for several years. This
might in other circumstances have been quite con-
sistent with friendliness towards Donald Gorme
Mor, Imt the unscrupulous and treacherous clansman
seems to have inherited a rich legacy of hatred
towards the descendants of Donald Gruamach, and
no motives of loyalty to his Chief would j^revent him
from doing him as much injury as lay in his power.

In 1585 Donald Gorme of Sleat, being on his
way to visit Angus MacDonald of Dunnyveg with a
considerable retinue, was forced by contrary winds
to take shelter in the Island of Jura, which was then
divided between the Chief of Clan Iain Mhoir and
Maclean of Duart. The portion of the island on
which Donald Gorme and his men landed happened
to be that which was owned by Maclean of Duai't.
Huffh Mac 'lUeasbuiof, who seems to have been still
under sentence of outlawry, and engaged in piratical
excesses, had associated with him in these nefarious
pursuits Angus Macdonald of Griminish, the head of
the Clan Domhnuill Herraich. These two worthies
evidently kept their eye upon the movements of the
Chief of Sleat, and having like him been driven by
stress of weather to land in a creek in his neighbour-
hood, they readily embraced the chance of doing
him an injury by carrying off' by night a number of
cattle belonging to Maclean's vassals, and as soon as
the weather moderated making for the open sea,
correctly judging that their Chief would be blamed,
and might probably be embroiled in a quarrel with
Maclean for the perpetratioji of the outrage. Their
expectations were not <lisappointed. In the course
of the following night the warriors of Sleat were
attacked by a large body of Macleans at a place



THE MACDONALDS OF SLEAT. 31

called Inhhir-a-ChnvAc hhric, and it is said that 60
of them were slain, while the Chief only escaped
captivity or death by the fortunate circumstance
that he had slept on board his galley.^ This was
the beginning of a sanguinary and disastrous feud
that lasted several years.

Donald Gorme Mor was deeply incensed at what
appeared a gratuitous and unpro^'oked insult, and it
is certain that he left nothing undone to inflict sum-
mary vengeance upon Maclean. The records of the
time are neither definite nor reliable. A.11 we know
as to the earlier stages of the conflict is that the
Macleans appear to have been reduced to great
straits, and that in September. 1585, James VL
wrote Roderick Macleod of Dun vegan, earnestly
requesting him to assist Maclean of Duart against
the Clan Donald, who had done him much injury,
and were threatening to do more. It was probably
about this time also that Donald Gorme and several
other Chiefs were summoned before the Privy
Council to commune regarding the good rule and
pacification of the Isles and Highlands under pain of
rebellion.

On the 20th May, 1586, Donald Gorme Mor
entered into d Bond of manrent and maintenance
with the Earl of Huntly at Elgin, an arrangement
which seems somewhat utiintelliofible in view of the
fact that the Chief of Sleat was in the verv middle
of his feud with Maclean of Duart, and presumably
not in the best favour with the Crown or Executive
Government. The mission of Angus of Dunnyveg
to Mull to efl'ect an amicable understanding between
the contending Chiefs of Sleat and Duart and the
disasti'ous consequences that ensued have already

^ Seanachie's History of the Macleans, p. ^>Q.



'32 THE CLAN DONALD.

been detailed in Volume IT. of this work. The
interest of these events for our present purpose
consists in the fact that the Dunnjveg Chief, fiom
being a sympathiser with, became an active helper
to Donald Gorme. The quarrel of Sir Lauchlan
Maclean of Duart with the Chiefs of Sleat and
Dunnyveg united these two Chiefs in a common
cause, and a strong confederacy of Western Clans
was formed to support them. The two Macdonald
Chiefs numbered among their auxiliaries the Clan-
ranald, the Clanian of Ardnamurchan, the Macleods
of Lewis, the Macneills of Gigha, the MacAllisters
of Loup, the Macfies of Colonsay, and other minor
septs. We find Donald Gorme and Angus of
Dunnyveg also strengthening their position in the
north of the Mainland Highlands by entering into
a bond of alliance, offensive and defensive, with
Jjauchlan Macintosh of Dunachton, Captain of the
Clan Chattan. The bond was drawn up at Liver-
ness on the 30th May, 1587, and was directed
specially against Mackenzie of Kintail and Kory
Macleod of Harris, whose hostility was to be guarded
against in the then condition of affairs.^

The story of the war of vengeance conducted by
Donald Gorme is much less clearly indicated in the
records than the feud of Angus of Dunnyveg. It is
no doubt referred to in great detail in the history of
tlie Clan Maclean by Sewmiachaidh , and by other
more recent historical writers, who have uncpiestion-
ingly incorporated his tradition. Like all accounts,
from a clan point of view, based uj)on unsupported
tradition, the Maclean historian's account of these
troubled years must be received with the greatest
caution and reserve. The Chief of Sleat, accom-

' Charter Cliest of Slcat.



THE MACDONALDS OF SLEAT. 33

panied with much unwillingness bv his vassal,
Maclean of Borreray, is said to have invaded the
island of Mull, probably in the latter part of 1587 -
and this in the face of a Privy Council prohibition
against gathering in arms. In this invasion Donald
Gorme and his allies appear to have scored the first
successes at a place called Cranalich, but on the
following day, at Leac Li, the Macdonald host is
said to have been completely routed. Not long
after this there was a fresh levy of the Macdonald
confederacy, and a rendezvous was appointed to
take place at a small island on the coast of Lorn
and South of Kerrera named Ba3hca, being a con-
venient place of meeting between the Clan Donald,
North and South. Maclean, on learnino- of these
preparations for renewed hostilities, determined to
assume the offensive on the very first opportunity.
He summoned to his aid his own and other friendly
clans, but still, according to the Maclean historian,
there was a great disparity in point of numbers
between the two sides, the Macdonald host number-
ing 2500, while Maclean's followers were only 1200.
We are not disposed to deny the defeat of Donald
Gorme on a pvrori grounds, even in the face of his
numerical advantages ; but the circumstances as
detailed by seanacliie make rather heavy demands
upon the historical imagination. We are told that
Sir Lauchlan attacked the Macdonald warriors at
the principal landing place of Bachca early in the
morning, the archers driving them back with flights
of arrows upon their interior defences at the centre
of the island. Here the attack was pressed home
with such vigour that 340 Macdonalds were killed,
and many prisoners — including Donald Gorme him-
self — were captured, while the Macleans only lost

3



34 THE CLAN DONALD.

two men killed and one wounded ! The 1800
Macdonalds who were not killed or captured man-
aged to make their escape. All this is recorded
with the utmost gravity by seanachie, who seems to
think it the most natural thing: in the world that a
force of Macdonalds, twice the number of their
opponents, should meekly submit to being massacred,
captured, routed, without striking a blow in self-
defence. Unfortunately, we have no means of
testing the historian's fidelity to truth except the
inherent absurdity of the tale, and the fact that
there appears to be no record whatsoever in the
muniments of the age verifying the imprisonment of
Donald Gorme and several hundreds of his friends
and vassals on this particular occasion.

The terrible feud between Donald Gorme and Sir
Lauchlan Maclean, entirely the result of a misunder-
standing, seems to have terminated in 1589. En
that year tlie Chief of Sleat, his brothers Archibald
and Alexander, his grand uncle and former guardian,
James Macdonald of Castle Camus, and Hugh Mac
Gillesbuig Chleireich, received a remission for all the
crimes committed by them against the Macleans.
On the strength of this dispensation, Donald Gorme,
along with Sir Lauchlan Maclean and Angus Mac-
donald of Dunnyveg, were induced to go to Edin-
burgh to consult with the King and Council for the
good rule of the country. On their arrival the three
Chiefs were apprehended and imprisoned, and the
Kincr and Council turned to advantacje their dis-
honourable manoeuvre by imposing heavy fines as
a condition of their liberty. Donald Gorme was
mulcted to the extent of .£4000, and had, besides,
to procure security for his obedience to the Scottish
Government, as well as to the Irish Government of



THE MACDONALDS OF SLEAT. 35

Elizabeth. Campbell of Cawdor is said to have
acted ill the required capacity of suret}'- for the
Chief of Sleat. The amount of the fine shows that
Donald Gorme was regarded as a chief of consider-
able wealth and importance. 1.4708^11

Campbell of Cawdor was assassinated in 1592,
and his death doubtless removed a restraint which
might have kept the restless scion of Clan Uisdein
in law-abiding paths. As it was, he did not seem to
be much concerned about obeying the behests of the
authorities, or providing securities for his subjection
to the laws and the payment of his Crown dues. It
was probably in consequence of Cawdor's death that
a summons of treason was produced against Donald
Gorme, dulv executed ; but no sentence of forfeiture
seems to have been executed. While these pro-
ceedings occupied the attention of those in high
places, Donald Gorme was busy making preparations
for military adventures across the Irish Sea. The
security, demanded in 1591 for good behaviour
towards the Government of Queen Elizabeth in
Ireland, was no superfluous measure, though we
cannot trace the causes of suspicion against the
Chief of Sleat at that particular time. In company
with Roderick Macleod of Dunvegan, he resolved to
respond to an invitation to go to the help of Red
Hugh O'Donnell, who was then in rebellion against
Queen Elizabeth. Each Chief, at the head of 500
warriors of his clan, crossed over to Ireland in 1594.
Landing on the shores of Lough Foyle, and bei?)g
informed that O'Donnell and his army were then
besieging Inniskillen, they sent a messenger to him
to intimate their arrival. When O'Donnell received
this message he left Inniskillen, which was being
besieged by his army, and met and entertained the



36 THE CLAN DONALD.

Skye Chiefs for three days and nights. Donald
Gornie does not seem to have stayed long in Ireland.
He left his clansmen under command of his brother ;
but tiie subsequent history of the Clan Uisdein
contingent in Hugh Roe's rebelhon seems to have
been uneventful.

In 1595 there was a resumption of amicable
relations between Donald Gorme and the Crown —
and the Chief of Sleat is in treaty with King James
over the lands occupied by him in the Isles. He
desired that His Majesty would be graciously pleased
to grant him such lands as he presently occupied
upon such reasonable conditions as he might be able
to perform, or as should be granted to others in the
Isles. He declared at the same time that he pre-
ferred dealing directly with the King according
to his ability, rather than through the medium
of any of His Majesty's subjects who might
desn^e to interfere in the matter. The followinti"
year Donald Gorme Mor's proposals received the
most favourable consideration. He came volun-
tarily to Court, and entered into an agreement with
the King and Exchequer, by which he succeeded in
acquiring considerable j^roperty in heritage, which,
since the time of his ancestor Hugh, had been held,
partly in lease, by force, or on sufferance. In
accordance with a decision of the King and
Privy Council in 1594, a charter was granted
him of the lands contained in the old charter
of 1469 to Hugh of Sleat, and which were
now claimed by Donald Gorme as his heir male,
under the reservation of lands to the extent of
40 shillings in North Uist, and providing that the
Castle of Camus should in future be always open to
the King or his successor?, their lieutenants or



THE MACBONALDS OP SLEAT. 37

chamberlains. The grantee paid 2000 merks for a
discharge of all feudal casualties due from these
lands, and the annual feu-duty to be paid was £146
On 17th August Donald Gorme received a lease for
five years of the Crown lands of Troternish 8 raerk-
lands of which were reserved to the King, and it
was agreed that if the King did not place Lowland
tenants in these and the lands reserved in Uist,
Donald himself should be preferred to any other
Highland tenant. A precept of sasine followed
upon this charter in December, 1597/ This favour-
able settlement of his affairs saved him from
molestation by the Act of Parliament of this same
year, which ordered all the inhabitants of the
Highlands and Islands to appear before the Lords
of Exchequer and show the title-deeds by which
they claimed right to the Crown lands.

Donald Gorme does not seem to have been con-
tent to settle down upon his estates to which he
had now obtained so secure a title, and we soon find
him mingling in some of the intrigues that entered
so largely into the relations between England and
Scotland at that time. In 1598 ofieis are made in
his name to Queen Elizabeth, in which he seeks to
bind not only himself but the wliole of the island
chiefs to her service. He describes himself in the
preamble of this lengthy document as Lord of the
Isles, by which title he also designates his late
father in another communication he makes to Her
Majesty. He undertakes, if the Queen should so
desire, to create much trouble in the realm of
Scotland, as well as great expense to the King in
putting down rebellion. He also undertakes to do
duty in Irefand against Her Majesty's rebels, and

^ Sleat Charter Chest.



Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 48)