William Fraser.

The earls of Cromartie; their kindred, country, and correspondence (Volume 1) online

. (page 4 of 53)
Online LibraryWilliam FraserThe earls of Cromartie; their kindred, country, and correspondence (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 53)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the same work, which consists of 55 folio pages. It is chiefly in the hand-
writing of the secretary of the first Earl of Cromartie, being apparently made
from a draft by his Lordship. The manuscript contains corrections in the
handwriting of the Earl, and words are filled in with his own hand, parti-
cularly words in Latin, and names of persons and places which the copyist
had been unable to decipher.^

As to the acquisition of Kintail, Lord Cromartie, in his History now
described, thus explains it : — " The lands of Kintaill wer at that tyme posest
for the most pairt by MacMahon, which commonly is Englished Mathesones,
and descended of the Vrsines or Fitzursils, and wer of the ancient inhabitants
of Ireland. He had an only daughter, who maried to this Colin, comander
of the fort [Eilandonan], brought to him and his successors that heritadge of
Kintaill : this our tradition never doubted nor contraverted, but ever held
as a true account from generation to generatione."

The editor of the " Origines Parochiales Scotiae " prints the charter

from a copy of the seventeenth century, said to be in the handwriting of

the first Earl of Cromartie, and he remarks : — " If the charter is genuine,

it is not of Alexander the III., or connected with the battle of Largs (1263).

1 Original History in MS. at Tarbat House.


Two of the witnesses, Andrew Bishop of Moray, and Henry de Baliol, cham-
berlain, would correspond with the sixteenth year of Alexander II." ^

The copies of the charter which exist differ in several particulars ; and it
is possible that in the frequent transcription, not always by skilful hands,
errors have crept in, and thus led to suspicion of the original.

In Crown Charters of the thirteenth century, the regnal year is given as
the date. The Christian year is rarely stated. When two sovereigns having
the same Christian name reign in succession, and about the same number of
years, and only date their charters by the years of their reign, it is not
wonderful that the mistake occasionally occurs of attributing a charter of the
one sovereign to the other. Even in the reigns of sovereigns much later than
the Alexanders, especially of the Stuart Kings, five of whom of the name of
James succeeded each other, charter scholars in our own day have sometimes
fallen into error as to the sovereign by whom particular charters were granted,
attributing a charter to one King James while it was granted by another
of the same name. In the middle of the seventeenth century, when Lord
Cromartie wrote his history, the means of ascertaining, by the names of the
witnesses, and otherways, the true granter of a charter, and the date, were ntit
so accessible as at present. The mistake of attributing the Kintail charter
to King Alexander the Third, instead of King Alexander the Second, cannot
be regarded as a very serious error in the circumstances.

The authenticity of the charter, however, has been questioned by Mr.
Skene in his " Highlanders of Scotland," on the ground that no one has ever
declared that he has seen the original, and that it is a forgery of later times.-

With reference to the statement that no one has ever declared that he
had seen the original charter, ]\Ir. Skene appears to have been unaware of the

1 Origines Parocliiales Scotiae, vol. ii. Part ^ The Highlanders of Scotland, vol. ii.

ii., p. 391. p. 234.


fact that the charter is given ad longum by Lord Cromartie in his History
of the Mackenzies. His Lordship says — " The first chartour of Kintaile is
given by this King Alexander to this Colin, anno 1266. It being the first,
I shall here relate its full tenor." He then quotes the charter as already
given, thus specially taking his stand upon it as the foundation charter of
the family in Kintail.

George Crawford in his " Peerage of Scotland," which was published in
the year 1716, states that the original charter by King Alexander to Colin
was then in the hands of the Earl of Seaforth, and was kindly communicated
to him (Crawford) " by that noble lord and excellent antiquary the Earl of
Cromarty." From tliese statements it seems clear that both Crawford and
Lord Cromartie had in their possession what they believed to be the original
charter ; and the declaration of two such eminent charter scholars to that effect
appears quite sufficient to obviate Mr. Skene's objection that the original
charter had never been seen. Mr. Hector Mackenzie, in his history of the
Mackenzies, states that he had seen and read the charter by King Alexander
in " ane Eegister stile book doubled by umquhile Coline Mackenzie of Dalkoig,
with many other charters belonging to that Family and Estate of Seaforth."

The Earl of Cromartie and George Crawford were both charter scholars,
and well qualified to judge of the authenticity of an ancient charter. Many
early Scotch charters had been studied by the Earl as Lord Clerk-Eegister, and
also as a historical writer, and by Crawford as an explorer of charter reposi-
tories with reference to his county and family histories of Eenfrewshire, his
Peerage of Scotland, and his Lives of the Officers of State. Had the charter
been such a "palpable forgery of later times" as represented by Mr. Skene,
Lord Cromartie and George Crawford would doubtless have detected it. That
they did not suspect its authenticity is shown by their having commenced
their respective histories of the Mackenzie family with Colin Fitzgerald,


referring to the charter as their authority, and quoting its terms. These two
witnesses to the existence of the charter in their day are as competent and
unexceptional witnesses as coukl be adduced for the truth of such a fact.

That tlie charter of King Alexander, as well as the two unsuspected
charters, the one by King David the Second in 1360, and the other by King
Eobert the Second in 1380, both referred to afterwards, are not now amongst
the Seaforth muniments, is not surprising. A family who have had their
muniments scattered by forfeiture, and who have been unable to retain
their cherished inheritance of Kintail and the Lewis, might not be very soli-
citous for the preservation of the mere parchments of these estates. It is not
private collections of charters alone that become impaired through loss or
neglect : even the great public and national collections of Scotland, with all
the advantages of officers and buildings, specially appointed for their proper
preservation, have from time to time been lost, to such an extent that the
mere catalogue of these missing charters fills a printed volume.

The other theory as to the origin of the Mackenzies is of a different
character, and is based on a genealogical MS. of Highland families, now in
the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh. It is a very old record, having been
written in Gaelic about the year 1450, by an anonymous author, but sup-
posed to be a member of the Maclachlan family, merely from the fuller
notice of that family than any other in the MS. The part of the MS.
referring to the Mackenzie family is thus translated — " The genealogy of the
clan Kenneth: Murdoch, son of John, son of Kenneth, son of Angus, son
of Christian, son of Adam, son of Gilleoin og, son of Gilleoin of the Aird."

Colin of the Aird, the progenitor of the Earls of Ross, who must have lived
in the tenth century, and his son Colin, the younger, are repiesented as the
ancestors of the Mackenzies of Kintail, who would thus have a native origin,
and be a branch of the tribe of Ross. This supposed origin, if not so dis-


tiiiguished as the descent from the Fitzgeralds, is yet of high antiquity, as
the Earls of Ross were among tlie most ancient of the Earls of Scotland.
According to either of the conflicting theories, therefore, the Mackenzies have
a very ancient and distinguished lineage.

Mr. Skene has urged very sweeping objections to the charter of King
Alexander, and to the record of Icolmkill. His chief objection to the
charter is that it merely grants the lands of Kintail to " Colinus Hibernus," —
the word Hibernus, he adds, having at that time come into general use as
denoting the Highlanders, in the same manner as the word " Erse " is now
frequently used to express their language. But to show how unsatisfactory
such an objection is, reference may be made to a charter granted to an Irish-
man, as the owner of a large barony in another j)art of the Highlands, in the
century following that of King Alexander. In the year 1342, King David
the Second granted a charter, confirming one previously made in 1336 by
Duncan Earl of Fife, to " John of Yrelande," Baron of Murthly, in the county
of Perth. The Earl also granted a precept to the same John, who is called
in it "John de Hibernia,"'^ just in the same way as his countryman CoHn
Fitzgerald, in the previous century, is called Golinus Hibernus in the charter
of King Alexander. The Murthly charter is a very striking instance of an
Irishman being indifferently styled of Ireland and Hybernus at the same time.
The Gaelic manuscript on which ]\Ir. Skene so much relies is in many
respects quite fabulous. It is very meagre, and refers to no proofs. And,
while it may be said to show the traditional descent of the Mackenzies at
the early date at which it was written, its authority will be acknowledged
with some hesitation when it is remembered that in tracing the descent of
the Macdonalds, their genealogy is gravely carried back to Adam.

If the doctrine of fahum in uno, falsum in omnibus were to be strictly
1 The Red Book of GrandtuUy, by William Fraser, 1868. Vol. i. pp. 1-2.


applied to such a document, it must be rejected as unreliable ; and indeed
Mr. Skene himself regards the earlier portions of it as apocryphal. " We
may conclude," he says, " that previous to the eleventh century the MS. of
1450, and the Irish genealogies of the Highland Clans, are of no authority
whatever."^ That arbitrary line excludes Colin of the Aird as the Mackenzie

Mr. Skene's opinion on a question of Highland genealogy is of high
authority, and we desire to treat his theory with due respect. But we
think that he dismisses the record of Icolmkill and the charter of King
Alexander on insufficient grounds, and sets up as against them an anonymous
Gaelic manuscript, a great part of which he proves to be fabulous.

Armorial bearings often assist in questions as to the origin of families,
from the similarity of one coat to another ; but in the case of the
Mackenzies, the armorial bearings do not throw any light on the question of
origin. The stag's head, which has been carried by the Mackenzies as early
as can be traced, was no part of the Geraldine cognisance, nor of that of the
Earls of Eoss, of whom Colin of the Aird is said to be the progenitor. Lord
Cromartie, in his History of the Mackenzies, thus accounts for the adoption
of the stag's head :- —

About the time of the granting of the charter of King Alexander, at
Kincardine-on-the-Dee, the King was hunting in the forest of Mar. A
hart pursued his Majesty, and would probably have injured him, if Colin
Fitzgerald had not killed the animal with an arrow. For which cause the
King granted to Colin a deer or hart's head puissant, bleeding from a wound
in the forehead, for his coat armour, supported by two greyhounds ; the
head in a field azure : which all descending from him have ever since carried."
In the second edition of his History, Lord Cromartie adds that the deer's head

^ The Highlanders of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 40. - History, printed 1829, p. 3.



is corrupted by turuiug the wound to a star, and the blood to a tusk.^
Euo-ravings of two of the earliest armorial seals of the Mackenzies which
have been found are here given. These are the seals of Colin Mackenzie of
Kintail in 1585, and his son, Kenneth of Kintail, in 1597.

The royal hunt in the forest of Mar, and the incident of killing the stag
at the critical moment for King Alexander, form the subject of a large picture,
painted by Sir Benjamin West for Francis last Lord Seaforth. The painting
is on a large scale, one of the " immense sheets of canvas " on which that
eminent artist preferred to work. The canvas, indeed, nearly covers a wall
of the drawing-room of Brahan Castle. The original sketch for the painting
by the artist is also at Brahan.

For about a century after Colin Fitzgerald, little is known of the members of
the Mackenzie family. The charters next in date are one by King David the
Second in 1360, and another by King Kobert the Second in 1380, both granted
tu Murdoch, the son of Kenneth of Kintail. The originals of these charters
are not now known to exist. But the terms of them, as quoted in the early

1 History MS., p. 3. Tusk is probably the Gaelic dals'-.aj, a forelock.


histories of the family, are consistent with either theory of the origin of the
Mackenzies, whether descended from Colin Fitzgerald or Colin of the Aird.
Murdoch, the son of Kenneth of Kintail, is admitted to have been in pos-
session of Kintail at the dates of these two charters.

The earliest charter now in the Seaforth Charter-chest in favour of a
Mackenzie of Kintail, bears date 10th March 1525. It was granted by
King James the Fifth, in favour of John Mackenzie of Kintail and Isabella
Grant, his wife, of the lands of Fodarty, Strathgarve, and Killyn, in the earl-
dom of Eoss. From the Register of the Great Seal it appears that in 1509
James the Fourth granted a charter of Kintail to John Mackenzie, son of Ken-
neth Oig, who w^as the son of Alexander Mackenzie, owner of Kintail in 1463.

Colin Fitzgerald, by his wife, a daughter of Kenneth Macmahon or
Matheson, had a son Kenneth, named after his maternal grandfather. The
descendants of Kenneth, the son, were called by the Highlanders Mac-
chainnichs, using the patronymic of Macmahon or Matheson, his mother, in
preference to his father, Fitzgerald, whom they esteemed a stranger ; and the
name of Macchainnich was gradually softened to Macchennie and Mackenzie.^
The fate of the valiant Colin, the strenuous armiger, was very unfortunate.
Being a new settler in Kintail, the nearest kin of the Macmahons envied his
succession to that old heritage, and attacked and killed him at a place beside
the loch of Auchnahinach, called to this day Glac Chailein. In the middle
of this loch there still remain the foundations of the old tower of the Mathesons.
But the garrison of Elian Donan, consisting chiefly of the Macraes and Mac-
lennans, valiantly defended it for their young master, and retained it for him."

The first of the Mackenzie family who was raised to the Peerage was
Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail, who, on 19th November 1609, was, by King

1 This name has been very differently - History by Lord Cromartie, printed, p.

written : M*^Canzie — M^Kanzie — Makkenze 4, MS. do., p. 3.
— M'^Canze — M'^Kenze— Makeainzie, etc.


James the Sixth of Scotland, and then the first of England, created Loed
^Iackenzie of Kintail. He survived his creation for little more than a year,
having died in the Chanonry of Ross, on penult February 1611, and it is
quaintly recorded that he was buried in the Chanonry Kirk " with great
triumph." He was succeeded by his eldest son, Colin, second Lord Mackenzie
of Kintail, who, on 3d December 1623, was by the same sovereign created
Earl of Seafoeth,^ with limitation to him and his heirs-male. He was called
Euadh, or the Eed Earl. He had no sons, but two daughters, by his wife,
Lady Margaret Seton, daughter of the Lord Chancellor Dunfermline. The elder
daughter. Lady Anna Mackenzie, was the Countess successively of Alexander
second Earl of Balcarras, and of Archibald ninth Earl of Argyll. From her
first marriage is descended the present Earl of Crawford and Balcarras, who
is the heir of line of the Earls of Seaforth. Lord Crawford published, in
1868, an interesting memoir of his ancestress. Lady Anna Mackenzie.

To the Eed Earl of Seaforth his brother George succeeded as second Earl,
and on his death in 1651, the title of Seaforth was successively inherited by
his son, the third Earl, and his grandson, Kenneth, fourth Earl. The latter
followed King James the Second into France, and was created by him
Maequis of Seafoeth. The Marquis died at Paris in January 1701, and
was succeeded by his eldest son, William fifth Earl of Seaforth, who, having
engaged in the Eebellion of 1715, was attainted by an Act of Parliament,
and his estates forfeited to the Crown. Four years thereafter, the Earl of
Seaforth returned to Scotland with a party of Spaniards, and made an
attempt on behalf of the exiled Eoyal family of Stuart. He was wounded at
the battle of Glenshiel, fought in a valley of that name, near Kintail, in

1 Seafort was the original name, derived from belonged to the Mackenzies of Kintail. In
a fort at the head of Loch Seafort, in the Gaelic the loch is frequently spelt Shi-phoirt,
south-east of the island of Lewis, which then which means harbour of refuge.


June 1719, but escaped abroad along with William, Marquis of Tullibardine,
the Earl Marischall, and others.^ King George the First was pleased to remit
part of this attainder to the extent of relieving hira from imprisonment and
the execution of his person ; and King George the Second also extended to
him further concessions. He died in Lewis in the year 17-10, having been
supported by his faithful tenants and vassals from the rents payable by them,
which could not be safely collected by those acting for the Government. In
the year after his death, the Crown sold the Seaforth estates, including the
barony of Ellandonan and others, for £25,909, 8s. 3id., under burden of an
annuity of £1000 to Frances Countess Dowager of Seaforth. This purchase was
for the benefit of the Earl's eldest son, Kenneth, styled Lokd Fortkose, who,
in the Eebellion of 1745, gave all his support to the Government. After his
death in 1761, his only son, Kenneth Mackenzie, who was called the Little
Lord, obtained from the Crown a Charter of the Seaforth estates.^ For
his loyalty, in 1766, he was created Bakon of Aedelve,^ in the county of
Wicklow, and Viscount of Fortrose in Ireland. In 1774 he was advanced
to the dignity of Earl of Seaforth, also in Ireland. Dying in 1781, without
male issue, his titles became extinct. By an arrangement with his cousin
and heir-male, Colonel Thomas Frederick Mackenzie Humberstone, the latter
acquired, in 1780, the Seaforth estate for £100,000. Colonel Mackenzie
Humberstone died unmarried, in the year 1783. He was succeeded by
his brother, Francis Humberstone Mackenzie of Seaforth, who, on 26th
October 1797, was created a British Peer, by the titles of Lord Seaforth
and Baron Mackenzie of Kintail. He was an able and accomplished man,
and did good public service as Governor of Barbadoes, and otherwise.

^ At Brahan Castle there is a pen-and-ink running over the hill."

sketch of the battle of Glenshiel, dated 1719. ^ Charter, dated 10th December 1763, at

It is evidently by a Hanoverian hand, as it Brahan.

prominently represents the " Highlanders ^ There is an Ardelve in Lochalsh.


Lord Seaforth's four sons all died young, and he was succeeded by his
eldest daughter, the Honourable Mary Frederica Elizabeth Mackenzie of
Seaforth, who married, first. Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. Her second husband,
the Honourable James Alexander Stewart, eldest son of Admiral Keith Stewart,
third son of Alexander sixth Earl of Galloway, assumed the additional
.surname of Mackenzie. While residing at the Castle of Brahan, an ancient
seat of the family, Mrs. Stewart Mackenzie exercised almost unbounded hospi-
tality. Her eldest son is Keith William Stewart Mackenzie, now of Seaforth.

A sensational story, under the title of the Fate of Seaforth, appeared in a
popular work,^ in connection with Isobel Mackenzie, sister of the first Earl of
Cromartie and Countess of Kenneth third Earl of Seaforth, and Kenneth Oure,
the seer of the Mackenzies. The story, as told by the Ulster King of Arms,
but without quoting any authority, is that the Earl of Seaforth had occasion
to visit Paris, where he stayed longer than his lady liked. On consulting the
seer as to her lord's occupations in Paris, she was told that he was enjoying
himself with a fair lady of France. This so enraged the Countess that
she immediately ordered the poor seer to be hanged. At his execution
he foretold the downfall of the INIackenzies when a chief was born both deaf
and dumb. But the actual execution by Isobel Mackenzie, Countess of Sea-
forth, of the prophetic warlock is as apocryphal as many of his own predic-
tions. The loss of a million of money wdiich the Seaforth family claimed to
have undergone in the cause of King Charles the First did them more per-
manent injury than the predictions of their railing seer. Still many believed
that one of those was fulfilled in the time of the last Lord Seaforth, who
was deaf and dumb. Part of his gift land had to be sold, and about the
same time the last of his four sons, William Master of Seaforth, a young
man of talent, died suddenly at Warriston, near Edinburgh, in the autumn

1 Vicissitudes of Families, by Sir Bernard Burke, 1863, pp. 2GS-2S1.


of 1814. Lord Seaforth himself, bereaved and broken-hearted, lingered till
the month of January following. And thus the prophecy of Kenneth Oure
(Gael. Od/iar, dun) was supposed to be fulfilled, —

" Of the line of Fitzgerald remained not a male
To bear the proud name of the Chief of Kintail."

The Seaforth estates, as already mentioned, devolved on Lord Seaforth's eldest
daughter. Lady Hood, who, accordmg to her intimate friend Sir Walter Scott,
had many of the qualities of a chieftaiuess. Alluding to her succession, on
the death of all her brothers. Sir Walter says —

" To thine ear of affection how sad is the hail
That sahites thee the heir of the line of Kintail."

The remainder of Kintail, including Tullochard, or the burning mountain
of the Mackenzies, has lately passed, by purchase, to a fortunate clansman,
who is now Mackenzie of Kintail.

On the death of Lord Seaforth in 1815, as already mentioned, the male
representation of the Mackenzies was claimed by George Falconer Mac-
kenzie of Allangrange, who, on 15th October 1829, in virtue of his descent
from the Honourable James Mackenzie of Lochsline, third son of Kenneth
first Lord Kintail, was served heir-male, 1st, of Kenneth first Lord Kintail ;
and, 2d, of Colin first Earl of Seaforth.

The principal castle on Kintail was Donan, or Island Donan, an ancient
fortress originally erected to resist the invasions of the Danes, and known on
that account as the " Danting Isle."' It is situated on the western extremity
of the parish of Kintail, and commanded Loch Duicli and Loch Long, thus
securing the country against attack by sea. At full tide, Donan is sur-
rounded by the sea and formed into an island ; but at low water it is


connected with the mainland. In his Cronykill, Wyntonn narrates that
Randolph Earl of Moray, the Warden of Scotland, caused fifty rebels to be
put to death, and their heads placed on the top of the castle walls.

In the year 1539, Donald Gorm Macdonald of Sleat, who claimed the
Earldom of Eoss and Lordship of the Isles, besieged the Castle of Donan.
He was killed by a barbed arrow from the walls, and his followers were dis-
persed. Two years thereafter, in 1541, a remission was granted by King
James the Eifth to the accomplices of Donald Gorm for their treasonable
burning of the Castle of " Allanedonnane," and of the boats there.^

Donan M-as the rendezvous of the clan of the Mackenzies for war, the
signal being given by lighting a bonfire on the lofty hill of Tullochard. And
when the approach of an enemy has been announced, and the bagpipes have
resounded to " Tullochard " or " Seaforth's Gathering," the hill- sides have
been peopled with the " plaided warrior armed for strife."

After the battle of Glenshiel in the year 1719, the Castle of Donan was
dismantled, and it still remains a ruin. Originally the castle is supposed
to have consisted of seven towers. One side of a tower or keep, which was
80 feet high, remains, along with the niins of the older buildings. EUan-

Online LibraryWilliam FraserThe earls of Cromartie; their kindred, country, and correspondence (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 53)