1614 - 49
Allan Cameron of Lochiel, the recognised head of his clan since 1585, got into much trouble in consequence of the claims of superiority over him made by the rival houses of Argyle and Huntly. To begin with, he was a vassal of Huntly; but as Argyle furbished up some old writs of superiority, Allan transferred his allegiance to the latter house much to the chagrin of the Gordons, who endeavoured to punish Lochiel by stirring up a section of his clansmen against him. Allan by stratagem induced the disaffected Camerons to attack himself, and by an ambuscade completely overthrew them. Huntly then raised a hue and cry as the jealous guardian of order, brought the matter before the Privy Council and got Cameron denounced rebel and murderer, with the usual consequences. [For further particulars see the Introduction to the Privy Council Register, Vol. X]
On the 10th Feb 1610, the Privy Council issued a commission to Lord Lovat, Mackenzie of Gairloch, Mackenzie of Kintail, Mackay of Farr, etc., for the apprehension of Allan, so that the heather was fairly alit on the Braes of Lochaber. In the ensuing operations Donald Mackay took some part. Both he and Sir Robert Gordon with 300 well appointed men proceeded as far as the town of Inverness in Aug 1612; and again on the 9th Dec 1613, a levy of Gordons and Mackays were summoned from the north by order of the Council to pursue Allan Cameron. In the second expedition Gordon of Embo and Donald Mackay marched with over 450 men into the heart of Lochaber to co-operate with other troops, as Sir Robert Gordon informs us [Earldom of Sutherland]. But resourceful Allan managed to hold his own with the help of Argyle.
Meantime Donald was called upon to bear a hand in an affair nearer home. Sir Robert Gordon represented to the king that Arthur Smith, a native of Banff, was forging false coin in Thurso under the patronage of the Earl of Caithness. What truth there was in Sir Robert's story we cannot say, but that he sought the ruin of Caithness is evident from after events. Anyway, Sir Robert obtained a commission to apprehend Smith and prudently passed it on for execution to his nephew, Donald Mackay. In May, 1612, Mackay and Gordon, younger of Embo, with a considerable following proceeded to Thurso, where they apprehended Smith after a stubborn fight with the townspeople in which John Sinclair of Stirkoke, nephew of the Earl of Caithness, was killed and others wounded. So fiercely were they assailed, that the Mackays slew Smith in the outskirts of the town lest he should be rescued by the Sinclairs [Earldom of Sutherland].
As the slaughter of Stirkoke had already resulted in a legal process and might provoke sterner reprisals on the part of the Sinclairs, Sir Robert Gordon induced King James, as he says himself, to grant a remission under the Great Seal, 13th Jan 1614, to Donald Mackay and others for the bloodshed at Thurso, and in this manner got to windward of the Caithnessmen. At the same time, this new estrangement of the Sinclairs and Mackays suited his policy admirably. The remission [Appendix No 29] shows that there were two pipers of the party, and it may be of interest to observe that one of them was a Macrimmon, a member of the famous family of Skye pipers.
About this time Lord Forbes took possession of the lands of Dunbeath, Reay, Sandside, etc., which were bequeathed to him by his deceased brother-in-law, George Sinclair, and incurred in consequence the hostility of the Earl of Caithness, who considered he had a better right to these lands himself. The quarrels which speedily followed ranged the Earl of Sutherland, Lord Forbes, and Mackay in opposition to the Earl of Caithness, and sent the whole four up to Edinburgh for legal arbitrament. During the conflict before the Council, the Earl of Caithness produced William Kemp, burgess of Edinburgh, 24th Mar 1615, to testify to a plot against him, and his evidence was as follows: -
"Deponis that he came yisternight to the Erll of Caithness and desyrit him to tak heade to him self, for thair was people in this toun that bore him no goode will and were his unfriendis. Deponis he reveillit this to the Erll of Caithness upoun this occasion: to witt, that yisterday, aboute foure of the cloke in the afternoone, he being in his awne house, he hard three gentlemen who were in the nixt house, and ane wall of mud onlie betwix them, speeke amangis thame salffis in thair drinking that the Erll of Caithness had done a ruffle to McKy, and it might be that he sould rew that dayis labour; and the depouner knawis not the men, bot has seen thame in company with the Erll of Sutherland, the Lord Forbes, and McKay in thair going up and dounn the streit" [Privy Council Register].
Caithness made nothing of it by his journey to Edinburgh, but this need not imply that he was wholly in the wrong, for the Privy Council of that period was a most corrupt body, appointed by the king to execute his autocratic will, and often did so at the expense of justice.
[Footnote: Since the union of the Crowns, King James practically governed Scotland through the members of the Privy Council, his own nominees, reducing Parliament to a cipher, and establishing a tyranny which bore such direful fruit during his son's reign, when the people rose up to claim their own:- Hume Brown's Scotland.]
As the Earl of Sutherland died in the autumn of 1615, leaving an elder son John, six years of age, Sir Robert Gordon became tutor or governor for his young nephew, and acquired considerable power throughout the diocese of Caithness during the following fifteen years. Towards the close of the year 1615, Lord Forbes' corn-yard at Sandside was set on fire and burnt to the ground. Suspicion at once fixed upon the Earl of Caithness as the instigator of the arson, and confessions were made by some Gunns that they were incited to do the deed by his Lordship. But it is not at all certain that Caithness was guilty. The Gunns hated him for his late betrayal of their clan, and may have sought revenge in this fashion. But guilty or not, it practically ruined him.
The astute Sir Robert Gordon, who shows himself that he had much influence with King James, got mixed up in the affair, and so hunted Caithness from pillar to post that he became a fit object of pity to his bitterest enemies. Caithness was reduced to bankruptcy, put to the horn, and denounced rebel, while his elder son, Lord Berriedale, was flung into an Edinburgh prison where he lay for five years. The tale of prosecution against the fallen Caithness recorded in the Privy Council Register and in the Earldom of Sutherland is very cruel, and there is no doubt that in this matter Donald Mackay suffered himself to become too much the accomplice of his uncle, Sir Robert.
Towards the close of spring, 1616, Sir Robert, Donald Mackay, Lord Forbes, etc., proceeded to Edinburgh in connection with the prosecution of the Earl of Caithness, and having set the machinery of the law in motion, such as it was, Sir Robert and Mackay went up to London where the latter was knighted, as Sir Donald Mackay of Strathnaver. Sir Donald returned north by way of Fife and accompanied by Lady Mary Lindsay, sister of Lord Crawford, reached Durness by boat about the middle of August. Lady Lindsay's trip to Durness was the occasion of just resentment on the part of Sir Donald's wife, Lady Mackay, as the Privy Council Register XI shows.
From about this time Mackay sheered off more and more from his uncle, Sir Robert. He came to see that Sir Robert's plan was to crush Caithness with one hand and to destroy himself with the other. As far as the house of Mackay was concerned, Sir Robert's policy was, as enunciated by himself in his Advice [Appendix No 36] to his nephew of Sutherland, "use Mackay rather as your vassal than as your companion; and because they are usually proud and arrogant, let them know that you are their superior. Let Mackay his pincell [banner] never be displayed when yours is". The advice was foolish; and small wonder if the man who received the counsel and acted upon it brought heaps of trouble upon himself, as the future will show. There lay in this policy two generations of strife, during which both families were brought to the verge of ruin, because the one family was just as proud as the other.
The erratic Earl of Caithness in his accumulating distresses stretched out his hands towards Mackay, his late enemy but the natural ally of his house, and in Apr 1618, Sir Donald paid a visit to the earl at Brawl Castle, when there was delivered to him "some old writs of certane lands in Strathnaver and other places within the dyacie of Catteyness, appertayning to some of Sir Donald his predicessors" [Earldom of Sutherland page 351]. Evidently these writs came into the possession of the earl's grandfather when Huistean Du Mackay was his ward, and probably many valuable documents belonging to the Mackays were lost at that troublous period. The information which Sir Donald got in these old writs would naturally increase his estrangement from the house of Sutherland, and make him more determined than ever to stand on his guard.
It will be remembered that on two previous occasions the Earl of Caithness attempted what was expected to have a warlike object under the guise of a hunting expedition. The earl seems to have had as much faith in a hunting expedition as Mr. Weller, senior, had in an alibi, for on the 22nd Jun 1619, the Privy Council, at the instigation of Sir Robert Gordon, inhibited the Earl of Caithness and Sir Donald Mackay from making such an expedition in Sutherland, as it was believed they meant mischief [Privy Council Register]. Two years after this (Aug 1621), Mackay refused to meet his uncle at Elgin for a settlement of their disputes, but in May of the following year they had a meeting at Tain, and entered into an argument regarding the marches between Strathnaver and Sutherland.
During these years Sir Robert Gordon was very much at Court and a prime favourite there, as he takes good care to inform his readers. On the 25th May, 1621, the king advised the Privy Council to grant Sir Robert a commission of Fire and Sword against the Earl of Caithness, but he did not move forthwith although the commission was offered to him. To smite Caithness was of his own seeking, but he wanted to do it in a way of his own. After conference with the king upon the point (Jun 1623), Sir Robert appeared before the Council and got them to insert in the commission the names of Sir Donald Mackay, Sir Alexander Gordon, and James Sinclair of Murkle, along with his own. At the same time, letters were issued commanding the inhabitants of Ross, Sutherland, Strathnaver and Orkney to assist Sir Robert in the execution of his task. To insert the name of Mackay in a commission of Fire and Sword against the Earl of Caithness, now his friend, was a clever move, and more was to follow. In order to eliminate all hazard of firing a shot, Sir Robert got the Privy Council to make it criminal for Caithnessmen to carry or use fire-arms, 29th Jul 1623 [Privy Council Register].
Having carefully removed every element of danger out of the way, Sir Robert set out for Caithness in September, and marched from victory to victory receiving the keys of no less than three castles, as he tells us in most grandiloquent language. Sir Robert did not catch his man; but what of that, he swept every thing before him ! And such was the terror of his name that not a hostile shot was fired in all Caithness ! But remember, good reader, the Caithnessmen were disarmed before Sir Robert ventured to cross the Ord, and were consequently not in a position to lift a musket. Although his name was in the commission, Sir Donald took no part in the inglorious campaign. He only appeared in Wick when all was over, to be told by the pseudo-hero that his services were not now required.
On the 20th Aug 1623, "Sir Donald McKay of Strathnaver" was appointed by the Privy Council a Justice of the Peace for Sutherland and Strathnaver, and on the 11th Nov of the same year the inhabitants of Strathnaver petitioned the Council through Sir Donald to be exempted from the prohibition to carry fire-arms, which had lately been passed against the inhabitants of the diocese of Caithness. About this time Sir Donald began to add largely to his landed estate [Privy Council Register]. In 1624 he bought the lands of Reay, Sandside, etc. from Lord Forbes, the Little Isles of Strathnaver [Apendix No 32], formerly pertaining to Farquhar, the physician, from William Macallan on the 6th October, and on the 7th Apr 1625, he purchased the 27 merklands of Moidart and the 24 merklands of Arisaig from John McRonald, Chief of Clan Ronald [Privy Council Register]. But in order to raise money for his Continental military expedition, he had to sell the lands of Moidart and Arisaig to Colin, Earl of Seaforth, towards the close of the year 1626.
The great Thirty Years' War, in which Frederick, Elector Palatine, son-in-law of James VI, took such a prominent part on the Protestant side, was raging on the Continent. It eventually developed into a European war of Protestant versus Catholic States, and found many active English participants who drew the sword partly out of sympathy with the king's son-in-law, and partly out of sympathy with their co-religionists abroad. Sir Donald Mackay heard the brazen blare of the war-trumpet in distant Strathnaver, saw an opportunity of taking part in the struggle, and found himself overmastered by the fighting instincts of his race. So far as we can gather, Sir Donald was not strongly religious, but he was warlike and ambitious. Though not over rich it was not the want of money that drove him abroad, for there was no money in the cause when he espoused it, and certain it is that he did not increase his wealth thereby. The ill-gotten charter of regality by which Sir Robert Gordon governed the north so circumscribed Mackay's energies at home, that he felt constrained to lure Dame Fortune in a wider field abroad by the offer of his sword. In pursuance of this object, he sought liberty from King Charles I to raise a regiment for the assistance of Count Mansfelt, then in the field supporting the Elector. The crave had an immediate response.
"The Privy Council granted a commission in virtue of warrant from his Majesty of date 3rd Mar (1626), empowering Sir Donald of Strathnaver to levy a regiment of 2000 men anywhere in Scotland and transport them to the Continent for service under Count Mansfelt … The Council on the same day addressed a circular letter to a number of lairds in the Highlands representing that, as they had many idle men within their bounds, they could not do better than urge all such to enlist under Sir Donald and his captains, so that they might be trained in military discipline, and be creditably employed on good wages abroad, instead of loitering uselessly at home". [Privy Council Register I, ii page 69]
In raising his regiment Sir Donald wisely adopted the plan of getting young adventurous men of good families to earn a commissoned rank by securing so many recruits. The response was unparalleled in our country, so far as we know. Before the 15th May, or in a little over nine weeks, 3600 troops officered by the cream of Scotland's fighting men, Highland and Lowland, were ready for the lagging transports. The bulk of the rank and file were "bonny men" from the glens and islands, with a sprinkling of broken-men, sorners, etc., who with such a backbone made a splendid fighting machine. Probably a hardier lot never left our rugged shores for war's gory field, and we are not surprised to learn that they carved for themselves the proud title of "The Scottish Invincibles," in consequence of their prowess under the great Gustavus Adolphus.
[Footnote: "There were (at the least) thirty of that regiment, which went out of Scotland with Lord Reay, who came to be colonels, lieutenant-colonels, and seargent-majors; a rare thing, the like whereof hath not bin seen": - Earldom of Sutherland, page 450]
[Footnote: It was this fact that gave rise to the Gaelic couplet: -
"Na h-uile fear a theid a dhollaidh
Gheibh e dolar o MhacAoidh."
Every one that is down in his luck
Shall get a dollar from Mackay.]
Although Mackay's regiment was ready for embarkation before the 15th May, for lack of transports they were not able to sail from Cromarty until the 6th Oct. Meantime "Mackay seikned and hardly escaped", and the troops had to depart without him. But Mackay embarked at Leith on the 18th Jan following, and joined his regiment in Holstein, towards the end of March, where it lay in winter quarters [Earldom of Sutherland page 404]. As Christian IV, King of Denmark, uncle of Charles I, had by this time joined in a Protestant alliance of Britain, the Dutch States, and Denmark to oppose the Austrian Imperialists, Mackay took service under the Dane and forthwith had his men sworn in.
The Mackays had their first bloody baptism towards the end of July, at Boitzenburg, on the Elbe, where four companies under Major Dunbar, left to guard the town, were assailed by Tilly with about 10,000 men. Thrice did the Imperialists rush to the assault but they were as often driven back with great gallantry, and at last had to retire with the loss of over 1000 men. As Dunbar's four companies only numbered 800 altogether, they gave a very good account of themselves in their first tussle.
[Footnote: The interested reader, who desires a more detailed account of the exploits of this regiment, should consult Munro his expedition with the worthy Scots regiment, called Mac-Keyes regiment (published 1637), and An Old Scots Brigade (published 1885)]
Their next great exploit was at the Pass of Oldenburg, which Sir Donald was instructed to hold at all hazard, in order to enable the Duke of Wiemar to embark his troops at Heiligenhafn. From daybreak to sunset of a late October day, Mackay held the pass with his men against an overwhelming host under Tilly. Torn and stung by shot and ball, they clung to the position with a heroic tenacity which defied the indomitable Tilly. As may be imagined their losses were very heavy. Sir Donald himself was severely wounded by the explosion of a barrel of gunpowder, but he grimly stuck to his post; while Sir Patrick McKie of Largs and other officers had to be carried off the field. When the regiment went into winter quarters shortly after this, of the 3600 men who had embarked at Cromarty, only a twelvemonth before, but 800 whole and about 150 maimed survived. In other words, in a four months' campaign they lost three-fourths of their number. Truly the glory of war is bought at a great price !
As the regiment was in such a reduced state, Sir Donald started for Scotland soon afterwards accompanied by special officers to beat up new recruits; but we imagine he had some difficulty in getting the requisite number [Privy Council Register I, ii, page 83]. Since the embodiment of Mackay's regiment, Scotland had been denuded of her fighting men, for she had sent abroad about 10,000 soldiers, very few of whom ever returned. In the circumstances he took some time to raise his levy, and practically drained Strathnaver of its able-bodied men.
[Footnote: On the 8th Mar 1627, the Privy Council granted a commission to James Sinclair of Murkle to levy a regiment of 3000 men for service under the King of Denmark. Lord Speynie was also empowered by a special act to press into his own regiment all "strong, able, and counterfeit limmars, callit Gypsies," all sturdy beggars and vagabonds, masterless men and idle loiterers of other denominations, and also deserters from Colonel Mackay's former levy that may be found fugitive throughout the country: - Privy Council Register, Vol. I., ii. Series.]
While recruiting at home Mackay proceeded to London where, on the 19th January, he obtained from King Charles I a charter under the Great Seal of the lands of Reay, Sandside, Davochow, Borlum, Easald, Achatrescar, Anehamerland, and Showarie, as resigned by Alexander, Lord Forbes, some time previously, and now created into a barony burgh with various privileges, one of which was four annual fairs at Reay. [The fairs were: - 11 Aug, Sanct-Reanes fair for four days; 20 Oct, Sanct-Gedes fair for three days; 11 Dec, Sanct-Kellenes fair for three days; and 8 March, Sanct-Comes fair for three days Reg.Mag.Sig.]
About the same time Sir Donald was created Lord Reay as a reward for his valuable services to the Danish king in the German war - the Patent of Nobility [Appendix No 34] was issued 20th Jun 1628. His proper and natural title was Lord Strathnaver, but the Sutherland family picked that up in 1588, when they secured the superiority of Strathnaver from the king. At an earlier date, 18th May 1627, Sir Donald was made a Baronet of Nova Scotia, being abroad at the time. [Privy Council Register I, i, page 103]
Towards the close of the summer of 1628, Lord Reay set out with a levy of 1000 men and joined his regiment at Copenhagen; but the struggles of the Danish king were nearly at an end for the present, and his place was soon taken by an abler man, Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, who stepped into the field as the champion of the Protestant cause. Reay took service with the Swedish king, and with the latter's commission, 17th Jun 1629, returned to Scotland for more men [Old Scots Brigade page 321]. He was back in Denmark before the New Year, proceeded to Sweden in February, 1630, and thence passed over with his regiment to Germany, where he took part in the capture of Stettin, Damm, Colberg, etc. - the capture of the latter town was a very stiff affair in which his Lordship distinguished himself. As soon as the army went into winter quarters, after a very arduous campaign in which Lord Reay's men won great renown, his Lordship once more returned to Scotland for more men. In a great war it is always men, more men !
Proudly did Mackay return to his native shores fresh from the scene of his military triumphs, but "slippery is the step at the great man's door", as the Gaelic proverb hath it. On a missive from Charles I, 5th May 1631, the Privy Council granted warrant (2nd Jun) to Lord Reay to raise 2000 men for service with Gustavus [Privy Council Register IV, ii]. About the same time he was authorised by the King of Sweden to arrange with James, 3rd Marquis of Hamilton, as to the terms on which the latter would agree to raise 6000 men for service in Germany [Hist. MSS. Com., 11th Report]. The Marquis agreed, and soon Lord Reay and Hamilton's lieutenant, Ramsay, were busily engaged levying the troops; which when they had done, his Lordship proceeded to London to thank the king for his aid to Hamilton, and requesting the loan of transports for the troops.
In an unguarded moment, Lord Reay confidentially told Lord Ochiltree, the hereditary enemy of the house of Hamilton, that the marquis intended to use the troops for treasonable purposes, as Ramsay had informed him. That the house of Hamilton often plotted against the Crown is a well known fact. Anyway, Ochiltree blazed the story abroad to the consternation of not a few; Ramsay was called up to London and denied the charge, then Lord Reay challenged him to the proof of combat. A High Court of Chivalry was formed, 20th Nov 1631, to enquire into the matter, and the 12th Apr following was fixed as the day of combat. The combat, however, never took place, for the king interfered and sent both Ramsay and Reay to the Tower, in order to preserve the peace. "The matter here refered to", says Professor Hume Brown, "is one of the many mysteries to be found in Scottish history … Whether from policy or from conviction of Hamilton's innocence, Charles consistently acted as if all were well" [Privy Council Register IV, ii, page 63]
This incident was disastrous to Reay. While his regiment was abroad gaining increased renown under Gustavus, he had to stay in London because of this miserable business; and before the matter was settled the King of Sweden fell gloriously at Lutzen, and Reay was never repaid the vast sums of money he had borrowed to raise men for the German wars. Nay more, King Charles owed him £3000 which also he never received. Realizing his critical financial position, he denuded himself of his estate in favour of his son John, Master of Reay, 7th Sep 1637, in order to protect the family interest in the storm which he saw looming [Reay Inventory].
A woman is said to be mixed up in most things, and that was the case in this instance. A Mrs. Rachel Winterfield, or Herison, claimed the adherence of Lord Reay, who, she asserted, was her husband. His Lordship, says Gordon of Sallagh, obtained a decree of nulity of marriage against her on the plea that her former husband was alive when she married him. We do not think they were ever married, and ground that opinion on the following. In a letter from his Lordship to Secretary Dorchester, 18th Jul 1631, he says, "the warrand for apprehending that woman who calls herself the writer's wife has expired. He has got intelligence where she lives; prays him to write to the Attorney-General to give out another warrand." Dorchester replies, 10 Aug "the writer's secretary will have given Lord Reay a letter to the Attorney-General about a search after the woman mentioned by him" [Cal. State Pap. Dom. S. 1631-33]. These documents seem to show that he prosecuted her for making a claim which he absolutely denied, and there is not a word about nullity of marriage. Anyway, when Reay's back was to the wall she caused him much trouble and expense, at the instigation of enemies, as we surmise.
In 1637, when King Charles was goading the Presbyterians of Scotland into revolt, the Marquis of Hamilton, who never forgave Mackay, had supreme power in Scotland, and Sir Robert Gordon was a member of the Privy Council. The lady appeared before the Council, where "William Innes of Sandside did appear for him", i.e. for Lord Reay.
But "the stream of the secret council was so bent against him, having formerly irritated most of them in the Marquis of Hamilton's business, by making them accessory therto, that the sentence went against him on her side without delay. He was ordained to give her two thousand pounds sterling for her by-past maintenance during the suit, and three hundred pounds sterling yearly for her maintenance during his non-adherence" [Gordon of Sallagh].
This was a crushing fine spitefully imposed upon a man who was known to be financially wrecked already; and it was very much the work of his unscrupulous uncle, Sir Robert Gordon, who had the meanness to forge documents [Appendix No 35] in order to secure this monstrous verdict. The motive is evident. It was to compel Mackay to sell the lands along the river Naver, for which the Gordons were hungering, but it did not succeed. To pay the expense, Mackay sold the lands of Reay, Sandside, etc., to William Innes, who obtained a charter of them under the Great Seal that year [Reg.Mag.Sig.].
How it fared with Lord Reay during 1632-37 we cannot say - the Privy Council Register covering that period has not yet been published - but that a man of his active disposition and military prepossessions could remain idly at home in such a stirring time on the Continent is not likely. He had a commission from the Council to apprehend sorners etc., 6th Mar 1634, a common method of raising recruits at that time, and in the letter [Appendix No 35] of 1637 to Sir Alexander Gordon he speaks of "my company", indicating a military connection then existing. The probability is that he served abroad in the German wars during a portion of the above mentioned period, although we have no record of his achievements.
The imposition of Laud's Liturgy upon the Kirk, in 1637, raised a violent storm of resentment against the king throughout Scotland, in which the nobles joined the commons. What really alienated many of the nobles from King Charles was the Act of Revocation, passed some years earlier, annexing to the Crown all the Church lands which fell into the hands of the barons at the Reformation [Hume Brown's Scotland]. Not a few of the nobles signed the National Covenant in 1638 to settle a score with the monarch who dared to alienate from them Church lands to which they had no moral right, and not because they were enthusiastically anti-Prelatists. As the Act of Revocation got the Earl of Sutherland into a considerable amount of difficulty over the Church lands of Caithness, it is probable that it helped to make him a Covenanter !
Lord Reay does not seem to have been in much sympathy with the National Covenant although he signed it at Inverness, 26th Apr 1638, at a convocation of the northern burghs assembled for that purpose [Spalding Memorials I, 87]. Many other Royalists were in a similar plight; they had to sign to save their face. [Seaforth obtained a high command from the northern Covenanters, but he changed sides and was cast into prison. Again he became a Covenanter, and sometime thereafter had to appear in sackcloth before the Kirk at Edinburgh. So too with Montrose, who first fought for the Covenanters and then became their scourge.]
In all civil wars it is generally the same; but from the very beginning Reay was reported to be on the king's side. Huntly was the king's leading supporter in the north, with whom Lord Reay communicated secretly and to whom he sent his elder son John, Master of Reay [Gordon's Scots Affairs, I, 61]. In April, 1639, a ship laden with arms and ammunition for Lord Reay, and bound for Strathnaver, was driven into Peterhead by stress of weather and captured by the Covenanters. This ruined Reay's scheme of a Royalist rising in the far north, where the Mackenzies and the Sinclairs would have joined him. That same month, Montrose by a ruse captured Huntly, the Master of Reay, and others, in Aberdeen, and carried them prisoners to Edinburgh, where the Master of Reay was released upon signing the Covenant, and returned immediately to Strathnaver [Gordon of Sallagh].
The Covenanter forces to the north of Spey were put under the command of Seaforth, who marched into Moray with about 4000 men, among whom were Reay and the Master of Reay "with the chois men of Strathnaver", about the middle of summer. At Chanonrie in the Black Isle, 7th Jun 1639, Seaforth and Reay joined in a secret bond of friendship [Appendix No 40] which is thoroughly Royalist. Its avowed purport was "the advancement of Religion, the king's Majesties service, and the keeping of peace". Nominally they were officers holding rank in a Covenanting army, but at heart and in their secret councils they were Royalists. Naturally they did nothing but mark time till the peace at Berwick disbanded the northern army.
Next year war broke out again, Colonel Robert Munro was appointed Commander of the northern Covenanter forces, Seaforth and Reay were called up to Edinburgh, and by order of the Tables committed to two months' free ward on suspicion of being hostile to the cause. Warded in Edinburgh, Seaforth and Reay were prevented from dividing the council of those who in the north supported the Covenant [Gordon of Sallagh]. During the two following years Reay abode at home, and does not seem to have taken any active part in the struggle, probably through lack of opportunity.
In 1643 hostilities were resumed between the king and the Covenanters, the Earl of Sutherland was appointed Colonel of the horse and foot in Sutherland; and on the 17th Jul, Reay embarked at Aberdeen for Denmark, where he remained for some time in command of his son's (Colonel Angus) regiment [Spalding Memorials II, 259]. While thus engaged, Reay was in correspondence with King Charles and making strenuous preparations to come to his assistance. Early in 1644, Reay left Denmark with some ships laden with arms and treasure, to the value of about £20,000 Scots, and reached Newcastle shortly before it was invested by the Scots army.
Reay found Lord Crawford in command at Newcastle, and the two with much vigour applied themselves to the scientific fortification of the town. The siege, which began in February, proved a most obstinate one. Although a large and highly trained army under the veteran General Leslie hammered away at the town, it continued to hold out until 14th Oct, so gallantly was it defended.
"After the battell of Yorke, the Scotes Covenanters had all the north of England at their pleasure, only Newcastle stood for the king, which the lord Crawford and the lord Rea, both Scotes men, defended valiantlie, while generall Lesly besieged it … These two had keipt it out beyond all expectation, with much currage and resolution, as their enemies did much admire and praise ther fidelitie" [Britane's Distemper page 50 and 118].
Not till Leslie breached the walls of Newcastle with exploding mines, and shattered its fortifications, could he call the town his own [Hill Burton's Scotland]. The defence of Newcastle was the most brilliant military exploit of the Royalists during the Civil war, for the dashing victories of Montrose were but rapid tumultuous Highland charges; and the credit of it may justly be claimed for Lord Reay, whose military experience on the Continent made him the most capable general within its walls. After its fall, Reay and Crawford were sent prisoners to Edinburgh Castle where they lay till Aug 1645, when Montrose gained his victory at Kilsyth [Britane's Distemper page 146]. Meantime the Estates proscribed Reay and others, 18th Jun 1644, and ten days thereafter excepted Reay and Huntly from a pardon which they granted to malignants; but Lady Forbes interceded for Reay and her supplication came before the court in 1645 [Records of Parliament]. It was Kilsyth, however, that hastened the authorities to set Mackay free.
Mackay returned home and almost immediately found himself involved in a dispute with the Earl of Sutherland about lands in the Naver Valley, but the points in dispute are difficult to expiseate. Gordon of Sallagh, continuator of the History of the Earldom of Sutherland, maintains that Reay sold the lands along the Naver Valley to Sutherland in 1642, and Sutherland in his complaints to Parliament, whose ear he had as a Parliamentarian, claimed a right to these same lands. We find nothing in the Reay charter chests to indicate the substantiality of these claims, but much to the contrary. John Sutherland in Skelbo had sasine on a charter of apprising from John, Lord Reay, of the lands of Kerrownashein, 8th Jan 1652, and his heir, Alexander Sutherland of Torbol, had a similar sasine from the said lord of the said lands, 5th Nov 1656. The lands of Kerrownashein were the Aberach lands in dispute, and they were not sold to the Earl of Sutherland but seized for debt by Sutherland of Skelbo, as the Sasine Register proves. We shall afterwards show that the superiority of these lands pertained to Mackay as late as 1682, and consequently cannot understand on what ground the Earl of Sutherland is said to have purchased them in 1642. We observe that Sir William Fraser accepts Gordon of Sallagh's account, but we do not think that he was justified in doing so without further proof, in the light of what we have shown above. The probable explanation of the controversy is, that Sutherland was claiming the lands on behalf of his vassal of Torboll, and as Lieutenant of Sutherland.
Gordon of Sallagh relates that the Aberach Mackays raided Gruids and spoiled Gray of Creich in August, 1646. This seems to be confirmed by a letter from Sutherland to Reay a little later, which appears in Vol. III of The Sutherland Book. When the matter was reported to Parliament, it "stood fast to the Earl of Sutherland, as for one who had stuke hard to them, and hade most advanced their affairs in the north of Scotland" [Gordon of Sallagh]. In this partisan spirit the Estates, 27th Mar 1647, ordered 500 troops under competent officers to be set at the disposal of the Earl of Sutherland, to assist his own Highlanders in bringing Reay to book [Records of Parliament]. With these levies Sutherland advanced to Ben Rosal, on the east border of Strathnaver, where he was met by Reay, and some terms of settlement made.
The following year Lord Reay embarked at Thurso for Denmark, and died at Copenhagen in the spring of 1649. Such was the regard entertained for his Lordship by the King of Denmark, that a frigate was commissioned to carry his body to the Kyle of Tongue, and his remains are entombed in the family vault within the church at Kirkiboll [Old Scots Brigade]. Of him it may be truly said, here sleeps a battered warrior.
During the time of Donald, 1st Lord Reay, there is some evidence that the people of Strathnaver were growing in culture, rude as it was from our standpoint. More and more of the members of the leading families were learning to write, as their signatures to wadsets, sasines, etc., prove. Many may have learned to write while serving abroad as military officers, and some would certainly return home with a wider knowledge of the world. Religion in these parts owed much to the faithful labours of members of the Munro clan. The first Protestant minister of Farr was Robert Munro, who was translated from Durness after 1624, and was succeeded in Durness by a succession of Munros. In 1638 the Parish of Kintail (now Tongue) was erected, [Appendix No.39] but there was a Protestant church there at a much earlier date, served by the minister at Durness, who was practically the chaplain of the Reay family.
[Footnote: Notwithstanding the agreement which we give in Appendix No.39, this proposed erection of the parish of Kintail, partly out of Farr and partly out of Tongue, never took place, as the bishop was deposed a few weeks thereafter at the Glasgow Assembly of the Kirk. In the time of the 3rd Lord Reay, we shall see that the parish of Durness was divided into three parishes, viz. , Tongue, Durness, and Edderachilis.]
Lord Donald was thrice married.
His first wife was Barbara, whom he married in 1610, eldest daughter of Kenneth, 1st Lord Kintail, and sister of Colin and George, 1st and 2nd Earls of Seaforth.
She bore him four sons and two daughter: -