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JOHN 2ND LORD REAY

1649 - 80

We already observed that John, as Master of Reay, was taken prisoner along with Huntly by the Covenanting Montrose in 1639, and confined for a brief space in Edinburgh. In 1644, when Argyle advanced against the Aberdeen Royalists, Huntly, unable to withstand the onset, fled for shelter to the Strathnaver hills.

"He causes a shipe to be made readie, and, going to sea, landes in Stranaver, my lord Rea his countray, my lord of Rea being in Newcastle; his sonne, who stayed at home, being his near cusne, reccaues him joyfullie, and continued his faithful friend" [Britane's Distemper page 53].

Thus, the man whose ancestors spoiled the Mackays of the superiority of Strathnaver is now a welcome fugitive in the House of Tongue, while the family of Sutherland glare at him wildly from beyond the mountain barrier separating. Truly, Fortune's wheel turns strangely ! Lord Elcho, commanding at Aberdeen, writes the Earl of Sutherland in 1644: -

Nothing need "be expected from us here till the slowness of Caithness, and malignancy of Stranawer and Assynt, which are within our division, be taken course with …
It is no wonder that the Master of Rea doth give no obedience to the Estates, when in spite of them he doth keep an open table to the Marquis of Huntly in his fields, and, as they do report, doth go openly to their churches, which I do admeir [wonder] the Estates should so long suffer" [Sutherland Book I page 238].

Huntly, who did not return to Aberdeenshire till after the battle of Kilsyth, was doubtless busy in the far north strengthening the Royalist cause. According to the Wardlaw MS., Huntly and the Master of Reay journeyed to and fro through the north and came as far south as Beaufort Castle, near Beauly, the seat of Lord Lovat. At his final departure, the Master of Reay escorted him to Caithness and saw him safely aboard ship, probably at Wick, whence he sailed for Aberdeen.

The Earl of Sutherland was very anxious to get possession of the Aberach lands along the Naver valley, by hook or by crook. He had the title, Lord Strathnaver, and now he wanted the flag, the Aberach lands. Donald, Lord Reay, became deeply involved in debt and had to give bonds to many of his creditors. The policy of Sutherland was to get the Grays and others in the shire to purchase these bonds, and on the strength of them to apprise certain lands which they would afterwards pass over to him. But neither the Reay family nor the Aberachs would tamely submit to this policy. It was in these circumstances that Neil Williamson, the Aberach, came to the front.

After the defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh, towards the close of 1645, some of his Irish levies escaped to Strathnaver and settled among the Aberachs, as the Parliamentary records show. Assisted by these Irish and with as many more as he could get, Neil invaded Sutherland in 1646 and spoiled the Grays at Gruids, as a sort of punishment for the part they were playing. When the Earl of Sutherland advanced to Ben Rossal, 1647, with all Sutherland at his back supported by 500 regular troops, as already recorded, and made some terms with Donald, Lord Reay, Neil defiantly stuck to the hills [Gordon of Sallagh]. All through that year and the following one, or so long as Neil's head was above the ground, he took very good care that neither Grays nor Gordons profited anything from the lands along the Naver valley, to which they laid some claim.

Neil had a brother John, a burgess in Thurso. In Feb 1649, Neil went down to Thurso to procure ammunition through his brother and with no hostile intention, accompanied by an escort of Highlanders and Irish; but the Irish began to plunder the townspeople, a fight ensued, and Neil was killed by misadventure rushing from church, for it was a Sabbath day, to quell the disturbance [House of Mackay]. In this fight, of Neil's party seven were killed besides himself, and ten were made prisoners, while sundry of the townspeople were killed and wounded [Reay Papers]. This mishap naturally developed into a feud which lasted for over twenty years.

On the 16th Mar, the Earl of Caithness petitioned the Estates, and the petition was granted, to embody troops to withstand the Strathnaver men and some Irish of Montrose's, who were harrying Caithness [Records of Parliament]. The petition states that these invaders raided Caithness lately, when two of their leaders and six of their men were killed, and ten made prisoners, but that sundry Caithnessmen were killed and wounded. Since then the "hail Strathnaver men with the Irish and their other associates are risen in arms against Caithness".

In the resulting blood-feud, John Neilson Aberach made no less than seven recorded raids into Caithness to avenge his father's fall, carrying away much spoil each time. In Oct 1653, he raided the lands of Assary; in Apr 1654, the lands of Spittal and Halkirk; in Oct 1654, the lands of Berriedale and Strathmore; in Oct 1655, the lands of Spittal; on the 20th Mar and again on the 2nd Aug 1656, the lands of Spittal; and on the 15th Sep 1656, the lands of Forss and Catchary [Justiciary Record 10 Dec 1668]. The author of the House and Clan of Mackay complains at page 334 that the death of Neil was not sufficiently avenged. In the light of what we have stated we believe the general reader will conclude that the vengeance was ample enough to satisfy the modern mind.

But to return; on the 30th Jan 1649, Charles I lost his head, and very soon afterwards off went the heads of Huntly and the Duke of Hamilton. This, however, did not daunt the Royalists. On the 22nd Feb the Master of Reay and the Mackenzies, to the number of 700, attacked and captured Inverness, but hearing of reinforcements advancing from the south they soon thereafter retired to the hills for safety, to return again on the 3rd May [Wardlaw MS.].

"There happened an insurrection in the north of Scotland May 3, being Cross day, for Lieutenant General Midleton, haveing made his escape out of Barwick into these partes, the Lord Ray and the Mackenzies mustered and made a body of 1500; and coming over, some at Cessock, some at Beauly, crossed the bridge at Ness uppon the Lord's day in time of Divin service and allarmed the people of Inverness, impeding God's worship in that town; for, instead of bells to ring in to service, I saw and heard no other than the noise of pipes, drums, pots, pans, ketles, and spits in the street, to provid them victuals in every house and in their quarters. The rude rascality would eat no meat at their tables untill the landlord laid down a shilling Scots uppon his trencher that sat, terming this argid caggin, chewing money" [Wardlaw MS.].

After making the good people of Inverness table down compensation for the wear and tear of their teeth on the tough meat provided, they set out for Balveny Castle on the Spey where they quartered, awaiting the arrival of Middleton at the head of a strong force of Gordons. Mackenzie of Pluscardin and some of the other leading officers went off to meet Middleton, and meantime no danger appeared imminent. But Colonels Kerr, Hacket, and Strachan by a forced cavalry march surprised them in the night time, and, after fierce fighting in which over 400 of the Highlanders were killed, captured the survivors, Lord Reay among them. This happened early in May. Hugh Mackay of Scoury was allowed to lead the disarmed Mackays back to Strathnaver, but Reay and a few of the other leaders were brought to Edinburgh and cast into prison.

Bearing in mind the temper of the authorities at the time and the past Royalist activity of Reay, it is a wonder that he did not lose his head. That he had succeeded to the title but two or three months earlier may have made them so far clement towards him. If he saved his head that was about the most of it, for with the terror of the axe impending he was forced to sign blank bonds to the Grays of Sutherland, in name of damages for spoliation committed on them by his troops while marching south, that practically denuded him of the most of his estate. This appears from an action raised in the Court of Session, 1679, to reduce the charters of apprising secured by the Grays over parts of the Reay property. The plea then put forward on his Lordship's behalf was that the bonds on which the Grays executed were extorted from him by force and fear, a plea which satisfied the court.

"The said pretended bands were extorted per vim per malum, in so far as it is offered to be proven that the said Master of Rea was taken prisoner by _, Lieutenant to Sir Mungo Murray, and detained in restraint and in private carcere until the said bands were extorted, which were most unjust, because though the Master of Rae and his shouldiers had done any prejudice by taking away the goods of the said Grays of Arbol and Auchluy, yet he acted therein as a shouldier and was cloathed with a commission from the Marquis of Huntly and Montrose." [Footnote: He is styled Master of Reay in the documents because the act of spoliation in question was committed by him before his father's death, probably towards the close of 1643.]

It is further stated in the documents that the decreet of apprising obtained by the Grays was "allowed by the commissioners for administration of justice for the people of Scotland in 1650".

About this period there are various entries in the Records of Parliament bearing upon Reay. A supplication was presented to Parliament, 3rd Feb 1649, by the Earl of Sutherland and his vassals, asking assistance to repress the incursions of armed bands of Mackays, and to this end they were granted 400 merks monthly out of the shire of Sutherland. On 16th Mar, the Earl of Sutherland complained that 5000 merks of rent due out of Strathnaver were seized by the Master of Reay, that the country of Sutherland is in constant dread of being invaded, and that 400 men are constantly watching the marches. On the 23rd May, the Estates granted a warrant to the Magistrates of Edinburgh to detain as prisoners Lord Reay, Duncane Mcky, Robert Mcky, Donald Mcky, John Mcky, Rorie Macleod, etc. These were no doubt some of the leaders captured at Balveny.

On the 14th June, the Estates empowered the Earl of Sutherland to build and occupy with 100 soldiers a sconce in Strathnaver, and from an entry a few days later it appears that the monthly expense of the garrison amounted to £1114 13s 6d,

"to be paid as follows: - furth of the maintenance of the shire of Caithness £724 17s 11d, the maintenance of Sutherland, £439 4s 9d, the burgh of Dornoch, £27 … and £72 2s 4d remains to be paid by the Earl of Sutherland"

The ruins of the sconce, which was horse-shoe shaped with the opening towards the river, may yet be seen about 100 yards below the burn of Langdale, Strathnaver, and close to the high-way. On 28th Jun, the Estates ordain that Lord Reay is to remain in prison till the public debts incurred by him and the charges against him are paid out of his property. On 4th Aug, the Earl of Sutherland and his vassals report their losses at the hands of Reay, those of the earl amounting to £20,935 6s 8d, and those of Sir Robert Gordon to £10,834 10s 4d - very liberal estimates, we should think ! They plead these losses should be recouped out of Reay's estate. This was granted by Parliament, and Reay condemned to lie in prison until full satisfaction is given. From this it may be gathered that Reay was fairly on his back. The wonder is that he ever recovered, but he did. Lord Reay's sad plight at this juncture gave rise to the Gaelic proverb, current throughout the Royalist north: -

"Ma tha mise truagh, is e mo thruaighe MacAoidh."
If I am miserable, more so is Mackay.

In the spring of 1650, the adventurous Montrose once more tempted fortune for the house of Stuart. It was his last cast. Landing in Orkney, he crossed over with a body of Orcadians and Dutchmen to Thurso, where he was visited by Mackay of Scoury and other Strathnaver leaders. Gordon of Sallagh relates that the Mackays urged Montrose to march southwards by way of Strathnaver and Braechat, keeping to the hills, and that when he chose the more risky coast-side they returned home. It is no wonder though the Mackays refused to join in such a mad enterprise; Balveny was fresh in their memories, a hostile garrison was quartered in Strathnaver, and their chief lay a prisoner at Edinburgh. Very soon afterwards Montrose was defeated near Bonar, captured in Assynt by Macleod, and dispatched to Edinburgh for execution.

Charles II landed at the mouth of the Spey in June, and on the records of 15th Jul a garrison was planted at Tongue under Macleod of Assynt to keep the Mackays from rising, that in Strathnaver being under Captain William Gordon [Records of Parliament]. Macleod's appointment to this post may have been part of his reward for the capture of Montrose. The wheel now took another turn. The Scots who fought under General Leslie against Charles I rally round his son, Charles II, and are commanded by the same Leslie. At Dunbar, Cromwell defeated Leslie, 3rd Sep, and advanced on Edinburgh, which he took with ease. Before the close of the year, Reay made his escape from Edinburgh prison in a romantic fashion. If tradition holds true, he owed his deliverance to his brilliant wife and to a gigantic hook-nosed Aberach servant-man. So effectively did the lady plead with Cromwell for her husband's freedom, that he agreed not to interfere if she could only manage to get his Lordship outside the prison walls. We give the tradition as it is recorded in the House of Mackay.

"A great difficulty still remained, how to get his Lordship beyond the prison walls. His lady and his servant, John Mackay, one of the clan Abrach, always had free access to him. There were two grenadier centinels before the front entry to the prison. John said, if Lady Reay could get his Lordship brought that length he would, at the hazard of his life, prevent the centinels from obstructing him. The lady got her part effected; and as Lord Reay was ready to advance towards the centinels, John suddenly laid hold of them both, and with the greatest ease laid prostrate the one above the other, and then disarmed them. As his master was now under cover of the protection, John surrendered himself and was immediately put in prison and laid in irons. He was afterwards brought to his trial, at which Cromwell himself was present. He said, that the servant had no doubt forfeited his life: but his conduct, which went to obtain his master's liberty, and perhaps to save his life, was heroical … His opinion, therefore, was that for the sake of justice the panel should be condemned to die, but that in the circumstances of the case the crime should be remitted, which was agreed to unanimously. After the sentence was intimated to the prisoner, Cromwell having taken a full view of his large hooked nose, impending eye-brows, fierce manly aspect, and proportional figure, exclaimed, "May I be kept from the devil's and from that man's grasp " !

[Footnote: Fraser in the Wardlaw MS. eulogises her thus: - "Indeed she was the mirror of our north bred ladyes, the prettiest, wittiest woman that I ever knew here; a great historian, a smart poet, and for virtue and housekeeping, few or none her paralell." A specimen of her poetry may be consulted in the Wardlaw MS., page 509]

On the 3rd Dec 1650, Charles II and the Estates met at Perth, when the disturbed state of the country was considered and officers appointed to raise troops for the country's defence [Records of Parliament]. To Hew Mackay of Scoury was entrusted the charge of raising men in Strathnaver, and a few days afterwards the Estates passed an ordinance that the garrison kept in Strathnaver by the Earl of Sutherland shall no longer be chargeable to the public purse. In Apr 1651, a levy of Mackays and other northern clans marched through Inverness on their way to the king's rendezvous at Stirling [Wardlaw MS.]. The Mackays were under the command of Captain William Mackay of Borley, nephew of Hew Mackay of Scoury [Blk. MS.]. On the 31st Jul, the Scottish army began its march southwards under the king, and on the 3rd Sep was completely defeated by Cromwell at Worcester. Many of the unfortunate prisoners taken that day were sold as slaves to the planters in Barbadoes, but Mackay of Borley managed to elude capture and made his way back to Strathnaver.

After Worcester, King Charles passed over to the Continent, and by Feb 1652, the whole of Scotland was garrisoned by Cromwell's soldiers, while a fleet of ships scoured the Scottish seas co-operating with the army of occupation. On 15th Feb, instructions were sent to Colonel Cooper to place half a company in Thurso and a company and a half in Castle Sinclair, near Wick [Scot. Hist. Soc. Vol 18]. Others in larger or smaller bands were stationed all over the country. Thus Scotland came to be completely under the English Parliament, a state of matters equally obnoxious to Royalists and Covenanters. Seven Commissioners were appointed to administer justice in Scotland, for the Privy Council and Court of Session ceased to discharge their functions, and these Commissioners were empowered to confiscate the estates of such as bore arms for King Charles II [Hume Brown's Scotland]. Naturally such as were deeply involved in the affairs of the house of Stuart felt ill at ease, and during 1653 secret communications passed and repassed between them regarding a projected rising, which soon took place.

On the 9th Sep, Colonel Bramfield, a deputy of Charles II, advised the king to send letters "from your Majesties hand" to certain Royalists, among them Lord Reay, and also to appoint his Lordship one of a committee of sixteen "for the government of affairs in the kingdom of Scotland" [Scot. Hist. Soc. Vol 18]. It was probably in reply to this royal missive that Reay wrote the letter [Appendix No 41] which we give in Appendix No. 41. In consequence of the hostile attitude of the Dutch States towards England, the Royalists were very sanguine of assistance from the Continent, but the unexpected peace dashed these hopes though it did not prevent their rising.

Towards the close of Feb 1654, General Middleton, as Commander-in-Chief of the Royalists, landed at the Ferry of Unes, north of Dornoch, with 300 barrels of powder and 5000 stands of arms, which he deposited under a garrison in Skelbo Castle. He proceeded up Strathoikel as far as Assynt, raising the country side, and from thence marched into Strathnaver where Reay joined him with 200 men. Reay and Middleton set out for Caithness, beating up recruits as they go, and having planted a detachment in Thurso, they both returned to Skelbo. At the latter place they were joined by Sir George Munro of Culrain, Glencairn, and others, about the second week of April, when Sir George, an officer of Continental experience, was appointed Major-General. But this appointment gave rise to dissension, and resulted in a duel between Sir George and Glencairn fought at Evelix, near Dornoch. Of course, this blasted the success of the rising which from the beginning was a hopeless one.

While in Sutherland, Reay took the opportunity of settling scores with his old foes there, who four years before had turned the screw so sorely on him at Edinburgh. With 500 Strathnaver men at his back he practically devastated the south of Sutherland, burning what he could not take away.

Colonel Lilburne writes to Cromwell, "I heare the Lord Rea is very active against us (a most unworthy man), and that the Earle of Sutherland is driven out of his country with his sons, and Middleton hath turned his Lady out of doores, and sent her after him, and his land and estate is exceedingly wasted … I thinke if itt bee true that the Lord Rea is soe active, if his lands were given to repaire the Lord Sutherland itt were but just."

The latter suggestion came from the earl himself doubtless. At any rate it was the steady policy of his house for some time previously. While Reay is not at all to be excused for devastating so sweepingly, according to the ethics of the time he may have felt himself justified in making sure that the excessive bill of damages brought against him at Edinburgh lately should be properly balanced !

By the middle of May, Reay and Middleton returned to Caithness and took up their quarters in Wick. Captain Peter Mews, writing from Thurso, 4th Jun 1654, says: -

"The Lord Rea having raised his men we marched into Cathnes as high as Wyke, neere which the rebels had a garrison of 100 men. We found the place strong and not to be taken without greater guns than those we brought over, and to cut off relief, save only by land, impossible wanting ships … The Lord Rea continued there with his men, without attempting anythinge on the Castle or they on us, save only a few alarums."

The place which they found so strong was doubtless Castle Sinclair, two miles north of Wick, perched upon a high sea-rock, the seat of the Earl of Caithness who was himself a Royalist.

By the middle of June, they return again to Sutherland where Reay seems to have remained, but Middleton went to Glenelg and thence to Badenoch, where he was defeated by Colonel Morgan, about the middle of July. After Middleton's defeat at Dalnaspidal the rising was practically extinguished, although Reay kept the field till May 1656. One after another, Glencairn, Lorne, Lochiel, Seaforth, Munro, etc., capitulated on very generous terms offered by the English Government, who were anxious to win over the Highlanders in favour of their scheme of union between England and Scotland. [For our account of the rising under Middleton we are much indebted to Scotland and the Protectorate (Scot. Hist. Soc.)]

Now that order was restored, it was the turn of the Sutherland men to settle scores with Reay, and they did it on the bonds extorted at Edinburgh - there was no compensation for the late spoliation, so far as we are aware, because of the Government's anxiety to give no cause for friction. Towards the close of 1655, Gray of Creich, Gray of Auchly, and Gordon of Gordonston got charters of apprisement over a considerable portion of Reay's property, and they congratulated themselves on having at last extinguished him, but they were mistaken. Five years thereafter, the Restoration of Charles II changed the face of affairs; Reay was then the top dog and they were below. So impoverished did the Earl of Sutherland become, that he had to sell his plate before he died in 1679, as Sir William Fraser tells us. Reay too was poor, but he was on the ruling side till his death, which meant a good deal in these days.

Since the fall of Neil Williamson, the Aberach, at Thurso, 1649, the Strathnaver men again and again made spoiling raids into Caithness by way of revenge. At last the people of Caithness, feeling that they were getting too much of this, complained to the Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, and on the 6th February, 1667, Letters of Fire and Sword, against certain specified persons, to be executed betwixt that date and the 1st July following, were granted to William Sinclair of Dunbeath and others. In executing this commission Sinclair and his friends committed two mistakes which cost them dearly. They did not make their counter raid into Strathnaver till Mar 1668, or eight months after the expiry of their commission; and what was more serious, they executed the commission against the wrong persons. The Neilson Aberachs they could not catch; but they fell with fury upon the Munros of Eriboll who had no part in the quarrel, they murdered one of the Scoury Mackays in cold blood while travelling in Aberdeenshire, and another of the Scoury Mackays, who had the misfortune to be driven ashore by stress of weather on the Caithness coast, they so ill-treated that he died a few days thereafter. Besides this they injured tenants of Reay, the Earl of Sutherland, &c, whose names were not on the proscribed list, and burnt their houses. It was now the turn of Reay and others to complain, with the result that Letters of Fire and Sword were issued to them against the Sinclairs, 10th Dec 1668 [Justiciary Record]. By some arrangement the punishment of the Caithnessmen was soon afterwards converted into a fine of 50,204 merks, as the following extract from a document among the Reay Papers shows: -

"Donald, Master of Reay, obtained decreet on 25th July last against William Sinclair of Dunbeath, Mr James Innes of Sandside, William Dunbar of Hempriggs, Francis Sinclair, Nottingham, James Sinclair of Lybster, (or James Sinclair of Lybster), John Sinclair younger of Olbster, Alexander Sinclair of Telstane, Francis Sinclair of Stirkake, David Sinclair of Southdun, Donald Budge of Easterdale, James Innes of Thuster, William Sinclair of Thura, John Sinclair in Brebsterdorren, George Sinclair of Barrack, John Sinclair of Brebstermyr, Sir William Sinclair of May, George Sinclair of Olrig, John Bruce of Ham, Adam Cunningham in Carskow, James Cunningham in Geis, William Innes of Isauld, and Alexander Sinclair of Stempster, for the causes therein mentioned, for the sum of 50,204 merks Scots, and which sum the Master of Reay assigns to Sir George Munro of Culrain etc." [The date is not decipherable, but the paper is tied up with documents of the 70's of that century.]

The Master of Reay assigned the above decreet for execution to his father-in-law, Sir George Munro, Commander of the forces in North Britain a man of much power.

During the autumn of 1669, Lord Lovat paid a lengthy visit to Lord Reay at Durness, which is thus described in the Wardlaw MS.: -

"They live now at Dureness, whither my Lord came, longd for, and got a most freed welcom, especially to my good lady, who for her true affection to our name might well be named Barbara Fraser. The Lord Ray contrived all maner of sport and recreation to divert his dear Lovat, as he tearmd him; sometimes out at sea in berges afishing, sometimes haukeing and hunting, sometimes arching at buts and bowmarks, jumping, wrestling, dancing … All the gentlemen of the name of Macky conveened, and so to the deer hunting, for my Lord Ray hath the finest and richest forest in the kingdom for deer and reas, their number and nimbleness…
My Lord Lovat, haveing stayed a whole month and more in Strathnaver, and, we may say, wearied with excess of pleasure, thinks of returning home the beginning of September, loadned with curtesies and obligations. My Lord Ray gifted him a curious, curled, black, shelty horse, several excellent firelocks, bowes, and a sword that perhaps for goodness and antiquity might be called the non-such, and two deer greyhounds. My Lady gifted him a plaid all of silk, party colloured, her own work … My Lord Ray in the end, after a most kindly but melancholious farewell, conveyed Lovat out of his bounds with twenty gentlemen in train, and set him on Sutherland ground."

This pleasing picture of the state which his Lordship maintained at Durness is amply borne out by various facts recorded in the Reay Papers. For the amusement of his household he kept a pipier, a clarsor (harper), and an amadan (fool); and for the education of his family he maintained a tutor, the Rev. Donald Macintosh, afterwards minister of Farr, and thereafter of Strathspey.

[Footnote: Tradition records that Reay's fool was a 'cute fellow, and that his Lordship was very proud of him. The Macintosh of Moy Hall was visiting at Durness when the conversation turned upon a notorious freebooter, who invested the Muilbui of the Black Isle and defied capture, notwithstanding his continual depredations. Reay ventured to bet that his fool would outwit the robber. The fool was accordingly dispatched to Moy Hall for a small sum of money, with strict orders to pass and repass through the Black Isle. On his way out the fool and the robber met, and the former with apparent guilelessness told the purport of his errand to the latter. On the return journey the fool and the robber met again by appointment, when the former, taking the latter of his guard, stabbed him and then cut off his right hand, which he wrapped in his plaid and carried to Durness. When brought into the presence of Reay and Macintosh, he was asked if he saw the famous Black Isle robber. "Yes", he replied, throwing the severed hand on the floor, "and he gave me his hand he would never rob another."]

In consequence of the political complications and outlook in 1672, Reay and Seaforth in that year renewed the bond of friendship [Appendix No 44] which had been contracted between their houses in 1639. The Macdonald, Munro, Fraser, etc. witnesses to the transaction may be significant of the political friendship existing at that time between these various Highland families.

During the closing years of Lord Reay's life a great many Strathnaver men entered the military service of the Dutch States, some of whom rose to eminent rank in that country, making it their permanent home. Among these may be mentioned General Hugh Mackay of Scoury, of whom more anon, and General Æneas, second son of Lord Reay, and progenitor of the Dutch Mackays.

Lord Reay, who died in 1680, was twice married. By his first wife, Isabella Sinclair, a Caithness lady, whom he married in 1636, he had two children: -

  1. Robert, who died early in life without issue
  2. Jane, married (contract 14 Nov 1665) Robert Gordon, third son of John, Earl of Sutherland. Robert Gordon died at Langdale, Strathnaver, 1671, without issue; and his widow afterwards married, secondly, Hugh Mackay of Strathy, by whom she had issue as given in our account of that family.
[Footnote: This is how Fraser in the Wardlaw MS. accounts for Gordon's death: - "A Dutch marchantman of 250 tun, loadned with wines, brandy, spices, iron, salt, &c, a very rich cargo, was cast in upon the coast of Strathnaver, where Admiralty is not much regarded. All the people flockt about the shore. The people, not knowing then the strength of brandy or such foreign liquor drank to excess of it, and I heard it say that this very ship's loadning debaucht Cathnes and Strathnaver to that degree that very many lost their lives by their immoderation. Mr Robert Gordon, the Earl of Sutherland's son, being but newly married to Miss K. Mackay, Lord Rays daughter, a high blooded saguin, fell accidentally with some camarads, and tooke a great latitude, drinking liberally even to excess. At length he got free of them, escaping with his life to take some rest. Shortly after, these cupvullid villans came in to the gentlemans chamber, being in bed with his bride, oblidges him to rise and drink so many healths in his shirt standing. The poor, modest, bashful lady had not the confidence (lest critickly construed) to challange them, or call her husband to his bed. With reluctancy they parted. Robin went away, laid him down, but never rose."

Though we quote from the Wardlaw MS. here and elsewhere on matters which might well lie within the compiler's own knowledge, the fact should not be overlooked that the Rev. Mr Fraser knew very little of the history of Caithness, Strathnaver, and Sutherland before his own time. When he deals with that subject be simply quotes from Sir Robert Gordon, whose MS. history he must have consulted, for he repeats his mistakes and misrepresentations almost word for word. For over two centuries and a half after his own time, Sir Robert Gordon like a Colossus bestrode the history of our far north, and almost every writer dealing with that subject took their facts from him, often without any acknowledgement. This is notoriously true in the case of the Wardlaw MS.]

Lord Reay married, secondly, Barbara, daughter of Colonel Hugh Mackay II of Scoury, by whom he had three sons and three daughters: -

  1. Donald, Master of Reay, who predeceased his father, and of whom a short account follows
  2. Brigadier-General Æneas, progenitor of the Dutch Mackays, of whose descendants we give an account afterwards
  3. Colonel Robert, of the Scots Brigade in Holland. He was so severely wounded at the battle of Killicrankie that he never completely recovered, but he was able to serve afterwards both in Ireland and in Holland. Eventually he returned to his native land and died at Tongue, 1696. It was on the occasion of Colonel Robert's death that John Mackay, the blind piper of Gairloch, composed the well know Gaelic elegy " Coir an Esain." Of this piece the editor of The Beauties of Gaelic Poetry says, "that beautiful pastoral … which of itself might well immortalize his fame. It is not surpassed by anything of the kind in the Keltic language." One verse of this striking poem, in which the bard addresses the corrie so famed for its deer and so beloved of Robert, we venture to quote.

    "O'n tha thus a' caoidh nan armunn
    Leis am b'abhaist bhi ga d'thaghall,
    Gu'n seinn mi calaidh gu'n duais dut,
    Ge fada bhuam 's mi gu'n fhradharc."

    Corrie, wailing the chieftains
    That were wont thy sides to climb,
    I will soothe thee with an ode,
    Though distant far, and blind.

    The blind piper makes it very evident that Robert, whose death he so pathetically laments, was an ardent lover of the chase.

  4. Joanna, married (contract 21st Apr 1681) William Fraser of Stray, grand-nephew of Alexander, 5th Lord Lovat
  5. Anna, married (contract 30th Apr 1687) Hugh Mackay of Borley, as his first wife, but no issue by her
  6. Sibylla, married (contract 3rd Dec 1687) Lauchlan Macintosh of Aberarde. She married, secondly, Alexander Rose, a bailie of Inverness, contract 25th Oct 1689

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