1460 - 86
The blood-feud which raged between the Mackays and the Sutherlands since 1370 became so assuaged during a century that a daughter of Angus Roy married Sutherland of Dirlot. As was often the case with marriages, perhaps this one sealed some compact between the two families. The Keiths who were akin to the Sutherlands of Dirlot, both families obtaining their Caithness possessions through marriage with the daughters of Reginald Chein, were at daggers drawn with the Gunns. It is probable that the chieftain of clan Gunn, a man of great power and the crowner of Caithness, resented the intrusions of the Keiths, who like all newcomers were of a pushing disposition, and had much influence at court through Keith marischal. Be that as it may, the relations between them became so hostile that the Keiths determined to crush the Clan Gunn if possible.
"The Keiths mistrusting their own force", records Sir R. Gordon, "they sent to Angus Mackay entreating him to come to their aid", which he did. What induced Mackay to assist Keith we cannot definitely say. There was an undoubted prospect of plunder, but that was not all. Sir Gilbert Keith of Inverugie was about this time "customar", or collector of customs, for Caithness, Strathnaver, and Sutherland; and in the exercise of this function may have not only crossed the Gunns, but befriended the Mackays and secured their help [Origines Parochiales Scotia Vol II part ii page 846]. For whatever cause, Angus Roy advanced into Caithness accompanied by a body of Assynt Macleods, joined the Keiths, and fought the forces of Gunn on Tannach Moor, near Wick. The gallant Gunns overwhelmed by numbers were defeated, but not without great slaughter on either side [Earldom of Sutherland]. Soon thereafter crowner Gunn and some of his sons were massacred by the Keiths in the chapel of St. Tyer, also near Wick. In the Parliament of 1478 measures were taken to put down blood-shed in Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness. Perhaps this had reference to these events.
A feud now broke out between the Mackays and the Rosses of Balnagown which lasted many a long day and resulted in much slaughter on both sides. The Blk. MS. says that the Rosses made "a predatory incursion" into the territory of Mackay; Sir R. Gordon says that Mackay "often molested with incursions and invasions" the lands of the Rosses. Both statements are probably true. It is to be remembered that the escheated lands of Thomas Neilson Mackay of Creich were bestowed by royal charter in 1430 upon Murray of Cubin, Neil Neilson, and Morgan Neilson. There is ample evidence that the Mackays of Strathnaver refused to acquiesce in this arrangement, and that they managed to recover some of the lost lands. The evidence is just as ample that the Rosses managed to secure some of these lands lying in the parishes of Edderton and Kincardine of Ross. We believe that the feud arose out of a scramble for the disputed lands. Angus Roy, after making various expeditions into Ross attended with greater or less success, was at last overpowered near the church of Tarbet into which he had fled for refuge [Earldom of Sutherland and Blk. MS.]. The church was fired by the Rosses, and Angus was burnt to death. This happened about 1486.
There is nothing to show that the civil or ecclesiastical authorities took any measures to punish the sacrilege in the church of Tarbet. The times were painfully out of joint. Many of the Scottish nobles were in conspiracy against King James III; and even his own son and successor, then a youth of 15 years, was in league with them. In 1488 the king fell at Sauchieburn fighting against his own son, afterwards known as James IV. The circumstances explain the Government's neglect; but the Mackays took the matter in hand themselves and executed summary vengeance, as shall soon appear.
Angus Roy married a daughter of Mackenzie of Kintail, [Blk. MS.] and by her had issue three sons and two daughters: -