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DONALD

1529 - 50

As John Mackay died leaving no legitimate male issue, he was succeeded in 1529 by his brother Donald, who about that time assisted the Master of Forbes and Sir John Campbell of Cawdor in the prosecution of an Aberdeenshire feud, which resulted in the slaughter of Alexander Seaton of Meldrum. In Pitcairn's Criminal Trials, Vol. I, page 149, we read: -

"At Dundee, 10th Oct 1530, John Master of Forbes found caution (John Lord Forbes) for his appearance along with Ninian Forbes, John of Caldore, and Donald Makky, at the justice-aire of Aberdeen, to underlie the law for art and part of the cruel slaughter of Alexander Seaton of Meldrum".

The occasion of this feud is surrounded with much obscurity; its chief interest for us consists in the fact that we now find the Mackays and Forbeses, who claim to have sprung from a kindred stock in the distant past, acting in concert. It was for this slaughter, probably, that Mackay obtained a pardon for himself and his Strathnaver clansmen, 26th Jul 1536, as follows: -

"Respite to Donald MacKay and to all persons inhabitants of the land of Strathnaverne, Athir-Achquhilis, and Ardurenis, within the sheriffdom of Inverness, for all actions, crimes, etc., treason in our lord's person alanerlie excepted." [Pitcairn's Trials, Vol I, page 246]

In July of the following year (1537) the Master of Forbes and his sister-in-law, Lady Glamis, sister of Douglas Earl of Angus, were executed for conspiracy against the king's life. Associated with Lady Glamis in the said asserted conspiracy was an Alexander Maky, whose singular sentence was to be banished from all parts of Scotland except the county of Aberdeen [Tytler's Scotland].

Calderwood in his History of the Kirk of Scotland, compiled about one hundred years later, asserts that the jury who found Forbes guilty were corrupted by Huntly, and Pitcairn accepts this statement. ["The Master of Forbesse was beheaded the 10th of Julie, after that he had been convict by an assise as having, some yeeres before, sought with Douglas to slay the king. Strauchane, one of his servaunts, the reveeler or rather forger of the conspiracy, was seduced by Huntly. It was knowne also that the greatest part of the assise was corrupted by the said erle": - Woodrow Edition of Calderwood's History. Vol. I page 112] That King James V persecuted with much malignity the Douglas family generally, and the Earl of Angus especially, the regent for some time during the king's minority, is a well known fact. That at the same time Huntly, who was a bitter Catholic like the king himself, stood high in the royal favour is an equally well-established fact. The Earl of Angus, stripped of everything, fled to England and became a leader of the Anglo-Reformation party, which Forbes also joined; while the king, Huntly, and others, became known as the Franco-Romish party. We shall afterwards see that Iye Du, son of Donald Mackay, joined the party of the Reformers and suffered for so doing at the hands of Huntly and his clique, in 1551 and thereafter. It is probable that the Mackays, feeling the pressure of Huntly in the north, for the Earldom of Sutherland in the hands of a Gordon was to all intents and purposes an appanage of Huntly, endeavoured to counter-balance this by an alliance with their Aberdeenshire kinsmen, the Forbeses. In other words, Mackay in the north and Forbes in Aberdeen endeavoured to stand together against the Gordons in Sutherland and in Strathbogie.

It has to be observed that Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, brother of the Earl of Argyle, was associated with the Mackays and Forbeses in the slaughter of Seaton. It was this same Sir John who slew Maclean of Duart in bed, about 1529, for the latter's inhuman treatment of Lady Elizabeth Campbell his wife, whom Duart barbarously left exposed to certain death on a lonely western sea-girt isle. Maclean's slaughter resulted in a prolonged and bloody feud between his clan and the Campbells, during which the Mackays of Kintyre, especially, suffered severely at the hands of the Macleans. It appears that these Mackays supported the Campbells, for the charters and presumably the house of Evor Mackay, hereditary crowner of Kintyre from time immemorial, were burnt and his lands laid waste. [See Reg. Mag. Sig., Vol. III, page 638; and Vol. VII, under date 28th Dec 1615]. It may be that the Strathnaver Mackays also joined the Campbells and the Kintyre Mackays against the Macleans; but this is only a surmise based upon their association with Cawdor in fighting the Seatons.

In May, 1539, King James V sailed from Leith with a large fleet on a cruise round the north of Scotland, calling at Orkney and touching on the Strathnaver coast, presumably at Loch Eriboll, where Mackay went aboard and accompanied the king during the rest of the voyage. On doubling Cape Wrath, the king took other chieftains aboard, such as Roderick Macleod of the Lews, Alexander Macleod of Dunvegan, John of Moidart, Alexander of Glengarry, MacKenzie of Kintail, Maclean of Duart, and MacConnal of Isla. Some of these chieftains were received on board as enemies and afterwards imprisoned, others as friends and afterwards rewarded. Pitscottie says "some he put in ward, some bade in court, and some he took pledges for good rule in time coming". Mackay was well treated by the king apparently, for on the 16th Dec 1539, after their arrival at Stirling, he obtained a charter [Appendix No 13] under the Great Seal of his ancestral lands in heritage, viz., the lands of Farr, Armadale, Straye, Rynewe, Kynnald, Golspie, Dirlot, Cattack, Broynach, Kilchalumkill in Strabrora, Davach Lochnaver, Davach Eriboll, the two pennylands of Stromay, the mill of Kinald, the island of Sanday extending to three pennylands, the lands of Melness and Hope, with the mills, mill-lands, manors, etc., formerly belonging in heritage to Y McKy and his ancestors, the father of the said Donald, but in the king's hands by reason of nonentry, and now erected into the free barony of Farr, sasine [Appendix No 14] to be taken at the principal messuage of Farr. Mackay took sasine by procurators of these lands at the castle of Farr, which lay between Swordly and Farr, on the 16th Feb 1540.

Mackay seems to have remained at court for at least a twelve-month, as, on the 26th Nov 1540, he witnessed a charter of lands in Monteith of Perth to Anthony Balfour of Torre Estir [Reg. Sec. Sig. Vol III page 400]. While at court, Mackay obtained a charter from Andrew, Bishop of Caithness, of the XV davach churchlands in Durness, Strathnaver, to himself and to his heirs after him, viz., the lands and barony of Ardurness, comprehending the lands of Galdwall, Kauldoull, Craniga, Barroull, Slanis, Alshermoir, Alsherbeg, Sandwet, Island Hoa, and others with their pertinents: Reserving to the bishop and his successors the lands of Rigaboll and Skail and their pertinents, dated 7th Jul 1540 [Reay Inventory]. The reserved lands of Ribigill and Skail continued afterwards, for some centuries, the respective glebes of the incumbents at Farr and Kintail.

When Donald Mackay succeeded his brother, John, in 1529, he was under a cloud for the part which he took along with Forbes against the Seatons, consequently the nonentry of his lands was secured by Sutherland of Duffus in 1530 - an evident attempt to get possession of Strathnaver lands similar to that by Sutherland of Dirlot at an earlier period [Orig. Par. Scot. Vol II part ii page 710]. Some difference afterwards arose between Mackay and Duffus as to the lands of Kerrownashein, near Lochnaver, which Duffus claimed to hold from the church of Moray in virtue of the grant of the same to Reginald Chein, and also as to the nonentry dues of the estate of Mackay since 1530. The matter was submitted to the arbitration of James, Earl of Moray, who decided as follows in 1542: -

"In presence of the parties he gave as his decree that, understanding the great slaughters and injuries committed on each other by the ancestors of the parties, in consequence of their disputes about the above subjects, and for the purpose of avoiding such injuries in future, he ordained that William Sutherland should alienate to Donald Mackay and his heirs the lands which he held of the church of Moray, to be held by Donald of that church for the yearly payment of 12 merles to the said church that for the lands held of the church and their dues, Donald should pay William the sum of 250 merks, and for the nonentry and dues of the other lands 450 merks, in all 700 merks." [Orig. Par. Scot. Vol II part ii page 711]

This decreet arbitral put Donald in full possession of the lands of Strathnaver, including Kerrownashein, which latter Joanna of Strathnaver bestowed upon the church of Moray before 1260.

Towards the close of 1542, the king resolved upon a war with England and summoned a muster at Lauder, to which Donald Mackay and his son Iye Du repaired accompanied by a goodly number of their clansmen, victualled for 40 days. As many of the nobles and commons had become alienated from the king in consequence of his opposition to the Reformation, the muster was not a large one, and there was an utter lack of enthusiasm. The disorderly army which set out for England under Oliver Sinclair, towards the close of the year, was completely routed at Solway Moss, and many of its leading men taken prisoner, among them Iye Du Mackay who was carried captive into England [Blk. MS.]. Donald Mackay returned to Edinburgh along with the king within three days after the affair at Solway Moss, as appears by the king having then granted [Appendix No 20] to "Donald Makky of Farr and his airs" the escheated property of several persons in the north, absent from the king's host at Lauder, dated 28th Nov 1542. Shortly thereafter the king died of a broken heart, leaving an only child, a few days old, Mary afterwards Queen of Scots; so that upon Scotland once more fell the calamity of a long and troubled minority abounding in shameless misrule.

Iye Du Mackay, son of Donald of Strathnaver, joined some others of the Scottish leaders taken prisoner at Solway Moss in promoting, at the instigation of the English king, as shall be shown more fully, a marriage between the infant Mary of Scots and the Prince of Wales. Lennox, Glencairn, Angus, etc., were the leaders of this faction, and may be styled the Anglo-Protestant party to distinguish them from the Franco-Romish party of Huntly, Cardinal Beaton, the Guises.

The Bishop of Caithness, Robert Stuart, took his departure for England and joined his brother, the Earl of Lennox, in promoting this scheme. For so doing he was declared rebel and deprived of his see, about 1545, but on abandoning Lennox and the Reformation party it was afterwards restored to him. When Bishop Robert of Caithness set out to join his brother, he made some arrangements with his relatives, the Earl of Caithness and Mackay, for the protection of his castles and churchlands. In consequence of this, Caithness occupied Scrabster Castle, near Thurso, and Donald Mackay advancing into Sutherland placed a party of his clansmen in Skibo Castle, under the command of Neil Mackay, an Aberach. Meantime, George, 4th Earl of Huntly, secured the appointment of his own brother, Alexander Gordon, as "postulate" of the see of Caithness, and was naturally supported by the Gordon Earl of Sutherland in the endeavour thus to capture the revenues of the bishoprick.

[Footnote: Such were the venality and avarice of the higher clergy of this period that the historian, John Major, a faithful son of the church, writes: - "But now for many years we have seen shepherds whose only care it is to find pasture for themselves, men neglectful of the duties of religion. By open flattery do the worthless sons of our nobility get the governance of the convents and they covet these ample revenues, not for the good help that they thence might render to their brethren, but solely for the high position that these places offer". Major's History of Greater Britain, pp. 136, 137 (Scot. Hist. Soc.)]

The Gordon plot, however, came to nothing, as Bishop Robert returned and was pardoned.

Sir William Fraser says that during the absence of Bishop Robert Stuart,
"The see of Caithness had been bestowed in a provisional sort of way" - no doubt Huntly procured this from Queen Mary who was then about three years of age - "upon Alexander Gordon, a brother of George, Earl of Huntly, who was styled postulate of Caithness. The Earl of Caithness and Donald Mackay of Farr, at their own hand made free with the bishop's lands", - there is no proof for such a statement beyond what Sir Robert Gordon says, and we are not prepared to accept his bare word on such a question - "but by 1548 Robert Stuart had succeeded in making his peace, and was back in Caithness seeking repossession of his bishoprick."

On the 28th Apr 1549, the bishop brought together at Girnigo Castle the Earls of Sutherland and Caithness and Donald Mackay, and "all four, on apparently quite equal terms, entered into a mutual bond of friendship and defence, swearing to be faithful to each other for all the days of their lives" [Sutherland Book Vol I page 109]. This is the account of the affair which an honest writer gives, based upon documents at Dunrobin. In our Appendix No 40 we give the bond drawn up at Girnigo, which Sir Robert Gordon describes with his usual untruthfulness, as a bond of service so far as Mackay was concerned.

We shall now hear what Sir Robert Gordon has to say on the subject.

"Thereupon the Earls of Huntly and Sutherland coming north into Sutherland, they did summon the Earl of Caithness and Mackay to compeir before them at Helmsdale, to answer for their intromission with the bishop's rents The Earl of Caithness compeired and the more to testify his submission, he crossed the river of Helmsdale with great danger, on foot, which was then so deep and overflown, by reason of the floods and speats of rain, that the water came to his breast, as he passed the same Donald Mackay was also at this time brought to the Earls of Huntly and Sutherland, who (upon Mackay's submission) pardoned him what was past; yet he was at their command imprisoned in the Castle of Fowlis, as I have shown already; by which means the diocese of Caithness was for some years in peace and quietness. Thus was Robert Stuart repossessed in his own bishoprick." [Earldom of Sutherland page 112]

Contrast the picture drawn by Sir Robert with that of Sir William Fraser: the former shows the Earl of Caithness sprawling in the river of Helmsdale with the terror of the Gordons upon him, the other shows him sitting in his own castle of Girnigo hospitably entertaining friends. As for Donald Mackay "he is brought", presumably a prisoner with both hands tied behind his back, or for that matter packed in a creel ! In his case Sir Robert does not deign to say how. Such is history a la Sir Robert; and yet from this historian many quote with as much assurance as we would from the apostle Paul !

About this time the Mackays seem to have once more raided the Rosses of Balnagown as the following shows, dated 28th Jun 1550.

"Donald Macky of Far, Neil McAne Moir, Rory McAne Moir, Murdoch McAne Moir, John McAne Moir, and Tormat McAne Moir, brothers, and Donald Du McCorkill, charged for the cruel slaughter of Alexander McAne Ross, etc. , Alexander Ross of Balnagowh was amerciated for not reporting and delivering to the clerks of justiciary the letters which had been purchased by the wives, children, parents, and friends of the deceased duly executed and endorsed [Pitcairn's Trials Vol I page 352].

Evidently the feud with the Rosses, during which Angus Roy Mackay, grandfather of Donald, was burnt to death in Tarbet church, still continued.

Donald Mackay, who died towards the close of 1550, married Helen, daughter of Alexander Sinclair of Stempster, second son of William, Earl of Caithness. [In the reign of King James V., Alexander Sinclair of Stempster had a charter under the Great Seal, dated 2 Nov 1529, as follows: - " Alexandro Sinclair de Stamster et Elizabeth Innis, suae sponsae, terrarum de Dunbeath, Rae, et Sandside, in Baronian Dunbeth." Reg. Mag. Sig. and Blk. MS.] Soon after Mackay obtained legal entry of his lands, he resigned a part of them to the Crown in order to secure for his wife a life-rent interest in the said part, viz., the lands of Balnaheglais and Golval, the lands of Straye, Armadale, Renowy, Melnes, Dirlot, Cattock, Broynoch, the water of Farr from the big ford to the sea, the water of Halladale from Bighouse to the sea, the water of Straye, the water of Hope from the loch to the sea. His wife, Helen, obtained a life-rent charter of these lands, dated 22nd Feb 1545, which we give in our Appendix No 15.
The issue of this marriage was one son and two daughters: -

  1. Iye Du Mackay, who succeeded, and of whom an account follows
  2. A daughter, who married John, 4th Aberach Mackay chieftain, and had issue as given in our Genealogical Account of the Aberach Mackays
  3. Florence, who married Neil Macleod of Assynt and had issue, as see Douglas' Baronage, p. 392, as also the Blk. MS.

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