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IYE DU

1550 - 72

Iye Du Mackay as we showed already took part in the affair of Solway Moss (Nov 1542), and being captured was carried prisoner into England, along with the greater part of the other Scottish leaders present in the engagement. King Henry VIII, keenly set upon a union of the two kingdoms, sought to promote this object by a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. He treated the Scottish prisoners with great cordiality, offered them liberty to go back to Scotland without the usual ransom money, provided they promise to advance the proposed marriage in the northern kingdom; but in case of failure they were to return to England as on parole. The prisoners acquiesced in this proposal, which found support not only among the Scottish refugees political and religious sheltering in England, but from many across the border who hoped thereby to promote a reformation of religion in Scotland. It was about this time that John Elder, a Caithnessman in holy orders, addressed to King Henry VIII that curious document printed in Col. de rebus Alb., advocating a union of the two kingdoms by the marriage of Edward of England to Mary of Scotland.

[Footnote: The document gives an interesting glimpse of the social condition of the north at this period, as the following extract, which we transcribe into modern English, shows: - "Please it your Majesty to understand, that we of all people can tolerate, suffer, and away best with cold, for both summer and winter (except when frost is most vehement, going always bare legged and bare footed, our delight and pleasure is not only in hunting of red-deer, wolves, foxes, and wild-boar, whereof we abound and have great plenty, but also in running, leaping, swimming, shooting, and throwing of darts; therefor, insomuch as we use and delight so to go always, the tender delicate gentlemen of Scotland call us Redshanks. And again in winter, when the frost is most vehement (as I have said), which we cannot suffer bare footed so well as snow, which can never hurt us when it come up to our girdles, we go ahunting, and after that we have slain red-deer, we flay off the skin bit by bit, and setting of our bare feet on the inside thereof, for lack of cunning shoemakers, by your Grace's pardon, we play the sutors; compassing and measuring so much thereof as shall reach up to our ankles, pricking the upper part thereof also with holes that the water may repass when it enters, and tie up with a strong thong of the same, meeting above our said ankles", so, and please your noble Grace, we make our shoes": - Col. de rebus Alb.]

Many of the Scottish prisoners in fulfilment of their promise went north during the spring of 1543, but having failed in their object, owing to the opposition of the Queen-mother and the Romish party, they returned to England according to parole. Meantime the Earl of Arran was made Governor of Scotland by the said party, but Glencairn, Angus, Lennox, etc., some in Scotland and others exiles in England, formed a strong league, and attacking Arran on Glasgow Muir in 1544 were defeated with considerable loss [Diurnal of Occurrents page 32]. Among those who took part in the conflict at Glasgow was "Y McKy de Far" and, presumably, nineteen of his followers, as is shown by the remission which Iye Du afterwards obtained from the Regent Arran for this offence, dated 10th Mar 1554, shortly before the latter was elbowed out of office by the Guise party and joined the other faction. After the failure at Glasgow Mackay again returned into England, where he remained for three more years in the military service of that country, along with many of his compatriots.

[Footnote: Remission to " Y McKy de Far et XIX aliorum, pro ipsorum proditoria venientia contra Dominum Gubernatormn super moro de Glasgw, Ac pro omnibus aliis accionibus etc., proditoria traditione in propriam personam Regine tantum exceptand." Reg. Sec. Sig., Vol. 27, page 24]

In May 1546, the exasperated reformers, in revenge for the burning of Wishart, assassinated Cardinal Beaton; and in the following year an English army advancing into Scotland to force the marriage of Edward and Mary fought a pitched battle at Pinkie, where the Scots were overthrown and Huntly taken prisoner. It is very probable that Mackay took part along with other Scots in assisting the English that day, but certain it is that he took a prominent part under Lord Grey in the capture and fortification of Haddington during the spring of 1548. For the offence committed at Haddington in supporting the English, Mary granted a pardon to Mackay fourteen years thereafter, when he helped her in bringing Huntly to book, as shall be more fully described later. Sir Robert Gordon states that about this time Iye Du "served divers tymes in wars upon the borders, against the English: in which service he behaved himself valiantly" [Earldom of Sutherland page 136]. The records show that he fought not against but with the English. The personal valour and military skill with which Sir Robert credits him was no doubt acquired in the service of England, while fighting against the ruling party in Scotland, but in so doing he was helping directly and indirectly to promote the cause of reformed religion in his own country. In the cruel conflict which lay before him he had need of skill and valour to preserve the interests of his house, which in weaker hands would have gone to pieces. For twenty long years after this he had to fight against the combined power of the Gordon Earls of Sutherland and Huntly, with one hand practically tied behind his back, for he could get no legal title to his father's lands.

On the death of his father in 1550, Iye Du returned to Strathnaver to secure the estate, but this was not an easy matter owing to his past conduct and to the influence which his opponents, Sutherland and Huntly, had with the governing party. The unbridled power of Huntly, in particular, was becoming a source of danger in the north. Lauchlan chief of Macintosh was executed at Aberdeen, during the summer of that year, on a trumped up charge of disloyalty to Huntly, as if the latter were a petty monarch. The son and heir of the Macintosh, a boy seven years old, "having many enemies, was privately carried over to the laird of MacKay, namely, Aoidh mac Donald vie Ky (who was of kin to this Macintosh by his mother, and was a chief favourite of the Macintosh family)". [Macfarlane's Genealogical Collection]. The boy, however, was intercepted on the way north by some Mackenzies who fostered him very kindly in Gairloch. That same year the Queen-mother accompanied by Huntly, Sutherland, the Bishop of Caithness, etc., went over to France to intrigue against the Regent Arran, and returned in 1551 when a meeting of Parliament was held. At that meeting the Earls of Sutherland and Huntly had their first innings against Mackay, who had made himself obnoxious to the Guise party by his late support of the English claims. The deceased Donald Mackay of Strathnaver was declared to have died illegitimate, his son Iye Du was disinherited and his lands bestowed upon Bishop Reid of Orkney [Reg. Sec. Sig.]. Of course, Bishop Reid was a mere tulchan; the milk was intended to be drawn by others.

In 1552 the Queen-mother and Regent Arran held a court at Inverness to which John of Moidart, the Earl of Caithness, Mackay, etc., were summoned, but all the three refused to put in an appearance. Mackay knew that Inverness meant irons, and wisely stayed at home. On the 13th Sep 1553, a complaint was laid before the Privy Council that Mackay and Caithness caused slaughters, spoils, etc., in the north, and Caithness was again summoned to appear at Inverness before Huntly, "Lieutenant General of these parts". The following year Huntly received a commission to apprehend John of Moidart, but failed in the enterprise, and by a strange turn of the wheel Huntly found himself flung into prison by his opponents. About the same time Sutherland was empowered to apprehend Mackay. and to this end made great preparations. While Sutherland marched with a large force of northern levies, Kennedy of Girvanmains was sent from Leith with a fleet to co-operate by sea [Balfour's Annals Vol I page 306]. Kennedy sailed during the month of Aug 1554, on board the ship "Lion", laden with cannon taken from Leith, and manned by 50 marines and 20 men-at-arms [Treasurer's Account]. The principal point of attack was Mackay's stronghold, Borve Castle, on a promontory of the Aird of Farr. When Mackay found Borve beseiged and battered by artillery both ashore and afloat, he left the castle in charge of his cousin, Rory mac-Ean mor, and quietly slipping away made for the heights of Strathnaver, whence with a body of Aberachs he made a dash into Sutherland and set the country a-blazing, as Sir Robert Gordon informs us. Skilful captain though he was, the odds against Mackay were too great. Borve Castle was broken down after a sanguinary seige, Mackay was at last captured and imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle, where he lay from 1st Feb to 20th Oct 1555 [Treasurer's Account].

At a circuit court held at Inverness this same year (1555), the Queen-mother rewarded the Earl of Sutherland by a pension of 1000 merks, which was to cease "when the queen was able to confer on him wards and marriages, or on some friends such a benefice as should be equal to that amount. At the same time she conferred on him the care of the earldom of Ross, and appointed him bailie of the lands of Farr" [Sutherland Book Vol I page 101]. Thus Sutherland was enabled, by the assistance of a fleet from Leith and levies of men throughout the north, not only to capture his neighbour, Mackay, who was fighting for his rightful patrimony, but to get Mackay 's lands in stewartship and to earn a yearly pension of 1000 merks to boot. The capture of Mackay must have been considered or represented as a great exploit in view of these rewards. While Mackay was lying in Dumbarton Castle his clansmen did not let the grass grow under their feet. His cousin John Mor entered Sutherland "with a company of the best and most resolute men in all Strathnaver, spoiling and wasting the east corner of the province of Sutherland", says Sir Robert. During this raid the Mackays had a fierce fight at Garvary in the Berriedale hills, and are declared defeated by Sir Robert, as a matter of course !

Francis the husband of Queen Mary died in Dec 1560; the following year the widowed queen returned to Scotland, and in 1562 resolved to visit Elizabeth, Queen of England. Letters, dated May 1562, were sent to Mackay commanding an escort to accompany Mary on her journey south, but the project was suddenly abandoned. [Blk. MS. and Treasurer's Account]. The queen not having gone to England, as she intended, set out on a tour towards Inverness by way of Aberdeen in August of that year . The Guises had flattered Huntly with the prospect of the widowed queen's hand for his second son, Sir John Gordon, but Mary would have none of it. A few days after her arrival in Aberdeen, such was the queen's resentment towards Huntly for his political duplicity, that she refused to go three miles out of her way to visit his house, notwithstanding a pressing invitation. When Inverness was reached Mary resolved to lodge in the castle, but was refused admission by the governor, a Gordon, who held the castle as the representative of Lord Gordon. This was lording it rather too much for Mary's taste. The neighbouring clans were immediately summoned to her standard, and next day the Macintoshes, Grants, and Frasers having joined the royal escort took the castle and hanged the governor. After a few days stay at Inverness, Mary set out for Aberdeen on her return journey, and as an attack from Huntly was anticipated the assembled clansmen escorted her safely all the way. At Aberdeen, on the 5th Oct the queen granted Appendix No 22 Iye Mackay a full remission for joining the English at Haddington and for all other acts against the Government, as was already shown.

On the 17th October, Huntly was put to the horn and commanded to deliver up his house of Strathbogie, but he refused to do so and strengthened himself in Badenoch. The clans who were at feud with Huntly were given a free hand to deal with him, and among his most vehement opponents were the Macintoshes, Mackays, and Forbeses, who were no doubt glad to get such an opportunity [For. Cal. Eliz. V, 386]. Huntly, game to the last, advanced to meet them, but was completely overpowered and slain in battle at Corrichie. His second son, Sir John Gordon, was taken prisoner and soon thereafter executed at Aberdeen. On the 28th May of the following year, the embalmed body of Huntly was arraigned in the presence of Mary at the bar of Parliament - "the coffin was sette upright, as if the Earle stoode upon his feet" - when he was duly found guilty of treason, his lands escheated to the Crown, his dignity extinguished, his arms cancelled, and his posterity declared henceforward incapable of bearing office within the realm of Scotland ! On the same day the Earl of Sutherland, who had meantime fled the country, was also condemned to death by Parliament for art and part in Huntly's treason, but this latter sentence was never carried into execution, and four years thereafter it was reduced, when Sutherland was permitted to return to Scotland [Acts of Parl I page 579-81]. These dreadful sentences give some idea of the way in which the law was administered in those rude, unsettled days. The irony of the situation appears when it is remembered that within four years thereafter, Mary in her distress had to lean for support upon the son and heir of the very Huntly, whose dead body she dragged to the bar of Parliament !

The queen created Darnley Lord of Ardmanach and Earl of Ross on the 15th May 1565, on the 18th June she bestowed upon him the lands of Strathnaver, and on the 29th Jun she married him [Reg.Mag.Sig.]. The union was a short and unhappy one. On the 29th Feb 1567, Darnley was blown up at Kirk O' Fields, and it is generally supposed that Bothwell and George Gordon, now restored to the earldom of Huntly, bore some guilt in this affair. On the 3rd May of the same year Lady Jane Gordon, Huntly's sister, divorced her husband, Bothwell, in order to facilitate, as many suppose, his projected marriage with Queen Mary which took place about a fortnight afterwards. That there was collusion between Bothwell, his wife, her brother Huntly, and the queen in connection with the shameless divorce proceedings, appears very likely. Huntly's feelings, however, were salved by the queens gift of Mackay's escheated lands of Strathnaver, which Parliament ratified on the 19th Apr at a packed meeting, attended by very few members owing to the deplorable misconduct of the queen at this period. To round off the shameless imbroglio, Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, discarded his wife, Lady Barbara Sinclair, and married by a dispensation of the Pope, Lady Jane Gordon, the lately divorced Lady Bothwell. Sir Robert Gordon, the historian, who took such a pleasure in bastardizing his neighbours, was a son of this marriage by dispensation. No doubt the marriage was an astute move on the part of Sutherland to get some share of Mackay's escheated lands. At anyrate it so turned out, for Huntly eventually passed them over to Sutherland.

We shall now consider the plea upon which Mackay's lands were escheated and given to Huntly. It was asserted that Donald Mackay, the father of Iye Du, was a bastard, and consequently debarred by law from inheriting his father's estate; but bastard or not he held the said lands on a charter Appendix No 13 under the Great Seal granted to him by King James V, and added considerably to the estate by purchase and otherwise. Donald's father did contract an irregular marriage, a common enough practice in those days, but he obtained a precept of legitimation from the king for his two sons, John and Donald, dated 8th Aug 1511. [Preceptum legitimationis Johannis et Donaldi Makky, fratrum, filiorum Odonis Makky de Strathnavern, etc., in debita forma, cum novis additinnibus, etc. Apud Edinburgh, VIII Augusti anno Domini MVCXI, et Regni Regis XXIIII: - Reg. Sec. Sig., Vol. IV, page 145]

It seems most unjust to punish the grandson for a slight flaw in his grandfather's marriage - a flaw which was afterwards remedied - especially seeing that the son of the said marriage duly succeeded to the inheritance. There was a flaw in Queen Mary's own marriage with Darnley, and the issue, James VI, was a bastard according to the very canon law by which Iye Du Mackay was disinherited. Father Pollen shows conclusively that the necessary dispensation to legalise the marriage of Mary and Darnley, which took place on the 20th Jun 1565, was not issued by the Pope till the 24th Sep of that year, for a marriage which had by law to be contracted thereafter [Scot. Hist. Soc. XXXVII]. Mary in her haste married before the dispensation was issued, and her marriage was at fault in consequence. Nay more, the English Catholic exiles, who were opposed to James VI's succession to the throne of England in the event of Elizabeth's death, objected to James' legitimacy because there was no proper dispensation given for the marriage of his father and mother. In the light of these facts Iye Mackay must appear as a badly used man.

It was no wonder although Mackay became furious when he heard what had taken place. Realizing that the ultimate gainer in this transaction must be the Earl of Sutherland, as Huntly was too distant to make use of the Strathnaver lands, he burst into Sutherland, wasted the barony of Skibo and set the town of Dornoch on fire. That same year he returned again and made havoc on Strathflete, according to Sir Robert Gordon. Huntly raised the matter in Parliament, and had the following notice entered on the minutes: - "26 Dec 1567, Item, be quhat means may all Scotland be brocht to universal obedience, and how may McKy be dantonit". This question was doubtless raised to terrorize Mackay; but we do not find that any action was taken, for the pendulum of influence began to swing the other way. Mary was now in disgrace, and Moray, the friend of Mackay and the opponent of Huntly, was Regent. If the Regent Moray had not fallen prematurely at the hands of an assassin it is probable that Mackay would have come to his own.

Huntly conscious of the uncertainty of the times found it prudent to arrange a settlement with Mackay, which the latter accepted with a wry face upon the advice of his friend Lord Forbes. An agreement was concluded at Aberdeen, 29th Jul 1570, between Huntly, Sutherland, and Mackay, by which Huntly alienated all the Strathnaver lands to Mackay for the paltry sum of 3000 merks, retaining the feudal superiority however. This small sum, which was about sufficient to cover the legal expenses of the transaction, tells its own tale. To acknowledge the superiority of Huntly, however, must have been a bitter pill to Mackay, but it could not be helped. Some years thereafter, the son and heir of Huntly disponed the said superiority to the Earl of Sutherland, and then for the first time the house of Sutherland became the superior of the house of Mackay; but that matter shall be discussed and exposed in the proper place. Suffice it to say, meantime, that Mackay had sasine of the lands of Strathnaver the 20th Apr 1571, on a charter Appendix1.htm#26 of alienation by Huntly.

Few men could have fought so successfully and for such a length of time as did Iye Du Mackay, against the combined power of the Gordons in the north at this period. If he came out of the twenty years' conflict winged, small wonder; it was not a fair fight. Sword in hand he could hold his own with the best of them: after ransacking the north for levies, the Gordons must needs bring a fleet from Leith at the expenses of the Governmeut to capture him. No, it was a foul pen in a corrupt court that did the dirty deed to Mackay. If this were the place, we could show that about the same period Huntly secured superiority over other Highland chieftains by somewhat similar left-handed means.

In the transactions regarding the lands of Strathnaver between Huntly and Mackay, Lord Forbes did the kinsman's part to the latter, as various documents among the Reay Papers show. The warrant granted by Huntly, dated 23rd Feb 1570, was in favour of Lord Forbes and Iye Mackay, the former to retain the charter of infeftment, post dated, until the latter handed over the money to Huntly [Reay Papers]. Again, when full payment was made in July of that year the witnesses were Alexander Dridmont of Medoc, William Cidney, notar, burgess of Inverness, Patrick Forbes servitor to William Lord Forbes, and Mr James Forbes servitor to Mr Donald Forbes of Menymusk. These facts serve to show how closely knit together the Mackays and Forbeses were at this time. About 1529 we saw Donald Mackay assisting Forbes, and now we find the Forbeses assisting the son of Donald Mackay. There must be truth in the statement of later writers, that the Mackays and Forbeses believed they sprang from a common stock.

Meantime Mackay vigorously maintained his alliance with George, Earl of Caithness, who held the Earldom of Sutherland in ward in consequence of the youth of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, and was also Justiciar of Caithness, Strathnaver, and Sutherland. Although Sutherland escaped to his brother-in-law Huntly, Caithness held to his rights of wardship and found a willing ally in Mackay. For so doing Sir Robert Gordon draws the character of the Earl of Caithness in lurid colours, but he was not by any means so black as the chronicler would have us believe. Modern popular writers, who make Sir Robert their historical vade mecum, describe Caithness as "Earl George the wicked". There is very little reason to believe that the Justiciar was much worse than his contemporaries.

During the years 1571-2, while Huntly, with the assistance of the escaped Earl of Sutherland, assailed the Forbeses in Aberdeenshire with considerable success, Caithness and Mackay swept everything before them in Sutherland. Caithness took and occupied Dunrobin Castle, while Mackay and the Master of Caithness went up and down the country hustling the Earl of Sutherland's followers, until scarce one man of standing remained to oppose them. Murray of Aberscross fled to Strathbogie, Gordon of Drummuie to Orkney, Gray of Skibo to St. Andrews, and the chieftain of Clan Gunn to Glengarry [Earldom of Sutherland]. During these peregrinations of Mackay and Sinclair they spoiled Dornoch; and as some of the Murrays fled to the cathedral and kept up a shower of arrows from the steeple, the sacred edifice was given to the flames. In all these warlike demonstrations Mackay seems to have acted as leader, in consequence of his military experience. If Mackay's court influence had in anyway equalled his skill with the sword, Huntly would never have wrung from him the agreement of 1570.

We conclude that Mackay was a man of more than ordinary strength and of iron endurance, for two years before the close of his life, and when an old man, he was overtaken by a snowstorm of such severity, while crossing the Crask in the dead of winter, that 18 of his company perished and only two or three of the stoutest managed to push on along with him [Earldom of Sutherland page 164]. This was more than an ordinary feat for a man of about 70 years of age. The cruel misrepresentations of Sir Robert Gordon have led some to conclude that Iye Du lived a wild, turbulent life. Of fighting he certainly did more than his share; but much of it was on the side of civil liberty and for the reformation of religion in Scotland, which is more than can be said for the "virtuous" paragons before whom Sir Robert would have us fall down.

Iye Mackay died in November 1572, as appears from a document among the Sutherland Papers, according to Mr Mackay of Blackcastle. His first wife was his first cousin, Helen, daughter of Hugh Macleod of Assint, who bore him two sons. As the marriage of first cousins then required a dispensation of the Pope to make it legal, and as Mackay neglected to secure this, the children were debarred from the succession by canon law. The children of this marriage were: -

  1. John Beg, who was killed in a skirmish at Balnakeil, Durness, 1579
  2. Donald Balloch, who became progenitor of the Scoury Mackays, and whose descendants are given in our account of that family

The second wife of Iye Du was Christian, daughter of John Sinclair of Dun, Caithness, by whom he had two sons and three daughters: -

  1. Huistean Du, who succeeded his father, and of whom an account follows
  2. William of Bighouse, who became the progenitor of the Bighouse Mackays, and whose descendants are given in our account of that family
  3. Eleanor, who married Donald Bane Macleod of Assint
  4. Jane, who married Alexander Sutherland of Berridale
  5. Barbara, who married Alexander MacDavid, chieftain of the clan Gunn. The eldest son of this marriage was William Macallister, chieftain of Gunn, who succeeded to the lands of Killernan 19th Feb 1614, as is recorded in a document at Dunrobin of which an extract is given in the Blk. MS.

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