Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page

IYE ROY

1486 - 1517

Soon after the slaughter of Angus Roy at Tarbet, the Mackays under the command of John Riavach Mackay and William Du mac Ean Aberach, the latter chieftain of the Aberach Mackays, assisted by some friends invaded Strathcarron of Ross in force. They met the Rosses and their confederates at Aldicharrish on the 11th Jul 1487, where, according to Sir Robert Gordon who bases his account upon the Fern Abbey MS., "the inhabitants of Ross being unable to endure the enemies force were utterly disbanded and put to flight". He proceeds, "Alexander Ross, laird of Balnagown, was there slain with seventeen other landed gentlemen of the province of Ross, besides a great number of common soldiers". From Strathoikel eastwards towards Tain the Mackays left the country blazing and returned home laden with spoil. With blood, fire, and pillage they both punished and avenged the combined sacrilege and slaughter at Tarbet church in such a thorough fashion, that the neglect or incapacity of the proper authorities was more than compensated. Nay more, five years afterwards they invaded the same district again and took much spoil a second time, as we shall see.

Sir Robert Gordon, who never forgets his self-imposed task of magnifying the house of Sutherland, calmly informs us that John Mackay, with a view to the invasion of Ross, came to the Earl of Sutherland "upon whom he depended, and desired, he said, to revenge his father's death; whereunto Earl John yielded and presently sent his uncle, Robert Sutherland, with a company of chosen men to assist him". In the first place, Mackay in noway "depended" upon the Earl of Sutherland. The feudal superiority of Sutherland over Mackay, which Sir Robert is continually harping upon, nowhere existed save in his own fertile imagination. In the second place, it is most unlikely that Earl John, who was handfasted if not married to a daughter of Balnagown, would assist to crush his father-in-law. It is possible, but not at all probable. And in the third place, when the raid was judicially enquired into there was no mention of the Sutherlands. "A remission to John McKeye" was granted by the king at Banff, between October and November 1494. [Treasurer's Account] A courier passed from Aberdeen with an "estreat of a justiceayre to Macintoshe, David Ross of Ballochgowne. and to McKeye," 8th Nov 1494. When the quarrel came before the justiciar at Aberdeen the principals were Mackay, Macintosh, and Ross. Evidently Sir Robert dragged in the other "uncle Robert" in order to snatch the credit of the victory at Aldicharrish from the Mackays, but facts are against him.

In 1490 King James IV, as tutor to his brother James, Duke of Ross, granted in heritage to David Ross, nephew and apparent heir of John Ross, and grandson of John Ross of Balnagown, the lands of Strathoikel and Strathcarron, which formerly belonged to Morgan Neilson Mackay. [In proof of this statement see Orig. Par. Scot., Vol. II., part ii., pp. 411, 415, 455.] That is to say, as soon as possible after the accession of James IV to the throne, the Rosses of Balnagown took steps to secure by royal charter some of the lands in dispute between them and the Mackays. Nor did the Mackays lag far behind. On the 15th Mar 1504, Iye Roy Mackay secured from the king the nonentry Appendix No 8 of the lands of Ferencostrig, Strathhalladale, Creichmore, Assent, Coigach, Gruids, Strathflete, etc. On the 15th Feb 1506, he caused the charter granted by Donald Lord of the Isles in 1415, and by which the Mackays laid claim to these lands, to be recorded Appendix No 5 in the books of the Lords of Council. And sometime thereafter he laid claim, as a test case evidently, to the lands and barony of Coigach in Ross. On this latter claim the Lords of Council pronounced a decree, the 9th Mar 1512, finding that the lands of Coigach belonged to the umql. [deceased] Eupham, Countess of Ross, but as she had resigned the earldom of Ross into the hands of Robert, Duke of Albany, and had taken a new charter "to herself and the heirs of her body, whom failing to the king's progenitors, kings of Scotland, in fee and heritage", and as the said countess had left no heirs of her body these lands had become the property of the Crown.[Act. Dom. Con. et Sess. and Blk.Ms.]

The Council's decree appears to us utterly unjust, and in keeping with many another legal transaction of the same body at this and other periods. Whatever documents Eupham the nun may have signed at the instigation of the notoriously unscrupulous Albany, it is undoubted that Donald, Lord of the Isles, secured and retained the earldom of Ross in spite of them. The said earldom with all its rights passed successively to his son Alexander and thereafter to his grandson John, both Lords of the Isles and Earls of Ross. It is true that John lost the earldom by reason of rebellion, but that should in noway invalidate the legality of the charter granted by his grandfather to the Mackays in 1415. As a brother of King James IV was, however, created Duke of Ross, it was found convenient to rest his title to the lands of the earldom upon the resignation of Eupham, ignoring the MacDonald possession altogether. This was clearly sharp practice, to say the least of it. The counter claims of Mackay and Balnagown to parts of the lands held before 1430 by Mackay of Creich, who held them of his cousin of Strathnaver in consequence of the latter's charter from Donald, Lord of the Isles, serve to show the origin of the friction between the Rosses and Mackays which resulted in such an explosion at Aldicharrish.

We saw that John Mackay got a remission from the king in 1494, but this did not quench the embers of strife. It is evident that more blood was shed, for David Ross of Balnagown and Iye Roy of Strathnaver were summoned to appear before the Earl of Argyle, then Lord High Chancellor of Scotland, and on the 4th Oct 1496, each of them became bound, by extending his hand to Argyle in the king's name, to keep the peace towards each other, and that their "folkis sal be harmeless and skaithles", under a penalty of 500 merks in case of failure.Act. Dom. Con. et Sess. X, 197

Notwithstanding the apparent reconciliation of the parties above mentioned, "David Ross of Balngovvan and Hucheon Ross his brother, procurators for Giles Sutherland, spouse of umql. [deceased] Alexander Ross, and Isabella, Margaret, and Marion Ross, daughters", brought an action before the Lords of Council against the Mackays for spoils taken out of the lands of "Langell, Invercarron, Grewnard, Kincardin, Invercarsley and others within the Duchery of Ross". The spoils were: -
"Twelve hundred ky, the price of the piece 20s, with the profits of the same for eight years by-gane, extending yearly till the sum of 300 merks; ane hundred horse and mares, the price of the piece over head 40s, with the profits thereof extending yearly be the said space till £40; and ane thousand sheep and goats, the price of the piece 2s, with their profit yearly be the said space extending till 100 merks". In this action the Rosses prevailed and decree was accordingly pronounced against the Mackays, who did not put in an appearance at all, dated 27th Jul 1501. Roughly speaking, the damages amounted to about 6000 merks, a very large sum in those days; but what portion of this if any the Rosses were able to recover we have no means of knowing.

According to the above decreet the spoliation complained of took place eight years earlier, or in 1493, while that in connection with Aldicharrish happened during the summer of 1487, as was recorded in the Fern Abbey MS. Evidently there were two great raids by the Mackays into Ross separated by an interval of five years. Of the first raid the authorities took no notice; it was apparently considered justified by the code of revenge common then; but the second raid resulted in an action at law. It is very evident the Rosses had no reason to congratulate themselves upon the burning of Angus Roy Mackay in Tarbet church.

To reward with gifts of land or otherwise Highland chieftains and headmen, who brought offenders to justice and assisted in the maintenance of order, was part of the settled policy which King James IV adopted in the north [Tytler's Scotland]. He seems to have been in regular communication with the Mackintosh, Huntly, Cameron, Grant, Mackay, as the national records abundantly show. It was in pursuance of this policy that, on the 18th Jul 1496, he bestowed £20 yearly out of "our lordship of Murray .... for gud and treu service doun to us be our lowit squyr Y McKy of Straithnaver", to continue until "we provide ane leving and fee of land for the said Y McKy in ane competent place lyand near the boundis of Straithnaver". The king in this document Appendix No 6 expressly addresses Mackay as "of Strathnaver", and holds out the prospect of other lands in the neighbourhood when the opportunity presents itself. It did so speedily.

Sutherland of Dirlot, who was pursued for some debts by Sir James Dunbar of Cumnock, murdered his relative, Alexander Dunbar, step-father of John Earl of Sutherland, and was in consequence put to the horn. Iye Roy Mackay, who was already bound to the king's service for the maintenance of order, received a commission to apprehend Dirlot and did so. Mackay was rewarded by a charter [Appendix No 7] under the Great Seal, dated 4th Nov 1499, of the escheated lands of Dirlot, viz., Farr, Armadale, Strathy, Rennivie, Davach Lochnaver, and Davach Eriboll, all in Strathnaver, of Kinald, Golspie, and Kilcolumkill in Sutherland, and of Dirlot, Cattack, Bronach, and two pennylands of Stroma in Caithness. As Dirlot was a nephew of Mackay the apprehension seems somewhat heartless, but there were extenuating circumstances. Dirlot or his father managed to get possession by some means of Strathnaver lands which formerly belonged to the family of Mackay. Of this there can be no doubt. In the sasine [Appendix No 14] which Donald, son of Iye Roy Mackay, took of these lands on 16th Feb 1540, it is expressly stated that the said lands pertained to "the late Odo McKy alias Y McKy, father of the foresaid Donald McKy, and his predecessors held of our deceased illustrious predecessors" (quondam Odamus McKy alias Y McKy, pater prefati Donaldi McKy, ejusque predecessores per quondam nobilissimos predecessores nostras). Looked at in this light, Mackay's temptation to acquire ancestral lands, which in some way came into the possession of Sutherland, overbore any natural affection which he might be expected to cherish towards his nephew. And besides this, Dirlot on the father's side was a representative of Nicolas Sutherland, with whom and with whose successors the Mackays waged such a prolonged and fierce feud.

The closing years of the fifteenth and the opening years of the sixteenth century witnessed a great upheaval in the western isles, where the people continued to cherish a hankering after the re-establishment of the ancient lordship of the isles. The king, irritated at the misconduct of the Hebrideans, unwisely cancelled the charters of some of the leading families, and practically goaded them into revolt. Almost at the same moment Donald Du, grandson of John, Lord of the Isles, escaped from his long confinement in the castle of Inchconnal, fled to the Lews, and put himself at the head of the discontented confederates. It took three expeditions, in 1503, 1505, and 1506, respectively, to quell the tumult; and in all these expeditions Iye Roy Mackay did most effective work at the head of his clansmen. In the Parliament of 1505 Torquil of the Lews, who persistently refused to put in an appearance, was found guilty of treason and put to the horn. Huntly was commissioned to proceed with the northern Highlanders across the Minch and capture the recalcitrant Macleod. To this end ships were collected, cannon brought by sea from Edinburgh Castle, and every nerve strained to make the expedition a success. In 1506 Huntly, Mackay, and others appeared before Stornoway Castle, and after battering it with artillery took Torquil prisoner [Acts of Parliament and Treasurer's Account].

As a reward for his services in helping to crush the Hebridean insurrections, the king "gevis and grantis to our lovit Y McKay" the nonentry [Appendix No 8] of the lands in Straithnaver, Slichchilis, Strathhalladale, Creichmore, Assent, Coigeach, Gruids-davach, Edderachilis, the Little Isles of Strathnaver, and a part of the lands of Strathflete, dated 15th Mar 1504. The Strathnaver lands in nonentry at this time were evidently those pertaining to the lineal heir of Farquhar, "the king's physician" - a Mackay who obtained the lands of Melness, Hope, and the Little Isles of Strathnaver from King Robert II, as we saw. On the 30th Sep 1511, Iye Roy and his son, John Mackay, purchased [Appendix No 9] the lands of Melness and Hope from Donald McCorrichie, Farquhar's heir, and thus secured them in heritable right, but the Little Isles did not come into the possession of the family until they were purchased by Donald, 1st Lord Reay. It is very evident from these transactions that the Mackays held a great amount of landed estate at this period, not only in Strathnaver but in Sutherland and Ross, and that they must have been able to put a large force into the field.

King James IV having resolved upon an invasion of England summoned his subjects capable of bearing arms, and had a most loyal response from both Highlands and Lowlands. According to the Blk. MS., Iye Roy Mackay accompanied by his brother John Riavach, at the head of a contingent from Strathnaver, joined the royal standard and took part in the battle of Flodden in 1513. Iye Roy escaped with his life from the fatal field, but John Riavach and a number of clansmen fell that day. Among the slain from the far north were both the Bishop and the Earl of Caithness.

After the fall of the king at Flodden, the islanders made insurrection again under the leadership of Sir Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh, commonly called Donald Galda. John, Duke of Albany, and Colin, Earl of Argyle, were entrusted with the task of suppressing the disturbance in 1515, and were in a measure successful. But Donald Galda managed to renew the conflict in 1517, and gave much trouble to the Earl of Argyle, who had been appointed Lieutenant of the Isles shortly before. When Argyle petitioned the Government for assistance against Sir Donald, letters were ordered to be directed in name of the king to the head-men of the north, "as the Lord Lovat, Macintosh, Grant, MacKenzie, McKy, McClod, &c, in tha parts, to pursue the said Sir Donald and his accomplices", dated May 1517 [Act. Dom. Con. et Sess.]. What response the Mackays made to this appeal we cannot say, but the affair soon thereafter terminated with the death of Sir Donald.

Iye Roy shortly before his death joined in a bond of friendship Appendix No 10 with Adam Gordon, Earl of Sutherland, on the 31st Jul 1517. Of course, Sir Robert Gordon makes this to appear as the act of a vassal towards his superior. It was nothing of the kind, as the document itself shows. To the extent of the lands of Strathflete and others, within the earldom of Sutherland (which was separate from Strathnaver), Earl Adam was the feudal overlord of Mackay, but no further. Sir William Fraser, discussing Sir Robert's reference to this transaction, writes: - "He also describes it as if it were granted by an inferior to a superior, which is not the case. The agreement, except for the acknowledged fact that Earl Adam was Mackay 's overlord in certain lands, is a transaction between equals". It was not a case of the Earl of Sutherland calling Mackay to heel, as Sir Robert Gordon misrepresents it, but a case of the Earl of Sutherland soliciting the much-needed support of Mackay in an hour of great need, as shall appear afterwards. So much meantime for Sir Robert's fireworks.

Iye Roy Mackay, who died towards the close of 1517, married a celebrated beauty, a daughter of Norman, son of Patrick O'Beolan of Carloway in Lewis, as is stated in the Knock MS., or as Sir Robert calls her, "a woman of the western isles" [Col. de rebus Alb.]. O'Beolan was the lineal descendant of the well-known priestly family of Applecross, whose progenitor was St. Maolrubha.

[Footnote: Saint Maolrubha had numerous dedications in Moray, Ross, Lewis, Strathnaver, etc., and is known as Malrou, Maree, Rice, Rufus, and even Saniaru. He appears to have been the patron saint of Strathnaver. At Balnakeil in Durness there is a stone called "the red priest's stone", and another at Skail on the Strath of the Naver which goes hy the same name - Dr. Reves thinks the latter was "a girth or sanctuary stone". The old fair at Farr, held in September formerly, is often called locally Feil Samaru, that is the fair of St. Rufus; and Loch Monair on the Strath was until lately considered to have healing virtues equal to those of Loch Maree in Ross. Like Maree, Monair is doubtless a corrupt form of the name Maolrubha. For an interesting account of this Celtic saint see an article by Dr. Reeves in The Proceedings of the Antiquarian Society, Edinburgh: Vol. III ]

This marriage was not in conformity with canon law, but Iye Roy duly secured from King James IV, 8th Aug 1511, a precept of legitimation for his two surviving sons, John and Donald [Reg.Sec.Sig. IV, 145]. By the unscrupulous conduct of the Earls of Huntly and Sutherland, Iye Du Mackay, the grandson of Iye Roy, got into much trouble in consequence of this marriage notwithstanding the royal precept of 1511, as shall appear. The issue of this marriage was three sons and two daughters: -

  1. John, who succeeded his father in 1517
  2. Donald, who succeeded his brother John in 1529
  3. Angus, who fell fighting against the Rosses, near Tain, before 1511
  4. A daughter, who married Hugh Macleod of Assynt, and had known issue Neil and Helen. Helen Macleod married her first cousin, Iye Du of Strathnaver, to whom she bore Donald Balloch Mackay of Scoury and John Beg, the former becoming the progenitor of the Scoury Mackays.
  5. A daughter, who married the Honl. Alexander Sutherland, son of John, Earl of Sutherland, by his second marriage.

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com
.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com