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IYE

1330 - 70

Between Iye of Strathnaver and the family of Sutherland there existed a protracted feud, which caused much bloodshed on either side, and occasioned the murder of Iye at Dingwall in 1370.

[Footnote: Sir Robert Gordon committed some mistakes in his account of this incident. He says Iye was murdered in 1395 by Nicholas, Earl of Sutherland, the predecessor of Earl Robert. But Sir William Fraser shows that there was no Earl Nicholas, and that the immediate predecessor of Earl Robert was Earl William, who flourished 1333-70. Consequently, on Sir Robert's own showing, the author of this deed was Earl William, and it must have taken place in or before 1370. ]

Sir Robert Gordon says, "the Earl of Sutherland had great controversy with the house and family of Mackay, chief of the Clan Vic-Morgan of Strathnaver, which did continue a long time between the inhabitants of Sutherland and Strathnaver, although with some intermission". This account exactly corroborates Earl William's complaint in 1342, when he applied to the Pope for a dispensation of marriage with Margaret Bruce, against "an ancient enemy", who caused " wars, disputes, and many offences" in these parts. In the Papal dispensation, which is given at large in Theiner's Monumenta Vetera, p. 278, reference is made to the application thus: -

"It sets forth that between the said Earl and Margaret and their forefathers and friends, by the wicked procuring of an ancient enemy (hostis antiqui nequitia procurante) there have arisen wars, disputes, and many offences, on which account murders, burnings, depredations, forays, and other evils have frequently happened and cease not to happen continually, and many churches of these parts have suffered no small damages, and greater troubles are expected unless prevented by an immediate remedy."

With reference to the complaint, Sir William Fraser observes, "in this case it may refer to the disturbed condition of the country or perhaps of Sutherland". We believe his surmise is correct. If the Mackays are descended from Malcolm MacEth, Earl of Ross, as we contend they are, the family might well be called an "ancient enemy" who gave trouble to the Scots kings and their henchmen in the far north, the Earls of Sutherland. And according to Hailes, Cosmo Innes, etc., it was only in the second or third generation after Hugo Freskin that the family of Sutherland was able to effect a permanent settlement in Suderland - that is to say, in the days of the grandfather or father of this Earl William. From the time of this latter Earl William we have authentic evidence that the Sutherlands and Mackays were at daggers drawn; before his time the mist lies too heavy for us to know much. In the circumstances, we repeat, the family of Mackay might well be called an "ancient enemy" of the house of Sutherland.

The Blk. MS. reads: -
"In consequence of disputes existing at this time between the Earl of Sutherland and MacKay a meeting was agreed upon to settle the matter in dispute. The meeting took place at Dingwall in Ross in 1370, at which were present the. Earl of Sutherland and his brother Nicolas, and MacKay and his son Donald, and other chieftains to act as umpires and decide in the matter submitted. MacKay was about to succeed in his claim, and the Sutherlands became so irritated and enraged that Nicolas Sutherland rose in the night-time and basely murdered MacKay and his son Donald. Nicolas leaving Dingwall Castle fled and escaped, although pursued by MacKay's attendants."

Sir Robert Gordon, whose version of the affair is in substantial agreement with the above, except in the details already pointed out, says that the meeting took place in Dingwall Castle, and that one of the arbiters was the Lord of the Isles. We may also conclude that the Earl of Ross was one of the arbiters of a case tried at his own castle, and it is not unlikely that the Earl of Buchan, justiciar for the north, would likewise be present.

We are not told what were the subjects in dispute, but we have not far to go in search of one bone of contention. On the 10th Oct 1345 King David conferred by charter the Earldom of Sutherland in regality upon William, Earl of Sutherland, and his spouse Margaret, the king's sister, and upon the legitimate heirs begotten between them (heredes inter ipsos legitime procreandi) [Sutherland Book II, 141]. This charter gave Earl William almost kingly power in Suderland, which he would not be slow to put into execution against the "ancient enemy" of his house. Of this marriage between Earl William and Margaret Bruce only one son, John, was born when Margaret died, and William married a second time. As King David was childless he intended John of Sutherland to succeed him in the throne, and bestowed lands north, south, east, and west upon the Earl of Sutherland, who in turn gave many of these lands away to Scottish nobles, in order to secure their support when the time came for his son to claim the throne of Scotland. But John of Sutherland died of the plague in London, leaving no issue, shortly before the demise of his uncle the king, and the hopes of both David and the Earl of Sutherland were thus balked. By the death of his son, Sutherland's regality so far as his descendants were concerned went up in smoke - he had now no heir by Margaret to retain these charter rights.

King David, the unfortunate and worthless son of the great Bruce, died on the 22nd Feb 1370, and was succeeded in the throne by his nephew, Robert II. It is notorious that the relations between David and his nephew, Robert, were of a strained character, partly on account of David's partiality for his nephew of Sutherland. As Robert II, though a fair and just monarch, was only human, it is natural to expect that he would make the Earl of Sutherland realise how changed his position now was. About this time the king's physician was Farquhar, the son of Iye of Strathnaver, a scion of the house of the "ancient enemy", and one who had a charter from the Earl of Buchan, confirmed by his father, the king, 4th Sep 1379, of the lands of Melness, etc., in the parish of Durness, as "Fereardo medico nostra." With the Earl of Buchan, Robert II's son, justiciar of the north, it suited the royal policy to bring pressure upon the Earl of Sutherland by favouring the "ancient enemy", Mackay of Strathnaver. Although the regality of the Earl of Sutherland only extended to Suderland and did not include Strathnaver, Iye Mackay had lands in Suderland down to the borders of Ross which would be involved, as is abundantly proved by the extensive possessions of the family in these parts a generation later, when documents begin to turn up. Iye of Strathnaver, resenting the vexing claim of Sutherland's powers of regality over him, sought to have the matter submitted to arbitration in the then favourable circumstances. When he was just within sight of a favourable judgment, the knife of the assassin, Nicolas, finished the unsuspecting father and son at the dead of night in Dingwall Castle.

The claim of feudal superiority by the family of Sutherland over that of Mackay, from this date henceforward, made so unjustly, persistently, and offensively by Sir Robert Gordon, cannot be allowed to pass without further notice, because 230 years later it developed into a shameless imposition upon King James VI. On the 29th Apr 1601 James VI was led to give a charter to John, Earl of Sutherland, and to his heirs, by which the charter of regality granted by David II in 1345 to the Earl of Sutherland as aforesaid was confirmed, under the impression that it was still valid, and extended now so as to include Strathnaver. That this was an imposition upon the king is proved by the fact that in the document resigning the heritable sheriffship of Sutherland, dated 26th Aug 1631, and forming part of the regality, it is clearly stated that the charter of 1601 was given by King James under the impression that the then Earl of Sutherland was a descendant of Margaret Bruce, daughter of King Robert. [Dates and Documents] Sir William Fraser in the Sutherland Book puts it mildly when he says, "It was long a belief in the Sutherland family, which was fostered if not originated by Sir Robert Gordon, that by the marriage of William 5th Earl of Sutherland to Margaret Bruce, the blood of the royal family of Bruce ran in their veins". The truth is Sir Robert was the author of a fraud in 1601. But of this matter enough anon.

[Footnote: We shall in the proper place show how George, 5th Earl of Huntly, chancellor of Scotland, obtained the superiority of Strathnaver in 1567 from Queen Mary in a very left-handed way, to say the least of it: and how the 6th Earl of Huntly gave the superiority of Strathnaver to his uncle, the Earl of Sutherland, in exchange for the lands of Aboyne in 1583. In 1601 the gift of Huntly was converted into a charter of regality as above stated. As the facts come to light, it will be seen that Sir Robert Gordon had little cause to crow over Sutherland's "superiority".]

By this time the Clan Morgan of Strathnaver must have attained to considerable power before it could give so much trouble to Earl William of Sutherland, notwithstanding his royal backing. When the veil over early Scottish history is removed a little further, about 40 years after this date, we shall find members of the clan occupying land in Suderland and Ross, and the Chief strong enough to beard Donald, Lord of the Isles, at Dingwall.

The known issue of Iye was: -

  1. Donald, who was killed along with his father at Dingwall Castle, and of whom a short account follows
  2. Farquhar, who was a physician to King Robert II and in favour with the King's son, the Earl of Buchan. In the old family MS. account he is claimed as a son of Iye; and in our Introductory chapter we have shown by documentary evidence how his descendants signed themselves Mackay. He obtained by royal charter the lands of Melness, Hope, etc., in 1379, and the islands lying round Strathnaver in 1386.
    The writer of the Old Statistical Account of the parish of Edderachilis asserts, without giving any reason but tradition, that Farquhar was a Beaton and a native of Islay. He also gives a very incorrect account of the manner in which his lands were secured by the leading family of Mackay [Sutherland Book Vol I]. This tradition probably developed from the fact that a Beaton was physician to James VI, as the inscription on the said Beaton's tombstone in Iona, dated 1657, shows.
    [Footnote: At the west end of Farr churchyard stands a sculptured stone with Celtic cross and tracery, locally known as Clach Erchar, Stone of Farquhar. It may mark the grave of Farquhar mac Iye, the king's physician, and is supposed to do so.]
  3. Mariota, who was the handfasted wife of the Earl of Buchan, popularly known as the "Wolf of Badenoch", and the mother of his children. We are strongly inclined to believe that "Mariota filia Athyn" was the daughter of Iye of Strathnaver, and that Athyn is another barbarous Latin form of the much-metamorphosed name Iye [Cartulary of Moray]. This would to some extent explain the Earl of Buchan's friendship with Farquhar, and enable us to find a reason for a party of Mackays supporting Duncan Stewart, son of Buchan, in a raid to the Braes of Angus in 1391. If our theory be correct it supplies a motive for Angus Du Mackay's opposition to Donald, Lord of the Isles, at Dingwall in 1411, shortly before the latter met the Earl of Mar, a son of Buchan, at Harlaw. According to our theory the Earl of Mar and Angus Du would be first and second cousins. The issue of the Earl of Buchan by Mariota was:
    1. Alexander, Earl of Mar
    2. Andrew
    3. Walter
    4. James
    5. Duncan
    6. Margaret, who married Robert, Earl of Sutherland

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