Conflicts of the Clans

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Troubles in the Western Isles in the Year 1586

This commotion in the Western Isles of Scotland did arise, at this time, betwixt the Clan-Donald and the Clan-Lean, upon this occasion.

Donald Gorme Macdonald of Sleat, travelling from the Isle of Skye, to visit his cousin, Angus Macdonald of Kintyre, landed with his company on an island called Jura or Duray, which partly appertaineth to Maclean, partly to Angus Macdonald; and by chance he landed in that part of the island which appertaineth to Maclean, being driven thither by contrary winds; where, they were no sooner on shore, but two outlaws, Macdonald Herrach and Hutcheon Madgillespick (who were lately fallen out with Donald Gorme) arrived also with a company of men; and understanding that Donald Gorme was there, they secretly took away, by night, a number of cattle out of that part of the island which appertaineth to Maclean; and so they retire again to the sea; thereby thinking to raise a tumult against Donald Gorme, by making the Clan-Lean to believe that this was done by Donald Gorme's men, who, lying at a place called Inver-knock-bhric, were suddenly invaded unawares, under silence of the night (neither suspecting or expecting any such matter) by Sir Lauchlan Maclean and his kin, the Clan-Lean, who had assembled their whole forces against him.

Maclean and his people killed, that night, above 60 of the Clan-Donald; Donald Gorme himself, with the residue, escaped, by going to keep in a ship that lay in the harbour. Angus Macdonald of Kintyre hearing of this lamentable accident fallen out betwixt his brother-in-law, Maclean (whose sister he had married), and his cousin, Donald Gorme, he taketh journey into Skye to visit Donald Gorme, and to see by what means he could work a reconciliation betwixt him and Maclean for the slaughter of Donald Gorme's men at Inverknock-bhric.

After Angus had remained a while in Skye with his cousin, he taketh journey homeward into Kintyre; and in his return he landed in the Isle of Mull, and went to Duart (Maclean's chief dwelling place in Mull) against the opinion of his two brothers, Coll and Ronald, and of his cousin, Ronald Macdonald, who all persuaded Angus to the contrary; desiring him to send for Maclean, and so, to declare unto him how he had sped with his cousin, Donald Gorme, and how far he was inclined to reconciliation; but Angus trusted so much in his brother-in-law, Sir Lauchlan Maclean, that he would not hearken unto their counsel; whereupon his two brothers left him, but his cousin, Ronald Macdonald, accompanied him to Duart, where Angus at first was welcomed with great show of kindness; but he, with all his company, were taken prisoners by Sir Lauchlan Maclean, the next day after their arrival, Ronald Macdonald escaping, and that very hardly.

Angus was then detained in captivity, until he did renounce his right and title to the Rhinns of Islay, which properly appertaineth to the Clan-Donald, and had been by them given in possession for their personal service. Angus was forced to yield, or there to end his days; and for performance of what was desired, Angus gave his eldest son, James, and his brother, Ronald, as pledges, to remain at Duart, until Maclean should get the title of the Rhinns of Islay made over to him; and so, the pledges being delivered, Angus got his liberty.

Angus Macdonald, receiving the wrong at Maclean's hand, besides that which his cousin Donald Gorme had received at Inverknock-bhric, he went about, by all means, to revenge the same; and the better to bring this purposed revenge to pass, he used a policy by a kind of invitation, which was thus: Maclean having got two pledges into his possession, he taketh journey into Islay, to get the performance of what was promised until him, leaving Ronald, one of the pledges fettered in a prison at his house at Duart, in Mull, and carrying his nephew James (the son of Angus) and the other pledge along with him in his voyage.

Being arrived in the Isle of Islay, he encamped at Ellan-loch-gorm, a ruinous fort lying upon the Rhinns of Islay. Thereupon Angus Macdonald took occasion to invite Maclean to come to Mullintrae, or Muludrhea (a dwelling place which Angus had well furnished in the Isle of Islay), seeing he was better provided of all kind of provision there than Maclean could be; earnestly entreating him to lie at his house, where he should be as welcome as he could make him; that they should make merry so long as his provision could last, and when that was done, he would go with him.

For this custom the Islanders have, that when one is invited to another's house, they never depart so long as any provision doth last; and when that is done they go to the next, and so from one to one, until they make a round from neighbour to neighbour, still carrying the master of the former family with them to the next house. Moreover, all the Islanders are of nature very suspicious, full of deceit and evil intention against their neighbours, by whatsoever way they may get them destroyed; besides this, they are so cruel in taking revenge that neither have they regard to person, time, age, nor cause, as you may partly see in this particular.

Sir Lachlan Maclean's answer to Angus Macdonald's messenger was that he durst not go with him, for mistrust. Angus then replied that he needed not to mistrust him, seeing he had his son and his brothers pledges already, whom his friends might keep in their custody until his return; and that, for his own part, he did intend nothing against him, but to continue in all brotherly love and affection towards him.

Maclean, hearing this, seemed to be void of all suspicion, and so resolves to go to Angus's house; he carried with him James Macdonald, the pledge (his own nephew and the son of Angus), whom he kept always in his custody, therefore to save himself from danger, if any injury should be offered until him. He came to Mullintrea, accompanied by 86 of his kinsfolk and servants, in the month of July, 1586, where, at the first arrival, they were made welcome with all courtesy, and sumptiously banquetted all that day; but Angus, in the meantime, had premonished all his friends and well-wishers within Islay to be at his house the same night at nine o'clock; for he had concluded with himself to kill them all the very first night of their arrival, and still concealed his purpose, until he found the time commodious, and the place proper.

So Maclean, being lodged with all his men in a long house, that was somewhat distant from other houses, took to be with him his nephew James, the pledge before mentioned, with whom he never parted; but within an hour thereafter, when Angus had assembled his men, to the number of 300 or 400, he placed them all in order about the house where Maclean then lay. Angus himself came and called upon Maclean at the door, offering him his reposing drink, which was forgotten to be given him before he went to bed. Although, said Angus, it be so, yet it is my will that thou arise and come forth to receive it.

Then began Maclean to suspect, and so did arise, with his nephew James betwixt his shoulders, thinking, that if present killing was intended against him, he would save himself as long as he could by the boy. The boy, seeing his father with a bare sword, and a number of his men in like manner about him, cried, with a loud voice, for mercy to his uncle, which was granted, and Maclean immediately removed to a secret chamber till the next morning.

Then called Angus to the remnant within, so many as would have their own lives to be saved, that they should come forth (Macdonald Herrach, and another, whom he named, only excepted); obedience was made by all the rest, and these two only fearing the danger, refused to come forth; which Angus perceiving, he commanded incontinent to put fire to the house; which was done, so that the two men were pitifully burnt to death. This Macdonald was the author of these troubles; the other was a very near kinsman to Maclean, and of the eldest of his surname, renowned both for counsel and manhood.

After that, the report of Maclean's taking came to the Isle of Mull, Allan Maclean, and some others of the Macleans, caused a rumour to be spread in Islay, that Ronald (the brother of Angus Macdonald, and the other pledge he had given to Maclean) was slain at Duart, in Mull, by Maclean's friends; which false report was raised by Allen Maclean, that thereby Angus Macdonald might be moved to kill his prisoner, Sir Lauchlan Maclean, and so Allan himself might succeed to Sir Lauchlan; and indeed, it wrought this effect, that how soon the report came to Angus's ears that his brother Ronald was slain, he revenged himself fully upon the prisoners; for Maclean's followers were by couples beheaded the days following, by Coll, the brother of Angus.

The report of this fact at Mullintrae was carried to the Earl of Argyll, who immediately assembled his friends to get Maclean out of Angus's power; but, perceiving that they were not able to do it, either by force or fair means, they thought necessary to complain to the King.

His Majesty directed charges to Angus, by a herald of arms, commanding him to restore Maclean into the hands of the Earl of Argyll; but the messenger was interrupted, and the haven port stopped, where he should have taken shipping towards Islay, and so he returned home; yet with exceeding travel made by Captain James Stewart, Chancellor of Scotland, and many straight conditions granted by Maclean to Angus, Maclean was at last exchanged for Ronald, the brother of Angus, and the pledge before mentioned; and for performance of such conditions as Maclean did promise to Angus, at his delivery, he gave his own son, and the son of Macleod of Harris, with divers other pledges to Angus Macdonald, who thereupon went into Ireland upon some occasion of business, which Maclean understanding, he invaded the Isle of Islay, and burnt a great part of the same, regarding neither the safety of his pledges, nor his faith given before the friends at his delivery.

Angus Macdonald, returning out of Ireland, did not stir the pledges, who were innocent of what was done unto his lands in his absence; yet, with a great preparation of men and shipping, he went into the islands and Tiree appertaining to Maclean, invading those places with great hostility; where, what by fire, what by sword, and what by water, he destroyed all the men that he could overtake (none excepted), and all sorts of beasts that served for domestic use and pleasure of man; and finally, came to the very Ben Mor, in Mull, and there killed and chased the Clan-Lean at his pleasure, and so fully revenged himself of his former injuries.

Whilst Angus Macdonald was thus raging in Mull and Tiree, Sir Lauchlan Maclean went into Kintyre, spoiled, wasted, and burnt a great part of that country; and thus, for a while, they did continually vex one another with slaughters and outrages, to the destruction, well near, of all their country and people.

In this meantime, Sir Lachlan Maclean did entice and train John MacIan, of Ardnamurchan (one of the Clan-Donald), to come unto him unto the Isle of Mull, promising him that he would give him his mother in marriage, unto whom the said John MacIan had been a suitor. John being come unto Mull, in hope of this marriage, Maclean yielded to his desire, thinking thereby to draw John MacIan into his party against Angus Macdonald. The marriage was celebrated at Torloisk, in Mull; but the very same night John MacIan's chamber was forced, himself taken from his bed out of Maclean's mother's arms, and eighteen of his men slain, because he refused to assist Maclean against Angus Macdonald.

These were (and are to this day) called, in a proverb, Maclean's nuptials. John MacIan was detained a whole year in captivity by Maclean; and, at last, was released in exchange of Maclean's son and the rest of the pledges which Angus Macdonald had in his hands.

These two islanders, Angus Macdonald and Maclean, were afterwards written for by the King, and trained unto Edinburgh, the year of God, 1591, with promise safely to pass and repass unhurt or molested in their bodies or goods, and were committed both to ward within the Castle of Edinburgh, where they remained not long when they were remitted free, to pass home again, for a pecunial fine, and a remission granted to either of them. Their eldest sons were left as pledges for their obedience in time coming.

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