THE CLAN MACKENZIE HISTORY
'In vain, the bright course of thy talents to wrong,
Mackenzie Ross Origins
Mackenzies are an ancient Celtic family variously related by marriages to Kings Alpin, Robert I, Duncan of Scotland, Alfred, Henry I, Henry II of England, Philippe I of France and Charlemagne, amongst others. The Charles, Kenneth, Kenzie, Macconnach, Mackerlich, Macvanish, clans are regarded as septs (sub-branches) of the Mackenzie clan. There are two versions of the Mackenzie origins and they are both outlined here below. The historical issue is whether there is a Fitzgerald relationship. Since my mother descended from the Irish Johnsons, who married Fitzgeralds, we are doubly related to the Fitzgeralds, so my personal bias is arguably neutral.
The Clan Mackenzie at one time formed one of the most powerful families in the Highlands. It is still one of the most numerous and influential, and justly claims a very ancient descent. But there has developed a difference of opinion regarding its original progenitor. The Ross descent was proposed by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and the Fitzgerald descent was earlier outlined by Lord George Mackenzie. Sadly the record gets confusing, because of variations in the putative Fitzgerald pedigree and much argument is spent in disputing various notional pedigrees. My information is based on an additional history by Sir E Mackenzie Mackenzie, who claimed that he had had access to private Fitzgerald family records, not earlier shared with the other two contentious authors.
Mackenzie, or MacCoinneach as it might appear in Gaelic, is taken to mean "son of Kenneth; and the Ross descent suggests that original Kenneth, c1200, was descended from (tenth century) Gilleoin of the Aird. Gilleoin also fathered the Earls of Ross, the early Mackenzie feudal overlords. Ross lands were acquired by marriage and William, V Earl of Ross confirmed Mackenzie ownership in 1343. An extant charter confirms Kintail lands held by Alexander Mackenzie in 1463. Ross-shire stretches across the upper part of Scotland. Traditional Mackenzie lands were about half that area, from the Isle of Skye, over to Inverness in the East and then back to the North West Scottish coast.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie outlined that the Mackenzies were of native Celtic stock and were not among the clans that originated from Norman ancestors. He cited Dr WF Skene, Historiographer Royal for Scotland, and suggested that the Mackenzies are related to both the clans Matheson and Anrias, and that all three descended from the twelfth century Gilleoin of the Aird. In the thirteenth century the clan was recorded at the stronghold of Eilean Donan on Loch Duich which was the seat of Clan MacRae, with whom the Mackenzies were once allied. The Mackenzie clan seat was at Castle Leod. There were also strongholds at Kilcoy Castle and Brahan Castle. Ferquard mac an t-sagairt, I Earl of Ross is identified as a cousin to both the Mackenzies and Rosses. Specific details of the earlier Gilleoin of the Aird are unknown. This in essence is the putative Ross descent, however, there is further information which identifies the Mackenzie descent as being from the Fitzgeralds. To further confuse any argument, it is possible that the Mackenzies relate to both families. I have provided a chart of both descents below.
Sadly, the Fitzgerald outline of Mackenzie origins shown below is not supported by formal, recorded, charters, and Eilean Donan castle appears to have been firmly in the hands of the Rosses at the time in question. Even more damaging to the Fitzgerald pedigree origins is that alleged supporting records were declared false in the nineteenth century by both Dr Skene and Alexander Mackenzie. Mackenzie was a notable Clan historian, who had obtained academic opinions from several historians. Buttressing the argument of Ross origins is that Ferquard mac an t-sagairt was created an earl by Alexander II, who was the father of Alexander III and thus unlikely to have his earldom cut by Alexander III. On the other hand, the Irishman named Gerald (Colin) Fitzgerald (putative Mackenzie progenitor) fought for Alexander III at the 1063 Battle of Largs for which he was rewarded. His reward was described as including an appointment as Castellan of the key castle Eilean Donan, then a Ross holding. He is also described as having received a barony of land in Kintail, which could have been granted by the Earl of Ross, without impairing Ross primacy. Much of Sir Alexander's argument seems intended to establish that the Rosses were pre-eminent, which seems unchallenged. The question of pedigree is more complex, as there appear to be two sets of mutually exclusive records. Since I have seen neither of the originals I am not in a position to argue and can only cite my own sources.
Mackenzie FitzGerald Origins
I support the older version of Mackenzie origins documented by George Mackenzie, I Earl of Cromartie. On 9 January 1266, King Alexander III granted Gerald (Colin) Fitzgerald the Barony of Kintail by royal charter at Kincardine to recognise his bravery in battle against the Vikings at Largs. Alexander II had built Eilean Donan castle in 1220 and Alexander III appointed Gerald its Castellan (or Constable), in 1266. Gerald was apparently hunting Alexander in 1266 when a wild stag burst out of the woods and would have charged the king but for Gerald. Alexander III further rewarded Gerald by approving the Mackenzie stag's head for Gerald's arms. Gerald, who was then apparently already called Callam (Colin) after an earlier battle honour had a son called Kenneth and Kenneth also named Gerald's grandson Kenneth. The name Mackenzie was initiated at that point by calling Gerald's grandson Kenneth son of Kenneth. Since this name was in Gaelic, he was probably Coinneach mac Coinneach, with the first Coinneach softened into Kenneth. This version is reported as being corroborated in the Fitzgerald family records.
It has long been maintained and generally accepted that the Mackenzies are descended from Gerald (called Colin) Fitzgerald or Cailean Fitzgerald, who descended from Otho who accompanied Edward the Confessor to England and became a key advisor in Edward's court, for which Otho was created Baron of Windsor. At this point some Clan historians confused the Fitzgerald record. George and Alexander Mackenzie both stated that John Fitzgerald FitzThomas, I Earl of Kildare was the father of Gerald called Colin, the father of the Mackenzies. This assertion is not supported by my source Sir E Mackenzie-Mackenzie, who records that Gerald - soon to be called Colin - was a step-brother of John, Earl of Kildare. It seems understandable that the mother of a newly-created earl would leave a higher profile record than a previous wife, to explain the confusion. Moreover, Sir E Mackenzie-Mackenzie states explicitly that he had access to the Leinster Fitzgerald records. The confusion over the name for Colin is further explained by Goddard Henry Orpen in his opus Ireland Under the Normans.
Orpen explained that Celtic tradition often provided a man a new name to honour some great deed. Gerald FitzGerald fought at the Battle of Callan in Northern Ireland in 1061 and evidently Gerald earned both honour and merit. It was that Battle Honour that initiated a name change. The battle inflicted heavy casualties on the Fitzgeralds and the homelands were wasted by the native Irish. Since Orpen noted that the Fitzgerald hero left Ireland for neighbouring Kintail Scotland, the change of place might have facilitated his simultaneous name change. There Gerald, (perhaps already called Callan, or Colin), met Alexander III whose land was about to be invaded by the Vikings. (At the end of the 1263 Battle of Largs there were an estimated 16,000-24,000 dead Vikings: this was no small brawl.) Fitzgerald help from a proven warrior with his own men would have been valuable in those circumstances. An historically documented hero of the Battle of Largs is 'Peregrinus et Hibernus nobilis ex familia Geraldinorum' deemed to be the same Colin Fitzgerald. His son and grandson were apparently each named Kenneth, with the grandson being named Kenneth mac Kenneth, but in traditional Gaelic spellings - not English. As time increased the social exposure of the Highlands to the English and their language, the Gaelic was replaced by softened Anglicised spelling to become Kenneth Mackenzie.
Sir Alexander was quite right to complain about the putative Fitzgerald link. The version which George Mackenzie recounted was neither credible, nor in accord with the Fitzgerald records. Sir Alexander further complained about Fitzgerald naming conventions and that too is a reasonable complaint. I have found inconsistency in Fitzgerald names, which can be borne out by examination of the records. Some early Fitzgeralds are named after places (de Windsor, and de Carew are early examples), their mothers, their own triumphs, etc. Naming traditions were evidently not consistent in the mediaeval age.
Ross or Fitzgerald?
No doubt much of Gilleoin's descent here below, quoted from Sir Alexander Mackenzie, is unquestionably accurate. Sir Alexander refers to Dr Skene, author of Celtic Scotland, and projects the Mackenzie descent as shown down to Murdoch. Yet there appear to be some 'loose ends' and uncertainties as will be noted in reading the referenced text. I am in no position to judge unseen documents in a language in which I am not fluent. Sir E Mackenzie Mackenzie stated that he examined Fitzgerald records and came away with the Geraldine descent shown at the right in the chart below.
The traditional Clan Mackenzie seat was Eilean Donan near the Isle of Skye and Kintail, although the Clan seat has now changed to Castle Leod. Castle Leod lies to the north of Inverness at Strathpeffer, and is the home of the Earl of Cromartie, the current Clan Chief. Powerfully placed on an island, Eilean Donan protected the approaches to Scotland, and the Ross and later Mackenzie power. The first widely authenticated Mackenzie Clan Chief was Murdoch, son of Kenneth of Kintail, who obtained a charter from King David II in 1362.
Many of these homes below are either in other hands now, or like Redcastle have been left to decay. Additional Eastern Mackenzie castles were also at Chanonry, Strathcona, and Brahan. Clearly the Mackenzies concentrated both wealth and power.
At the end of the Thirteenth century, King Edward I of England pressed the Scots to gain English lordship over Scotland and was resisted by both Sir William Wallace and later King Robert the Bruce. In 1306, Mackenzie of Kintail sheltered King Robert, who was then 'on the run'. Sir Iain Mackenzie also fought for King Robert at Inverury in 1308, and in 1314 led 500 Kintail men to the Battle at Bannockburn. Sir Iain distinguished himself at Bannockburn thus marking Mackenzie loyalty. Bruce fought Edward II to a standstill in the wars of Scottish Independence, culminating in his (notwithstanding being outnumbered) victory at Bannockburn. The next 100 years represented the power struggle of Mackenzies of Kintail with the Rosses. About the end of the century, Murdoch Mackenzie cemented a Mackenzie link to Scots Royalty and married a granddaughter of both Olaf II of Mann, and The Bruce. Former Ross power was later multiplied with a powerful group of cadet families, making Mackenzies in the 1500s perhaps the greatest clan in the North. Mackenzie chiefs combined strength (both on land and sea) and diplomacy to create power and build their many castles over the next two centuries.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Kintail was summoned to a 1427 Scottish Parliament at Inverness as a Chief and so impressed King James I, that James sent Sir Alexander to school at Perth. In a complex power play, the MacDonalds overthrew the Rosses and defied King James, while the same Sir Alexander defended his king and in 1463 was awarded a charter of lands. The Mackenzies supplanted the Rosses and in 1509 obtained a barony and feudal jurisdiction for the Kintail lands from James IV. More Kintail land was added gradually until 1542. Mackenzies supported both kings James IV at the battle of Flodden and James V at the battle of Pinkie. The Mackenzies married well, sometimes by force, and allied themselves with Grants, Stewarts, Lovats and the Earls of Atholl, Argyll, and of course Ross. This concentration of power led directly to a Mackenzie challenge to royal authority: Mary Queen of Scots appointed the Earl of Huntly as her authority and he attempted to command Mackenzie of Kintail who was in the Mary's favour and who refused the Queen's order.
Real Mackenzie power dates from this point. More Kintail lands were added through King James VI (James I of England). In 1602, Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail was appointed a Privy Councillor and then in 1609 was made Baron Mackenzie of Kintail. The Mackenzies settled in the east during the fifteenth century near Dingwall (north of Inverness). In 1623, Lord Colin, Baron Mackenzie of KintaiI was elevated to the Earldom of Seaforth (the Seaforth name is taken from a loch in Lewis), by the same King James. The new Earl kept his family in the Castle at Chanonry in the 'Black Isle' and maintained a fast fleet with which he broke MacDonald power in 1607. Sir Roderick MacKenzie (called the 'Tutor of Kintail', because of his role in training and educating Kenneth, Lord Seaforth) had won MacLeod subjugation on the Isle of Lewis in 1609. This had gained Kenneth his lordship and put in motion a chain of events ending in Roderick's grandson's elevation to the Earldom of Cromartie. Roderick's title was styled Baron MacLeod, as a marriage inheritance from Roderick's MacLeod wife.
It was during the Stuarts' monarchies that the Jacobite Mackenzies gained their height of power. First Seaforth, then Cromartie was created earl, while Ross was a cousin. A number of baronetcies were also created and Mackenzies served in high posts from sheriff to minister of state. Sadly, this same Stewart connection pulled the loyal Seaforth and his clan into the doomed Stewart cause, and so the two families rose and fell together.
The Mackenzies had been able to retain power through five hundred years by loyalty to their kings and astute choice of ground (and wives) as witnessed by their retention of Eilean Donan. This was in the west near Ireland, the source of FitzGerald support. They also chose loyal allies in their bids to break the Rosses, MacDonalds, and Macleods, implying diplomatic skills and persuasive negotiators.
That Mackenzies understood how to use power is illustrated by several of their marriages that were backed by armies of up to 400-500 armed men. These forced marriages were, of course, instruments of Clan diplomacy. In the 1715 Jacobite rising, the (unrecognised) Marquess of Seaforth fielded a private army of 3,000 men, perhaps reflecting how the Crusader French had influenced the Scots' depth of religious passion.
Although the Stuart's made the Mackenzies, it was also the Stuart Jacobite cause with it's overtones of English and Church power that brought the Mackenzie downfall during the late-1600s. Seaforth decided to join Charles II in exile. This led through the confused period of the English Civil War and the Cromwell and Monck expeditions, with a posted bounty for Seaforth. A treaty between Kenneth Mor and Cromwell punished Coul and resulted in lost and burnt lands. The Scottish peace of Charles II forced the IV Earl Seaforth to join James VII in France and the English King William III imprisoned him for seven years, on his return to Scotland. As a reward for loyalty the exiled James VII (who had also been James II of England) created Seaforth Marquess (unrecognised) in 1691 and a Knight of the Thistle, for Seaforth's help in Ireland at the Siege of Londonderry and at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne.
In 1715, Lord William Dubh Mackenzie, II Marquess of Seaforth (also unrecognised), led his 3,000 armed men in the Jacobite cause, while Colin Mackenzie, 4 Baronet of Coul held Inverness during the unsuccessful Battle of Sheriffmuir. Mackenzie lands were again occupied, or forfeited, while Seaforth escaped to France. The forfeiture was unsuccessful due to clan loyalty and the land was repurchased and titles and honours restored or assumed in 1720. In 1718, still another expedition was begun with Spanish allies, which ended in the Battle of Glen Shiel, in which Seaforth and Coul attempted to bring down the Hanoverians who retaliated by burning Kintail. The Clan Chief was then styled Baron Baron Fortrose (his Seaforth title forfeit), when Prince Charles Edward landed in 1745. Fortrose did not lead his reduced clan to battle at Culloden, as the Clan fortunes had already been doomed. (However, to hedge the family fortunes, Lady Fortrose gathered and contributed a few Mackenzies.) With Coul's support, the Earl of Cromartie raised 500 men known as Cromartie's Regiment, which was used in a diversion to separate English forces. They were separately defeated on 13 April 1746, just prior to Culloden and 111 Mackenzies were taken prisoner, and 79 Mackenzies were transported to the Caribbean. As a Mackenzie footnote to Culloden, on 5 May 1746 while the Prince was en route through Seaforth's country and making his famous escape to Skye, a Mrs Mackenzie, Lady Kilden, sheltered him and his party. On being informed that Seaforth supported the Hanoverians, the Prince was also heard to remark '...Mon Dieu! et Seaforth est aussi contre moi!
In 1778, the Earl of Seaforth (recreated in the Irish Peerage) raised the Seaforth Highland Regiment, later called the 72nd Regiment. The Seaforth's were intended for the American Revolution but immediately fought with Marlborough in Europe against the Dutch and French. In 1793 it was joined by the 78th Regiment raised by Colonel Francis Humberston Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth (the Earl's cousin and successor who would be the last Seaforth) and known as the Ross-shire Buffs.
The Earl of Seaforth left with his men for India in 1781, but he died en route. His men fought with the East India Company in the 1782 Carnatic Campaign against the Sultan of Mysore, at the Cape of Good Hope in 1806, in the 1854 Crimean War with Major General Sir Colin Campbell and again with General Campbell in 1857 at the Siege of Lucknow; then and under General Roberts in Afghanistan in 1878.
These Regiments fought all over the British Empire and each consisted of up to 1,000 men from Seaforth and the other Mackenzie estates. Senior officers included the senior Mackenzie cadet members of Scatwell, Kilcoy, Applecross, Coul, and Redcastle. Now called the Queen's Own Highlanders (QOH) it is the only British army Regiment to wear a Gaelic motto (the Mackenzie: Cuidich'n Righ).
In 1803, the Ross-shire Buffs fought in India with the future Duke of Wellington against the Mahrattas and were part of the 7,000 man British attack that defeated the Mahrattas' 40,000. The Ross-shire Buffs were at Aden, Persia, Java, and Lucknow with Sir Colin Campbell in the 1857 Indian Mutiny. The Buffs sister in the QOH, the Camerons, were especially notable at Waterloo with Ensign J Mackenzie fighting in the Regiment. With sister Canadian regiments the QOH won a remarkable 28 Victoria Crosses for valour. The QOH have allied regiments in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The Seaforth's were joined by the 71st Regiment (raised by John Mackenzie, Lord Macleod and later the Count of Cromartie) in 1777 in wearing the Mackenzie tartan. The Highlands were unable to support recruiting and the 71st focused on the Lowlands near Glasgow.
Unlike the Seaforths, the 71st wore trews rather than today's more familiar kilt. Amalgamated with the Earl of Mar's Regiment, the 71st is today part of the Royal Highland Fusiliers (RHF). The RHF won 20 Victoria Crosses and were notable in the Boer War. The senior Scottish regiment is the Scots Guards, in which my uncle Bill Willison served in the early days of WWII. Although not a Mackenzie regiment, Pte J Mackenzie won a Victoria Cross in France, while with the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards in 1914.
The Chief and the Clan
In 1797, the last great Chief was created the first Baron of Seaforth and James Alexander Francis Humberston-Mackenzie acted as Lord Lieutenant, until in 1819 he realised the Brahan Seer prophecy made in 1675 "...I see a chief, the last of his house...". He died deaf and mute in Scotland, exactly as prophesied: his last son had pre-deceased him.
The Seaforth line formally ended in the twentieth century, but in 1977 the Lord Lyon, King at Arms, appointed the IV Earl of Cromartie to the vacant Clan Chieftaincy,. The incumbent Mackenzie Clan Chief is now the Right Honourable, Lord John MacKenzie, the Earl of Cromartie, Baron MacLeod of Castle Leod, Baron Castlehaven of Castlehaven. He created the Mackenzie Clan Centre at Castle Leod.
The Clan Chief's arms bears antlers and the Earl of Cromartie is known as the Caberfeidh, or 'deer's antlers'. This relates to the Mackenzie ancestor's story above. Gerald Fitzgerald (also called Colin after his first battle honour) who saved King Alexander III from a wild stag in the forests of Mar in c1264. The Gaelic Clan motto is Cuidiche an Righ, which translates to 'Help the King'. (Fitzgerald distinguished himself at the Battle of Callan, in 1261, and also at the key defeat of the marauding Vikings at the Battle of Largs in 1263.) The Seaforth crest contains a high hillock, called the Tulach Ard. The hill is in Kintail and this was where the Mackenzie beacon fire was lit to warn of danger. On the rough Scottish west coast, this saved considerable time in rallying the Clan. The Clan motto is Latin Luceo non uro, which translates to 'I shine not burn', alluding to the Clan's warning beacon fires.
2 Andrew Rory Mackenzie in a review of The Noble Family of Mackenzie, To Scots and Celts, genealogy and history were important. Bards were paid to remember details and recite generational facts. As a result, the great Highland Clans possess the world's oldest blood-lines. Additionally, King Robert the Bruce was struggling for Scottish independence from England, so his exploits were carefully noted. Moreover, as Ronald McNair Scott notes (Robert The Bruce, King of Scots, p. ix), "...In 1375, less than fifty years after Bruce's death, John Barbour, produced his epic life of Robert Bruce, The Brus."
4 Sir E Mackenzie Mackenzie, Bt, The Genealogy of the Stem of the Family of Mackenzie, Marquesses and Earls of Seaforth, p.3 varies in his account of both Mackenzie origins and Fitgerald descent, theoretically both descent stories could be true, but only assuming a female descendant from Gilleoin. See also MacKenzie, at http://www.electricscotland.com/webclans/m/mackenz2.html.
8 Mackenzie Mackenzie op. cit. Provides specific details of this charter, which does not disagree with Alexander Mackenzie and Jean Dunlop's account, op. cit, pp. 5-11, if one defines a feudal barony as land, not title. However, McNie op. cit, pp.9-10, notes the challenge to the historical existence of the charter and quotes others as proposing Kintail and Eilan Donan as being a traditional Mackenzie fiefdom from the Earls of Ross. The creation of Lord Kenneth Mackenzie as Baron Mackenzie of Kintail is accepted as 1609.
22 See Sir Iain Moncreiffe, Clan map of Scotland of Old. The Clan overshadowed their neighbours by holding land across Scotland from coast to coast, and by armed strength and prudent policies. See also the Munros' "Clan Mackenzie" letter of December 1993, and Michael Lynch, Scotland, A New History, p. 488.
32 Dunlop, The Clan Mackenzie, pp. 25-27. Andrew Rory Mackenzie, op. cit, p.1. Also McNie Clan Mackenzie, p. 31. The Brahan seer was a Kenneth Mackenzie whose prophesies the Countess Seaforth did not like. He was burned at the stake as a witch, yet many of his prophesies in fact came true, such as the defining nature of the last Earl's deafness, muteness and his predeceasing his own sons. (Sixteen years later the Countess’ son was a Marquess and his wife was titled Marchioness.)
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