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- History Of The Mackenzies - 3/115 -


While the Earl of Cromartie and other clan historians accept the Fitzgerald origin by marriage with a daughter of Kenneth Matheson of Lochalsh, the Mathesons maintain that the first Mackenzie, or Mac Choinnich - the actual progenitor of the clan - was a son of their chief, Coinneach Gruamach, and that the Mackenzies are thus only a sept, or minor branch of the Mathesons. It must in fairness be admitted that the latter contention is quite as near the truth as the Fitzgerald theory and it must have already occurred to the reader, how, if the Fitzgerald origin of the Mackenzies had been true, has it come about that the original patronymic of Fitzgerald has given way to that of Mackenzie? It is not pretended that it was ever heard of after Colin himself.

This difficulty occurred even to the Earl of Cromartie, and this is how he attempts to dispose of it. Cailean, he says, had a son by the daughter of Kenneth Mac Mhathoin, or Matheson, whom he named Coinneach, or Kenneth, after his father-in-law Kenneth Matheson; Cailean himself was killed in Glaic Chailein by Mac Mhathoin, who envied him, and was sore displeased at Colin's succession to Matheson's ancient heritage; Colin was succeeded by his son Kenneth, and all his descendants were by the Highlanders called "Mac Choinnich," or Kenneth's son, taking the patronymic from Mac Mhathoin rather than from Cailean, whom they esteemed a stranger. Of the two theories the Matheson one is by far the more probable; but they are both without any real foundation.

The Fitzgerald theory has, however, until recently, been accepted by all the leading Mackenzie families and by the clan generally. It has been adopted in all the Peerages and Baronetages, and by almost every writer on the history and genealogy of the Cabar feidh race.

The main if not the only authority of any consequence in favour of this Irish origin is the charter alleged to have been granted by Alexander III. to Colin in 1266, of which the reputed original runs as follows:-

"Alexander, Dei Gracia, Rex Scottorum, omnibus probis hominibus tocius terre sue clericis et laicis, salutem sciant presentes et futuri me pro fideli seruicio michi navato per Colinum Hybernum tam in bello quam in pace ideo dedisse, et hac presenti carta mea concessisse dicto Colino, et ejus successoribus totas terras de Kintail. Tenendas de nobis et successoribus nostris in liberam baronium cum guardia. Reddendo servicium forinsecum et fidelitatem. Testibus Andrea episcopo, Moraviensi. Waltero Stewart. Henrico de Balioth Camerario. Arnoldo de Campania. Thoma Hostiario, vice-comite de Innerness. Apud Kincardine, IX die Jan.: Anno Regni Domini, Regis XVI."

This is a literal translation of the document:- "Alexander, by the Grace of God, King of Scots, to all honest men of his whole dominions, cleric and laic, greeting: Be it known to the present and future that I, for the faithful service rendered to me by Colin of Ireland, in war as well as peace, therefore I have given, and by this my present charter I concede to the said Colin and his successors, the lands of Kintail to be held of us in free barony with ward to render foreign service and fidelity. Witnesses (as above.) At Kincardine, 9th day of January, in the year of the reign of the Lord the King, the 16th."

The Kincardine at which this charter is alleged to have been signed is supposed to be the place of that name situated on the River Dee; for about this time an incident is reported to have occurred in the Forest of Mar in connection with which it is traditionally stated that the Mackenzies adopted the stag's head as their coat armour. The legend is as follows:

Alexander was on a hunting expedition in the forest, near Kincardine, when an infuriated stag, closely pursued by the hounds, made straight in the direction of the King, and Cailean Fitzgerald, who accompanied the Royal party, gallantly interposed his own person between the exasperated animal and his Majesty, and shot it with an arrow in the forehead. The King in acknowledgment of the Royal gratitude at once issued a diploma in favour of Colin granting him armorial bearings which were to be, a stags head puissant, bleeding at the forehead where the arrow pierced it, to be borne on a field azure, supported by two greyhounds. The crest to be a dexter arm bearing a naked sword, surrounded by the motto "Fide Parta, Fide Acta," which continued to be the distinctive bearings of the Mackenzies of Seaforth until it was considered expedient, as corroborating their claims on the extensive possessions of the Macleods of Lewis, to substitute for the original the crest of that warlike clan, namely, a mountain in flames, surcharged with the words, "Luceo non uro," the ancient shield, supported by two savages, naked, and wreathed about the head with laurel, armed with clubs issuing fire, which are the bearings now used by the representatives of the High Chiefs of Kintail.

The incident of the hunting match and Colin Fitzgerald's gallant rescue of Alexander III. was painted by West for "The last of the Seaforths" in one of those large pictures with which the old Academician employed and gratified his latter years. The artist received L8oo for the noble painting, which is still preserved in Brahan Castle, and in his old age he expressed his willingness to give the same sum for it in order to have it exhibited in his own collection.

The first notice of the reputed charter to Colin Fitzgerald is in the manuscript history of the Mackenzies, by George, first Earl of Cromartie, already quoted, written about the middle of the seventeenth century. All the later genealogists appear to have taken its authenticity for granted, and quoted it accordingly. Dr Skene, the most learned and accurate of all our Highland historians, expresses his decided opinion that the charter is forged and absolutely worthless as evidence in favour of the Fitzgerald origin of the clan. At pages 223-25 of his 'Highlanders of Scotland,' he says -

"The Mackenzies have long boasted of their descent from the great Norman family of Fitzgerald in Ireland, and in support of this origin they produce a fragment of the Records of Icolmkill, and a charter by Alexander III. to Colin Fitzgerald, the supposed progenitor of the family, of the lands of Kintail. At first sight these documents might appear conclusive, but, independently of the somewhat suspicious circumstance that while these pages have been most freely and generally quoted, no one has ever seen the originals, and the fragment of the Icolmkill Record merely says that among the actors in the battle of Largs, fought in 1263, was `Peregrinus et Hibernus nobilis ex familia Geraldinorum qui proximo anno Hibernia pulsus apud regni benigne acceptus hinc usque in curta permansit et in praefacto proelio strenue pugnavit,' giving not a hint of his having settled in the Highlands, or of his having become the progenitor of any Scottish family whatever while as to the supposed charter of Alexander III., it is equally inconclusive, as it merely grants the lands of Kintail to Colin Hiberno, the word `Hiberno' having at the time come into general use as denoting the Highlanders, in the same manner as the word 'Erse' is now frequently used to express their language; but inconclusive as it is, this charter," he continues, "cannot be admitted at all, as it bears the most palpable marks of having been a forgery of a later time, and one by no means happy in its execution. How such a tradition of the origin of the Mackenzies ever could have arisen, it is difficult to say but the fact of their native origin and Gaelic descent is completely set at rest by the Manuscript of 1450, which has already so often been the means of detecting the falsehood of the foreign origins of other clans."

Cosmo Innes, another high authority, editor of the 'Orgines Parachiales Scotia,' the most valuable work ever published dealing with the early history of Scotland, and especially of the Highlands, came to a similar conclusion, and expresses it even more strongly than Dr Skene. At pages 392-3, Vol. II., he says "The lands of Kintail are said to have been granted by Alexander III. to Colin, an Irishman of the family of Fitzgerald, for services done at the battle of Largs. The charter is not extant, and its genuineness has been doubted." In a footnote, this learned antiquarian gives the text of the document, in the same terms as those in which they have been already quoted from another source, and which, he says, is "from a copy of the 17th century." "If the charter be genuine," he adds, "it is not of Alexander III., or connected with the battle of Largs (1263). Two of the witnesses, Andrew, Bishop of Moray, and Henry de Baliol, Chamberlain, would correspond with the 16th year of Alexander II." He further says that "the writers of the history of the Mackenzies assert also charters of David II. (1360) and of Robert II. (1380) to `Murdo filius Kennethi de Kintail,' but without furnishing any description or means of testing their authenticity. No such charters are recorded."

This is emphatic enough and to every unprejudiced mind absolutely conclusive. The sixteenth year of the reign of Alexander II. was 1230; for he ascended the throne in 1214. It necessarily follows that the charter, if signed at all, must have been signed thirty-three years before the battle of Largs, and thirty-six years earlier than the actual date written on the document itself. If it had any existence before it appeared in the Earl of Cromartie's manuscript of the seventeenth century, it must have been written during the lives of the witnesses whose names attest it. That is, according to those who maintain that Colin Fitzgerald was the progenitor of the Mackenzies, thirty-one years before that adventurer ever crossed the Irish Channel, and probably several years before he was born, if he ever existed elsewhere than in the Earl of Cromartie's fertile imagination.

But this is not all. It has long been established beyond any possible doubt that the Earls of Ross were the superiors of the lands of Kintail during the identical period in which the same lands are said to have been held by Colin Fitzgerald and his descendants as direct vassals of the Crown. Ferchard Mac an t-Sagairt, Earl of Ross, received a grant of the lands of Kintail from Alexander II. for services rendered to that monarch in 1222, and he is again on record as their possessor in 1234, four years after the latest date on which the reputed charter to Colin Fitzgerald, keeping in view the witnesses whose names appear on the face of it, could possibly have been a genuine document. Even the most prominent of the clan historians who have so stoutly maintained the Fitzgerald theory felt bound to admit that, "it cannot be disputed that the Earl of Ross was the Lord paramount under Alexander II., by whom Farquhard Mac an t-Sagairt was recognised in the hereditary dignity of his predecessors, and who, by another tradition," Dr George Mackenzie says, "was a real progenitor of the noble family of Kintail." That the Earls of Ross continued lords paramount long after the death of Colin Fitzgerald, which event is said to have taken place in 1278, will be incontestibly proved.

But meantime let us return to the 'Origines Parochiales Scotiae.' There we have it stated on authority which no one whose opinion is worth anything will for a moment call in question. The editor of that remarkable work says:- "In 1292 the Sheriffdom of Skye erected by King John Baliol, included the lands of the Earl of Ross


History Of The Mackenzies - 3/115

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