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- History Of The Mackenzies - 5/115 -


"As the identity of the false aspect which the true tradition, assumes in all these cases implies that the case was the same all, we may assume that wherever these two circumstances are to be found combined, of a clan claiming a foreign origin and asserting a marriage with the heiress of a Highland family whose estates they possessed and whose followers they led, they must invariably have been the oldest cadet of that family, who, by usurpation or otherwise, had become de facto chief of the clan, and who covered their defect by right of blood by denying their descent from the clan, and asserting that the founder had married the heiress of its chief." ['Highlands and Highlanders.']

In his later and more important work the same learned historian discusses this question at great length. He analyses all the doubtful pedigrees and origins claimed by the leading clans. Regarding the Fitzgerald theory he says, "But the most remarkable of these spurious origins is that claimed by the Mackenzies. It appears to have been first put forward by Sir George Mackenzie, first Earl of Cromarty," who, in his first manuscript, made Colin a son of the Earl of Kildare, but in a later edition, written in 1669, "finding that there was no Earl of Kildare until 1290, he corrects it by making him son of John Fitz-Thomas, chief of the Geraldines in Ireland, and father of John, first Earl of Kildare, who was slain in 1261." Dr Skene then summarises the story already known at length to the reader, quotes the Record of Icolmkill and the forged charter, and concludes -

"The same mistake is here committed as is usual in manufacturing these pedigree charters, by making it a crown charter erecting the lands into a barony. Kintail could not have been a barony at that time, and the Earl of Ross and not the king was superior, for in 1342 the Earl of Ross grants the ten davochs of the lands of Kintail to Reginald, son of Roderick of the Isles, and we find that the Mackenzies held their lands of the Earls of Ross and afterwards of the Duke of Ross till 1508, when they were all erected into a barony by King James the Fourth, who gave them a crown charter. An examination of the witnesses usually detects these spurious charters, and in this case it is conclusive against the charter. Andrew was bishop of Moray from 1223 to 1242 and there was no bishop of that name in the reign of Alexander the Third. Henry de Baliol was chamberlain in the reign of Alexander the Second, and not of Alexander the Third. Thomas Hostarius belongs to the same reign, and has been succeeded by his son Alan long before the date of this charter."

Dr Skene adds that if the Earl of Cromartie was not himself the actual inventor of the whole story, it must have taken its rise not very long before his day, for, he says, "no trace of it is to be found in the Irish MSS., the history of the Geraldine family knows nothing of it, and MacVureach, who must have been acquainted with the popular history of the western clans, was equally unacquainted with it." ['Celtic Scotland,' Vol. III., pp. 351-354.]

This fully corroborates all that was said in the preceding pages regarding the Fitzgerald-Irish origin of the Mackenzies and which every intelligent clansman, however biassed, must now admit in his inner consciousness to be fully and finally disposed of. Having, however, quoted Skene's earlier views on the general claim by the Highland chiefs for alien progenitors it may be well to give here his more mature conclusions from his later and greater work, especially as some people, who have not taken the trouble to read what he writes, have been saying that the great Celtic historian had seen cause to change his views on these important points in Highland genealogy since he wrote his 'Highlands and Highlanders' in 1839. After examining them all very closely and exhaustively in a long and learned chapter of some forty pages, he says -

"The conclusion, then, to which this analysis of the clan pedigrees which have been popularly accepted at different times has brought us, is that, so far as they profess to show the origin of the different clans, they are entirely artificial and untrustworthy, but that the older genealogies may be accepted as showing the descent of the clan from its eponymus or founder, and within reasonable limits for some generations beyond him, while the later spurious pedigrees must be rejected altogether. It may seem surprising that such spurious and fabulous origins should be so readily credited by the clan families as genuine traditions, and receive such prompt acceptance as the true fount from which they sprung; but we must recollect that the fabulous history of Hector Boece was as rapidly and universally adopted as the genuine annals of the national history, and became rooted in those parts of the country to which its fictitious events related as local traditions." ['Celtic Scotland,' Vol. III., p. 364.]

The final decision to which Dr Skene comes in his great work is that the clans, properly so called, were of native origin, and that the surnames adopted by them were partly of native and partly of foreign descent. Among these native Highland clans he unhesitatingly classes the Mackenzies, the clan Gillie-Andres or Rosses, and the Mathesons, all of whom belong, he says, to the tribe of Ross. In his first work on the Highlands and Highland Clans he draws the general deduction, based on all our existing MS. genealogies, that the clans were divided into several great tribes, descended from a common ancestor, but he at the same time makes a marked distinction between the different tribes which, by indications traceable in each, can be identified with the earldoms or maormorships into which the North of Scotland was originally divided. By the aid of the old genealogies he divides the clans into five different tribes in the following order:- (1) The descendants of Conn of the Hundred Battles; (2) of Ferchar Fata Mac Feradaig; (3) of Cormaig Mac Obertaig; (4) of Fergus Leith Dearg; and (5) of Krycul. In the third of these divisions he includes the old Earls of Ross, the Mackenzies, the Mathesons, and several other clans, and to this classification he adheres, after the most mature consideration, in his later and greater work, the 'History of Celtic Scotland.'

THE REAL CELTIC ORIGIN.

It is now most interesting to know who the ancient Earls of Ross, from whom the Mackenzies are really descended, were. The first of these earls of whom we have any record is Malcolm Mac Heth to whom Malcolm IV. gave Ross in 1157, with the title of Earl of Ross, but the inhabitants rose against him and drove him out of the district. Wyntoun mentions an Earl "Gillandrys," a name which we believe is derived from the common ancestor of the Mackenzies and Rosses, "Gilleoin-Ard-Rois," as one of the six Celtic earls who besieged King Malcolm at Perth in 1160. Skene is also of opinion that this Gillandres represented the old Celtic earls of Ross, as the clan bearing the name of Ross are called in Gaelic Clann Ghilleanrias, or descendants of Gillandres, and may, he thinks, have led the revolt which drove Malcolm Mac Heth out of the earldom. The same King, two years after the incident at Perth, gave the earldom of Ross to Florence, Count of Holland, on that nobleman's marriage with His Majesty's sister Ada, in 1162, but the new earl never secured practical possession ['Celtic Scotland,' Vol. III., pp. 66-67.] He is, however, found claiming it as late as 1179, in the reign of William the Lion.

The district of Ross is often mentioned in the Norse Sagas along with the other parts of the country then governed by Maormors or Jarls, and Skene in his earlier work says that it was only on the downfall of those of Moray that the chiefs of Ross appear prominent in historical records, the Maormors of Moray being in such close proximity to them and so great in power and influence that the less powerful Maormor of Ross held only a comparatively subordinate position, and his name was in consequence seldom or never associated with any of the great events of that early period in Highland history. It was only after the disappearance of those district potentates that the chiefs appear under the appellation of Comites or Earls. That most, if not all, of these earls were the descendants of the ancient maormors there can be little doubt, and the natural presumption in this instance is strengthened by the fact that all the old authorities concur in asserting that the Gaelic name of the original Earls of Ross was O'Beolan - a corruption of Gilleoin, or Gillean, na h`Airde - or the descendants of Beolan. "And we actually find," says the same authority, "from the oldest Norse Saga connected with Scotland that a powerful chief in the North of Scotland named O'Beolan, married the daughter of Ganga Rolfe, or Rollo, the celebrated pirate who became afterwards the celebrated Earl of Normandy." If this view is well-founded the ancestor of the Earls of Ross was chief in Kintail as early as the beginning of the tenth century. We have seen that the first Earl of Ross recorded in history was Malcolm Mac Heth, to whom a precept is found, directed by Malcolm IV., requesting him to protect the monks of Dunfermline and defend them in their lawful privileges and possessions. The document is not dated, but judging from the names of the witnesses attesting it, the precept must have been issued before 1162. It will be remembered that Mac Heth was one of the six Celtic earls who besieged the King at Perth two years before, in 1160. William the Lion, who seems to have kept the earldom in his own hands for several years, in 1179 marched into the district at the head of his earls and barons, accompanied by a large army, and subdued an insurrection fomented by the local chiefs against his authority. On this occasion he built two castles within its bounds, one called Dunscath on the northern Sutor at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, and Redcastle in the Black Isle. In the same year we find Florence, Count of Holland, complaining that he had been deprived of its nominal ownership by King William. There is no trace of any other earl in actual possession until we come to Ferquard or "Ferchair Mac an t' Sagairt," Farquhar the son of the Priest, who rose rapidly to power on the ruins of the once powerful Mac Heth earls of Moray, of which line Kenneth Mac Heth, who, with Donald Ban, led a force into Moray against Alexander II., son of William the Lion, in 1215, was the last. Of this raid the following account is given in 'Celtic Scotland,' Vol. I. p. 483:

"The young king had barely reigned a year when be had to encounter the old enemies of the Crown, the families of Mac William and Mac Eth, who now combined their forces under Donald Ban, the son of that Mac William who bad been slain at Mamgarvie in 1187, and Kenneth Mac Eth, a son or grandson of Malcolm Mac Eth, with the son of one of the Irish provincial kings, and burst into the Province of Moray at the head of a large band of malcontents. A very important auxiliary, however, now joined the party of the king. This was Ferquhard or Fearchar Macintagart, the son of the 'Sagart' or priest who was the lay possessor of the extensive possessions of the old monastery founded by the Irish Saint Maelrubba at Applecross in the seventh century. Its possessions lay between the district of Ross and the Western Sea and extended from Lochcarron to Loch Ewe and Loch Maree, and Ferquhard was thus in reality a powerful Highland chief commanding the population of an extensive western region. The insurgents were assailed by him with great vigour, entirely crushed, and their leaders taken, who be at once beheaded and presented their heads to the new king as a welcome gift on the 15th of June, when he was knighted by the king as a reward for his prompt assistance."


History Of The Mackenzies - 5/115

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