Hugh Huistean MacKay, of Far Tongue and Strathnaver (1571-1614)

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Hugh Huistean MacKay, of Far Tongue and Strathnaver (1571-1614)

Also Known As: "Huistean Du", "known as Huistean Mackay", "Hugh 'Dhu'"
Birthdate: (64)
Birthplace: Strathhaven, Sutherland, Scotland
Death: September 2, 1614 (64)
Tongue (Strathnaver)
Immediate Family:

Son of Iye Du MacKay, of Strathnaver, and Christian dau. of John by 2nd wife MacKay, dau. of John by 2nd wife
Husband of Jane Gordon Gordon, Lady and Lady Elizabeth Sinclair
Father of Donald Mackay, 1st Lord Reay, fiar of Strathnaver; John Mackay, of Dirlet or Dilred & Strathy; Mary Munro, Dowager Lady Fowlis; Anna Sinclair and Christian Mackintosh
Brother of William MacKay, of Bighouse; Jane; Barbara Gunn; (No Name); (No Name) and 2 others
Half brother of Donald Mackay, 1st of Scourie; John Beg MacKay van Strathnaver and Donald MacKay, of Borley in Durness

Managed by: Delores Ann Leber
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About Hugh Huistean MacKay, of Far Tongue and Strathnaver (1571-1614)

XIII. Huistean Du 1572-1614.

WHEN lye Du Mackay of Strathnaver died in 1572 his son Huistean Du was barely eleven years of age. From that date onward for about twenty years Scotland was sadly torn and grievously misgoverned. A prisoner in England, intriguing for personal liberty and for the supremacy of the Romish religion, Queen Mary kept the country in a ferment until the axe ended her career upon the block in 1587. Her son, James VI., was during all this time a minor, now in the hands of one faction and then in that of another, tossed to and fro like a ball and often a close prisoner practically. The great barons schemed and fought to advance their own interests with little regard for those of the country generally, some of them in the pay of France and others in that of England. The strong and crafty grasped what they could ; the weak were trampled upon, and oftentimes robbed by the arm of the law. It stood ill with justice then, unless it happened to be well supported by the strong hand.

In the far north Alexander, Earl of Sutherland (who attained his majority in 1573), and George, 4th Earl of Caithness, were arrayed in deadly feud the one against the other. Both were strong, and unscrupulous in keeping with the time. Behind Sutherland was George, 5th Early of Huntly, whose sister, Lady Bothwell, Sutherland married ; but Caithness was strong too in the possession of the justiciarship of these northern parts, including the country of Sutherland. Between them lay the boy Huistean Du, fair game for both, and weak withal in that he was the head of a divided clan. As lye Du died within two years after obtaining a charter for his lands, he had not sufficient time to consolidate the interests of his house ; and when his strong skilful hand was removed those who followed the banner of Mackay began to fall asunder. There was also a difference of opinion in the Clan as to who was the rightful chief. Some favoured John Beg and Donald Balloch, sons of the first marriage — an irregular one according to canon law because it was a marriage of first cousins—while others supported Huistean Du, a son of the second marriage. When Huistean obtained legal possession of his lauds, he bestowed Scoury upon Donald Balloch, the only surviving sou of the first marriage, and in this way effected a kind of settlement; but meantime, and at a very critical juncture, the two families were disunited.

Young Huistean and his brother William, afterwards of Bighouse, became wards of George, 4th Earl of Caithness, with whom they resided at Girnigo until the elder of the two was fit to take the government into his own hands. Meantime John Mor, an accomplished and experienced soldier, cousin of lye Du, governed Strathnaver as tutor. It was this John Mor that led the Strathnaver men when lye Du lay a prisoner in Dumbarton, and it was his son Rorie who held Borve Castle during its siege in 1554. The Earl of Caithness, not finding John Mor pliant enough, inveigled him down to Girnigo and there had him put to death. Then John Beg, the half-brother of Huistean, took up the reins in Strathnaver ; but he also proved so unsatisfactory in the eyes of the Lord of Girnigo, that he instigated the Aberachs to attack him on the plea of alleged unfaithfulness to Huistean. This the Aberachs and the Macleods of Assynt did at Balnakiel, Durness, in 15/9, killing John Beg, William Gunu brother of the chieftain of the Robson Gunns, and many others ; while the chieftain of the Mathiesons, who was with John Beg, barely escaped with his life. The affair of Durness was most embarrassing to Mackay ; it broke up his late father's followers into two sharply divided parties. The Robson Gunns (the friends of John Beg) and the Mathiesons were ranged in deadly feud against the Macleods and the Aberachs, the latter a powerful family of Mackays.1 These two factious, but especially the Aberachs and Gunns, maintained for many years a bitter intestine warfare, which resulted in nothing that we are aware of except their own injury. On the fall of John Beg, Huistean Du in his eighteenth year picked up the reins of the unruly team himself. As he could not unite the two factions he had to choose between them, and his choice fell upon the party opposed to the Aberachs. The latter then rushed into the open arms of the Earl of Sutherland, who was only too glad to acquire such allies. It does not appear that the Aberachs and Huistean Du ever became thoroughly reconciled, neither docs it appear that there was much warm attachment between them and his successor, Donald, 1st Lord Reay, during the earlier years of his government. In these circumstances Huistean was heavily handicapped for the struggle that lay before him.

Towards the close of 15/6, George, 5th Earl of Huntly, suddenly died leaving a son, George, 14 years of age, who became 6th Earl of that name. That same year Huntly conferred upon Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, the ward and nonentry of the Strathnaver lands, from the date of lJye Du Mackay's death. Sutherland, however, failed to secure possession of the person of the minor, Huistean Du, as his friends bad placed him under the protection of the Earl of Caithness. In 1583 George, 4th Earl of Caithness, died at Edinburgh and was succeeded by his grandson, George, 5th Earl of that name. In this year also, George, 6th Earl of Huntly, came of age and forthwith gave the superiority of Strathnaver, which his father had obtained from Queen Mary in 1567, to his aunt's husband, and his own curator Alexr., Earl of Sutherland, in exchange for the lands of Aboyne. It is questionable whether this transaction was strictly legal. 1 Be that as it may, Sutherland hastened to fortify the much prized gift as best he could.

By some manoeuvring on the part of Sutherland at this time, a sister of young Huntly was given in marriage to the young Earl of Caithnesss. This was no doubt an astute move to create a line of cleavage between Mackay and Caithness, which unfortunately for both of them was eventually too successful. So long as Mackay and Caithness stood together, notwithstanding the defection of some of Mackay's clansmen, they were more than a match for Sutherland ; but once they fell asunder they both became his prey in the circumstances. Sutherland now drew another arrow from his quiver which he shot cleverly. In 1588 he resigned Huntly's gift of the superiority of Strathnaver into the king's hands, and on the 29th May of that year induced his Majesty to convey the said superiority by a charter under the Great Seal to his eldest son and heir, John Master of Sutherland, a boy of nine years, now created Lord Strathnaver. Thus, what Queen Mary in an hour of shame and desperation gave to the 5th Earl of Huntly as a bribe, and what the 6th Earl handed over to his curator, Sutherland, in exchange for the lands of Aboyne, the latter now resigned to the king in order to secure it by royal charter to his own son and heir.

We shall now retrace our steps a little and consider the situation in the north about 1585, but in so doing, unfortunately, our authority for the most part is Sir Robert Gordon. On the one side the houses of Sutherland and Huntly stood firmly together, as they had done during the past 75 years, having now along with them the Aberach Mackays and some Macleods of Assynt, confederates in the fight at Durness. On the other side stood the Earl of Caithness, Huisteau Du Mackay with his followers, and the Robson Gunns, by no means so firmly wedded together. There were strong ties binding Mackay to Caithness ; the former was fostered at Girnigo and his wife was an aunt of the earl, but on the other hand the earl was about to be married to a sister of Huntly. As for the Gunns, their bloody feud with the Aberachs during the past six years compelled them to cleave closely to Mackay for protection.

In 1585 the Earls of Huntly and Sutherland had a meeting with the Earl of Caithness at Elgin, when the two former earls endeavoured to break up the confederacy of Sinclair, Mackay and Gunn. On condition that Caithness helped to destroy the Robson Gunns, they offered him an alliance sealed by the hand of Huntly's sister in marriage. To destroy the Gunns, who were a thorn in the side of Sutherland and a tower of strength to himself and to Mackay, was a proposal which Caithness should not have entertained for a moment and if it had been made to his late grandfather he would have rejected it with scorn, as would any sensible man. But the present Earl of Caithness, who had none of his grandfather's wisdom and prudence, weakly agreed to the proposal though on his return home he changed his mind. In consequence of this vacillation Caithness was invited to another meeting with the two earls at Dunrobin, and this time Mackay was also asked to join in the conference. Mackay, however, flatly refused to take any part in the meeting, but Caithness went and a second time agreed to the suicidal policy of destroying his best friends, the Gunns.

The conspiracy against the Gunns made such progress that in 1586 two parties, the one equipped by the Earl of Sutherland and the other by the Earl of Caithness, set out to surround and to cut them off. The Gunns, duly apprised of the state of affairs, retired from Caithness into the hills of Strathnaver carefully watching the movements of the pursuing Sinclairs ; and now a strange thing happened, which completely upset the calculations of the two earls. At this juncture William Mackay, afterwards of Bighouse, raided the Macleods of Corrie-Kinloch, at the head of Loch Shin, taking much spoil in cattle. As the Mackays were returning home with the " lifted " cattle, they came athwart the Sutherland men advancing in search of the Gunns, and a plucky fight for the spoil was the result. All day long the Mackays fought a rear-guard action, taking advantage of the inequalities of the rough ground to hold their opponents in check, as they drove the cattle along. From this circumstance the battle came to be known as La Tom Fraoich, that is, the Day of the Heather-Bush, as they skirmished from bush to bush.

Towards daybreak the following morning the Mackays stumbled across the Gunns, retiring before the Sinclairs, in the neighbourhood of Altgawn, and after a hasty consultation it was resolved to join forces and give battle to the men of Caithness. The Sinclairs unaware of what had taken place, and under the impression that they were about to attack the Gunns only, boldly pressed up the hill under a shower of arrows. In an instant, the Gunns and the Mackays rushing sword in hand swept them down the brae, killing their leader, Henry Sinclair, cousin of the Earl of Caithness, and seven score of his followers. When the Earl of Sutherland's party, a little later, discovered what had taken place they discreetly returned home as quickly as possible, leaving the Mackays and the Gunns in undisturbed possession of the spoils.

At this time Huistean Du Mackay was at Girnigo endeavouring, no doubt, to stiffen his alliance with the Earl of Caithness and to moderate the latter's zeal against the Gunns ; but when the news of Altgawn reached them such was the anger of Caithness that Mackay had to fly home for safety. Redoubled efforts were now made by the two earls to crush the Robson Gunns, who finding that Mackay could not protect them retired into Ross, to be severely handled at Lcckmelm that same year by their inveterate foes, the Aberach Mackays. That one section of Huistean Du's clansmen should help the Gunns at Altgawn, and another defeat them at Leckmelm very soon thereafter, clearly shows how sadly divided the Mackays were at this period.

The zeal of the Earl of Caithness for the Gordons could not and did not last long, for the Earl of Sutherland was bent upon selfaggrandizement. The lands of Strathullie which Adam, Earl of Sutherland, gave to Caithness in 1516, and the church-lands of Caithness which Bishop Robert gave to his brother-in-law, the Earl of Sutherland, at the Reformation, were the immediate questions in dispute between the two houses. The present Earl of Sutherland sought to recover the lands of Strathullie and to exercise jurisdiction over church-lands within the earldom of Caithness, in a way that offended the Earl of Caithness. Here was material enough for an explosion, to which George Gordon of Marie in Strathullie speedily applied the match. As some riding horses of the Earl of Caithness were fording the river near Marie, on their way home from Edinburgh in charge of servants, Gordon took the liberty of docking their tails and of sending his compliments to Girnigoe in somewhat unparliamentary terms. To avenge this insult a party was secretly dispatched to Marie who killed Gordon in February, 1587, and meantime preparations were made to invade Sutherland on a large scale.

The following month (March), Caithness supported by the Master of Orkney, Huistean Du Mackay, etc. advanced towards Helmsdale with a considerable force of Caithness, Orkney, and Strathnaver men. They found the Earl of Sutherland supported by the Macintosh, Mackenzie of Redcastle, Munro of Contalich, etc., posted on the western bank of the river, and for some days there was constant skirmishing between the armies on both sides of the water. While this was going on the Earl of Sutherland intrigued to break up the Caithness confederacy, and to this end sent Macintosh secretly across the river to urge his friend Mackay to desert the Earl of Caithness ; but Huistean Du would not listen to such a proposal. An other party from the Sutherland side paid a secret visit to the Earl of Caithness, offering certain terms on condition that Mackay be not included in the treaty. To this proposal the weak-minded Caithness foolishly and basely agreed. As soon as Mackay discovered that Caithness had proved false once more, he evacuated his position opposite Marie and marched his men home to Strathnaver in disgust.

Huistean Du clearly saw that the vacillating Earl of Caithness, who had lately sacrificed the gallant Gunns at the bidding of the Gordons, and who had now proved dastardly false to himself, was not to be trusted. While Alexr., Earl of Sutherland, with consummate ability was striving to break up the opposing confederacy, George, 5th Earl of Caithness, with consummate folly was unintentionally playing into his hands. In these circumstances Mackay, convinced of the impracticability of the Caithness alliance, having discarded his wife, Lady Elizabeth Sinclair,1 aunt of the Earl of Caithness, showed a disposition to come to terms with the Earl of Sutherland, and received every encouragement to do so.

The situation was as follows, briefly stated. Alexr., Earl of Sutherland, who had obtained the ward and nonentry of the lands of Strathnaver and the superiority of the said lands, both from Huntly, resigned these gifts into the king's hands in 1588 in order to secure them by royal charter for his son, the Master of Sutherland, that same year. Huistean Du Mackay, who came of age in 1582, refused all along to admit the superiority of the Earl of Sutherland, and consequently found himself without any legal charter to his father's lands in 1588, when mutual friends endeavoured to effect a reconciliation between him and Sutherland. During the sixteen years that the lands of Strathnaver were in nonentry (since the death of lye Du), the dues mounted up to £50,000 Scots, but such was the anxiety of Sutherland to secure the alliance of Mackay, that he offered to cancel these dues2 and to give him the hand of Lady Jane Gordon, his eldest daughter, in marriage on condition that Mackay acknowledged his superiority. Mackay agreed and married Lady Jane in December, 1589, but he never did reconcile himself to the position of vassalage which he now occupied towards his father-inlaw, and which put his house inferior to that of Sutherland for the first time in history.

Mackay did not obtain warrandice of the lands of Strathnaver until John, Master of Sutherland, who held the superiority by royal charter, attained his majority and succeeded to the earldom. In this there was no hardship, however, as Mackay never had to pay nonentry and succession dues, but it served to keep him faithful to Sutherland. As there was some dispute regarding the fifteen davoch church-lands of Durness, the matter was submitted to arbitration, and eventually Mackay secured them in perpetual fee for the yearly sum of c£84 Scots,1 which his descendents ever afterwards continued to pay to the family of Sutherland, until the latter purchased the property in 1829.

As soon as the Earl of Sutherland secured the alliance of Mackay "he bendeth himself altogether against the Earle of Catteyness." This was just what he had been working for all the time, and if SuTHR' p- 195- Caithness had been a wise man he could have prevented it. Sutherland picked a quarrel, and advancing across the Ord accompanied by Mackay, Macintosh, Munro, etc., swept the country to the walls of Girnigoe Castle, whither the Earl of Caithness had retired. As the castle was too strong to take without artillery, the assembled troops were permitted to sack the town of Wick, and so thoroughly did they carry out the congenial task that even the resting places of the dead were pilfered. In search of jewellery, they burst open the vaulted tomb of the Earls of Caithness and, under the impression that they had discovered something of value, carried off a leaden casket containing the heart of the late earl. La na Creich Mor, The day of the Great Spoil (February, 1589), is the name by which the exploits of that day were commemorated.

The late allies of the Earl of Caithness, the Mackays and the Robson Gunns, whom he had so madly alienated, were now in the field against him and had their revenge. It should also be observed that the family of Sinclair never afterwards held the same commanding position in northern politics. At Whitsunday of the same year, MacHamish Gunn of Killearnan again wasted Caithness with great ferocity. " They ranged at large, spoiled and wasted frielie all the countrie before them, filled many places with rwyne and desolation, pursued the enemie with bloodie execution, so long as their furie did last and this was called Creach ne Kamish."

In June following, James Sinclair of Murkle, brother of the Earl of Caithness, made a counter raid into Sutherland but was met in the heights of Brora by Mackay, where a fierce fight took place in which Huistean Du used his battle-axe to some purpose. Sir Robert Gordon, who is never lavish in his praise of Mackays, writes :---

" Mackay, with bold adventure of his own person, of all the rest most forward. . . . crossed the water which was betuin him and the enemie, with some few gentlemen in his company. . . and although the danger was apparent, yet the Sutherland men were ashamed to forsake him, who did fight so manfullie in their defence, with a resolute courage and undaunted heart."

It is evident that whatever may have been Huistean Du's defects, like his father he did not lack courage. The following year (1590), the Earl of Caithness invaded Sutherland in person, and advancing as far as Brora fought stubbornly. Meantime Mackay slipped over Drumholstein and spoiled Caithness to the gates of Thurso. Well might the unhappy Earl of Caithness rue the day he basely deserted the Mackays and the Gunns—he was suffering for it now. Neither had Mackay his sorrows to seek because of the bloody intestine warfare raging in Strathnaver, for some time after 1590, in which the Aberach Mackays took such a conspicuous part. Details are lacking but this strife seems to us very senseless and suicidal—it just suited the policy of the Sutherland family, and greatly helped its advancement.

Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, an exceedingly able man, died in 1594, and was succeeded by his son John, who married Agnes, daughter of Lord Elphingstone, Treasurer of Scotland. Through the Treasurer's influence Earl John obtained the earldom of Sutherland and other lands in regality upon a false issue. Let Sir Robert speak : —

"Alexander Elphingstoun being theasaurer of Scotland, John Earle of Sowtherland, by his means, took a new infeftment of the whole earledome of Sotherland, by resignation thereof into his majestie's hands, in the moneth of April 1601 yeirs ; not onlie confirming the old regalitie of the earldome of Sutherland, granted by King David Bruce to William, the third of that name, Earle of Southerland, the year 1347 [1345], hot also conteyning divers other privileges." The other privileges were, the lands of Strathnaver and the church-lands of the diocese of Caithness in regality, together with the hereditary sheriffship of Sutherland and Strathnaver. Sir Robert says that this charter of regality was a royal confirmation of the ancient charter of regality 'granted by King David Bruce to William, Earl of Sutherland. That it was so is further shown by the wording of the document in which the Earl of Sutherland afterwards, 1 July, 1631, resigned the sheriffship of Sutherland, part of the gift, into the hands of King Charles I—it is printed in Dates and Documents etc. of Sutherland by Mr Loch. Having referred to the charter of regality granted by his father to the Earl of Sutherland, King Charles proceeds : —

" Lykeas unrpihile David the Secund, His Majestie's predecessour of worthie memorie, be his Chartour and Infeftment of the dait at Lanerk, the tenth day of October, and seventene zeir of his reyne, gave granted and confirmet to umquhile Williame, Erie of Sutherland, and to his Majestie's sister Margaret, spous of the said Erie, and to thair airis, to be gotten betuix thame (of quhome the said Johne, now Erie of Sutherland, is lineallie discendit) the said Erldome of Sutherland in ane frie regalitie for ever."

Thus the document of 1631, which is founded upon the document of 1601 conveying the regality, concludes that the Earl of Sutherland was a lineal descendent of the marriage of William of Sutherland and Margaret Bruce. It is very evident that King James VI. granted the 1601 charter of regality on the representation that the Sutherland family was descended of the marriage with Margaret Bruce, and under the impression that by so doing he was only confirming the charter of 1345. But we have already shown at page 46 that the only son of the Bruce marriage died childless, that the Sutherland family is not descended of that marriage, and that the charter of 1345 became consequently null and void. Without a doubt the facts were misrepresented to the king.

The question is who imposed upon King James through Treasurer Elphingstone ? We suspect it was Sir Robert Gordon. Sir Robert had just finished his education at St. Andrew's University about this time, and his knowledge of history fitted him to piece together the historical argument which prevailed with the king. Sir Robert's nephew, the 1st Lord Reay, believed his uncle capable of forgery, and charged him with the same in a letter which we give in our Appendix No. 35. We have already abundantly proved that Sir Robert could lean considerably from the truth to serve a purpose and we would again draw our reader's attention to the quotation from Sir William Fraser which we gave at page 47.

That there was a motive to perpetrate a fraud of this kind is evident. A charter in regality, which included the lands of Strath - naver and the church-lands of Caithness, would immensely strengthen the grip of the Sutherland family over these lands and especially over the kicking Mackay. Even this charter with its almost regal power left Sir Robert doubtful as to whether the Sutherland family could maintain its superiority over Mackay. So anxious was he about the matter that he refers to it at large in his Farewell Letter of Advice to his nephew, the Earl of Sutherland Here was motive enough, in our opinion. Perhaps the very consciousness that he was the author of a fradulent story accounts for Sir Robert's persistent thumping of the drum, " Sutherland's feudal superiority over Mackay, from time immemorial."

In the face of the facts which we have related, the Sutherland family has no reason to glory in its ill-gotten " superiority " over Mackay. From the time that Queen Mary conveyed Mackay's lauds to Huntly in 1567, we see nothing creditable in the various transactions by which the superiority passed from hand to hand, until at last in 1G01 the king was induced by a falsehood to confirm it in regality to the house of Sutherland.

The relations between Caithness, Sutherland, and Mackay continued so hostile for some years after the sack of Wick, that on the 25th July, 1595, the Privy Council bound the three over to keep the peace, and at the same time made Caithness find caution to the extent of 20,000 merks. Six years thereafter (1G01), the Earl of Caithness, on the plea of hunting in the Reay Forest, began to assemble such a force of armed men, that the suspicions of Mackay were aroused as to the pacific intentions of the excursion. Mackay, having despatched messengers to his allies, marched with his assembled troops towards Kinbrace, and took up a position between Lochan Gainvach and Loch Badinloch, thus barring Caithness' advance towards the forest. Speedily to Mackay's aid came the Earl of Sutherland, Munro of Contalich, and Macleod of Assynt with such a force of men, that when Caithness made his appearance he found himself unexpectedly opposed by a considerable array. The two armies now manoeuvred for position, and in the evening it looked as if there was going to be a big fight, but ere the morning the Caithncssmen, who had no stomach for such a mad enterprise, broke and fled without drawing a sword. To mark their bloodless triumph the Munros, Macleods, Sutherland, and Mackays raised a heap of stones on the shoulder of Ben Griam and exultingly dubbed it Cam Teichidh, Cairn of Flight. Notwithstanding his galling discomfiture Caithness made a similar attempt in 1607, but with as little success.

By an act of the Privy Council, 31st January, 1602, the Earl of Sutherland and Huistean Du were called upon to raise a levy of 100 men to assist Elizabeth, Queen of England, in putting down an Irish rebellion. In this revolt of the Earl of Tyronne and Red Hugh O'Donnell of Ulster, which had been in progress for some years, a few of the Hebridean chiefs took an active though not a glorious part ; and now King James, who had a good prospect of succeeding Elizabeth in the throne of England, extends his assistance to her.

In 1608 Huistean Du and other mainland chiefs were called upon by the Privy Council to furnish aid to the king's officers in subduing the Lews, and in establishing the Fifeshire company of adventurers, to whom his Majesty had given certain grants of land in that island about 1598. On the 9th July missive letters are directed to the Earl of Caithness, Balnagown, Donald Neilson of Assint, Mackay of Strathnaver, and Fowlis, calling upon them to attend with their followers his Majesty's service at Troterness on the 20th August next. Their armed men must furnish themselves with powder and bullets out of their own pay, and not at the king's expense, but the Lieutenant of the Isles is to be allowed "10 stane of lead, with hint eff'eiring theirto."

In order the more effectively to subdue the Lews, the superintendence of the opposite mainland was committed to the Earl of Argyle, the Marquis of Huntly, etc. ; and the headmen of the mainland opposite, Mackay among them, were charged by an order of Council not to reset rebellious islesmen within their bounds—the order was dated 8th February, 1609. A few weeks thereafter (26th March), the Privy Council proceed against Caithness, Mackay, etc., for not giving sufficient assistance to the Government in the Lews business—Caithness who was present found caution, but Mackay who did not put in an appearance was denounced rebel. These harsh measures indicate the king's bitterness at the failure of his pet scheme in the Lews, but it does not seem that Huisteaii Du suffered much inconvenience thereby, for very shortly thereafter he appears in the record as in the full possession of his rights and liberties. Perhaps Mackay's sympathy with the Macleods of the Lews may account for the following earlier entry in the Privy Council Register, 18th February, 1600.

"Caution in 10,000 merks by Hutcheon Mackyo of Farr, as principall, and John Earl of Sutherland and Arthur Master of Forbes, fiar thereof, as sureties for the said principall, that he and his men shall keep the king's peace and redress parties skaithed, conform to the law." The marches between Sutherland and Strathnaver caused for a time friction, but in April, 1613, the questions in dispute were submitted to the arbitration of four mutual friends at a conference at Kildrumy, in Mar, to wit, Lord Elphingstone and Sir Robert Gordon on the one side, and Lord Forbes and William Forbes of Menie on the other, Sir Robert acting as umpire. Sir Robert tells us " it was a hard matter for him to beir himself evinlie in so friendlie and ticklish a case." We strongly suspect that he did not even try "to beir himself evinlie" on this occasion, if his Farewell Letter of Advice speaks truly, as we believe it does.

In business and political transactions Huistean Du, like his father lye Du, maintained a familiar intercourse with the house of Forbes. As we saw, the Master of Forbes was his cautioner in 1600, and again in 1613 two Forbeses acted as his chosen arbiters. If to this we add that in various registered documents he styled himself "Mackay Forbes," the close connection becomes more evident. In 1589 Mackay became a vassal of Sutherland, but by this addition to his surname he proclaimed to the world, as we think, his alliance as well as his kinship to Forbes. That he was contented in that inferior position is not for a moment to be entertained, regarding a man who fought so long for feudal freedom. The Sutherland yoke, which was but of yesterday, was galling, and he probably hoped that with the assistance of the Forbeses his family might some day recover their feudal independence. We suspect that this was the reason for the surname " Mackay-Forbcs." Of his successor, Sir Donald, afterwards 1st Lord Reay, Sir Robert Gordon writes (1630) :—"Sir Donald McKy hath neither served nor doth intend to serve himself heir to his father or grandfather." The meaning of this is plain. Sir Donald, having gained some footing in the king's favour, refused to bind himself to Sutherland's superiority but as little as he could. He was in this respect the heir of his father's struggle.

The failure of Huistean Du to reconcile the Aberach Mackays was a great misfortune to his cause. We are not in a position to allocate the blame, but we venture to think that when Huistean Du settled the lands of Scoury upon his elder brother, Donald Balloch, he ought to have settled the Aberach lands of Strathnaver upon Neil macEan macWilliam, the Aberach chieftain, and his father's cousin. Not only were the Aberachs strong to fight his battles, but in former generations were the stay of his father's house on many a stricken field from Drum nan Coup downwards. The story of Huistean Du's life would take a different complexion with the Aberach Mackays at his back, and this he could have had by a timely grant of the lands which they looked upon as their own.

As to the social and religious condition of Strathnaver at this period we cannot say much The Earl of Caithness was not a friend of the Reformation, neither was Alexr., Earl of Sutherland, who died in 1594, nor his successor, Earl John, who died in 1615. These which was but of yesterday, was galling, and he probably hoped that with the assistance of the Forbeses his family might some day recover their feudal independence. We suspect that this was the reason for the surname " Mackay-Forbcs."

Of his successor, Sir Donald, afterwards 1st Lord Reay, Sir Robert Gordon writes (1630) :—"Sir Donald McKy hath neither served nor doth intend to serve himself heir to his father or grandfather." The meaning of this is plain. Sir Donald, having gained some footing in the king's favour, refused to bind himself to Sutherland's superiority but as little as he could. He was in this respect the heir of his father's struggle.

The failure of Huistean Du to reconcile the Aberach Mackays was a great misfortune to his cause. We are not in a position to allocate the blame, but we venture to think that when Huistean Du settled the lands of Scoury upon his elder brother, Donald Balloch, he ought to have settled the Aberach lands of Strathnaver upon Neil macEan macWilliam, the Aberach chieftain, and his father's cousin. Not only were the Aberachs strong to fight his battles, but in former generations were the stay of his father's house on many a stricken field from Drum nan Coup downwards. The story of Huistean Du's life would take a different complexion with the Aberach Mackays at his back, and this he could have had by a timely grant of the lands which they looked upon as their own.

As to the social and religious condition of Strathnaver at this period we cannot say much . The Earl of Caithness was not a friend of the Reformation, neither was Alexr., Earl of Sutherland, who died in 1594, nor his successor, Earl John, who died in 1615. These three earls were at different times warded or compelled to find caution in consequence of their religious views, as the Privy Council Register shows. But we have not come across any entry in which Huistean Du is so dealt with. We conclude that Huistean sympathised with the Protestant faith, like his father and like his friend Lord Forbes. Further we cannot go, save to remark that his initials with date are cut on the old church at Durness. This we take to mean that he built it, for he resided at Balnakicl for the most part.

Huistean Du, who died at Tongue, 2nd September, 1614, was twice married. By his first wife, whom he divorced, Lady Elizabeth Sinclair, daughter of George, 4th Earl of Caithness, he had one daughter, Christina, who married John Macintosh of Dalzell, son of

Macintosh of Macintosh. Huistean Du married, secondly, Lady Jane Gordon, eldest daughter of Alexr., Earl of Sutherland, and by her had two sons and two daughters : — i. Donald, 1st Lord Beay, of whom follows.

ii. John, progenitor of the Strathy Mackays, and whose issue is given elsewhere.

iii. Annas, who married John Sinclair of Brims, Caithness, 29th December, 1618. They both had Sas. on a contract of wadset of the lands of Eibigill, 14th February, 1657. John Sinclair died before 16th August, 1666, and was survived by Annas, as the Reay Papers show. They had known issue Captain John Sinclair of Brims, progenitor of the Ulbster Sinclairs, who was retoured son and heir of his deceased father, John, and resigned the wadset of Ribigill 13th March, 1702. An Annas Sinclair, whom we take to have been a daughter of Captain John, married Angus Mackay of Eibigill, son of Donald of Borley, and grandson of Donald Balluch of Scoury, as is shown in our account of the Scoury Mackays.

iv. Mary, married Hector Munro, brother and successor of Colonel Robert Munro of Fowlis. Hector, who joined Lord Eeay's regiment, became a colonel, and was created a bart., 7th June, Douglas' 1634. He died at Hamburgh, 1635, leaving a son, Sir Hector, who died without issue, and three daus.

Dame Mary Mackay, Lady Fowlis, married, secondly, her cousin, Alexr Gunn of Killearnan, Chief 1 of Gunn, son of William and grandson of Alexr. Gunn of Killearnan, the latter having married her aunt, as has already been shown. Dame Mary bore to Alexr. Gunn a son and a daughter, viz., John and Catherine, the latter of whom married her cousin, Lieut.-Col. the Hon. Angus Mackay of Melness, progenitor of the Melness Mackays. pg 107-124


HE was only eleven years of age at his father's death, and though his eldest brother Donald was then probably at majority pg. 143

Until Hugh Mackay's time his predecessors were usually designed "of Strathnaver," which was then understood to comprehend the whole of PiIackay's country; but he was called Hugh Mackay of Far, and his eldest son Donald, while his father lived, called himself " fiar of Strathnaver ;" after that, and until he came to the peerage,"Sir Donald of achy of Strathnaver," as is evident from documents now in the author's possession.

On the 11th September 1614, Hugh Mackay died at Tongue, in the 55th year of his age. Sir Robert describes him thus : " He was generally beloved and bewailed; he was very liberal, if not rather inclining towards prodigality, and yet he preserved the ancient inheritance of his predecessors free from any great burden of debt ; he was most faithful and trusty, wheresoever he promised his friendship ; a sure and sincere performer of his word

He left behind him alive two sons, and two daughters, by Lady Jane Gordon, the sister of this Earl John of Sutherland;

  • Donald Mackay who succeeded unto him, born in February the year 1590, beginning the year in March ;
  • John Mackay,
  • Annas Mackay, and
  • Mary Mackay.

He had also a daughter called

  • Christian,

by the Earl of Caithness his daughter, which Christian was married to John Mackintosh of Dalzell, the uncle of Sir Lachlan Mackintosh. Annas Mackay was married to Alexander Sinclair of Brims ; Mary, the youngest daughter of Hugh Mackay, was married to Hector Monro of Clyneness, brother to Robert Rlunro of Fowlis pg. 185 HISTORY THE HOUSE AND CLAN MACKAY,BY ROBERT MACKAY, 1829


Huistean Du was but young when his father died, and when he attained majority in 1583 the Earl of Huntly disponed the superiority of the lands of Farr to his relative the Earl of Sutherland, in exchange' for the lordship of Aboyne. This embittered the strife between the families Mackay and Sutherland, but in 1589 Huistean came to an agreement to hold the lands of Fan- or Strathnaver hereditarily of the Earl of Sutherland, and sealed the compact by marrying the Earl's daughter.

In 1595 the relations between Sutherland and Mackay on the one hand, and Caithness on the other, were so hostile that the three were bound over to keep the peace ; and again in 1600 Huistean had to find caution^ for 10,000 merks to ' keep the King's peace.

In 1602 Mackay and the Earl of Sutherland were called upon for a levy  of 100 men to assist Queen Elizabeth in putting down rebellion in Ireland. In 1608 Huistean was again called upon for a levy to quell disorder  in the Hebrides, and the following year he and other chieftains on the mainland were forbidden to

reset rebellious islesmen within their bounds.

Huistean was styled ' of Farr,' and sometimes signed himself 'Mackay Forbes' to indicate his connection' with Forbes.

He died 11 September 1614.

Huistean Du married, first, Elizabeth Sinclair, whom he afterwards divorced, daughter of George, fourth Earl of Caithness, and widow of Alexander Sutherland, younger of Duflus, with issue :

  • 1. Christina, married to John Macintosh of Dalziel, in Petty, son of Lachlan Macintosh of that Ilk, a man of courtly breeding and religious disposition.

He married, secondly, in December 1589, when she was only fifteen, Jane Gordon,'" eldest daughter of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, ' a lady of excellent beauty and comeliness, witty, imbued with sundry good qualities both of mind and body,' and had issue :

  • 2. Donald, of whom follows.
  • 3. John, had a disposition in heritage of the lands of Braegaul, in Caithness, 23 September 1626, and of the lands of Strathy 2 May 1631, both from his elder brother Donald, afterwards Lord Reay. He became progenitor of the Strathy Mackays, and married, in 1618, Agnes, daughter of James Sinclair of Murkle, by whom he had issue.
  • 4. Annas married John Sinclair of Brims, 29 September 1618, and on 14 February 1657 they both obtained thelands of Ribigill, Tongue, in wadset, for 7000 merks. Anna was alive on 16 August 1666, but her husband was dead.
  • 5. Mary, married, first at Tongue, July 1619, to Hector Munro, afterwards Sir Hector of Foulis, with

issue. She married, secondly, Alexander Gunn of Killearnan, with issue

Scottish Peerage pg. 165-167


Hugh Mackay of Farr, who succeeded his father Iye Dow,

married, 1st, Lady Elizabeth Sinclair, youngest daughter of George Earl of Caithness ; issue, one daughter,

  • Christian, who married John Mackintosh of Dalzell, brother-german of the laird of Mackintosh ;

and 2d, Lady Jane Gordon, eldest daughter of Alexander Earl of Sutherland : issue, two sons,

  • Donald first Lord Reay, and
  • John Mackav of Dirlet and Strathy ;

and two daughters,

  • Anna, married to Alexander Sinclair of Brims ; and
  • Mary, married to Sir Hector Munro, the first baronet of Fowlis.


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Hugh Huistean MacKay, of Far Tongue and Strathnaver (1571-1614)'s Timeline

Strathhaven, Sutherland, Scotland
February 1590
Age 40
Age 42
Dilred Castle, Sutherland, Scotland
Age 55
September 2, 1614
Age 64
Tongue (Strathnaver)