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Issue 92 - The Clan Maclean

Scotland Magazine Issue 92
April 2017


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The Clan Maclean

James Irvine Robertson tells the tale of these warriors of the isles

uring the Middle Ages, the three most powerful men in Britain were the kings of England and Scotland, and the Lord of the Isles. From their administrative headquarters on Islay, the lordship could call on hundreds of galleys that gave them control of the entire western seaboard of Scotland. In 1545, the names of those on the Council of the Isles were listed. Of the 17 great men identified, six were Macleans. In a culture that glorified warfare, the Macleans were, perhaps, the most glorious of all the clans.

Gillean of the Battle-Axe, a descendant of the Kings of Dalriada, was the clan's founder. He was a counsellor to David I and fought at the Battle of Largs against the Norwegians in 1263. It is probably his grandson's name that appears on the Ragman Roll of 1296 and he seems to have been based in Lorne, then controlled by the MacDougalls.

But he and his family were supporters of Bruce, the MacDougalls' mortal enemy, so the kindred left Lorne and moved to Mull, where they allied themselves with and married into Clan Donald. They fought with Angus Og MacDonald at Bannockburn and, in the aftermath of the crushing of the Balliol faction, Clan MacDougall lost their lands to the chiefs of Clan Donald. The Macleans cleaved unto them when they became the Lords of the Isles and soon branches of the family were granted estates in Mull, Morvern, Tiree, Coll, Islay, Jura, and Lochaber.

The fourth chief, 'Black' John had two sons: Lachlan ‘the Wily’ and Hector ‘the Stern’. The senior branch of the clan, founded by Lachlan, had and still has its seat at Castle Duart, which guards the sound of Mull. Down at the south of the island is Moy Castle where Hector formed his own clan, the Maclaines of Lochbuie.

The most striking characteristics of the Macleans, whatever the spelling, was their skill in war and loyalty to the Lords of the Isles. The 6th chief, 'Red' Hector of the Battles, was renowned as one of the finest swordsman in Europe. In 1400, he was in charge of a great fleet that raided Dublin, destroying English ships and exacting tribute. As hereditary Lieutenant General, he commanded the right wing of the army of his uncle Donald, Lord of the Isles, at the battle of Harlaw in 1411. He engaged in a famous single combat with Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum that left both men dead.

John, 4th Lord of the Isles, overstretched himself by signing the Treaty of Ardtornish in 1462 with Edward IV and the Earl of Douglas — in the hope of conquering the country and giving himself half of the kingdom. But the War of the Roses intervened and, when news of the treaty came out, James III took away much of the Lordship's power. Angus Og, the heir, launched a rebellion and smashed his father's fleet at the battle of Bloody Bay in 1476. Both John and Hector, the 9th Chief, were captured. James IV abolished the Lordship in 1496 and the Macleans, with their traditional devotion, switched their allegiance to the Stewart sovereigns. Lachlan, the 10th chief of Duart, was killed at Flodden.

The prowess of the Macleans as warriors was widely acknowledged and it might be a result of the fact that they had plenty of practice! They fought amongst themselves with feuds between the Maclaines of Lochbuie and Duart. On one occasion, Duart won the upper hand when he supported the Lochbuie chief, Iain the Toothless, whose son, Ewen, rebelled against him. In the ensuing battle, Ewen lost his head to the sweep of a claymore and, so the story goes, became a ghost. It’s said that the sound of the hooves of his horse heralds the death of a member of the family of Lochbuie.

With the only heir out of the way, Duart imprisoned the toothless one on an isolated island. To look after him and to ensure he had no more heirs, he was given the ugliest and least attractive woman that could be found. However, needs must and they produced Murdoch ‘the Stunted’, who was spirited to Ireland, and he sired future generations of the chiefs. But the most brutal feuding took place with Clan Donald as they fought to fill the power vacuum left by the dismembered Lordship and control the seaway past Islay and Jura to Ireland. It was this conflict that so weakened the two clans as to allow Clan Campbell the room to expand.

In 1645, the Macleans fought for the Stuarts and Montrose. Perhaps the most memorable example of the heroism of the clan took place at the battle of Inverkeithing in 1651, where the Scots army of Charles II was beaten by Cromwell's New Model Army. Sir Hector Maclean, the chief, fell and clansman after clansmen with the cry 'Another for Hector' was killed as they fought to protect his body. Clan tradition says that, of the 600 Macleans who took part in the battle, only 35 came home.

The Macleans incurred heavy debts in the Stuart cause, which were bought up and compounded by the Campbells, until the Earl of Argyll succeeded in obtaining a judgement that gave him possession of all Maclean of Duart territories. The clan held out by force but the 20th chief, Sir John, led the Jacobite right wing at Killiecrankie in 1689 and, after the collapse of that rebellion, an army of 2,500 Campbells forced Duart Castle's surrender. In spite of this catastrophic loss, the clan still rallied to its chief in 1715. In 1745, Hector, the 21st chief, was arrested in Edinburgh but 500 of the clan rose under Charles Maclean of Drimin. He was killed at Culloden.

In 1911 the ruins of Duart Castle were obtained by the 26th chief, Sir Fitzroy Maclean, and restored. His grandson, Sir Lachlan Hector Charles Maclean of Duart and Morvern Bt, CVO, is 28th clan chief and 12th Baronet of Morvern. He launched a £600,000 appeal for repairs to the castle in 2014. Lorne Gillean Ian McLaine of Lochbuie, Baron of Moy, is the 26th Chief of Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie. Other important cadet branches are the Macleans of Coll, and Ardgour.

Further Information
The clan seat, Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, is open to visitors from 2 April to 18 October 2017. The next Clan Maclean gathering will take place from 20-25 June 2017 across the Isle of Mull.

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