It was none other than Queen Victoria who coined the term “Mackenzie Country” in her Highland Journals when she visited Ross-shire.
Queen Victoria’s visit to Coul House, painted in 1888
Deeply affected by the novels of Sir Walter Scott from the age of thirteen, Queen Victoria made a particularly important contribution to the sentimental appreciation of the Highlands. From her best-selling Highland Journals we learn how on 6 September 1872, after a trip to Culloden Moor, the Queen arrived in Inverness to be greeted by Dr John Mackenzie of Eileanach, then Provost of the town, “a fine looking man in a kilt.” In the following days the royal party, which included John Brown and the Princess Beatrice, was escorted by Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Gairloch and Lady Gairloch. “He is a pleasing courteous person and wore the kilt. He has an immense property about here, and all around is the Mackenzie country.” She visited Castle Leod and on the 12th they drove alongside Loch Maree, which the Queen described as “beautiful in the extreme” and spent the next few days exploring Torridon and Applecross until on the 15th “we left with regret our cozy little hotel at Loch Maree, which I hope one day I may see again.” It was during this visit that the Queen wrote to Alexander Mackenzie, expressing her appreciation of the account he had given her of the Brahan Seer.
We know that the Mackenzies’ chiefs, in the 17th and 18th centuries would make a regular progress throughout their territories in Easter and Wester Ross and the Hebrides. John MacRa, the minister of Dingwall and historian, who died at the beginning of the 18th century, wrote: “I have heard John Beggrie, who then served Earl Colin, give an account of his voyages after the bere seed was sown at Allan (where his father and grandfather had a great mains, which was called Mackenzie’s girnel or granary), took a Journey to the Highlands, taking with him not only his domestic servants but several young gentlemen of his kin, and stayed several days at Killin, whither he called all his people of Strathconon, Strathbran, Strathgarve, and Brae Ross, and did keep courts upon them and saw all things rectified. From thence he went to Inverewe, where all his Lochbroom tenants and others waited upon him, and got all their complaints heard and rectified. It is scarcely credible what allowance was made for his table of Scotch and French wines during these trips amongst his people. From Inverewe he sailed to the Lewis, with what might be called a small navy, having as many boats, if not more loaded with liquors, especially wines and English beer, as he had under men. He remained in the Lewis for several days, until he settled all the controversies arising among the people in his absence, and setting his land. From thence he went to Sleat in the Isle of Skye, to Sir Donald MacDonald, who was married to his sister Janet, and from that he was invited to Harris, to MacLeod’s house, who was married to his sister Sybilla. While he tarried in these places the lairds, the gentlemen of the Isles, and the inhabitants came to pay their respects to him, including MacLean, Clanranald, Raasay, MacKinnon, and other great chiefs. They then convoyed him to Islandonain. I have heard my grandfather, Mr Farquhar MacRa (then Constable of the Castle), say that the Earl never came to his house with less than 300 and sometimes 500 men. The Constable was bound to furnish them victuals for the first two meals, till my Lord’s officers were acquainted to bring in his own customs. There they consumed the remains of the wine and other liquors. When all these lairds and gentlemen took their leave of him, he called the principal men of Kintail, Lochalsh, and Lochcarron together, who accompanied him to his forest of Monar, where they had a great and most solemn hunting day, and from Monar he would return to Chanonry about the latter end of July.”
Red deer in the hills of Monar
We know that William Mackenzie, the 2nd Marquis of Seaforth, was known on occasion to make a similar progress, before finally retiring to Seaforth Lodge on the Island of Lewis; and his grandson, the last Earl of Seaforth, when he wasn’t travelling on the European Continent or resident in London, had a yacht named Cabarfèidh, to take him across the Minch to Lewis.
The Five Sisters of Kintail
The earliest landholding of the Mackenzies, with its picturesque island stronghold of Eilean Donan Castle, Kintail was dubbed “The Mackenzies’ Giftland” and the chiefs have always been designated “of Kintail”, being the lands most closely associated with the Clan .
The beginnings of Eilean Donan reach back into the early mists of time. Evidence of a Pictish fort was found in vitrified rock uncovered during excavations – some of which has been kept for visitors to see. At the beginning of the 7th century St Donan is thought to have lived on the island as a religious hermit; the name “Eilean Donan” means “Island of Donan”. This was the period when Christianity was first introduced to the Western Isles.
Eilean Donan Castle
The first fortified stronghold was established in the reign of King Alexander II (1214-1250) to defend the region against the Norsemen who laid claim to this part of Scotland. Archaeologists have recently established that the original stronghold was much larger than the present building, the walls encompassing more-or-less the whole island.
According to a longstanding tradition, in 1263 King Alexander III gave the castle and the lands of Kintail to the Mackenzies’ progenitor, Colin Fitzgerald as a reward for services in the Battle of Largs. This famous battle culminated in the defeat of the Norwegian king, Haco. Following his death shortly after, his successor, Magnus, ceded all the Western Isles to Scotland.
During the Jacobite rising of 1719, which culminated in the Jacobites’ defeat at the nearby Battle of Glenshiel, Spanish troops allied to the Mackenzies were billeted at Eilean Donan and the Castle was afterwards blown up, according to some reports by Government ships; while an alternative contemporary document suggests that the Castle was destroyed by the Jacobites themselves to prevent it from becoming a Government power-base. The Castle thereafter remained in ruins for over two centuries.
Eilean Donan Castle in its ruined state after the Battle of Glenshiel
The MacRaes, who formed the bodyguard of the Chief of Kintail were hereditary constables of the castle. There are many stories of military feats performed by members of the clan MacRae that gained them the nickname, “Mackenzies’ shirt of mail”. The present buildings are the result of 20th century reconstruction of the ruins by a scion of this clan, Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap, who lavishly restored the building in the 1930s. It has since become one of the commercial media’s favourite images of the Highlands.
Big Sand, Gairloch, looking towards the Mountains of Torridon
The lands around Gairloch have been mostly in the ownership of the Mackenzies of Gairloch since the 15th century, when they were acquired by Hector Roy Mackenzie, with a family house in the sheltered glen of Flowerdale. These Mackenzies continued to be clan leaders in the traditional sense and were known for their attachment to their tenants. During the 19th century, Sir Hector Mackenzie and his sons, Sir Francis and Dr John Mackenzie refused to evict a single tenant during the Clearances, despite the estate running at a loss. As a result, evicted Highlanders from other communities came to live in the area, which has caused Gairloch to maintain a thriving community even today. The glen of Flowerdale has a microclimate and vegetation that are home to a diverse range of natural life: Christina Byam Shaw stated in her memoir Pigeonholes of Memory, that her father was able to grow fruiting peaches outdoors. There is a walk up the Flowerdale burn, going past the Mackenzie house, Tigh Digh, to a waterfall at the head of the glen. With the aid of public grants, new and refurbished footpaths have been established which allow residents and visitors to access the wooded areas. The Estate has also developed several micro hydroelectric schemes to generate additional income.
Following the marriage to his cousin, Janet of Scatwell, Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Gairloch (the 9th laird) built in 1738 the original Flowerdale House – often referred to in that time as An Tigh Dige (The Moat House), after the previous main residence nearby on the estate. The present mansion is the result of substantial extra building in 1904 to the west (to the left, in the picture), the two differently-sized gables, along with the bow fronted bay, resulting in the pleasing appearance of this western seat of the Mackenzies of Gairloch.
Near the house is Flowerdale Barn, a long rubble building, possibly the earliest dated barn in Scotland, built in 1730 by Alexander and Janet Mackenzie, whose initials and arms are carved in stone above the door.
In his One Hundred Years in the Highlands, Osgood Hanbury Mackenzie recounted a story concerning the House that was told by the family bard, Alasdair Buidhe Maciamhair (Yellow Sandy Mclver). Alasdair related as follows: “Behind the western Tigh Dige rose a mass of rock covered with wood, with a charming grassy level top about one thousand feet above the sea, which in the sheltered woody bay flowed within a thousand yards of the old chateau.” Alasdair told us that in 1745, “when men-of- war were searching everywhere for Prince Charlie, one of them came into the bay, and the Captain sent word to our ancestor to come on board. The latter, who really had not been at Culloden, although some of his people had, thought he was quite as well ashore among his friends, so sent his compliments to his inviter, regretting he could not accept his invitation, as he had friends to dine with him on the top of Creag a Chait (the Cat’s Rock), where he hoped the Captain would join them. The reply was a broadside against the Tigh Dige as the ship sailed off, and I can remember seeing one of the cannon- balls sticking half out of the house gable next to the sea, apparently an 18-pound shot. Had it hit a few feet lower it might have broken into a recess in the thickness of the gable, the admittance to which was by raising the floor of a wall-press in the room above, although this had been forgotten till masons cutting an opening for a gable door to the kitchen broke into the recess, where many swords and guns were found. Then it was recollected that Fraser of Foyers was long concealed by our ancestor, and of course in this black hole.”
Old Burial Ground, Gairloch
The Mackenzie chapel was built by Alexander Mackenzie, 5th of Gairloch (a carved stone bears the initials AMK and the date 1633) who was himself buried there after he died in 1638, aged 60. The site overlooks the ancient fort of Gairloch, An Dun (an important strategic site since the Iron Age, seen in the photograph below, at the far side of the sandy bay), which was the last remaining outpost of the MacLeods of Gairloch who finally ceded the Barony to the Mackenzies after centuries of bitter feuding.
Osgood Mackenzie, half-brother of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Gairloch created the Inverewe Garden in nearby Poolewe, part of the original Gairloch estate, which would take advantage of the genial winters and the continuous warming influence of the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream. It was his daughter, Mairie T. Nic Coinnich (alternatively, Mrs. R.W. Sawyer), “who loves the Gaelic and keeps our simple Highland ways’” who made a gift of Inverewe Gardens to the National Trust in 1952. They are now internationally famous for their range of sub-tropical flora thriving at such a northerly latitude. The present Inverewe House was built by Mairie in 1937 after Osgood’s original multi-gabled baronial mansion was burnt down in a fire.
Applecross’s name is an anglcisation of the Pictish Aporcrosan, meaning “confluence of the [river] Crossan”. Historically, the settlement is linked with St. Máelrubai or Maelruba, who came to Scotland in 671 from the Irish monastery of Bangor, County Down. He founded Aporcrosan in 672 in what was then Pictish territory, and was the monastery’s first abbot, dying on 21 April 722 in his 80th year. Loch Maree and its holy island of Eilean Ma-Ruibhe (or Isle Maree, the site of an early Mackenzie settlement and burial ground) are both named after the Saint.
In the second half of the 16th century, the lands of Applecross came into the possession of Alexander Mackenzie, an illegitimate son of Colin Cam Mackenzie of Kintail. With a brief interruption between 1715 and 1724 (when the lands were forfeit to the Crown following Applecross’s part in the 1715 Uprising), the Estate remained in the ownership of Mackenzie’s heirs until the mid-19th century, when it was sold to the Duke of Leeds. After subsequently being acquired by Lord Middleton and then the Wills family the Estate is now owned by the Applecross Trust, a registered Scottish charity with the declared aim of preserving “the special character of the Applecross peninsula in a responsible and progressive manner whilst acknowledging its wilderness heritage and its importance as an area of outstanding natural beauty”.
Access to Applecross used to be by means of a ferry but now this remotest of villages is notoriously reached via the winding hairpin bends of the Bealach na Bà (or Pass of the Cattle) which rises precipitously 2,000 feet above sea level.
The Islands of Loch Maree
Loch Maree has an early association with the Mackenzies due to the folktale known as The Legend of Loch Maree. This legend tells how a powerful Chief is murdered by a rival and the Chief’s only son is taken by his sister to Loch Maree, near Gairloch, where he is suckled by a goat, as a result of which he comes to be known as MacGabhan, or the “Son of the Goat”. Hearing of the boy’s name, the Lord of Eilean Donan seeks him out, fearing that he will be supplanted in fulfilment of an old prophecy:
“The son of the goat shall triumphantly bear
the mountain in flame; and the horns of the deer
from the forest of Loyne to the hill of Ben-Croshen
from mountain to vale, and from ocean to ocean.”
After further adventures in which MacGabhan takes part in a raid on the neighbouring territory which turns out to be his ancestral domain, his identity becomes apparent to his mother by means of a sword and cloak he was given as a child and he is thus acclaimed by the people as “MacCoinneach Mor.” Subsequently he marries Mary, the only daughter of the Lord of Castle Donan, and by her inherits a considerable estate. This marriage not only ended the feud between the neighbouring clans (bestowing a happy ending on the timeless archetype we know from Romeo and Juliet) but also fulfilled the prophecy which had caused so much uneasiness to his father-in-law and which, of course, alludes to the Mackenzie crest and arms and the family’s subsequent predominance across the whole of Ross-shire.
Until the 17th century the Mackenzies of Gairloch were resident on Eilean Ruaridh in the Loch which provided them with defence and the Loch remains the property of the family to this day. There is an ancient burial ground on Eilean Maolruibhe (Isle Maree), one of the ancient graves of which is associated with another legend regarding a local princess and Norse prince which follows the better known tragedy surrounding Theseus’s return with the white and black flags. According to this story the tragic lovers were buried side by side on Isle Maree, under simple slabs carved with Celtic crosses that are still visible today.
The lands of Letterewe are in the most beautiful of locations, lying on the northern banks of Loch Maree looking across towards the mountains of Torridon. They formed part of the lands of the barony of Gairloch. In 1696, Charles, son of Kenneth, 6th of Gairloch exchanged his estate of Logie-Wester with his eldest half-brother, Alexander, 7th of Gairloch, for Letterewe and Letterewe remained in the hands of his descendants until the estate was sold by Hector Mackenzie, 7th of Letterewe in 1835. Once the site of a prosperous iron mining industry, the estate can now be hired for field sports.
Murdoch Mackenzie, 2nd of Letterewe was a staunch Jacobite, like his close relative and neighbour, John Mackenzie of Torridon. He fought at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715, and at Glenshiel in 1719. When a very old man he was determined to be out again for the ’45, but according to a family tradition his wife prevented him from doing so by pouring hot water on his feet, as if by accident, and scalded him so much that he was unable to walk.
Loch Torridon as depicted in a watercolour by William Turner of Oxford
The red sandstone of Torridon is one of the oldest rocks in the world, having been laid down over 2,500 million years ago. In some places, it is capped by a hard, white quartzite.
There are records that show that Queen Victoria loved to travel the road between Torridon and Diabaig in the late 19th century. Accompanied by John Brown and Princess Beatrice, she described this area in her Highland Journals as “a fine and wild uncivilised spot, like the end of the world”, and she noted that “hardly anyone ever comes here”.
The earliest associations of Torridon with the Mackenzies can be found in the Ardintoul Manuscript history of the family which informs us that the 14th century Mackenzie Chief, Murdo Mackenzie “of the Cave”, being perhaps not well tutored, preferred sporting and hunting in the hills and forests to going to the Ward School, where the heirs of those who held their lands and wards from the King, were wont or bound to go, and he resorted to the dens and caves about Torridon and Kenlochewe, hoping to get a hit at his rival, Leod Mac-gilleandrais.
Alexander Mackenzie states that Bishop Murdo Mackenzie’s father, John, the son of Alistair Roy of Gairloch “lived in Coire mhic Cromuil in Torridon”. This is the valley which leads from behind Liathac to Loch Torridon which in the 1660s was called Coire Mhic Nobuil and is where the current Torridon House is located (until recently belonging to the Earls of Lovelace).
As with many Highland properties in this period the precise ownership of Torridon is complicated but from a certain amount of detective work it can be established that the land seems to have been under dispute between the 1st Earl of Seaforth and the Glengarry family around 1600 but Seaforth acquired the title to Torridon from Duncan Bayne in a Sasine of 1626 and he then feud it to “Kenneth Mackenzie, Parson of Sleat” in 1633. Kenneth then resigned it back to Seaforth at some point. In 1668 Torridon was wadset (or mortgaged) by the Earl of Seaforth to Kenneth Mackenzie of Coul and the wadset was transferred to his son, Simon Mackenzie in 1672. Lord Fortrose later in 1754 by an “equity of redemption” made the lands over to Simon’s son, John Mackenzie of Torridon as superior of the land (which had apparently continued under his ownership as a wadset during the period in which it had been forfeit by William Dubh of Seaforth). This John Mackenzie of Torridon was best known for having played a particularly heroic part at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Udrigle House, occupying an idyllic situation on the shores of Gruinard Bay (visible on the right of the picture) has been stated to be one of the most distinctive of the surviving small laird’s houses in the Highlands. Built in 1745 for a cadet of the Mackenzie family (the Mackenzies of Gruinard who are descended from an illegitimate son of George, 2nd Earl of Seaforth; a marriage stone inside the house is inscribed “17 WMK LMK 45” for William and Lilias Mackenzie, 1745).
Udrigle is now a restoration success story, having been completely renovated inside and out, thanks to the time, trouble, energy and part-grant-assisted (40% from Historic Scotland for listed items) investment of its owners, Mr Donald and Mrs Johanna Mackenzie, who now invite self-catering holiday makers to enjoy a stay in Udrigle House and live the life of the laird but with all modern comforts.
[For a leaflet contact: Udrigle House, Laide, Ross-shire, Scotland, IV22 2NR. A large-format paperback book: “The History of Udrigle House“, can be obtained from the same address.]
Dundonnell House sits in a sheltered valley at the side of the Dundonnell River which flows into Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross. Approached by a drive that leads up a beech avenue and past fields of sheep, the 18th-century house overlooks a gravelled courtyard to the east and a walled garden to the west. It is an idyllic setting further enhanced by the peaks of the majestic An Teallach rising up behind the river.
The estate of Dundonnel was acquired by Alexander Mackenzie, son of Murdoch, 2nd son of Murdo Mackenzie, 3rd of Achilty. Murdo Mackenzie, 5th laird remodelled the original smaller house in 1769, later laying out the one-and-three-quarter-acre walled garden in the shape of a rectangle, which widens on the west to accommodate the flow of the river. The house and gardens have been recently renovated by their current owners, Sir Tim and Lady Rice. Dundonnell House Garden is open to the public at specific times in August and at other times by appointment.
Once the property of the MacLeods, the peninsula of Coigach, which lies north of Loch Broom and Ullapool, came into the ownership of the Mackenzies through the marriage of Dame Margaret MacLeod to Roderick Mackenzie, Tutor of Kintail, who was the progenitor of the Cromartie branch of the family and this spectacularly beautiful terrain, which includes the mountains Ben Mor Coigach and Stac Pollaidh (the distinctive peak to the left of the photograph above) as well as the Summer Isles (seen in the photograph below) until the end of the 20th century.
The Summer Isles from Ben Mor Coigach
During the Highland Clearances, attempts were made to evict the crofting tenants of Coigach in 1852–1853. However, the women of Coigach disarmed twenty policemen and sheriff officers, burning their summonses and throwing their batons into the sea. The men of Coigach formed the second line of defence should the women receive any ill-treatment. The officers of the law returned home without having served a single summons or evicting a single crofter. 4 weeks later these events were repeated when 6 constables took on the women again, but with no more success, leaving the landlord extremely frustrated. The crofters of Coigach had held out for more than two years and eventually the estate managers and the landlord gave up in trying to resettle them. Coigach was a rare victory for the people over the landlord.
Looking from Achilty toward’s the Cat’s Back above Strathpeffer on the left, with the Heights of Brahan to the right
The first grant of land of any kind to a Mackenzie of which we can be completely certain was the charter of lands near Garve in Easter Ross, given by the Earl of Ross to Alexander Mackenzie in 1463. Jean Munro points out that it may indeed have been that the Mackenzies had already established themselves in the area, since nearby Achilty, with its crannog (a man-made island in the loch) is said to have been their first possession there; while Alexander is reported as having been the first of the family to live in another crannog nearby at Kinellan, just outside the modern Strathpeffer. The tradition that Alexander’s father, Murdo Mackenzie “of the Bridge” had his wife thrown off the bridge at Scatwell, however, would suggest an earlier presence for the family in this particular part of Easter Ross. It also seems inherently unlikely – given the family’s known status and recorded marriages in this period – that Alexander could have been living permanently on the crannog on Loch Kinellan.
Loch Kinellan, above Strathpeffer, showing the crannog, an early defensive settlement of the family.
While no explanation has been attempted for the family’s all-important move to Easter Ross, it is intriguing to speculate that one possibility, given the closed nature of Highland Society in the Middle Ages, may be inheritance through marriage. An early tradition recorded that Hector Roy (or “Red” Hector) of Gairloch inherited the crucial stronghold of Castle Leod (known then as Culteleod) from his father, Alexander Ionraic (or Alexander “the Upright”). This was the castle that became the seat of the Earls of Cromartie and ultimately the present Clan Chief. Interestingly we also know from local historians that the Norse Jarl of Orkney and Caithness, Thorfinn II, established himself in the area around Dingwall in the 11th century, following his victory at Torfness. This was the battle at which King Duncan was believed to have received the death wound that carried MacBeth, Mormaer of Ross and Moray (and Thorfinn’s half-brother), to the throne of Scotland. The site of the conflict is now believed to have been on the slopes beneath Knockfarrel, on the southern side of Strathpeffer. Since the Mackenzies can trace a descent from Thorfin via a series of heiresses this might be a likely explanation for their presence in this particular location.
Brahan House, which once formed the stable block, is all that remains of Brahan Castle, the seat of the Mackenzies of Seaforth from the 17th century. The original Castle was built by Colin Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Seaforth in 1611, who thus created “one of the most stately houses in Scotland.” Although Brahan was greatly changed by Francis Lord Seaforth at the end of the eighteenth century, and the earliest surviving watercolours show a very different building, the portrait in Fortrose Town Hall of Countess Frances, dating from the beginning of the 18th century, shows a large turreted edifice in the background with an arched alcove within the walls, and a surviving stone panel from the original Castle bearing the Seaforth arms may well have been positioned between the windows above the entrance.
It was Francis Humberston Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth who at the end of the 18th century totally rebuilt the family seat at Brahan, which had been derelict since 1725 when General Wade’s men took the roof off in retaliation for the 2nd Marquis’s participation in the Jacobite risings. Francis dismantled the Castle, removing its castellated features and completely modernising its general appearance. Particularly expensive were the roof slates, the glass and the carpets, indeed all but the most common and undistinguished articles, which had to be brought long miles; and it might be estimated that such activity would have swallowed up to £10,000 in all. Inside, the house was furnished anew with the paintings of Sir Thomas Lawrence and Benjamin West. From the latter artist Seaforth commissioned at the cost of 800 guineas the historical scene of epic size and character in which his purported ancestor, Colin of Kintail, was modelled on Seaforth himself, surrounded by his tenantry. The painting now hangs in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. On the outside of Seaforth’s refurbished seat were created stables, a model home farm, kennels and lodges all to classical design and approached by an almost straight avenue which stretched for four miles through the most English of parks, the sine qua non of landed wealth and status at that time. “The place abounds in exquisite walks, wooded dells and hollows”, wrote one visitor. “It is a wild and grand place, and we were particularly delighted with the rock and river walks.” Lord Seaforth was also devoted to zoology and in the arches beneath the front staircase he had a menagerie of beasts and birds.
In the 20th century, Brahan’s owner, James Stewart-Mackenzie, was created Baron Seaforth in 1921, but on his death without an heir in 1923, he left the estate to a trust. Brahan Castle was briefly requisitioned during World War II and after the war its condition deteriorated. In the early 1950s the building was demolished, leaving only the north wall of the 19th century building, which served as a garden ornament.
One part of the estate, known as “The Dell”, comprises a wooded area with a variety of mature specimen trees, as well as a family burial ground containing the “Angel headstone”, marking the grave of the last Baron Seaforth, James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie (1847-1923) and his wife Mary (who died in 1933).
A monument on the estate, around 1 mile (1.6 km) west of the site of the Castle, commemorates the death in 1823 of Caroline Mackenzie, daughter of the last Seaforth, who died after being thrown from a pony carriage near the same location, supposedly fulfilling one of the Brahan Seer’s prophecies.
Originally built in 1179 by David, brother to King William the Lyon, on the site of the Castle of Eddirdour (“Between the waters”), remain only the ruins of this elongated, L-plan, mainly 16th-century castle (with extensive 19th century additions). Redcastle was visited by Mary Queen of Scots in 1562. Rory Mor Mackenzie of Redcastle, brother of the Chief, Colin Cam acquired lands at Artafallie and Redcastle mill in the Black Isle and in 1589 received a charter from Keith of Delny of the lands of Redcastle and others, which included the old royal castle.
Long the seat of Rory’s descendants, tragically Redcastle has since suffered serious neglect. To avoid taxes a recent owner, not a Mackenzie, took the roof off, and within 40 years the Castle became derelict.
In 1557 Kilcoy, another Black Isle stronghold, was spelt “Culcowy” and also “Culcolly” from the Gaelic Cu coille, meaning “Nook of the Wood” or, as given by one or two authorities, “Nook of the Hazel wood”. Early references to Kilcoy may be found in the Kilravock Papers, particularly in the charter of 26th March 1294, and the “Davach [416 acres] of Culcolli” is mentioned in charters concerning Edradouer (i.e. Redcastle) during the period 1299 to 1311, in grants to the Earl of Ross.
Also in 1511, there was a charter of Culcowy to Henry Stewart; and later, in 1554, to John Stewart, son and heir apparent of Robert Stewart of Muren. However, actual ownership of the property does not really become clear until the year 1605, since that was when there was a marriage settlement pertaining to Kilcoy: this was granted to Sir James Stewart (of Newton and Muren) and Jean Fraser (of Lovat). Records show the marriage of James Stewart with Jean Fraser took place on the 1st August 1603.
On 15th August 1611, the now widowed Jean Fraser married Alexander Mackenzie, 3rd son of Colin Cam Mackenzie, 11th Baron of Kintail. Six and a half years later, on 29th January 1618, Kilcoy was granted in marriage settlement to Alexander Mackenzie and Jean Fraser – with Robert Stewart having resigned his interest – thus making Alexander the 1st Mackenzie of Kilcoy. The fate of Kilcoy Castle was reputed to have been included in one of the Brahan Seer’s prophecies that apparently came true.
Once known as Kinkell Clarsach, the Castle’s association with the harp is recorded in the two mermaid harpists carved in the lintel of the hall fireplace in 1679, either side of three Mackenzie coats-of-arms with sets of initials, commemorating the marriages of successive Mackenzie lairds of Kilcoy.
By 1846 the Castle had fallen into a “ruinous condition” because the roof had been removed to avoid taxes, as was usual in those days. Fortunately by the end of the 19th century, the Burton-Mackenzies inherited Kilcoy, taking possession of what was then a near total ruin in 1890. They called in an architect: Alexander Ross, known as “The Christopher Wren of the North” and his superb restoration and extension of the Castle saved Kilcoy for posterity.
By 1968 the Robinson family owned the Castle and although they opened the gardens to the public, the only alterations they did to the Castle was to fit two new windows on the north side of the new wing and have plumbing and electrical wiring fitted throughout. The present owners of Kilcoy Castle have made some changes in the content and lay-out of the grounds and open the gardens periodically to the public.
Rosehaugh House was a magnificent building on the Rosehaugh estate to the west of Avoch, until demolished in 1959. There has been a house on the grounds since around 1762 – initially a modest L-shaped building, on the lands known by the two names of Pittanochtie and subsequently Rosehaugh. Pittanochtie, which is the older of the two names, is mentioned as early as the 14th century. In the 1660s the lands were acquired by grant by the celebrated King’s Advocate, Sir George Mackenzie, the son of Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin Castle, near Tain, brother of the Earl of Seaforth, head of the Clan Mackenzie.
Schooled abroad on the Arcadian literature of Madame de Scudery and Jean de la Fontaine, we known that Sir George had a love of gardening, employing John Reid at his Lowland estate of Shank in the 1680s, when this celebrated gardener published his innovative Scots Gard’ner, and it is no accident that his poetic spirit was reflected in the name he gave to the Black Isle estate from which he took his territorial designation: Rosehaugh, the meadow of wild roses. It was said that Sir George was so fond of the surrounding walks that he used to call it rudeness and want of taste in any of his friends or acquaintances to ride on horseback along them.
The first substantial house at the site of Rosehaugh was built by Sir James W. Mackenzie of Scatwell, Bt, Lord Lieutenant of Ross-shire in 1790 and was described as follows in the Old Statistical Account:
“His seat of Rosehaugh House stands on a beautiful bank about a mile and a half from the sea, on the north side of the southern vale. It is a modern edifice, substantially built and commodious, and cost between £3000 and £4000 sterling”.
In 1864 the house and lands were bought by James Fletcher. At this time the estate extended to 6,400 acres. On taking ownership, James immediately embarked on schemes of reclamation and improvement on a massive and expensive scale, attempting and succeeding where no-one would have believed it possible. He drained Loch Scadden, situated above Avoch between Limekilns and Craiglands, and covering almost 6 acres. The excavation of a 15 foot deep canal through the loch with numerous branch drains on either side successfully drained the area, thereafter leaving the soil to produce the richest of crops. A total of 3300 acres of waste and improvable land was reclaimed, enclosed, drained or planted.
Tarbat House as built by the 1st Earl of Cromartie
The Tarbat Peninsula, north of the Cromary Firth, was at one point the main landholding of the branch of the Mackenzies who were to go on to be the Earls of Cromartie. Tarbat House was erected on the site of a previous mansion which had been built as his country seat for George Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Cromartie in the late 17th century on the grounds of the demolished Milntown Castle. When George Mackenzie had bought the Milntown estate in 1656, he renamed it New Tarbat after Tarbat Castle, the family’s original seat in Tarbat. Some of the remains of George Mackenzie’s mansion were incorporated into the new one. Concurrent with the construction of the new house at the end of the 18th century, Lord MacLeod planted thousands of new forest and fir trees on the estate. Some of the final building work on the house was unfinished when he died in 1789 after a year-long illness. The remaining work was completed to his plans by his cousin and successor, Kenneth Mackenzie.
New Tarbat House in an illustration published in 1876
Sir George Steuart Mackenzie described the house in 1810: “Tarbat House is quite plain outside. Within are some handsome rooms. A great deal of space has been taken up by the architect having indulged himself in displaying wide landing spaces, and a spacious staircase. These are extremely pleasant during the summer months but are hardly suited to our long and dreary winters. The rooms are elegantly proportioned, and there is a fine view of Cromarty from the windows of the principal rooms.”
Tarbat House remained in the ownership of the Mackenzie family until the death of Sibell Lilian MacKenzie, Countess of Cromartie in 1962. It was placed on the “Buildings at risk” register of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland in 1963 and added to the register of Category A listed buildings in 1971. An arson attack in 1987 badly damaged the building, destroying the roof entirely, and while the east wing has now been restored, much of the rest of the house remains in a state of disrepair.
The ruined Tarbat House in 2017
A church has been on record here since at least 1255, and the present building dates from a complete restoration in 1746. Rights were acquired by John Mackenzie of Tarbat in 1634 for the use of the church by him and his heirs as a burial place. An impressive mural monument in the north aisle of the church commemorates William Mackenzie, minister of the parish from 1638.
Tarbat Old Parish Church
There are many interesting funerary monuments (from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries) in the churchyard, the most imposing being that of Thomas Dingwall and Hector Mackenzie. Many Pictish and early mediaeval remains have also been discovered around the church. Funding has been secured for a major archaeological excavation of the site, and this is now well under way.
The Church also contains a Baptism Well, which, according to an inscription “may have been the original Tobar a’ Bhaistidh that is said to have been sanctified by St Rule when he landed in Portmahomack, on his way to St Andrews. Having drunk from the well he cast into it a fragment of the Sacred Cross and blessed its waters forever. The water is used to this day to baptise the eldest sons of the Earls of Cromartie, a tradition begun by a witch, Kirstie Bheag, who first used it in the baptism of the son of the third Earl at Ballone Castle”.
Ballone Castle is a 3-storey, late 16th century, Z-plan tower house (a notable feature is one round tower, one square) and boasts a truly superb, cliff-edged coastal setting – overlooking the Moray Firth – near Portmahomack, Tarbat Ness. Said to have been built by a line of the Earls of Ross, it was first on record in the early 17th century when belonging to the Dunbars of Tarbat. In 1623 it was purchased by the Mackenzies of Tarbat (the predecessors of the Earls of Cromartie), though they appear to have left it unoccupied after a couple of generations or so, after which it fell into ruin for several centuries. Happily, in the late 1990s, present owners Lachie Stewart (an architect) and his wife, Annie (a talented and very successful pottery designer), rescued it from its ruinous state and it is now fully restored.
Kinkell was the original Easter Ross seat of the Mackenzies of Gairloch. A complete yellow-rendered tower house, Kinkell Castle is located on the Black Isle a mile southeast of Conon Bridge. Completed in the 1590s for John Mackenzie of Gairloch, it comprises three storeys and an attic, although it has been suggested that it may have been reduced by a storey in the 18th century. Kinkell’s thick walls rise from foundations of large granite boulders and an attached round tower contains the stair, capped by a watch-room. The kitchen once occupied the vaulted basement, with the great hall on the first floor above, in which a fireplace displays a shield with the date 1594. In the late 18th century, a three-storey extension was added at one end and the Castle’s defensive features, such as its gun loops, were covered over and some of the windows enlarged.
There is some evidence that supports the tradition that Bonnie Prince Charlie was hidden here for a time after the Battle of Culloden in 1745. Used for a time as a farm-building, the castle became a ruin but was restored in 1969 by the artist, Gerald Laing.
By the end of the 18th century the Mackenzies of Gairloch had adopted the more commodious Conan House as their “Lowland” seat in place of the nearby Kinkell Castle. Restyled in the late 18th century, the original building had been the former Logie House and seat of the Mackenzies of Logie in the 17th century.
The house is a mile south-west of Conon Bridge near where the Logie Candlemas market used to take place. It was there that the Battle of Logiebride took place in 1587, a skirmish between men of the Clan Mackenzie against men of the Clan Munro and the Bain family of Tulloch Castle. The earliest account of this incident was written by Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656) who was living at the time of the battle, in his book the History of the Earldom of Sutherland written in about 1625. Gordon stated that in 1597 an “accident” happened in Ross at a fair in Lagavraid which almost put all the neighboring counties of Ross into combustion. He states that the quarrel was between John Macgillichallum (brother to the Laird of Raasay) and Alexander Bane (brother of Duncan Bane of Tulloch). Gordon goes on to state that the Munros assisted Bane and the Mackenzies assisted John Macgillichallum, who was killed along with John Mac-Murdo Mac-William, and three others of the Clan MacKenzie. Alexander Bane escaped but on his side John Munro of Culcraggie, with his brother, Hutcheon Munro, and John Munro Robertson were killed. The Munros and Mackenzies then prepared to invade each other but were reconciled by friends and neighbours.
Another impressive building on the Conan estate, with its tall central tower above an arched entrance, is the mains steading, built in 1822 by Sir Hector Mackenzie.
Curiously Conan House retains the original local spelling, unlike the River Conon and the nearby village of Conon Bridge. This may accurately reflect the Gaelic Caoin-an, or ”Gentle River” (although the derivation Coin-on, or “Dog
River”, has also been suggested).
Old Allangrange House
A typical “Laird’s House” Allangrange, which is located on the western side of the Black Isle, was the seat of the branch of Mackenzies who descended from a younger son of Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin, a brother of the 1st and 2nd Earls of Seaforth. Lochslin’s eldest son was the famous, Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, the King’s Advocate, dubbed “Bluidy Mackenzie” for his prosecution of the Covenantors.
In 1829 George Falconer Mackenzie, 4th laird of Allangrange was served heir male to the Mackenzies of Kintail, but following his death and that of his brother, James Fowler Mackenzie, 5th of Allnangrange, the Mackenzie Chiefship once more went into dormancy.
Coul, just to the west of Strathpeffer is the seat of the Mackenzies who descend from Alexander, an illegitimate son of Colin Cam, 11th Chief of the Clan. It was his son and heir, Sir Alexander who received a baronetcy, and further remodelled in 1821 to the designs of the Edinburgh brothers, Richard and Robert Dickson, who are best known for their
spire on the Tron Kirk in the heart of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile.
A family monument in Fortrose Cathedral is purported to depict the house as it originally was before it was rebuilt in the late 18th century, thanks to the fortune that the 6th Baronet, Sir Alexander, made in the Bengal army.
Perhaps the most distinguished member of the family was the 7th Baronet, Sir George Steuart Mackenzie. A celebrated geologist and antiquary his interests were wide ranging and eclectic such that he can be regarded as the epitome of the Scottish Enlightenment. Seeing natural knowledge’s potential for social and cultural improvement, he actively promoted learned societies, being also a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and President of the Physical Section of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was admitted to the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh in 1820 and in 1825 founded a new society, the Northern Institution for the Promotion of Science and Literature, based in Inverness. Despite a controversial reputation owing to his part in the Highland Clearances, Mackenzie made a major contribution to Agriculture as a leading thinker in livestock management and his Treatise on the Diseases and Management of Sheep, published in 1809 has been seen as pre-empting the idea of natural selection eleven years before Darwin first proposed the mechanism in evolution for the survival of the fittest.
Kenneth Mackenzie, 1st of Killichrist, 4th son of Kenneth Mackenzie, 7th of Kintail, had a 2nd son, Thomas of Lochluichart, who, in 1598, obtained from Kenneth, 7th (afterwards first Lord Mackenzie) of Kintail a tack (or lease) of the lands of Ord on the Black Isle. It was his son, John, however, who was the first of the family to possess Ord outright. He obtained a charter from Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, of the lands and mill of Ord dated 23rd July, 1607, and on the 15th of September, 1637, George second Earl of Seaforth granted him a regular free charter of the whole. A typical laird’s house, Ord House was originally built in 1602 by Thomas Mackenzie, who leased land around Muir of Ord in 1598. In 1810, another Thomas Mackenzie enlarged the house in keeping with its original style, giving it its present-day appearance (some further remodelling also took place in 1850). It was this Thomas Mackenzie who promoted the building in 1838 of the local distillery, Glen Ord Distillery.
Fairburn Tower stands to the south of the River Conon, right on the edge of the mountains, overseeing the routes from Strathconon and Glen Orrin. The Castle was built by Murdo Mackenzie, a nephew of the Mackenzie Chief, John of Killin, who was Master of the Bedchamber to King James V, soon after he acquired the land in the 1540s. Before that, however, we know that another Mackenzie, Hector Roy, 1st laird of Gairloch, had some kind of (most likely defensive) residence at Fairburn prior to the building of the Tower. The stair-tower was added in the 17th century.
The Brahan Seer [See the Seer’s prophecy on Fairburn Tower] prophesied remarkable things about the Mackenzies of Fairburn and the Tower! Although recently restored by the Landmark Trust, the Castle had become a ruin and, in accordance with the purported prophecy of the Seer, in 1851 a cow calved in the garret when it was being used by a farmer to store hay. The cow had gone up the tower following a trail of hay, had a good feed at the top and became stuck. She gave birth to a fine calf and both were taken down some 5 days later.
The River Conon at Scatwell
Scatwell House in Strathconon is set amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the Highlands. It first enters Mackenzie family history as the setting for an incident that was recounted by the 18th century family historian, Dr George Mackenzie. Apparently the reason why the 15th century Mackenzie Chief was named Ionraic was because it meant “Innocent”, arising from his miraculous survival as an innocent in his mother’s womb when she was thrown off the Bridge of Scatwell. This was done by the kinsmen of Alexander’s father, Murdo (known as Murdo “of the Bridge” for that very reason), since at that time she was thought unable to bear the Chief an heir. Scatwell subsequently became the seat of the Mackenzies of Scatwell, who were descended from Kenneth Mackenzie,son of Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Coigeach, Tutor of Kintail.
Bunchrew stands on the southern banks of the Beauly Firth. The Forbes’ Trustees sold the House to John Fraser in August 1842 for sum of £13,650. He was a tea merchant and a native of Inverness. His son Robert married Beatrice Mackenzie of Ord and the owners’ name became Fraser-Mackenzie. Bunchrew is now a hotel.
It is said that Isobel, an elderly and extremely benign ghost occasionally walks the corridors of Bunchrew at night. She is the long deceased daughter of Sir Gilbert Ogilvie of Powrie and wife to Kenneth 12th Chief of the Clan Mackenzie. Apart from her nocturnal ramblings she has a favourite table in the hotel restaurant.
As the cathedral city of Ross-shire, Fortrose served as the Mackenzies’ effective capital, Chanonry Castle there being the primary residence of the chiefs prior to Brahan Castle.
Chanonry Castle (the tall, gabled building) in Fortrose, beside the Moray Firth
Chanonry Castle was acquired by Colin Cam Mackenzie and was his grandson, Colin, the 1st Earl of Seaforth’s first major building project, whereby he improved the ‘”stately well contrived commodious house” built nearly a century before by Bishop John Fraser. One family manuscript states that Colin “caused Build … the Easter half of the Castle of Chanonry” and, according to John MacRa, the minister of Dingwall who wrote a history the Mackenzies at the end of the 17th century, the 1st Earl of Seaforth “lived most of his time at Chanonry in great state and very magnificently”, a statement supported by the inventory of the contents and furnishings sold by Smythe of Methven in the 1650s: silver gilt, velvet curtains with gold thread, Arras hangings and petit point are amongst the items calculated at Chanonry at a cost of £108.12.10.
The Cathedral at Fortrose was built in the first half of the 13th century, although it was extended and altered in the 14th and 15th centuries. This picturesque, 13th-century red sandstone ruin – situated in the very charming centre of Fortrose – is a mere fragment of the church founded here by King David I of Scotland for the see of Ross. The existing remains are the south aisle of the nave and the nearby sacristy or undercroft of the chapter house. At the Reformation of the 1560s, it was used as the town’s church, although lead from its roof was granted to Lord Ruthven in 1572. Charles I tried to encourage repairs in 1626 as part of his attempts to restructure the Church of Scotland on the same lines as the Anglican or English church. However, it is believed that Oliver Cromwell used stone from the Cathedral for building the new fort in Inverness. While the sacristy and chapter house were still used for local gatherings of officials late in the 18th century, like other Scottish ex-cathedrals, its grounds remained in use as a graveyard. Among the memorials to the many Mackenzies that are buried here are the tombs of the 18th century agricultural “Improver” and amateur scientist, Sir George Steuart Mackenzie of Coul, depicting a ruined castle thought possibly to be the original seat of the Mackenzies of Coul; and one to Francis Humberston Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth and his family.
[Fortrose Cathedral is in the care of Historic Scotland, and the grounds are open to the public all year round. Fortrose Town Hall now houses a number of the Seaforth family portraits, which once hung at Brahan Castle.]
The north transept of Beauly Priory where Kenneth Mackenzie “of the Battle” and the Mackenzies of Gairloch are buried
Beauly Priory was a Valliscaulian monastic community that was probably founded in 1230. The church houses some fine funerary monuments, including a number for the Clan Mackenzie. There is one to Prior Alexander Mackenzie (died 1479) at the entrance to the south transept, now minus its effigy. Another one, dedicated to Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail, known as Kenneth “of the Battle” (who died 1492), stands at the entrance to the north transept, still with its knightly effigy. Other Mackenzie tombs lie in the north transept, which was restored in 1900–01, particularly those of the Mackenzies of Gairloch, who used it as their burial chapel from the 17th to the 19th century.
THE ISLAND OF LEWIS
The MacKenzies’ relationship with the Island of Lewis began at the end of the 16th century as a consequence of their having taken the role of effectively being the Crown’s chief agent in the north. Their conquest of Lewis, the one significant area of the Highlands and Islands that continued to trouble the Government, happened after the Mackenzies had been drawn into the dispute over Lewis through the marriage of the Chief, John Mackenzie of Killin’s daughter, Janet, to Roderick MacLeod of Lewis. After a long-drawn-out quarrel, which continued after the death of Roderick MacLeod in 1595 – and culminated in the forfeiture of Lewis when Roderick’s son, Torquil Cononach was denounced as a rebel in February 1597 – Torquil relinquished his rights to the Island to the Mackenzie Chief.
The Mackenzie Chiefs were to take their title in 1623 as Earls (and Jacobite Marquises) of Seaforth after Loch Sìthphort, or “Sea-Firth”, the great sea-loch on the east coast of the Island of Lewis in 1623 following the recent acquisition of this island principality in the Outer Hebrides.
The 1st Earl of Seaforth rebuilt the Castle of Stornoway on Lewis from its former ruin. The Castle occupied a rocky island in Anchor Bay just off the spur of land upon which Stornoway sits, offering a good degree of defence due to being separated from the town by a channel of water. The ruins of the castle remained in the harbour and are marked on old maps, while a map of Stornoway harbour surveyed in 1846 and published by the Hydrographic Office in 1849 shows the Castle as two rectangular buildings, although how accurate a depiction this is remains unclear. Although the exact form the Castle took is unknown, it may have looked similar to the MacNeil’s Kisimul Castle which occupies a similar island location in Castlebay on Barra.
Lews Castle, Stornoway
In the 18th century William Mackenzie, the 2nd Marquis of Seaforth resided at Seaforth Lodge on the outskirts of Stornoway, known today as Lews Castle after its reinvention in the 19th century when the Island was acquired from the Mackenzies by Sir James Matheson. A poem survives by the 2nd Marquis’s bard, Murdo Matheson, which conveys something of the reception the young Chief would have received on his homecoming as the pipers of Lewis heralded his arrival:
“A toast to that northern earl who left us
yesterday to cross the seas with a strong and
lusty crew not to be deterred by mischance or
danger; a roaring sea on each side of her
bows. On the deck of your swift ship I took
my leave of you and was recompensed in gold.
God protect you from peril, from angry sea
and from narrow straits, from cold
inhospitable rocks; seven blessings from
tenantry and people to you, success be yours
throughout your life, beloved one to see you
Stornoway Harbour. Seaforth Lodge is the white building in the foreground to the left
The Marquis spent his last years at Seaforth Lodge and is buried at the nearby St Columba’s Uidh Church (below, probably in the western chapel which is believed to have been built by the Mackenzies in the 17th century).
St Columba’s Church, Uidh
Besides the chiefly line, of the MacKenzie cadet families who established themselves on the Island, the most significant were the Mackenzies of Kildun, descendants of the 2nd Earl of Seaforth and staunch Jacobites. Kildun House was at Arnish, the promontory on the south side of Stornoway Bay. Following the example of their Chief they were Roman Catholics and as Jacobite exiles included the Jacobite spy, the Chevalier Mackenzie Douglas and two Russian rear admirals, both called Thomas Mackenzie, who were father and son, the latter becoming commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy in Crimea, where he was responsible for the establishment of Sevastopol as the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet. Kildun House no longer exists, having been burnt down in the 1970s, but nearby is a monument to Prince Charlie, who was given shelter by Lady Kildun in the spring of 1746, having made his way there after landing at Loch Seaforth, in hiding from the Government search party. The hospitable hostess received the Prince enthusiastically, having a cow killed for him, for which she refused his offer of payment. It was a particularly welcome break for the fugitive who at Kildun House was able to have one of his companions dry his sodden shirt by the fireside. Lady Kildun was to assist the Prince by giving him two pieces of meal, a wooden plate, a “junt of butter betwixt two tardles of bread”, brandy and sugar, from which they were later to concoct a “jorum of steaming punch” which the Prince was in the event forced to drink cold. Lady Kildun then advised him that his safety was best served by returning to Benbecula, under the protection of her kinsman, ClanRanald, procuring a boat for him to cross Loch Stornoway, before being escorted “over the sea to Skye” by Flora MacDonald.
The Monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie at Arnish
Perhaps Stornoway’s most significant son, however, was Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Canada’s greatest explorer, who like Colonel Colin Mackenzie, the 1st Surveyor General of India, was schooled in Stornoway. The Mackenzie Mausoleum in St Columba at Uidh was built by Colonel Colin’s sister, Mary Mackenzie in 1825 for her parents, Murdoch and Barbara Mackenzie, her brother Alexander and, of course, her brother Colin Mackenzie. Mary herself is also buried and memorialised there.
CLAN MACKENZIE AND THE ISLAND OF LEWIS PART ONE: THE CHIEFS
CLAN MACKENZIE AND THE ISLAND OF LEWIS PART TWO: THE CADETS
BEYOND MACKENZIE COUNTRY
Standing on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt in Sutherland, Ardvreck Castle once comprised a rectangular-shaped keep comprising 3 storeys. Despite the small size of the ruined tower that survives, Ardvreck was originally a large and imposing structure and it is thought that the Castle included a walled garden and formal courtyard.
The Castle is thought to have been constructed around 1590 by the MacLeods who at that time owned Assynt and the surrounding area, including Coigach. The most well-known historical tale concerning the Castle is that on April 30th 1650 when the Royalist general, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, was captured and held at the stronghold before being transported to Edinburgh for trial and execution. Defeated at the Battle of Carbisdale, he sought sanctuary at Ardvreck with Neil MacLeod of Assynt. At the time, Neil was absent and it is said that his wife, Christine, tricked Montrose into the dungeon and sent for troops of the Covenanter Government.
In 1672 the Castle was attacked and captured by the Mackenzies who thereafter took control of the Assynt lands which became the patrimony of the 3rd Earl of Seaforth’s second son, the Hon John Mackenzie and his descendants. In 1726 the Mackenzies constructed a more modern manor house nearby, Calda House, which takes its name from the Calda burn beside which it stands. The house burned down under mysterious circumstances one night in 1737 and both Calda House and Ardvreck Castle stand as ruins today.
Hatton Castle is a typical Z-shaped tower-house near Newtyle in Angus with views extending across Strathmore. The building was commissioned in 1575 by Laurence, 4th Lord Oliphant, but has since had a number of owners. Having fallen into a severe state of ruin it was temporarily re-acquired at the end of the last century by an Oliphant descendant. In the late 17th century it came into the possession of Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh as part of the dowry of his wife, Margaret Halyburton, and much of his surviving correspondence bears the address of Hatton.
A nephew of the 2nd Earl of Seaforth, Sir George followed a remarkably successful legal career, becoming the King’s Advocate in 1677, in which role he has since suffered from a rather sinister image as “Bluidy Mackenzie”, a consequence of his vigorous persecution of the Covenanters. Yet, as well as following a remarkably successful career as a jurist he was celebrated by his contemporaries as “the cleverest man in Scotland”, John Dryden dubbing him “that noble wit of Scotland”. He was the most frequently published Scottish writer of his day, his output encompassing jurisprudence, moral philosophy, political theory and imaginative literature, including what is regarded as the first Scottish novel.
Royston House, near Edinburgh was built in the mid 1680s by Sir George Mackenzie, Viscount Tarbat, the future 1st Earl of Cromartie. Tarbat was involved in the reconstruction of Holyroodhouse, from which he diverted materials and labour from there to Royston. He also most likely had a part in the unique design of this important example of Scottish baroque architecture himself.
This most elegant of houses betrays stylistic affinities with Sir William Bruce’s peculiarly Scottish brand of classical architecture. The two end pavilions of the noble south façade, for example, have ogee roofs reminiscent of many of Bruce’s buildings. Royston also appears to owe a clear debt to Vaux le Vicomte, the French mansion that inspired Versailles and which Bruce is known to have visited. Bruce’s most recent biographer, however, has emphasised the part Cromartie himself played in its design and John Gifford wrote that “the South front is without parallel in Scotland, the general outline is French, the detail Edinburgh”.