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The Fife Adventurers

The Fife Adventurers

In 1598, King James VI granted a Crown Charter to a group of men from Fife, giving them ownership of the Isle of Lewis, hitherto in the control of the Clan Macleod and known as a place of feuding and lawlessness. The island had a reputation for fertile land and bountiful seas, and James had by act of parliament removed Lewis, nominally at least, from the grasp of the Macleods.

The Fife Adventurers, as they became known, undertook to tame the island, colonise it with Lowlanders and, presumably, reap benefits for themselves and the Crown. They arrived with 600 mercenaries and settlers in October 1598 and faced several problems: the island was not nearly as fertile as they had believed, and they were under constant harassment from Macleod brothers, Neil and Murdo, and their followers.

Neil and Murdo were at odds with each other, and Neil formed a temporary alliance with the Adventurers. Murdo was executed for his resistance to the settlers, Neil was once again at war with his former allies, and the settlement was attacked and burned. The settlers were dispatched back to the mainland, and the King denounced the people of Lewis as ignorant, godless, barbaric and criminal. A second attempt at settlement was made in 1605 but further difficulties ensued and the last remaining Adventurers, Lord Balmerino, Sir James Spence and Sir George Hay, resigned from the attempt and in 1610 sold the title to the island, for 10,000 merks, to Mackenzie of Kintail, who had been involved with both the Macleods and the Adventurers throughout the episode.

The Mackenzies thus began a 234-year ownership of Lewis, and were accepted by most of the population. Neil Macleod and his band refused to surrender and withdrew to Berisay, until he was lured to capture and executed in 1613.


Title: The Fife Adventurers
Record Type: Historical Events
Type: Period Of Ownership
Date: 1598
Record Maintained By: HC
Subject Id: 65016