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Harsh lives of the Macleods of Lewis
Harsh lives of the Macleods of Lewis
Roderick Macleod, the last of the Macleod chiefs of Lewis, was married three times. His first wife, a Mackenzie from Kintail, bore a son, Torquil Conanach. Roderick refused to acknowledge the boy, believing him to be the result of an adulterous affair with Hugh Morrison, brieve of Lewis. He divorced that wife, and her son was sent to Kintail to live with her people. His second wife bore him a son Torquil Oighre (heir) who drowned in 1566 and his third wife gave him two sons Torquil Dubh and Norman. As well as those sons he also had five illegitimate sons; Tormod Uigeach, Murdo, Donald, Neil Macleod (Niall Odhar) and Ruairidh Og.
After Torquil Oighre's death, Torquil Conanach returned to Lewis, captured his father and kept him prisoner for two years, releasing him only when he had agreed to acknowledge him as legal heir. This was done but immediately revoked when he gained his freedom.
Roderick had the support of three of his illegitimate sons: Donald, Neil and Ruairidh whilst Torquil Conanach was aided by Tormod Uigeach and Murdo. In ensuing spats between the siblings Donald murdered Tormod Uigeach and imprisoned Murdo at Stornoway Castle. Torquil again returned from Kintail, freed Murdo and left his son John in charge of matters on the island. John was murdered by Ruairidh Og and Torquil, seeking revenge, executed Donald.
When old Roderick died in 1595 Torquil Dubh was named as successor, a matter that greatly angered the Mackenzies. Torquil Conanach captured Stornoway Castle, seized the writs and charters for Lewis and passed them to Mackenzie of Kintail, who believed he had some claim on the island. But possession was impossible so long as Torquil Dubh was alive. The brieve of Lewis, John Morrison, and Murdo Macleod lured Torquil Dubh aboard a Dutch vessel and was taken to Coigeach where he was executed.
Neil, by this time, was left to deal with matters on the island, he pursued the brieve and his Morrison followers. The brieve was killed and his son Malcolm was brought back to Stornoway and hanged at Gallow's Hill.
In 1597 James V1, who had an eye on the islands, had an act passed in Parliament that made it compulsory for all land owners in the Highlands and Islands to appear before the Lords of the Exchequer by May 1598. Failure to comply meant forfeiture of lands. The writs and charters for Lewis were in the hands of Mackenzie of Kintail and could not be produced so the island was granted to a group of men from Fife who were to "civilise" the island at their own expense. In October of 1598 a group of about six hundred arrived at Stornoway, but they were soon disillusioned by the state of the land and the constant bombardment by locals under the direction of Neil and Murdo Macleod (who had put aside their differences to beat the common enemy).
One of the settler's leaders, James Learmonth of Balcomie was captured by Murdo and held prisoner for a year until he promised to pay a ransom. He was released but died on the voyage home and the ransom was never paid. Neil, who had never forgiven his half-brother for his part in Torquil Dubh's death, captured Murdo and killed twelve of his Morrison followers. He handed Murdo over to the settlers, who in turn, promised Neil a pardon and some land. Not too long after that Neil again fell out with the settlers and an ambush was set for his capture but, being forewarned, he escaped after killing sixty of those sent to get him. The Mackenzies of Kintail released Norman, Torquil Dubh's brother, knowing that the islanders would rally to him. They did and the castle was sacked. Many years of turmoil between the Crown, the Mackenzies and the colonists followed, and by 1610 the colonists sold their title to Mackenzie of Kintail for 10,000merks.
The Lords of the Privy Council appointed Lord Kintail His Majesty's Justice and Commisioner for Lewis, with instruction to seek out and capture Neil Macleod and his band of followers. Neil sought refuge on the island of Berisay off the north-west coast of Bernera and held out there for three years. He was finally removed when his family were captured and placed on a rock that submerged at high tide. He was brought to trial in Edinburgh on 30th March 1613 charged with fire-raising, burning, murder, theft and piracy and sentenced to hang at Mercat Cross, his head to be struck from his body and set above Nether Bow Port (where his brother Murdo's head had been stuck twelve years before.)