Saturday, April 25, 2009

Alexander Alisdair Crotach MacLeod

Alexander Alisdair Crotach MacLeod


MacLeod Clan

MacLeod Clan Crest: A bull's head between two flags.

MacLeod Clan Motto: Hold Fast.

History of Clan MacLeod:
Olaf the Black was the Norse King of Man and the Isles who lived in the early 13th century. Leod was his younger son who, around 1220, married the daughter and heiress of MacRaild on Skye. She brought him Dunvegan Castle, and, when his father died, he inherited the islands of Lewis and Harris. Following the defeat of King Haakon of Norway at the Battle of Largs in 1263, Leod found himself virtually in control of the Hebrides.

Leod had four sons. Tormod, the eldest, inherited Dunvegan and Harris, becoming Chief of these lands and adopting the name MacLeod of Dunvegan (“Siol Tormod”). Torquil, Leod's second son, (“Siol Torquil”) inherited Lewis and Raasay, and in due course came into possession of Assynt, Cogeach and Gareloch on the mainland.

The MacLeods of Dunvegan supported Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Independence and followed the Lords of the Isles at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. Fortunately, MacLeod managed to remain in favour throughout the Crown's attempts to subdue the Highland Chiefs, largely through the efforts of Alasdair Crotach who, in 1542, after a long dispute with the MacDonalds of Sleat, secured the title to Trotternish in the north of Skye.

The MacLeods of Dunvegan fought for the Royalist Cause at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and over 500 MacLeod Clansmen were killed making it impossible for them to participate effectively in either the 1715 or 1745 Jacobite Uprisings. When Prince Charles Edward Stuart arrived in Scotland, the Dunvegan MacLeods, convinced that he was lacking the necessary resources and men to succeed, refused to join him.


Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland‎ - Page 130
by Society of Antiquaries of Scotland - Scotland - 1885

Alexander Maeleod of Dunvegan, better known as Alaster Crotach, or Humpbacked, had in 1498 a charter from King James IV. of the lands commonly called Ardmanach, in Herag of the Lewis, which had belonged hereditarily to his father William Macleod, and had been held by him in capite of John, the late Lord of the Isles, by reason of whose forfeiture they were then in the king's hands. The reddendo of the charter is the ordinary service of ward and relief, together with the attendance of a galley of twenty-six oars and two galleys of sixteen oars when required, the king reserving the eyries or falcons' nests within the said lands. The inscription assigns the erection of the elaborately ornamented tomb to the year 1528, and hence it would appear that it must either have been erected in honour of William Macleod by his son Alexander, or alternatively by Alexander (son of William) in his own lifetime for himself. Alaster Crotach was alive in 1539, for in that year he had a charter of the lands and barony of Glenelg, which Hugh Fraser of Lovat had then resigned. He is mentioned as dead in a document, dated 10th January 1546-7, which conveys to the Earl of Argylo a gift of the ward of the lands which belonged to umquhile Alexander Macleod of Dunvegan. Alaster Crotach was succeeded by his eldest son William, who died without male issue in 1553, leaving an infant daughter Mary, sole heir to the old hereditary possessions of the Seill Tormod or Macleods of Harris. These possessions included the lands of Harris, Dunvegan, Minganish, Bracadale, Duirinish, Lyne- dale, and Glenelg, but he was also the vassal of the Crown in the lands of Trouterness, Sleat, and North Uist, which made these extensive estates a male fief.(Alaster Crotach had obtained a charter of the bailiary of these lands 15th June 1498 ; but a fortnight after, on 28th June, another charter made the same grant to Torquil M'Lcod of Lewis. In 1528 Alexander, the laird of Harris, brought an action before the Lords of Council against John MacTorchill M'Leod and others, for dispossessing them of the bailiary of Trouterness and lands annexed to that office.) The contention which arose over the succession in consequence, and the subsequent fortunes of the heiress Mary Macleod, as one of the four Maries, famous in the Court of Mary Queen of Scots, are matters of history, and need not be further referred to, as we are at present more specially concerned with the history of the fabric itself. Buchanan states that the church of Rowdill was built by Alexander Macleod of Harris—the Alaster Crotach already mentioned, who first appears in possession of Harris in 1498, and was dead in 1546. The " personage of Roidill in Hereis" appears among " the teinds and personages pertaining to the Bishop," in the rental of the Bishopric of the Isles and Abbacy of Icolmkill drawn up in 1561. The writer of the notice in the Old Statistical Account states that the church had fallen into a ruinous condition, and was repaired in 1784 by an Alexander Macleod, then of Harris


I found a book that says the galley ship on Alexander's tomb was a seventeen room galley. (The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain, 660-1649‎ - Page 167
by N. A. M. Rodger - History - 1999)

An article in The Celtic monthly, says that Alaisdair built one of the towers of Dunvegan castle.



Transactions‎ - Page 62
by Gaelic Society of Inverness - Scottish Gaelic philology - 1900

Alexander Macleod, who was well known as " Alastair Crotach," or " Hump-backed," on the death of his father, was acknowledged by the clan as their Chief. He had already distinguished himself by his valour, and is said to have been learned for the age. During the time of the seventh Chief, a large party of Macdonalds landed at Ardiveg, in Skye, with the view of laying waste the country of the Macleods, and were commanded by Eachainn MacDhomhnuill, son of the Chief of Clan Ranald. William Macleod was absent from home, but his son, Alexander, hastily collected all
the men he could, and went to meet the Macdonalds, who had encamped close to their galleys. A fierce battle ensued, in which Alexander Macleod was wounded in the back by the stroke of the battle-axe wielded by Eachainn MacDomhnuill, who had singled out the young Chief for combat. Alexander fell, but drew his antagonist along with him, and slew him with his dirk, and carried off his head as a trophy of his prowess. The stroke, however, which he had himself received had severed the dorsal muscles, and as his wound was not properly attended to, it caused his back to bend, and hence he obtained the name " Crotach." In this engagement the Macdonalds were completely routed, and lost the greater part ol their men and ten of their lymphads, or galleys. Heaps of their bones and skulls were until lately, and are perhaps still, to be seen on the field where the action took place. At another time, after Alastair Crotach had become Chief, the Macleods, both of Lewis and Harris, collected their forces with a view of invading the lands of the Macdonalds, but the latter, under the command of Donald Gruamach, landed in Skye with a force superior in numbers to any that the Macleods could collect, and laid waste Minginish, Bracadale, and Durinish to the very gates of Dunvegan. Alastair Crotach hastened from Harris, and landed at Glendale, where the Macdonalds met him. The Macleods drew up on the brow of a hill, with a river in front, which made it difficult for the Macdonalds to attack them. There they remained for two days, until the arrival of a great body of the clan, under the command of Donald Mor of Meidle, who was a bastard brother of Alastair Crotach. A fierce engagement ensued, in which the Macleods were sorely pressed. Donald Mor was slain, with several hundreds of the clan ; the rest were dispirited and wavering, when, it is said, the Wizard Flag was displayed in the midst of the Macleods by order of Alastair Crotach's mother, who was present. The combat was renewed with redoubled fury and immense slaughter on both sides. A party of the Macdonalds, under the command of Allan of Moidart, rushed into the midst of the Macleods, and cut off from the rest of the clan the Chief and the select band who guarded the banner. At this moment Muracha or Murdo Mackaskill cut down Donald Gruamach, and, carrying his head on a spear, ordered the pipers of the Macleods to play the Macdonald's Lament. The sound of the ill-omened music struck a panic into the Macdonalds, who gave way on all sides. Allan of Moidart did all he could to rally them, but in vain, and such was the slaughter, says the " Seanachies," .that the ravens which stood on " Creggan na Fitheach" (as a rock on the field of battle was afterwards called) drank the blood and ate the flesh of the Macdonalds, who lay in heaps around, without descending from their elevation. Allan of Moidart engaged Mackaskill single- handed, and killed him, as well as his three brothers, and then retreated with the remnant of his followers to Loch Eynort, where their galleys awaited them.

The most fierce and savage warfare was carried on by the clans against each other, and none more so than those between the Macleods and Macdonalds, especially of Moidart (the Clan Ranald). Every species of revolting cruelty was practised by both parties against the followers and friends of the other, nor was it possible for any of the vassals to meet without coming to blows.

On one occasion a large boat or galley was driven into Loch Stockinish, in Harris, and the crew of twenty-four men were received with apparent hospitality by one Alastair Dubh Macleod, who lived there. Whilst at supper, one of the men happened to reveal their names to be Macdonald, and, as they were of the Clan Ranald, Alastair Dubh left the house unobserved, and set fire to their boat and let it drift out to sea. He then roused out of their beds six other men who lived near him, and returning with them to his house, he told the Macdonalds to depart, for, as a vassal of Macleod, he could not harbour them. They rose to depart, but the door was so low and narrow that only one could pass out at a time, and Alastair Dubh's men, who were stationed on each side of the door outside, despatched with their battle-axes each Macdonald as he left the house. Their heads were cut off, the whole strung on to one rope, and thus carried to Donald Breac Macleod, who was Steward of Harris for Alastair Crotach, and their bodies were thrown under a rock, where their bones long remained exposed to view. Alastair Dubh got the name of " Alastair Dubh nan Ceann" from this barbarous act. Several of his descendants were to be found in Lewis and Harris.

This act was shortly afterwards retaliated by the Macdonalds, who seized a birlinn belonging to Alastair Crotach, in which were a cousin of the Chief, called Donald Glas, together with 36 of his men, and they were taken to Ardvullin, in South Uist, where Donald Glas was put in irons, with a heavy weight attached to a chain round his neck, and was so detained for six years, whereby he was disabled for ever after; the whole of his crew were starved to death in a dungeon, where, it is said, they actually ate one another, casting lots so long as more than one remained alive.

When King James approached Skye, in 1540, Alastair Crotach retired to the Castle of Pabbay, Harris, where he remained until the King's departure.

It is said that Alastair Crotach, several years before his death, resigned nearly all his authority to
his son, William, who was anxious to secure, if possible, the succession to his daughter, Mary, as
and her children, to the prejudice of his two brothers, Donald Glas and Tormod, to both of whom he behaved unkindly. Donald went as an adventurer to Ireland, and Tormoid entered the service of the King of France, where he obtained a distinguished command, and continued to reside with his family for many years, until circumstances, to be related hereafter, induced him to return home.

On the birth of Mary's son, Dugald, a fleet of galleys was despatched by William Macleod to Argyleshire to convey her and her child, as well as her husband, to Dunvegan, where they were all received by the whole clan in great state.

He gave the estate of Harris to his daughter and her husband for their maintenance 'during his own life, and made his daughter give up her rights in favour of her son, retaining only Harris as her dower or portion during her own life.

Mary and her husband, Duncan Campbell, went to live in Harris for the remainder of the life of the latter, who, however, died many years before William Macleod.

Alastair Crotach, who was still living, could not tolerate the idea of the succession going to young Campbell, and endeavoured to prevail upon his sons, who were at enmity, to become friends, but without success; so, before his death, he named William his heir, and, failing his heirs, his second son, Donald, and, failing Donald's male heirs, his third son, Tormod, and his heirs. This destination was only verbal, but in those days it was considered of equal validity to a written and formal instrument. Alastair Crotach, in the midst of their dissension, retired to Rodel, where he remained during the rest of his life, and died. This monastery had been founded at a very early period by the monks of lona, but had fallen into decay, and Alastair Crotach largely endowed it with land, in Harris, which it enjoyed until the Reformation, which did not extend to these parts until a century after the time of John Knox. He also repaired and completed the church, which is still extant, and has a tower covered with many ornaments of stone, similar to those found in other parts of Scotland, built in the reigns of James III., IV., and V., and is no bad specimen of the architectural skill of that age. He also built two other beautiful small churches, which are dependent on this monastery, one at Wia and the other at Scarpa, but both are now in ruins. He prepared a code of regulations for the college of pipers in Skye, to which he gave liberal grants of hind, retained by them until the time of the seventeenth Chief.

Alastair Crotach's household was on a scale of great magnificence for the age and country, and he had several harpers, bard, and seanachie, and a bodyguard, whose duty it was to teach each man of the clan how to use the sword or the axe and targe. He was learned enough to translate into Gaelic some of the Psalms of David, which were afterwards published by the Rev. John Morrison, of Ness. On account of his prudence and sagacity, he was often made the arbitrator between the most powerful Chiefs of the Highlands and Isles in their feuds and quarrels. He was a brave soldier, and skilled in all the arms then in vogue. His broadsword or claymore, with which he performed many valiant deeds, few could now wield. He was accounted one of the best swordsmen of his time, and in his leisure hours he used to teach his young kinsmen the most approved modes of fencing, rewarding the best pupils with suits of armour and other prizes. He took great delight in the education of his grandson, who was afterwards the famous Rory Mor, who always resided with him, and into whose mind he instilled his own good sense and many admirable qualities, which were then as rare as they were useful. Indeed, the latter years of Alastair Crotach's life were as useful and exemplary as his early days were turbulent and reckless.

His memory is still revered in the Isles as the friend of the poor, the rewarder of merit, and the best sample of a really great and good Chief.

Alastair Crotach did not marry until he was over 50 year^ of age, because during his mother's life he would not make any other woman mistress of his house. After her death he wanted to marry, but thought himself too old and ugly for any young woman to accept, for although he was tall and strong, he had hard features and a forbidding aspect, and, as already stated, was bent in his back. Cameron of Lochiel, however, told him that he had ten daughters, of whom he might take his choice, but Alastair would not have any woman against her will. When the ladies were questioned, they all, from the first to the ninth, refused him, but the tenth, the handsomest of them all, said she preferred bravery, wisdom, and power to a smooth face without any other recommendation; so she accepted Alastair, and lived happily with him for a long time, and died an old woman long before he did, as he lived to be over 100 years old. Alastair Crotach died at Rodel, when, according to his own wish, he was buried by the side of his wife, whose virtues and good qualities were set out on her tombstone, in Latin, in the church there.

The first act of his successor, William Macleod, after his father's death, was to propose to the clan, who assembled at Rodel at the old Chief's funeral, to acknowledge Dugald Campbell as his heir and successor. Some of the clan agreed, but most of them refused to admit any right of succession through a female, a thing hitherto unknown amongst them. The meeting broke up, after a turbulent discussion, without coming to any definite decision, but William resolved to disinherit his brothers and to secure the succession to his grandson. He- therefore gave the wardenship of Pabbay to Kenneth Campbell, and that of Dunvegan to Torquil Macsween, another of Campbell's adherents. He also put many Campbells into his " luchd- taighe," or bodyguard, and put trust only in those who declared in favour of his grandson. He also entered into an alliance with Donald Gorm Macdonald of Sleat, to whom he made over all his old rights to Sleat and Troterness for a sum of money, and appointed him the Taoitear of his grandson, in case of his own death before young Campbell came of age. He further accumulated a large sum of money, which he remitted before his death to his grandson, in Argyleshire, to enable him the better to secure the succession. These acts so completely alienated the affections of the clan from William that he shut himself up in the Castle of Dunvegan for the short remainder of his life, which he passed in gloom and solitude. He died in 1552-53, a few days after receiving the news of his daughter's death, which occurred at Barra on the very day that she was to embark for Dunvegan, whither her father had invited her on the death of her second husband, Macneil. William Macleod's body was removed by the clan from Dunvegan to Rodel, where it was buried, and a monument was afterwards erected over his remains by his nephew, Sir Roderick (Rory Mor) Macleod.
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