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William MacKenzie 5th Earl of Seaforth

This article is published by kind permission of Stephen Hicks of My Family History

WILLIAM, fifth Earl, known among the Highlanders as 'William Dubh,' (Dubh being the Gaelic word for black) he was brought up in France, and imbibed strong Jacobite feelings from his parents. When the Earl of Mar raised his standard at Braemar, in 1715, Seaforth was one of the nobles who repaired to the Jacobite gathering. He lost no time in calling forth his clan, but he was detained for some time in the north by the Earl of Sutherland and the chiefs of the Mackays and Munros, until his followers amounted to three thousand men, when he attacked and dispersed the Whig clans who had hindered his march to the south to join the Earl of Mar. On Seaforth's arrival at Perth, the incompetent Jacobite leader made up his mind to proceed towards the Lowlands, a movement which led to the battle of Sheriffmuir. The Earl fought at the head of his clan, and four of his kinsmen, who had greatly distinguished themselves in the conflict, were slain. After the Chevalier St. George quitted the country, Seaforth retired to France. He was attainted by Act of Parliament, and his estates forfeited. In 1719, along with the Marquis of Tullibardine and the Earl Marischal, aided by three hundred Spanish soldiers, he made another and final attempt to 'bring the auld Stewarts back again;' but he was dangerously wounded in an encounter with the Government troops at the Pass of Strachell, near Glenshiel, in the midst of his own estates, and was compelled to abandon the enterprise. The Highlanders retired during the night to the mountains, carrying their wounded chief along with them, and the Spaniards next morning surrendered themselves prisoners of war. Seaforth was carried on board a vessel which lay off the coast, and, along with Marischal and Tullibardine and the other principal officers, made his escape to the Western Islands, and afterwards found his way to France.

The Earl was attainted by Act of Parliament, and his estates were forfeited; but all the efforts of the Government to penetrate into Kintail or to collect any rent in that remote district were baffled by the tenantry, 'the wild Macraes,' the faithful vassals of the house of Seaforth, under whom they had fought in many a bloody conflict from the battle of Bannockburn down to the Jacobite rebellion. The soldiers who were sent on several occasions to take possession of the forfeited estates were encountered and driven back with some loss of life, and the attempt was at length relinquished in despair. The Commissioners of Inquiry reported, in 1725, that they had not sold the estate of William, Earl of Seaforth, 'not having been able to obtain possession, and, consequently, to give the same to a purchaser.' The rents of the Seaforth estates in Kintail were, however, duly collected among the devoted clansmen, and, by some means or other, regularly transmitted to their exiled chief in France. The person who managed the Seaforth estates and drew the rents for ten years during the Earl's absence was Donald Murchison, who had acted as lieutenant-colonel of the regiment which Seaforth led to fight for the Stewarts in 1715. He was the son of the Castellan of Ellandonan, but had been bred a writer in Edinburgh, and had, for a short time, acted as factor to Sir John Preston, of Preston Hall, in Midlothian. He is described in the notes to a poem published in 1737 as 'a kinsman and servant to the Earl of Seaforth, bred a writer, a man of small stature, but full of spirit and resolution.' He headed the clansmen who defeated the royal troops at the pass of Aa-na-Mulloch, near the end of Loch Affaric, and compelled the royal commissioner who accompanied them, and whose son was killed in the conflict, to give up his papers, and to promise, under a penalty of five hundred pounds, not to officiate again as factor on the forfeited estates. The tenantry, without hesitation, continued to pay their rents to Donald for the benefit of their exiled and forfeited chief, setting at naught all apprehension of being compelled to pay the money a second time to the Commissioner.

General Wade, writing a report to the King, in 1725, which is published in the Appendix to Burt's 'Letters,' says, 'The rents continue to be collected by one Donald Murchison, a servant of the late Earl's, who annually remits or carries the same to his master into France. The tenants, when in a condition, are said to have sent him free gifts in proportion to their several circumstances, but are now a year and a-half in arrear of rent The receipts he gives to the tenants are as deputy-factor to the Commissioners of the forfeited estates, which pretended power he extorted from the factor (appointed by the said Commissioners to collect these rents for the use of the public), whom he attacked with above four hundred armed men, as he was going to enter upon the said estate, having with him a party of thirty of your Majesty's troops. The last year this Murchison marched in a public manner to Edinburgh to remit eight hundred pounds to France for his master's use, and remained fourteen days there unmolested.'

Donald visited Edinburgh a second time about the end of August, 1725. Lockhart of Carnwath, writing to the Chevalier St George, mentions, amongst other news, that Murchison had come to Edinburgh on his way to France. They had missed each other; but Lockhart states that he expected to see him in a day or two at his country house, where he would get time to talk fully with him. 'In the meantime,' he adds, 'I know, from one that saw him, that he has taken up and secured all the arms of value in Seaforth's estate, which he thought better than to trust them to the care and prudence of the several owners; and the other chieftains, I hear, have done the same.'

It is very painful to relate that Seaforth proved unworthy of the devotion which his heroic clansmen had shown to him, and treated Murchison with shameful ingratitude. When the Earl obtained possession of his estates, which Donald had been the means of preserving for him, he discountenanced and neglected him. He had promised Murchison a handsome reward for his services, but, according to the traditional account, he offered him only a small farm called Bundalloch, which pays at this day to the proprietor no more than sixty pounds a year; or another place opposite to Inverinate House, of about the same value. Donald refused these paltry offers and shortly after left Seaforth's country. His noble spirit pined away under this treatment, and he died in the prime of life, near Conon, of a broken heart. On his deathbed Seaforth went to see him, and asked how he was. 'Just as you will be in a short time,' he replied, and then turned his back. They never met again. He was buried in a remote little churchyard on Cononside, in the parish where the late Sir Roderick I. Murchison, the distinguished geologist, great-grandson of John Murchison, Donald's brother, has erected an appropriate monument to the memory of the devoted clansman. [See Chamber's Domestic Annals of Scotland, iii.pp. 459-71].

Lockhart mentions that after the passing of the Disarming Act of 1725, General Wade was waited on by a body of about fifty gentlemen of the name of Mackenzie, headed by Lord Tarbat, Sir Colin Mackenzie of Coul, and Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Cromarty, who informed the General that the rent of Seaforth's tenants and vassals had for several years been uplifted by Donald Murchison, and that they were not able to pay them a second time, but if they were discharged of these rents they would pay them in future to his Majesty's receiver for the use of the public, deliver up their arms, and live peaceably. Wade at once acceded to this request, and informed the deputation that if the clan fulfilled what they had promised, he would use his influence in the next session of Parliament to procure a pardon for their chief and his friends. Accordingly, on the 25th of August, 1725, the General, accompanied by the deputation and a small body of dragoons, proceeded to Castle Brahan, where the clan marched in procession along the great avenue that leads to the mansion, and laid down their arms in the courtyard. But it turned out that all the weapons of any value had been secreted by Donald Murchison, and only the worn-out and worthless arms were given up.

General Wade was as good as his word, and his intercessions on behalf of Seaforth were successful. In July, 1726, the Earl was relieved by George I. from the penal consequences of his attainder so far as he was personally concerned, and George II. made him a grant of the arrears of feu duties due to the Crown out of his forfeited estates. Seaforth died on the island of Lewis in 1740 and is buried at Ui Church, he is the only Earl of Seaforth to be buried here.

(Research):William was attainted, and his title forfeited, for his support of the Jacobite rebellion.



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