Ui Church Past


3 land

3 - Post Reformation

After the Reformation


The church retained its role as the parish church, not least because of its continuing significance as the burial place of its patrons, the chiefs of the Lewis Macleods. However, the period after 1560 seems to have been one of neglect, with a new Protestant ministry being only slowly established. As late as 1610, a minister was sent from Gairloch to Lewis where it was said ‘its inhabitants were strangers to the Gospel’.

The last of the Macleods

Roderick Macleod X was chief of the Lewis Macleods from 1539 until 1595. His was a long and a turbulent life, a ‘truculent ruffian’ who had feuded with neighbouring interests across the Minch, with his own sons and, at times, with the Scottish Crown. He had married three times and produced at least nine sons, legitimate and otherwise, with violently conflicting claims of succession. At one point Roderick was held captive for four years by one of them, ‘in the hills and caves, and almost starved to death by cold and hunger’. This family strife led ultimately to the collapse of the dynasty and the forfeiture of Lewis to the Crown in 1598.

The island was briefly granted then by James VI to a group of men from Fife, charged to subdue and colonise Lewis, and to transport the native population to the mainland. They began to build a town at Stornoway and doubtless intended to create a new church there. This was attacked and burned by Norman Macleod, the survivors taken captive and eventually expelled.

The Earls of Seaforth

In 1610 the king granted Lewis to Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail, who claimed title partly through a daughter of Roderick X. He established a base at Loch Seaforth Head, but it was not until 1613 that the last Macleod, Neil, was taken from his stronghold in Berisay to be hanged in Edinburgh.

Under the Mackenzies, the new town of Stornoway was made a Royal Burgh, and a new parish church of St Lennans was built there. The church of Eaglais na h-Aoidhe was still used for burial of the dispossessed Macleods. In 1650, a Mackenzie party attempted to stop one such burial from taking place, but the dispute was resolved in these words:

‘ Let Mackenzie have the whole of Lewis But let Macleod have the breadth of his back. ‘

The practise was thus allowed to continue, and all interments within the main church claimed some link with the old Macleod clan chiefs.

The title of ‘Earl of Seaforth’ was bestowed on Colin Mackenzie by the Stewart king James VI and I, and subsequent earls supported the Stewart cause for the next century. The 3rd earl fought on behalf of Charles I and II during the Civil War, bringing about the invasion of Lewis by Colonel Cobbett and the building of a Cromwellian fort in Stornoway. Later, William Mackenzie took part in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1719. As a result, his estates were forfeited, although he lived on in Lewis until his death in 1740, and was the.only one of the Seaforths to be buried at Eaglais na h-Aoidhe.

In 1827, Lord Teinmouth wrote: ‘ “An old chapel, the larger half of which is unroofed, stands in the cemetery. Beneath a flagstone on the pavement, undistinguished by any inscription, lies the body of the Earl of Seaforth, who forfeited his title in consequence of his participation in the rebellion of 1715, and lived and died afterwards in a species of exile in Stornoway.’’ ‘There are other monuments of the MacKenzies of Seaforth, some of which bear the family crest, the stag’s horns.’ His son Willliam MacKenzie regained Lewis in 1741, and remained loyal to the Hanoverian government throughout the ’45 rebellion.


Graveslab of a Kenneth Mackenzie, showing the stag’s head and emblems of mortality

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