The Seaforths - Mackenzie - Matheson
The Mackenzie Chieftains have been prominent in Scottish national and Highland clan history from the reign of Alexander III who, after the battle of Largs, appointed Colin Fitzgerald, who fought by his side, his constable of Eileandonan Castle in Kintail, in the west of Ross-shire, giving him grants of extensive portions of that mountain and glen. This was the original home of the Macraes and the Maclennans – but principally of the Macraes who, for centuries, were the staunch allies of the Mackenzies, being known as Clan Kenneth’s “shirt” or coat of mail. They rallied to a man at every call of the Mackenzie Chiefs, and no clansmen were so dreaded in battle as the Wild Macraes of Kintail. Their prowess was at once recognised by Colin Fitzgerald, who made them fast friends to his house and family by placing them in honourable position among his retainers. It was this Colin who, according to the Clan annalists, saved his King’s life from an attack by a stag on the hunting field, when the family motto Cuidich ‘n Righ and the Mackenzie crest of the stag’s head originated. The episode forms the subject of the famous painting by West which adorned the wall of the great dining hall in Brahan Castle. Colin married the only daughter of Kenneth Matheson, Constable of Eileandonan Castle under King Alexander II., who built it as a protection against the Danes. Colin’s son Kenneth was the direct founder of the family, his descendants being named Mackennich, known ever since in Scottish and Highland clan history as the Mackenzies of Kintail, to whom further grants of territory were given by King David II.
Brahan Castle was founded in the fourteenth century, but no portion of the original house remains, the Castle having been rebuilt in the reign of James Vl. James VI, after the forfeiture of the Earldom of Ross, gave grants of additional land in the Brahan district and other portions to the south and west of Dingwall, to the Mackenzie of his day on his appointment as Commissioner in charge of portions of the royal properties in Ross-shire. Brahan Castle was the scene of stirring activities and of many romantic episodes in both the Jacobite Risings and the religious struggles which convulsed the Highlands when the Mackenzies were in the zenith of their power. The Castle was for a time, before and after the forfeiture, in the possession of Government troops, and it was here, under General Wade, after the Disarming Act, that the Mackenzie clan and septs laid down their treasured weapons of offence and defence.
The Mackenzies, Chiefs of Kintail, fought for Scotland at Bannockburn, Otterburn, Flodden, and Pinkie. The eleventh chief fought for Queen Mary at Langside, and her son was the first of the family to enter the Scottish Peerage. In 1609 James VI created him Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, and in 1623 James advanced his son and successor to the Earldom of Seaforth and the Barony of Fortrose. The second Earl gave his support, under Montrose, to the Royalist side of the Civil War, for which he suffered two years imprisonment, and was excommunicated by the General Assembly. After the execution of Charles I he joined Charles II in Holland, and was nominated by that King Principal Secretary of State for Scotland. He died in Holland in 1651. In the same year his son, the third Earl, fighting for Charles at Worcester, was taken prisoner, and was kept until the Restoration, suffering forfeiture of his estates. His hardships did not prevent his son, the fourth Earl, from periling his life and fortune in support of James VII at the Revolution. He, too, suffered repeated imprisonment, and ultimately died in exile. James created him Marquis of Seaforth, but the title was inoperative in the circumstances.
When Mar raised his standard in 1715 at Braemar, he was joined by the fifth Earl of Seaforth. On the failure of this enterprise, the Earl was attained and his estates forfeited. Though wounded, the Earl escaped to France, and while there his estate rents were for a time regularly remitted to him through the ingenuity of his factor, Donald Murchison, aided by the deep attachment of the clansmen and tenantry to their Chief – one of the most outstanding examples of this trait of loyalty and devotion on the part of Clansmen. Donald Murchison and his brother John were out with the Earl in the ’15, and they both distinguished themselves as skilled leaders of men, as resourceful as brave. Several attempts were made to collect Chieftain’s rents, but these were frustrated by the bold strategy of Murchison, who routed the royalist intruders at every attempt. Subsequently, however, at the Disarming, Donald, with the Earl of Cromartie and Sir Colin Mackenzie of Coul, entered into an engagement on behalf of the Clan to the effect that for future they would yield as dutiful an obedience to the reigning family as they formerly rendered to the Stuarts.
The Earl in 1726, was relieved by George I from the penal consequences of his attainder, so far as he was personally concerned. He died in 1740. Notwithstanding the attainder of the titles, his son was by courtesy called Lord Fortrose, and was thrice elected to the House of Commons. Although the lady of the house was an ardent and plotting Jacobite, Lord Fortrose was persuaded by the Rev. Colin Mackenzie, minister of the parish of Fodderty, to take part in the ’45 Rising. The Rev. Mackenzie was the first in the Dingwall district to hear of the landing of Prince Charles, and after midnight walked over Knockfarrel Hill and crossed the Ussie bogs to Brahan Castle, whose corridors and rooms he knew as familiarly as those of his own. He went straight to Seaforth’s bedroom, told him his errand, and, stealing out of the Castle unknown to its inmates, the two set off on horseback to the west, to wait in Poolewe. There they met two ships laden with Seaforth’s retainers from his Isle of Lewis property on their way to join the Pretender.
A few days after Seaforth left Brahan Castle, Prince Charles, according to the family accounts, arrived there and was hospitably entertained by his wife, who was unaware of her husband’s whereabouts or intentions. She at once urged the Earl of Cromartie and his son, Lord Macleod, to call out the Clan. Cromartie, forgetting or disregarding his undertaking at the Disarming, agreed – to his own and his son’s undoing. Seaforth and the Rev. Colin in due course returned from Poolewe, there were a few years of comparative quiet, and Seaforth died in 1761, succeeded by his son Kenneth who was created Earl of Seaforth in the peerage of Ireland by George III.
As proof of his gratitude, the newly created Earl offered to raise a regiment for the public service. His offer was accepted, and a magnificent body of 1130 men was in a short time forthcoming. It was embodied at Elgin and inspected by General Skene, the new regiment being designated the 78th, or Ross-shire Regiment of Seaforth Highlanders, with Seaforth as its first Colonel. Five hundred men hailed from his own estates, and 400 from those of his relatives, the Mackenzies of Scatwell, Kilcoy, Redcastle and Applecross. In the Regiment the Macraes of Kintail bulked so largely – in numbers and physique – that it was known for a time as “The Macraes”. It was thus that their first exploit, in 1779, when the Regiment refused to embark at Leith for the East Indies, became known as the “Affair of the Macraes”. Discontent arose among the men on account of pay and bounty being in arrears, and particularly from irritation aroused by the over-drilling imposed upon them by the Adjutant, aggravated by a belief that they had been sold to the East Indian Company – the malicious suggestion of enemies of the Government – and, refusing to embark on the transports, they marched from Edinburgh Castle to Arthur’s Seat, preceded by their pipers and two plaids affixed to poles by way of colours, the companies being in command of non-commissioned officers. Many of the people of Edinburgh and Leith made their cause their own, and others, “in terror of having so many armed and bewildered mountaineers let loose among them”, provided them with food. The causes of complaint having been enquired into by such friendly investigators as the Earl of Dunmore, Sir James Grant of Grant, and other friends from the Highlands, the men were satisfied with the guarantees given; they marched down to Leith with Dunmore, Seaforth, and General Skene at their head, and cheerfully embarked, finally proceeding to India. Their Colonel, Seaforth, died on the way out, when nearing St Helena in 1781, the Earldom becoming extinct with his death.
His cousin and heir male, Colonel Humberston Mackenzie, to whom he sold the estate in 1779, succeeded to the Chiefship – the 20th. On the death of Lord Seaforth he was transferred from the 100th Regiment to command the 78th, but he died in 1783 on his way to Bombay, from the result of wounds previously received on board the Ranger sloop of war when in action with a Mahratta fleet.
The 21st Chief was his brother Francis, who was raised to the British Peerage in 1797 by the title of Lord Seaforth and Baron Mackenzie of Kintail. He was a man of exceptional ability and accomplishments, and although extremely deaf and latterly dumb he rendered conspicuous service to Country and Empire. He was Lord Lieutenant of the county (Ross and Cromarty), he represented that county in Parliament, he raised three battalions of Highlanders for the public service, and was Governor of one or more of our great Dependencies. The three battalions which he raised in 1793, 1794 and 1804, became the new 78th or Ross-shire Buffs. These Regiments are now known as the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders, and their battle story ranks among the proudest in the annals of British arms. The 78th have cut their name deep in the history of India – their service throughout the campaigns, particularly their conduct at Assay, being immortalised in the phrase applied to them – the Saviours of India.
Tragic and pathetic was the fate of the House of Seaforth under the 21st Chief. The estates became so embarrassed – in his early days he was too friendly with the Prince of Wales who afterwards became George IV – that they had to be parted with in portions, among them the green hills of Kintail, the cradle of the race, and one by one his four promising sons sickened and died, leaving no male to succeed him.
On his death the remaining portions of the estate, chiefly Brahan and its Castle, passed to his eldest daughter, whose first husband was Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. Left a childless widow, she married James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, third son of the sixth Earl of Galloway, who adopted the name Mackenzie. He was succeeded by his son, Keith William Stewart-Mackenzie, the 23rd Chief (reckoning his mother as the 22nd), who was succeeded in 1881 by his brilliant soldier son James Alexander Francis Humberston Stewart-Mackenzie, the 24th Chieftain, who was raised to the Peerage by the revival in his person of the old title Lord Seaforth – Baron Seaforth of Brahan. He died in 1923 leaving no issue – he married (in 1895) Mary, daughter of Mr Edward Steinkopif of Lyndhurst, Sussex – and with his death the title once again became extinct.
Lord Seaforth died in 1923 and Lady Seaforth resided at Brahan Castle till her death in 1933. She was buried with Lord Seaforth under the Angel on the Estate.
The Estate then went to Francis (Brodrick) Stewart who married Letty Lyell but he was tragically killed in Italy in 1942 and his brother died the day before him also in Italy. Madeline Stewart Mackenzie was resident on the Estate between 1942 – 1963 and then she moved to Sussex. She married in 1922 to Congrieve and 1942 to Tyler and has three daughters.
Captain Matheson came to the Estate in 1963 and since his death his son Andrew took over and is the present owner.