Maclarens, Birtwistles and Many Other Families

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  • ID: I20205
  • Name: CLAN origins 2 MACKENZIE
  • Sex: M
  • Death: 1200
  • Note:
    From Douglas Hickling, 516 Blair Avenue, Piedmont CA 94611.

    Continued from "CLAN origins MACKENZIE"
    The 20th century historians have looked with even greater skepticism at the traditional listing of the chiefs who precede Alexander Ionraic, based on the lack of any record evidence of their existence and the fact that the early pedigrees are contradictory.

    The most scholarly and compelling of these 20th century examinations of the early Mackenzie chiefs is "Traditions of the Mackenzies," an article by William Matheson, published in TRANSACTIONS OF THE GAELIC SOCIETY OF INVERNESS, volume 39-40 (1942-1950). Matheson begins by noting that Alexander Mackenzie's account of early clan history gives us a "conflation" of the traditions recorded by several 17th century historians, "slightly modified from the genealogical point of view so as to accord with the manuscript of 1467." He compares the pedigrees of the early chiefs set forth in the Applecross manuscript and by the first Earl Cromartie, each of which begins with Colin Fitzgerald, and notes that they frequently contradict each other. He comments, at 195, that just because the descent of the Mackenzies from Colin Fitzgerald has "been shown by Skene to be an invention of the 17th century and has not been seriously entertained by subsequent writers, "does not mean "that other names in the pedigrees are fictitious." He explains that, in order to unravel this tangled skein of traditions represented in the conflicting pedigrees, it would be helpful to compare the 17th century histories with the manuscript of 1467, dating two centuries earlier. Interpreting the 1467 manuscript somewhat differently than Skene and in the light of the traditional, but conflicting histories, Matheson sets forth this:


    1. Kenneth, son of Mathan (Mathew), took a prominent part in warfare against the Norsemen in 1262. According to the family historians, he married a daughter of MacIver, possibly Iomhar Crom. Kenneth was followed by his son,

    2. Murdoch, who, according to most family historians, married a daughter of Macaulay. Their son Duncan became the ancestor of the Mathesons and the ancestor of the Mackenzies was their other son,

    3. Kenneth na sroin, who, according to most of the family historians, married a daughter of Macdougall of Lorn (possibly Alexander de Ergadia). He identified with the anti-Bruce faction even though his superior, the Earl of Ross, supported Bruce. The Earl punished him by taking away his lands and by imprisonment and execution, the latter occurring at Inverness in 1346. Kenneth's two sons, Murdoch and John had fled to their mother's people in Lorn. Murdoch returned to Ross,to regain his lost inheritance, but always remained more or less an outlaw as indicated by his sobriquet, Black Murdo of the Caves. He was probably recognized as chief in his day, but, for some reason, the succession fell to the progeny of his brother,

    4. John, who probably never returned to Ross and is therefore entirely unknown to the 17th century historians. His son,

    5. Kenneth, may have married a daughter of John of the Isles, which may have paved the way for his return to Ross, although the decisive factor was the death of the last of the old Earls of Ross in 1372. He was succeeded by his son,

    6. Murdoch of the bridge, who may have married a daughter of Macleod of Lewis (or Harris). He had at least two sons, Kenneth and Alexander. Kenneth is "on record as Kenneth Mor in 1428 and as Keneath Murchirson in 1414." The chiefship fell to his brother,

    7. Alexander Ionraic, "said in the family histories to have been a son of Murdoch and this may well be so." "According to the most likely account, he married a daughter of Angus mac Ranald. first of the old MacDonalds of Morar. (Some of the family historians seem to have confused them with the MacDougalls of Lorn because in Gaelic they were styled Clann Dubhghaill.)"

    Matheson recognized, as did Skene, that the manuscript of 1467 showed that the Mackenzie pedigree connected with that of the Mathesons, but he showed, at 205-207, that the point of this connection, as shown in the manuscript, was chronologically impossible, making it necessary to shift that point. Under Matheson's construction, Kenneth, son of Mathan, is the father of Murdoch, who is the father of Kenneth na sroin, the father of John. Under Alexander Makenzie's construction of the pedigree, John was the son of Kenneth na sroin,
    not his father. Even so, both pedigrees contain the names Murdoch, Kenneth, John, and Kenneth, in that order, beginning with the most recent name recorded in the manuscript.

    Matheson makes plain that he does not argue that his version of the pedigree of the early chiefs should be regarded as the final word or that the traditions of the earlier historians should be completely thrown out. At 213, he says:
    The foregoing reconstruction of early Mackenzie history and genealogy inevitably contains a considerable element of conjecture, and all that is attempted is to make more coherent use of the sources, traditional and documentary, than has been done, for example, in the only existing full scale history of the clan. [This is a reference to Alexander Mackenzie's HISTORY.] This, in turn, may make it easier to assess the significance of further evidence that may come to light as a means of confirming the picture that has been drawn or showing where it requires modification. It is certainly desirable that the traditions drawn upon in this paper, and other similar traditions, should not be ignored, and that efforts to interpret them aright should continue.

    Matheson's attempt to reconcile the conflicting Mackenzie traditions both among themselves and with new evidence, as well as with the manuscript of 1467, has served to highlight the unreliability of the traditional histories. Despite Matheson's plea that efforts to interpret the early traditions correctly should continue, the 20th century publications, other than THE SCOTS PEERAGE account, which questions many of those traditions, have chosen to ignore altogether anything before Alexander Mackenzie Ionraic.

    The only comprehensive 20th century history of the Mackenzies is SOME MACKENZIE PEDIGREES, completed by Duncan Warrand in 1937, but not published until 1965. Warrand was a well-regarded family historian, who served as co-editor of volume VI of THE COMPLETE PEERAGE. He refused to give any credibility to the existing pedigrees of the early Mackenzies, explaining, at 1-2:
    It is not too much to say that the histories of the Clan Mackenzie, histories compiled for the most part in the dangerous seventeenth century, are wholly unreliable, at all events prior to 1475. The late Sheriff Macphail, whose knowledge of and sympathy with the Highlands have been amply recognized, was clearly of this opinion.

    "The absence of record evidence in these early times may not in itself be conclusive proof of a fabulous genealogy, but it is at least highly suspicious, the more so that the early charters, once cited in histories, not only do not exist, but, if they did, are almost certainly spurious."

    The article on Seaforth in THE SCOTS PEERAGE really begins with Alexander Mackenzie, the upright, though five supposed chiefs are placed (quantum valeant) [for what it's worth] before him. Of these. the last is Murdoch who is said to have died in 1416. In 1414, therefore, he may by presumed to have been getting on in years, the father of sons, and there is record evidence of Kenneth, son of Murdoch of Ross, who was then engaged in the pacification of that district--
    et Keneath Murchieson de Rosse laboranti in partibus Rossie pro quiete regni ex causa considerata super compotum xli.' Again, in 1415, Alexander, son of Murdoch, and Rory, his brother, were prisoners in Inverness Castle--et pro mensa Alexandri Murcherson et Ruthery fratris sui malefactorum ibidem in canceribus pro utilatate republice XIII li.'

    These references may, indeed, have no relation to the Mackenzies (though it is by no means clear when that surname was first adopted), but at least one is furnished with an Alexander, son of Murdoch, as required by the family histories. With Alexander the account of the family commences.

    Alexander Mackenzie, known as Alexander Ionraic (the upright), had, according to THE SCOTS PEERAGE, both from John, Earl of Ross, and from the Crown, after the forfeiture of that earldom, several grants of land. His name, however, as Sheriff Macphail points out, does not appear in the Register of the Great Seal or in any other public record. . . .

    Although giving Alexander Ionraic a place in the early Mackenzie pedigree, he was unwilling to do the same for either or both of Alexander's purported wives, saying, at 3:
    Into the question of Alexander's marriages, real or imaginary, it is not proposed to enter.

    Jean Dunlop, PhD, in her concise THE CLAN MACKENZIE, first published in 1953, reaches a similar result, by largely ignoring the traditional pedigrees of the early chiefs. Dunlop, in her own name and as a co-author with her husband, R. W. Munro, is one of Scotland's most eminent historians. At page 5, she states that "the original Kenneth, who lived in the thirteenth century, is said to have descended from a younger son of Gilleoin of the Aird." Her detailed genealogical discussion of the early Mackenzies starts with Alexander Ionraic, but she, too, does not identify his wife. The first Mackenzie wife identified by Dunlop is Alexander's daughter-in-law, "a daughter of Lord Lovat," who married Alexander's son, "Kenneth of the battle."

    The same pattern is again followed in the most recently published pedigree of the early Mackenzies in BURKE'S PEERAGE & BARONETAGE (106th edition, 1999), at 723:

    LINEAGE: According to Celtic genealogies the Mackenzies of Kintail stem from Gillian Og ("the Younger"), son of Gillian of the Air, ancestor also of the Earls of Ross. Ninth in descent from Gillian, and the first of these Mackenzies for whose existence there is documentary evidence, was:

    Alexander Mackenzie of Kintail, called "Ionraic", imprisoned by James I; died 1488, having had with two younger sons:

    Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail.

    The foregoing shows that BURKE'S has completely disregarded the traditional pedigrees of the early Mackenzies, but it does recognize the existence of Alexander Ionraic, clearly based upon the same record, relied upon by Warrand, that one Alexander, son of Murdoch, was a prisoner, although the date of the incarceration is stated to be 1415 by Warrand and 1427 by BURKE'S. Like Warrand, the BURKE'S editors apparently regarded the traditional identity of Alexander's wife or wives to be lacking sufficient reliability to be included.

    In partial defense of the early Mackenzie histories, Matheson argues, at 208 and 226 note 51, that, in addition to earlier histories no longer existing, "the family historians also used . . . inscriptions on tombstones, and the records of religious houses dispersed after the Reformation."

    With candor seldom found in genealogical histories, James D. Mackenzie of Findon, at 12, argues that there can be no positive certainty as to the Mackenzie pedigree:
    Peering into the mist of ages--back to a time when, however high the culture in other parts of Europe, our ancestors were, from their remote position, yet in a state of rude barbarism and ignorance, leaving little more than the tales of slaughter to guide their posterity--it were vain to seek a clear determination of their origins; and we must be content to accept such details as we find, oral traditions being perhaps the most reliable guide.
    In support of the reliability of oral traditions, he quotes George (Sir) Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (1636-1691) in his DEFENCE OF THE ANTIQUITY OF THE ROYAL LINE OF SCOTLAND (1685 edition), at 22:
    It was ordinary in our Highland families, not only at burials, but at baptisms and marriages, to recite the genealogies for many generations, and we can well therefore understand how such ever-freshened tradition faithfully endured.

    But, it is not possible to construct a credible pedigree based upon a supposition that 17th century Mackenzie historians had access to earlier sources, whether they were in writing or in traditions handed down orally through generations of Mackenzies, when: (1) the existing manu script histories contradict themselves and the manuscript of 1467, (2) most of the charters and other documents which may have helped sort out the contradictory traditions and pedigrees have now been discredited, and (3) no one can tell which of the traditions are based upon fact, conjecture, or a desire to glorify the clan's history and bloodlines.

    There is even less reason to give credence to the names of the wives given in the traditional pedigrees. Both the manuscript of 1467 and MacVurich's BLACK BOOK OF CLANRANALD show the Mackenzie ancestral male line, but are completely silent as to wives, mothers, and daughters. Their absence strongly indicates that the pedigrees, allegedly recited at length at family events by generations of Mackenzies, were similarly limited to Mackenzie males.

    Particularly flagrant is the claim of a marriage between Margaret Strathbogie, daughter of the Earl of Atholl, and either Kenneth, Murdoch, or John Mackenzie. In a society and time in which one's class and ancestry clearly counted, one would tend to remember a descent, and royal bloodline, from an earl's daughter, who, in turn, descended from King John, of Magna Carta fame, and his parents, King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Yet, neither the first Earl Cromartie nor John Mackenzie of Applecross mention a Mackenzie-Strathbogie marriage--strong evidence that the marriage is an invention of a later century. In such a class-conscious society and age, a marriage between the daughter of an earl, having a noble descent, and the chief of what was at that time a minor vassal clan, is inherently unlikely. In the absence of documentary evidence of such a marriage or even that Margaret Strathbogie even existed, her name does not belong in any credible pedigree.
    The names of the wives assigned to Alexander Mackenzie Ionraic similarly lack credibility. Well into the 19th century, some family historians argued that his first wife was a daughter of the first Earl of Argyll, and they would no doubt continue to do so, but for the fact that it was shown to be a chronological impossibility. The claim that he married daughters of two unrelated Macdougal families seems too coincidental to be accepted, especially when neither of these families seems to have asserted the existence of such a daughter or marriage. The fact that one of these alleged wives, Anna Macdougal, if she existed at all, is said to have been a granddaughter of Colin (Sir) Campbell, of Glenurchy, himself a descendant of King Robert III of Scotland, may account for the fact that earlier generations of Mackenzie historians clung to her in their pedigrees.

    I conclude that the more recent 20th century Mackenzie histories, namely those by Duncan Warrand, Jean Dunlop, and the editors of BURKE'S PEERAGE & BARONETAGE, have taken the only acceptable course in beginning their Mackenzie pedigrees with Alexander Ionraic and his son, Kenneth-a-bhlair. Although the Mackenzie family members, who have continued to rely on Margaret Strathbogie and Anna Macdougal in maintaining their claims to a royal bloodline, may be disappointed, they can no doubt find other, and provable, royal descents in their Mackenzie ancestries, including that of Agnes Fraser, who married Kenneth Mackenzie-a-bhlair. Agnes's mother, the redoubtable Violet Lyon, known for her skill in killing mountain lions, was the great-great-great-great granddaughter of King Robert II of Scotland.

    NOTE: The differences in the spelling of names generally reflects the varying orthography of the compilers of the several pedigrees.

    Compiled by

    Douglas Hickling
    516 Blair Avenue
    Piedmont CA 94611
    2 April 2002

    Father: CLAN information sources MACKENZIE b: 1200

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