Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

The Feuds of the Clans, by Alexander MacGregor, [1907], at

p. 96

The Troubles Between Sutherland and Caithness in 1587–90.

The year of God 1587, there happened some dissension betwixt the Earls of Sutherland and Caithness. Upon this occasion George Gordon of Marie in Sutherland (base son to Gilbert Gordon of Gartie), had done divers attempts and indignities to the Earl of Caithness and his servants, occasioned through the nearness of George Gordon's dwelling-house, which bordered upon Caithness. These insolencies of George Gordon's the Earl of Caithness could not or would not endure; and so assembling a company of men, horse and foot, he comes under silence of the night and invades George Gordon in his own house at Marie. George makes all the resistance he could; and, as they were eagerly pursuing the house, he slays a special gentleman of Caithness, called John Sutherland; therewith he issues out of the house and casts himself into the river of Helmsdale, which was hard by, thinking to save himself by swimming; but he was shot

p. 97

with arrows, and slain in the water. This happened in the month of February, 1587.

Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, took the slaughter of George Gordon in evil part, which he determined to revenge, and thereupon dealt with such of his friends as had credit at Court for the time; by whose means he obtained a commission against the slayers of George Gordon; which being gotten, he sent 200 men into Caithness in February, 1588, conducted by John Gordon of Golspitour, and John Gordon of Backies, who invaded the parishes of Dunbeath and Latheron in Caithness with all hostility, spoiling and burning the same; they killed John, James's son, a gentleman of Caithness, with some others; and this was called Creach-lairn.

No sooner were they returned out of Dunbeath but Earl Alexander, being accompanied by Uistean Mackay (who had been then lately reconciled to his superior, the Earl of Sutherland), entered into Caithness with all his forces, spoiling all before hint till he came to Girnigo (now called Castle Sinclair), where the Earl of Caithness then lay. Earl Alexander

p. 98

escaped himself, hard by the town of Wick, which is within a mile of Girnigo. They took the town of Wick with little difficulty, and burnt the same. They besieged the Castle of Girnigo for the space of twelve days, which was well defended by the Earl of Caithness and those that were within. Earl Alexander, perceiving that the Castle could not be obtained without a long siege, sent his men abroad through the county of Caithness to pursue such as had been at the slaughter of George Gordon, if they could be apprehended; so, having slain divers of them, and spoiled the country, Earl Alexander returns again with his host into Sutherland in the month of February, 1588. And this was called Là-na-Creich-Moire.

The Earl of Caithness, to revenge these injuries, and to requite his losses, assembled all his forces in the year of God 1589, and sent them into Sutherland, under the conduct of his brother, the Laird of Murkle, who entered Sutherland with all hostility, and, coming to Strathullie, he slays three tenants of the Earl of Sutherland's in Liriboll, burning the house above them; from Liriboll they

p. 99

march further into the country. The inhabitants of Sutherland, being conducted by Uistean Mackay and John Gordon of Backies, met with the Caithness men at a place called Crissaligh, where they skirmished a little while, with little or no slaughter on either side; and so Murkle retired home into Caithness. In exchange hereof, Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, sent 300 men into Caithness, conducted by John Gordon of Backies, the same year of God 1589, who, entering that county with all hostility, spoiled and wasted the same till he came within six miles of Girnigo, killed above 30 men, and returned home with a great booty. This was called Creach-na-Caingis.

The Earl of Caithness, to repair his former losses, convened his whole forces the year of God 1590. He entered into Sutherland with all hostility, and encamped beside the Backies; having stayed one night there, they returned homeward the next day, driving a prey of goods before the host. By this time some of the inhabitants of Sutherland were assembled to the number of 500 or 400 only, and, perceiving the Caithness men upon the sands

p. 100

of Clentrednal, they presently invade them at a place called Clyne. There ensued a sharp conflict, fought with great obstinacy on either side, until the night parted then. Of the Sutherland men, there were slain John Murray, and sixteen common soldiers. Of the Caithness men, there were killed Nicholas Sutherland (the Laird of Forse's brother), and Angus MacTormoid, with thirteen others. Divers were hurt on either side.

The next morning timely the Earl of Caithness returned with all diligence into Caithness, to defend his own country; for while he was in Sutherland, Uistean Mackay had entered with his forces into Caithness, and had spoiled that country even to the town of Thurso; but, before the Earl of Caithness could overtake him, he returned again into Strathnaver with a great booty.

Thus they infested one another with continual spoils and slaughters, until they were reconciled by the mediation of the Earl of Huntly, who caused them meet at Strathbogie; and a final peace was concluded there, betwixt these parties, in the month of March, 1591. Here ends this book of Sutherland.

Next: The Troubles Between the Earls of Huntly and Moray.