Carles With The Breeks – Part Two
There had been, for a considerable time, misunderstandings and mutual jealousies between the Sinclair's and the Mackay's, which circumstances ripened into feud, mutual aggression, and slaughter.
In 1668, Colonel Hugh MacKay of Sconrie was subjected to so severe an imprisonment by Lord Caithness that it cost him his life. Shortly after this event his brother Hector was waylaid in Aberdeenshire by Sinclair of Dunbeath and Sinclair of Murkle, and was killed after a stout contention in which MacKay's servant severely wounded both the assailants,Murkle so much so, that a cut in his neck rendered him ever after incapable of holding up his head. The Earl of Sutherland, Lords Rea and Strathnaver, Hugh Munro of Eribol, and several others. Raised an action before the justiciary, against George, Earl of Caithness, and several who were concerned with him in those lawless proceedings which harassed the country, This was met by a counter–action, in which various complaints were made against the pursuers, extending downwards from the year 1649, and both parties were summoned to appear on the 10th December 1668.
A compromise took place, and Caithness withdrew his action. The case as to Dunbeath and Murkle being however excepted. These stubborn gentlemen had not found the caution or security required for their appearance, and had eluded all attempts to apprehend them. A commission of fire and sword was promulgated against them, but the service being declined by those to whom the letters were first addressed, John Campbell younger of Glenurchy undertook it with alacrity, and proceeded to Caithness. In the meantime by the influence of their friends, the outlaws obtained a remission of their crimes. Although Glenurchy found this an unprofitable expedition, he resolved to turn his visit to Caithness to some account, and ingratiated himself with the Earl, who had married Argyle's daughter, and who was consequently his own kinswoman.
The Earl, who was advanced in life and in great pecuniary difficulties, was advised by Campbell to execute a bond of entail, 7th October 1672, conveying the earldom and estates to Glenurchy, failing issue male of his own body. He died in 1675 without that issue, leaving his lands encumbered with debt, which Campbell, who was himself a principal creditor, redeemed, and not trusting to the deed of tailzie and disposition, he married in 1678 the dowager Countess, who enjoyed a handsome life rent. He then led a process of adjudication against the whole property, and ultimately obtained a charter under the great seal, and a royal grant of the earldom, George Sinclair of Geiss, son of Francis Sinclair of Northneld, second son of George Earl of Caithness, grandfather to the last Earl, laid claim to the title and was cheerfully acknowledged by a majority of the clan, who would not submit to Glenurchy,s assumption.
The lawyers, however, seem to have given the preference to Glenurchy, in whose favor a proclamation from the privy council was issued, 22rd February 1677, forbidding Sinclair to claim, or others to give him the style or title. Sinclair, in support of his claims, alleged a disposition of the lands of Geiss, Northfield, and Tister, from the Earl his grandfather, which he maintained was his sole and unalienable patrimony, but Glenurchy also resisted this claim. Sinclair however defended his right, and with his friends opposed Glenurcby's collection of the rents, and otherwise annoyed him, who thereupon obtained the protection ‘of letters of lawborow's against the Sinclairs, who had been’ previously summoned by the sheriff to compear and resign the lands to the newly created Earl of Caithness, who had moreover obtained an act, charging all his kin, friends, and' followers to assist him in the recovery of the disputed lands.
In consequence of this, Glenurchy invaded Caithness with an array of about 1000 men from Glenlyon, Glenfallacb, Glendocbart, Achaladair, with the followers of his brother–in–law, the Laird of MacNab and finding the Sinclairs prepared to oppose the march, he drew up his army at Allt–na–meirlich, about two miles from the town of Wick.
His enemies were somewhat more numerous, and unfortunately spent the night preceding the battle in carelessly feasting and drinking, the effect of which was seen in the irregular line of march, when they went forward next morning. The Campbell's with becoming prudence, knowing the population to he hostile to them, and that defeat would be irretrievable ruin, selected the most advantageous ground, and nerved themselves for the onslaught of the advancing host. Their firmness secured the advantage for the unsteady ranks of the Sinclair's were broken, and the slaughter was great. Many attempting to cross the river of Wick, escaped the sword, but found a watery grave.
The bodies so accumulated in the stream, that it is traditionally reported the Campbell's could step over on the carcasses, dry shod. The gentlemen being mounted, made good their retreat, but the victory was so complete and so easily obtained, that on first, perceiving the Sinclair's giving way, Glenurchy's Piper poured forth a voluntary, the notes of which appeared to re–echo the contemptuous exclamation, that ’the caries with the breeks were flying from the field‘
The gentlemen of the Sindaira being on horseback, wore the Truis, hence the appellation Bodaich na'm Briogais. The late Caithness Fencibles, raised and commanded by Sir John Sinclair, Bart, were dressed in this distinguished garb of their ancestors. See Stewart's Sketches of the Highlanders, p. 399. Douglas' Peerage, This piobaireachd has ever since been called, “Lord Breadalbane's march to battle,” and does appear in the ears of lovers of pipe music, to articulate very expressively “Bodaich na'm Briogais”
Exit Carles With The Breeks – Part two and return to the General Piobaireachd Stories
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