Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


9.2.10
  A Clan Feud, a Spanish Galleon, and a Big Bang

Disclaimer: Since the 16th century is not my special interest and thus not represented in my private research library, I used the internet for this one *gasp* and mostly relied on older books avaliable online. Thus I won't guarantee that every fact is correct, though I assume the gist of the events is fairly accurate.

It started with some stolen cattle (which is pretty much the Scottish version of 'once upon a time'). Some outlaws with a grudge towards the Macdonald of Sleat chief lifted some Maclean cattle and made it look like the Macdonalds did it. Whereupon Lachlan Mhór Maclean attacked Donald Gorme Macdonald and killed some 60 Macdonalds, though Donald Gorme escaped on a ship. I'm not sure the version of Donald and Maclean being innocent victims of a trick is entirely true, but someone stole cattle, that much is clear. This is Scotland, after all. :)

Another Macdonald, Angus of Kintyre who was the brother-in-law of Lachlan Mhór, tried to reconcile both men. Against the counsel of his brothers, Angus visited Lachlan in Duart Castle, the seat of the Maclean chiefs. Lachlan welcomed his brother-in-law and retinue, but the next day fell upon them and took Angus captive.

Duart Castle

Lachlan Mhór Maclean had made himself known some years earlier when, upon coming of age in 1574 (or 1576) he left the court of King James VI at Edinburgh to claim the chiefship. His first deed was to shorten his stepfather Hector by a head. One source calls Hector 'wicked', so maybe he had it coming. The next to learn Lachlan Mhór was no easy target was Colin Campbell 6th Earl of Argyll. He'd plotted with the Macdonalds to snatch some Maclean lands which they invaded with several hundred fighting men. But Lachlan rallied his men and in turn invaded the Argyll lands until the earl thought the Maclean lands were too dearly bought and made peace. Part of sealing that peace was a marriage between Angus Macdonald of Kintyre and Maclean's sister. The arrangement worked until that unfortunate cattle incident in 1586.

Angus had to buy his release by giving the title to the Rhinns of Islay to Lachlan. His son James and his brother Ranald stayed as hostages in Duart castle. That didn't stop Angus from plotting revenge, though. Under the pretext of dealing with the formalities of the Rhinns of Islay transfer, Angus Macdonald invited Lachlan to his house of Mullintrae on Islay. Lachlan at first was mistrusting (heh, he had played the game himself before), but in the end Angus could persuade him of his affection and brotherly love - or at least his sincerity, since I doubt Lachlan believed in brotherly love at this point. But he was careful, left Ranald behind in chains at Duart and took James with him as sort of living shield.

Maclean and his kinsfolk and servants (86 people in all) were welcomed and invited to a sumptuous banquet, after which Maclean and his retinue were lodged in a long-house (the Macdonalds still lived a bit Viking style, it seems) some distance apart from the other buildings at Mullintrae. But Angus Macdonald had alterted his men to come to his house in secret at night, some 300-400 in all who now surrounded the long-house. Angus called upon Lachlan Mhór to receive the reposing cup, but Lachlan smelled a toad and came forth with his nephew James before him. The lad, beholding his father and other men with bare swords, cried for mercy to his uncle. Angus granted it, and Lachlan and his men surrendered.

To add fuel to the mess, Lachlan Mhór's heir apparent, Allan Maclean of Morvern (Lachlan's children being too young to succeed him) saw a chance to get the job. He spread a rumour that Ranald Macdonald, the hostage held at Duart, had been killed, in hope Angus would kill Lachlan in revenge. But Angus 'only' executed most of Lachlan's men. Clan feuds and dysfunctional families, oh my.

Interestingly, the Earl of Argyll who ten years before had a few chickens to fry with Lachlan Maclean now mobilised his influence to get the Maclean chief out of that predicament. Maybe he didn't want a too strong clan Macdonald, either. In the end, Lachlan was exchanged for Ranald Macdonald, and in turn had to give his son and 'divers other pledges' as hostages to Angus.

View from the castle battlements over the Sound of Mull, and Morvern

Angus Macdonald went to Ireland on business (no raiding this time), and Lachlan Maclean went to Islay and started the usual killing and burning, not caring for the hostages or the oaths sworn 'before the friends' at his delivery. This time Angus had enough. He didn't hurt the hostages, but he rallied not only his own Kintyre and Islay men, but also the Macdonald of Skye and Sleat, and fell upon Maclean's lands, cutting all the way to Ben More on Mull.

This same summer 1588, the Spanish Armada was defeated in the Channel. Some thirty galleons escapted across the North Sea and surrounded the Orkneys, but in the strait between Scotland and Ireland they met with a severe gale that drove most of the ships onto the Irish coast where the survivors of the wreckage were slaughtered. One galleon, the Florencia, escaped to the Bay of Tobermory on the outer end of Mull.

The captain of the Florencia, Don Pareira (his full name probably had a few 'y Insertplacename') at first thought he could demand assisstance because he had several hundred soldiers onboard. But Lachlan Maclean told him he'd better say 'please' because his clansmen weren't impressed by a ruffled galleon full of half starved soldiers, and the Maclean would repel any landing attempt. So Pareira offered to pay for the supplies and assisstance. Lachlan Mhór, considering the soldiers may come handy in his feud with the Macdonalds, struck a bargain to have one hundred Spanish soldiers accompany him on his foray into Macdonald lands as part of the payment.

So the Maclean clansmen and their Spanish additions went off ravaging Kintyre and the islands of Rum and Eigg and then laid siege to Mingary Castle, a Macdonald stronghold on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I'm not sure about the timeline here: Last we've seen Angus Macdonald, he'd been busy on Mull, but if a Spanish boat could sail, or row, from Tobermory to Duart, I guess the Macdonalds had already left. It is never said they laid siege to Duart Castle, nor is it mentioned that Lachlan Mhór needed the Spanish soldiers to kick the Macdonalds out of Mull.

View from the battlements towards Mull

Meanwhile, Captain Pareira had repaired and resupplied his galleon and asked for the soldiers to be returned to him. Maclean basically agreed but said that there was still an open payment since the inhabitants of Tobermory had provided the crew with grain and cattle. The Florencia was rumoured to carry a treasure and Lachlan wanted some of the shiny gold coins. Can't blame him, either, cattle and grain are valuable in the Highlands. He kept three of the officers prisoner in Duart to make sure Pareira stuck to his part of the bargain.

Maclean sent young Donald Glas, the son of Allan Maclean of Morvern (the man who'd tried to get Lachlan killed) to deal with the Spaniards. The moment he entered the deck of the Florencia, Donald was disarmed and thrown into a cabin below. Looks like Pareira had learned the Scottish way to handle things. Lachlan Maclean still refused to deliver the Spanish officers until the demands of his people were paid, while Pareira threatened to carry Donald to sea.

Of the following incident, the story that is still told today: When Donald Glas realised he'd been kidnapped by the Spaniards, he seeked to wreck revenge for the treason of his kinsmen (heh, when Scots do that to each other, it's ok, but when spme outlanders do it to a Scot, it's a crime). He found out that his cabin was separated from the powder magazine only by a bulkhead, and by some means never explained, cut a hole into the planking and laid a train to the powder. Donald was allowed on deck to take a last farewell of his beloved homeland when the Florencia set sail, but the moment he was pushed under deck again, he set fire to the trail and the galleon blew up 'with terrific violence' in Tobermory Bay. Pieces of timber and bodies were flung ashore, it is said. But no gold coins, obviously.

There is no sure proof for Donald Maclean's role in the affair, but fact is that the galleon did blow up.

The three Spanish officers are still held in the dungeon at Duart Castle. *grin* At least, life sized puppets are. (I didn't take photos, though, because cameras were not allowed inside the castle because of insurance demands.) Maclean set the officers free and sent them to Edinburgh where they lodged a complaint with the king about the destruction of their galleon 'with sulphurous powder', but it seems to no avail.

Duart Castle in the evening sun, seen from the ferry

Lachlan Maclean and Angus Macdonald continued to feud happily ever after - well, until King James VI, afraid that he would be out of Scots soon, summoned the chiefs to Edinburgh where they were imprisoned in 1591. After paying a fine, they made peace with each other and the king, but had to leave their oldest sons at court as hostages for their future obedience.

The legend of the treasure in coin and other valuables the Florencia led to several attempts at finding those shiny things. Divers went down shortly after the destruction. They used stones as weight which they dropped to resurface; an amazing feat with no other air but what they could pump into their lungs.

The Crown had assigned the treasure to the Campbell House of Argyll as part of its rights as admirals of the Western Seas, a fact that didn't sit well with the Maclean who claimed the first rights on the wreck. One Hector Maclean built a small fort overlooking Tobermory Bay and drove the divers off. The affair went to court and the Campbell rights were confirmed.

An attempt with a bell in 1665, commissioned by the 9th Earl of Argyll, led to locating the hull and some smaller items. I was suprised to learn that diving bells date that far back. Over the time, several more divings brought further items to light, among them a canon, but the big chest with the shiny gold coins remains hidden under the shifting sands in the bay. Or in legend. ;)

Most important books used:
Ralph D. Paine, The Book of Buried Treasure, 1911 (avaliable here)
Alexander MacGregor, The Feuds of the Clans, 1907 (avaliable in several versions online)
The Duart Castle Guidebook, 2000
 
Comments:
I laughed out loud at some parts of this post. :-) Thanks for sharing a great story!
 
Thank you, Kathryn. Yeah, I'm a bad historian, I can never reocrd some fact without making snarky comments. ;)
 
This ought to be a graphic novel. You couldn't make it up - apart from the gold coins, of course :-) Is there no local legend of some plucky local chancer who got mysteriously rich around that time?
 
A graphic novel with some handsome, kilted Scots? I like that idea. :)

But no, no local legend about a mysteriously rich guy, as far as I know. Though damn, there's a plotbunny somewhere. ;)
 
Loved this post - clan feuds, Spanish galleons blowing up, sunken treasure! You are really bringing Scotland to life for me - thank you.

And to paraphrase the tagline of one of my favorite websites - the great Television Without Pity: "Spare the snark, spoil the Historians!"
 
"shorten his stepfather Hector by a head"

A braw lad, that!
Great tale, Gabriele!
 
Thank you, Brady. Heh, love that tageline.

Bernita, I doubt he'd get the epithet Lachlan Mhór - Lachlan the Great - today, but the Scots liked their chiefs that way. :) Thus it's also fitting that he died in battle aged 44, and not peacefully in bed.
 
Gabriele

A great post.



Why do we have soap operas on television, why not more historical fiction?
 
"Though damn, there's a plotbunny somewhere. ;)"

A whole warren full of them, I'd say :-)
 
Because someone would have to do the research, Hank. ;)

Carla, tell me. I found one of those in Kilmartin Glen. Some exiled Dalriatan prince turned pirate. :)
 
"shorten his stepfather Hector by a head" is my favorite bit. Though I liked the blowing up of the ship, too. Exploding things are always exciting! ;D
 
Great story Gabriele - wow, wouldn't have liked to have been caught up in that feud. I must admit though, every time I saw 'Ronald Macdonald', all I could imagine was a clown with orange hair holding a Big Mac! Shame they didn't keep him down that dungeon!
 
Welcome to my blog, your Majesty. Yes, exploding things are fun, and in the 16th century, people had invented sulphurous powder to help with that. And re. the head shortening, wait until you'll learn what Lachlan Mhór did to his mother's third husband. ;)

Jules, the restaurant of the Golden Arch has a lot to answer for- I made that unfortunate connection as well. ;) I found 'Ranald' as an alternate spelling in another text and changed that.
 
Thank you for the welcome, dear Lady Gabriele! You are most kind. :)

I am about to read that next story and see what that feisty fellow is up to, now.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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