My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


09/02/2010
  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 MacKean 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 MacKean'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 MacKean 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 chicken 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 escaped 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 Inserto y Placenameos') 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.

The story of the following incident 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 some 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'd soon be out of Scots to govern, summoned the chiefs to Edinburgh where they were imprisoned in 1591. After paying a fine, they made peace with each other and with 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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The Lost Fort is a history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history and architecture, as well as some Geology, illustrated with my own photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, pretty towns and beautiful landscapes.

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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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From the Conquest to King John

Normans, Britons, and Angevins
The Dukes of Brittany and the Honour of Richmond

From Henry III to the War of the Roses

Great Fiefs
The Earldom of Richmond and the Duchy of Brittany


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War (1)
King David and the Civil War (2)

Houses Bruce and Stewart
Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
The Early Stewart Kings

Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding


Wales

Princes and Rebels

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

The Rebellions
From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Scandinavia

Kings and Vikings

Kings of Norway
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Other Times / Miscellanea

Neolithicum to Iron Age

Scandinavia and Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Life in Skara Brae
Ship Setting on Gotland

Post-Mediaeval History

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane (my translation)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

My own Novels in Progress
The Roman Trilogy
The Saga of House Sichelstein
Kings and Rebels

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Fun Stuff

Not So Serious Romans
Aelius Rufus Visits the Future Series
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Royal (Hi)Stories
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Historical Memes
Charlemagne meme
Historical Christmas Wishes
New Year Resolutions
Aelius Rufus does a Meme
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances

Funny Sights
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Palaeontology

Fossils
Ammonites


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Links leading outside my blog will open in a new window. I do not take any responsibility for the content of linked sites.

History Blogs - Ancient

Roman History Today
Ancient Times (Mary Harrsch)
Bread and Circuses (Adrian Murdoch)
Following Hadrian (Carole Raddato)
Mike Anderson's Ancient History Blog
Mos Maiorum - Der römische Weg
Per Lineam Valli (M.C. Bishop)
Zenobia (Judith Weingarten)

Digging Up Fun Stuff
The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology Blog
Arkeologi i Nord
The Journal of Antiquities (Britain)
The Northern Antiquarian
The Roman Archaeology Blog

History Blogs - Mediaeval

Þaér wæs Hearpan Swég
Anglo Saxon, Norse & Celtic Blog
Casting Light upon the Shadow (A. Whitehead)
Norse and Viking Ramblings
Outtakes of a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)

Beholden Ye Aulde Blogges
A Clerk of Oxford
Daily Medieval
Historical Britain Blog (Mercedes Rochelle)
Magistra et Mater (Rachel Stone)
Michelle of Heavenfield (Michelle Ziegler)
Senchus (Tim Clarkson)
Viking Strathclyde (Tim Clarkson)

Royal and Other Troubles
Edward II (Kathryn Warner)
Henry the Young King (Kasia Ogrodnik)
Piers Gaveston (Anerje)
Lady Despenser's Scribery
Simon de Montfort (Darren Baker)
Weaving the Tapestry (Scottish Houses Dunkeld and Stewart)

A Mixed Bag of History
English Historical Fiction Authors
The Freelance History Writer (Susan Abernethy)
The History Blog
History, the Interesting Bits (S.B. Connolly)
Mediaeval Manuscripts Blog
Mediaeval News (Niall O'Brian)
Time Present and Time Past (Mark Patton)

Thoughts and Images

Reading and Reviews
Black Gate Blog
The Blog That Time Forgot (Al Harron)
Parmenion Books
Reading the Past
The Wertzone

Imaginations
David Blixt
Ex Urbe (Ada Palmer)
Constance A. Brewer
Jenny Dolfen Illustrations
Wild and Wonderful (Caroline Gill)

German Travel Blogs
Alte Steine
Meerblog
Reiseaufnahmen
Sonne und Wolken
Teilzeitreisender
Travelita
Unterwegs und Daheim

Highland Mountains
The Hazel Tree (Jo Woolf)
Helen in Wales
Mountains and Sea Scotland

The Colours of the World
Shutterbugs


Research

Archaeology
Past Horizons
Archaeology in Europe
Orkneyar

Roman History
Deutsche Limeskommission
Internet Ancient Sourcebook
Livius.org
Roman Army
Roman Britain
The Romans in Britain
Vindolanda Tablets

Not so Dark Ages
Burgundians in the Mist
Viking Society for Northern Research

Mediaeval History
De Re Militari
Internet Mediaeval Sourcebook
Kulturzeit
The Labyrinth
Mediaeval Crusades
Medievalists.Net

Castles
Burgenarchiv
Burgerbe
Burgenwelt
Exploring Castles
The World of Castles

Miscellaneous History
Heritage Daily
The History Files

Mythology
Ancient History
Encyclopedia Mythica

Online Journals
Ancient Warfare
The Heroic Age
The History Files

Travel and Guide Sites

Germany - History
Antike Stätten in Deutschland
Burgenarchiv
Strasse der Romanik

Germany - Nature
HarzLife
Naturpark Meissner
Naturpark Solling-Vogler

England
English Heritage
Visit Northumberland

Scotland
The Chain Mail (Scottish History)
Historic Scotland
National Trust Scotland

Books and Writing

Interesting Author Websites
Bernard Cornwell
Dorothy Dunnett
Steven Erikson
Diana Gabaldon
Guy Gavriel Kay
George R.R. Martin
Sharon Kay Penman
Brandon Sanderson
J.R.R. Tolkien
Tad Williams

Historical Fiction
Historical Novel Society
Historia Magazine

Writing Sites
Absolute Write
TheLitForum.com
National Novel Writing Month


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