5th Earl of Cromartie (Mackenzie) (Earl UK, 1861)
The History of Our Clan Chiefs
There was a difficult period of mixed allegiances after 1688 when the Clan’s Roman Catholic Chief chose to continue in his support for the exiled King James, while the majority of Protestant Mackenzies remained loyal to the Government. However, following the return from exile of their youthful and charismatic Chief, William 5th Earl of Seaforth, the majority of the clan by 1715 had reconciled themselves to his leadership. Such was his authority that of a Jacobite army totalling 6,209, Seaforth accounted for 50 horse and 1,100 foot, while the Mackenzies of Applecross and Fairburn brought a further 350 and 400 foot respectively to the rebel forces. Family letters from this period show that the family hierarchy survived unquestioned even following the Chief’s forfeiture and exile after the second failed uprising of 1719 when Seaforth continued to be regarded as head of the family. Such was his power in the north-west of Scotland that he proved himself to be in an extremely strong position to negotiate with the Government for his pardon in 1725. Social and civil order in the north of Scotland was still to a large extent dependent on magnate cooperation and it only returned when the Government conceded that point and allowed Seaforth to take up his chiefly role once more.
The widely held respect that the Chief held within his Clan continued further into the eighteenth century. John Home, writing of the situation in 1745 was quite clear what the clan was about and how links were maintained between even the most distant of kin: the Highlands are divided into a number of territories and ‘Each of these districts, called by the natives a country, was the residence of a clan or kindred, who paid implicit obedience to the Cean Cinne, or head of the kindred. The sirname [sic] of the chief was the name of the clan, and the title which he bore constantly reminded the Highlanders of the kindly origin of his power; for the Cean Cinne was the kinsman of his people, the source and fountain of his blood… a number of the clan constantly attended him both at home and abroad… to bind the kindred faster together, the cord of interest (in the most ordinary sense of the word) was drawn strait between them: the lands of the chief were let to his nearest relations upon very easy terms; and by them parcelled out to their friends and relations, in the same manner. That consanguinity, the great principle of clanship, might not lose its force by being diffused amongst a multitude of men, many of whom were far removed from the chief, there were intermediate persons, called the chieftains, through whom the inferiors looked up to their chief.’
It was precisely such an allegiance that allowed Francis Humberston Mackenzie, the last Lord Seaforth to raise so many troops for his (now Hanoverian) King during the Napoleonic Wars at the close of the 18th century, with the assistance of his kinsmen Mackenzie officers. Thus the martial potential of the clannish system, involving an identity based on a common descent that had its roots in the tradition for the landless younger sons to follow military careers in the defence and support of their wider family, far from being an outmoded anachronism, not only continued to work in the interests of the leading Mackenzie gentry, but was also fundamental to the advancement of the British Empire.
It was famously with this Lord Seaforth’s death in 1815 that the elder line of the Mackenzies ended so that, in the words of Sir Walter Scott, ‘Of the line of Fitzgerald remains not a male to bear the proud name of the Chief of Kintail.’ In fact, George Falconer Mackenzie, 4th laird of Allangrange was in 1829 served heir male to his ancestor, the Hon. Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin, and heir male in general to Simon’s father, Kenneth, 1st Lord Mackenzie of Kintail. He matriculated arms accordingly in the Office of Lord Lyon. However, on the death of his grandson, James Fowler Mackenzie, in 1907 the chiefship was effectively dormant until, on the 12th June, 1980 Lord Lyon King of Arms recognised Roderick Francis Grant Mackenzie, Earl of Cromartie, as the lawful Cabarfèidh, Chief of Clan Mackenzie. It is his son, John Ruaridh Grant Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Cromartie, who is the current Chief.
The term Cabarfèidh, meaning ‘deer’s antlers’, is, of course, a reference to the Chief’s coat-of-arms, although it is difficult to know when it was first used as a term for the Mackenzie Chief. It is known that the last Earl named the yacht he used to take him between the mainland and the Isle of Lewis Cabarfèidh. However, the first known use in this precise context was when the last Lord Seaforth’s daughter, Lady Mary Stewart-Mackenzie, who took on the mantle of Chief, wrote to Sir Walter Scott regretting her inability to attend George IV’s famous visit to Edinburgh in 1822: ‘Poor Cabarfèidh’ she wrote, ‘is very different to what it was.’
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