A longstanding view of the Mackenzies’ history has often highlighted the demise of a once powerful Clan while also reflecting a popular misconception of the Highlands in general as something of a benighted backwater. Although the Mackenzies’ roots were indeed essentially Celtic when traced in the direct male line, being effectively an offshoot of the ancient Scottish royal family, early intermarriages ensured that they remained part of a highly cosmopolitan network of kinship, both Gaelic and Norman, that ruled Britain and France in the Middle Ages. After a complex series of changing loyalties, which did not always follow the interests of the Crown, a subsequent strong allegiance to the House of Stuart was established under the leadership of the Clan’s 15th century chief, Alexander “the Upright”, from whom most Mackenzies living today are descended. This secured the family’s impressive ascendancy as one of the most powerful clans in the Highlands as well as in Scotland as a whole.
William dubh MacKenzie 5th Earl and 2nd Jacobite Marquis of Seaforth
Famously the chiefly branch of the family remained loyal to the Stuarts and in the 18th century supported the Jacobite Cause in the ‘Fifteen and ‘Nineteen rebellions, under William Dubh Mackenzie, the 5th Earl and 2nd Jacobite Marquis of Seaforth; as did his cousin, George Mackenzie, the 3rd Earl of Cromartie in the ‘Forty-Five. Circumstances then conspired in the 19th century for the Clan to promote a somewhat romantic perception of itself, whose story has consequently often been painted as one of inevitable decline in support of a lost cause, culminating in the Brahan Seer’s prophecy of Seaforth’s Doom, which is symbolically supposed to have foretold the ending of the senior male line of the family with the death of Francis Humberston Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth in 1815.
In reality, however, especially from the many Mackenzie cadets’ roles as soldiers, clergymen, lawyers, doctors and tradesmen, the Highlanders had always been outward-looking and were far from being a leftover from the tribal Middle Ages. Thus the clan system under the Mackenzies continued to flourish throughout the severe political upheavals of the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time some of the leading lights of the family were among the most advanced thinkers of their time and included a number of major participants in both the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. In the 18th century it was remarkable how clan solidarity overrode political considerations and by the 19th century Clannishness, in the form of family connections invariably assisted migration to the industrial cities and towns as well as overseas. The formation of regiments, most notably the Seaforth Highlanders, the building of great canals and railways in Britain, the surveying of the oceans and of India, and the exploration of Canada are among the remarkable achievements of this innovative family, whose ties of kinship have long persisted across oceans and hemispheres and indeed continue to do so to this day.
Learn More About The History of Clan Mackenzie
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