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Angus Dubh Mackay (abt. 1380 - 1433)

Angus Dubh Mackay aka Chief of Clan Mackay
Born about in Strathnavar, Sutherland, Scotlandmap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married [date unknown] [location unknown]
Husband of — married about 1415 [location unknown]
Descendants descendants
Father of
Died at about age 53 in Tongue, Highlands, Scotlandmap
Profile last modified | Created 6 Feb 2015
This page has been accessed 2,769 times.

Preceded by
Angus Mackay
Chief of Clan Mackay
Succeeded by
Neil Vass Mackay



Angus Dubh (Du/Dubh/Dow; dark) was born about 1380. His date of birth is not supported by evidence but he is known to have been a youth when his father died and tutored by his uncle, Huistean Du Mackay.[1] He appears in the Book of Mackay between pages 54 and 62. Angus Mackay[2] suggests he was Chief between 1403 and 1433. There is variance between Angus Mackay and Robert Mackay[3] who suggests he was Chief in 1380 and thus born about 1360; this is not possible given the events. Both suggest he ended his reign as Chief around 1430. Balfour Paul provides no guidance on his birth but does support the 1433 as his end. All agree that it was he that led the clan at the Battle of Dingwall, in 1411 during MacDonald's invasion, where his brother was killed. At the time he was one of the most powerful nobles in Scotland, holding power over much of the land north of Inverness, probably aided with his relationships with the Albany Stewarts, in particular Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, handfast of Mariota filia Athyn, daughter to Iye Mackay and his son, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar.

His uncle, Hustein Du (Hugh the dark) Mackay, was his tutor while young and it seems that he offended his mother, a daughter of Torquil MacLeod of the Lews severely.[4] A reason is provided in Robert Mackay's work, that she disputed "the management of the estate and tutory, to which she claimed a preferable title, in right of her son, Angus-Dow", but it seems improbable this was the reason.

Battle of Tuiteam Tarbhach

Relations becoming so bad that her brother, Malcolm, son of Torquil Macleod of the Lews and Assynt, invaded Strathnaver, about 1406, with a body of men laying waste part of that country as well as Brae-Chat.[5] Robert Mackay noticed this as well but then provides: "part of the spoil had been taken from Breachat, or the heights of Sutherland: but this is contrary to a tradition in the Reay country, and seems, besides, to be incorrect, as Breachat at that time belonged to Mackay." Both historians fail to take account of their own previous work. Braechat was actually held by a man named Neil. Although he is represented, by both historians, as a son of Donald Mackay, and thus brother to Hugh, he may not have been. Sir Robert Gordon indicates he was a brother, and it seems this has been assumed, but he is notoriously inaccurate. He may have been a MacNeil and of a related but separate family. These families will go to war over the Mackay lands in right of heritage at the Battle of Drumnacoub in about 1433, and where Angus Du Mackay (this person) will be killed. This may provide an answer to the riddle that neither family historian could solve; else why would the lands be mentioned separately.

On his retreat to Assynt the MacLeods were overtaken by the Mackays at Tuiteam Tarvach, in Strathoikel, where the MacLeod was defeated and killed at the Battle called La Tuiteam Tarvach (Day of Great Slaughter). It is not clear whether Angus Du was at this battle but we have presumed it. The Mackays at the battle were led by his uncle, Huistean Du Mackay. If we presume this then it seems that Angus Du had not reached majority until about 1400, supporting Angus Mackay in his notice of the Chief as 1403.

Battle of Dingwall

Between 1406 and 1410 the MacDonalds invaded Skye and alienated the MacLeods. In 1408 MacDonald made a treaty of mutual aid with Henry IV of England. In 1410 the strategic situation with MacDonald had become so troublesome that a Council was called. The Exchequer Rolls of 1410 show that the Regent summoned the Earls of Douglas, March and Mar to council to discuss the coming crisis with Donald[6]. Sir Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, gathered his northern barons at Kildrummy castle on the eve of Christmas 1410. While there is no mention of Mackay noticed it could be presumed that preparations were made to resist an invasion should it come. Bain, in his work on the History of Ross, provides[7] it highly probable and states "the Regent took care to place both Castle and approaches in a sufficient state of defence. The person in charge was one Angus Dubh Mackay of Farr".

Although Robert Mackay suggests[8] this battle must have occurred well prior to 1411, and this carried forward into various sources, his argument is in error. He bases his argument on the appearance of a son Neil at the Battle of Harpsdale in 1426 when, according to Sir Robert Gordon[9] "In the days of Robert, Earl of Sutherland, the year 1426, Angus-Dow Mackay, and his son Neil.....". He thus perceives that Neil must have been an adult and hence over 24 and born prior to 1402. Therefore the Battle of Dingwall must have occurred prior to 1402, or 1405 if you accept maturity at 21 (which it wasn't at the time) in order for Angus Du and his wife Margaret to be married in time. This is simply not possible and no record of any such event appears anywhere at that time. In 1402 MacDonald had not yet commenced his invasion of MacLeod lands and did not have any foothold in Ross. Even the historical record of the clan (MacDonald) makes no mention of these events prior to 1411. Thus it leaves us with the Neil that is noticed was either his son, as a minor (not unheard of, Donald MacDonald took his youngest son with him to Harlaw for example), an illegitimate child born prior to his marriage with Margaret MacDonald (not unheard of either as he was over 30 when he married), or the Neil was not a son but a relative noticed in other places as Neil Neilson. It can be presumed he was a minor at the time.

In March 1411, Donald is thought to have mustered his clansmen from his holdings around Islay and Argyll and gathered, presumably at Finlaggen Castle. The Collectanea de rebus albanicis[10] advises that 10,000 clansmen responded to the call at Finlaggen and out of these Donald selected 6,600 to accompany him in the invasion of Scotland but this is likely an exaggeration. It is likely that they sailed north towards the end of March 1411; their destination was Loch Carron on Scotland's west coast, part of the Earldom of Ross and held by Mackenzie of that Ilk, based at Eilean Donan castle led by Murdoch Mackenzie. Skene mentions: "...this invasion was but a part of a much more extensive and more important scheme for which the claim of the earldom served but as a pretext; and that upon the failure of the greater plan [due to Donald failing at Harlaw], that claim [on Ross] was readily resigned."

An account of the conflict is provided in Bain, History of Ross, from page 77, although he clearly gets the start date wrong by providing Donald left Finlaggen at the beginning of July 1411.

In April 1411, MacDonald crossed into Ross, marching on the Royal castle at Inverness. The path, from the west coast to Inverness, requires the taking of Dingwall, the seat of Ross. There are three passes through the mountain backbone with the steep hill-side pass, termed Park, exiting south-west of Strathpeffer, which, though difficult, was much the safest of the three. Both the MacLeods and the MacKenzies, from the Earldom of Ross, are known to have been with him but only under sufferance.[11] It is not known whether they participated at the Battle of Dingwall but it seems improbable.

MacKay, at the head of 4000 (probably less) met MacDonald in the field to the west of Dingwall, the principal seat of the Earldom of Ross. It is not clear, from any historian, why the Mackays chose to fight this battle. A number of historians[12] suggest that Donald had laid waste to the Earldom of Ross, no doubt discussing the lands of Syke (MacLeods) and around Loch Carron (Mackenzies) and that Mackay was coming to their aid. He thus must have moved very quickly and must have been prepared. It seems obvious that it was a planned strategy executed in conjunction with Albany, the Regent, to prevent exactly this occurrence. Bain states the same.

His brother is said to have been with him but no mention is made of his uncle and we must presume him dead at this point.[13] Angus Du was the cousin of the Earl of Mar, his great-aunt, Mariota (Mairead inghean Eachann)[14], having been the “handfast” wife of the “Wolf of Badenoch” was the mother to Sir Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, and he may have been with Mar at Kildrummy. There is no mention made of the Earl of Sutherland who stayed out of this campaign in its entirety.

The Battle of Dingwall likely occurred early in the fighting season and probably around May, the battle actually taking place near Strathpeffer, about 6 kilometres west of Dingwall. Bain, although suggesting the battle was in July, states that the battle" had its locus on the line of the Strathpeffer Railway, some distance west of the point where the Peffery, after crossing the valley, turns eastward at about a right angle. At this period the stream meandered through the wide morass."

Mackay is mentioned to have led the levies of Ross and Sutherland, thus representing the Regent and Scotland rather than a clan battle. Analysis supports Robert Mackay[15] when he suggests that, with Mackay, were men from Assynt (MacLeods), Caithness and Ross (Munroes and Mackays).

The detail of the battle is unknown. Although the battle is mentioned as being held before the gates of the castle at Dingwall there is no evidence of 10,000 (about) fighting there and no evidence of the damage that they would have created. In addition, it is noted that MacDonald put his prisoners in the dungeon of the castle and occupied it. The battle was likely held around Strathpeffer or was nowhere near the size mentioned in the various histories. Angus Du is stated as having been overpowered and captured while his brother Rorie Gald was killed. Angus Du is mentioned[16] as being sent to a castle on the west coast, presumably Finlagen. It is likely here that he will meet his first wife. Mackenzie was thrown in prison at Dingwall although escaped after threatening some of MacDonald's relatives; no MacKenzie followed MacDonald to Harlaw. The MacLeod only following as a result of a treaty but, such was their hatred of MacDonald, they refused to fight under his banner.

Contrary to some web sources the Mackays did not go to Harlaw in July 1411, the Chief was in prison the entire time.

Alliance with MacDonald

Aside from the marriage to his sister, on 8 Oct 1415, Donald MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, grants him a charter of Strathhalladale, Creich, &c.. This charter, although will prove to be illegal later and mentioned below under his wife, in significant in a number of ways: it certainly provides us with the fact that his son Neil, was born prior as he is mention but likely just prior, but also it is noted[17] that these lands were subsequently provided to "his cousin" Thomas Neilson of Creich. Both the name of his son, Neil, and this grant of lands to a Neilson, suggest far more than provided to in the discussion provided by family historians. This relationship and its possibilities are discussed under Clan history.

Battle of Harpsdale

Judging by the record, primarily that of Sir Robert Gordon, Angus Du, from between 1415 and 1427 went on a spree of ravaging the lands held by various of the name Sutherland. Certainly Nicolas Sutherland, the man that murdered his father, gets more than his share. In these endeavours, a point missed by the family historians, he was likely abetted in this with his relationship with the Albany Stewarts, who now had complete power in the north until the return from captivity of James I. There can be no question, given their faith in the man at Dingwall, that he was their arm in the north, thus creating many disparaging remarks from the Sutherland historian whose family was greatly out of favour.

However the power of the Albany Stewarts was diminished by the death of Sir Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and destroyed by the return of James I in 1424 and the execution of Sir Murdoch Stewart. This event is generally unnoticed in regards to the impact on the Mackay however the fall of the Albany Stewarts was the catalyst for attacks on the Mackays. Likely starting in 1420 and certainly by 1424 a number of attacks on and by the Mackay are noticed. Although often put down to Clan battles there is certainly the appearance of usurpation of the Mackay. The Earl of Sutherland was keen to gain control of their lands and power of their clan leading to a significant number of clashes in the far north. Many of these are between Clan Mackay and the sons of MacNeil, supported by the Earl of Sutherland and his allies.

In one of the incessant family feuds we are advised[18] that "In the days of Robert, Earl of Sutherland, the year 1426, Angus-Dow Mackay, and his son Niel, assembling all the forces of Strathnaver, they entered into Caithness with all hostility, and spoiled the same. The inhabitants of Caithness convened with all diligence, and fought against Angus-Dow Mackay at Harpsdale, where there was great slaughter on either side." Harpsdale is close to Halkirk, about 13 Km south of Thurso. Gordon is the main source for these events and is thus, in these cases, unreliable. However clearly a battle occurred and there "was much slaughter on both sides". It is more likely, and recorded in other more modern sources with less bias, that Clan Sutherland, fighting in support of the claims of Thomas MacNeil on the Mackay lands, was represented by Clan Gunn and Clan Keith.[19]

Mackay was one of the northern barons appearing before King James at Inverness in 1428. Angus Du, designed as of Strathnaver, "a leader of 4000 men", was imprisoned and then shortly after released under condition of his son, Neil, being held (at Bass Rock). It is worth noting that the Parliament is invariably stated as having occurred in 1427, however the Parliamentary Record is quite clear as to the date, late Aug 1428. It seems probable that there were two events; one with James coming north in 1427 to provide a warning and the other, in 1428, when he effected his warning.[20]

Battle of Drumnacoub

Family feuds seem to have dominated in his last years, particularly against Angus Moray of Cubin, which was exacerbated by a grant, by Donald, Lord of the Isles, to which he had no right, in 1415. This was to take two generations to resolve and resulted in significant bloodshed between the families of the north.

As a direct result of this feud, Angus Du was killed, by an arrow "by the hands of a skulking assassin"[21], named as Iver, or Evander, a follower of the Earl of Sutherland, residing in Shinness, after the Battle of Drumnacoub while he was searching the fallen for his relatives. Drumnacoub, although often portrayed as a clan battle between Mackay and Sutherland was actually a family coup. Relatives of Neilson (MacNeil) attempting, with support from Murray of Cubin, to dislodge Mackay and claim his lands. The claim is on birth right and is not discussed at all by family historians. They failed and both MacNeil brothers were killed at the battle and the claim collapsed; but it serves to suggest that the original claim by Mackay to their lands may have arisen from a family of MacNeil.

Family and Marriage

First Marriage - Elizabeth MacDonald

After Harlaw, MacDonald never returned to Dingwall or Ross. The Earl of Mar was at Inverness and Dingwall in September. Shortly after his return to Finlagen we note that MacDonald has betrothed his sister, Elizabeth, to Angus Du, his prisoner, and under a treaty released him.[22] There is no date for this. It is known that MacDonald granted him lands, 8 Oct 1415 (a grant which will prove worthless; the date is significant as it was just after Euphemia, Countess of Ross resigned her titles and became a nun after which Donald claimed right to the title but was refused), and we can suppose the marriage occurred prior to this date. This is presumed in the birth of a son, Neil Vass, about 1414.[23]

Elizabeth must have been of some age by this time. John, Lord of the Isles, had died in 1386 and Elizabeth is thought to have been born to the same mother as Donald MacDonald, Lord of the Isles. She was thus over 30 when betrothed. The relationship was unlikely from a perspective of alliance and thus might be supposed to have been "accidental". She died shortly after 1415.

There was one male child from this marriage:

  • Neil Vass Mackay. Born about 1412 and will spend much of his early life a prisoner at Bass Rock.

Second Marriage - daughter of Alexander Carrach MacDonald of Keppoch

Angus Du married, secondly, a daughter of Alexander Carrach MacDonald of Keppoch, son of John, Lord of the Isles, a brother to Donald and niece to his first wife. It is not clear whether dispensation, the marriage being within prohibited degrees, was obtained, thus giving rise to later claims on the family. It is from this marriage that the Aberach Mackays are descended. The children from this marriage are:

  • Ian Aberach Mackay, must have been born very soon after 1415 as he will lead the clan at the Battle of Drumnacoub where his father is killed in 1433. Angus Mackay suggests he "not yet out of his teens" at the time of the battle. He married first, a daughter of the laird of Mackintosh, by whom he had two sons, William-Dow, who succeeded him, and John; and, secondly, a daughter of Hector Mackenzie of Garloch, brother of the laird of Kintail, by whom he had a son, Hector). The legends provide that he was fostered by maternal relatives in Lochaber, hence his name Ian Aberach (John the Lochaber man). On the night prior to the Battle of Drumnacoub his father ordered food for him to be placed in his room, along with a large boar-hound (hunting dog used against boars) to test his spirit. John killed the hound and ate his meal. His father is said to have exclaimed: "Dhearbh thu fuil do chridhe" - you have proved the blood of your heart. This, "Dearbh do chridhe" (prove thy heart) became the cry of the Aberach Mackay while " Bi treun" (be valiant - manu forti) was the cry of the Mackay of Strathnaver.

Other Male Children

Angus Du Mackay had, at least three other children. The Scots Peerage[24] does not attempt to determine which mother, Angus Mackay[25] makes no attempt, in the summary, to determine a mother for any of the children. Robert Mackay does not distinguish. However, worth noting; It was Ian Aberach that led the clan during the imprisonment of Neil Vass, thus he was older than the other three boys. We also know that Ian Aberach was a son to the second wife and thus we can suppose that the three boys were born to the second wife or were illegitimate. The three boys were:

  • Roderick Mackay, whose son, Donald, is mentioned in a decreet of the Lords of Council against the Mackays of Strathnaver in 1501.
  • William Mackay, who is designated Angus Duff's son, and whose son, John, is included in the above decreet.
  • Angus Mackay, who had a son John, whose son, Angus, is designated of Spenziedale, Creich. This latter Angus granted sasine to his son-in-law, Roderick Murray, on the lands of Spanziedale and Bighouse, as is made clear in the title-deeds of the estate of Bighouse, of which a copy is preserved. It is more than likely that Murray contracted this marriage in order to fortify his family in the possession of Bighouse, which Angus Du obtained by charter in 1415 (the worthless Charter issued by Donald, Lord of the Isles to buy off the Mackay), but which the king gave to the Murrays in 1430. This latter issue, summarised incorrectly by Angus Mackay[26] provides insight into the family of Neilson and Murray. In 1415, when Donald MacDonald is stated to have provided this grant he was Lord of the Isles. The lands, under consideration, are in Sutherland (although Angus Mackay suggests he granted them as Earl of Ross this is impossible as the lands were not in Ross). For MacDonald to believe he had the authority to grant these lands he presumably had the view they were his to grant but he never owned lands in Sutherland and thus must have believed he held the status as overlord to one that did. The MacNeils were subordinate chiefs to the Lord of the Isles for their lands and it might thus be presumed that it was under this guise that MacDonald granted lands held by MacNeil to the Mackay and therefore starting the feud for the lands.


  1. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 54
  2. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 54
  3. #S-2 Robert Mackay; page 49
  4. Also discussed in detail by the MacLeod family historian, William Matheson
  5. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 54
  6. Exchequer Rolls of Scotland; vol 4; page lvii, lxxiv and 132.
  7. #S-5 Robert Bain; page 78
  8. #S-2 Robert Mackay; page 56
  9. Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland
  10. Skene mentions in his work “Highlanders of Scotland” that the manuscript was written by a person under the name of Maclachlan in 1467.
  11. History of the Mackenzie; Alexander Mackenzie; page 63.
  12. Including Sir Robert Gordon, Historian of the Earl of Sutherland and notoriously biased against the family when it comes to Mackay
  13. Robert Mackay #S-2 Robert Mackay; page 50, indicates that he died 2 years after he Battle of Tuiteam Tarbhach or about 1408
  14. Called by this name on wikipedia
  15. Robert Mackay #S-2 Robert Mackay; page 55
  16. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 55
  17. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 55
  18. Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland
  19. Angus Mackay suggests that Clan Gunn was not present but the issue is moot. Nicholas Sutherland was the husband of Margery, one of the Chene heiresses, and owned huge possessions in and around Sutherland. A Charter, 1370, provided "Strabrock and the half of Catness". He was brother in law to John Keith of Inverugy (Aberdeenshire) who had married the other heiress. It could be presumed that neither the Gunns or the Keiths were particularly strong at the battle but likely there.
  20. The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2015), A1428/8/1. The record leaves no doubt that this is the event under consideration and although it has been debated whether this was actually a Parliament the issue is not relevant to this discussion here. A cursory examination of the records, on the web site, surrounding this event will illustrate that James did not have a Parliament in Inverness in 1427.
  21. #S-2 Robert Mackay; page 72
  22. #S-4 Balfour Paul; Vol 5, page 40
  23. #S-3 Balfour Paul; Vol 7, page 160
  24. #S-3 Balfour Paul; Vol 7, page 160
  25. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 54
  26. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 62


  • Source S-1Angus Mackay. The book of Mackay. Vol. I. Edinburgh: Norman Macleod, 1906. Open Library
  • Source S-2Robert Mackay. History of the house and clan of Mackay ...... Vol. I. Edinburgh: A Jack, 1829.
  • Source S-3Sir James Balfour Paul, Editor. The Scots peerage, founded on Wood's edition of Sir Robert Douglas's peerage of Scotland; containing an historical and genealogical account of the nobility of that kingdom. Vol. VII. Edinburgh: D Douglas, 1904.
  • Source S-4Sir James Balfour Paul, Editor. The Scots peerage, founded on Wood's edition of Sir Robert Douglas's peerage of Scotland; containing an historical and genealogical account of the nobility of that kingdom. Vol. V. Edinburgh: D Douglas, 1904.
  • Source S-5Robert Bain. History of the ancient province of Ross (The County Palatine of Scotland) from the earliest times to the present time. Vol. I. Dingwall: Pefferside Press, 1899.

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