At this time the first Earl William laid claim to the superiority of the Western Isles, which he and his father, Ferchair Mac an t'Sagairt; were chiefly instrumental, among the followers of Alexander III., in wresting from the Norwegians, and he was naturally desirous to have the government of Ellandonnan Castle in his own hands, or under the charge of some one less ambitious than Kenneth, and on whom he could implicitly rely. Kenneth was advancing rapidly both in power and influence among his more immediate neighbours, who were mainly composed of the ancient inhabitants of the district, the Mac Beolains, who occupied Glenshiel and the south side of Loch Duich as far as Kylerhea; the Mac Ivors, who inhabited Glen Lichd, the Cro of Kintail, and the north side of Loch Duich; while the Mac Tearlichs, now calling themselves Mac Erlichs or Charlesons, occupied Glenelchaig. These aboriginal natives naturally supported Kenneth, who was one of themselves, against the claims of his superior, the Earl, who though a pure Highland Celt was less known in Kintail than the Governor of the Castle. This only made the Earl more determined than ever to obtain possession of the stronghold, and he peremptorily requested the garrison to surrender it and Kenneth to him at once. The demand was promptly refused; and finding that the Governor was resolved to hold it at all hazards the Earl sent a strong detachment to take it by storm.
Kenneth was readily joined by the surrounding tribes, among whom were, along with those whose names have been already given, the brave Macaulays of Lochbroom, who were distantly related to him. By the aid of these reinforcements Kenneth was able to withstand a desperate and gallant onset by the Earl and his followers, who were defeated and driven back with great slaughter. This exasperated the enemy so much that he soon after returned to the charge with a largely increased force, at the same time threatening the young governor with the utmost vengeance and final extirpation unless he immediately capitulated. But before the Earl was able to carry his threats into execution, be was overtaken by a severe illness of which he very soon after died, in 1274. His son, the second Earl William, did not persevere in his father's policy against Kintail, and it was not long before his attention was diverted into another channel. On the death of Alexander III., in 1286, the affairs of the nation became confused and distracted. This was rather an advantage to Kenneth than otherwise, for, in the general disorder which followed he was able to strengthen his position among the surrounding tribes. Through a combination of native prudence, personal popularity, and a growing power and influence heightened by the eclat of his having so recently defeated the powerful Earl of Ross, he succeeded in maintaining good order in his own district, while his increasing influence was felt over most of the Western Isles.
Kenneth married Morna or Morba, daughter of Alexander Macdougall of Lorn, "de Ergedia," by a daughter of John the first Red Comyn, and sister of John the Black Comyn, Earl of Badenoch. He died in 1304 and was buried in Icolmkill, when he was succeeded by his only son,
II. JOHN MAC KENNETH, OR MAC KENZIE,
The first of the race called Mac Kenny or Mac Kenzie. Dr George Mackenzie, already quoted, says that "the name Coinneach is common to the Pictish and Scottish Gael," and that "Mackenzie, Baron of Kintail, attached himself to the fortunes of the heroic Robert the Bruce, notwithstanding MacDougall's (his father-in-law) tenacious adherence to the cause of Baliol, as is believed, in resentment for the murder of his cousin, the Red Comyn, at Dumfries"; while the Earl of Cromartie says that he "not only sided with Robert Bruce in his contest with the Cumins but that he was one of those who sheltered him in his lurking and assisted him in his restitution; `for in the Isles,' says Boethius `he had supply from a friend; and yet Donald of the Isles, who then commanded them, was on the Cumin's side, and raised the Isles to their assistance, and was beat at Deer by Edward Bruce, anno 1308.'" All this is indeed highly probable.
After Bruce left the Island of Rachrin he was for a considerable time lost sight of, many believing that he had perished during his wanderings, from the great hardships which he necessarily endured in his ultimately successful attempts to escape the vigilant efforts and search of his enemies. That Bruce found shelter in Ellandonnan Castle and was there protected for a considerable time by the Baron of Kintail--until he found opportunity again to take the field against his enemies--has ever since been the unbroken tradition in the Highlands, and it has always been handed down from one generation to another as a proud incident in the history of the clan. The Laird of Applecross, who wrote his manuscript history of the Mackenzies in 1669, follows the earlier family historians. He says that this Baron of Kintail "did own the other party, and was one of those who sheltered the Bruce, and assisted in his recovery. I shall not say he was the only one, but this stands for that assertion that all who were considerable in the Hills and Isles were enemies to the Bruce, and so cannot be presumed to be his friends. The Earl of Ross did most unhandsomely and unhumanly apprehend his lady at Tain and delivered her to the English, anno 1305. Donald of the Isles, or Rotholl, or rather Ronald, with all the Hebrides, armed against the Bruce and were beat by Edward Bruce in Buchan, anno 1308. Alexander of Argyll partied (sided with) the Baliol; his country, therefore, was wasted by Bruce, anno 1304, and himself taken by him, 1309. Macdougall of Lorn fought against the Bruce, and took him prisoner, from whom he notably escaped, so that there is none in the district left so considerable as this chief (Mackenzie) who had an immediate dependence on the Royal family and had this strong fort, which was never commanded by the Bruce's enemies, either English or Scots; and that his shelter and assistance was from a remote place and friend is evident from all our stories. But all their neighbours being stated on a different side from the Mackenzies engendered a feud betwixt him and them, especially with the Earl of Ross and Donald of the Isles, which never ended but with the end of the Earl of Ross and lowering of the Lord of the Isles." That this is true will be placed beyond question as we proceed.
It may, indeed, be assumed from subsequent events in the history of these powerful families and the united testimony of all the genealogists of the Mackenzies, that the chief of Kintail did befriend Robert the Bruce against his enemies and protected him in his castle of Ellandonnan, in spite of the commands of his immediate superior, the Earl of Ross, and the united power of all the other great families of the Western Isles and Argyle. And in his independent stand at this important period in the history of Scotland will be found the true grounds of the local rancour which afterwards prevailed between Mackenzie and the Island Lord, and which only terminated in the collapse of the Earls of Ross and the Lords of the Isles, upon the ruins of which, as a reward for proved loyalty to the reigning monarch, and as the result of the characteristic prudence of the race of MacKenneth, the House of Kintail gradually rose in power, subsequently absorbed the ancient inheritance of all the original possessors of the district, and ultimately extended their influence more widely over the whole provinces of Wester and Central Ross.
The genealogists further say that this chief waited on the King during his visit to Inverness in 1312. [The MS. histories of the Mackenzies give the date of Robert Bruce's visit to Inverness as 1307, but from a copy of the "Annual of Norway," at the negotiation and arrangement of which "the eminent Prince, Lord Robert, by the like grace, noble King of Scors (attended) personally on the other part," it will be seen that the date of the visit was 1312.--See Invernessiana, by Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, F,S.A. Scot., pp. 36-40.] This may now be accepted as correct, as also that he fought at the head of his followers at the battle of Inverury, where Bruce defeated Mowbray and the Comyn in 1303. After this important engagement, according to Fenton, "all the nobles, barons, towns, cities. garrisons, and castles north of the Grampians submitted to Robert the Bruce," when, with good reason, the second chief of Clan Kenneth was further confirmed in the favour of his sovereign, and in the government of Ellandonnan.