Derived from the Gaelic MacCoinneach which means “son of the fair bright one”, the MacKenzies are said to have been descended from Gilleoin of the Aird, a Gaelic dynast who lived in the early 12th century.
The clan would eventually settle at Eilean Donan, where their great historic seat is located, and would receive a royal charter for their lands there in the year 1463.
After the Scottish monarchy targetted their rival clan the MacDonalds in the late 15th century, the fortunes of the MacKenzies would rise as they were given lands forfeited by the MacDonald Earl of Ross, after the MacKenzie chief, Alistair of Kintail, raised his clan against him.
The lands of Kintail would later be erected into a barony in the year 1508 and within 100 years, the MacKenzie’s territory stretched all the way from the Black Isles to the Outer Hebrides as they ruled a large portion of the highlands from their stronghold at Eilean Donan.
Another title would then be given to the clan’s chiefly family as they were raised to the peerage as Lords MacKenzie of Kintail in the year 1609 before a further promotion to the Earls of Seaforth only 14 years after.
Another branch of the family, created by Sir Roderick MacKenzie, would be created Baronets in 1628 and Earls of Cromartie in 1702, this branch made their seat at Castle Leod in Strathspeffer, named as such to signify the family’s close connection with the MacLeods from the Isle of Lewis.
Both branches of the family would then go on to become staunch Jacobites during the uprisings of the 18th century, with the Seaforths already having fought alongside James VII at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The 5th Earl of Seaforth would eventually be charged with treason and forced to forfeit his titles in 1715 before they were eventually given back to his grandson before the male line of succession came to an end in the year 1815.
After this, the chiefly line of succession would be disputed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries before a decision was finally made in 1980 which stated that the Earl of Cromartie would be allowed to matriculate his arms.
The current clan chief is John Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Cromartie.