Descended from Leod, the younger Son of Olaf the Black, one of the last Norse kings of Man and the North Isles, Clan Macleod are a family that are intrinsically linked to the Scottish Hebrides.
Inheriting the Islands of Lewis and Harris and part of the Isle of Skye from his father upon his death in 1237, Leod would marry the daughter of the Norse steward of Skye and moved his family to Dunyvegan on the Island, a place that remains the chief’s seat to this day. Leod would receive further lands in the Hebrides following King Haakon of Norway’s defeat at the Battle of Largs in 1263, after which he was forced to give up his residual claims to the Western Isles.
After Leod’s death, the clan would split into two main branches, the MacLeods of Lewis, named after Thorkil, a son of Leod and the Macleods of Skye, named after another son of Leod, Tormod. It would be Tormod who would establish the clan’s castle at Dunvegan, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.
Despite supporting Robert the Bruce during the Scottish Wars of Independence, the Macleods would remain fiercely independent from the crown and, for this reason, no royal charters were ever granted to confirm the MacLeods chiefs in their lands and titles. This is not something that concerned the MacLeods, however, as there were more concerned about the growing power of their Hebridean rivals, the MacDonalds. This reluctance to follow the MacDonalds during their struggles against James IV as he tried to destroy the power of the Hebridean chiefs would result in the clan being able to thrive during a period when many of their neighbours were being harshly punished for retaliating against the King. One clan chief in particular, Alasdair Crotach, would advance the interests of the clan during this period as he secured a title to Trotternish (on the northern side of Skye) which had long been disputed with the MacDonalds of Sleat. Alasdair would also construct the famous fairy tower at Dunvegan Castle and would rebuild the famous church of Rodel in Harris, one of the finest monuments in the Hebrides.
Alasdair would pass away in 1547, leaving the chiefship to his son, William, who would also pass away soon after. This meant that the one remaining member of the family, his young daughter, Mary, would be left in charge of the clan under the guardianship of the Earl of Argyll. Mary’s chiefship would not last, however, as it was soon seized by one of her kinsmen, Iain Dubh, who would kill any of his rivals if they dared to challenge him. To prevent himself from having the same fate as his brothers, Mary’s uncle Norman would flee until 1559 when, as he was about to be removed from his position by the crown, he fled to Ireland, leaving Mary to cede her rights to the chiefship to the returning Norman.
Norman’s second son, Ruaraidh Mor, would continue the good work of the clan and established Dunvegan as the cultural centre of the Isles. He is now remembered by ‘Sir Rory Moy’s Horn’, a great drinking horn named in his honour which is an integral part of the right of passage of any new clan chief at Dunvegan. The horn holds a bottle and a half of claret and upon receiving the chiefship, a new chief must drain the horn, ‘without setting down or falling down’. This ritual was continued by the present chief’s father who is said to have performed the feat in less than two minutes.
The MacLeods would, over time, become more involved in conflicts on the British mainland as they marched south in 1651 to fight for the Royalist cause at the battle of Worcester. Despite, bringing many men to the battlefield, the Royalists would be soundly defeated by the forces of Oliver Cromwell, with 500 MacLeod men said to have been killed in the struggle. it is for this reason that, despite supporting the Jacobite cause, the MacLeods would sit out the uprisings of 1715 and 1745 as they feared further losses, something that would ultimtely benefit the clan as they did not ahve to endure the serious repercussions from the Hanoverian monarchy which faced many other clans that decided to take up arms.
It is for this reason that the MacLeods still hold their traditional clan seat at Dunvegan, a place the family call their seat to this day. It is here that the current chief, Hugh Magnus MacLeod of Macleod, sits, splitting his time between the castle and his interests in London. Despite still being an inhabited castle, its grounds are open to the public and it is a popular desitnation for any tourist planning a trip to the Isle of Skye.