On the 6th of March in 14784 Hector Odhar (Eachuinn Odhar in Scots Gaelic) Maclean succeeded his father, Lachlan Og Maclean, as the ninth Chief of the Clan Maclean.1 Known as Hector “the Sallow” because of his predisposition for war,1 he stood in stark contrast to his peace-loving father. His eagerness for battle and loyalty to the Lordship of the Isles would serve him and his clan well during the most defining and turbulent period in the history of the Hebrides.
Hector Odhar was the last Maclean Chief to serve as Lieutenant-General to the Lords of the Isles,1 a post he filled twice during his lifetime—first at the Battle of Bloody Bay and later at the Battle of Park. Throughout his life, Hector Odhar’s loyalty to the Lordship of the Isles never wavered regardless who held it.
During the infamous overthrow of John Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, by his illegitimate son, Angus Óg, Hector Odhar’s loyalties and armies remained with the rightful Lordship.3 Attempting to block Angus Óg’s coup-de-ta, John Macdonald resigned the majority of his titles and lands to the James III.1 The king sent several expeditions to quell the revolt, but all failed. The last expedition, led by the chiefs of Argyle and Athol, was joined by John Macdonald himself and several other clans including the Macleans, Macleods, Macneils among others. Hector Odhar took his place as Lieutenant-General.
Ultimately the expedition failed because the chiefs of Argyle and Athol were hesitant to launch a full attack against Angus Óg.1 Despite their hesitation, when Hector Og saw Maclean of Lochbuie’s ship being attacked by Angus Óg off the Point of Ardnamurchan near Tobermory, he rushed to aid his kinsmen with as many men as could be immediately mustered.1 The resulting conflict is remembered as the Battle of Bloody Bay. Hector Odhar was captured as was John Macdonald. Angus Óg intended to execute Hector Odhar on his own galley, fortunately the Chief of Clanranald intervened saying that, "he would have no-one to bicker with if Maclean were gone."4 Though Hector Odhar’s life was spared, he was forced to give “his oath of fidelity" to Angus Óg4, the new Lord of the Isles.
Following the successful gamble of Angus Óg to take the Lordship of the Isles from his father, the Western Isles enjoyed a short-lived peace. During this respite James III was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn leaving his son, King James IV on the Scottish throne. As king, James IV knew he needed to rein-in the Highlands and Islands to unify his kingdom.
In 1491 Hector Odhar again answered the call of the Macdonald to raise an army against his son-in-law, Kenneth Mackenzie.2 The chief of the Clan Mackenzie believed he was insulted when offered lodging below his status while traveling through the territory of the Lords of the Isle. In return for the perceived insult, he sent his wife, who was blind in one eye, home to his father-in-law on a horse with one eye, attended to by a servant with one eye, and followed by a one-eyed dog. Makenzie’s wife, having very recently given birth, never fully recovered from the journey. The humiliation of his daughter and the personal insult was more than the Macdonald could bear, and ensured that there would not be peace between the Mackenzies and the Lordship of the Isles. Macdonald called on his Lieutenant-General to raise an army exceeding 1,500 men to exact revenge on the Mackenzie. The campaign ended in defeat for the Lordship at the Battle of Park.2
The Battle of Park got the attention of James IV, who knew he had to rein-in the Highland and Island chiefs not only to unify Scotland, but to prevent them from destroying themselves. Though James IV would eventually succeed in subduing the powerful chiefs of the Western Isles, it would not go as smoothly as he had initially hoped. After the Battle of Park, the king decided to the power of the Macdonalds had to be diminished and enforced his claim to the Lordship which had been resigned to the Scottish throne by John Macdonald at the beginning of Angus Óg’s revolt.
In 1493 James IV forced the John Macdonald to completely forfeit the Lordship of the Isles to the Scottish crown. This shift of power from local leadership to the monarchy is arguably the most significant historical event in the all of the Western Highlands and Islands, potentially in even the Hebrides, as it marks the end of the semi-independent operation of the Hebridean chiefs. It also marks the most decisive step in the integration of the Gàeltachd into mainstream Scotland and the beginning of the slow destruction of its ancient language and culture4. It also marked not only the beginning the Clan Maclean as an independent clan, but the most powerful of the Hebridean clans.1
Former vassals of the Lordship of the Isles under the Macdonalds, now found themselves landless and beholden to a king eager for them to live peaceably with each other. James IV rewarded their peaceful cohabitation and regular communication with land and money. Those who failed to adapt to the times were imprisoned or fined. Occasionally James IV visit the Islands with an impressive force. This worked for a time.
It is clear that James IV regarded Hector Odhar as influential among the Island chiefs,1 and in July of 1495, Hector Odhar was granted royal charters for the lands that his ancestors had received in 1390, 1409, 1431.4 However, the charters from James IV did not include lands received since 1431, particularly those in Islay.4
James IV had to suppress a brief uprising of the many of the Island clans who wanted to regain their autonomy. The fact that for the most part the Macleans were able to remain uninvolved, is likely due to a bitter feud they had with Alan Macrory, though the details are unknown.3 As a result of the uprising, James IV ignored his previous grants and promises to the Island chiefs and appointed Campbell, the Earl of Argyll his Lieutenant over the isles1. In 1496, both Hector Odhar and Allan Macrory, along with several others, appeared before the Lords of Council in Edinburgh and bound themselves to the Earl of Argyll on behalf of the King. If they harassed other clans, they would be assessed a penalty of 500 pounds.3
It was obvious to his clansmen and king that Hector Odhar, though a brave and inspiring wartime leader, was far less politically adept. By 1492 Hector Odhar knew that his influence had begun to slip from his grasp. The office of Baillie of the Southern Half of Tiree, an office held by the Lord of Duart since 1309, was chartered to John Maclean of Lochbuie.4 That same year, Lochalsh settled a land dispute between Maclean of Coll and Maclean of Lochbuie by granting the land to Ewen Cameron (known as Ewen Allansoun), Captain of the Clan Cameron who was widely known to be a long-time thorn in the side of the Macleans.4 In the aftermath of the fall of the Lordship of the Isles, Hector Odhar was slow to approach James IV, and thus gave John Maclean of Lochbuie time to receive the first new charters two years earlier allowing him to usurp some of Hector Odhar's rights in Tiree and Morvern.4
Having lost the confidence of his clan, Hector Odhar decided it was time to pass the reins of leadership to his son, Lachlan. The only problem was that his only son was illegitimate.1 It appears that not only did the clan’s chieftains and leaders agreed, but so did James IV, who legitimated Lachlan on the 8th of October in 1496.1 The same day of his legitimation, Hector Odhar resigned the whole of his estate to Lachlan.1
Though several manuscripts record that Hector Odhar died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, this is almost certainly impossible as he would have been age 93 at the time of that battle.4 This is likely an attempt by historians to forget the illegitimate chief by blurring the distincting between Lachlan and his son Lachlan Cattanach.1 Stronger evidence exists that records his death in 1509, four years before the Battle of Flodden.1
- 1. MacLean, J. P. A History of the Clan MacLean from Its First Settlement at Duard Castle, in the Isle of Mull, to the Present Period. Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1889. p50-60. Print.
- 2. Seneachie An Historical and Genealogical Account of the Clan Maclean. London: Smith, Elder, and Co. Cornhill, 1838. p57-59. Print.
- 3. Sinclair, Alexander Maclean. The Clan Gillean. Charlottetown: Haszard and Moore, 1899. p57-60.
- 4. Maclean-Bristol, Nicholas. Warriors and Priests: The History of the Clan Maclean, 1300-1570. East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland: Tuckwell, 1995.p70-75. Print.
Article by Kane McLean, 25 June, 2014; released under the Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) Unported License.