As I reflect on history, I am constantly reminded of the truth of Solomon’s words, ” there is nothing new under the sun” ( Ecclesiates 1:9). This is especially true when I look at American history and (my favorite) Scottish history. There are two events which deserve a good deal of attention, without a proper understanding of these battles would result in a gross exaggeration of American history and culture by calling it “original”. The American side of this is our knowledge of the feuds between the Hatfields and McCoys, a well known family feud that was similar to the feuds of the Scottish Highland clans.
Although the Hatfields and McCoys shared a common ancestor, the opposing clans in Scotland, the Clan Cameron and the Clan Chattan confederation, did not. It seems that it all began with the Clan Cameron taking over disputed land near Loch Arkaig. One must remember that this long feud takes place after Scotland has become a “unified” and free country, after the Battle of Bannockburn. The Chief of Clan MackIntosh, William MackIntosh, demanded the land and as does in most cases with Scottish Highlanders, both did not respect the other and declared war on each other. Both clans fought at Drumlui resulting in defeat for the Camerons. Not to let one defeat solve the problem, the defeated Camerons began harrying the land of the MacIntoshes and stealing their cattle. This went on for more than forty years until the Camerons drew up a sizable force of more than four hundred men and raided Badenoch, land belonging to the son of the King of Scotland, strangely enough. As they returned, they met a sizable force of Clan Chattan, the combined power of MacIntosh, Davidson, and MacPherson clans, all led by Lachlan, Laird of MackIntosh. As both sides prepared to do battle, the Davidsons and MacPhersons debated who held the honorary right to take the right wing of the army. Due to this dispute, the MacPhersons left the field. Now the Camerons outnumbered the remander of the Clan Chattan forces. When the battle was over, Clan Chattan was utterly defeated with the Davidsons almost all cut off. Now here history and legend begin to mix and muddle things. It is known that Clan MacPherson did return and defeat Clan Cameron, all on their own. Some say that they did this directly after the battle was over the other clans had retreated. Others say that the MackPhersons attacked the Cameron clan at night and thus maintaining the superiority of Clan Chattan. Which story is true does not matter except the fact that the war between Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron did not end.
It is now 1396, ten years after the battle of Invernavon, and many things have changed. For one thing, the kingship had changed; the noble house of Bruce was gone. David II, son of Robert I (the Bruce) had died childless and his grandson (son of his daughter Marjorie), Robert II, ascended the throne only to be succeeded shortly after by his son Robert III for he (Robert II) was quite old. At last, this feud reached the ears of the court and Robert III decided to end this feud once and for all. The battle was to be gladiatorial style, with an ampitheather constructed at the North Inch of Perth, just beside the river Tay. The clans were bring thirty men for each side and brought their various tools of the trade: swords, axes, bows and arrows, shields, and knives. There was a great deal of ceremony, similar to the Roman gladiator fights, and as the two sides drew up to do battle, they found Clan Chattan was one man short. They found their man in the form of a local harness maker named Henry Smith. As Sir Walter Scott puts it, “The trumpets of the King sounded a charge, the bagpipes blew up their screaming and maddening notes, and the combatants, starting forward in regular order, and increasing their pace, till they came to a smart run, met together in the centre of the ground, as a furious land torrent encounters an advancing tide. “Blood flowed fast, and the groans of those who fell began to mingle with the cries of those who fought. The wild notes of the pipes were still heard above the tumult and stimulated to further exertion the fury of the combatants. “At once, however, as if by mutual agreement, the instruments sounded a retreat. The two parties disengaged themselves from each other to take breath for a few minutes.. About 20 of both sides lay on the field, dead or dying; arms and legs lopped off, heads cleft to the chin, slashes deep through the shoulder to the breast, showed at once the fury of the combat, the ghastly character of the weapons used, and the fatal strength of the arms which wielded them.” When the battle was over, 11 men of Clan Chattan stood , though wounded, and one man of Clan Cameron was left. He promptly fled for his life and Clan Chattan was declared winner. It would be nice to say that the two clans never fought each other but it would be a lie if I told it. Their feud was delayed for many years until 1429 when Clan Chattan attacked a church filled with Camerons and nearly massacred the whole clan. It is hard to say when the feud ended but it did eventually.
Such a study of this feud is somewhat relevant to me since I do have Davidson blood. The Battle of the Clans has always intrigued me and it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the extent of the feud. As I read or all the battles that the Camerons have participated in, I realized exactly how warlike the Highlanders were. Such accounts and frequent battles appalled me; if one thing could be said about the Scots it is that they are undoubtedly the best warriors ever simply because practice makes perfect and practice they did.