History of the Clan MacLeod

Early History

The progenitor of the Clan was Leod, who gained possession of much of Skye, including the Cuillins, Harris and Lewis in the mid 13th century. Later tradition claimed that he was descended from the Norse Kings of Man. Dunvegan was acquired by marriage to the MacRailt heiress and became the principle seat of the Clan where the Castle was built and developed. The Clan takes its name from Leod, whose sons were called MacLeod, mac being Gaelic for son.

Leod had two sons, or grandsons, Tormod, English Norman, andTorcall, English Torquil, who became progenitors of the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan and the MacLeods of the Lewes.

In the 14th century the MacLeods of Harris acquired Glenelg on the mainland at the strategic crossing point to Skye. Malcolm MacLeod, 3rdChief of Harris, built the keep at Dunvegan.

The MacLeods of the Lewes acquired Gairloch and Assynt on the mainland and the Isle of Raasay.

Both MacLeod Clans supported theMacDonald Lord of the Isles, semi independent kings on the west coast. In Skye land was lost to the MacDonalds. After the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isle, in 1493, the MacLeods and MacDonalds began feuding. At this difficult time Alexander MacLeod, 8thChief of Harris, known as Alasdair Crotach, kept the clan lands together and built himself a fine tomb in St Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris.

Alasdair Crotach MacLeod built the Fairy Tower and the Fairy Flag is still the most celebrated relic at the Castle. The flag was given to a MacLeod chief by the fairies and had the power to summon up a magic host in time of need. It was twice used in defeating the MacDonalds.

The MacCrimmons, hereditary pipers at Dunvegan, became pre-eminent pipers and people were sent from all over Scotland to be perfected as pipers. The MacCrimmons had a piping college at Boreraig, where a cairn now commemorates the family.

The Keep was built inside the curtain wall at Dunvegan Castle, around 1340.
John MacFadyen piping at the MacCrimmon Cairn, Boreraig in 1974. Seton Gordon is on the left.
The tomb made for Alasdair Crotach MacLeod at St Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, as it might have appeared.
The Fairy Flag is still preserved at Dunvegan. Alasdair Crotach MacLeod added the Fairy Tower to the Castle.

The 17th Century

In the late 16th century Sir Rory Mor MacLeod, 15th Chief of Dunvegan, fought in Ireland against the English, and brought home a beautiful drinking cup. He rebuilt a great hall at Dunvegan. Sir Rory brought to an end the feud with the MacDonalds of Sleat. Donald Mor MacCrimmon wrote the pipe tune MacLeod\'s Salute for the occasion.

At the same time, family feuding between the children of Roderick MacLeod, 10th Chief of the Lewes, led to the island being lost first to the Fife Adventurers and then to the MacKenzies of Kintail, who, with their usual guile and force, also acquired Assynt and Gairloch on the mainland. The line of the Chiefs of the MacLeods of the Lewes died out and remained represented only by the MacLeods of Raasay, opposite Skye.

In the Civil War, in the 17th century, the MacLeods of Harris supported King Charles and lost 1,000 men at the battle of Worcester, in 1651.

John MacLeod, 18th Chief of Dunvegan, known as Iain Breac, extended the castle and was the last chief to live there permanently in full Gaelic splendour, with bards, pipers and genealogists. He died in 1693.

By 1690, Ian Breac had added a new wing next to Sir Rory Mor’s Great Hall, but the Keep had fallen into disrepair. © Ruari Halford-MacLeod from "Building Dunvegan Castle" 1993
Inside the Great Hall built by Sir Rory Mor at Dunvegan.
By 1690, Ian Breac had added a new wing next to Sir Rory Mor’s Great Hall, but the Keep had fallen into disrepair. © Ruari Halford-MacLeod from "Building Dunvegan Castle" 1993

The 18th Century

Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 22nd Chief of Dunvegan, became chief as a baby in 1706 and died in 1772. During his life the customs, laws and manners of the Highlands changed out of all recognition. He lived only occasionally at Dunvegan and pursued a political career, being M.P. for Inverness-shire from 1741 to 1756.

During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, though Bonnie Prince Charlie had some hopes that Norman MacLeod would join him, infact the chief raised 700 men to fight for King George and the Hanovarian cause. At the skirmish at Inverurie, in December 1745, though the chief behaved gallantly, his men ran back to Elgin. The Chief\'s piper, Malcolm MacCrimmon was made prisoner. In February 1746 Norman MacLeod, accompanying Lord Loudoun and his troops, was routed at Moy, south of Inverness, where the Prince had been staying. Donald MacCrimmon, the Harris piper, was killed and his brother wrote the lament Cha Til MacCrimmon.

The MacLeods of Raasay, however, joined Bonnie Prince Charlie and fought at the battle of Culloden in April 1746 but, after the battle, Raasay House was burned and the island was ravaged from end to end.

Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 22nd Chief, died at St Andrews in 1772, leaving huge debts. He was succeeded by his grandson, Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 23rd Chief, who became a soldier. He was captured entering Boston Harbour in 1776 but later went to India where he raised the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch, later 73rd Regiment, and became a major general. He amassed a fortune but spend much of it attempting to get elected to Parliament and in restoring the keep at Dunvegan Castle.

Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 23rd Chief, died suddenly in 1801, and was succeeded by his son John Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 24th Chief, who carried out further improvements to the Castle and added the entrance from the east. He sold Glenelg for a staggering £100,000 but cleared large areas of Bracadale to make way for sheep. He failed to be elected M.P. for Inverness-shire but amassed more debts and he entailed the estate. He also died suddenly, in 1835, going to vote at his own election.

James Macleod, 12th of Raasay, created a magnificent mansion on the Isle of Raasay, but his son John Macleod, 13th of Raasay, was forced to sell the island in 1843. He emigrated to South Australia and was eventually succeeded by his nephew, Loudoun Hector Macleod, 16th of Raasay, who had been born on Tasmania.

Norman MacLeod of MacLeod
Patrick MacCrimmon, about 1715, as he might have looked, wearing MacLeod's livery. He was the father of Malcolm and Donald MacCrimmon.
Old Raasay House, at the centre, was enlarged by James Macleod, who added an elegant new block infront, about 1805. The kitchen block, left, was added in the late 19th century. © Ruari Halford-MacLeod 1976
John Norman MacLeod built a new courtyard, to the east of the castle, and made a grand entrance. © Ruari Halford-MacLeod from "Building Dunvegan Castle" 1993

The 19th and 20th Centuries

Norman MacLeod of MacLeod 24th Chief, succeeded his father and remodelled the Castle extensively, adding the pepper-pot towers on the corners. During the potato famine of the late 1840s he remained in Skye and fed more than 8,000 people on his estates. The effort crippled him, financially, and he was forced to hand over the estate to trustees. He went south to London and took employment at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The castle was let for summer visitors. Norman MacLeod of MacLeod left three sons and died in 1895.

Norman Magnus MacLeod of MacLeod, 26th Chief, entered the Army and served in India. On the outbreak of the Zulu War, in 1878, he was appointed Political Agent on the Transvaal border and led a Swazi army in the defeat of the Pedis. The entail of the Estate stipulated that the Castle would pass only to a male, and failing the male line, to the daughter of the last surviving son. Ian Breac MacLeod, the only male heir and son of Canon Roderick, Norman Magnus? youngest brother, had been killed in 1915. Norman Magnus died in 1929 and was succeeded by his brother, Reginald.

Sir Reginald MacLeod of MacLeod, 27th Chief, led a distinguished public service and business career in London and Edinburgh. He modernised the Castle by bringing electricity, heating and plumbing to the rooms. He was the first President of the Clan MacLeod Society. When his younger brother, Canon Roderick, died in March 1934, Sir Reginald?s eldest daughter, Flora, became his heir.

Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod was born, in 1878, at 10 Downing Street, London, the home of her grandfather, Lord Northcote, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1901 she married Hubert Walter, of the Times, and had two daughters, Alice and Joan. When her father became Chief, Flora was elected President of the Clan MacLeod Society. Always active in politics, she went to live with her father in Skye and became a County Councillor. In 1935 the Clan MacLeod Magazine was first published.

On the death of her father, Sir Reginald, in August 1835, Flora inherited Dunvegan Castle and the MacLeod estate. She was granted arms by Lord Lyon King of Arms and was recognised as Chief of the Clan by the Clan MacLeod Society.

During the Second World War she met and entertained many overseas MacLeodsand from 1947 travelled widely around the world, establishing Clan MacLeod Societies in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Flora MacLeod was honoured with a D.B.E. for her work.

In 1956 Dame Flora instituted the first Clan MacLeod Parliament on the occasion of the coming of age of her grandson and heir, John MacLeod, the second son of Joan Walter and Robert Wolrige-Gordon. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Dunvegan Castle that day.

Dame Flora died in her 98th year in 1976.

John MacLeod of MacLeod, 29th Chief, was born in 1935, the second son, and eldest of twins, to Robert Wolrige-Gordon and JoanWalters, the younger daughter of Dame Flora. While his elder brother inherited the Wolrige-Gordon estate, John changed his name to MacLeod of MacLeod, and became heir to his grandmother?s MacLeod estate. He has done much to modernise the Castle and estate and has travelled to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and South Africa to visit Clansfolk.

Chief John died suddenly in February 2007.

Hugh MacLeod of MacLeod, 30th Chief, succeeded his father. He is a film producer, with his wife Frederique. They have a son Vincent, born in 2000. Chief Hugh divides his time between his work in London and Dunvegan Castle in Skye.


Torquil Roderick Macleod, 17th of Raasay, was the grandson of Loudoun Hector Macleod. He served in the Second World War and was farmer in Tasmania. He took an interest in the Clan and matriculated arms at the Lyon Court, as Macleod of Raasay. Torquil Roderick attended several Clan Parliaments at Dunvegan.

In 1988 Torquil Roderick Macleod, 17th of Raasay, was officially recognised, by Lord Lyon King of Arms, as Torquil Roderick Macleod of the Lewes and Chief and Head of the baronial House of Macleod of the Lewes.

Chief Roderick died in 2001 and was succeeded by his eldest son Torquil Donald Macleod, Chief of the Lewes and by his younger son Roderick John Macleod, 18th Chief of the Macleods of Raasay.


Norman MacLeod remodelled the castle extensively and added pepper-pot towers to the corners.
Snow on the Cuillin Hills of Skye
Dame Flora and  John Macleod of Macleod, 29th Chief.