The Old Trojan, Donald MacLeod, the Laird of Unish and Bernera, was the last of his kind. A chieftain and commander of his clan during the Jacobite Rebellions, he defied his own chief and brought his MacLeods "out" for the Stuarts in 1715 and 1745. A noble descendant of the mighty Norse founders of the Clan MacLeod, Domnhuill mac Iain mac Tormod i'c Leoid—Donald, son of John, son of Norman MacLeod—was a Scottish warrior and leader without peer. Cast in the mold of the medieval Viking warlords who conquered the islands of Scotland's Western Hebrides, Donald MacLeod earned the epithet of The Old Trojan on the battlefields of Sheriff Muir, Falkirk, and Culloden. In his long life of eighty-plus years, The Old Trojan married three times, had twenty-six children, played a role in the mysterious disappearance of Lady Grange, was involved with the Ship of the People episode, and fought in the Seaweed Wars. Through it all, The Old Trojan witnessed and resisted the decline of the traditional Scottish clan system as the rebellions strained then broke the ancient and traditional bonds between clansmen and clan chiefs. Largely set in the chaotic period between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Battle of Culloden in 1746, this is a lively account of one of the last of the Scottish warlords who would forever disappear with the coming of the Highland Clearances. Readers interested in the historic Scottish clans of the Hebrides, especially the MacLeods, will find in this novel a gripping tale, based on real people and events, of those chaotic times.
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On the 16th April 1746 the last battle to take place in the British Isles was fought on the windswept open land of Drumossie Moor; more commonly known as Culloden, some four miles from the town of Inverness in Scotland. Prince William Augustus, the third son of the Hanoverian King William II - the Duke of Cumberland and soon to be termed 'The Butcher' - and his numerically superior and far better equipped and supplied Hanoverian Army of the Crown faced the ragged, demoralised and starving rebel forces of the Jacobite Charles Edward Stuart [commonly known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' or, more satirically, 'the Young Pretender'] in the last engagement of 'The Jacobite Rebellion'. The short battle that ensued and the horrific atrocities that followed marked the effective end of the Stuart attempt to re-establish itself on the throne of the 'United Kingdom' and the end of an ancient way of life in the Scottish Highlands.
The young George Keppell, Lord Bury, a senior figure in the Hanoverian army, rode ahead of the lines shortly before the start of the battle. in his truly excellent and magisterial book. 'Culloden', John Prebble, the writer, describes what the young Lord Bury saw of the enemy as he peered through the mist:
''What he [Lord Bury] saw, across the heather and through the sleet, was the last feudal army to assemble in Britain. He can have felt no more kinship with it than an officer of Victoria's army would later feel when surveying a Zulu impi or a tribe of Pathans. To an Englishman of the eighteenth century, and to most Lowland Scots; the Highlands of Scotland were a remote and unpleasant region peopled by barbarians who spoke an obscure tongue [Gaelic], who dressed in skins or bolts of part-coloured cloth, and who equated honour with cattle - stealing and murder. The savagery with which the Lowland Scots and the English were to suppress the Rebellion is partly explained by this belief, it being a common assumption among civilised men that brutality is pardonable when exercised upon those they consider to be uncivilised.''
Standing facing him, some two hundred paces paces distant, his feared and much prized claymore, called ''The Lamb'' digging into the damp and peaty moss of the moor at his feet and at the head of the people of his clan - his ''children'' - stood Donald MacLeod, Laird of Bernera, an eagle's feather and a sprig of juniper in his bonnet to signify his clan, four square, massive and fearsome; over six feet tall in his stockinged feet. A man already dubbed 'The Old Trojan' for his fighting skill, prowess and bravery. At the time of Culloden he was fifty four years of age - already a respectable age for the conditions and times - he was a man well known, feared and respected in the Highlands and islands of the north. He is at the head of some one hundred men of his clan MacLeod ['clan' meaning 'children'] . In a few moments he will raise the MacLeod clan warcry of ''Creag an tuire! Beàrnaruigh na Hearadn!'' and lead his clansmen to their destruction at the hands of the artillery, muskets and bayonets of the Hanoverian army; this in defiance of his own Chief, ''The MacLeod' and estranged from his own oldest son, Norman; both of whom are occupying high rank in the opposing Hanoverian forces. This, it must be stressed, is not only a rebellion seeking a change of ruling dynasty, but also a bitter civil war dividing families and splitting loyalties. MacLeod, in fact, had been 'out' before on behalf of the exiled Stuarts and 'The Old Pretender - father of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' in the previous rebellion of 1715, and much good had it done him on that occasion either.
'The Last Trojan' by D.G. MacDougall brings to the reader the story, the biography, of an extraordinary man, Donald MacLeod, Laird of Bernera. The story of this man, at times vainglorious, boastful and arrogant, but always fearless, determined, valiant and fierce in defence of his people, his homeland and his inheritance. This depiction of the man burns with an intense light and heat through the intervening centuries! MacDougall writes with fierce pride about his subject. He is, after all, writing about an individual he came across whilst researching his own ancestry and who immediately clamoured for his attention. All of the narrative and many of the descriptions of events and incidents in the long, eventful and busy life of Donald MacLeod do fall within the parameters of historical fiction, but ''The last Trojan'' is essentially a biography, and a fine one at that.
MacDougall presents the reader with a finely drawn portrait of an extraordinary man who was at one and the same time a fine example of a Highland Chief in all his splendour and glory and also a man 'out of his times'; in a sense a 'living dinosaur' and a superb example of an ancient breed and authority that would soon become extinct! 'Domhnull mac Iain' , as Donald MacLeod was named at birth, was born in 1692 and lived until 1781 - a truly incredible lifespan of eighty nine active years that encompassed and witnessed profound and traumatic changes in Scotland and to the Scottish way of life. He married three times and had a multiplicity of children with his first and third wife - so many children, grandchildren and so on, that they became known as 'the tribe of Bernera'; Bernera being his beloved family island and home.
''Early eighteenth century Scotland was changing rapidly. [writes MacDougall] 'The Union of Crowns' [the linking of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1707] under the Hanoverian Kings, and laws it later enacted - like that requiring the Highland chiefs to send their sons to the Lowlands or England for their education - were eroding the traditional bonds between Chiefs and clansmen. Many Chiefs were spending less time on their Highland estates, choosing to live semi-permanently in Edinburgh, Glasgow and especially London. The Chiefs were becoming increasingly anglicised, preferring the genteel society and comfortable homes of Mayfair and Piccadilly to the rude and rough castles and fortified houses of their ancestors in the Highlands and islands. But this grand lifestyle in the south required money - lots of it - and the Chiefs were squeezing their Factors [agents and administrative officers] and tenants for ever more cold hard cash......''
In other words, the ancient binding ties of family and kinship, the legends and traditions, that had existed for centuries; the occasionally mystical seeming bonds of family and tradition that had joined the Chief to his people, his 'clan' [children] were swiftly being eroded as the chiefs became increasingly and ruthlessly intent on extracting revenue from their ancestral lands. The perfect example of this is the celebrated case of 'the seaweed war' of 1765 - 1771 and the rights to own and farm seaweed and its product of 'kelp' when burned. Kelp, in fact produced rich by-products of soda, potash and iodine, and even gunpowder. The impoverished crofters who collected and burned the seaweed used kelp to fertilise their bitter and arid fields. It was equally prized by the new industrial manufacturing centres of Glasgow and Manchester in the creation of such commodities as glass and soap. Sir Alexander of Sleat, a classic chief and 'baddie' of the time [a man ''if not wholly English, at least entirely anti - Celtic''], realising that selling kelp to the manufacturers was a valuable source of income, trespassed on lands belonging to MacLeod in search of the highly prized kelp. In earlier times, Macleod would have gone into battle, swinging 'Lamb', his beloved six foot claymore against the trespassers. Such is the changing nature of the time that instead of drawing the blood of his enemy, he successfully pursued him in the Courts. We have, in fact, already encountered this self same Sir Alexander of Sleat on an earlier and even more infamous incident; a mass kidnapping and eviction - the celebrated 'Ship of the People'.
In the first instance, the chiefs raised revenue through draconian and eye watering rises in land rent and then through the actual enforced removal and eviction of tenants; to be replaced by profit yielding sheep and cattle. In time [from the mid eighteenth to the early nineteenth century] this would result in the truly heart rending period of 'The Highland Clearances': the ''Fuadaichean nan Gàsheal'' [literally 'the eviction of the Gaels'] Increasingly, tenants were considered no longer as the chief's 'children' but as 'useless mouths'.
MacLeod's embracing of the Jacobite cause, in 1715 and, more significantly, in 1745 was in a very real sense a wish, an attempt, to 'turn back the clock' and to return to the beloved old ways of life. A return to the life of the warrior rather than the money grubbing sheep farmer. There were two significant further nails in the coffin of the clan system - both of them Acts of Parliament passed in Westminster. These, both passed in 1746, were the 'Heritable Jurisdiction Act' that deprived chiefs of their authority over their clans and 'the Act of Proscription' whereby the wearing of the kilt and the playing of the bagpipes was expressly forbidden. in the capable hands of D.G. MacDougal, the reader is led through the intensely eventful life of Donald MacLeod. It is easy to see why the writer became so struck by him for he is truly a giant, almost Shakespearean, figure. A key speech in 'Julius Caesar' could almost have been written for him:
''He doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves''
Thus we read an entrancing narrative of the young Donald MacLeod, feuding and brawling through the islands and in the 1715 Rebellion, a man grown mature [though no less proud and headstrong] at the heart of the storm of the '45' and its bitter aftermath, his involvement in the very strange case of the kidnapping of Lady Grange, the terrible forced eviction and kidnap of people by Sir Alexander of Sleat and Norman MacLeod - ''Soitheach na Daoine'' - 'the ship of the people'. [Norman MacLeod, titular Chief of Clan MacLeod, would forever be known as ''an Duine Aingidh'' - 'the wicked man' for his part in the affair and Donald MacLeod would also forever be estranged from his own eldest son Norman for the part that he played in this ignoble event - as well as for his active support of the Hanoverians in the '45]. Donald MacLeod would always be known and revered for his active and militant defense of his people's rights - the 'duthchas'' [the link between a chief and his people] in 'the seaweed war.' Readers of ''The last Trojan'' are very strongly recommended to have to hand a fairly comprehensive map of the physical geography of Scotland and the Highlands and islands in order to make sense of the location of MacLeod's properties and his many meanderings, particularly after the battle of Culloden. The lack of any map in the book itself is to be regretted. Nonetheless, this book is an engrossing, entrancing and thoroughly enjoyable read. D.G. MacDougall is to be congratulated.
In his conclusion, the author writes:
''The Old Trojan's life story instantly grabbed me. At first I was simply curious about the origin of his unusual nickname. But the deeper I delved into his life and times I realised that Donald MacLeod's amazing tale was richer and more complex than Trojan like valor in battle. I came to appreciate that Donald MacIan's life journey straddled two significant epochs in Scottish history; his experiences on earth marked the demise of the ancient clan system and the rise of the agro-industrial economy that resulted in the Highland Clearances....... He was the last of the old-style Highland chieftains; a true patriarch and clan leader that cared more for his people and their traditional ways than making money.''
“The Old Trojan” by D. G. MacDougall receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company