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Clan Mackenzie: History, Tartan, & Crest

Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 12th October 2018

Friends of the monarchy, Clan Mackenzie was a force to be reckoned with in the north of Scotland. Their allegiance to royalty saw them rewarded with great swathes of territory across Ross-shire, and their descendants would eventually become British aristocrats.

The Mackenzie Name: Origin and Survival

Recently studies have concluded Clan Mackenzie was started by 11th century Celtic chief, Gilleoin na h’Airde, who was a direct descendent from the ancient High Kings of Ireland, and also that Clan Mackenzie shares its ancestry with Clan Matheson and Clan Anrias. The name Mackenzie is believed to have derived from the Gaelic name MacCoinneach (son of Kenneth) which translates as ‘son of the fair bright one’.

The earliest recorded chief of Clan Mackenzie is Alexander Mackenzie, the 6th Baron of Kintail who lived in the 15th century. He rose to power as a supporter of the Crown and against the formidable Clan MacDonald. Clan Mackenzie’s territory stretched from their origins in Kintail, to eventually dominate the Ross-shire landscape and the Isle of Lewis. At the height of their power, Clan Mackenzie were one of the most influential clans in the whole of Scotland.

As royal agents to generations of Scottish kings, many viewed Clan Mackenzie as the monarchy’s strong men in the north. Essentially, the government in Edinburgh used Clan Mackenzie to keep the rowdy Highlanders up north in line.

A lithograph of a member of the Scottish clan of MacKenzie

A Mackenzie clansmen. Photo by R. R. Mclan / Public Domain.

Clan Mackenzie Tartan

MacKenzie tartan (Vestiarium Scoticum)

Featuring dashing blues and greens, with flashes of red or purple and white, the Mackenzie Tartan is the regimental tartan of the Seaforth Highlanders raised by the Earl of Seaforth in 1778.

In total there are four tartans associated with the Mackenzie name: the Mackenzie tartan (depicted in the image), the modern Mackenzie dress, the Mackenzie hunting, and the Mackenzie Millenium.

Photo by Celtus / CC BY 2.5

Clan Mackenzie Crest

Mackenzie Clan Crest

The Mackenzie clan crest was a symbol of allegiance, used by clan members to show allegiance to their clan chief. The clan Mackenzie crest features a mountain in flames, and the motto ‘I shine not burn’. The clan’s other motto ‘help the king’ gives a firm nod to their dedication to the monarchy.

Photo by Tomasz Steifer / CC BY-SA 2.5

Clan Mackenzie Feuds

The Mackenzies certainly weren’t shy of a little conflict. In 1314, five hundred Mackenzies fought at the famous Battle of Bannockburn where the English were defeated.

Later in the 15th century, the Mackenzies clashed with the neighbouring MacDonalds on a number of occasions. The 1491 Battle of Blar Na Pairce saw a bloody battle between the Mackenzies and the MacDonalds, which was followed by the Raid on Ross where the Clan Mackenzie fought with several clans including the Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh, Clan MacDonald of Clanranald, and Clan Cameron. Then in 1497 Clan MacDonald invaded Ross-shire, only to be defeated and driven away by Clan Mackenzie in the Battle of Drumchatt.

Knockfarrel hill also known as the cat's back at Drumchatt where the clan battles are said to have taken place

Knockfarrel Hill, where the Battle of Drumchatt took place. Photo by Anna and Goetz Gerhardt / CC BY-SA 2.0

Throughout the 16th century, Clan Mackenzie fought valiantly against the English, most notably at the 1513 Battle of Flodden where they suffered heavy losses. They also clashed with Clan Munro over territory.

Clan Mackenzie pledged their allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots and fought against her half-brother James Stewart at the Battle of Langside in 1568. By the start of the 17th century, Clan Mackenzie territory had expanded significantly. With the backing of the government and monarchy, Chief Colin MacKenzie invaded the Isle of Lewis with a 700-strong army and a ruthless battle with the MacLeods ensued.

In the 18th century, the Jacobite risings saw Clan Mackenzie divided, with the chief Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Fortrose, fight against the rebels, and a large portion of the clan backing George Mackenzie, the 3rd Earl of Cromartie, who was himself a Jacobite. A number of famous regiments were borne of Clan Mackenzie, including the Highland Light Infantry, the Seaforth Highlanders and the Ross-shire Buffs.

Scotland Clan Map: Clan Mackenzie Territories and Castles

Clan Mackenzie’s dedication to Scotland’s monarchy paid off. At the height of their power, the Mackenzie’s held the single largest area of land of all the Scottish clans, stretching from the east coast of Scotland to the Hebrides in the west.

On the shores of Loch Duich sits Eilean Donan Castle, the reported birthplace of Clan Mackenzie and where it all began in the late 13th century. The now world-famous castle has provided the setting for films including Highlander, The Wickerman and James Bond.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle at dusk. Photo by Syxaxis Photography / CC BY-SA 4.0

The modern day home of Clan Mackenzie, is Castle Leod in the quaint Victorian spa village of Strathpeffer. The grade A listed building is well preserved and also open to the public to explore.

Redcastle in the Black Isle sits derelict today, but it was once a royal castle visited by Mary, Queen of Scots in 1562. The castle and surrounding land was gifted to Rory Mor Mackenzie by Keith of Delny, and remained a residence of the Mackenzie clan for several centuries.

Kilcoy Castle is also on the Black Isle and, although almost reaching a stage of ruin by the late 1800s, the castle was restored and nowadays the castle’s gardens are frequently open to the public.

Peering over the edge of the Moray Firth, you’ll discover Clan Mackenzie’s Ballone Castle. The castle came into the possession of Clan Mackenzie in 1623, but was neglected for quite some time, until the 1990s when its present owners set about restoring the building and interiors.

Legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge in Clan Mackenzie’s Kinkell Castle following the Battle of Culloden in 1745. More recently the castle was home to the late contemporary artist Gerald Laing, who restored the residence and filled it with beautiful modern works of art.

Ballone Castle

Ballone Castle. Photo by Valenta / CC BY-SA 2.0

Clan Mackenzie Descendants

Francis Mackenzie Humberston was the last in the direct male line of Mackenzie chiefs and he died in 1815. His passing was mysteriously foretold two centuries prior by the Brahan Seer who predicted the Mackenzie line would end with the death of deaf-mute. When Francis died, he had lost both his sight and hearing to the scarlet fever which also took his life.

Unfortunately, the Seer himself met a grisly end when he informed Lady Seaforth he had perceived her husband was having an affair with a beautiful French woman. The Lady ordered that the mystic be burned to death in a barrel of tar.

Yet the Mackenzie name did not die along with Francis Mackenzie Humberston. In 1979, the 4th Earl of Cromartie whose mother was a distant relative of the clan, changed his name to Mackenzie and now his son John Ruaridh Grant Mackenzie is the present day clan chief.

A Famous Mackenzie

Compton Mackenzie

Perhaps the most famous of all Mackenzies is Scottish writer Sir Compton Mackenzie. Born in 1883 in West Hartlepool, England, the Enligsh-born Scottish writer is widely known for being the author of popular novels such as Whisky Galore! and Monarch of the Glen.

He was also one of the co-founders of the Scottish National Party, in 1928, and he was knighted in 1952.

Photo by Alvin Langdon Coburn / Public Domain.

Mackenzies with Highland Titles

As of October 2018, there are over 450 plots in the Highland Titles Land Register under the Mackenzie name.

Accessorise like a true Mackenzie

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Highland Titles: A Very Modern Clan

Alike historical clans, our community also share the investment and attachment to the land, our Nature Reserves, and we even have our own tartan and crest. Join the clan by purchasing a plot of land and continue our mission to conserve Scotland, one square foot at a time™!


About the author

Written by: Stewart Borland


Comments on this post

  • Rupert Bayer
    29/08/19 - 23:35

    Interesting article . . .

    Under ‘A Famous Mackenzie’, there is a small error: Compton’s birth was in 1883, not 1833.

    Best Wishes
    Rupert

  • Mackenzie Lynn Thomas
    23/12/19 - 19:45

    the history of the Mackenzie Clan is so interesting and seemed to be a strong family. My great grandfather was from Scotland, Norman McKenzie. he came to Canada at the tender age of 12 years as a cabin boy. I’m sure we have relatives in Scotland.

  • Jane Wood
    26/12/19 - 08:33

    I’m descended from Clan McKenzie and out of all my many nationalities,I’m proudest of my Scottish ancestry. I liked that we fought against wrong, were scrappers and tough as nails, the Scottish were a people even the tough Vikings steered clear as crazy as we were. I like that we were just plain people, hard working, loyal, and honorable. Can’t say enough good about being a proud descendant of such a fine people.

  • Beverley Joy Bell
    31/01/20 - 18:43

    I found this very interesting. I have been doing my family tree and found out that I had a great Grandmother who lived in Jamaica and whose family came from Scotland. This family tree is still ongoing.

  • Ross McKenzie Chabant
    14/03/20 - 10:56

    Been doing a fair amount of research on my heritage, was great to find such an informative and objective article on my ancestors. My Scottish great grandfather came to South Africa on an old merchant ship in the 19th century. And my grandfather passed away before I was born.
    So I’m glad I was able to find this article.

  • John E. Kessler
    30/03/20 - 05:19

    Well, my Mother’s family came to America in 1640 under the family name of Mackenzie-Lovatt. I am fortunate in that both my Mom and Dad’s families come from proud, honorable, stubborn, and fighting people.

  • Sadie mckenzie
    15/05/20 - 02:39

    Im a Mckenzie of jamaican descent. I have been researching my family tree and have traced a Mckenzie who was imprisoned by English because of his loyalty to the Scottish crown before being transported to Jamaica.where he eventually purchase land which has been passed to subsequent generations.

    It has been an amazing experience,to learn about this side of my family.i have discovered so many unexpected things about the mckenzie clan.

  • Elizabeth Linehan
    25/05/20 - 03:54

    Very nice article. My paternal grandmother was a McKinney – a sept of the MacKenzie clan. I’d love to find more about the McKinneys!

  • Deborah L Garcia
    26/05/20 - 04:03

    I also enjoyed the article. After watching the Outlander I decided to trace my MacKenzie ancestry and discovered my great-grandfather James McKenzie was born in 1742 in Ardersier, Inverness, Scotland near Ft George. His home was 8 miles from the Culloden battlefield. He was four years old but but I wonder about his father which I have no information. I wonder if his father was an active member of the clan, a Jacobite and if he was in the Battle of Culloden. I am hooked now learning as much as I can about my Scottish heritage.

  • Kristen MacKenzie
    05/06/20 - 02:04

    It’s always important to know where you come from. The more I learn about my family history, the more I feel connected. As a MacKenzie, I feel so strongly tied to Scotland. Proud of my heritage and the land in which I come from.

  • Alfred
    24/06/20 - 11:24

    Fascinating!!

  • Iain Mackenzie
    04/07/20 - 11:17

    I had always been told that Mackenzie’s were not at Culloden, but scouting for supplies at time. Same for those 500 that were on Govt side. Suspect it was a ruse to ensure Mackenzie’s were not killing each other.
    There was one Mackenzie (Roderick)who died protecting Prince Charles on his flight from Culloden. He fought a rear guard action against pursuing govt troops and as he looked like Prince Charles, as he died he said the troops had killed their prince. His head removed and sent as proof of death of Prince Charlie, delayed the search and allowed the Prince to make good his escape.
    A group including some Mackenzie’s was sent to the colonies apparently only one returned years later with his family. Which is why my family has a family photo from late 1800’s showing a rather afro looking aunt.

  • Lauren
    16/07/20 - 04:09

    Does anybody know how to go about officially being accepted into the clan? I have a great great grandmother who was a MacKenzie, and i was given the name MacKenzie as a middle name to honor my heritage, and id like to make it official

  • Jeannie McKey
    20/07/20 - 00:39

    looking for information on Scottish clan that McKey or Mackey belongs having a gathering of the family

  • Heather Harvey
    07/08/20 - 20:13

    I am a New Zealander but have strong feelings for my Mackenzie heritage. My great grandfather was born in Strath Sky’e but moved to Kirkhill in Inverness. I would love to know of other descendants.

  • Edward Spencer MacKenzie IV
    10/08/20 - 20:33

    I am the descendant of Howard MacKenzie who came to the colonies of America centuries ago. My dear wife Michelle Ashley MacKenzie has recently encouraged me to retire early and trace my ancestry in Scotland,including a trip to Scotland in 2021. How exciting it would be to see the homeland and possibly sit with kin and tell the tale of our bloodline in America. Wars fought, fortunes gained and lost,lands settled and of the Brave and proud people that carried on the name and bloodline. I shine not burn!

  • Brian Ross
    14/08/20 - 18:38

    I found out today that my Mums Grandad my late Grans Dad was actually a Mackenzie but due to illigitimicy was surnamed Brown! I have been obsessed with Skye, Strathpeffer, Black Isle and Ross and Cromarty since little and now i know why! 🙂 SO PROUD!!!

  • Gregory McKenzie
    09/09/20 - 09:58

    I recently discovered that my great x’s 7 uncle Alexander McKenzie went to Canada to servey and his brother I believe his name is James my great x’s 7 grandfather came to Maryland (USA). I would love to dig deeper and find out more about the family

  • anne whitney collins
    13/09/20 - 15:21

    Hello,love your commentaries! Can I get information about McPherson my grandmother’s maiden name?And about Gordon my grandfather’s clan . Douglas Crook was born in Scotland, in the 1880’s And came to Boston around the turn of the century and married Marian Bell. I have lots of old kilts and my grandfather p!aged the bagpipes frequently . He was also in a regiment , I think he said the Gordon Highlanders and saw military service. I toured all of Scotland when I was a little girl with him and my mum.His oil portrait of him as a child shows him in Gordon tartan and full dress with a small sword and sporran and skein due . And pen pals for me? Yours Anne Whitney

  • Diane Penberthy
    27/09/20 - 05:51

    I wish someone could help me find my grandfathers relatives. He was Henry WIlliam McKenzie born 10/5/1869 in Inverness and he died in Perth, Western Australia 1855. He lived in Falkirk Avenue would you believe. He never lost his love of Scotland, and became the first Pipe Major in Western Australia. He taught the bagpipes and highland dancing after joining the Caledonian Society here.
    He left home before 18 and joined the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment as a groom at Stirling. After a few years he went to Shanghai and joined the Police Force. He then left for Hong Kong for some time before coming down to Fremantle WA as a policeman. In his marriage certificate in 1898 it states his parents as WIlliam and Ann nee Gordon both dec’d. Because there were very large pictures on wall at his house of Crimean War scenes, I think that his father was also in military before farming. I have found in family search a WIlliam and Ann nee Gordon with three much older children, and I wonder if his mother died in childbirth.
    He was a wonderful gentle man who loved music, and was well educated, so someone might know something.
    I find your page so interesting. Thanks. DIane Penberthy

  • Lindsay Henderson
    03/10/20 - 05:28

    My Great Grandmother’s name was “May Shaw Geddes MacKenzie” (aka as “Mysie”). Family lore says she was born in Inverness about 1846. Her father’s name was Donald.

    May migrated to Australia in the mid 1800’s, married a John Alexander McDonald in Adelaide, Australia, in May 1865 and lived there for some time before moving the family to Melbourne, where she died in 1921.

    I have searched Ancestry for definite records of her life in Scotland without much luck. Nearest probable record for a May Mckenzie is from “Ardersier” in the 1851 Census. However her father in this record is Robert, not Donald, as recorded on her wedding certificate.

    Can anyone help?

    Thanks, and regards to all,

    Lindsay

  • Jean McKenzie
    28/10/20 - 07:11

    Hello All McKs around the world:
    I thought I would check in. I am the grandchild of James McKenzie Irish immigrant to Chicago, Beatrice Loftus McKenzie Irish immigrant of Chicago, James Henry Irish immigrant of Chicago and Mary Ann Gorman Henry Irish immigrant of Chicago.
    I believe we, Catholic Mcks, were kicked out of Scotland by Oliver Cromwell who said: “You can go to Hell or you can go to Connaught!” I believe I have descended from a Scottish courtier named Red Jack McKenzie.

  • Matthew Marlo McKenzie
    20/11/20 - 07:39

    I very much appreciate all of this information. My grandfather who just passed was born Gordon MacKenzie, but there was a clerical error and his name on his birth certificate was spelt without the “a” and was never corrected. So today I go by McKenzie, but my ancestry is that of the Mackenzie’s. i’ve also heard that there’s no difference between the McK and the MacK, and that they both represent the same clan and bloodlines I’m not sure if anybody can verify that or not. I’m 36 years old now and have just really started to become interested in my Scottish ancestry. I have one daughter and I am the only child of my family so I’m afraid that my McKenzie name will die with me but I may try to have a son one day just to keep the name and bloodline going haha. I absolutely love the motto “Luceo Non Uro” -I Shine Not Burn. How freakin bad ass is that? It’s actually going to be my next tattoo across my back. I currently live in Thunder Bay Ontario Canada. If there’s any McKenzies out there that would like to email possibly work towards finding family tree feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected]

    Thanks again to the owner/author of this website, it was very interesting and just want you to know it’s very appreciated. CHEERS FELLOE MCKENZIES AND OTHER SCOTS!!!

  • Rachelle Yeates
    16/12/20 - 05:41

    I am a descendent of Alexander MacKenzie (Scotland) and Margaret Galbreath born 9 JUL 1699 Cullen, Banffshire, Scotland. They had a son John Mckenzie, born in 1727 in Prince George, Virginia. Would love to connect with any MacKenzie relatives.

  • Jennette Tran
    20/02/21 - 17:31

    Hi there,

    Going back through the MacKenzie Clan, Colin Malcolm MacKenzie 4th of Red castle Lord, 1630–1682: BIRTH 1630 • Redcastle, Ross, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland; DEATH 31 DEC 1682 • Clements, St Mary’s, Maryland, USA

    Colin Malcolm, MacKenzie is my 10th great-grandfather. His lineage ultimately connects to the John Porter lineage, which includes John Squire Jack Porter whom is featured in the painting “Independence” in the 1800s. Squire Jack is my 5th great grandfather. The Mac was changed to Mc after the MacKenzies left Scotland.

    Would love to connect with anyone to connect dots.
    Thanks
    Jennette
    [email protected]

  • Douglas MacKenzie
    21/02/21 - 01:04

    Loved reading about the history of the Clan, very interesting. I especially enjoyed Ian MacKenzie’s comment about Roderick protecting Bonny Prince Charlie after the battle of Culloden.

    I have been lucky enough to have visited the Highlands in the area of Avoch Ross-shire, Cromartie and Moray Firth the birth place of various generations of my family. While in Scotland I was also fortunate to have visited the Culloden battlefield and Eilean Donan Castle.

    I have been working on my family geneology over the past number of years tracing my family’s lineage back to the 18th century to Roderick MacKenzie and Margaret Millar of Avoch Ross-shire.

    Shout out to all MacKenzie’s around the world!

    Doug in Canada

  • Jamie MacKenzie Horne
    24/02/21 - 11:32

    I am a MacKenzie, my grandfather came to America in 1923 with his family, his father was a Master stone cutter, & was commissioned to work on the Empire State building, Even though my grandfather was Robert McLaren Horne because his mother was a McLaren. His father was a MacKenzie, so I have an old photo of him as a kid in Scotland and he is wearing his kilt. MacKenzie, of course. When I was 10 or 11, my grandfather sent my name to be certified as a MacKenzie, I have that certificate, as well as I’m a member of the MacKenzie Clan society of Scotland/ UK. I am a Proud MacKenzie, my youngest daughter is named MacKenzie Ann, & my youngest son God rest his soul, is my Jamie MacKenzie jr. PS I love to hear about All things MacKenzie, all things Scottish… I am an “American Jacobite” & I’m in the process of setting up a social site for all things Scottish, please find me on Facebook @American Jacobite, or tiktok American Jacobite.

  • Jamie MacKenzie Horne
    24/02/21 - 11:59

    I also wanted to mention that I have been working on my tree, growing up I was told of a realitive from the past was burned at the stake for witch craft. As I worked down my tree I found out that, my great x4 grandmother was indeed, not just a witch but, “The Last Witch” JANET HORNE “The Last Witch” Janet Horne was found guilty of witchery in Dornoch Sutherland Scotland & was Tarred, feathered, barreled & burned alive in 1727. On the spot where she was burned, in Dornoch, to this day a commemorative stone sits. Even though it says 1722 on it, “the Witches Stone” is there as a reminder that many women were punished over fear. However I do find that the official story does considerably differ from the story told by my Papa…

  • Denise Gorham
    17/03/21 - 17:48

    I am hooked on the Outlander film. Can you tell me about the name given to Clair Fraser which signifies she is an English woman sounds like Sosinach?

    • Doug
      18/03/21 - 08:17

      Hi Denise! “Sassenach” simply means English person. It is more often than not used in a derogatory way.

  • James Mackenzie-Stewart
    14/07/21 - 20:51

    Thank you very interesting. I am related to Kenneth Mackenzie born 1851 in Ullapool in Rossshire, but not been able to find any research before that date. I have relatives who moved to Canada I think late quips to early poops. Thanks

  • Kaye E McKenzie-Muirson
    03/08/21 - 09:16

    My great, great great-grandfather was:
    Thomas Muirson born circa 1788 in Scotland (no town or city given.)
    Thomas married (when?) Jean Christian McKenzie birth listed as circa 1788 her father was Sir Hector McKenzie 4th Baronet of Gairloch
    They had seven children
    1. Francis Alexander McKenzie-Muirson ( Kenneth’s McKenzie- Muirson’s grandfather) born March 20, 1819, in Kinkell Castle, Avoch, Scotland. Emigrated to Australia and married Isabella McPherson in 1848 (Kenneth’s grandmother) and married Celeste Riddell in 1885. Thomas Muirson born 1849 was Francis’s first born son and Kenneth’s father. Francis died in Melbourne in 1895. Kenneth’s McKenzie- Muirson was my Grandfather
    2. Jane Muirson – married Mr Haley
    3. Isabella Muirson
    4. Alexander Muirson
    5. Catherine Muirson
    6. Kenneth Muirson
    7. Christian Muirson?(born 1810?)married Alexander Thomas Stewart – children 1. Thomas Muirson Stewart (1833-1926) 2. Miss Muirson-Stewart

    This is a very brief outline of my ancestors – does anyone out there recognise any names? Sir Hector’s father built Flowerdale House & Conan House. Sir Hector lived in Flowerdale House. I have tried contacting Sir John Mackenzie who is the current owner of Gairloch & Conan Estate (by inheritance) I have tried to contact him via email but he has not responded. I would just like pictures and information on my ancestors. If anyone out there can help it would be most appreciated, thank you

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