Battle of Torran Dubh

Battle of Torran Dubh

The Battle of Torran Dubh also known as the Battle of Torran-dow was a Scottish clan battle that was part of an internal clan war amongst members of the Clan Sutherland and also with the outside involvement of the Clan MacKay. The battle was fought in 1517 in Strathfleet in the Scottish Highlands. The battle also involved Murrays, Gordons and Gunns.


John de Moravia, 9th Earl of Sutherland and overall chieften of the Clan Sutherland died in 1514. He was succeeded by his eldest child, his daughter, Elizabeth de Moravia, 10th Countess of Sutherland. Elizabeth de Moravia would go on to marry Adam Gordon, the second son of Alexander Gordon, 3rd Earl of Huntly and chief of the powerful Clan Gordon in 1517. Adam and Elizabeth's son Alexander Gordon became the legal heir to the Earldom of Sutherland and chieftainship of the Clan Sutherland."History of the House and Clan of the Name MacKay" by Robert MacKay (1829). pp.100–106: Quoting from "Genealogical history of the Earldom of Sutherland" by Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656)]

However there were some members of the de Moravia of Sutherland family who felt that they were rightful heirs to the Earldom of Sutherland. Firstly Alexander de Moravia, more often known as Alexander Sutherland who was the younger child of John de Moravia, 9th Earl of Sutherland and younger brother of Elizabeth de Moravia, 10th Countess of Sutherland felt that he was the rightful male heir. This Alexander Sutherland married the sister of John MacKay, chief of the Clan MacKay, and in doing so raised the support of the MacKays.

Later also, the Sutherland Lairds of Duffus who descend directly from Kenneth de Moravia, 4th Earl of Sutherland, through his younger son Nicolas Sutherland of Duffus also felt that they were rightful heirs to the Earldom of Sutherland. The Sutherland Laird of Duffus was the most powerful in Sutherland, possessing lands in Murray, Caithness and Sutherland.

However many of the Clan Sutherland people still supported Elizabeth de Moravia, 10th Countess of Sutherland whos forces were reinforced by those sent from the Clan Gordon.

The Battle

According to the historian Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656) the during the "Battle of Torran-dow" in Strathfleet, Great slaughter was made of the MacKays but few on the Sutherlands side were killed. ["Genealogical history of the Earldom of Sutherland" by Sir Robert Gordon. pp.96–97]

An account of the battle was written in the book "Conflicts of the Clans" published by the Foulis Press in 1764, written from a manuscript from the time of King James VI of Scotland. The "Sutherlands" referred to are those loyal to Adam Gordon and Elizabeth de Moravia of Sutherland, however the account contradicts the fact that Alexander Sutherland was actually in opposition to his sister Elizabeth de Moravia and her husband Adam Gordon:

"Adam Gordon, first of that surname, Earl of Sutherland having married Elizabeth Sutherland, heiress of that country, took journey to Edinburgh, the year of God 1517, to dispatch some affairs there, which did concern the settling of his estate, leaving the commandment of the country, in his absence, to Alexander Sutherland (base brother to his wife Elizabeth) and to John Murray of Abirscors; which John Mackay of Strathnaver, understanding (having now appeased his civil discords at home, by the death of his uncle Neil) this occasion, in the very change of surnames in Sutherland, to try if he could gain anything by spoiling that country; and thereupon assembling together all the forces of Strathnaver, Assynt and Eddrachillis, with all such as he could purchase out of the west and north-west isles of Scotland, invades the country of Sutherland with all hostility, burning and spoiling all before him."

"The inhabitants of Sutherland do speedily convene together with all the parts of the country; and so, under the conduct of Alexander Sutherland, John Murray, and William Mackames, they rencounter with John Mackay and his company at a place called Torran Dubh, beside Rogart, in Strathfleet, where there ensued a fierce and cruel conflict."

"The Sutherland men chased John Mackay's vanguard, and made them retire to himself where he stood in battle array, then did he select and chose a number of the ablest men in all his host, and, with these, he himself returned again to the conflict, leaving his brother Donald to conduct the rest, and to support him as necessity should require; whereupon they do begin a more cruel fight than before, well fought on either side." "In the end, after long resistance, the Sutherland men obtained the victory; few of these that came to renew the fight escaped, but only John Mackay himself, and that very hardly. Neil MacIan MacAngus of Assynt was there slain, with divers of his men. There were 216 of the Strathnaver men left dead in the field, besides those that died in the chase. There were slain of Sutherland men 38. Not long thereafter John Mackay sent William and Donald, two brethren, with a company of men, to invade John Murray, with whom they met at a place called Loch-Sallachie, in Sutherland. After a sharp skirmish, both the chieftains of the Strathnaver men were slain, with divers of their men, and the rest put to flight; neither was the victory pleasing to John Murray, for he lost there his brother, called John Roy-Murray."

"Thus continued the inhabitants of these countries infesting one another with continued spoils, until the year of God 1522, that Alexander Gordon (Earl Adam's eldest son) overthrew John Mackay at Lairg, and forced him to submit himself to Earl Adam; unto whom John Mackay gave his band of manrent and service, dated the year of God 1522." [ [ Conflicts of the Clans ] ] [ [ Conflicts of the Clans ] ]


The feud between the Sutherlands did not always go in the favour of Elizabeth de Moravia of Sutherland and her husband Adam Gordon. At one point Elizabeth's younger brother Alexander Sutherland seized Dunrobin Castle, seat of the Earl of Sutherland. Adam Gordon with his family were then forced to flee to Strathbogy until he was reinforced by his father and elder brother the chiefs of the Gordons of Huntly, who had an overwhelming force.

However, Alexander Sutherland, assisted by his MacKay brother in laws soon became over secure after killing several Sutherlands who supported Adam Gordon and chasing others from Sutherland itself. Earl of Sutherland, Adam Gordon ordered Alexander Leslie of Kinniuvy with a company of men into Sutherland, to assist John Murray of Aberscors. They were ordered to "hold" Alexander in skirmishes until he himself arrived with reinforcements. The skirmish took place at a place called "Ald-quillin" by East Kentredwell, where, Alexander Sutherland was captured and beheaded on the very place where they fought by Alexander Leslie.

After Alexander Sutherland's death the Sutherlands of Duffus who descended from Kenneth de Moravia, 4th Earl of Sutherland would claim the Earldom of Sutherland. However the Sutherland Laird of Duffus was killed by Andrew Stewart, Bishop of Caithness in 1529.

Adam Gordon and Elizabeth de Moravia's eldest son, Alexander Gordon, Master of Sutherland died in 1530, five years before his mother. His son John Gordon succeeded as the 11th Earl of Sutherland. [ [ Family Trees And Articles ] ]


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