Journal of the Clan Chattan Association VOL VIII -- No. 3, 1985,


9 -- Historians of the Macphersons (Part 3)

Sir Aeneas Macpherson

by Dr Alan G. Macpherson

      Sir Aeneas Macpherson of Invereshie was undoubtedly the most colourful, and most controversial, clansman in the entire history of the Clann Mhuirich. He is also the clansman to whom we are most indebted for the preservation of the genealogies of the Macphersons of Badenoch in his Sliochd nan Triuir Bhraithrean (Posteritie of the Three Brethren), completed in the last year of his life. Such was his influence in clan affairs that Mrs Grant of Laggan, writing a century later, could still refer to him as "the hero of his clan".

      Born about 1644, Aeneas was the second son of William McPherson, apparent or heir of Invereshie, who died of wounds received at Blair Atholl and the Battle of Auldearn in 1645 when Aeneas was a suckling. The unknown father was hero to the boy, who ever afterwards described him as "the first gentleman in the Highlands [who] espoused the Royall interest", defeating Hurry's Regiment of Horse in Glenclova, taking the castles of Lethen and Burgie in Moray, and forcing the surrender of Blair Castle prior to Montrose's appearance on the scene. To such a father he owed his politics. His paternal grandfather was Angus McPherson of Invereshie, the first of the family to convert the duthchas into a feu-right to the lands of Invereshie, Killihuntly, Inveruglass etc. (1638); to him he owed his name Aeneas, the classical equivalent of Angus in the Gaeltachd. His mother was Margaret Farquharson, daughter of Sir Robert Farquharson of Wardess and Invercauld, merchant-burgess, baillie, and provost of Aberdeen; it was this grandfather that undertook the education of the fatherless boy from the age of eight until he had completed an M.A. at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and it was from Sir Robert that he acquired the antiquarian interest in Highland history which appears so frequently in his polemical writings. "During the four years space I was at the College", he tells us, "in the winter time I had almost the constant conversation of my Regent [Mr John Forbes], and in time of vacation in the summer was at Wardess Castle with my grandfather who took a great deal of pleasure to instruct me..." On one occasion during his time at Marischall College (1656-1660) he attended a dinner at which Sir Robert expounded at length on the rise and origin of the Clanchattan, and acknowledged the social precedency of young Andrew McPherson of Clunie (who was


present) and supported his claim to its chiefship. That too became a recurrent theme in Aeneas' thought, writings, and actions.

      The serious interest in genealogy, which lasted till the end of his life and produced the Sliochd nan Triuir Bhraithrean or Genealogies of the McPhersons, was undoubtedly acquired at this early period of his life and through his Farquharson connections: among the informants with whom he had "the honour to discourse with of the rise and origine of most of the Highland families" were his grandfather's brothers-in-law, William McIntosh of Kyllachie and the famous guerrilla colonel William Farquharson of Inverey, and his mother's brothers-in-law, John Robertson of Foulis and William Robertson of Inverchroskie (alias the Baron Reid).

      Aeneas McPherson's adult career can be divided into three periods: as a "wryter" or solicitor in Edinburgh from at least 1670 till 1683, when he became an advocate at the Scottish bar; as a place-seeking courtier in London from 1684 till 1688, when he was knighted by James II on the eve of the Whig Revolution and the king's abdication and exile; and as a Jacobite agent and prisoner in England and Scotland and exile in France from 1688 till his return in 1698 and death in 1705.

      Aeneas' "wryter" period may, in fact, be dated from his first appearance in Edinburgh, as a witness to a bond signed in 1666 by his uncle Alexander Farquharson of Invercauld and other Farquharsons to relieve Lachlan McIntosh of Torcastle and "keep him scatheless of all damage he might incur through his becoming cautioner for them"; Aeneas may have still been a law student at the time. He does not appear to have been present, however, when Duncan McPherson of Clunie appeared before the Privy Council in 1672 to enable it to distinguish the chiefly rights and responsibilities of Clunie and McIntosh, but he was probably one of the "ambitious and giddy-brained innovators" influencing Clunie's policy, for we find him later that year subscribing a band of friendship between Aeneas McDonell of Aros and Duncan of Clunie in which the Macdonald chief acknowledged Clunie as "cheefe and principal man" of the Old Clanchattan; in the following year he succeeded in obtaining the same acknowledgement from the legal guardians of the young Marquis of Huntly, Clunie's feudal or baronial superior. These quasi-legal activities -- bands of friendship were of doubtful legality -- undoubtedly took him to the Highlands, so it is not surprising to find him present at an armed confrontation in the autumn of 1673 between his elder brother, John McPherson of Invereshie, and McIntosh over mill-water rights on the Feshie which occasioned Invereshie's sending the fiery cross through Badenoch to muster support. It was an example which Aeneas was to later emulate.

      Most of the record for this period, however, shows Aeneas acting


in his capacity as a writer in Edinburgh, as demonstrated in the Register of Deeds. In 1675 he was involved as accessory in an assault on a fellow writer on the High Street of Edinburgh in which the chief culprit was his uncle-by-marriage, Francis Ross of Auchlossan. It was partly as this uncle's man of affairs that Aeneas later made his way to London. In 1676 his elder brother, John of Invereshie, died and he became "Tutor of Invereshie" for his nephew Elias [Gillies], a boy about four years old. John's widow, Marjory McPherson, a sister of Duncan of Clunie, eventually remarried, her second husband being Lieut. Archibald McPherson. [Gillespick], a son of Dougal McPherson of Powrie (formerly of Ballachroan). Gillespick had been an apprentice apothecary in Edinburgh in 1670, where his elder half-brother John was a fellow writer with Aeneas; it was probably this coterie of ambitious young Badenoch men that provided the context for the remarriage. However the case may be, and whatever the true order of events, Aeneas himself married in the following year; on the 20th April 1677 he was wed in Edinburgh to Margaret Scrymgeour, a stepdaughter of Dougall of Powrie and daughter of the late Colonel William Scrymgeour and Janet Guthrie, heiress of Auchmithie on the coast between Montrose and Arbroath. His step-father-in-law had been a prominent man during the Commonwealth, and was in fact the commander of Blair Castle when Aeneas' father took its surrender in 1644; Aeneas regarded him as a rebel, though it is not clear whether he was still alive in 1677; he may have survived till 1682.

      It was probably about this time, or a little later, that Aeneas had a set encounter with Lachlan McIntosh of Kinrara at Inverness, arranged by Magdalene Lindsay, Lady McIntosh, to debate the "cheiftainrie of the Clanchattan", from which debate (according to Aeneas) "Kinrara pairted in a huff"; nevertheless, he respected the older man's "very good sense" in other matters. The encounter probably occurred when Aeneas was in the area negotiating the transfer of the Barony of Kincardine in Strathspey from Alexander McIntosh of Connage (near Inverness) to the Marquis of Huntly, an item of business which involved him in much trouble and which eventually led to his estrangement from his superior, the future Duke of Gordon. Alexander McIntosh of Connage was the son of old Hector McIntosh of Connage, one of the senachies of the neighbouring clans with whom Aeneas held discourse "on the rise and origin of most of the Highland families" around this time.

      For a short while Aeneas acted as Baillie of Badenoch for his superior, settling the cess on the heritors and tacksmen. As this was not done to the satisfaction of Huntly, however, he was replaced by Alexander Duff of Tirrisoule, allegedly a self-admitted "mortall enimy to our whole Clan and Race". The new baillie proposed to


incorporate one third of the Invereshie estate into the Forest of Glenfeshie shortly after Aeneas became tutor for his nephew, which produced a dramatic confrontation in which Aeneas and twelve clansmen -- "our Guns bent" -- stood between the baillie and the houses assigned for demolition, while McPherson and McIntosh clansmen from all over Badenoch infiltrated the baillie's party and peacably deforced it. This was the beginning of a long period of harassment and persecution of the Clann Mhuirich in Badenoch which culminated, so far as it touched Aeneas, in 1701 when his younger brother, William, was deprived of the Forestrie of Glenfeshie his stock and farm; it continued intermittently, however, for another century, terminating with the dispersal of the tacksmen families during the 1770s. Its immediate result, however, was a secret negotiation which Aeneas conducted for his chief with the Marquis of Atholl whereby Clunie might become proprietor of the baronies of Glenlyon and Comrie in Perthshire as Atholl's vassals. The scheme was betrayed, however, before it could be implemented; Aeneas was hailed to Gordon Castle and accused of "the unhinging of Cluny and the McPhersons" from their allegiance to Huntly, after which a short-lived reconciliation took place between the two men which lasted long enough for Aeneas to follow the Marquis to Court in London.

      Aeneas' place-seeking phase began with his elevation to membership of the Scottish bar. He signed the "Test" with the Faculty of Advocates on the 4th November 1681, swearing to maintain the Protestant faith, disown popery and Montrose's Covenant, and uphold the supremacy of the Crown. The records of the Faculty, however, indicate that he only became a member on the 2nd March 1683. Early in 1684 an acrimonious legal dispute with Sir John Dalrymple (the later Earl of Stair, infamous for the Massacre of Glencoe) led the Privy Council to place Aeneas and Dalrymple in the Edinburgh tolbooth, from which he was released on the 14th February. This was not to be his last encounter with Dalrymple or the tolbooth. On the 13th July that fateful year he was one of the witnesses at the baptism of a daughter to Lauchlan Mcfarson, tailor in the Canongate: the others included Daniel (or Donald) Mcfarson, writer -- a brother of John McPherson of Ardbrylach -- and John Mcfarson, vintner; thus another pleasant vignette of young Badenoch society in Edinburgh! Daniel, moreover, had a brother Ewan who had been an apprentice in Edinburgh in 1672, but was now a merchant-haberdasher in London and a prospective contact for Aeneas when he reached the metropolis; the Ardbrylach McPhersons were, in fact, full cousins of Aeneas, being sons of William of Invereshie's sister Elspeth.

      Aeneas made his first visit to London by ship in the stormy autumn of 1684, anticipating letters of introduction from the


Marquis of Huntly on arrival. Disappointed, he approached the affable Earl of Middleton, one of the Secretaries of State, who introduced him to the Duke of York, the future James II, who in turn presented him to his brother, Charles II. The King, as ever interested in his ancient northern kingdom, "put several queries with reference to the Clanns". As a result of the Royal favour, Aeneas received a commission on the 15th October 1684, constituting him Sheriff-Depute of Aberdeen under the Great Seal of Scotland; by the 18th December he was back in Edinburgh to take the "Test" before the Privy Council in order to take office. Between the 6th January and the 15th June 1685 he held a diet of court at Aberdeen.

      Charles II died on the 6th February, jeopardising the positions of all public office holders. Aeneas returned to London later in the year to have his commission reconfirmed, but, on returning to Edinburgh was disappointed to find the position already filled. He was compensated for his expenses with a commission to find and retain a forfeiture among the defeated Whig rebels of the West of Scotland, and was successful in making "one or two small discoveries by consent of the Rebels themselves". He appears to have remained in Edinburgh, practising his profession, for the next couple of years.

      Early in 1688 Aeneas made his way to the Court in London for the third and last time. On the first occasion he had made the acquaintence of Sir William Penn, the Quaker courtier, and had become interested in his scheme for colonising Pennsylvania, of which Penn was Proprietor and Governor. On his second visit in 1685 he received a charter, signed by Penn on the 18th March, granting "Eneas Mackpherson alias Chatone of Inveressie, his Heirs and Assigns" five thousand acres in the colony, to be erected into a barony and manor, "the same to be called the Manor of Inveressie". Now, on his third visit, colonies and governorships were probably well to the fore in Aeneas' aspirations for royal recognition and personal advancement. At any rate, he was knighted by the King as a preliminary to his receiving the appointment of Lieutenant de Roi and Governor of Nevis, a strategically placed volcanic island at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles or Leeward Islands, controlling the sea-lanes entering the Caribbean and rich on sugar cane.

      His commission, which he owed to Penn's influence with the King, was dated the 10th August 1688. This, together with the fact that he had managed with Penn's help to obtain for his superior, the Duke of Gordon, the governorship of Edinburgh Castle, was the high point in his life.

      But it was not to be, and he was to see neither the Manor of Inveressie in Pennsylvania nor the tropical island of Nevis. As he


put it himself, " . . . such was his misfortune, that, after the King had ordered a ship of sixty guns [sic, tuns?] for him, and had put his servants to the number of twenty-two aboard, with all his plate and furniture, the Prince of Orange landed and stopt his voyage". Thus began the third -- and most tragic -- period of his life.

      The King's son-in-law and nephew, William of Orange, landed in Devon on November 5, and James fled to St Germain in France in December, where he established the Jacobite Court-in-exile. Sir Aeneas McPherson, Tutor of Invereshie, titular lord of the Pennsylvanian Manor of Invereshie, and Governor-Designate of the Province of Nevis, held a commission which was null and void as soon as William and Mary were proclaimed as joint monarchs on the 13th February 1689. He was forced, instead, "to lurk and abscond". The new king, William III (II of Scotland), whom Sir Aeneas always referred to as the Prince of Orange, "understanding how troublesome the Claims were to him, and being told by MajorGeneral Mackay that if the McPhersons joined the Grants they would be able to cast the ballance in the Highlands, gave a message to Maj. Gen. Mackay to offer Sir Aeneas a Collonell's Commission and eight hundred guineas of levy money if he would but regiment the McPhersons and make them join the Grants. To this Sir Aeneas answered, that he was but a cadet of the family, that his Cheef was born their Collonell, and that it would be a kind of usurpation in him to accept of a Commission in prejudice of his just right". He was then promised "that the very minute his Cheef, or he, regimented the McPhersons and presented their muster-rolls to the Laird of Grant, he should have his Commission in America". The offer was declined.

      Sir Aeneas went into hiding in the London area for the first seven or eight months of 1689 and was "put to hard shifts to get a dinner for my family". One of those who succoured him was the Jacobite agent, Neville Payne, for whom Sir Aeneas had once fought a duel. The Pyrrhic victory at Killiecrankie in Atholl was won on the 27th July, and it was thereafter that moves were begun to invite the exiled monarch to return. Sir Aeneas was "in the inside of [these] affairs". The Rev. Alexander Murdoch, Sir Aeneas' first biographer and the editor of The Loyall Dissuasive and Other Papers, believed that Sir Aeneas played a prominent part in the conspiracy as the Jacobite agent Williamson, using his father's name in patronymic form. Sir Aeneas was the subject of warrants of high treason and was betrayed by "a ladie of qualitite of the Scots nation"; Williamson was arrested at Dover. Sir Aeneas was confined to a messenger's house in London, and held incommunicado to wife and children for the rest of the year, during which attempts were made by the Secretaries of State and the English Privy Council to draw him over to the Orange party and


the new monarchs. Early in 1690 Williamson was sent to Edinburgh; Sir Aeneas was sent north aboard a man-of-war and thrown in the Edinburgh tolbooth, which he already knew to be "one of the coarsest and nastiest jailes in Brittain". He was held in the Scottish capital for thirteen months, which would bring him to the Spring of 1691.

(to be continued)


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