MacLeod of Lewis

Clan Macleod of The Lewes, also known as Clan MacLeod of Lewis, or Sol Torcaill, is a Highland Scottish clan, which at its height held extensive lands in the Western Isles and west coast of Scotland. From the 14th century up until the beginning of the 17th century there were two branches of Macleods: the MacLeods of Dunvegan and Harris; and the Macleods of Lewis. In Gaelic the Macleods of Lewis were known as Sol Torcaill (”Seed of Torquil”), and the MacLeods of Dunvegan and Harris were known as Sol Tormoid (”Seed of Tormod”).

The traditional progenitor of the Macleods was Leod, whom tradition made a son of Olaf the Black, King of Mann and the Isles. Tradition gave Leod two sons, Tormod - progenitor of the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan (Sol Tormoid); and Torquil - progenitor of the Macleods of Lewis (Sol Torcaill). In the 16th and early seventeenth centuries the chiefly line of the Clan Macleod of The Lewes was extinguished due to family infighting. This feuding directly led to the fall of the clan, and loss of its lands to the Clan Mackenzie. The modern line of chiefs of Clan Macleod of The Lewes are represented by the leading family of a cadet branch of the clan - the Macleods of Raasay.

Today the both the Clan Macleod of The Lewes and Clan Macleod are represented by “Associated Clan MacLeod Societies”, and the chiefs of the two clans. The association is made up of nine national societies across the world including: Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States of America.

Traditional origins

Flag of the Isle of Man. The modern coat of arms of the chiefs of Clan Macleod (Macleod of Macleod) use the three legs of Mann. “The Macleods imagined themselves descended from King Olaf of Man“.

Olaf the Black

Today the official clan tradition is that the Macleods descend from Leod, born around 1200, who was the son of Olaf the Black, King of Man and the Isles. Traditionally, from Leod’s son Tormod the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan claim descent, and through Leod’s other son Torquil Macleods of Lewis claim descent. The earliest evidence of this traditional descent from Olaf the Black may only date as far back as the 17th century, from the era of Iain Mor MacLeod (chief of Clan Macleod 16261649) who was styled “John McOlaus of Dunvegane” in a document dated 1630. Also, his son Iain Breac (chief of Clan Macleod 16641693) is thought to have been the first Macleod to incorporate the coat of arms of the Kings of Mann into his own coat of arms, because the “Macleods imagined themselves descended from King Olaf of Man”.

Leod, the traditional eponymous ancestor of the clan, does not appear in contemporary records, or even the Chronicles of Mann which lists the four sons of Olaf. After the last king of this dynasty, Magnus Olafsson, died in 1265, and after the last known male representative of the family fled from the Isle of Mann to Wales in 1275, the claims of the Isle of Mann was taken up on behalf of the daughters of the family. This, according to Andrew MacLeod, implies that the legitimate male line from Olaf the Black was by then extinct. “In short, there is no historical reason to believe that Leod was the son of Olaf the Black”.

Clan lands and the Nicolsons/MacNicols

Recently several historians have shown a connection between the early clan and the Hebridean Nicolsons/MacNicols. W.D.H. Sellar and William Matheson pointed out that in lands held by the clan (Lewis, in Wester Ross, and Waternish on the Isle of Skye), there were traditions of the Nicolsons/MacNicols preceding them. Of Lewis itself, tradition had it that the Macleods gained the island through a marriage with a Nicolson heiress. Both Sellar and Matheson agreed that the traditional connection and the gaining of lands through the Nicolsons explains the Macleods of Lewis’ identity “as a clan separate from the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan”. Also, even though the heraldry of the Macleod of The Lewes is very different from that of the Macleod of Macleod, there may be a connection with the Hebridean Nicolsons/MacNicols. In their coat of arms, the Macleods of The Lewes have “a black burning mountain on a gold field”. According to Sellar, when the Macleods married the Nicolson heiress of tradition, her arms would have likely passed to the Macleods as well. The Hebridean Nicolsons/MacNicols were supposed to have held their lands in the Western Isles from the Norse rulers for their services as coast-watchers, hence the burning mountain on the arms of Macleod of The Lewes.


The ruinous Ardvreck Castle, on Loch Assynt in Sutherland. The castle, built by the Macleods, dates from the 16th century.

Early history (14th & 15th centuries)

The earliest reference to the Macleods of Lewis is found in a royal charter granted in the reign of David II King of Scots (reigned 13291371), when Torcall Macleod was granted the four penny land of Assynt, possibly in c.1343. In this charter Torcall had no designation, showing that he held no property until then. By 1344 the Macleods of Lewis held the Isle of Lewis as vassals of the Macdonalds of Islay. In time the Macleods of Lewis grew in power, rivalling the Macleods of Harris - with lands stretching from the islands of Lewis, Raasay, the district of Waternish on Skye, and on the mainland Assynt, Coigach and Gairloch.

In 1406 a party of Macleods of Lewis were defeated at the battle of Tuiteam Tarbhach against a party of Mackays. The cause of the battle, according of tradition, was the ill treatment of Sidheag, widow of Angus Mackay of Strathnaver, by her brother-in-law Hucheon, Tutor of Mackay. Sidheag was also the sister of The Macleod of The Lewes, and consequently a contingent of Macleods of Lewis led by the chiefs brother, Gille-caluim Beag, encountered a party of Mackays in Sutherland. During the battle that followed the Macleods were routed and Gille-caluim Beag was slain.

Clan history (16th century)

In 1528 the chief of the clan, John Macleod of The Lewes, supported his half-brother, Donald Gruamach MacDonald of Sleat, who had seized the lands of Trotternish from the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan.

Domhnall Dubh was proclaimed Lord of the Isles by many families who had once served under Clan Donald: the Macleods of Lewis, the Camerons of Locheil, the MacLeans of Duart, the MacLeans of Lochbuie and the MacQuarries of Ulva, the MacNeills of Barra and the MacDonalds of Largie. The only families which remained loyal to the Crown were the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan, and the MacIains of Ardnamurchan. Upon the collapse of the rebellion, and Domhnall Dubh’s death in 1545, Ruairi was pardoned for his treasonable part in the rebellion. Though it is clear he and his clan continued to act independently of the Scottish Government. In 1554 Letters of Fire and Sword were issued for the extermination of Ruairi Macleod of The Lewes, John Moydertach of Clan Ranald and Donald Gormson MacDonald of Sleat after they all refused to attend Parliament at Inverness.

Fall of the clan

Castle Broichin on the Isle of Rassay, by William Daniell in 1819. Brochel Castle was built in the late 15th century or early 16th century, traditionally by MacGilleChaluim, first Macleod chief of Raasay.

The fall of the clan, the extinction of the original line of chiefs, and loss of the Isle of Lewis, began with Ruairi and his marriage to a daughter of John Mackenzie of Kintail. This marriage had produced a son named Torquil Connanach (named after his residence among the Mackenzies in Strathconnan). Ruairi later disowned Torquil Connanach on account of the alleged adultery between his wife and the Morrison brieve of Lewis. Ruairi’s wife later abandoned him and eloped with a cousin of his, John MacGillechallum of Raasay, after which Ruairi divorced her. In 1541 Ruairi married Barbara Stewart, daughter of Andrew Lord Avondale, and by her had a son named Torquil Oighre (”Heir” to distinguish him from the disowned Torquil).

In about 1566 the legitimate son Torquil Oighre drowned along with sixty of his supporters while sailing from Lewis to Skye across the Minch. Immediately the disinherited Torquil Connanach took up arms, supported by the Mackenzies. He captured his supposed father Ruairi, and for the next four years kept him as prisoner under dreadful conditions within the castle of Stornoway.

Ruairi was only released from captivity by agreeing to recognise Torquil Connanach as his lawful heir. In 1572 Ruairi was then brought before the Privy Council where he was forced to resign to the Crown his lands of Lewis, Assynt, Coigach and Waternish. These lands were then granted to Torquil Connanach as his lawful heir, and he only received them back in life-rent. When Ruairi had returned back to Lewis he revoked all he had agreed to on the grounds of coercion on June 2, 1572. Later in 1576, Regent Morton was successful in reconciling Ruairi and Torquil Connanach, where Tocall was again made lawful heir and also received charter to the lands of Coigach.

Some time later Ruairi took for his third wife a daughter of Hector Og Maclean of Duart, and had by her two sons, Torquil Dubh and Tormod. Ruairi also had several natural sons, Tormod Uigach and Murdoch. Ruairi then made Torquil Dubh was heir, and again Torquil Connanach took up arms supported by the Mackenzies. Ruairi was aided by several of his illegitimate sons, including Donald, Ruairi Og and Niall, though two others, Tormod Uigach (from Uig, Lewis) and Murdoch aided Torquil Connanach. In the encounter that followed Ruairi was again captured, and many of his men were killed. Upon Torquil Connanach’s victory all charters and title deeds of Lewis were handed over to the Mackenzies. Ruairi was held captive in the castle of Stornoway, commanded by Torquil Connanach’s son John, though was freed when Ruairi Og attacked the castle and killed John. Upon his release Ruairi ruled Lewis in peace for the rest of his life.

Upon the death of Ruairi Macleod of The Lewes, the chiefship of the clan passed to Torquil Dubh. In 1596 Torquil Dubh, with a force of seven or eight hundred men, devastated Torquil Connanach’s lands of Coigach and the Mackenzie lands of Lochbroom. In consequence, Torquil Dubh was summoned to appear before the Privy Council and was declared a rebel when he failed to appear. Torquil Dubh was finally betrayed by the Brieve of Lewis, chief of the Morrisons of Ness. Once captured, the brieve sent Torquil Dubh to Coigach where he and his companions were beheaded by Torquil Connanach, on the orders of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail in July 1597. Following this, Lewis was commanded by Torquil Dubh’s three young sons and his illegitimate brother Niall. The Macleods of Lewis were also aided by the Macleods of Harris and the Macleans.

The loss of Lewis

Map of Lewis.

Though Torquil Dubh had several sons, Donald Gorm Mor of Sleat considered himself an heir of the deceased chief of Lewis and invaded the island pursuing his claim. It wasn’t until after causing much destruction that the MacDonald of Sleat chief was driven off the island by the Lewismen. Because the Mackenzies now had the title deeds of Lewis, the island was forfeited by the Act of Estates in 1597, which gave the Scottish Government an excuse to attempt the colonisation the island.

During this era on Lewis the Macleods took part in the succession of feuds of their neighbouring clans such as the Morrisons and their enemies the MacAulays of Lewis.

End of a line of chiefs

After the conquest of Lewis by the Mackenzies, Niall Macleod and his nephews Malcolm, William and Ruairi (the sons of Ruairi Og), and about thirty others took refuge on Bearasay in the mouth of Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis. For almost three years the small group of Macleods held out against the Mackenzies before being driven off. Niall then surrendered himself to Ruairi Mor Macleod of Harris and Dunvegan, who then delivered both Niall and Niall’s son Donald to the Privy Council in Edinburgh (Ruairi Mor was later knighted for his service to the Crown). Niall was brought to trial, convicted and executed in April 1613, dying “very Christianlie”. Niall’s son Donald was banished from Scotland, and ended up dying in Holland without any known issue.

Two of Ruairi Og’s sons - Ruairi and William - were captured and hanged by Kintail. The one remaining son, Malcolm, was captured at the same time, though escaped and harassed the Mackenzies for years afterwards. Malcolm played a prominate part in Sir James Macdonald’s rebellion in 1615, and later went to Flanders, in 1616 he was again on Lewis where he killed “two gentlemen of the Mackenzies”. Later he went to Spain, returnining in 1620 with Sir James Macdonald. Commissions of Fire and Sword were granted to Lord Kintail and the Mackenzies against “Malcolm MacRuari Macleod” in 1622 and 1626. Nothing more is known of him. Tormod, the last legitimate son of Old Ruairi, was released from prison in Edinburgh in 1615, and left for Holland where he died with no known issue. Nothing is known of the fate of Torquil Dubh’s sons Ruairi and Torquil.

With the end of the line of the Macleods of Lewis, the title Lord Macleod was the second title of the Mackenzie, Earls of Cromartie. Also the chiefship of the Macleods of Lewis has passed to the Macleods of Rassay, who hold it to this day.

The modern clan

Scottish clan map.

Torquil Roderick Macleod, 17th of Raasay, was a grandson of Loudoun Hector Macleod, and a farmer who lived in Tasmania. He had an interest in the history of the clan and matriculated arms at the Court of the Lord Lyon as Macleod of Raasay. Later in 1988 he was officially recognised as “Torquil Roderick Macleod of the Lewes and Chief and Head of the baronial House of Macleod of the Lewes” by Lord Lyon King of Arms. In 2001 the chief of the clan died and was succeeded by his eldest son Torquil Donald Macleod of the Lewes, and his younger son Roderick John Macleod, 18th of Raasay. The present chief of Clan Macleod of The Lewes lives in Sandy Bay, Tasmania, Australia.

Today the both the Clan Macleod of The Lewes and Clan Macleod are represented by “Associated Clan MacLeod Societies” (ACM), with the chiefs Hugh Magnus Macleod of Macleod, Chief of Clan Macleod, and Torquil Donald Macleod of The Lewes, Chief of Clan Macleod of The Lewes. The association is made up of nine national societies across the world including: Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States of America. The ACM last held Parliament in 2006 on the Isle of Lewis. An upcoming clan gathering, the “North American Gathering of Clan MacLeod 2008″, on July 26, 2008, located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

MacLeod DNA

A DNA project concerning surnames MacLeod, McLeod (and variants) was conducted in around 2004, with the intent to determine if there was genetical evidence of a common ancestor of all MacLeods and if so, where the founder(s) may have originated from. The project consisted of about 400 male participants who submitted a sample of their Y-DNA. The project found that about 32 percent of the total sample shared the same haplotype, therefore it was determined that this percentage shared a common ancestor estimated at about 1,000 years ago. The conclusion of the study was that today 32 percent of MacLeods descend through the male line from a common ancestor. The study was unable to prove the founder of the MacLeods was of Norse origin, and concluded that the MacLeods may have originated from either Scotland or the Isle of Mann.

Clan profile

Today commonly known as the “MacLeod of Lewis” tartan, ir was first published as “Clann-Lewid” in the Vestiarium Scoticum of 1842.

The “MacLeod of Assynt” tartan. The Macleods of Assynt are a branch of Clan Macleod of The Lewes. The tartan is very similar to the MacLeod of Harris tartan.

The “MacLeod of Raasay” tartan. It is very similar to the tartan found in the Vestiarium Scoticum, and therefore dates from later than 1829.

The “Macleod of Harris tartan” was originally a Mackenzie tartan, adopted by Major-General John (Mackenzie), Lord Macleod on raising the 73rd McLeod Highlanders in 1777.

Origin of the name

The surnames MacLeod, McLeod (and variants) are Anglicisations of the Gaelic patronymic name Mac Leid meaning “son of Leod”. This Gaelic name is a form of the Old Norse personal name Ljtr which means “ugly”.

Crest badge and clan chief

Crest badge: Note: the crest badge is made up of the chief’s heraldic crest and motto,

Chief’s crest: A golden sun in splendour.

Chief’s motto: Note: there are two versions of the chief’s heraldic motto,

I birn quil I se.

Luceo non uro. (translation from Latin: “I burn but am not consumed”, or “I shine, not burn”).

Note: the mottoes allude to the coat of arms of Macleod of The Lewes which contains a burning beacon or fiery mountain, which may have originally been the arms of the MacNicol coast-watchers.

Clan chief: Torquil Donald MacLeod of the Lewes, Chief of Macleod of The Lewes.

Branches of Clan Macleod of The Lewes

The Macleods of Assynt.

In the early 15th century the lands of Assynt were given in vassalage by Roderick Macleod of The Lewes to his younger son, Tormod. This Tormod became ancestor of the Macleods of Assynt. Following the Battle of Carbisdale on April 27, 1650 where the Royalists led by James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose were defeated by the Covenanters. Upon fleeing for his life the Marquess of Montrose was given shelter by the wife of Neil Macleod of Assynt at Ardvreck Castle and then betrayed him to the Marquess of Argyll. Neil was the last Macleod chieftain to hold lands in Ayssnt. In 1672 he was denounced as a rebel and commission of fire and sword was obtained against him and his lands were conquered by the Seaforth Mackenzies.

The Macleods of Raasay.

The Macleods of Raasay descend from Malcolm Garbh Macleod, second son of Malcolm, eighth chief of Clan Macleod of The Lewes. In the reign of James V. The present chieftain of the Macleods of Raasay is Roderick John Macleod, 18th of Raasay, who lives in Tasmania, Australia. The present chieftain is the brother of the chief of Clan Macleod of The Lewes.

Septs of Clan Macleod of The Lewes

Clan septs refer to clans or families who were under the protection of a more powerful clan or family. Scottish clans were largely collections of different families, whether actually related or not, who held allegiance to a common chief. A modern example of this can be seen in the parish of Dunvegan in 1746, where of 500 men named only 110 are actually MacLeods. All of those named were tenants of the MacLeod chief and would have acted as part of the clan. The following names have been attributed as septs of Clan Macleod of The Lewes.

Allum. (Callam, Callum, Challum, Gillecallum, MacAllum, MacAlman MacCallum, MacCalman, MacGillechallum, Malcolm). Note: also attributed as a sept of Clan MacCallum and Clan Malcolm.

Lewis. Note: also attributed as a sept of Clan Stewart.

MacAskill. (Kasky, MacAsgill, MacCaskie, MacCaskill, MacKaskill, MaKasky, Taskill).

MacAulay. (Aulay, Calley, Caulay, Coll, MacAllay, MacAlley, MacAuley, MacCaulay, MacCauley, MacCorley). See MacAulays of Lewis. Note: according to James Ayars, Genealogy coordinator of the Associated Clan MacLeod Society, “MacAuley is both a sept of Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald, and a clan in its own right”, see Clan MacAulay.

MacCabe. (MacKabe) Note: George F. Black’s Surnames of Scotland describes McCabe as a branch of the MacLeods of Arran who immigrated to Ireland in the 14th century.

MacCorkill. (MacCorkindale, MacCorkle, MacCorquodale MacKerkyll, MacKorkyll, MacOrkill, McCorkie, McKurkull). Note: also attributed as a sept of Clan Gunn.

MacCorkindale. (Corquodale and MacCorcadail, MacCorkill, MacCorkle, MacCorquodale, MacThorcadail). Note: Black also lists Corquodale though there is no evidence of any relationship between MacCorkindale and its derivatives and MacLeod.

MacGillechallum. Note: According to Black’s Surnames of Scotland Mac-ille-Challum is the patronymic of the MacLeods of Raasay.


Nicol. (deNicole, MacNichol, MacNickle, McNychol, Necolson, Nichol(s), Nicholl, Nicholson, Nickle, Nicoll, Nicollsoun, Nicolson, Nuccol, Nuckall, Nucolsone). Note: Nicol is also associated with Clan Macfie, and there is also a Clan Nicolson and Clan MacNeacail.

Norie. (Noray, Nore, Norn, Norrey, Norreys, Norrie, Norris, Norye).

Tolmie. Note: Black wrote that the Tolmies of the Hebrides are called Clann Talvaich.

Note: the source for all sept names is the Associated Clan MacLeod Societies website.

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