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John Mackay second Lord Reay was the eldest surviving son of Donald Mackay, Lord Reay and his first wife Barbara Mackenzie, daughter of the first Lord Kintail. He was born around 1612 in Durness, Scotland. Not much is known of his early life. He and his brother Angus attended Sorø Academy in Denmark in 1628 where they attended on 29 September, to comply with the wish of their father.

In October of that year he wrote from Copenhagen reporting that "hauing at last obtained of the King of Denmarks Majestie to giue us frie intertinament, hes Majestie hes dereckted us to an Universitie called Soare, quhilk is eight Dutch myle laying from this toune [Copenhagen], and there we three geat frie meat and chamer, our father furnishing the rest off our necessaries".

John returned to Scotland. In 1636 he married Isabella Sinclair, daughter of George Sinclair, the earl of Caithness, with whom he had three children, Robert, George, and Jane. In September 1637, his father, Donald, Lord Reay, signed over the remainder of the estate to John. John, like his father, was a staunch royalist. He was captured by Montrose, along with the marquis of Huntly, Aberdeen fell to the Covenanters in 1639. Although Mackay was sent to prison in Edinburgh he was quickly released when he signed the Covenant and returned to Strathnaver. From 1644 he harboured the marquis of Huntly, who had fled from Aberdeenshire, for two years. On the death of his father in February 1649 Mackay succeeded to the peerage. That month he joined Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty and Mackenzie of Pluscarden with 700 men in taking Inverness. Although this force retired, it re-emerged to take Inverness in May. Mackay was once again captured, this time at Balveny Castle, and sent to Edinburgh, where he remained a prisoner until 1650. In the meantime, the Scottish Parliament helped the Earl of Sutherland to gain Mackay's lands, even to build a stronghold in Strathnaver. Mackay apparently escaped from his Edinburgh prison in 1650, although his wife is also said to have pleaded with Cromwell for his release. He remained a supporter of King Charles II and in 1653 was proposed as a committee member to help run the government in Scotland. Mackay joined Glencairn's uprising in 1654 and used it as a convenient excuse to lay waste to his enemy, Lord Sutherland's, lands. The failure of the rising led to Mackay signing an agreement with General Monck in May 1655 where he had to hand over his weapons and provide a bond of £2000 for security. Despite this, Mackay kept his estate. It is unclear when Mackay married Barbara Mackay, the daughter of Hugh Mackay of Scourie. They had six children: Donald, Angus/Aeneas, Robert, Joanna, Anna and Sibylla. Mackay's post-Restoration activities are not so well documented. He attended Parliament as the second Lord Reay in 1661 and two years later he was appointed justice of the peace for Sutherland. He signed the Declaration, nullifying the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant in February 1664. Although King Charles II offered to compensate Mackay that year for all his losses incurred on the king's behalf, he never received the money. Charles also recommended him to King Frederik III of Denmark-Norway, perhaps in the hope that Mackay could obtain some funds there. Mackay apparently offered to levy troops for Frederik III and to enter his service, although this offer was turned down. Mackay, like his father before him, signed over his estate to his son at some point during his life. He became involved in a local feud between the Munros of Eriboll and the Sinclairs of Dunbeath. In 1668 Mackay, along with the Munros, was granted a royal letter of fire and sword against the Sinclairs, who had unjustly attacked the Munros. At a later point the Sinclairs paid a fine of 50,204 merks to Mackay. In 1669 he received his first summons from the Scottish Privy Council to appear before it annually to renew his band to keep peace in the Highlands. He was again given a commission of fire and sword in 1672 in order to rid the country of rebels. After this point Mackay appears to have lived peacefully at his home in Durness, where he died in 1680.

National Archives of Scotland, GD 84/222 and 84/228, Hannibal Sehested to John Mackay, 28/7/1662, Charles II to Frederick II 4/4/1664; Dictionary of National Biography; HMC Sixth Report (London, 1877), p.685; T. Riis, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Odense, 1988), II, p.92; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), pp.36, 38; I. Grimble, Chief of Mackay (London, 1965), p. 95; J. L. Cairns-Smith-Barth, The Scottish Clan Chiefs. Volume One: The Chiefs of Clan Mackay and Their Cadets (Fitzroy, Australia, 1999), pp. 18-19.

We thank Dr Thomas Brochard for editing this entry.

Service record

Arrived 1628-09-29
Departed 1629-12-31
Capacity STUDENT, purpose ACADEMIC
Arrived 1664-01-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1664-12-31, as COLONEL
Capacity LEVIER, purpose MILITARY