First name
Social status

Text source

Sir Donald Mackay, first Lord Reay, was the eldest son of Uisdean Dubh, or Hugh, Mackay of Farr, Sutherland in Scotland, and Lady Jean, or Jane, Gordon, the eldest daughter of Alexander, eleventh earl of Sutherland. Donald Mackay was born in February or March 1591, and he had one brother, John, and two sisters, Anna and Mary. He, along with his father, became a justice of the peace for Inverness and Cromarty in June 1610, and two years later he was a commissioner of peace for Sutherland and Strathnaver. Mackay and John Gordon of Embo were involved in a case against George Sinclair, fifth Earl of Caithness, when the earl’s nephew John was killed, but all charges against them were dropped in 1614. In December that year Mackay was given a commission of fire and sword, along with George Gordon, first marquis of Huntly and others, against Cameron of Lochiel. Mackay had married Barbara Mackenzie, the daughter of the first Lord Kintail in 1610. With her he had six children, including John, who would become the 2nd Lord Reay (see below), and Angus who followed him into Danish-Norwegian service. Mackay succeeded as head of the clan Mackay in 1614, which made him a leading power in the Strathnaver area of Sutherland. He was knighted in April 1616 by King James VI and I. Soon after this a struggle with the house of Sutherland began, which would run the course of his life. In addition to this Mackay began to have difficulties with Barbara who, in 1617, complained to the Scottish Privy Council of his ill-treatment of her through his dalliance with Mary Lindsay, the daughter of David, eleventh Earl Crawford. Mackay not only had an illegitimate son with her, but he also brought her to live with him in his home at a time when Barbara had just delivered a child. Mackay was put to the horn and ordered to the Tolbooth in Edinburgh, the first of several spells in prison. In June 1620 he was fined 2000 merks for his adultery. This infringement did not alter Mackay's status in society and on 20 August 1623 the Scottish Privy Council appointed him, and his brother, John Mackay of Strathy, justice of the peace for Sutherland and Strathnaver. The following year he bought the lands of Reay, Sandside, Darochow, Borlum, Easald, Achatrescar, Auchamerland, Showarie from Arthur, Lord Forbes. He also bought the Little Isles of Strathnaver from William Macallan, and 27 merklands of Moidart and 24 merklands of Arisaig from John McRonald, chief of Clan Ronald. However Mackay looked abroad for his future and came to play a major role in the Thirty Years' War. In 1626 he went to London to ask King Charles I to raise a regiment for the anti-Habsburg forces. His objective was to assist Count Ernst Mansfeld, leader of the Bohemian army in war against Austria. Two warrants were issued within 4 months. The first was dated 3rd March 1626 and authorised the levy and transport of 2000 men. Mackay received the news in the week before 17 March. It instructed for these troops to be ready by 30 April when four ships came to Leith for their transport and another eight war ships for their protection. The second warrant was dated 21st July and was for 3000 men. Recruitment was not an easy or straightforward task. Mackay had to sell his lands of Moidart and Arisaig to the Earl of Seaforth to fund these levies. He was specifically ordered not to harbour Robert Monro of Fowlis amongst his recruits, as Fowlis was a fugitive from the law at the time. In addition, there was the constant threat of desertion, and by July 1000 recruits had disappeared mostly due to the lack of pay. However, by August 1626 Mackay had apparently gathered 3600 men and sought permission to transport them. Mansfeld wanted these men divided into 15 companies of circa 200 men each. Although Mackay had permission to enlist 5000, he only raised about 3000 at first, and of these Arthur, Lord Forbes, provided about 800 men. Mackay personally oversaw the last logistical preparations for embarkation as he was in Cromarty on 23-28 September 1626. The troops embarked from Cromarty on 6 October 1626, although Mackay himself was too ill to accompany them until 18 January 1627 when he sailed from Leith. The regiment was transferred to King Christian IV's service upon Mansfeld's death at the end of 1626. While he was out of the country Charles I created him a baronet of Nova Scotia on 18 March 1627. The regiment distinguished itself by its actions. Firstly four companies under Major Dunbar staunchly resisted the Imperial army's attack on Boitzenburg; secondly the regiment held the pass of Oldenburg for nine hours while their German allies retired in disorder. Mackay himself was severely wounded in this effort, and less than 1000 of his men survived. When the command was given for all the Danish forces to retire, Mackay's troops were the only ones to return to Denmark-Norway, as the rest had surrendered to the Imperial forces. Conditions for these men were far from ideal. Not only had Mackay never been paid for their shipment, but he also complained to the Elector Palatine of the lack of victuals for his men on 25 July 1627. He was reappointed colonel of his Scottish regiment July 1627. He obliged himself to levy a further 1000 men of foot in October 1627, for which authorisation was given by the Privy Council of Scotland on 31 March 1628. On 19 February 1628 Charles I provided Mackay with a charter for the lands which had all been resigned to him by Alexander, master of Forbes. On the same day, Mackay received a third commission to levy an additional 1000 men. He had also been made a peer of Scotland, as Lord Reay, on 20 June 1628. Toward the end of the year Mackay travelled to Copenhagen, probably to install his sons John and Angus at the Academy of Sorø in Denmark on 29 September. Following King Christian IV's peace with the Emperor, Mackay's Regiment was reformed on 3 September 1628, to consist of 1000 men in five companies. Although the regiment was transferred to Swedish service in the summer of 1629, Mackay himself moved his family - including his mother, servants and whole retinue - to Denmark. He also spent some time in the Dutch Republic and a receipt for 200 rixdaler (500 guilders) from Sir James Sandilands from Slamman - a Major in the Scots Brigade - can be found in the National Archives of Scotland. The monies were apparently paid back to Sandilands on 31 March 1631 in respect of a debt to the same amount owed him by Captain John Sinclair. Mackay returned to Denmark with more recruits in late 1629, and accompanied King Gustav II Adolph of Sweden to Pomerania. Certainly in March 1630 Mackay's regiment was considered an integral part of the Swedish forces on campaign in Germany. His troops were engaged at Rügenwalde (modern Dar?owo) where they served well and by November were being relieved by 2 of Colonel John Hepburn's [SSNE 2660] companies. Indeed, the author of the Swedish Intelligencer noted that three Scottish regiments fought along side each other during this campaign. That of Lord Reay, another under Colonel James Spens [SSNE 1642] and a third under Colonel James MacDougall [SSNE 1623] and the three regiments together equalling a quarter of the total Swedish force. The same author notes the taking of Stettin by Reay's regiment in July and the forced assault and capture of Rügenwalde by his regiment in August under Robert Monro [SSNE 94]. Just a few months later the Scottish Privy Council authorised a levy of 2000 men for the use of the Swedish king. James, Marquis of Hamilton [SSNE 1348] had simultaneously received a commission from the Swedish king to levy 6000 men, and sent his lieutenant David Ramsay to Britain to recruit. It was during this time that Mackay became embroiled in the Ochiltree incident. As Mackay returned to Britain in March 1631 via the Low Countries to raise more troops for the Swedish Crown, in Amsterdam, Reay met and subsequently accused Ramsay of being accessory to a treasonable plot to establish Ramsay’s protector, the marquis of Hamilton, as King of Scotland, through the use of Hamilton’s recruits. Mackay was in Greenwich in September 1631, ahead of his trial, when he granted a charter to his son John, Master of Reay [SSNE 315]. In November, a High Court of Chivalry was set up to decide the case. The Lord High Constable eventually ordered both to fight a duel in Tuthill fields in Westminster on 12 April 1632 with the king in attendance. A royal decision postponed it until 17 May. But on 8 May, Charles I cancelled the combat altogether. On 12 May, the Court did not find Ramsay guilty of treason and had both Mackay and Ramsay imprisoned in the Tower of London. They were eventually released in August 1632. Although Mackay never returned to active service in Sweden, his regiment continued to play an important role in the Swedish campaigns in Germany. He acted as an itinerant ambassador to the Stuarts, sending progress reports from the war. Mackay was also involved in a delicate personal matter, which led him to request warrants for the arrest of Mrs. Rachel Winterfield, or Harrison. She claimed to have married him and produced a son, named Donald. Around this time Mackay's first wife Barbara died, and in late 1631-early 1632 he married his second wife, Elizabeth Thomson, who was the daughter of Robert Thomson, Keeper of the Queen's Wardrobe. They had one daughter named Anne. In 1634 Mackay had a commission to apprehend "sorners" etc, implying that he was perhaps levying for Swedish service again. However by February 1637 Mackay was listed amongst the Scottish officers paid off by the Swedes, when he received 600 riksdaler. That year Mrs Winterfield pursued her case against Mackay, claiming that he owed her maintenance money. He continued to contradict her claims, saying their marriage had been nullified upon the discovery that she had married Mackay bigamously and that she had used forged documents to continue her case against him. The Scottish Estates, however, ordered Mackay to pay Mrs. Winterfield £2000 Sterling for owed maintenance and then £400 Sterling per annum, reduced to £300 sterling once Mackay take charge of his son, and the interest on these sums as continued maintenance. Mackay had borrowed vast sums of money to raise his troops which were never repaid. For instance he owed 15200 merks Scots or £854 Sterling to Alexander, Master of Forbes, in July 1631. Besides, Mackay also acted as a money-lender, with, among others, a loan of 4887 merks to Captain Robert Innes in March 1628. So, in order to pay this money to Mrs. Winterfield, in early 1637, Mackay sold most of his lands of Reay to William Innes, whose son John, served in Mackay’s regiment, and in September signed over the rest of his estate to his son John. He further applied to go abroad in March to earn money, and permission was granted in April, providing that Mackay fulfilled his obligations to his "pretended" wife, Mrs. Winterfield. Shortly after this Mackay became embroiled in the civil disturbances that shook Scotland. Like many royalist sympathisers, he signed the Covenant in April 1638 under duress. The very next year a ship belonging to Mackay and containing arms and treasure was captured by the Covenanters when it was blown off course into Peterhead harbour. Presumably to allay suspicions, Mackay then raised a regiment for service in the Army of the Covenant, joining Seaforth - a fellow covert royalist - and 4000 men as the northern Covenanter forces in May 1639. Mackay and Seaforth signed a secret royalist bond on 7 June, and the next year the pair of them were warded in Edinburgh suspected of supporting the King. Not much is known of Mackay's activities during the next period. His second wife, Elizabeth Thomson died in 1641 and sometime after that Mackay remarried for the last time, to Mary/Marjorie Sinclair, daughter of Francis Sinclair of Stirkoke. Mrs. Winterfield was still demanding money from him, and his non-payment to her resulted in his incarceration at Blackness castle under the pain of treason in July 1642. In July 1643 he embarked at Aberdeen for Denmark-Norway, and levied a regiment of 1000 foot in November upon the request of Christian IV. Whilst in Denmark-Norway Mackay commanded his son, Colonel Angus Mackay's, regiment. In 1644 Mackay returned to Britain with a ship loaded with £20,000 Scots worth of arms and goods, and landed at Newcastle just before the Army of the Solemn League and Covenant laid siege to the town. He and Lord Crawford held onto Newcastle garrison until October, when they were captured. They were sent to Edinburgh and imprisoned for the next year and a half. During this time the Scottish Estates proscribed Mackay's lands. Christian IV intervened personally in May 1645 and obtained Mackay's release in the following August. In October 1645, Mackay returned to Strathnaver. The Scottish Estates were still acting against Mackay however and authorised the Earl of Sutherland to send a force to Strathnaver and obtain Mackay's submission in October 1647. Christian IV still sought reliable troops from Mackay, who was obliged to fulfil this obligation before his Danish pension could be paid to him. Mackay must have realised that his situation in Scotland was hopeless and so in spring 1648 he sailed from Thurso and returned to Denmark-Norway. King Frederick III of Denmark-Norway provided Mackay with a warrant for 500 daler in January 1649. Mackay's last letter was dated 2 February 1649 at Copenhagen, and referred to his plans to raise a new regiment for Swedish service, however he appears to have died by 10 of that month. Some sources say he died at Copenhagen, others at Bergen, where he had been appointed governor. The Danish-Norwegian king apparently chartered a frigate to take Mackay back to Scotland, and he was buried at Kirkiboll church at Tongue in Strathnaver; the Danish-Norwegian king having reportedly chartered a frigate to repatriate the body to Scotland.

R. Monro, His Expedition with a worthy Scots Regiment called Mac-Keyes (2 vols., London, 1637), passim and, II, The List of the Scottish Officers in Chiefe, list 1; The Swedish Intelligencer: The First Part (London, 1632), pp.49, 50, 53, 61-65, 87; National Library of Scotland, MS 7002-3, Yester Writs, no.29, Seaforth to Yester, 14 July 1631 reference supplied by Aonghas Maccoinnich; Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, 2nd series, I, 1625-1627, p.244, 313, 347, 385; ibid, vol IV, p.219; Swedish Riksarkiv, Militära chefer i svenska arméen och deras skrivelser; Swedish Krigsarkiv, Muster Roll, 1629/11,14,18,20; 1630/22-28,36-38; 1632/28; Swedish Riksarkiv, SV RA Armén, Militära chefer register 1620-1840; National Archives of Scotland (NAS), Reay Papers, GD 84/2/149-51, 153, 155, 167, 170, 170, 173, 177 [you already mention this in the entry]; NAS, Lord Forbes Papers, GD 52/94, 'Discourses between the Lord Reay and John Master of Forbes. Certaine Speeches that past betwuix the Lord Reay and the Mr of Forbes since 15 December 1630 in Stralsound ... concerning the Master of Hamilton and the Earl of Seaforth"; Stair Society, Selected Judiciary Cases, 1624-1650 (3 vols., 1953-1974), I, pp176-190; G. Lind, Danish Data Archive 1573; J.C.W. Hirsch and K. Hirsch (eds.), 'Fortegnelse over Dansk og Norske officerer med flere fra 1648 til 1814 (12 vols. compiled 1888-1907), VII,vol.1; S. Hedar, Kammarkollegiets Protokoll med bilagor, vol.1 (Stockholm, 1934), p.137; Dictionary of National Biography; Historical Manuscripts Commission 21:11th Report; T. Riis, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Odense, 1988), II, p.118; John Mackay, An Old Scots Brigade (Edinburgh, 1885), passim; see also John Mackay, `Mackay's regiment', in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol.viii, 1878-9; E. Furgol, A Regimental History of the Covenanting Armies (Edinburgh, 1990); H. Marryat, One Year in Sweden including a visit to the Isle of Gotland (London, 1862), p.467; Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage (8 vols., Edinburgh, 1904-1911), VII, p.167; Rikskansleren Axel Oxenstiernas skrifter och brefvexling, first series, V, pp.176, 446, 465, 481, 485, 664; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), pp.26, 36-38. He is mentioned as Daniel Forbes, Baron de Reay by William Forbes [SSNE 2262]. See Detlev PLEISS, Das Kriegstagebuch des schwedischen Offiziers William Forbes: Von seiner Landung an der Unterelbe im Sommer 1634 bis zu seiner Rückkehr nach Stade im Winter 1649/50, in: Stader Jahrbuch Neue Folge 85, (1995), p. 152. Thanks to Dr Bernd Warlich for this last reference. Dr Aonghas Maccoinnich has also provided the following references: NRS RD 1/443 fols. 250r, 253. NLS, Dep. 175/65, no. 147. NAS, RS37/5, fos. 56v-7r, 171r; RS37/3, fos. 290r-1v; PS 5/1, p. 114; PS15/1/57. I. Grimble, Chief of Mackay (London, 1965). A. Mackay, The Book of Mackay (Edinburgh, 1906). R. Mackay, History of the House and Clan of Mackay (Edinburgh, 1829). Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, eds. J. M. Thomson et al., 11 vols. (Edinburgh, 1882-1914), VII, no. 976; VIII, no. 1211. 

We thank Dr Thomas Brochard for editing this reference.

Bishops Wars / English Civil War

Service record

Arrived 1626-03-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1629-08-13, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1629-01-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1632-12-31, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1629-12-23
Capacity PRIVATE, purpose MISC.
Arrived 1631-01-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1631-12-31, as COLONEL
Arrived 1643-07-17, as COLONEL
Departed 1643-11-30, as COLONEL
Capacity RECRUITER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1648-07-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1649-12-31, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1649-01-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1649-12-31, as COLONEL
Capacity GOVERNOR, purpose MILITARY