The legend of Lady’s Rock has been told for many years in the highlands and islands of Scotland. In reality only a very few facts are known about what really happened and the is no clear understanding or motive for what drove Lachlan Cattanach, Chief of the Clan MacLean, to leave his new wife to drown on a tidal rock in the Firth of Lorne around the turn of the 15th century.
The ‘facts’ from research and known histories seem to be as set out below. Apart from these scant items the story as presented is entirely fictitious ….. perhaps?
Lachlan suffered losses in the war of 1501 against James Stuart and needed allies, hence the arranged marriage to Campbell’s daughter. Campbell, who had been more savvy during the troubles and remained in favour of the King, had aspirations to be the most powerful Chief in the highlands and having the MacLeans within his extended family was a way of achieving this. However, within a few months of the wedding Lachlan left his new wife to drown on the rock which is visible from his Clan seat, Castle Duart, and which is completely covered by water in high tide. Some say that there were rumours the wife was involved in trying to poison her husband. The wife is rescued from the rock by fishermen who take her home to Inveraray. Lachlan arrives with an empty coffin to announce her death and she is revealed to be alive. Many years later her brother kills Lachlan in an inn near Edinburgh seemingly in an act of revenge. There seem to be different accounts as to whether the daughter was called Catherine or Elizabeth ……
And therein lies the ‘seed’ which grew in my mind until this version of the tale was born.
It seems I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the story …
The Victorian novelist and playwright, and friend of Sir Walter Scott, Joanne Baille wrote a dramatised version of the tale which she named The Family Legend which was produced initially by Sir Walter Scott in Edinburgh in 1810 and then went on to performances in Drury lane.
And Glenara, written circa 1795 by the eminent Scottish poet Thomas Campbell during his early career whilst working as a tutor on Mull.
But for an authentic modern day take on the subject here is the current Clan Chief Sir Lachlan Cattanach MacLean’s thoughts on the matter*….
Lachlan’s wife had not produced a son and heir for him, which is the main reason for her being put on the rock. Could it have been a setup for the two fishermen to come and collect and take her to Inveraray? That is sometimes debated. If that was true, why was Lachlan killed by one of his wives brothers? The Campbell’s must have realised that Lachlan Cattanach could hardly put his foot out of his clan lands without being at risk, in our MacLean histories we talk about him being a tyrant. He wasn’t even a brave tyrant. One of the problems about knowing about your ancestors is you know all the good, the bad and the different and I am afraid Lachlan was not a very good ancestor.
*excerpt from an email to Sarah Walker-Smith – April 2016
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