The name was derived from an Old Norse nickname "Ljótr" meaning "ugly" and the original "Leod" (pronounced "lodge" in Gaelic) was said to have been descended from the Norse King Godfrey of the Isle of Man and the Hebrides. The MacLeods became established on Lewis> in the Outer Hebrides and also on Skye>, Assynt and Strathpeffer on the other side of Ross and Cromarty. Castle Leod in Strathpeffer was eventually taken over by the MacKenzies>.
The MacLeods were supportive of the Lord of the Isles, including participating in the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, which did not endear them to the King of Scotland at the time. The chief failed to produce a charter confirming ownership of Lewis and King James VI> attempted to establish immigrants from Fife. While this did not succeed, MacKenzie of Kintail obtained possession of Lewis following this.
It was a MacLeod chief who established a college for MacCrimmon pipers in the middle of the 16th century. Chief Rory "Mor" MacLeod who lived at Dunvegan Castle> on Skye was knighted around 1613.
No friend of the Stewart kings, many of the MacLeods did not get involved in the Jacobite Uprisings of 1715 and 1745 (which may explain why Dunvegan Castle on Skye survived as the home of the clan chief for 700 years). Even so, it was Donald MacLeod who escorted Bonnie Prince Charlie> for seven weeks, as he evaded capture after the Battle of Culloden>. Another Donald MacLeod published a book "Gloomy Memories" in Canada of his experiences during the Highland Clearances in Sutherland.
In 1935, the chieftainship passed to Dame Flora MacLeod (who was the last person to be born at 10 Downing Street, the residence of the UK Prime Minister). Clan gatherings have been held at Dunvegan Castle which holds the "Fairy Flag of Dunvegan"> and a medieval drinking horn (which holds a bottle and a half of claret) which is used at the inauguration of clan chiefs.
The clan motto is "Hold fast".
A number of clans are regarded as septs (sub-branch) of the Mackenzie clan - Askey, Beton, Harold, Lewis, Macaskill, McCabe, MacCaig, MacCaskill, MacClure, MacCorkindale, MacLimmor, MacHarold, Mackaskill, MacLewis, MacLure, Tolmie.
MacLeod was the 45th most frequent surname at the General Register Office> in 1995.
There are MacLeod clan Web sites here> as well as MacLeod of Harris> and MacLeod of Lewis.
Return to Index of Clans/Family Histories.
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