The non-existent Gunn / Keith feud, Part Two
The supposed Gunn / Keith battles were –
1426 The Battle of Harpsdale. Sir Robert Gordon – see previous entry – does not mention Gunns in this battle. It was a battle where Mackays entered Caithness, and ‘inhabitants of Caithness’ (Gordon) fought back. Mark Rugg Gunn records this battle when discussing Gunn Keith battles and says ‘it is by no means certain that Gunns were involved’. So the Battle of Harpsdale did not involve any Keiths but some Gunns may have been involved as they were normal people living in the Caithness area.
1437 Knock Stanger (near Sandside, Dounreay). The son of the main Mackay in the above battle raided in the Dounreay area. So again this battle did not involve Keiths; some Gunns were probably involved as they lived in the area. Mark Rugg Gunn – in his Gunn / Keith battles discussion area - admits ‘Gunns are not specifically mentioned’ in this raid / battle.
1438 (ish – some dispute on date). Tannach Moor battle. Keiths of Ackergill are in dispute with ‘Guns and other inhabitants of Caithness … The Keiths, mistrusting their own forces, they sent to Angus Mackay …) intreating him to come to their aid; whereunto he easily condescended. Then did the inhabitants of Caithness convene in all haste…’ etc. (Sir Robert Gordon) Finally a battle involving the Keiths – nice change. But note the Guns are only mentioned – once - as part of the ‘inhabitants of Caithness’ and it’s not specifically an attack on them; it’s not Keiths versus Gunns, it’s Keiths (and Mackays) versus inhabitants of Caithness (including Gunns).
There is also the absurd story of a Manistanes Hill battle between the Gunns and Keiths – where the Devil helped the Keiths. It is obvious – I hope - why this story is to be discounted.
So, there were three ‘battles’ which supposedly showed a Gunn / Keith feud, only one of which mentioned the Keiths. That battle also mentioned the Gunns – once – but Guns were only representative of inhabitants of Caithness. And the Helen Gunn of Braemore story is just fiction.
There was no historic Gunn / Keith feud, it’s a myth like so much 'Clan' Gunn ‘history’.
I just thought people might like to know I have fully revised the Helen Gunn of Braemore myth page - see clangunn.weebly.com/helen-gunn-of-braemore-myth.html
I note the July 2017 Clan Gunn Society UK 'Herald' magazine points out that paying membership is now down to 306... the drop in membership continues. It's nothing like the 476 paying members of 1976...
I note the CGSNA figures dropped from 1100 in 2012 to 873 members in 2014...
For more on Clan Gunn Society membership figures see clangunn.weebly.com/clan-gunn-society-uk-membership-list-analysis-1962-1995.html
New information on Braehour Gunns has just arrived. For information on the importance of the Braehour line, see - clangunn.weebly.com/clan-gunn-chief---braehour-line.html
The below John Gunn in Braehour’s father was George Gunn in Braehour c. 1757-1852; his brothers include William Gunn from whom came the Hon. Donald Gunn of Manitoba Canada with his many descendants, William Gunn of Waranga Basin and many more…
John Gunn in Braehour married Margaret MacKenzie. They sailed on the ‘North’ from Liverpool 31 October 1858 and arrived 27 January 1851 Port Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Issue with them on the trip -
They also had John b. 1843 who arrived later in Australia.
The above Angus Gunn moved to Victoria and later to New South Wales, he died Sydney NSW 15 April 1904.
The above Margaret Gunn b 1838 (died 29 August 1909) married 1861 a James Edward Cunningham b. Edinburgh 1838. Fourteen children! They moved to Victoria c. 1882. Margaret is buried at the Oakleigh cemetery in Melbourne along with her husband, a son and granddaughter.
The above Barbara Gunn married James Tucker in 1869 and remained in South Australia. She died 4 November 1887.
The above John Gunn moved to Victoria and died 14 November 1920 and is buried in Oakleigh Cemetery.
The Braehour line is part of my family tree…
Death of Gunn Coroner (Crowner)
The most useful way to think about Gunn Coroner’s death is like this -
Consider the earliest account of it by Sir Robert Gordon who died c1650. Robert Gordon was writing a history of the Earldom of Sutherland – he didn’t have an axe to grind about Gunns, he was writing a real history. Now, his account is written 150 / 200 years after the death of Coroner Gunn so we can question what he wrote as the event will have been ‘shaped’ by retelling, but the later accounts which appear three hundred years and more after the Coroner’s death with ‘information’ which did not appear in Gordon’s account have to be rejected as no-one gets new information that much after an event.
Worth noting, as it seems to be forgotten, is Gordon’s comment about the ‘Cruner’ –
This Cruner was a great commander in Catteynes, in his tyme, and wes one of the greatest men in that cuntrey; because when he flourished there was no Earle of Catteynes
This clearly gives the time the Coroner existed – before the Earldom of Caithness was recreated. This supports the idea that the Coroner died around the mid 1450s given the Earl of Caithness was appointed in 1455, but unlikely to have made Caithness for a couple of years …
Gordon’s account of the Coroner’s death, in summary -
Now, key points –
Problems with Gordon’s account
A local attack on Coroner Gunn and his party around 1450 is probable, the event most likely happened near St Tayre’s Church. In it all Gunns (including the Coroner) were killed and the attackers suffered heavy losses.
Gordon gives no consequences for this event, which seems unusual. Why did the Keiths – if they were the attackers - get away with it? Perhaps because the Keiths were a very powerful family and could hush the event up especially if Gunn Coroner had become very unpopular. But Keiths were very important in Scottish history; the Chief of the Clan Keith was Earl Marischal of Scotland at this time. I find it awkward that such an event concerning a senior branch of his family does not appear in any record. And the records of the Keith family are large and accessible. Also, Gunn Coroner was about arresting rogues and criminals; the Keiths of Inverugie would be unlikely to be part of those Gunn Coroner was involved with on a ‘professional’ level, so why would Keiths kill a servant of the King given that they were also serving the King? Keiths and Gunns were neighbours and both families were of importance; they would be more inclined to support each other than kill each other.
It makes more sense that it was not Keiths but a random band of Caiths, people of Caithness, who killed the Gunns. If Gunn Coroner and the other Gunns were killed by a random group of Caithness people who had grown to hate Gunn Coroner then it would explain the reason for the attack, and provide a reason for lack of any known consequence as without knowledge of who the murderers had been, no action could have been taken.
Local Keiths or local Caiths are both possibilities for killing the Coroner around 1450…
Concerning Gunn Coroner’s death
I’ve always had trouble accepting the stories attached to how Gunn coroner died.
1. There was meant to have been a long lasting Gunn feud with the Keiths.But the feud looks very questionable and will be a separate entry here another time…
2. The Gunns were meant to be randomly in a church in the middle of nowhere and did not hear anyone approaching – and no Gunn lookout was posted.
But it seems odd for Gunns to be randomly hanging around / in an empty church; it’s not as if a Minister was there with a congregation. And if the Gunn / Keith mythic feud was happening you would have posted a lookout if you had any intelligence, and Gunn coroner was meant to have had brains.
3. The Keiths and Gunns supposedly had a battle which the Gunns lost by trickery as the Keiths rode two men on each horse according to most accounts. Of course Gunns could never have lost in a fair battle, that’s not how Clan mythic history works…
Overall it seems likely Gunn Coroner and some of his family were attacked near the Church of St Tayre; the Coroner’s death meant the attack stopped. The Gunns may have been attacked by Keiths but that is unlikely as the Keiths could easily have removed Gunn from his Coroner’s position due to the their power at the King’s court. The death of Gunn Coroner seems more like a revenge killing by a bunch of ‘Caiths’ – people of Caithness - not Keiths. (Note how both Caiths / Keiths sound the same and that the 1450s is before spelling is fixed.)
No record of the Coroner’s appointment, death or appointment of a new Coroner appears in history texts although much else from this time is known. Did his death have any impact on the greater Caithness world? Perhaps not…
St Tears, the Coroner and more…
Gunn, coroner of Caithness 1450s
More on Gunn coroner, including information from Professor Houston’s The Coroners of Northern Britain c1300-1700 and Professor Crawford’s The Northern Earldoms Orkney and Caithness from AD 870 to 1470.
In brief –
Gunn coroner before Earl William Sinclair made it to Caithness was in a position of major, basically unchecked legal power. The lack of a local Sheriff and lack of a resident Earl allowed him ‘freedom’ to do things his way. The position Gunn coroner had – with its lack of checks - would probably have created enemies.
The story of Hugh MacDonald of Sleat visiting Gunn in a castle has credence - it just wasn’t in a ‘Gunn castle’.
I have just read R. A. Houston's book 'The Coroners of Northern Britain c. 1300-1700' He is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of St Andrews.
He makes it quite clear (page 3, for example) that the position is Coroner but he notes it is spelt in a variety of ways including Coronator and Crowner. Crowner? Yes; but it's not a two syllable 'regal' word as some like to think. It's a three syllable word with the middle syllable pronounced as row as in rowing so - K, row, ner. And that spelling is not surprising as it's all being written / printed before dictionaries set spelling in stone and with printers being of 'interesting' spelling ability...
So it's absolutely Gunn Coroner of Caithness...
Lots more to come, but that's after I re-read the book...
The idea that St Donan (died 617) had anything to do with Kildonan in Sutherland is extremely questionable.
The idea that St Donan has anything to do with Kildonan lacks credence. St Donan should be removed from the Gunn history…
For more discussion see clangunn.weebly.com/on-saint-donan--saint-donnan-and-on-kildonan-having-nothing-to-do-with-him.html
The 'Zeno narrative' shows the 'Clan' Gunn Westford Knight discovers the USA' story to be totally impossible.
The Gunn ‘Westford Knight’ fairy story was meant to have occurred in 1380 when Sir Henry Sinclair was meant to have sailed from the Orkney Islands to Nova Scotia and beyond and taken a knighted Gunn with him (whose coat of arms / shield is later found carved on a rock at Westford, Massachusetts, USA). And so a Gunn was meant to be one of the first white people to ‘discover’ northern America. There is not a grain of truce in the story.
Why is it impossible to have happened? There is only one supposed source for this Henry Sinclair story - the 'Zeno narrative' a work of fiction written in 1558 in Venice. This story includes detailed discussion of one Niccolo Zeno supposedly exploring the northern Atlantic for many years in the late 1300s - shame this Niccolo Zeno's life is fully detailed in the Venetian archives for this time period and he lived in Venice and nearby lands and never went to the northern Atlantic. A person can't be in two places at the one time to state the blindingly obvious...
I note the 'Dictionary of Canadian Biography' view that 'the Zeno affair remains one of the most preposterous and at the same time one of the most successful fabrications in the history of exploration '.
Brian Smith who is archivist at the Shetland Museum and Archives and also an Honorary Fellow at the Centre of Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands considers the 'Zeno narrative' to be an 'elaborate practical joke'. His summary of Henry Sinclair and the Zeno narrative is -
'Henry Sinclair, an earl of Orkney of the late fifteenth century, didn’t go to America. It wasn’t until 500 years after Henry’s death that anybody suggested that he did. The sixteenth century text (Zeno narrative) that eventually gave rise to all the claims about Henry and America certainly doesn’t say so. What it says, in so many words, is that someone called Zichmni, with friends, made a trip to Greenland. None of Henry Sinclair’s contemporaries or near-contemporaries ever claimed he went to America; and none of the antiquaries who wrote about him in the seventeenth century said so either, although they made other absurd claims about him. The story is a modern myth…'
So - the the original source document which is meant to show how a Gunn got to Northern America and become the ‘Westford Knight’ has no mention of Scotland, no mention of Caithness, no mention of the Orkneys, no mention of Henry Sinclair, no Gunns and no mention of North America. That’s a major problem for the ‘Clan Gunn Westford Knight’ myth.
Shame the Clan Gunn Societies give support to this hoax...
For more information see http://www.alastairhamilton.com/sinclair.htm
There are many other historical and archaeological impossibilities with the Gunn Wesford Knight myth but the total failure of the only source for the myth is the point of this entry... See clangunn.weebly.com/on-a-gunn-helping-discover-north-america---sir-james-gunn-of-clyth-crowner-of-caithness-and-the-westford-knight-myth.html