Friday, February 16, 2007

John Macleod of Macleod, 29th Chief of the Clan Macleod

John Macleod of Macleod, the 29th chief of Clan MacLeod, who died from leukaemia, 12 February, 2007, aged 71, found himself beset by controversy when, in 2000, he announced that he planned to sell the Black Cuillin mountains, part of his estate on the Isle of Skye. MacLeod needed to raise money to restore Dunvegan Castle, his 800-year- old family seat situated on an outcrop of black basalt. The Cuillins, which cover some 35 square miles, are home to golden eagles, white- tailed sea eagles, red deer and a number of rare plants. Sir Walter Scott, in The Lord of the Isles, was moved to write of them: "A scene so rude, so wild as this/Yet so sublime in barrenness."
John MacLeod was born John Wolrige-Gordon, 10 August, 1935, the second son of Captain Robert Wolrige-Gordon, MC. His (40 minutes younger) twin brother, Patrick, was to become a Tory MP. The boys' mother was the daughter of Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod, the 28th clan chief, who named John as her heir in 1951, when he changed his name to MacLeod of MacLeod. The clan traces its origins to the 13th century, when Leod, the son of a Norse king, gained possession of much of Skye.
After Eton, John went to McGill University, Montreal, and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where he was a contemporary of Janet Suzman and Donald Sutherland; he then began a career as an actor.
Dunvegan and its surrounding 30,000-acre estate were, however, to become his life. To mark his 21st birthday there was a clan gathering at Dunvegan attended by MacLeods from all over the world; the Queen and Prince Philip also made an appearance. John and his twin brother received gold watches from the United States MacLeods; opal cufflinks from the Australian MacLeods; silver spoons from the Vancouver MacLeods.
John took over at the castle when he was 30, Dame Flora continuing to live as his tenant in the south wing for another 12 years; on her death, in 1976 at the age of 98, he succeeded as the 29th clan chief.
Money had long been a problem. According to historians, the decline began with the 22nd chief, known as the Red Man, who was suspected of murdering his wife and who had generated animosity by failing to support the Jacobite uprising of 1745. The 25th chief was forced to let out the castle and work in London as a clerk.
Dame Flora had had to sell off large tracts of the estate, and MacLeod decided to open Dunvegan to the public, turning it into one of Scotland's most popular tourist attractions. The castle boasts many items of interest, including portraits by Raeburn and Zoffany, Flora Macdonald's stays and Rory Mor's drinking horn, from which each new MacLeod chieftain must quaff a litre of claret to prove his manhood (when his turn came, John MacLeod managed it in one minute 57 seconds).
In 1996, in an attempt to raise money, MacLeod demanded that two crofters running a salmon-farming business paid for access to the sea, invoking a 17th-century feudal law to claim ownership of the foreshore. He wanted £1,000 a year for crossing the beach and £54 for every ton of salmon landed.
MacLeod was a genial man who was genuinely distressed by the controversy which had surrounded him for the past seven years. His great love was music: he had a fine singing voice which can be heard on a CD of Scottish folk songs called MacLeod of Dunvegan, and each year he held a chamber music festival in the drawing room at Dunvegan.
John MacLeod married first, in 1961 (dissolved 1971), Drusilla Shaw. He married secondly, in 1973 (dissolved 1992), Melita Kolin, a Bulgarian concert pianist, with whom he had a son and a daughter; their son, Hugh Magnus MacLeod, succeeds as 30th clan chief. He had another son by a brief relationship before his second marriage, and is survived by his children and by his third wife, Ulrika.

No comments: