Some called him the Warlock of the Glen, and others the Brahan Seer. His real name was Coinneach Odhar, in Gaelic, or Kenneth Mackenzie in English. He lived in Scotland in the 17th century. The seer, who looked into the future through a hole in a white stone, is said to have foreseen the bloody battle of Culloden and the cutting of the Caledonian Canal, the narrow, loch-linking waterway that runs across Scotland from Loch Linnhe in the southwest to the Moray firth at Inverness. But what Mackenzie is most famed for is undoubtedly the Doom of the Seaforths.
The story of the Doom begins in 1660, when the earl of Seaforth traveled from Brahan Castle, his home, to Paris, leaving behind his wife, Isabella, a woman reputedly as ugly as she was violent and uncouth. Time passed. The day of the earl’s scheduled return to Brahan came and went, and still he remained in Paris. Slowly it dawned on Isabella that her husband might have found more pleasant company in Paris than she had been providing at Brahan Castle.
Day by day the certainty that the ear was deceiving her grew stronger and so did her jealousy. One night, when the big hall at Brahan was crowded with guests, she summoned the seer and asked him if he could see her husband through his viewing stone. Mackenzie put the stone to his eye – and was overcome with laughter. What was he laughing at, Isabella demanded. He refused to tell her. Her fury mounting, Isabella insisted, and at last the Brahan Seer told her that he saw the earl with one girl on his knee and another stroking his hair.
Isabella’s rage at the news was uncontrollable, and she ordered her servants to seize the sage. Some accounts say that she had him hanged there in Brahan Castle, and others that she charged him before the authorities with practicing witchcraft and that as a result he was burned to death in a barrel of tar.
In either case, all sources agree that before he died in 1663 Mackenzie pronounced the famous Doom of the Seaforths, as follows:
I see into the future and I read the doom of the race of my oppressor. The long-descended line of Seaforth will, ere many generations have passed, end in extinction and sorrow. I see a chief, the last of his house, both deaf and dumb. He will be the father of four fair sons, all of whom he will follow to the tomb. He will live careworn and die mourning, knowing that the honours of his line are to be extinguished for ever, and that no future chief of the Mackenzies shall bear rule at Brahan or in Kintail. After lamenting over the last and most promisiong of his sons, he himself shall sink into the grave, and the remnant of his possessions shall be inherited by a white-coifed lassie from the East, and she is to kill her sister. And as a sign by which it may be known that these things are coming to pass, there shall be four great lairds in the days of the last deaf and dumb Seaforth – Gairloch, Chisholm, Grant and Raasay – of whom one shall be buck-toothed, another hair-lipped, another half-witted, and the fourth a stammerer. Chiefs distinguished by these personal marks shall be the allies and neighbors of the last Seaforth; and when he looks around him and sees them, he may know that his sons are doomed to death, and his broad lands shall pass away to the stranger, and that his race shall come to an end.
For the next 135 years the fortunes of the Seaforth family waxed and waned. In the revolution of 1688 they supported James II, the Roman Catholic king who fled to France, and in 1715 they supported his son James, the Old Pretender. For their pains they were stripped of their lands and title. By the mid-18th century the political loyalties of the Seaforths brought them back into royal favor, and by 1783, when Francis Humberston Mackenzie inherited the estates, their lands and forfeited title had been restored.
By this time the Doom of the Seaforths was little more than a vague memory. The new lord had four sons and six daughters, and though scarlet fever had left him deaf and dumb in his childhood (he later recovered his power of speech), there seemed little chance that the Seaforth line was coming to an end. As for his neighbors, it could be no more than a sinister coincidence that Mackenzie of Gairloch should be buck-toothed, that Chisholm of Chisholm should have a hairlip, that Grant of Grant should be a half-wit, and Macleod of Raasay an incurable stammerer.
Then one of Seaforth’s sons died, then another, and then still another. The fourth boy was now in poor health, and his father sent him to England for medical treatment. Despite this, the fourth and last son also died. As the Warlock had prophesied, the deaf-and-dumb lord outlived all his sons, and when he died in 1815 the Seaforth title lapsed. The first part of the Doom had been fulfilled precisely.
Seaforth’s estates were inherited by his daughter Mary Elizabeth Frederica. She had married Sir Samuel Hood, an admiral who, after serving with Nelson in the Battle of the Nile, had become commander in chief of the East Indies, a position that took him and Mary to India. Sir Samuel died at Madras shortly before Lord Seaforth. Mary came home wearing the traditional widow’s white cap: as the Doom said they would, the Seaforth lands had passed into the hands of “a white-coifed lassie from the East.”
In fact, the Seaforth estate was by now much diminished by mismanagement, extravagance, and government fines. Mary found herself obliged to sell still more of the property, including the Isle of Lewis. Piece by piece the broad lands of the Seaforths were indeed passing away to the stranger.
The last chapter in the fulfillment of the Doom of Seaforths occurred a few years later as Mary was taking her young sister Caroline for a drive through the woods in a pony carriage. Without warning the ponies bolted and the carriage overturned. Mary was cut and bruised, but her sister died from her injuries. The “lassie from the East” had killed her sister – or had, at least, been instrumental in her death – just as Kenneth Mackenzie had foretold.