Pirates of the Hebrides and the execution of Captain Peter Love

Bearasaigh, the islet off Lewis where Neil Macleod made his home (right) and neighbouring Seana Chnoc. PIC www.geograph.co.uk
Bearasaigh, the islet off Lewis where Neil Macleod made his home (right) and neighbouring Seana Chnoc. PIC www.geograph.co.uk
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He was one of the most feared pirates of the high seas with a reputation around the world for his plundering raids and habit for kidnap.

Captain Peter Love was to come undone, however, during a trip to the Hebrides in the early 1600s as he sought a safe place for his cargo of cinnamon, pepper, sugar and 700 hides from the West Indies.

It was his occupation of waters off Lewis that was to lead not just to his proposal of marriage to an islander but also an audacious betrayal - which resulted in the execution of Captain Love and nine of his men on the sands of Leith in 1610.

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Waters off the Western Isles had long been thick with piracy, with the Macleods of Lewis and the MacNeils of Barra living largely on the plunder from the seas.

Captain Love, after narrowly escaping capture off the coast of Ireland, needed a safe place for his cargo - which also included a box of precious stones swiped from a Dutchman - and chose Lewis for his refuge.

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“He could not have made a worse choice,” according to W.C Mackenzie’s History of the Hebrides.

Captain Love was quickly introduced to fellow outlaw Neil Macleod and for a time the pair enjoying a sort of honour among thieves with the Englishman continuing his raids off the island.

“A bond of mutual offence and defence seems to have been entered into by the two outlaws, and for a time their friendship remained unimpaired,” Mackenzie noted.

He added the intimacy became “so great” that Captain Love was due to marry a niece of Macleod.

The men and their friends feasted with each other, both on be board Captain Love’s ship, the Prian, and at Bearasaigh, the tiny islet in Loch Ròg, Lewis, where Macleod had made his home.

But the cordial association was to swiftly change.

Macleod had for years been battling the colonisation of Lewis by mainland nobles and his defence of his homeland had led to open warfare on the island, with furious attacks and multiple deaths recorded.

As Macleod and his men became cornered, the only way he could survive was to secure a pardon from King James VI.

Macleod found his opportunity for redemption in Captain Peter Love.

He set about hatching a plan to seize the pirates and hand them over to the justiciary with banquet in Macleod’s name the scene for the treachery.

As the guests eat, manoeuvres were being made by the bride’s father - Torquil Blair - to seize the Prian.

“The plot succeeded, but not without bloodshed,” Mackenzie wrote.

He added: “The Prian, after a short but desperate scuffle, in which several of the pirates were killed, became the prize of Torquil Blair and his followers.”

Four dutchmen, who had been captured and enslaved by the pirates, were released and sent to Lewis.

A Scot on board was held by Macleod.

A large amount of money was also found on board and, according to accounts, was split between Macleod and his men.

The capture of the Prian was commended at the highest level but Macleod’s reward from the Privy Council offered only temporary respite from attack or capture.

He was invited to Edinburgh to smooth out mutual grievances although Macleod, ever wary, gave Edinburgh a wide berth.

Meanwhile, arrangements were made to transport Captain Love and nine other pirates to the capital.

On December 8, 1610, they were hanged on the sands of Leith and described as “wicked impes of the devil.

“They went to Loch Bernera to secure their plunder and escape pursuit, but they discovered to their cost that they had tumbled into a veritable hornet’s nest.”

Macleod was hung three years later for high treason.

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