Legend suggests that Assynt was granted to a family called MacNichol by an un-named Thane of Sutherland after they had chased cattle raiders out of Assynt and regained the Thane’s herds, but control soon passed to the MacLeod’s of Lewis.
In 1343 this was formalised when David II granted Torquil MacLeod a charter of the lands of Assynt in return for the service of a 20-oared Hebridean galley. This was one of several land grants made by the Scottish king to West Highland chieftains in an attempt to exert his rights in the Highlands and secure their allegiance during the Wars of Independence with England.
The MacLeods seem to have two strongholds on Loch Assynt: on an island near the southern shore known as Eilean Assynt, and on the peninsula at Ardvreck where the later castle was built. The moated site next to the church may also have been used by them at this time.
Towards the end of the 15th century, the first Ardvreck Castle was built and was subsequently extended a century later. It was the site of many violent acts during the inter-family feuding of the MacLeods. By the early 17th century the MacKenzies had ousted the MacLeods from Lewis and raided Assynt in an attempt to gain control of the parish, but it was not until the restoration of Charles II that they were actually able to get their way.
During the Civil War, the wife of Neil MacLeod of Assynt captured the Royalist commander, the Marquis of Montrose and imprisoned him in Ardvreck Castle from where he was taken to Edinburgh for execution. In the years following the Restoration, the Mackenzies took advantage of the changed political climate to blacken Neil’s name and acquire Assynt.