Leod was a son of Olaf the Black, King of Man and the North Isles. When Olaf died Leod inherited the Islands of Lewis, Harris and part of Skye. After marrying the daughter of the Steward of Skye he set up home at Dunvegan. In 1263 MacLeods took control of half the Hebrides after the defeat of King Haakon of Norway at the Battle of Largs. The clan initially split between the two sons of Leod into the MacLeods of Lewis and the MacLeods of Skye. The MacLeods of Skye became the clan chiefs, sitting in Dunvegan Castle.
The MacLeods were followers of the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, but avoided the repercussions when King James IV sought to break down their power. Continued suppression of the Hebridean Clans was carried out by James V but the 8th chief, Alasdair Crotach, managed to advance the clan's status during this period and made significant additions to Dunvegan Castle.
The line of the MacLeods of Lewis, also known as the MacLeods of the Lewes, passed into the MacKenzie family and the role of the second main branch of the family became the MacLeods of Raasay.
The MacLeods joined in the Royalist cause for King Charles I, but were killed in large numbers by Cromwell's army at the Battle of Worcester. The losses sustained here prevented them taking a major role in the Jacobite risings, though the MacLeods of Raasay took many men to support the cause in 1745. The refusal of the Clan Chief to help spared them the wrath of the Government troops when the cause was lost.
The MacLeods of Assynt, descended from those of Raasay, were once noted for their treachery. It was at Ardvreck Castle in 1650 that James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, was betrayed by Neil MacLeod of Assynt and sent to Edinburgh to be executed.