Conventionally, the extraordinary diversity of the vertebrate major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is thought to have evolved in response to parasites and pathogens affecting fitness. More recently, reproductive mechanisms such as disassortative mating have been suggested as alternative mechanisms maintaining MHC diversity. A large unmanaged population of Soay sheep (Ovis aries L.) was used to investigate reproductive mechanisms in the maintenance of MHC diversity. Animals were sampled as new–born lambs and between 887 and 1209 individuals were typed at each of five microsatellite markers located either within or flanking the ovine MHC. All loci were in Hardy–Weinberg proportions. A novel likelihood–based approach was developed to analyse mating patterns using paternity data. No evidence for non–random mating with respect to MHC markers was found using this technique. We conclude that MHC diversity in the St Kildan Soay sheep population is unlikely to be maintained by mating preferences and that, in contrast with evidence from experimental mice populations, MHC variation plays no role in the mating structure of this population.