A McAllister (Almost) in the World Cup

On this day in 1990, Scotland’s national football team lost 0-1 to Brazil in the first round of the World Cup in Italy. Although Scotland had qualified for the Cup on six previous occasions — and would do so again in 1998 this was the only time that the name McAllister has appeared on the roster of any qualifying team in World Cup history.  

The McAllister in question, Gary McAllister of Motherwell in Scotland, was born on Christmas day, 1964. He started his football career with his hometown side, but spent the rest of his professional career with a succession of English clubs, among them Liverpool FC and Leeds United, before retiring from play to take on managerial responsibilities.[1]

However, McAllister also played for nine years on the Scottish national team, serving for part of that time as captain. His abilities on the field helped Scotland get to the World Cup in 1990, but he did not take the field in the first game and the team’s failure to advance to the next round cost him his chance to play in the Cup. The next time Scotland qualified, eight years later, he was recovering from a serious knee injury and unable to participate.

Although he missed the chance to play in a World Cup, Gary McAllister had a successful career and was well regarded as a player. In 2001 he was awarded an MBE for his services to the game. He retired from play in 2004, but he continues to contribute to the world of football as a commentator for BT Sport. His prediction for the winner of the 2014 World Cup? Argentina or Brazil, he thinks, probably Argentina.[2]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1]Details of McAllister’s career can be found at a number of web sites, including Wikipedia, Football Aid, and Premier League.

[2]BT Sport’s World Cup Predictions’, BT Sport online, 4 June 2014.

In the Line of Duty

On this day in 1895, Sgt. Henry H. McAllister, a three year veteran of the Manchester, New Hampshire, police department, was shot by former officer Fred Stockwell, to whom McAllister had been supervisor. Bullets struck the sergeant’s aorta, spleen, and kidney[1], killing him instantly. McAllister was 49.

The shooting took place in the police station, and Stockwell, who had resigned a week earlier, was immediately arrested. According to a news report at the time, he had made threats against not only McAllister but also “other members of the department”.[2] However, he had a particular grudge against Sgt. McAllister, who had recently reprimanded him for “intemperance and untruthfulness”, and at the time of the shooting, he said that this was the reason for his crime.[3] Stockwell was sentenced to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder, but in 1914 he was pardoned without explanation and promptly disappeared. Henry McAllister, an Irish immigrant survived only by his sister[4], was gradually forgotten.

Thanks to a current member of the Manchester police force, however, the story does not end there. More than a hundred years after McAllister’s death, Capt. Nick Willard began to wonder why the long-dead sergeant’s name did not appear on New Hampshire’s memorial for policemen killed in the line of duty. He decided to investigate, and he discovered that there was a bit more to the story.

Stockwell’s statement that he had killed McAllister because of the charges brought against him seems to have been accepted by everyone at the time, but Capt. Willard learned that Stockwell later changed his story. Several years into his sentence, Stockwell began to claim that McAllister had had an affair with his wife and that was the reason for the shooting. Willard found no evidence to support Stockwell’s claim, and he believes the killer was simply trying to smear his victim’s name. McAllister had no one around to defend him, however, and “over the course of time, the rumor morphed into fact”.[5] Willard concluded that this slur is the main reason McAllister was not included on the memorial, and he put in a request to have McAllister’s name added. In a television interview last June, Willard said he wanted the fallen officer to know that his reputation has been restored and his service with the Manchester Police Department is remembered.[6]

On Monday 19 May 2014, 119 years after he died, McAllister was among the 286 officers killed in the line of duty whose sacrifice was recognised in the New Hampshire Law Enforcement Officers Memorial ceremony.[7]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1] New Hampshire Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947, online database, Ancestry.com (accessed 19 May 2014); record for Henry McAllister.

[2] “A Police Sergeant is Shot Down by an Ex-Policeman”, Sandusky (Ohio) Register, 23 May 1895, p. 2; digital image, Ancestry.com (accessed 20 May 2014); Historical Newspapers Collection. 

[3] “Fallen Officer to Be Added to NH Law Enforcement Memorial: Sgt. Henry McAllister shot in line of duty in 1895“, news report dated June 13, 2013, WMUR New Hampshire web site (www.wmur.com/news).

[4] ODMP Remembers . . . Sergeant Henry McAllister“, Officer Down Memorial Page web site (www.odmp.org), accessed 20 May 2014. A brief search of online records turned up a family of McAllisters who arrived in the US as famine immigrants in 1850 and settled in Manchester. The family had a son named Henry about the right age; according to McAllister’s death records, the father’s name, and the mother’s maiden name, are also right. If this is indeed Sgt. McAllister’s family, then his mother also survived him—although not by long: That woman died in 1898 “from Melancholia” [New Hampshire Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947, online database, Ancestry.com (accessed 19 May 2014); record for Jane McClelland McAllister]. However, none of the names involved are particularly unusual and it is very possible that these records pertain to an entirely different family. If McAllister left his homeland as an adult, it is also possible that he had family in Ireland.

[5] “Fallen Officer”, WMUR New Hampshire.

[6] Ibid.

[7] New Hampshire Law Enforcement Officers Memorial“, press release dated May 1, 2014, state of New Hampshire government web site (https://www.nh.gov). 

Mutineers on Trial

On this day in 1779, a court martial sat in Edinburgh Castle to try three soldiers for mutiny. The soldiers were additionally charged with having “instigated and incited others to be guilty of the same, in which mutiny several of his Majesty’s subjects were killed, and others wounded”.[1]

The charges against these soldiers stemmed from an incident in April, which historian Max Hastings summarises as follows: “Highland soldiers of the 42nd and 71st regiments, abruptly drafted to serve with a detested Glasgow Lowland regiment, refused the order and fought a brief, bloody battle with men of the South Fencibles.”[2] Several people died and many were taken prisoner, but these three alone faced a death sentence.

Among the men who made up the court was Captain Angus M’Alister of the West Fencibles. This M’Alister’s identity is unclear to me, but the fact that he was a captain in the Western (or Argyll) Fencible Regiment provides some clues. Fencible regiments “were different in constitution from the militia, afterwards substituted, as the men were regularly enlisted, and the commissions of the officers signed by the King.”[3] Although raised at time of war, the fencibles did not serve outside of Scotland itself; rather, “[t]hey formed a splendid army of reserve”.[4] The Western Fencible Regiment in which M’Alister served was raised in 1778 by members of the (Campbell of) Argyll family. The majority of its men were recruited from Argyll and the surrounding Highland areas, and leadership of the regiment was overwhelmingly Campbell. Although it is possible that M’Alister might be one of the minority recruited from the southwest Lowlands, the fact that he was an officer, in a regiment whose officers were almost entirely Argyllsmen, suggests that he belonged to one of the West Highland Macalister families who were tenants of the Duke of Argyll.

The soldiers on trial pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Their defence makes clear how much still separated Highlanders from Lowlanders in the late 18th century. Two of the men, a native of Argyllshire and another of western Invernesshire, spoke no English; the third, from Caithness, could get by in broken English but was certainly not fluent. Furthermore, all three were accustomed to wearing the fillibeg and uncomfortable in Lowland garb. They had enlisted willingly, but each had specifically chosen a Highland regiment, where their own language was spoken and they were allowed to wear the clothes they had always worn.

Upon arriving at Leith in April, however, they were told that they were now to serve under English-speaking officers in regiments that required Lowland dress. This was more than an inconvenience. A “great number of the detachment” protested that they were “incapable of wearing breeches as part of their dress”[5], and for some of them it would have been impossible to understand orders given in English, let alone follow them adequately. It was certainly not what they had signed up for.

It is hard to imagine that M’Alister and his colleagues (more than half of whom belonged to regiments that drew men from the Gaidhealtachd and wore Highland dress) were unsympathetic. Until the sudden change of regiment, all of the accused had behaved impeccably, and they all indicated that they were happy to serve in any other Highland unit. The change of orders had not been clearly explained to them, nor were they told that they could appeal. Furthermore, several witnesses testified that they did not know whether the first shot in the altercation had been fired by the rebels or by the South Fencibles who had been sent to deal with them.[6] Nonetheless, the behaviour of these soldiers and their comrades violated several of the articles of war, and the court had no choice but to declare them guilty and sentence them to death.

Probably to everyone’s relief, this story ended happily. Right before the condemned were to be shot, a message arrived from the king; in light of their previous good behaviour, a full pardon was granted and the prisoners were released to return to their units.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (May, 1779), p. 271.

[2] Hastings, The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 176.

[3] Peter Handyside MacKerlie, An Account of the Scottish Regiments with Statistics of Each, from 1808 to March 1861, Compiled from the old regimental record books, and monthly returns of each regiment, now rendered to the war department (Edinburgh, 1862), p. 45.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (May, 1779), p. 272.

[6]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (June, 1779), pp. 305-6.

Eight Days in Abu Ghraib

On this day in 2003, British journalist Matthew McAllester, in Iraq to cover the war for Newsday, was arrested in Baghdad along with his colleague, Peruvian-born photographer Moises Saman. It was the beginning of a difficult, and still unexplained, eight-day ordeal.

McAllester and Saman were taken from their hotel in handcuffs along with two other photographers, Molly Bingham (an American) and Johann Spanner (a Dane). No explanation was given for their arrest. At first, the prisoners were told they would be taken to Syria, but instead they were taken to Abu Ghraib prison, where they were held in separate cells and unable to talk to each other. “We thought we were going to be killed at any moment,” McAllester told his own paper later.[1]

In fact, they had good reason to be afraid. Abu Ghraib was “the biggest, most feared prison in Iraq, perhaps the Middle East”.[2] It was known as a place into which men disappeared for decades, if they ever came out at all; where prisoners were tortured and executed “without recourse to any normal concept of law”.[3] Indeed, from his cell McAllester could hear people being beaten and tortured in the room next to his. Living conditions were difficult, food minimal, and — with their cells flooded with light, and the noise of bombs falling near the prison and anti-aircraft missiles being shot from within nearly constant — sleep hard to get. And yet, although they were interrogated for several days and pressured to admit that they had been sent by the CIA, none of them were tortured. “It wasn’t much fun,” McAllester told CNN after his release, “but we were not physically hurt.”[4]

While Matt McAllester and his colleagues languished in Abu Ghraib, a remarkable assortment of people were working for their release. Moises Saman’s grandfather was a Palestinian, and he still had family living on the West Bank. Those relatives appealed to the PLO to intervene.[5] According to a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat himself got involved[6], sending a former Palestinian ambassador to speak with the head of Iraqi military intelligence. Also working for the group’s release were the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Red Cross, the Vatican, and even Mohammed Aldouri, Iraqi ambassador to the UN, who “expressed his concern about the situation and his desire to help.”[7] 

Eight days after they were arrested, again with no explanation, the prisoners were given their clothes and possessions, driven to the Jordanian border and set free.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014


[1]Missing Journalists Safe in Jordan, CNN on line (1 April 2003).

[2]Matthew McAllester, “Eight Days In an Iraqi Prison“, L. A. Times (April 23, 2003), chapter 2, p. 3. (The first ever Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism was awarded to McAllester and Saman for this article. McAllester also wrote about his experiences, and about life for the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, in the book Blinded by Sunlight: Emerging from the Prison of Saddam’s Iraq.)

[3]Washington Post Book World review, (quoted here). Later, of course, it became known in the west as the place where a group of American soldiers tormented their own prisoners.

[4]“Missing Journalists. . . .” 

[5]Bart Jones,Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman freed with help from Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, Newsday (April 2, 2003).

[6]Rome Neal, “Joy for Journalists’ Families“, CBS News on line (31 March 2003). 

[7]“Missing Journalists. . . .”

Sic Transit Gloria

On this day in 1640, Sir William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling, died in London, bankrupt.[1]

Sir William belonged to the Menstrie family, whose exact origins are unclear but who have always been recognised as a branch of the Clann Alasdair (the Macalisters). He was to be the most prominent of that family. He was well educated, a noted poet and a close friend of the Earl of Argyll, who introduced him to King James VI. The king also became a friend, and Sir William followed him to London in 1603. He was tutor to both of James’s crown princes, collaborated with the king on a version of the Psalms of David[2], and held numerous important posts under both James and his son, Charles I, including Secretary of Scotland. In 1621, James gave him an extensive land grant in North America, and Sir William set about establishing a colony there, which he called New Scotland. Today it is the province of Nova Scotia.

Sir William’s close association with the royal family continued throughout his life, but in the reign of Charles I his fortunes began to change. Articles of peace signed in 1629 to end a war with France ultimately involved the return to France of the lands on which New Scotland had been established. Sir William’s personal fortune had been significantly reduced in the effort to establish the colony and promised compensation never materialised. Although he spent the rest of his life trying to restore the family’s wealth, he was never able to do so. (Even if he’d managed, political changes were brewing in Scotland and England that would sweep his royal patron from the throne and would probably have left his family ruined.) Added to financial disaster was personal loss: his two eldest sons died within a year of each other.[3]

Sir William’s final years are described by Rev. Slafter in his memoir of the earl:

The disappointments which he had met in his colonial undertakings, the melancholy aspect of the civil affairs of the nation, especially the dark and menacing cloud that hung over his native Scotland, . . . the sudden death of his eldest son, in whom were wrapt up his chief hopes for maintaining the distinction of the family for which he had assiduously labored so many years, the financial embarrassments that had been gradually accumulating, and were now overwhelming his private fortune, all these burdens . . . were more than he could well sustain.[4] 

Sir William Alexander’s body was taken home to Scotland, where he was buried in the Grey Friars’ Church in Stirling.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014


[1]The date is debated, but most reputable sources agree it was in February and this seems to be the generally accepted date.
[2]This version of the Psalms later formed a part of the prayer book that Charles attempted to impose on Scotland, sparking the Bishop’s wars (Edmund F Slafter, Sir William Alexander and American Colonization. . . . [Boston: the Prince Society, 1873], pp. 14-5).
[3]The third son, Robert, had already died.
[4]Slafter, pp. 100-101

Commissioner of Supply

On this day in 1667 an Act of Parliament named commissioners of supply for each county in Scotland. David Moody describes the commissioners as “a committee of wealthy landowners” whose primary task was the valuation of property and the collection of the cess, or land tax, based on these valuations.[1] In conjunction with the office of Justice of the Peace, the appointment of commissioners of supply marked the beginning of formal local government in Scotland.[2] Among those named for the county of Argyll in 1667 is “Ronald Mcalaster, captane of Tarbert”.[3]

Commissioners of supply were first created in the mid 1600s, and according to Gordon Donaldson, it was not long before “the potentialities of the commissioners for purposes other than raising money were realised”.[4] Over time their duties expanded into areas unrelated to taxation or land value. In 1669, for instance, they were made responsible for the building and maintenance of roads and bridges; in 1696 they were empowered to enforce the Education Act. Their role continued to grow through the 18th century and into the 19th. By the 1850s, however, elected officials were assuming many of their functions, and with the establishment in 1889 of county councils, the commissioners’ role had become redundant. The position was abolished in the early 1900s.

The inclusion in this list of Ronald of Tarbert suggests that, although the Clan Alasdair didn’t rampage through history quite as conspicuously as the Campbells, Macdonalds and Macleans, they were nonetheless men of considerable standing in Argyll. It is therefore interesting to note that the primary branch of the clan, Macalister of Loup, is missing. I suspect, although it is just a guess, that in 1667 the clan was between chiefs. Hector Macalister of Loup last appears in Parliamentary records in the year 1661; I believe he is also the Macalister of Loup named Justice of the Peace in 1663. After that the family disappears until 1669, by which point Godfrey Macalister had succeeded his father as chief.  


[1] David Moody, Scottish Local History: An Introductory Guide (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986) p. 60.
[2] ibid., p. 50
[3] RPS, 1667/1/10
[4] Donaldson, Scotland, p. 399

Macalisters, Campbells, Lamonts – oh my!

On this day in 1661, Ronald Macalister of Tarbert and John Dow Macalister of Glenakill submitted to the arbitration of several men, chosen by Tarbert to judge between them. They agree in this document to refer “all their differences and Claims” from that point on to be decided by the men so named.[1] It is interesting, although perhaps not surprising considering Tarbert’s connexion to the Argyll family, that all of the men named as arbitrators are Campbells.

The document recording this decreet, or legal agreement, appears in the Inventory of Lamont Papers (1231-1887), which was published by the Scottish Record Society in 1914 and is now available on line. The Inventory was compiled from papers held by the Lamont family of Inveryne in the Isle of Bute. The Lamonts were frequently involved with the Kintyre Macalisters, and various members of our clan appear in charters and other documents listed in the Inventory.

Because the relevant documents often specify how these Macalisters were related to one another and to the Lamonts, the Inventory is quite useful to anyone interested in the genealogy of leading Macalisters. It tells us, for example, that although he more often appears in the company of Tarbert, Macalister of Glenakill was in fact the “brother German to Gorrie M’Alister of Loup”[2], so here we have representatives of the two primary Clan Alasdair families. What connects them is that John Dow was married (or would soon be married) to Ronald’s first cousin, Barbara Lamond. The connection of these three families can be seen again the following year (12 May 1662), when the marriage contract of Barbara’s sister Mary was made “with Consent of Ronald M’Alister of Tarbert and John M’Alister of Glenakill her friends”.[3]

The nature of the differences between Ronald and John Dow is not indicated in the decreet recorded 7 December 1661, but apparently the arbitration arrangement resolved the conflict as no more is heard of it.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Lamont Papers, Inveryne Inventory, Shuttle 3rd, Bundle 5th, no. 802 (p. 243)
[2]Ibid., Shuttle 4th, Bundle 2nd, no. 844 (p. 253). ‘German’ in this case has nothing to do with nationality; it is used in historical documents and genealogy to mean full-blood: they share both parents.
[3]Ibid., no. 809 (p. 245)

A McAlister Governor (or, the Right Man for the Job)

On this day in 1959, Harry Hill McAlister died at the age of 84. McAlister, who was born in Nashville in 1875, served as Tennessee’s governor from 1933 to 1937. He began his political career as the city attorney for Nashville, and in the 1920s he served as state treasurer before being elected for two terms in the state senate. During this decade, he warned repeatedly that the state was facing a financial crisis – and this was before the stock market crashed in 1929. 

When Governor McAlister took office, the country was in the grips of the Great Depression and Tennessee had an operating deficit of $6 million. Many banks and businesses had failed. McAlister sharply cut back expenditures, reducing state spending by $7 million, and worked to restore trust in the banks. In his first term, he managed to balance the state budget.[1] He also worked closely with the federal government to implement many of Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes in Tennessee,  putting people back to work and developing the state’s infrastructure. In 1934, he was reelected by a significant majority.

During his second term, Governor McAlister fell out with Ed H. Crump, a Memphis political ‘boss’ who had been his primary supporter to that point. The former allies disagreed on the repeal of prohibition (McAlister was reluctant to follow the federal government’s example and overturn the law) and on a sales tax that the governor hoped to introduce as a means of reducing debt and helping underfunded public schools. Crump’s associates in the state legislature defeated the sales tax, and with Crump now in opposition, McAlister decided not to run for a third term.[2] He retired from political life after only four years as governor. But he had accomplished a lot in those four years. McAlister had managed to turn Tennessee’s disastrous finances around, and he left the state in better shape economically than it had been in when he took office – no small feat in the midst of the century’s worst economic crisis.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1] Pierce, Dan, “Hill McAlister”, in Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, accessed 29 October 2013.
[2] National Governors Association, Tennessee Governor Harry Hill McAlister, accessed 29 October 2013.

Macalisters in the Second Anglo-Boer War

On this day in 1899, the second Anglo-Boer War began. This war was the culmination of nearly a century of conflict between the British settlers and colonial authorities in South Africa and the Boers, descendants of Dutch traders established there for centuries. Many Macalisters fought for the empire.

Tensions in South Africa had worsened considerably since the end of the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1). The Boers felt increasingly insecure in their two nominally self-governing republics. They objected to the sudden influx of ‘uitlanders’ (non-Boer settlers) that followed the discovery of gold in Transvaal (one of the Boer republics), and recent movements of British troops appeared sinister to many of them[1], especially in light of an attempted 1895 coup by Cecil Rhodes. On its part, in an era of competing empires the British government was nervous about attempts by Germans in the southwest of Africa to link up with the Boer republics[2] — particularly with potential profits from the Transvaal mines up for grabs.

An ultimatum was presented to the British government on the 9th of October listing the demands of the Boers; the British government, to whom the demands seemed very much like a declaration of independence, replied that “the conditions demanded by the Government of the South African Republic are such that Her Majesty’s Government deem it impossible to discuss”.[3] To the Boers, this refusal amounted to a declaration of war.  

Ultimately, the result of the war that began on this day was a united South Africa under British rule. But things got pretty nasty before then. The Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare, for which imperial forces were ill prepared, and quickly inflicted several defeats which stunned the British public. In return, British authorities undertook a scorched-earth policy that destroyed Boer farms and sent thousands of displaced civilians (mostly women and children) to concentration camps, where epidemics wiped many of them out. These tactics cut Boer forces off from needed supplies, and the widespread suffering that resulted eventually brought the Boers to negotiation.

However, the immediate result of Britain’s rejection of Boer demands was a Boer offensive on Natal, one of the areas under British control.[4] Before long, imperial forces from Britain and several colonies were headed for South Africa. Even with limited access to South African records, I have found nearly 100 Macalisters (of various spellings) among them. This number included Charles Godfrey Somerville McAlester, the future clan chief, who was captain of the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.[5]  Two McAllisters, both named William (but with different service numbers), arrived from Australia with the Army Medical Corps, and there were several of the name from New Zealand and Canada. Others of this clan fought with imperial units from Britain, Ireland, and British South Africa itself.

Macalisters were among the early casualties as well. Lance Corporal A McAllister of the Scots Guard was wounded in November, and Private D McAllister of the Highland Light Infantry was wounded 11 December; Private J McAllister and Private P McAllister of the Royal Irish Rifles were the first of quite a few of this name to be taken prisoner when they were captured on 10 December.  (Their fate is unclear, although most of the Macalisters captured during this war appear to have been released.) Over the course of the three-year war, nearly twenty Macalisters were wounded, five of them fatally: Trooper Angus Ian Macalister (Imperial Yeomanry), Private A McAllister (Liverpool Regiment), Private J McAllister (Royal Irish Rifles), Private W McAllister and Private J McCallister (both of the Cameronians, or Scottish Rifles). Additionally at least one, Corporal Arthur McAllister of the Imperial Yeomanry, died in an accident, at Standerton in September 1901. Less gloriously, Trooper H McAllister of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry was discharged for misconduct on the 8th of December 1899.[6]

The second Anglo-Boer War ended on 31 May 1902 with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Hugh Williams & Frederick Charles Hicks, eds., Selected Official Documents of the South African Republic and Great Britain: A documentary perspective of the causes of the war in South Africa, 1900 (available on line at Project Gutenberg and the Anglo Boer War website), preface.  
[2] The Boer Wars; see Lawrence James, Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York, 1994), pp. 263-5.
[4]The Transvaal‘, the Guardian, 13 October 1899
[5] War Service of Officers, 1905. In addition, W Macalister Hall, 4th regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and E J McAllister, Army Service Corps, were captains of their units.
[6]Most of this information is taken from the Anglo Boer War website, which is an excellent source of information about this conflict, and UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902 at Ancestry.com.

A Bond of Manrent

On this day in 1591, John Dùbh Macalister, son of Ranald Mòr, entered into a bond of manrent with John, Lord Hamilton, in Arran. Macalister pledged himself, his sons, and his foster son Archibald (whose father was Angus Macdonald of Dunyvaig) to assist the captain of Arran and to be his obedient servants, in return for Hamilton’s protection.[1]

Bonds of manrent were very common in 15th and 16th century Scotland. Sometimes the parties to a bond were clearly a lord and a lesser man, but in other cases the bonds were made between equals. The reasons behind them varied and are not always obvious. Unlike contemporary bonds in England and Europe, few of the bonds that survive in Scotland from this period include any mention of fealty or homage. The Scottish bonds also do not usually feature an exchange of land (from the lord) for loyalty and service (from the lesser party).[2] Instead, Scottish bonds of manrent in this period reflect a personal rather than a commercial exchange.

The reason behind John Dùbh’s bond is probably fairly obvious: As the Reverends MacDonald point out, Macalisters living in Arran “occupied the position of a stranger sept, and such a bond was needful in a region where the heads of the House of Hamilton were Lords of the soil.”[3] After centuries of raiding from Kintyre, Macalisters had begun to settle in Arran in the early 1500s. They seem to have allied themselves to the Hamiltons almost from the beginning – one writer describes the Macalister family that settled in Shishkine in 1563 as the Hamiltons’ “henchmen”[4], and when Lord Hamilton appeared before James VI in 1585, one of the men in his retinue was a Walter MacAlester. But they were clearly not welcomed by everyone: In 1572, while the Hamiltons were forfeited, the Earl of Argyll promised John Stewart (the Sheriff of Bute, who had claimed the Hamiltons’ lands) that he would “prevent any pretended claim to the lands by highland men such as the Macdonalds and Macalastairs”.[5] And Macalisters from Kintyre and Knapdale were still occasionally raiding in Arran in the early 1600s. This fact no doubt made life somewhat difficult for those of the clan who wished to live there peacefully. For those who chose to do so, entering a bond like the one between the Macalisters and Lord Hamilton provided security that their own chiefs (be they Macalister of Loup or Macdonald of Dunyvaig) could not provide from Kintyre.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Fraser-Mackintosh, p. 35; Wormald, Lords and Men, p. 314. Without further evidence, we can only speculate about John Dùbh’s identity, but the fact that he was chosen to foster the son of Angus Macdonald suggests he was a man of some importance. The Dunyvaig connexion could also indicate a link to the Loup family, though of course it might not.

[2]Wormald, ibid., pp. 23-24

[3]MacDonald & MacDonald, vol. 2, p. 44
[4]Mackenzie, Book of Arran, p. 87
[5]Wormald, ibid., pp. 187-8