Once Upon a Time in the West . . .

On this day in 1596, Godfrey MacAlister, 5th of Loup, is on record as witness to a letter of renunciation by Angus Macdonald of Dunyvaig in favour of his son, James.

After the Lord of the Isles was stripped of his power at the end of the 15th century, the government found it nearly impossible to maintain order in the western Highlands and Isles. The Highlands were still a tribal society, and in the absence of effective authority old feuds frequently flared up; a conflict between two chiefs or their clans could quickly involve everyone for miles, as neighbouring clans took sides. 

One of the ongoing feuds at this time in the southwestern Highlands was that between the Macleans and the Macdonalds of Dunyvaig, who had been fighting over the Rinns of Islay, off and on, for more than half a century. By 1587, when King James VI required the western chiefs (including Lachlan Maclean, Angus of Dunyvaig, and MacAlister of Loup) to subscribe to his General Band ‘for the quieting and keeping in obedience of the disordered subjects, inhabitants of the borders, highlands and isles’, so many clans had become involved in the Maclean-Dunyvaig war that, according to Kintyre historian Andrew McKerral, “[t]he whole of the West Highlands was set aflame.” The MacAlisters, who had been allied to the Dunyvaig family throughout the 1500s, were among the clans that sided with Macdonald.

By 1596, the government had had enough, and a military excursion to the Western Highlands was planned in hopes of suppressing the general lawlessness. As often happened, once they realised the king meant business all of the chiefs submitted to him . . . except Angus of Dunyvaig. The excursion was then aimed at Angus and his vassals alone. Angus’s son James, who had been a hostage in Edinburgh for years by this time and was well regarded by the government, was sent ahead to try to talk some sense into his father. Instead, the two of them conspired to protect the family’s landholdings and power base by turning all of Angus’s property over to James. It was the letter to this effect that Godfrey MacAlister witnessed on the 1st of October 1596.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

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