Archibald of Tarbert

On this day in 1737 was registered the testament of Archibald Macalister, 7th laird and 4th Captain of Tarbert. Archibald had lived a relatively long life in eventful times. Though probably born after the civil wars of the 1640s had ended, he nonetheless grew up in the wake of devastation they left on Kintyre. His early childhood was spent under the Commonealth, surrounded by people who were probably still angered, and perhaps still shocked, by the loss of their autonomy and the death of their king.[1] On top of that, the war had taken on a very local hue in Kintyre, becoming the latest, and possibly the most destructive, battle in the ongoing feud between the Macdonalds (with their allies) and the Campbells (with theirs). Each group in turn had committed acts that would now be considered atrocities, and yet they continued to live side by side; suspicion and hard feeling must have persisted.

The Tarbert family seems to have done well after the wars. Archibald’s father held local appointments under Charles II in the 1670s and maintained the official position of Captain of Tarbert under the Campbells of Argyll. However, 1685 – the year in which Archibald succeeded his father as captain – was a turning point. At the death of King Charles, the Earl of Argyll joined in a rebellion against the newly crowned – and Catholic – James VII; the rebellion failed, the earl was executed, and his family lost its possessions in Kintyre.[2] The Macdonalds and their allies, seeing an opportunity to avenge the wrongs done them in the wars of the previous generation, ran amok over what had been Campbell territories. Archibald did his part, raiding Campbell strongholds with his friends. Based on the number of things they stole, it’s possible that Archibald joined in the destruction more as an opportunist than out of any real grievance against the Argyll family. On the other hand, more than one observer has pointed out that loyalty to the Stuart kings and opposition to the Argyll family were essentially the same thing in seventeenth-century Kintyre. Certainly when King James was ousted four years later, Archibald became an early and enthusiastic Jacobite, apparently remaining so all his life.

In 1689 Archibald joined in the first of the Jacobite risings. On the 16th of May, along with Macalister of Loup and MacDonald of Largie, he took part in the last battle fought in Kintyre, the Battle of Loup Hill. The Jacobites were routed, however, and Archibald fled to Ireland. He took no part in the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie in July, and the death in that battle of Viscount Dundee effectively ending the rising. William and Mary remained on the throne and Argyll’s son was restored to all his father’s titles and possessions, including the Tarbert properties. Archibald returned to submit to the new government in September. 

After this, he seems to have lived at peace with both his Campbell overlord and the new administration. He appears in a legal capacity as executor of the testament of John Macalister of Balinakill in 1693, and purchases the Balinakill property from another Campbell family five years later. In 1704, he is on record as a Commissioner of Supply for Argyllshire, suggesting that he was trusted by the authorities – at least with their money![3] In 1705, in one of its final acts before ceasing to exist, the Scottish parliament granted Archibald the right to establish a quarterly fair and weekly market in East Tarbert – events that continued for centuries. 

But the records hint that Archibald’s Jacobite sympathies remained. A list made in 1715 of the heritors of Argyll marked him as one of those believed to have signed an address of welcome to James VIII (‘the Old Pretender’), whose invasion was imminent. Of the 19 named heritors in the Argyll division, only six are so marked, two of them Macalisters. Not long after this, a list was sent to King George of those Argyll landlords he could rely upon for support; Archibald’s name is noticeably missing. It appears that despite his family’s longstanding connection to the Argyll family, Archibald’s loyalties lay entirely with the exiled Stuarts. Perhaps he even anticipated that another opportunity would arise to fight for his king. As it was, he died eight years too soon.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011


[1] Even Charles’s enemies in Scotland, including the Marquess of Argyll, had been appalled by his execution. The Covenanters, led by Argyll, had sought to limit the king’s powers, especially over the kirk, but they had never questioned his right to rule. When the English Parliament tried and executed Charles for treason, they killed not only their own king, but also the king of Scotland, a separate nation in which he had been neither tried nor convicted of any crime. It didn’t go over very well in Scotland.
[2] Tarbert castle and its lands reverted to the Crown, which left the Macalisters in place as Captains of Tarbert. However, the Tarbert family ceased to live in the castle at about this time. According to Dr Paul Hopkins, Tarbert, along with most of the area’s other castles, had been dismantled in the wake of Argyll’s 1685 rebellion; other sources say that it had simply fallen into disrepair, but whatever the reason, the Macalisters built themselves a new home nearby.
[3] Commissioners of Supply were local men appointed to collect various special assessments when these were felt necessary by the government. These assessments sometimes related to the costs of wars, other times to necessary infrastructure improvements or other temporary needs.
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