Mistaken Identity

On this day in 1661, Hector Mcalaster of Loup is named for the last time in parliamentary records.[1] In an Act of Parliament written on this day, he is one of the Argyllshire men that Charles II “appoints and ordains . . . . to be commissioners . . . for regulating, ordering and uplifting” of an excise voted to him by parliament. This sort of special tax was raised on occasion for various reasons, and on the surface the only thing it tells us about the Macalister chief is that he was, at this time, viewed as a reliable citizen. 

In fact, however, its significance is greater. Many respected and otherwise reliable historians claim that Hector of Loup was hanged with his sons shortly after the 1647 massacre at Dunaverty. At first glance, this is not an unreasonable assumption, since Loup like his clan had sided with Alasdair MacColla (who was probably also his son-in-law). It would make sense for someone who opposed Argyll and the forces of General Leslie to have shared the fate of several hundred at Dunaverty Castle and forfeited his life. However, Captain Ian MacDonald, who has made a close study of the branches of Clan Donald in Kintyre, including the Macalisters, states emphatically that this was in fact Hector McAlester of Glenlussa.[2] The compilers of Burke’s Peerage agree with him. Andrew McKerral wasn’t willing to name Glenlussa, but he points out that there were several Hector Macalisters in Kintyre at this time, and that “Hector of Loup . . . was alive and an elder in 1649. [The Hector who was hanged] is more likely to have been one of the others.”[3]

So where did the idea come from that it was Loup who was hanged after Dunaverty? It appears that many writers may have taken at face value the testimony given by MacDougall of MacDougall at the trial of the Marquess of Argyll.[4] MacDougall claimed that the MacAlister chief had surrendered to Argyll and was allowed to go home, only to be dragged from his home and hanged anyway. At least the first half of this might well be true: Although he was in Edinburgh at the time and admitted his information was obtained second-hand, a French ambassador reported in a letter home that two clan chiefs – he specifically named Macalister – had come to Argyll the night before the siege of Dunaverty and, hoping to spare the lives and lands of themselves and their clans, had surrendered to him.

But MacDougall, who was an infant when he survived the massacre at Dunaverty (in which his father and scores of his clansmen were killed), was hardly an impartial witness, and other aspects of his testimony were flatly contradicted by witnesses who were old enough at the time to actually remember these events. Believing the worst of Argyll, perhaps he naturally assumed that the Hector hanged after the massacre was the same Hector, and that it was merely further proof of Argyll’s duplicity that he would hang someone who had already surrendered. 

Hector Macalister’s appointment as commissioner on New Year’s Day 1661 thus has
significance in that it proves he was still very much alive.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] I believe the Macalister of Loup named in 1663 is also Hector but the first name is not given. He is dead by 1665, when his son Godfrey is styled ‘of Loup’ in his brother’s marriage contract, although Godfrey is not named in Parliamentary records until 1678.
[2] Glenlussa was the ancestor of the later Kingsburgh, Strathaird and Glenbarr families.
[3] A. McKerral, Kintyre in the 17th Century, p. 56.
[4] Argyll was tried for treason in 1661; found guilty on what were, to be fair, partially trumped-up charges, he was executed.
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