A Letter to the King of France (or, the Mysterious Donald of Islay)

On this day in 1309, a letter to the king of France was composed by the ‘magnates of Scotland’ who had met at St. Andrews to form Robert I’s first parliament.[1] Though parts of the letter are now illegible, it seems that King Philip IV intended to go on a crusade and had asked for Scotland’s involvement. Those named in the letter acknowledge the special relationship Scotland shares with France and promise that, should the current disorders in Scotland end and peace be established, King Robert and his followers will support Philip’s plans in any way they can.

Of particular significance to Macalisters is the presence at this parliament of Donald of Islay. Donald was the eldest son of Alasdair Mòr, the founder of our clan, and a grandson of the Donald who gave his name to the Clan Donald. Based on English records of 1315, in which John (MacDugall) of Argyll is ordered to take Donald (among others) into the peace of the English king, Clan Donald historians traditionally have held that Donald opposed Robert Bruce.[2] Donald’s presence at this parliament does not necessarily disprove this: At least one of the attendees, Alexander (MacDugall) de Argyll, was there under duress and certainly was not a supporter of the Bruce family. However, McNamee says that Edward Bruce attended his brother’s parliament ‘with Donald of Islay’, whom he describes as Edward’s ally.[3] The Lanercost Chronicle and Scotichronicon name ‘Donald who came from Islay’ as having fought with Edward Bruce both in Ireland and in his Galloway campaign – in fact, the various mediaeval chronicles mention only three of Bruce’s Highland supporters by name, and one of them is Donald of Islay.[4]

Aside from his association with Edward Bruce and his presence at Robert’s first parliament, we know almost nothing about Donald. It appears he was the only Macdonald to attend this parliament, which suggests that he might have been there not only as a comrade of Edward Bruce but also as a representative of his cousin Angus Og, the Macdonald chief, who was among Robert I’s most consistent supporters. In any case, his name on the letter sent to King Philip IV this day in 1309 indicates that he was among the men whose position enabled them to speak for the entire kingdom.

Donald of Islay is on record again in 1315; he is listed among those who died with Edward Bruce at Faughart in 1318. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]Robert I (translation), 1309, 16 March, St. Andrews, Parliament: Letters: by the magnates of Scotland to Philip IV, king of France (www.rps.ac.uk)
[2]The order to take Donald into the English king’s peace had to be given twice, and there seems to be no evidence that it was any more successful the second time. It was part of a pre-invasion attempt by King Edward to neutralise the Highlands and Islands, where Bruce had found help during his flight from Scotland in 1306. Ironically,  it is also Macdonald tradition that names Donald son of Alasdair Mòr, supposedly Bruce’s opponent, as the one who  had helped Bruce escape at that time.
[3]C. McNamee, The Wars of the Bruces, pp. 44-5, 68 (note 37); 169.
[4]Bower, Scotichronicon, book XII, p. 345; Grant/Cheape, Periods in Highland History, p. 64.

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