A Letter to Argyll

The Scottish parliamentary register for this day in 1689 records an interesting incident in which Alexander Macalister of Loup was involved. A French ship had arrived in Kintyre from Ireland, and Loup along with Angus Campbell of Kilberry had “secured and detained” the vessel and its passengers. These West Highland lairds then wrote to the Earl of Argyll asking him what they should do.[1]

Loup and Kilberry are described in Parliament’s response as ‘the searchers’, which suggests that they may have been told to watch for unusual arrivals from Ireland. This is not unlikely. Less than six months had passed since the Glorious Revolution installed the Protestant William of Orange on the throne in London. An attempt by James VII to retake his kingdom, if it was to be made, would come from Ireland (where the ousted king was gathering his forces), and its success would depend heavily on help from Catholic France. A French ship arriving from Ireland was therefore not a welcome development at all, and Parliament responded quickly to the letter from Kintyre. Loup and Kilberry were authorised to bring both the ship and its passengers to Glasgow, enlisting the help of as many people as necessary to sail the ship and guard the prisoners, and to use whatever was carried in the ship to cover any expenses incurred. It was decreed that “the thanks of the estates be returned to the searchers for their diligence”.[2]

What makes this event particularly interesting for Macalisters is that in November 1688 – about the time William of Orange was landing in England – Alexander of Loup was among the Kintyre lairds who had signed an address of loyalty to King James. Yet here he is only five months later, apparently helping Argyll to prevent James’s return. In fact, Loup’s behaviour makes perfect sense in context. In an interesting article of 1991, Paul Hopkins suggested that the men who signed November’s address to King James were probably less concerned about who sat on the throne in faraway London than about its local repercussions. Specifically, they feared that if James were ousted, the Argyll family (whose extensive lands and enormous power had been taken from them after the 1685 rebellion) would rise again.[3] By March of 1689 those fears had proven justified; those who wished to survive in Kintyre were wise to remain on Argyll’s good side.

But Hopkins also noted that although the “non-Campbell clans” of Kintyre consistently served the House of Argyll when it was too powerful to resist, they were quick to rebel when the opportunity arose. Indeed, only two months after being thanked by Parliament for his diligence in defending the kingdom against the Catholic threat, Loup was in arms against both Argyll and the new king, fighting for James VII in the first of the Jacobite risings.

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Records of the Parliaments of Scotland: 14 March 1689 (NAS. PA2/33, f.83v-84). 
[2]RPS: 14 March 168 (NAS. PA2/33, f.84).  
[3]Paul Hopkins, “Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First ‘Battle’ of Dundee’s Jacobite War”, Kintyre Magazine, Issue 29 (Spring 1991).
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