Jail-break!

On this day in 1669, the magistrates of Rothesay in the Isle of Bute passed an act banishing the town’s jailor for having allowed the Laird of Loup (at this time it would have been Godfrey McAlester, 7th of Loup) to escape from the tolbooth, where he had been imprisoned. According to the council records, “a great body of armed Highlanders arrived privately in the night-time, attacked the magistrates, broke open the prison, and rescued the prisoner”.[1]

The nature of Loup’s crime is unspecified. Unlike some of his neighbours – or indeed some of his relatives – Godfrey does not appear to have been much of a troublemaker. Various Macalisters continued to raid in Arran and Bute at this time, but if Loup had been guilty of raiding, one would expect local anger; instead, some of the town’s inhabitants, when summoned to assist the magistrates, “wilfully absented themselves”. Perhaps his imprisonment was connected to a debt he’d inherited from his father – a debt for which he’d been put to the horn by the Court of Session five years earlier, with letters of arrestment issued to the creditor, and which was still outstanding at this time.[2]

Whatever McAlester had done, the magistrates held the jailor particularly responsible for his escape. To be fair, it seems likely that the jailor had little choice when confronted by an armed mob, especially if those summoned to help neglected to appear (and the magistrates were none too pleased with the unresponsive townsfolk, either). In any case, when the “great body of armed Highlanders” arrived to spring the Laird of Loup from the Rothesay Tolbooth, those charged with keeping him there do not seem to have put up much of a fight. 

McAlester appears to have remained at liberty after this, appearing in a number of local records over the next few years before his name first appears in Parliamentary records, in 1678. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Extracts from Council Records, in Reid, History of the County of Bute . . . , p. 110.

[2]Morison, Decisions of the Court of Session, case 15821. In fact, the debt was not paid off until 1711, by which time it had passed to Godfrey’s own son, Alexander, 8th of Loup.

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