A Bond of Manrent

On this day in 1591, John Dùbh Macalister, son of Ranald Mòr, entered into a bond of manrent with John, Lord Hamilton, in Arran. Macalister pledged himself, his sons, and his foster son Archibald (whose father was Angus Macdonald of Dunyvaig) to assist the captain of Arran and to be his obedient servants, in return for Hamilton’s protection.[1]

Bonds of manrent were very common in 15th and 16th century Scotland. Sometimes the parties to a bond were clearly a lord and a lesser man, but in other cases the bonds were made between equals. The reasons behind them varied and are not always obvious. Unlike contemporary bonds in England and Europe, few of the bonds that survive in Scotland from this period include any mention of fealty or homage. The Scottish bonds also do not usually feature an exchange of land (from the lord) for loyalty and service (from the lesser party).[2] Instead, Scottish bonds of manrent in this period reflect a personal rather than a commercial exchange.

The reason behind John Dùbh’s bond is probably fairly obvious: As the Reverends MacDonald point out, Macalisters living in Arran “occupied the position of a stranger sept, and such a bond was needful in a region where the heads of the House of Hamilton were Lords of the soil.”[3] After centuries of raiding from Kintyre, Macalisters had begun to settle in Arran in the early 1500s. They seem to have allied themselves to the Hamiltons almost from the beginning – one writer describes the Macalister family that settled in Shishkine in 1563 as the Hamiltons’ “henchmen”[4], and when Lord Hamilton appeared before James VI in 1585, one of the men in his retinue was a Walter MacAlester. But they were clearly not welcomed by everyone: In 1572, while the Hamiltons were forfeited, the Earl of Argyll promised John Stewart (the Sheriff of Bute, who had claimed the Hamiltons’ lands) that he would “prevent any pretended claim to the lands by highland men such as the Macdonalds and Macalastairs”.[5] And Macalisters from Kintyre and Knapdale were still occasionally raiding in Arran in the early 1600s. This fact no doubt made life somewhat difficult for those of the clan who wished to live there peacefully. For those who chose to do so, entering a bond like the one between the Macalisters and Lord Hamilton provided security that their own chiefs (be they Macalister of Loup or Macdonald of Dunyvaig) could not provide from Kintyre.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Fraser-Mackintosh, p. 35; Wormald, Lords and Men, p. 314. Without further evidence, we can only speculate about John Dùbh’s identity, but the fact that he was chosen to foster the son of Angus Macdonald suggests he was a man of some importance. The Dunyvaig connexion could also indicate a link to the Loup family, though of course it might not.

[2]Wormald, ibid., pp. 23-24

[3]MacDonald & MacDonald, vol. 2, p. 44
[4]Mackenzie, Book of Arran, p. 87
[5]Wormald, ibid., pp. 187-8
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