Feuds of 1539

In June of 1539, a complaint was made by the Earl of Argyll against Ranald Mòr MacAngus MacEwen Dùbh, who, according to Sir Alistair Campbell of Airds, with “thirty armed men ‘in silence of nycht in maner of murthure’, the previous month had . . . murdered Gillecallum MacIan Macneill” in a night raid.[1] This Ranald (son of Angus ‘Black John’ Macalister) was the younger brother of Alasdair MacAlasdair, 2nd of Loup, who was also involved. The Reverend A. Maclean Sinclair tells us:

[T]here was a feud between the Macalisters of Loup and the Macdonalds of Largie, on the one hand, and the Macneills on the other hand. Alexander Macalister of Loup and John and Archibald Macdonald of the Largie family slew Malcolm Macneill, John MacQuarrie, and others, while Donald Balloch Macneill and his accomplices slew Finlay Carach Mac Dunsleibhe, Ewen Mac Lachlan, and others — all followers of the Macalisters of Loup or the Macdonalds of Largie. The Macalisters and the Macdonalds seem to have been the aggressors.[2]

Somerled MacMillan reports that the reason behind this feud was Macneill’s decision to become a vassal of Argyll, a decision that “incurred great displeasure among the supporters of the Islay and Kintyre branches of the MacDonalds”.[3] On the surface, this seems plausible, particularly in light of the timing: This took place immediately after the Donald Gorm rising, yet another attempt by the Macdonalds to regain the Lordship of the Isles. But the Argyll family was out of favour for most of the reign of James V, while the head of the Clan Iain Mhòr, MacDonald of Dunyvaig, had been given much of Argyll’s authority in the southwestern Highlands and Islands. Anti-Campbell sentiment thus seems a less likely explanation in this instance than at some other times. One modern historian points out that this era was particularly noted for “repeated outbreaks of violence on various scales, from small numbers of victims being killed in minor scuffles to armed expeditions that were comprised of several score of fully-armed men who descended on their neighbours with the intention of killing people, burning property and driving off beasts”.[4] And Philip Smith writes that while the Donald Gorm revolt took place in the north, “there had been feuding between families related to the Clan Ian Mór in the south”.[5] So the raid on the Macneills might have been completely unconnected to either the Macneills’ relations with Argyll or the Clan Donald rising further north.

I’m not sure why Ranald Mòr was singled out for Argyll’s complaint in this case, but the Loup family were hardly strangers to such violence. Whereas the attack on the MacNeills is described by Campbell of Airds as “a small but bloody affray and one all too typical of the times”, another incident involving the Macalisters is on record for this month and seems to have been more significant, with Alasdair, Ranald, and 300 of their men arriving in Knapdale to raid in Kellislate and leaving behind considerable death and destruction. At this point, “William Champneys, Messenger-at-Arms, was sent to proclaim them rebels and was able to seize MacAlister of Loup.”[6] Unable to find surety for their appearance in court, the troublemakers were “put to the horn for the slaughter of certain MacNeills in Gigha”[7] until the following month, when James MacDonald of Dunyvaig, as chief of the Clan Donald South, stepped up:

Bond of Surety by James MacDonald of Dunnyveg. 1539. I James M’Connel be the tennor heirof becumis souertie to ane richt honorabill man Thomas Scot of Petgorno Justice Clerk for Alexander M’Alister of Loup, Archd. M’Charle and Johne M’zonil M’crannald Bayne that thai sall compeir befoir the justice or his deputtis the third day of the next justice aire of the schire quhair thai duel [dwell] or sounar upoun xv dayis warnying quhen & quhair it sal pleis the Kingis grace & lordis of counsale to underly the lawis of art & part of the slauchter of umqle Gillecallum m’nele Johnne M’Were and thair complices. At Edinr. the 31st July 1539.[8] 

On the 15th of August the following year, Loup and two others were granted remission for these crimes[9], and by 1541 both Alasdair and Ranald were back in the king’s good books, named as landholders in the Kintyre rental of that year. It is interesting to note, however, that when the king appointed a constable for Tarbert Castle, Alasdair of Loup – the head of his kindred – was passed over in favour of his brother Donald, who does not appear to have taken part in the raids of 1539.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2016

[1] Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell, vol. 2, pp. 23-4

[2] Rev. A. Maclean Sinclair, “The Macneills of Argyllshire”, The Celtic Review, vol. VI (July 1909 to April 1910): 60; Sinclair gives the date as 1538, but all other sources say 1539.

[3] S. MacMillan, Families of Knapdale, p. 23

[4] Campbell, vol. 2, p. 23

[5] Philip Smith, “On the Fringe and in the Middle: The MacDonalds of Antrim and the Isles, 1266-1586”, History Ireland (Spring 1994): 19. The Macalisters of Loup, the Macdonalds of Largie, and the Gigha Macneills were all followers of the Clan Iain Mhòr.

[6] Campbell, vol. 2, p. 24. It is possible that these two incidents are, in fact, separate reports of the same raid. The Macneills of Gigha also held lands in Knapdale, and although the Reverends MacDonald say the Macneill attack was in Gigha, Campbell places both in Knapdale (though he treats them as distinct events). It seems odd to me that all of the charges brought against Loup seem to specify his murder of Macneill when the description of the later raid suggests that attack, if separate, would have been more charge-worthy.

[7] A. MacDonald and A. MacDonald, The Clan Donald, vol. II, p. 527

[8] Ibid., p. 749; “M’crannald Bayne” was the patronymic of the Largie Macdonalds.

[9] Register of the Privy Council, series II, vol. II (a.d. 1529-1542), p. 538


Angus of Shiskine

On this day in 1563, a bond was signed at Brodick Castle between James Hamilton, Duke of Châtelherault, and Angus M’Rannald Moir M’Allister. As in most bonds, there is a grant of land (the ‘fourtie schilling aucht penny worth land of Kilpatrick and Drumgriner land within his gracis landis of Seskene [Shiskine], Ile and erldome of Arran’[1]), in return for which Macalister promises to be an obedient tenant and to make sure his own tenants are law-abiding and loyal. Noticeably missing, however, is any promise of service to Châtelherault. Dr Jenny Wormald concludes that ‘although no doubt in practice Angus Macallaster served Châtelherault in very much the same way as did those who made bonds of manrent in Arran, nevertheless their obligations and undertakings were different’.[2] Among Macalister’s obligations was a promise to assist the Duke in evicting any ‘rebellis and dissobeyaris’ from the island, leading W. M. Mackenzie to describe this Macalister as Châtelherault’s ‘henchman’.[3] Perhaps Angus’s role was similar to that of estate factor in later times.

This association with the Hamiltons might be connected to the fact that both groups were recent settlers in Arran. After years of making devastating raids against Arran and Bute in company with the Macdonalds, Macalisters had begun to settle in Arran by the early 1500s, about the same time that the Hamilton family began its rise to power there. Perhaps as newcomers the Macalisters were less reluctant than established families to enforce the Hamiltons’ unpopular decrees on their neighbours. Whatever the reason, the lands granted to Angus in Shiskine became closely associated with this clan. Although Allan Macinnes shows Arran as the territory of Macneill of Gigha & Taynish as late as the 1650s, by the time of the Revolution in 1689 it is Macalister territory.[4] Charles Robertson, speaking in 1936, said Macalister was the clan ‘longer associated with Shiskine than any other’ and recalled that

In my boyhood days the M’Alisters were the most numerous clan in Shiskine. They occupied positions of trust in our public bodies. In fact, they ruled us both temporally and spiritually. A M’Alister would take as naturally to a Kirk Session as a Kerr or Kelso from Lochranza, would take to the water.[5]

Despite Mr Robertson’s fears nearly a century ago that the name would soon disappear from Shiskine, there are still Macalisters living there today.

The identity of Angus M’Rannald Moir M’Allister is unclear, but the most likely reading of his name indicates that he was the son of someone known as Ranald Mòr and belonged to the Clann Alasdair. The fact that those living in Shiskine continued to use the name Macalister suggests that in this case it is in fact the family name rather than a changeable patronymic such as those being used at the time by Donald McAlester (MacDonald of Largie, whose father was Alexander mac Ranald Ban) and the chief of Clanranald (who appears in contemporary records as John Moirdearach Macalastair because of his descent from an Alexander in that family).

It seems reasonably certain that Angus belonged to the Loup family or one of its branches — most early Macalister landholders in Bute and Arran were members of the leading families of the clan. One possibility is that Angus descended from the first Macalister on record in Arran, Ranald Macalister (or Reginald MacAlexander) who died in 1458. This Ranald had held extensive lands in Arran, at one point including Lochranza Castle, but for the last twenty years of his life had managed not to pay any rent at all[6], which eventually led to the loss of his holdings. We don’t know for sure who Ranald was, but Mackenzie agrees that ‘he was probably astray from’ the Loup family.[7] Considering the years involved, however, it seems unlikely that Angus was this Ranald’s son. He might have been a grandson, but Reginald MacAlexander is nowhere referred to as Mòr, and if the term was added later to distinguish him from a son named Ranald, then Angus’s patronymic should be Mac Ranald Oig.

As far as I know, the only Loup family member on record as Ranald Mòr in the early 16th century was a younger brother of Alasdair of Loup; he is named in the Assedation and Rentals of Crown Lands in Kintyre in 1541 as holder of the Dewpin property.[8] My guess – and it is only a guess – is that Angus was a son of this Ranald Mòr. One problem with this theory is that neither of Ranald Mòr’s known sons was named Angus. However, at this point the younger children of landholders often did not merit notice by keepers of records, and there is no reason to think Ranald Mòr might not have had additional children.

Whoever Angus really was, unlike Donald of Langilwenach he did not later receive a more important grant elsewhere, and so it seems that he remained in Arran and established the clan there.[9]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] W. M. Mackenzie, The Book of Arran, vol. 2 (Glasgow, 1914), pp. 86-7.

[2] J. Wormald, Lords and Men in Scotland: Bonds of Manrent, 1442-1603 (Edinburgh, 1985), p. 58.

[3] Mackenzie, ibid., p. 87

[4] A. I. Macinnes, Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788 (East Linton, Scot., 1996), pp. 242, 244. This might reflect a Macneill forfeiture, as they were unequivocally Royalists during the Civil War – as opposed to Hector Macalister of Loup, who seems to have switched sides at least once and suffered little for his early allegiance to Alasdair MacColla.

[5] C. Robertson, “Clans of Shiskine Past and Present“, speech given 10 March 1936, Glasgow; printed by the Buteman, Ltd., no date given.

[6] Many of those whose lands were devastated by raiders from Kintyre were granted relief from their rents in especially bad years. Macalister however seems to have pushed this a bit too far!

[7] Mackenzie, p. 45

[8] Kintyre Rentals, 1505-1710, transcribed by Judge A. I. B. Stewart & Andrew McKerral, 1987; p. 10.

[9] There was also in Arran the Clan Alasdair Beag, whose connexion to the Loup family, if any, is unclear.

Donald of Langilwenach

On this day in 1506, ‘Donaldo Makalester’ is named among the numerous men in the Isle of Bute to whom the king gave new grants of lands they held there. The grant describes those named as hereditary tenants and tells us they have held their lands ‘ab antiquo’ (from ancient times).[1] Many of these men do indeed bear names like Stewart and Bannatyne that are strongly associated with Bute. Macalisters have also been described as one of the ‘old native families of Bute’[2], but it is likely that in Bute, as in Arran, Macalisters in the early sixteenth century were still better known as ‘cursed invaders from Kintyre’, having raided there for generations.

The lands that are granted to these men are to be held in feu-ferm. Feu-ferm was a type of feudal arrangement in which tenants agreed to pay a specified rent in cash to their superior – in this case, the king — in return for which they had the right to occupy the land for the rest of their lives and often to pass the property on to their ‘heirs male’ (sons or grandsons). Although the king mentions that these tenants held their lands by earlier grants, it is not clear what kind of arrangement existed previously. During the middle ages, land was more often held by ward-holding, whereby the property was granted to the vassal in return for military service, with rent being being paid in kind (i.e., with food, livestock, crops, etc.). This made perfect sense in a pre-cash society that was prone to conflict over land and limited resources. But times were changing, and the Scottish king was perpetually short of cash. In 1464, James III convinced Parliament to revoke the grants issued by his father, who had been ‘misled by certain men then around him during his minority’, and allow him to feu them out.[3] Professor Mitchison tells us that although the Crown ‘had been feuing land occasionally since the thirteenth century … in the late fifteenth century the practice became more frequent. The tenants got security and the king got cash. . . .’[4]

Though I have no direct evidence, I suspect that this Donald was Donald Dùbh, younger brother of the laird of Loup and eventual founder of the Tarbert family. Most of the early landholding Macalisters in Bute and Arran seem to have had connexions to one or another of the leading families (indeed, the leading families were the only ones in this clan to hold land anywhere at this point), and I am unaware of another Donald of note in the clan at this time. It’s possible that before he was appointed keeper of Tarbert castle in 1540, Donald Dùbh had made his home in Bute, much as two hundred years later his descendant Charles, of Tor in Arran, made his home on that island before succeeding as the 8th laird of Tarbert.

Whoever Donaldo Makalester was, his lands (the southern part of a property called Langilwenach in the parish of Kingarth[5]) were not be passed on to his heirs — male or female. In or before 1555, Macalister sold his Bute property to John M’Wyrartie and his wife Katherin Glas.[6]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, AD 1424-1513 (James Balfour Paul, ed.; H M General Register House, 1882), pp. 635-636.

[2] James King Hewison, Isle of Bute in the olden time (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1893), p. 225.

[3] RPS, 1464/10/1
R. Mitchison, A History of Scotland, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen & Co., 1982), p. 78.
[5] Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, pp. 635-636.
[6] Origines Parochiales, vol. II, part I, p. 216.

Name Games

On this day in 1576, bonds of manrent were drawn up between the Earl of Argyll and John Mudeortach (Muirdearach) Macalastair.[1] At first glance this appears to be a member of our clan, but this ‘Macalastair’ was in fact a Macdonald – John of Moidart, Captain of Clanranald. In this case, what appears to be John’s surname is in fact his patronymic, and it illustrates the importance of caution when identifying Highlanders before about 1650. 

Although many of the fixed surnames that came to be associated with the Gaidhealtachd[2], including Macalister, are called patronymics, a real patronymic is not passed down generation after generation the way that surnames are. In its truest sense, a patronymic changes with each generation, so that John’s son Michael is Michael Johnson, whose son is Paul Michaelson, whose son is Stephen Paulson, and so on. (This system is still used in places like Iceland – where Stéfan Jónsson really is the son of someone called Jon – and, in addition to a regular surname, Russia.) But Gaelic patronymics could be flexible, incorporating the name of a noteworthy recent ancestor even if that person were not the individual’s actual father. Thus most clan chiefs also had a ‘chiefly patronymic’ that honoured an early or important chief of their clan. Angus mac Teàrlach M’Allester (Angus, son of Charles Macalister) was also known as Angus vic Ean Dhù (grandson or heir of black John), because the first independent chief of the clan was named Iain Dùbh, or black John. (Contemporary records sometimes went further and used the chiefly patronymic exclusively, leading some historians to conclude that several lairds of Loup were named John, when in fact none of them were, after Iain Dùbh himself.)

Alasdair has always been a common name throughout the Highlands, used by nearly every Gaelic family at one point or another, so it is hardly surprising that there were an awful lot of people being called mac Alasdair in the years before permanent surnames came into general use. Furthermore, in the case of the Macdonalds, some of these families were neighbours of the Clan Alasdair and confusion easily arises. In 1542, for instance, we find Donald McAlester of Largis [Largie] in Kintyre, who is “probably one of” the Clanranaldbane of Largie[3]; this family of Macdonalds were closely associated with the primary Macalister families during MacColla’s rising in the 1640s and in the later Jacobite era, but they were never part of the Clan Alasdair. During the Dunyvaig rebellions of the early 1600s, one of the primary troublemakers was Ranald Og McAlester, also called Ronald Og McAngus, who was an (unacknowledged) illegitimate son of Angus of Dunyvaig[4] and was clearly understood at the time to be one of the Dunyvaig MacDonalds.

Other Macdonald ‘Macalisters’ were less closely involved with us but have caused trouble for those who wrestle with our clan’s genealogy. In family trees posted on line, I have seen dates and events given for Alexander Macalister, Laird of Loup, that in fact apply to Alexander MacEan MacAlister of Glengarry. The two men lived at the same time, but Loup never held lands in Glengarry or, as far as I can tell, had much direct interaction with the Glengarry Macdonalds. Then there is Roderick (or Ruairidh) McAllester, briefly Bishop of the Isles, who has often been claimed by Macalisters as one of our clan. However, this Roderick is known elsewhere as Roderick Ranaldson, a patronymic not used by the Clan Alasdair but naturally in regular use among the Clanranald. A more careful look reveals that he was in fact the brother of the above-mentioned John Muidearach.[5]

When the apparent surname cannot be relied upon, historians must look for other clues to distinguish individuals from others using variations of the same names. Such clues can be found in a person’s other names and property designations, but understanding them requires a wider knowledge of an area’s history and people. Ranaldson was not used as a patronymic by any of the Macalister families in this era, so the fact that Bishop Roderick McAllester is elsewhere called Roderick Ranaldson should be an immediate tip-off. As for his brother, what appears to be John’s second name, Muidearach, is really a designation meaning ‘of Moidart’, a part of the West Coast not associated with any of the leading Macalisters. A McAlester of Largie or MacAlister of Glengarry is similarly unlikely to belong to the Clan Alasdair, as neither of these properties were held by members of our clan. Although there might well have been Macalisters in Largie, Glengarry or Moidart, no members of our clan were of any of those places.[6] 

Looking at this from the opposite direction, the same clues can be used. Leading Macalisters can often be spotted easily by the designations ‘of Loup’, ‘of Tarbert’, ‘of Balinakill’, etc., even when they appear without the Macalister name. The Clan Donald cadet described by Sir George Mackenzie as ‘M’donald of Lowp’ was the chiefly family of the Clan Alasdair[7]; and the un-named ‘Laird of Lowip’ who signed King James’s General Band was the clan’s chief, Alasdair Macalister.

By the early 17th century, surnames had begun to solidify. All of Dunyvaig’s acknowledged sons are called Macdonald, as are the Largie family and the Glengarry and Clanranald branches by the mid-1600s. By the time of the Jacobite risings (1689-1745), someone whose name appears as a variation of Macalister is almost sure to be a Macalister. In the earlier period, however, that was not always the case.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1] Wormald, Lords & Men in Scotland, pp. 189-90

[2] Gaidhealtachd refers to places where the Gaelic language was prevalent or Gaelic culture prevailed. For much of written history, it is more or less synonymous in Scotland with the Highlands, but was once much more extensive; it can also have a wider meaning that incorporates Ireland and even parts of Nova Scotia.

[3] Origines Parochiales, vol. 2, p. 26

[4] Smith, Book of Islay, p. 263

[5] Munro & Munro, pp. 288-9

[6] Someone is said to be ‘in’ a place when he or she lives there, probably as a tenant, but has no legally connection to the property. Someone who is ‘of’ a place is the laird or tacksman of the property.

[7] Mackenzie, The Family Names of Scotland (Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society, 2008), p. 130

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

The Battle of Gruinart Strand

On this day in 1598, the Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart (Gruinart Strand) took place between the forces of Sir Lachlan Maclean and those of his nephew, Sir James Macdonald of the Dunyvaig family. Among Macdonald’s forces, inevitably, were Macalisters from Kintyre (possibly including their chief, Godfrey of Loup); they had been allies of the Dunyvaig family for a century and fought with them in many of their conflicts. But the Macdonald force also included some of the Clann Alasdair Bheag, whose ties to the Dunyvaig family are perhaps less well known. Although these Macalisters were followers of the Hamilton family at this point (quite sensibly, considering their location), James Macdonald’s brother Archibald had been fostered among them.[1]

This battle was the climactic episode of a feud between the Macleans of Duart and the Dunyvaig Macdonalds that had been running since before James Macdonald was even born. At issue was ownership of the Rhinns of Islay, which had been in Macdonald hands for centuries but to which the Macleans laid claim after the forfeiture of the Lord of the Isles. Nearly all of the southwestern clans had taken sides and joined in the fighting[2], causing so much chaos in the Western Isles and Kintyre that the king (James VI) got involved. At various times the Maclean and Macdonald chiefs were arrested, fined, forced to leave hostages (including James Macdonald) at court, and threatened with forfeiture.    

The marriage of Lachlan’s sister to Angus of Dunyvaig in 1579 brought a lull in the conflict (and produced James Macdonald), but it all started up again about 1586, when Angus attempted to mediate another of Maclean’s quarrels.[3] By 1596 King James was fed up with it and assembled a force to impose a military solution. At that point, most of the other warring chiefs surrendered, but Dunyvaig and some of his vassals remained in rebellion. The king thought perhaps James Macdonald, who had won favour during his time as a hostage at court, might be able to talk some sense into his father. Instead, James simply took over leadership of theDunyvaig Macdonalds – and the feud with Maclean.  

Though certainly not averse to violence, by all accounts James did his best to make peace in this situation. He offered his uncle occupation of the Rhinns, to be held as a vassal of Dunyvaig for the rest of his life. But Maclean had decided he now wanted the whole of Islay, and so, on the 5th of August, Macdonald, Maclean, and the clans that supported them faced off at Gruinart. The ensuing battle is described by almost everyone as ‘bloody’. The Macdonald force was outnumbered but perhaps better trained, and in the end they prevailed. James Macdonald was badly wounded, but he survived; Lachlan Maclean was killed along with many of his followers. The rest of the Maclean force fled to their boats.[4] 

The Macdonald victory proved to be short-lived. Within fifteen years, all the Dunyvaig lands had been granted by the crown, or sold by Angus Macdonald, to various branches of the Campbell clan and James himself was in exile in Spain. He was to be the last chief of the Clann Iain Mhòr.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1]Fraser-Mackintosh, p. 35 
McKerral, p. 15.
[3]Ibid., p. 232
[4]There is a story that some of the Macleans took refuge in a church, which was then set afire with only one survivor. This is certainly not implausible, considering James had not long ago done the very same thing at his own father’s house (with the help of Godfrey of Loup). But earlier accounts of the battle do not include this story, which one would expect to merit notice, and it is not mentioned in records of Sir James’s 1609 trial, which focused on the Askomil incident. Furthermore, if all the ‘burned down a church with enemies inside’ stories, told about nearly every clan in existence, were true, there would be no churches left in the Highlands. Although the story can’t be discounted without more evidence, it should be taken with some skepticism.

The Rental of Kintyre

In July of 1505, the Earl of Argyll came to Kilkerran (now Campbeltown) with the Bishop of Argyll to settle accounts on the Kintyre lands formerly belonging to the Lordship of the Isles. After several partial losses of territory, the Macdonald Lords of the Isles had been finally forfeited in 1493, and Argyll was serving as Crown Chamberlain for the lands they once held. As part of this process, a rental was drawn up of these properties and lists made of the principal families thereon.

This is the earliest such list in existence for Kintyre. Andrew McKerral describes it as “of great historical value and interest in that it gives in detail the names and extents of each holding, the names of their occupants, and the rents paid by each. From this rental we are enabled to obtain a clear picture of the principal Kintyre families in the fifteenth century.”[1]

McKerral names among these principal families the Macallasters of Loup.[2] This family should have been represented by Angus MacAlasdair, who was chief of the clan at this time, but Angus is not mentioned by name. Instead, Alexander Makalexander, Angus’s son, is said to be holding the lands that had been granted to his grandfather, the Steward of Kintyre, in 1481.[3] On the other hand, he is not styled ‘of Loup’, as he is in later lists of the area’s inhabitants, suggesting that his father was indeed still alive. In the lists published by the Kintyre Antiquarian Society (1987), the only name given is ‘the Steward’, and without seeing the original documents, I have no way to determine which Macalister is referred to in this way in 1505. 

Also listed in the 1505 rental is Roderick McAlister, who has a grant of Kilkevan in South Kintyre.[4] This might have been either a brother or an uncle of Angus; there was a Roderick in the primary family, but exactly where he fits is not clear. (This Roderick is often confused with the Roderick MacAllister who became Bishop of the Isles. However that Roderick belonged to the Macdonald of Clanranald family, who for a time also used Macalister as a surname. He would probably not have held land in South Kintyre.)

In any case, the 1505 rental of Kintyre shows that numerous properties in both North and South Kintyre were held at this time by one or another of the Loup family. It certainly appears that this erstwhile branch of Clan Donald was thriving as a separate clan in the early years of the 16th century.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1] McKerral, p. 6


[3] Kintyre Rentals, p. 3; Munro, Acts of the Lords of the Isles, pp. 218-9; Angus was apparently still alive in 1515, when he is said to be named in the records of the Privy Seal. 

[4] Kintyre Rentals, p. 5

A Royal Summons

On this day in 1531, Donald Macalister was one of several men from the West Highlands and Hebrides summoned to appear before the king to answer for ‘certain treasonous actions’. None of those named turned up, and a new summons was issued on the 28th. When they once again failed to appear, parliament granted them until the following year.[1]

The nature of Donald’s ‘treasonous actions’ is not specified, but the early 1530s was a time of general turmoil in the Highlands. Two events of significance had occurred in 1529. First, James V, whose kingdom had been run during his childhood by several competing noblemen, began his personal rule. Among the first things he did was revoke all the land grants that had been made during his minority. This made both political and economic sense. Extensive grants had given too much power to regional strongmen such as (in Kintyre) the third Earl of Argyll, and the rentals collected by these men from their tenants often failed to reach the king’s purse.[2] Nonetheless, revoking the grants inevitably meant a lot of unhappy, newly landless families, some of whom – such as the various branches of Clan Donald – were bound to cause trouble. 

Second, the Earl of Argyll himself died in 1529. As occasionally happened, the Macdonalds of Islay and their allies – including the Macleans and the Macalisters (in the person of Donald’s brother, Alexander of Loup) – took advantage of the situation to express their resentment of Argyll’s rule: According to the Register of the Privy Seal, “they ravage[d] with fire and sword” the properties of Roseneath, Lennox, and Craignish, “killing at the same time many of the inhabitants”.[3] For this they all came under the displeasure of the government and were ‘put to the horn’ in 1531.[4] It seems likely that Donald’s crimes were similar to his brother’s.

The fact that Donald et al. ignored the royal summons so blatantly illustrates the difficulties James faced in bringing his kingdom to heel. Whether the matter was ever resolved or not is unclear. Although both of his brothers were involved in the next Macdonald rising, in 1539, I’ve found no evidence yet of Donald’s involvement. Perhaps he had learned his lesson. In any case, by 1540 they had all made their peace with the king – but while James granted Alexander and Ranald remission for their crimes, it was Donald he appointed Constable of Tarbert.[5]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1] Records of the Parliaments of Scotland [1531/4]

[2] Donaldson, Scotland: James V-James VII, p. 43

[3] Gregory, p. 132

[4] Castleton, p. 166; someone ‘put to the horn’ was declared a rebel and subject to the forfeiture of his goods and property.

[5] Tarbert Castle had been given to the Campbells of Argyll in the previous century, and in later times the Macalisters held the castle as tenants of Argyll. However, James V had intentionally turned away from dependence on the Argyll family and had given more power to the Dunyvaig Macdonalds, to whom the Macalisters were allied. It seems likely that this is the explanation for Donald coming into possession of the castle at this time.

General Band of James VI

On this day in 1587 the Scottish Parliament meeting in Edinburgh enacted a General Band (or Bond) For the quieting and keping in obedience of the disorderit subjectis, inhabitantis of the bordouris, hielandis and ilis. This legislation was the first attempt by James VI as an adult to bring these historically troublesome areas under legal control. The Band required its signators to give hostages (to be chosen by the authorities but kept at the expense of their clans) as a pledge against the good behaviour of all who lived on their lands. The penalties listed for failing to apprehend those who misbehaved included being required to make restitution to the victims, being declared rebel against the crown, and if all else failed execution of the signator’s hostage. 

Although the requirements made of the Borderers suggest slightly different issues there, feuding, raiding (theft), and blackmail are specifically mentioned as contributing to the troubles in the Highlands. What’s interesting is that many of those who signed the Band were the very chiefs and lairds whose feuds encouraged the “mischiefs . . . wasting, slaying, harrying and destroying their own neighbours” that they were now required to stamp out.[1] In the southwest Highlands, for example, that Macdonalds of Dunyvaig and the Macleans of Duart were embroiled in a long-running and violent feud over the Rinns of Islay; most of the clans around them had taken sides (Macalister of Loup, Clanranald, Macian of Ardnamurchan, Macleod of Lewis, Macneill of Gigha and Macfie of Colonsay on the side of Dunyvaig; Macleod of Harries, Macneill of Barra, Mackinnon and Macquarrie on the side of Duart), and “the whole of the West Highlands was set aflame.”[2]Lachlan Maclean of Duart was also at odds with Macdonald of Sleat[3], and in addition to his own vendetta against the Laird of Glengarry, the Earl of Argyll at one point illegally imprisoned both Duart and Dunyvaig and proceeded to plunder their lands.[4] Yet the chiefs of all but three of these clans have signed the document (Alexander Macalister appears as the ‘Laird of Lowip’).[5] 

It’s probably no surprise, therefore, that this act of Parliament does not appear to have worked, at least in the Western Highlands. Whether it was not enforced or the signators simply ignored it, it was only a year after the General Band was signed that the king found it necessary to commission a judiciary against the chief of Clan Cameron; the year after that saw Maclean and Dunyvaig arrested in Edinburgh, still pursuing their conflict; and within a decade both Macdonald of Dunyvaig and Macalister of Loup were in open rebellion.[6] 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1587/7/70 (http://www.rps.ac.uk/)
[2] A. McKerral, Kintyre in the 17th Century, p. 15.  
[3] D. Gregory, The History of the Western Highlands and Islands, pp. 230-2.
[4] Ibid., pp. 216-7. Gregory notes that after 1579, when Argyll was made Lord High Chancellor, “he seems to have paid more regard to the laws”.
[5] I can’t find Macneill of Gigha, Macquarrie, or Macdonald of Sleat among those named to the bond.
[6] This was Godfrey, Alexander’s brother. The bond however was intended to apply to successive lairds.

Murderous Macalisters

The 16th of June appears to be a bad day for Macalisters in court. On this same day, but 112 years apart, two murder convictions were handed down to members of this clan. The first was in 1508, when Donald Mole Makalester was convicted of “the cruel slaughter of John Russell, Patrik Weddale, and sundry other persons” in Innermessane, as well as the “hereschip” (plundering and destruction) of their goods; he was also convicted of violent theft against the MacMartins in Kintyre, and of general theft and oppression of “the lieges”.[1] This sort of report is met with somewhat regularly in records of the time. The early 16th century was a particularly lawless period, following immediately upon the forfeiture in 1493 of the Lordship of the Isles. The fall of the Macdonalds had left a power vacuum in the Western Highlands, and the Campbells had not yet been able to establish real control. There were several fairly widespread risings in favour of one or another branch of the Clan Donald, and the events of this period appear to have been something of a free-for-all. The actions of this Macalister were not, therefore, as shocking as we might imagine. As might be expected, Donald Mole was hanged for his crimes.

Things were somewhat different in 1620, when Neill McEan McAllaster, along with Donald Neilson and Donald’s son, was found guilty of drowning Donald McAllaster vic Ean vic Henrie.[2] At this point, the Plantation of Kintyre was well underway, with the Earl of Argyll having had some success in importing English-speaking, Protestant Lowlanders to settle in the area around what is now Campbeltown; many members of previously troublesome clans like the Macalisters had lost their lands. The chaos of the previous century had been brought under some control, and the chaos that would come with the Wars of Religion (1640s) had not yet begun. This crime, then, appears to have been less the result of general lawlessness than perhaps a personal quarrel. The victim was bound hand and foot and put into a ‘boit’ (boat?) which was then thrown into the water. No mention is made of any of these men being a repeat offender, as was clearly the case with Donald Makalester in 1508. The punishment was also less severe: Each man was fined 100 merks.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol. I, p. 51; whose lieges were being oppressed is not specified.
[2] Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol. III, p. 489