After Culloden

On this day in 1746, about 85 members of Macdonell of Glengarry’s regiment surrendered to British military personnel in Inverness. These men had fought for Prince Charles at the battle of Culloden nearly a month earlier. Among them were six Macalisters: Alexander vic Evan, Donald vic Evan, and John Og of Blairy; Donald of Delcaitach; John vic Ian Roy of Clune Beg; William of Polmale; and Angus vic Ian, whose origins are not given.[1]

The majority of those who surrendered at this time were transported to the colonies. A few of them died in prison. The transportees mostly went to Barbados or Antigua, as large-scale transportation to North America had, for the most part, ended by this time.[2] Exactly what happened to these individual Macalisters is not recorded, but it seems likely that they shared the fate of their regimental brothers.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-6, p. 154. Another group from this regiment would surrender ten days later.
[2] The Prisoners of the ’45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3. 


On this day in 1746, the last pitched battle on British soil was fought at Culloden Moor between the Jacobite forces under Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the forces of King George II under the Duke of Cumberland. It was the final act in a story that had begun in 1688, when Charles Stuart’s grandfather, King James VII/II[1], fled his kingdom and was replaced by William of Orange. William, who claimed the thrones of Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales by right of his wife, Mary (James’s daughter), had been invited to replace the Catholic King James by the leaders of the Protestant establishment. After holding out in Ireland for a time, James eventually went into exile on the Continent.

Though King James never returned to Britain, some in Britain remained loyal to him and his family, and his son and grandson both attempted to retake their kingdoms by force. The rising of 1745 was the last and most successful of these attempts. Gathering his forces as he went, Charles captured Edinburgh and marched into England – so far south that London seriously began to panic. And then, for no apparent reason, the Jacobites withdrew. Despite a few military successes during their retreat, they were chased into the Highlands to Culloden, where in the space of an hour they were utterly defeated. Once those on the field had been killed, Cumberland’s forces began to chase down those who had escaped, anyone who had supported them . . . and some who’d had nothing to do with the rebellion at all. So many people were killed off the field that Cumberland became known as ‘the Butcher of Cumberland’. Even so, many of those who had survived Culloden reassembled several days later, willing to fight on. But Charles knew the cause was lost. He dismissed his followers, urging them to save their own lives. 

Although the story is well known, a number of misconceptions are often accepted as fact – perhaps especially in the New World, where the details of the conflict itself are largely forgotten. For example, the Rising of 1745-6 had nothing to do with Scottish independence. The Stuart kings had been kings of England as well as Scotland since 1603; they had, frankly, preferred England. Neither Charles Stuart (The Young Pretender) nor his father (The Old Pretender) had any intention of setting up a kingdom in Scotland and leaving their cousins on the throne to the south. It is true that there was greater support in Scotland than in England for the House of Stuart. However, not only were there Jacobites among the English, but a decent number of English soldiers deserted to the Jacobites during the campaign.[2]

“The ’45” was also not a matter of Highlanders versus Lowlanders. Again, there were more of the former than the latter in their ranks, and certainly the Highlanders bore the brunt of the government’s retaliation. But parts of Lowland Scotland – particularly the northeast (where Marischal College in Aberdeen saw all but one of its professors deposed for Jacobitism after the rising of 1715) – were considered hotbeds of Jacobite activity. Whole units of Lowlanders are included among the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46.[3] In fact, if there was any clear division between those who supported the Stuarts in 1745 and those who did not, it was along religious lines. Catholics in Scotland and England of course supported the Stuarts, but research has shown that the vast majority of the Jacobite forces in Scotland were Episcopalians[4]; it’s likely that in Scotland the Jacobite cause was seen by some of these as the only defence against total Presbyterian dominance.[5]

The Macalisters as a clan did not fight at Culloden – indeed, there are not that many of them named in the Muster Rolls or the prisoner lists. The Loup family had always been Jacobites, as were the Tarbert family early on; by the time of the last rising, however, the Tarbert family were once again tenants of the anti-Jacobite Campbells of Argyll, and Tarbert allowed a force to be stationed on his land specifically to prevent local Jacobites from joining Charles’s army. It is possible, too, that Loup was one of the many Highland chiefs who thought the rising of 1745 doomed from the start and opted to sit it out. 

Nonetheless, individual Macalisters did serve in Charles’s army as part of the Clan Donald contingent. Seven of them are known to have survived the battle of Culloden, though at least six of these were later captured. And one branch of the clan found another way to serve ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’: It was to the home of Ranald and Anne Macalister of Kingsburgh in Skye that Flora MacDonald brought Charles Stuart – famously dressed as her maid – during his escape back to France after the defeat at Culloden.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]The king was the seventh King James of Scotland; he was only the second King James of England.
[2]Seton & Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1928).
[3] Livingstone of Bachuil, Aikman & Hart, eds., Aberdeen University Press, 1984. See also McDonnell, Jacobites of 1715, North East Scotland, and Jacobites of 1745, North East Scotland (Clearfield, 1997).
[4]“Well over 75 percent of the manpower mobilized for the Stuarts consisted of Episcopalians”, according to Andrew MacKillop of Aberdeen University (Oxford Companion to Scottish History, p. 350).
[5]When the Scottish bishops refused to support him, William of Orange gave in to the demands of the Estates of Parliament that prelacy be abolished and Presbyterianism established as the official Church of Scotland.

Somerled and the Battle of Renfrew

On this day in 1164, with a large army from Argyll, Ireland, and the Western Isles, Somerled invaded mainland Scotland and met the Scottish army at Renfrew.   

Somerled, a powerful West Highland and Hebridean warlord, first appears in the historical record in the early 12th century. The Gaels of western Scotland had by Somerled’s time intermingled with the invading Norse of earlier centuries, creating a population that was ethnically mixed. Although historians still debate to which group Somerled’s family belonged, John Marsden concludes that “virtually everything that is known of or has been claimed for Somerled, even the most obviously apocryphal anecdotes found in the most doubtful sources, reflects some aspect of the characteristic fusion of Norse and Celt which binds the cultural roots of Gaeldom”.[1] Whatever his ancestry, Somerled is credited with finally driving the Norse from the western Highlands, and in his lifetime the Gaelic language and culture experienced a resurgence.

Somerled’s 20 October invasion has usually been seen as a grab for power by a chieftain who got too big for his breeches, but recent scholars have pointed out that the mediaeval chroniclers, from whom we get much of our information about this period, were under the patronage of the Scottish king and the church. The chroniclers present the military actions of Somerled and other warlord chieftains as rebellion against their rightful loyalties, but that was not necessarily the case. For one thing, a good part of Somerled’s lands were held of the Norwegian king, not the Scottish one, and Scotland’s kings had occasionally tried to take these lands from his family by force. Furthermore, feudal lordships established by followers of the Scottish kings had been slowly encroaching on all of the semi-independent peripheral regions, and Fergus of Galloway had already been defeated. Seen in this light, Somerled’s ‘invasion’ might well have been defensive in nature.

Whatever the reason for the invasion, Somerled was killed and his army defeated. Tradition holds that he was betrayed and assassinated before the battle, but this story does not seem to have appeared before the 17th century. It is more likely that he fell in battle, along with his son Gillebrigte and many of his followers. Despite this defeat, Somerled’s descendants maintained possession of the Isles and Kintyre and continued to rule the west for centuries. DNA evidence suggests that roughly a quarter of today’s Macdonalds, a third of today’s Macdougalls, and about 40% of today’s Macalisters, both in Scotland and elsewhere, are direct descendants of Somerled.[2]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

[1]Marsden, Somerled and the Emergence of Gaelic Scotland (Edinburgh, 2005), p. x.
[2]Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland (New York, 2006), p. 214.

Battle of Largs

On this day in 1263/4, Norwegian ships that were part of an invasion force under Haakon IV were driven ashore by a storm at Largs; over the next three days they engaged in a military confrontation with a Scots force under Alexander III. The men of the western seaboard were divided; Angus Mòr, first chief of the Clan Donald, supported Haakon (either enthusiastically or reluctantly, depending on which history you read).

What actually happened is still debated. Earlier historians tended to view it as a major massed battle, but archaeological evidence does not support this. It was probably little more than a skirmish, and mostly fought at sea. Equally unclear is which side actually won: 800 years later, both Norway and Scotland still claim the victory.  What is known, though, is that Haakon died in Orkney less than two months later, and in 1266 his successor ceded the Western Isles to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth. Largs is thus seen by historians as a turning point in Scottish history. 

To the clans in the Isles, however, it probably made little difference whether their king was far away in Bergen or far away in Edinburgh. Angus Mòr submitted to Alexander, and his influence went unchecked; his descendants, the Lords of the Isles, would be the real power in the west for the next three centuries.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011