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

 

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Mutineers on Trial

On this day in 1779, a court martial sat in Edinburgh Castle to try three soldiers for mutiny. The soldiers were additionally charged with having “instigated and incited others to be guilty of the same, in which mutiny several of his Majesty’s subjects were killed, and others wounded”.[1]

The charges against these soldiers stemmed from an incident in April, which historian Max Hastings summarises as follows: “Highland soldiers of the 42nd and 71st regiments, abruptly drafted to serve with a detested Glasgow Lowland regiment, refused the order and fought a brief, bloody battle with men of the South Fencibles.”[2] Several people died and many were taken prisoner, but these three alone faced a death sentence.

Among the men who made up the court was Captain Angus M’Alister of the West Fencibles. This M’Alister’s identity is unclear to me, but the fact that he was a captain in the Western (or Argyll) Fencible Regiment provides some clues. Fencible regiments “were different in constitution from the militia, afterwards substituted, as the men were regularly enlisted, and the commissions of the officers signed by the King.”[3] Although raised at time of war, the fencibles did not serve outside of Scotland itself; rather, “[t]hey formed a splendid army of reserve”.[4] The Western Fencible Regiment in which M’Alister served was raised in 1778 by members of the (Campbell of) Argyll family. The majority of its men were recruited from Argyll and the surrounding Highland areas, and leadership of the regiment was overwhelmingly Campbell. Although it is possible that M’Alister might be one of the minority recruited from the southwest Lowlands, the fact that he was an officer, in a regiment whose officers were almost entirely Argyllsmen, suggests that he belonged to one of the West Highland Macalister families who were tenants of the Duke of Argyll.

The soldiers on trial pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Their defence makes clear how much still separated Highlanders from Lowlanders in the late 18th century. Two of the men, a native of Argyllshire and another of western Invernesshire, spoke no English; the third, from Caithness, could get by in broken English but was certainly not fluent. Furthermore, all three were accustomed to wearing the fillibeg and uncomfortable in Lowland garb. They had enlisted willingly, but each had specifically chosen a Highland regiment, where their own language was spoken and they were allowed to wear the clothes they had always worn.

Upon arriving at Leith in April, however, they were told that they were now to serve under English-speaking officers in regiments that required Lowland dress. This was more than an inconvenience. A “great number of the detachment” protested that they were “incapable of wearing breeches as part of their dress”[5], and for some of them it would have been impossible to understand orders given in English, let alone follow them adequately. It was certainly not what they had signed up for.

It is hard to imagine that M’Alister and his colleagues (more than half of whom belonged to regiments that drew men from the Gaidhealtachd and wore Highland dress) were unsympathetic. Until the sudden change of regiment, all of the accused had behaved impeccably, and they all indicated that they were happy to serve in any other Highland unit. The change of orders had not been clearly explained to them, nor were they told that they could appeal. Furthermore, several witnesses testified that they did not know whether the first shot in the altercation had been fired by the rebels or by the South Fencibles who had been sent to deal with them.[6] Nonetheless, the behaviour of these soldiers and their comrades violated several of the articles of war, and the court had no choice but to declare them guilty and sentence them to death.

Probably to everyone’s relief, this story ended happily. Right before the condemned were to be shot, a message arrived from the king; in light of their previous good behaviour, a full pardon was granted and the prisoners were released to return to their units.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (May, 1779), p. 271.

[2] Hastings, The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 176.

[3] Peter Handyside MacKerlie, An Account of the Scottish Regiments with Statistics of Each, from 1808 to March 1861, Compiled from the old regimental record books, and monthly returns of each regiment, now rendered to the war department (Edinburgh, 1862), p. 45.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (May, 1779), p. 272.

[6]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (June, 1779), pp. 305-6.

Eight Days in Abu Ghraib

On this day in 2003, British journalist Matthew McAllester, in Iraq to cover the war for Newsday, was arrested in Baghdad along with his colleague, Peruvian-born photographer Moises Saman. It was the beginning of a difficult, and still unexplained, eight-day ordeal.

McAllester and Saman were taken from their hotel in handcuffs along with two other photographers, Molly Bingham (an American) and Johann Spanner (a Dane). No explanation was given for their arrest. At first, the prisoners were told they would be taken to Syria, but instead they were taken to Abu Ghraib prison, where they were held in separate cells and unable to talk to each other. “We thought we were going to be killed at any moment,” McAllester told his own paper later.[1]

In fact, they had good reason to be afraid. Abu Ghraib was “the biggest, most feared prison in Iraq, perhaps the Middle East”.[2] It was known as a place into which men disappeared for decades, if they ever came out at all; where prisoners were tortured and executed “without recourse to any normal concept of law”.[3] Indeed, from his cell McAllester could hear people being beaten and tortured in the room next to his. Living conditions were difficult, food minimal, and — with their cells flooded with light, and the noise of bombs falling near the prison and anti-aircraft missiles being shot from within nearly constant — sleep hard to get. And yet, although they were interrogated for several days and pressured to admit that they had been sent by the CIA, none of them were tortured. “It wasn’t much fun,” McAllester told CNN after his release, “but we were not physically hurt.”[4]

While Matt McAllester and his colleagues languished in Abu Ghraib, a remarkable assortment of people were working for their release. Moises Saman’s grandfather was a Palestinian, and he still had family living on the West Bank. Those relatives appealed to the PLO to intervene.[5] According to a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat himself got involved[6], sending a former Palestinian ambassador to speak with the head of Iraqi military intelligence. Also working for the group’s release were the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Red Cross, the Vatican, and even Mohammed Aldouri, Iraqi ambassador to the UN, who “expressed his concern about the situation and his desire to help.”[7] 

Eight days after they were arrested, again with no explanation, the prisoners were given their clothes and possessions, driven to the Jordanian border and set free.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014


[1]Missing Journalists Safe in Jordan, CNN on line (1 April 2003).

[2]Matthew McAllester, “Eight Days In an Iraqi Prison“, L. A. Times (April 23, 2003), chapter 2, p. 3. (The first ever Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism was awarded to McAllester and Saman for this article. McAllester also wrote about his experiences, and about life for the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, in the book Blinded by Sunlight: Emerging from the Prison of Saddam’s Iraq.)

[3]Washington Post Book World review, (quoted here). Later, of course, it became known in the west as the place where a group of American soldiers tormented their own prisoners.

[4]“Missing Journalists. . . .” 

[5]Bart Jones,Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman freed with help from Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, Newsday (April 2, 2003).

[6]Rome Neal, “Joy for Journalists’ Families“, CBS News on line (31 March 2003). 

[7]“Missing Journalists. . . .”

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.

A New Kind of Evidence

On this day in 1939, New Zealand Crown Prosecutor H J Macalister obtained the first conviction in that country based exclusively on the evidence of fingerprints found at the scene of a crime. Macalister successfully prosecuted Sandford Robert Young for breaking into an office and stealing a safe.

Fingerprinting as a method of identification had been investigated in the 1800s by several different people working independently of one another.[1]The possibility that it could be used to identify criminals was first asserted by Dr Henry Faulds in the October 1880 issue of Nature magazine, sparking a feud with another pioneer, William Herschel; twelve years later Francis Galton advanced the argument in his book Finger Prints. Despite their research, it took years for police forces to adopt the technique. 

By 1939, fingerprints had already been used as evidence in New Zealand, most notably in a murder case heard by the Auckland Supreme Court in 1920. In that case, however, other evidence was also presented, including the discovery of stolen articles near the home of the accused and forensic evidence tying bullets found in the victim to his gun. The accused had also been seen near the scene of the crime by a prison warden who knew him from a previous sentence.[2]

In the case prosecuted by Mr Macalister, the only evidence presented was the identification of fingerprints belonging to the accused on pieces of broken glass at the point of entry. The case was heard at the Supreme Court in Invercargill, where a jury found Mr Young guilty as charged.[3]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]According to ‘History on Fingerprints‘, fingerprints as a means of identification were used much earlier in China and had briefly been considered in the West in the late 1600s. 
[2]Fingerprints help convict murderer‘, New Zealand History online 
[3]Conviction on finger print evidence‘, The Southland Times, February 23, 1939

McAllister Convicts Bound for Australia

On this day in 1836, the convict ship Elphinstone left England for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) carrying 240 transportees to punitive exile in Australia. Aboard were three McAllisters – Archibald and John, brothers from northeast Scotland who were convicted of assault and robbery[1], and another John, from England, convicted of stealing some clothes and cash from his lodgings.[2] All three were sentenced to transportation for 14 years.[3]

Transportation of criminals (and in some cases other ‘undesirables’) to Australia had been going on since 1788. The idea was not new. As early as the mid-1600s, prisoners of war as well as convicted lawbreakers were being transported to the North American colonies. In the mid-1700s, thousands of Jacobite prisoners were shipped off to Barbados and Antigua. Regardless of destination, transportation served several purposes: It got troublemakers out of Britain’s prisons and off the streets, it provided man- (and woman-)power to develop the resources of an enormous continent, and the threat of it was believed to deter crime. But in one respect, transportation to Australia was unique. Unlike the North American and West Indian colonies, and despite the presence of non-convict settlers, Australia was specifically “designed to be a vast penitentiary”.[4] The Australian government estimates that before the practice ended in the 1860s, roughly 162,000 convicts were transported. About 20 percent of them were women.[5]

What happened to the McAllisters who sailed for Van Diemen’s Land on this day in 1836 is not clear, but they probably spent the rest of their lives in Australia. Although in theory transportees were allowed to return to Britain once their sentences had been served, most lacked the means to return from so far away, and not all of them wished to do so anyway. Instead, many former convicts joined the free population of the growing colony and built a new nation out of what had been their prison.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office, Founders & Survivors: Archibald McAllister & John Allister Mc; Archibald’s wife and child followed on a later ship. 
[2]Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office, Founders & Survivors: John Allister Mc
[4]Devine, Scotland’s Empire, p. 271
[5]australia.gov.au, ‘Convicts and the British Colony in Australia; the website Convict Records of Australia lists 28 Macalisters of various spellings, 5 of them women.

This Week in Macalister History . . .

Major events in the history of the Macalisters take a bit of a break in October, so I thought it might be fun to take a look at what’s happening in the Macalister world at the start of October of this year. Macalisters in the arts and entertainment have certainly been busy. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, is hard at work preparing for the 10 October opening of Romeo and Juliet. The company celebrates its 50th anniversary on 2 November of this year, which has led to quite a bit of media attention. Back in the UK, Irish actress Amy McAllister (whose television work includes roles in Call the Midwife and Emmerdale) is currently appearing as Nellie, the female lead in The Man on Her Mind at Charing Cross Theatre in London’s West End. Performances are given six nights a week, with an additional matinee performance Saturdays. The play runs through 27 October. To the north, award-winning Scottish comedian Keir McAllister (whom the Edinburgh Evening News called “…a gifted comedian destined for much bigger things”) has been touring the west coast with his Walking in My Shoes tour. This week he appeared in Tyree, Fort William and the Isle of Mull.

Macalisters were also busy studying insects, of all things. Dr Erica McAlister, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, undertook the last Specimen Collecting Field Trip of the season. This is part of a research project she and others in her department have been doing for the Ministry of Defence at a ‘top secret military testing station called Porton Down’. Details of the excursion can be found in her blog. Meanwhile, in the US, mosquito control expert Janet McAllister of the Center for Disease Control has been kept quite busy working to contain this year’s deadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus.

Charitable undertakings by members of this clan were also celebrated this week. On Sunday, the Wellesley (Mass.) Mothers Forum celebrated its 21st birthday; this non-profit community organisation, now 600-members strong, was established in 1991 by Lisa Macalaster and Maureen Bousa. Also on Sunday, but across the ocean, Leona McAlister, her daughter Maria McAlister, and her sister Pauline Murty, all of the Isle of Bute, were featured in the Buteman for their participation in September’s Great Scottish Run (a half-marathon), by which they raised £2,676 for the Beatson Oncology Centre.[1] Taking a slightly different approach to helping others was Don McAlister in Cape Town (S. Africa), whose latest editorial beseeched his readers to pay building contractors fairly.

Other Macalisters have been occupied with violence prevention this week. On Monday Detective Sergeant Randy McAlister of the Cottage Grove (Minn.) Police Department was interviewed by the local television news after a recent workplace shooting in that state. McAlister is a pioneer in the emerging field of threat assessment, which attempts to predict and prevent such events. He and his colleague spoke about the ‘red flags’ that often precede these tragedies and how to recognise them in time. The next day, Fort Morgan (Colo.) mayor Terry McAlister signed a proclamation making October National Domestic Violence Awareness month in his town. Various activities and programmes have been planned “to work toward improving victim safety and holding perpetrators of domestic abuse accountable”. The town council will be working in conjunction with S.H.A.R.E., Inc., a nonprofit group that serves battered women and their children in northeast Colorado.

And finally, Macalisters were also busy in politics this week. Wayne McAllister, Controller of Naugatuck Borough in Connecticut, reported on Wednesday that the borough had finished its fiscal year with a surplus of about US$1 million. Perhaps he should be running the country. The following day the Scotsman named Colin McAllister as one of those chosen by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to serve as political advisers to the Scottish government. This follows the loss of two senior advisers who left to serve in the Scottish National Party and the Yes Scotland independence campaign. And on Friday, Sinn Féin councillor Noreen McAllister was also in the news, doing what she was elected to do: speaking for the people. Councillor McAllister is trying to get the Moyle District Council (N. Ireland) to make structural changes that will eliminate the flooding problem experienced by some of her constituents.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] This is probably cheating, as neither his accomplishment nor his media recognition took place in the past week, but 10-year-old James McAllister of Darlington (England) also ran for charity in September. He completed the 4km Junior Great North Run in 22 minutes, running to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research. Well done, James!

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

A McAllester Counterfeiter

On this day in 1601, a “doom was pronounced” against Thomas McAllester of Drummaquhen and several other Perthshire lairds.[1] According to the Parliamentary Register, these men had been convicted of lese-majesty for having “treasonably” counterfeited money, “with no respect for the holy spirit or for [the king], and flouting and despising [the king’s] authority and laws”.[2] 

When questioned, McAllester and the others confessed that they had entered into a plot with Robert Young and David Johnston, “makers of false currency”, to produce and use counterfeit currency and coinage. On 24 June 1599, two of McAllester’s associates were in Ayr, where they used some of that money to purchase a horse at the fair. It does not appear that McAllester was with them at that point, but evidently his association with them was known, and he was summoned with the others to appear before the Privy Council to answer the accusations against them.

Lese-majesty was a capital offence, so the “doom pronounced” against these men was a sentence of forfeiture and death. One of those involved, William Borthwick of Soutra, seems not to have obeyed the original summons. Upon learning the fate of his friends he fled the country, and according to judicial proceedings the authorities were still trying to get hold of him in April 1604, when a second summons was issued. By that time, McAllester is referred to as “the late Thomas McAllester of Drummaquhen”; the record states that he and Borthwick’s other accomplices had been “executed to the death”.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]I have no idea who this McAllester was. The lands of Drummaquhen, which he apparently held, are in Perthshire.