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


Kintyre Macalisters support James VII

On this date in 1688, a number of what Dr Paul Hopkins calls the ‘non-Campbell’ clans of Kintyre signed an address of loyalty to King James (VII of Scotland, II of England and Ireland); included among them were Alexander MacAlister of Loup and Archibald of Tarbert.[1]

William of Orange had landed in England the day before, having been offered the throne by several prominent Englishmen by right of his wife, Mary, who was James VII’s daughter. This invitation had been written in June in response to the birth of a son to the king’s second wife – a male heir reviving fears of a Catholic succession. It seems unlikely that news of William’s arrival on the 5th would already have reached Kintyre by the 6th, although his invasion had been expected. But even if they’d known, most of the Western clans were no longer Catholic themselves – arguably, they had as much reason as the English Protestants to be concerned about a Catholic succession.

As is so often the case in Highland history, local politics appear to have been the deciding factor in Kintyre. Hopkins sees the early Jacobitism of the Kintyre lairds as arising primarily out of fear that if James were ousted, the Campbell family of Argyll would stage yet another of its semi-miraculous comebacks and have their forfeited estates and enormous power reinstated. This was not a groundless fear: Although the execution of the 9th Earl of Argyll had cost his family their lands, the earl’s son had been actively working to bring William of Orange to the throne, specifically in hopes of restoration.

It is not surprising to find Alexander of Loup signing this declaration of loyalty – he had already shown where he stood in 1685, when instead of answering Argyll’s invitation to join in the rebellion, he turned the letter over to the Privy Council. In May of 1689, he would be one of the first to join Viscount Dundee in the first Jacobite rising. He fought at the Battle of Loup Hill, at Killiecrankie, Dunkeld and Cromdale, and reputedly at the Boyne in 1690.[2]

Rather more surprising, perhaps, is the inclusion on this list of the head of the Tarbert family, which in later years opposed the Jacobites. But Archibald of Tarbert was in fact an avid Jacobite, and he took part with his chief and other clan leaders in the early states of Dundee’s rebellion. The fact that Tarbert signed this address of loyalty lends weight to Hopkins’s claim: It appears that while the Argyll family were still without power in Kintyre, the Tarbert Macalisters supported James VII; it is only after they were once again Argyll’s tenants that their loyalties changed.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

[1] Paul Hopkins, ‘Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First ‘Battle’ of Dundee’s Jacobite War’, Kintyre Magazine (issue 29, spring 1991); Lamont of Knockdow, ed., Inventory of Lamont Papers, p. 332, item 1132.
This according to family tradition and just about every secondary source in existence. However, I must agree with Hopkins that it seems very unlikely. Alexander of Loup took the Oath of Allegiance (to William and Mary) in Edinburgh at the end of June, only weeks before he supposedly fought for James in Ireland.

Clann Alasdair Bheag (or, Walter MacAlester meets with the King)

On this date in 1585, Walter MacAlester was one of about forty men who ‘repair[ed] to [King James] at Stirling’ with ‘their friends, servants and dependents’ and whose ‘honest and comely demeanour’ convinced the king that they were ‘his obedient lawful and trusty subjects’. As a result, forfeitures and other penalties against them were overturned by an act of parliament in December.[1]

The fact that Walter MacAlester is among those mentioned by name in the relevant document suggests that he must have been a person of some note. Certainly the others in the list were prominent men. This raises the question – which I’ve not yet been able to answer – of exactly who this Walter was. He does not seem to fit into any of the main families of the clan in Kintyre. Based on the fact that more than half the others named belong to the House of Hamilton, my guess is that Walter was one of the ‘Clann Alasdair Bheag’[2] – the Macalisters of Arran and Bute.

The Isles of Arran and Bute lie to the east of Kintyre (rather than to the west, like the Hebrides) and were controlled by subjects of the Scottish kings rather than by the Lords of the Isles. Although Macalisters are named among the ‘old families of Arran’ by Mackenzie MacBride (1911) and the ‘old native families of Bute’ by James King Hewison (1893), the earliest of this clan on record in Arran to my knowledge was Ranald M’Allister, whose name first appears, as Reginald MacAlexander, in 1440. In 1506, Donald Makalester is named in a land grant in Bute. However, until well into the 17th century, the Macalisters along with the Macdonalds were best known in Arran and Bute as the ‘cursed invaders from Knapdale and Kintyre’, repeatedly inflicting destructive raids on these islands in the course of Clan Donald’s war with the Scottish Crown.

In the 1500s, a handful of Macalisters had begun to settle in Arran and Bute – about the same time that the Hamilton family began its rise to power there. In the Book of Arran, W. M. Mackenzie states that the Hamiltons “had struck an alliance with the MacAlisters” and describes a family of Macalisters who were formally installed in the Arran lands of Shiskine in 1563 as ‘henchmen’ for the Hamiltons.[3]  By the 1930s, “the M’Alisters were the most numerous clan in Shiskine”.[4]  A recent peek at the phone book showed Macalisters living there still.

The nature of Walter MacAlester’s crime and its punishment are not stated. In view of their close association, it’s possible that the Macalisters had been forfeited with the Hamiltons when the latter lost their lands in 1579 (ostensibly for their support of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been forced to abdicate; in fact it had more to do with the political finagling of the rival Stewart lords). On the other hand, the act of December 1585 was a blanket restitution for all who had incurred the wrath of the government during the minority of James VI, excluding only those involved in several high-profile murders, so Walter’s need for restitution might be completely unconnected. In any case, the record of his meeting with the king on 2 November 1585 has sparked my interest in the history of the Clann Alasdair Bheag, a subject that is relatively new to me and deserves more research.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

[1] Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 ( NAS, PA2/13, ff.40r-43r.
[2] The ‘little clan Alasdair’ – so called to distinguish them from the Macalisters of Kintyre, although they were never a separate clan.
[3] Book of Arran, p. 87.
[4] ‘Clans of Shiskine, Past and Present’, paper presented by Charles Robertson, 10th March 1936, Glasgow.