Scandled of Treasone

In December of 1689, Alexander Macalister (8th) of Loup was among a group of men named by the Scottish Privy Council as “suspected or scandled of treasone”; his rents were to be sequestered until he could be brought to trial. Also named were his allies, MacDonald of Largie and MacNeill of Gallachoille, along with numerous others. These men were accused of being “in actual rebellion and arms against their Majesties’ government and laws”, having continued to “perpetrate and carry on their wicked designs against their Majesties”. Just for good measure they were also charged with disturbing the public peace.[1]

The ‘Majesties’ in question were, of course, William and Mary, who had taken the thrones of Scotland and England the previous year. The suspicion of treason arose from the adherence of these men to King James VII, who was holding on in Ireland despite determined opposition from most of the Protestant establishment in his other kingdoms. That adherence had led Loup, Largie and Gallachoille, as well as other local lairds, to the Battle of Loup Hill in May, to James’s court in Ireland, and then in July to Killiecrankie, where they fought in the regiment of Sir Alexander Maclean under Viscount Dundee.[2]

The astonishing victory at Killiecrankie was followed in August by defeat at Dunkeld, and that defeat led Macalister of Balinakill and Macalister of Tarbert (both of whom apparently remained in Ireland with King James when their chief returned to fight under Dundee) to surrender to the authorities and take the Oath of Allegiance to the new monarchs.[3] But Loup and his friends were not ready to give up.

The question arises of why these men, and others like them, chose this dangerous allegiance. For much of their history the Macdonald-allied clans had been at odds with the Stewart (later Stuart) kings, several of whom made significant efforts towards ‘subduing’ the Western Highlands and Islands — particularly the clans that had followed the Lords of the Isles. After the final forfeiture of the Lordship, in 1493, Clan Donald septs (including the Macalisters) and other allied clans had rebelled repeatedly in attempt to restore it; repeatedly they were defeated, forfeited, and often restored only as vassals of the Campbells of Argyll, who acted as lieutenants for the king. But in the early decades of the 17th century the relations of these clans with the House of Stuart had begun to change.

Contrary to popular belief, there was in earlier times no particular animosity between the Campbells and the Macdonalds or anyone else. The Clan Campbell had indeed grown powerful as the power of Clan Donald ebbed, but the Campbells had used that power not only to enforce the king’s will on their neighbouring clans but also at times for the benefit of these same clans.[4] In the late 16th century, however, a simmering feud between the Macleans of Duart and the Dunyvaig Macdonalds flared up. Nearly all the local clans took one side or the other, and King James stepped in to quell the violence, calling on his lieutenant in the west, the Earl of Argyll:

As disorder spread in the Western Isles, the Campbells became ‘the masters of aggressive feudalism’, especially under the eighth Earl of Argyll. Suspected of fomenting disorder and unrest among the western clans to justify his intervention on behalf of the Crown, his actions were largely responsible for the bitter enmity that subsequently divided the Campbells from the other clans in Argyll and the Western Isles, and especially the septs of Clan Donald.[5]

Thus when Alasdair MacColla arrived from Ireland in the 1640s, ostensibly to fight for King Charles I, many of the Western clans saw him not as a defender of the Stuart king or even of the Catholic faith (for many of them were now Episcopalians) but as an enemy of the eighth Earl — now Marquess — of Argyll, who was leading the opposition to Charles in Scotland.

When Charles was executed in London, even Argyll was angered; Charles’s son was declared king of Scotland and the Scots as a whole rallied to Charles II. The new king’s defeat by Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army in 1651 was followed by nearly a decade of English occupation. By the time King Charles was restored in 1660, most of the Macdonald clans were firmly in the Royalist camp, and it was Argyll, rather than the Crown, they considered a threat. None of them supported the invasion of the forfeited ninth Earl of Argyll in 1685, and all of them understood that with the ascension of William and Mary (whom the 10th Earl of Argyll supported), the Argyll family would also rise again.

John Roberts writes: “There can hardly be any doubt that the chieftains of the western Highland clans were deeply alarmed by the prospect of Argyll’s restoration, which threatened them all to varying degrees.”[6] And so in November of 1688 the Clan Alasdair lairds declared their support of Charles’s successor, James VII, and the close of 1689 found the Macalister chief facing arrest for treason. As it turned out, however, issuing a warrant for his arrest was easier than actually arresting him, and Alexander of Loup remained at liberty to fight once more for King James.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1]Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, series 3, vol. XV, pp. 2-3.

[2]The Macdonald who was ‘of Largie’ at Loup Hill was Donald, who died at Killiecrankie; it is his brother Archibald who is named in the December Privy Council register.

[3]Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, series 3, vol. XIV, pp. 235-6.

[4]D. Gregory, The History of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland, from AD 1493 to AD 1625, 2nd ed., p. 192; C. Fraser-Mackintosh, The Last Macdonalds of Isla, p. 26.

[5]John L. Roberts, Clan, King and Covenant (Edinburgh University Press, 2000), pp. 9-10.

[6]ibid., p. 174

Advertisements

In Victory, Defeat

On this day in 1689, Jacobite forces under John Graham, Viscount Dundee, inflicted a spectacular defeat on the forces of William of Orange at Killiecrankie in Perthshire. Among Dundee’s forces, fighting with the young MacDonald of Largie in a regiment led by Sir Alexander Maclean, were Alexander Macalister of Loup, and (probably) Alexander Macalister of Kinlochkellisport.[1] (Tarbert and Balinakill – the other two Macalister lairds who had participated in the rising’s early stages – had remained in Ireland with King James.) The Grameid, a Latin poem written shortly after the battle, names in flowery language the various clans that joined Dundee; lines 394-396 tell us: “The hero Loupe was one most faithful to the King, among those whom the rebel land of Argyll begat. The mighty M’Alister, second to none in warlike spirit, summons his clan from the paternal fields.”[2]

Killiecrankie was the climactic battle in the first Jacobite rising, which began a few months earlier when the Argyllshire clans learned that William of Orange had taken the throne and King James VII had fled to Ireland. In fact, nearly the entire force of ca. 2000 raised by Dundee consisted of (mostly West Highland) clansmen – some, but not all, following their chiefs. The clansmen rallied to Dundee for a variety of reasons, including religion (most of the Jacobites in all of the rebellions were Episcopalians) and politics.  But Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds is probably correct in his assertion that their immediate motivation, “neither for the first nor the last time, seems to have owed much to a shared antipathy to Argyll and his Clan”.[3] Indeed, with a new, Protestant king in place partly thanks to the Earl of Argyll, the chiefly line of Clan Campbell seemed poised to rise from the ashes yet again, and a resurgent House of Argyll threatened most of its neighbours for one reason or another. When Sir Alexander Maclean was granted a commission by the king in Ireland to raise a force in Kintyre, he found what Paul Hopkins calls the ‘non-Campbell clans’ in the north of the peninsula “unable to resist alone for long . . . but anxious to rise”.[4]

Dundee’s force seems not to have been taken all that seriously initially. Although General Mackay, the head of William’s forces in Scotland, “considered the highlanders the finest untrained soldiers in Scotland”, according to Hopkins, “he did not understand their manner of fighting, and had an incredibly crude and mechanical picture of a chief’s powers”, believing that no clansman would dare to act independently of his chief – let alone against his wishes.[5] Mackay thus assumed that most of Dundee’s clansmen were there under duress rather than by conviction and would give way when faced with experienced military power. This view was shared by some in the government, who expected the Viscount’s clansmen would betray him when they learned there was a price on his head.[6] But the Highlanders did neither.

The immediate cause of the battle at Killiecrankie was the seizure of Blair Castle, ancestral home of the Murrays of Atholl, by Patrick Steuart of Ballechin on Dundee’s orders. Learning of the castle’s fall, Lord Murray hurried to its defence, but with a small force and little ammunition, he could only set up a blockade and write to the new government for help. In response, General Mackay headed north. On the 26th of July, Lord Murray withdrew by several miles, and Dundee with his Highland army arrived at Blair Castle. By the following afternoon, Mackay’s force – six battalions of foot and two troops of horse, with some ‘leather’ cannons[7] (about 3,500 men) – had arrived.

Mackay’s army considerably outnumbered Dundee’s, but the Highlanders had several advantages. First, in the words of John Roberts, “Dundee had executed what can only be described as a brilliant tour-de-force”[8]: instead of taking the main road to the site of battle, he had led his troops up a back way, so that by the time Mackay saw them, they were uphill from the government forces, gaining a tactical advantage. Then, Dundee withheld the command to attack for two hours. Although there was a practical reason for this – the setting sun was in his warriors’ eyes – it must have been unnerving for those awaiting attack below. Third, Mackay was overly confident in the ability of his trained soldiers and horse to defeat what was (despite the image of Highland clans as violent, feuding warriors) essentially an untried force, most of whom had never before faced a battle.

But the greatest advantage Dundee had at Killiecrankie was that a generation had passed since Montrose and MacColla overwhelmed their opponents with the Highland Charge. Lessons learned in previous wars had been forgotten, and Mackay’s army, arranged so that they stood only three deep (not nearly strong enough to withstand the charge), was unprepared for what was about to hit it.

Raymond Campbell Paterson tells us

Just after 7 o’clock, as the summer sun was sinking just beyond Strath Garry . . . Dundee ordered a charge. Rushing downhill in the fashion of those who had followed Montrose and MacColla, the Jacobites let off a single volley, before falling on the enemy with their broadswords, slicing into Mackay’s line, and carrying away virtually the whole of his left wing and much of the centre.[9]

Mackay’s forces didn’t even have time to attach their bayonets before the Highlanders were on them, causing appalling injuries with their swords. The whole thing was over in about ten minutes.[10]

For the Jacobites, it was an astonishing victory, but it came at a cost that would prove unsustainable. Mackay’s total losses were greater, but he had more men to lose: The 600 or so Highlanders lost made up roughly a third of their army. Worse, Dundee himself was killed. Although others stepped in to command the Jacobites after the Viscount’s death, there was simply no one else who could truly lead them. The momentum that should have followed such a victory failed to develop; within a month the Jacobites would be scattered at Dunkeld, and although the rising would stumble on for another year, any real hope of success had died with John Graham at Killiecrankie.

“[D]ispersed like flies are King William’s men,” wrote Gaelic poet Iain Lom, an eye-witness; “And we are in grief though we chased them away.”[11]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Macalister of Kinloch, as he was also known, is not named specifically in connexion with Killiecrankie. However, we know that he was with Loup and MacDonald of Largie at the start of the rising, that unlike Tarbert and Balinakill he apparently returned with Loup from Ireland, and that he was still with Loup and Largie (or Largie’s successor) when they finally surrendered the following year. It seems likely therefore that he also fought with them.

[2] James Philip of Almerieclose, The Grameid: An Heroic Poem Descriptive of the Campaign of Viscount Dundee in 1689 and other pieces, 1691 (published in 1888 by the Scottish History Society), p. 154.

[3] Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell (Edinburgh University Press, 2004), vol. III, p. 65; other writers also stress the threat posed by Argyll to the clans involved.

[4] Hopkins, Glencoe and the End of the Highland War (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1998), p. 140.

[5] Hopkins, ibid., p. 137

[6] Hopkins, ibid., p. 151

[7] Chronicles of the Atholl and Tullibardine Families, collected and arranged by John, Seventh Duke of Atholl, KT (Edinburgh: Ballantyne Press, 1908), p. 299.

[8] Roberts, Clan, King and Covenant: History of the Highland Clans from the Civil War to the Glencoe Massacre (Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p. 188.

[9] Campbell Paterson, A Land Afflicted: Scotland and the Covenanter Wars, 1638-1690 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1998), p. 288.

[10] Roberts, ibid., p. 190

[11] A. H. Millar: “Killiecrankie described by an eye-witness.” Scottish Historical Review, no. 4 (1906): 63-70.

A Letter to Argyll

The Scottish parliamentary register for this day in 1689 records an interesting incident in which Alexander Macalister of Loup was involved. A French ship had arrived in Kintyre from Ireland, and Loup along with Angus Campbell of Kilberry had “secured and detained” the vessel and its passengers. These West Highland lairds then wrote to the Earl of Argyll asking him what they should do.[1]

Loup and Kilberry are described in Parliament’s response as ‘the searchers’, which suggests that they may have been told to watch for unusual arrivals from Ireland. This is not unlikely. Less than six months had passed since the Glorious Revolution installed the Protestant William of Orange on the throne in London. An attempt by James VII to retake his kingdom, if it was to be made, would come from Ireland (where the ousted king was gathering his forces), and its success would depend heavily on help from Catholic France. A French ship arriving from Ireland was therefore not a welcome development at all, and Parliament responded quickly to the letter from Kintyre. Loup and Kilberry were authorised to bring both the ship and its passengers to Glasgow, enlisting the help of as many people as necessary to sail the ship and guard the prisoners, and to use whatever was carried in the ship to cover any expenses incurred. It was decreed that “the thanks of the estates be returned to the searchers for their diligence”.[2]

What makes this event particularly interesting for Macalisters is that in November 1688 – about the time William of Orange was landing in England – Alexander of Loup was among the Kintyre lairds who had signed an address of loyalty to King James. Yet here he is only five months later, apparently helping Argyll to prevent James’s return. In fact, Loup’s behaviour makes perfect sense in context. In an interesting article of 1991, Paul Hopkins suggested that the men who signed November’s address to King James were probably less concerned about who sat on the throne in faraway London than about its local repercussions. Specifically, they feared that if James were ousted, the Argyll family (whose extensive lands and enormous power had been taken from them after the 1685 rebellion) would rise again.[3] By March of 1689 those fears had proven justified; those who wished to survive in Kintyre were wise to remain on Argyll’s good side.

But Hopkins also noted that although the “non-Campbell clans” of Kintyre consistently served the House of Argyll when it was too powerful to resist, they were quick to rebel when the opportunity arose. Indeed, only two months after being thanked by Parliament for his diligence in defending the kingdom against the Catholic threat, Loup was in arms against both Argyll and the new king, fighting for James VII in the first of the Jacobite risings.

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Records of the Parliaments of Scotland: 14 March 1689 (NAS. PA2/33, f.83v-84). 
[2]RPS: 14 March 168 (NAS. PA2/33, f.84).  
[3]Paul Hopkins, “Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First ‘Battle’ of Dundee’s Jacobite War”, Kintyre Magazine, Issue 29 (Spring 1991).

A MacAlister Falsely Accused

By early 1746, Hanoverian forces led by the Duke of Cumberland had recaptured Carlisle Castle from its Jacobite garrison, and the tide appeared to be turning against Charles Edward Stuart and his followers. Eager to take advantage of the Bonnie Prince’s inexplicable retreat, and probably wishing to repay the Jacobite horde for having scared the wits out of London, Cumberland’s men set about rounding up as many of the Young Pretender’s adherents as they could find. At some time in February of that year, Archibald MacAlister of Glengarry was arrested near Perth on suspicion of being one of them. 

The reasons for suspecting MacAlister are not given, but his name and place of origin might have been part of the problem. Although the Tarbert chieftain at the time of the ’45 was a Hanoverian, the Macalisters on the whole had always been Jacobites, and most of those who actually turned out for the Rising of 1745-6 served in the regiment of Macdonell of Glengarry. A MacAlister from Glengarry might reasonably have been assumed to have Jacobite sympathies.

This particular MacAlister, however, protested his innocence. As evidence, he offered to obtain a letter from the Presbyterian minister in Glengarry attesting to his loyalty. (The denomination is significant: Although Presbyterians were certainly represented among those fighting for Prince Charles, the vast majority of the Jacobites were Episcopalians, with most of the rest professing Catholics.) In the end it seems that this letter was unnecessary. The authorities soon concluded that MacAlister was not involved with the rebels and he was released.[1]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1] ‘Declarations of rebel prisoners at Perth’, Reference: B59/30/72(1) 

Battle of Loup Hill

On this day in 1689, the Battle of Loup Hill was fought in Kintyre. This battle was part of the first Jacobite rising, in which those loyal to James VII/II hoped to instigate counter-revolution and drive William of Orange from the throne. The ‘battle’ was really just a skirmish, and today it is more or less forgotten, but Loup Hill would prove strategically decisive because the loss of Kintyre cut the Scottish Jacobites off from Ireland, where the exiled King James had established his court.[1] It was the last battle ever fought in Kintyre.

Although there were many who felt that James was the rightful king, this first Jacobite rising “managed to attract fewer than 2000 men. Most of these were drawn from a small number of West Highland clans”[2], specifically those Paul Hopkins calls ‘the non-Campbell clans’, including the Macalisters.[3] Early in May, expecting the arrival of reinforcements from Ireland, Alexander Macalister of Loup and Archibald Macalister of Tarbert, along with Macneill of Gallachoille and Macdonald of Largie, had seized Skipness Castle on the eastern side of the peninsula. There they were joined by others, including the Macalister lairds of Balinakill and Kenloch – but not by the promised Irish regiments. The Jacobites eventually totalled about 400 and controlled a good part of northern Kintyre. They were thus able to block the southward advance of a hurriedly assembled government force sent to retake the peninsula under Capt. William Young. Young opted instead to cut across to the west, where he could threaten the estates of Loup and Largie. Loup and Largie had posted about 200 men on Loup Hill, and as Young’s force passed to the south, the Jacobites attacked.

Accounts of the actual fighting are few, and those that exist are contradictory, but despite the advantage of height, the Jacobites fought ineffectually and were routed. Some fled into the hills and some north into Knapdale; some headed back to Skipness to take shelter in the castle. With his inexperienced force, Young opted not to pursue, and he and his men continued on to Clachan for the night. There, local supporters who had been waiting for outside help began to join the government force. Two proposals (one of them from Loup) arrived that night for surrender on terms, but Young insisted on complete and immediate submission and the Jacobite chiefs abandoned Kintyre.

The Macalister lairds fled to King James in Ireland. Tarbert was back by autumn to take the Oath of Allegiance, along with Balinakill. But Loup and Kenloch remained in arms, returning to fight at Killiecrankie, where Viscount Dundee was killed and the rising effectually came to an end. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Much of the information in this post comes from Dr. Paul Hopkins, ‘Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First “Battle” of Dundee’s Jacobite War’, Kintyre Magazine, issue 29 (Spring 1991).
[2] T. M. Devine, The Scottish Nation, p. 32
[3] The Earl of Argyll had supported William, mainly because King James had refused to restore his family’s forfeited estates. William had agreed to support Presbyterianism in Scotland, mainly because the bishops of the Episcopalian church refused to renounce James. Neither the restoration of Argyll nor the imposition of Presbyterianism sat well with these clans.

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. 

Culloden

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.

Archibald of Tarbert

On this day in 1737 was registered the testament of Archibald Macalister, 7th laird and 4th Captain of Tarbert. Archibald had lived a relatively long life in eventful times. Though probably born after the civil wars of the 1640s had ended, he nonetheless grew up in the wake of devastation they left on Kintyre. His early childhood was spent under the Commonealth, surrounded by people who were probably still angered, and perhaps still shocked, by the loss of their autonomy and the death of their king.[1] On top of that, the war had taken on a very local hue in Kintyre, becoming the latest, and possibly the most destructive, battle in the ongoing feud between the Macdonalds (with their allies) and the Campbells (with theirs). Each group in turn had committed acts that would now be considered atrocities, and yet they continued to live side by side; suspicion and hard feeling must have persisted.

The Tarbert family seems to have done well after the wars. Archibald’s father held local appointments under Charles II in the 1670s and maintained the official position of Captain of Tarbert under the Campbells of Argyll. However, 1685 – the year in which Archibald succeeded his father as captain – was a turning point. At the death of King Charles, the Earl of Argyll joined in a rebellion against the newly crowned – and Catholic – James VII; the rebellion failed, the earl was executed, and his family lost its possessions in Kintyre.[2] The Macdonalds and their allies, seeing an opportunity to avenge the wrongs done them in the wars of the previous generation, ran amok over what had been Campbell territories. Archibald did his part, raiding Campbell strongholds with his friends. Based on the number of things they stole, it’s possible that Archibald joined in the destruction more as an opportunist than out of any real grievance against the Argyll family. On the other hand, more than one observer has pointed out that loyalty to the Stuart kings and opposition to the Argyll family were essentially the same thing in seventeenth-century Kintyre. Certainly when King James was ousted four years later, Archibald became an early and enthusiastic Jacobite, apparently remaining so all his life.

In 1689 Archibald joined in the first of the Jacobite risings. On the 16th of May, along with Macalister of Loup and MacDonald of Largie, he took part in the last battle fought in Kintyre, the Battle of Loup Hill. The Jacobites were routed, however, and Archibald fled to Ireland. He took no part in the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie in July, and the death in that battle of Viscount Dundee effectively ending the rising. William and Mary remained on the throne and Argyll’s son was restored to all his father’s titles and possessions, including the Tarbert properties. Archibald returned to submit to the new government in September. 

After this, he seems to have lived at peace with both his Campbell overlord and the new administration. He appears in a legal capacity as executor of the testament of John Macalister of Balinakill in 1693, and purchases the Balinakill property from another Campbell family five years later. In 1704, he is on record as a Commissioner of Supply for Argyllshire, suggesting that he was trusted by the authorities – at least with their money![3] In 1705, in one of its final acts before ceasing to exist, the Scottish parliament granted Archibald the right to establish a quarterly fair and weekly market in East Tarbert – events that continued for centuries. 

But the records hint that Archibald’s Jacobite sympathies remained. A list made in 1715 of the heritors of Argyll marked him as one of those believed to have signed an address of welcome to James VIII (‘the Old Pretender’), whose invasion was imminent. Of the 19 named heritors in the Argyll division, only six are so marked, two of them Macalisters. Not long after this, a list was sent to King George of those Argyll landlords he could rely upon for support; Archibald’s name is noticeably missing. It appears that despite his family’s longstanding connection to the Argyll family, Archibald’s loyalties lay entirely with the exiled Stuarts. Perhaps he even anticipated that another opportunity would arise to fight for his king. As it was, he died eight years too soon.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011


[1] Even Charles’s enemies in Scotland, including the Marquess of Argyll, had been appalled by his execution. The Covenanters, led by Argyll, had sought to limit the king’s powers, especially over the kirk, but they had never questioned his right to rule. When the English Parliament tried and executed Charles for treason, they killed not only their own king, but also the king of Scotland, a separate nation in which he had been neither tried nor convicted of any crime. It didn’t go over very well in Scotland.
[2] Tarbert castle and its lands reverted to the Crown, which left the Macalisters in place as Captains of Tarbert. However, the Tarbert family ceased to live in the castle at about this time. According to Dr Paul Hopkins, Tarbert, along with most of the area’s other castles, had been dismantled in the wake of Argyll’s 1685 rebellion; other sources say that it had simply fallen into disrepair, but whatever the reason, the Macalisters built themselves a new home nearby.
[3] Commissioners of Supply were local men appointed to collect various special assessments when these were felt necessary by the government. These assessments sometimes related to the costs of wars, other times to necessary infrastructure improvements or other temporary needs.

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.
[2] 
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.