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

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Argyll’s rebellion

On this day in 1685, Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, wrote a letter to the Laird of Loup. Argyll was writing from Campbeltown, where he was trying to gather forces to join him in rebellion against James VII. In his letter, he reminded the Macalister chief[1] of the “great friend-ship” his father had shared with Argyll and of their common commitment to the Protestant faith. He urged Macalister to leave the Duke of Atholl, whose forces apparently included our clan, and join Argyll in the fight against Popery. Similar letters were written to several other local lairds and chiefs.[2]

The fact that Argyll was attempting (in conjunction with the Monmouth Rebellion about to begin in England[3]) to overthrow the king was a complete turn of events. Up to this point he had actively supported the king, and he certainly does not appear to have been unduly concerned about James’s Catholicism. Unlike his father, the Marquis, who was executed in 1661, the 9th earl was not a Covenanter – at one point he objected to even being called a Presbyterian.[4] James’s brother and predecessor, Charles II, had restored to Argyll most – but not all – of the lands and titles that had been forfeited by his father, and until fairly recently the earl had been on good terms with both kings.

Unfortunately for the earl, there were many in Scotland who had no desire to see Campbell power restored. In the west Highlands, clan feuds going back generations and more recent resentment over acquisition of land combined to create a small army of “anti-Campbell” clans[5]; in Edinburgh there were political opponents whose own power depended on Argyll remaining out of favour. Additionally, although some of the lands once owned by his father were not restored to him, the debts against those properties were,[6] leaving the 9th earl with numerous creditors eager to see him forfeited. Eventually Argyll’s enemies convinced James that he was not to be trusted. The earl was convicted of treason (unjustly, as many said even at the time) and sentenced to death,[7] but he escaped, taking refuge with a growing number of Scottish and English exiles in Amsterdam. It was there, finally realising that he had no hope of restoration while James remained on the throne, that the previously loyal earl turned on the king.

It was not, perhaps, unreasonable for Argyll to hope that he would find support among the men of Kintyre. For one thing, an awful lot of them were Campbells, of whom he was at least nominally the chief. Beyond that, local opinion held that several of the clans currently with the Duke of Atholl “were affected to Argyll”, including the Macalisters.[8] And then, of course, there were histories of friendship such as the one he had shared with Loup’s father. But times change, and Macalister of Loup was not his father. It was already clear by late May that things were not going well for Argyll. In hindsight, it is also clear that this particular Laird of Loup was a genuine supporter of James VII.[9] When he received the earl’s letter, he did not rush to support Argyll. Instead, he forwarded the letter to the authorities.[10]

Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, was captured at Kilpatrick about the 19th of June and executed on the 30th of that month. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1] This was probably Alexander; Godfrey was roughly the same age as Argyll and it is hard to believe the two would not have known each other, having come from closely linked families and spent much of their lives in the same small area. Godfrey’s testament was registered in 1686, but he could have died considerably earlier.

[2] Raymond Campbell Paterson, No Tragic Story: The Fall of the House of Campbell (John Donald Publishers, 2001), p. 106.
[3] The Duke of Monmouth, James Scott, was one of Charles II’s many illegitimate offspring. He had claimed for some time that as the king’s eldest son, and a Protestant, he rather than James VII belonged on the throne. His supporters claimed that the king had actually married James’s mother, which would make him a legitimate son and heir, but Charles denied this publicly and no evidence was ever found to support it.
[4] J. Willcock, A Scots Earl in Covenanting Times: Being Life and Times of Archibald, 9th Earl of Argyll (1629-1685) (Andrew Elliot, 1907), p. 147. 
[5]This is Paterson’s term; I think Dr Hopkins’s “non-Campbell clans” is probably more accurate. They were not all, and not always, hostile to the Campbells. 
[6] Paterson, p. 28
[7] There is some question about whether or not the king would have allowed the execution to take place. He had specifically instructed the Privy Council not to act on any verdict until they heard from him, as the final decision was to be his.
[8] Historical Manuscripts Commission: The Manuscripts of the Duke of Athole, KT, and the Earl of Home (London, 1891), p. 13. 
[9] See Kintyre Macalisters Support James VII and Battle of Loup Hill
[10] Willcock, pp. 353, 434. At least one other laird did the same thing (Paterson, 101).

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).