A Freeholder of Argyll

On the 19th July 1790, a meeting was held at Inveraray of the freeholders of Argyllshire, who gathered to choose the shire’s representative for the upcoming parliament. Among the attendees listed is Angus Macalister, 11th of Loup.

In the Scottish context, a freeholder was a tenant-in-chief — someone who held his lands directly from the king. This had nothing to do with the landholder’s local prominence or personal wealth. Many well-established families in Scotland held their lands from one of the king’s vassals rather than from the king himself[1] — including the Macalisters of Tarbert, who were vassals, or subtenants, of the Campbells of Argyll. The Loup family itself held some of its properties from the Macdonalds of Dunyvaig in earlier times, and later some from Argyll. But the Macalister chiefs’ position as freeholders was important. William Ferguson tells us that “by the late seventeenth century the term [freeholder] was used mainly with reference to the electoral system, the freeholders or barons constituting the county electorate”.[2] In fact, “[o]utside the burghs virtually all Scottish voters” belonged to this group, according to Margaret Sankey and Daniel Szechi; as a result “county electorates were small, usually less than a hundred voters”.[3] Thus despite Angus’s relative insignificance compared to magnates like Argyll, he was one of the few Argyllshire men who could vote and his family therefore wielded considerable power.

It is not clear when the Macalisters first gained possession of the property from which their territorial designation comes, but they clearly were freeholders almost from the start. The first mention we have of the lands of Loup is in 1481, when the king granted them, along with many others, to John of Islay (Lord of the Isles). The property seems to have been granted by him to the Macalisters who, as a sept of the Clan Donald living in the heart of the Lordship, were already John’s followers. Certainly by the time of the final Forfeiture, in 1493, the Macalister chief was holding Loup as a vassal of Macdonald of the Isles.[4] At that point John’s lands in Kintyre reverted to the king, who apparently regranted Loup to the Macalisters, thereafter to be held directly of him. The rentals of 1506 and 1541 show the Loup property still in the hands of the Macalisters, and in 1605, Macalister’s charter for his crown holdings was confirmed.

In 1607, Kintyre was granted to the Campbell Earl of Argyll in response to the Macdonald-Maclean feud. Argyll’s grant was ratified in 1617, after more trouble from the (now landless) Macdonalds of Dunyvaig. The earl was instructed not to let any of his new lands to anyone named Macdonald, Maclean, Macneill or Macalister. However, Hector Macalister, 6th of Loup, held his lands of the king, not Argyll; additionally, Hector had been too young to be involved in the various disorders of the early 1600s, so no punitive measures were taken against him. Still, holding one’s land in Kintyre required a diplomatic balancing act: Loyalty to the king served the Loup family well when Argyll fell from favour, but during the 17th century it was often a liability. The Macalisters didn’t always get it right; they did however seem to know when it was time to give up: As an adult, Hector narrowly avoided forfeiture (or worse) at the end of the Civil Wars by quickly switching sides when it became clear that Alasdair MacColla’s rising was at an end; his great-grandson, Alexander the 10th of Loup, was accused of treason for his involvement in the first Jacobite rising and almost certainly would have been forfeited had he not surrendered before he could be arrested.

But different types of challenge presented themselves in the centuries that followed. Allan Macinnes writes, “The acquisitiveness of the Campbells at the expense of other Argyllshire clans [was] the most pronounced feature of landholding in the eighteenth century”.[5] Indeed, of the 57 heritors who appear on the 1751 valuation of Kintyre, nearly half (23) are Campbells.[6] Among those who had fallen victim to Campbell hegemony were the Tarbert Macalisters, who by 1751 had already lost most of their lands and were being sued by Argyll for failure to meet some of the terms of their tenancy. Yet the very fact of Angus’s inclusion on the list of voters for this particular election suggests one reason he had survived. As Sankey and Szechi explain,

Being returned to Westminster as a knight of the shire for a Scottish county . . . required a successful candidate to exploit his local and family networks to produce a coalition of friends, neighbours and kinsmen sufficient to vote him in.[7]

The unanimous election of Lord Frederick Campbell, a brother of the 5th Duke of Argyll, to the post[8] suggests that the men who met on this day at Inverary — including Angus Macalister of Loup — were those who had made themselves Campbell allies.

Ultimately, however, Angus’s political realism could not save him from the biggest threat to 18th-century lairds: accumulating debt. He had already been sued, in November 1746, by creditors of his father Charles in attempt to collect on Charles’s debts. Before the end of the decade, his lands in Kintyre would be sold off by trustees. Although the designation ‘of Loup’ is still held by Angus’s successors, he was the last of this family to be called a freeholder of Argyll.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2016

[1] A. Mackenzie, A View of the Political State of Scotland at the Late General Election (Edinburgh: Mundell & Son, 1790), p. 21.

[2] W. Ferguson, Scotland: 1689 to the Present, Edinburgh History of Scotland vol. 4 (Mercat Press, 1990), p. 72.

[3] Sankey & Szechi, “Elite Culture and the Decline of Scottish Jacobitism, 1716-1745” in Past & Present, No. 173 (Nov. 2001), p. 105.

[4] Origines Parochiales, vol. 2, part 1, p. 31.

[5] A. Macinnes, “Landownership, Land Use and Elite Enterprise in Scottish Gaeldom: from Clanship to Clearance in Argyllshire, 1688-1858”, in T. Devine, ed., Scottish Elites, p. 9

[6] L. Timperley, A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland, c. 1770 (Scottish Record Society, 2014), pp. 28-46.

[7] Sankey & Szechi, ibid.

[8] A. Mackenzie, p. 59.

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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

 

The Ascent of Tarbert

On this day in 1619, a bond was signed among the barons of Argyll. The bond dealt primarily with relationships within the Clan Campbell, so it is not surprising that all but three of the signators are Campbells. Among those who are not, however, is Archibald Macalister of Tarbert.[1]

The bond in question concerned a serious breach that had taken place within the Clan Campbell during the minority of the clan’s chief, the 7th Earl of Argyll. Competition between the various branches of that clan had resulted in the murder of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor in 1591 as part of “a foul conspiracy against Archibald, the seventh Earl”.[2] There were a number of people involved in the plot, but most of the blame fell on Sir John Campbell of Ardkinglas. Understandably this had caused hard feelings between the two families, and with their chief indefinitely out of the country,[3] there was a reasonable concern that the feud could lead to further violence. As part of the clan’s efforts to maintain law and order in Argyll during the earl’s absence, it was agreed that there should be a formal reconciliation between the families involved.[4]

Why Macalister of Tarbert was included is not clear. He and his chief, Macalister of Loup, had both been appointed a month earlier to help Campbell of Kilberry police Kintyre, but neither Loup nor Kilberry himself appear to be connected to this bond. It is possible that he simply happened to be on hand when witnesses were needed, but Campbell historian Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds indicates that he was actually party to the bond,[5] in the company of such men as Campbell of Auchinbreck, Campbell of Lochnell and Campbell of Otter. Evidently by this point Tarbert was seen as the head of a distinct house.

Although the Macalister connexion to Tarbert went back to the 1540s, it was not until the very end of the sixteenth century that these Macalisters began to act as a separate branch of the clan. They were not required to sign the General Band of 1587, suggesting that they were still very much under the authority of the Macalister chief, and as of 1591, they still held their lands as tenants of Loup rather than directly from Argyll. In 1596, they were included in a list of Kintyre landholders, but not given any particular prominence.[6] In fact, we first find Tarbert lairds acting independently at the start of the 1600s, when two of them, Hector and Archibald successively, are in trouble for raiding in Arran and Bute. Interestingly, in Archibald’s case his associates included the Earl of Argyll, suggesting that he was already on good terms with the chief of Clan Campbell.

I suspect the key to the Tarberts’ rise to prominence might lie in the status of the Loup family at this time. The head of our clan at the turn of the century was Godfrey 5th of Loup – a troublemaker in general (it was he who murdered his tutor in 1597 and instigated the Askomil incident) and a close associate of the even-more-troublesome Dunyvaig Macdonalds. Godfrey was followed as chief by Hector, who was a minor until about 1617. Thus for nearly twenty years the Tarbert Macalisters appear to have simply gone their own way. While the Loup family continued to adhere to the House of Dunyvaig, the Tarbert branch apparently deemed it wiser to cultivate the friendship of their Campbell neighbours. (Clearly, friendship with the Campbells did not keep the Tarbert lairds out of trouble, but getting into trouble with those in the king’s favour was likely to be less permanently disastrous than following the Macdonalds, who seemed to go out of their way to attract royal wrath.) It’s possible that it was during Godfrey’s tenure that some of the Tarbert lands were granted directly to that family, which would make Argyll their immediate landlord. Proximity to the Campbell heartland might also have been a factor. Whatever the reasons, in this period the Tarbert Macalisters appear more frequently in connexion with various Campbell lairds than with anyone else.

Although Hector of Loup was finally an adult by this time, recognised as one of the primary Kintyre lairds and included in the peace-keeping arrangement of 1618, it makes sense that it would be Tarbert rather than Loup who was called upon to be party to the Campbell bond. Though loyalties would vary from generation to generation, from this point on the Tarbert family were their own men, and they continued to play a prominent role in events in Kintyre well into the 18th century.

copyright @ Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1]My information about this bond comes entirely from Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds (A History of Clan Campbell, vol. II, pp. 175-6).

[2]John Taylor, The Great Historic Families of Scotland (London, 1889), vol. I, p. 287; Campbell, History, vol. II, pp. 100-103.

[3]Argyll had been granted permission to travel to England. Instead, he went to Spain, and he did not return when ordered to do so. In view of his dire financial situation – caused partly by other people’s failure to pay him rents and debts owed – it is hardly surprising that he wanted to escape, and as he had converted to Catholicism, Spain was a logical place to start again. Spain was not seen as a friend of Scotland at this time, however, and to make matters worse, once he was there the earl established friendly relations with a number of the king’s enemies, among them his own erstwhile foe, Sir James Macdonald of Dunyvaig. Eventually he was declared a traitor by King James, and although he spent his final days in London, he was never allowed to return to Scotland. (Wm. Anderson, The Scottish Nation, vol. I (1867), p. 555; Campbell, History, vol. II, pp. 174-5)

[4]Campbell, History, vol. II, pp. 175-6

[5] Ibid.

[6]Way & Squire, p. 204; Castleton, p. 167; MacPhail, pp. 75-78.

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

[2]ibid.  

[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

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).

Hector and the Synod of Argyll

On this day in 1649, ‘Hector mc Alister of Lowpe’ was among those commissioned by the Synod of Argyll to visit the Isle of Arran and examine that parish’s minister, if they could find him. The synod wanted the Rev John Knox questioned concerning his position during the ‘recent rebellion’.[1] The significance of Loup’s inclusion on this committee depends on which view is taken of Hector’s own involvement in the rebellion. It certainly refutes the frequently made claim that Loup was the Hector Macalister hanged by the Marquis of Argyll in 1647.[2] In fact, it appears to support the theory that Hector had stayed out of the rebellion entirely, despite his clansmen having fought and died for MacColla. After all, how could someone who had been in rebellion himself now be seen as sufficiently reliable to question others on their own involvement? A closer look at available records, however, hints at a more complicated story.  

The Laird of Loup is first mentioned as an elder of the Kirk in May of 1643.[3] Such a position suggests that his commitment to the Presbyterian church, in terms not only spiritual but also political, was considered reliable. In the years after this, however, he disappears from church records, as do several of the Kintyre churchmen. In fact, it seems that something was amiss in the presbytery of Kintyre.[4] This is probably no coincidence. As has been mentioned previously, the loyalty of the Kintyre clans to the House of Argyll – and thus probably to his convictions – depended a great deal on their perception of Argyll’s ability to enforce it. By May of 1644, the marquis was distracted by military matters and often out of the area. Meanwhile Alasdair MacColla had returned, supported by well-trained Irish troops and determined to regain at least some of the lands of his ancestors. The displaced Dunyvaig Macdonalds, to whom MacColla was closely related, had many friends in Kintyre – the Macalisters among them. By September of 1646, when “the troubles of the countrey” had left most of the parishes in the Synod of Argyll in chaos or abandoned, the presbytery of Kintyre was “under the power of the rebells”.[5] 

Although no documentary evidence exists of the position taken by Hector of Loup, the hints we have suggest that at this point, he had abandoned the Covenanters[6] and was himself one of those rebels. ‘Macalister of the Loup’ is named by a witness to the siege of Skipness Castle as one of those sent by MacColla to capture that Campbell stronghold[7], and the French diplomat Jean de Montereul also identified the Macalister chief as one of MacColla’s men.[8] Based on the Macalisters’ historical association with the Dunyvaig Macdonalds (and the fact that his daughter had recently married Alasdair MacColla himself), it is quite possible that Hector, like his clansmen, genuinely supported MacColla’s efforts to recapture Macdonald lands. On the other hand, it’s also possible that, finding himself surrounded by vengeful and destructive Macdonalds, he simply thought it prudent to bury his true allegiance and assume his forefathers’ role as Clan Donald supporter. 

In either case, the Macalister chief knew that his own survival depended on backing the victorious faction, and after MacColla’s defeat at the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss (27 May 1647) Hector appears to have switched sides again. According to Montereul’s letter of 11 June 1647, “the same night two chiefs of the clans, Macneil and Macalister” went privately to General Leslie and offered to abandon MacColla, “with all their followers, if they were assured of their lives and of their property, which the Marquis of Argyle . . . promised them.”[9]  

Whether or not Argyll was really in a position to make such a promise is unclear. Leslie, not the marquis, was in charge. Certainly there were Macalisters killed, evicted or excommunicated for their part in MacColla’s rising. But whatever his personal feelings, Macalister of Loup ultimately chose to align himself with Argyll and the Presbyterians. In return, as they did with many others, the Synod of Argyll apparently accepted as sincere his repentance for straying from the Covenant and restored him to the communion of the kirk. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Minutes of the Synod of Argyll, vol. 1, p. 126 
[2]The Hector Macalister hanged after Dunaverty was Hector of Glenlussa.
[3]Minutes, vol. 1, p. 65 
[4]See for example Minutes, vol. 1, pp. 87, 93. 
[5]Minutes, vol. 1, p. 99 
[6]Readers unfamiliar with the role of the Covenants in Scottish history and the English Civil War can find a brief summary here.
[7]Campbell of Airds, vol. 2, pp. 238-9 
[8]Fotheringham, p. 151 
[9]ibid. 

Macalister Clan Centre Established

In September of 1984, Angus Macalister of Glenbarr presented his home, Glenbarr Abbey, to the Macalister clan worldwide for use as a clan centre.

The Macalisters of Glenbarr descend from Ranald Mòr, a younger son of Angus vic Ean Dhù who was chief of the clan c. 1515. More specifically, their ancestor was Ranald Macalister of Skerinish (1715-1762), factor to the MacDonalds of Kingsburgh in Skye. Ranald married Anne MacDonald, Kingsburgh’s daughter, and together they had twelve children, although not all of them survived. The family is most famous for its role in sheltering Prince Charles Edward Stuart as he escaped after Culloden: Flora Macdonald (Anne’s future sister-in-law) brought him to Skye disguised as her maid; he left the following morning wearing one of Ranald’s kilts.[1]

But the family’s later adventures were also impressive. One of their sons, Norman, became the governor of Prince of Wales Island (now Penang). Another, Alexander, purchased the Strathaird estate in Skye (his daughter Janet married into the dispossessed Tarbert line), and Keith purchased the initial properties from which his brother Matthew would build up the Glenbarr estate. Later generations were prominent in the East India Company and in law, and they played a key role in colonising New South Wales. Two of them died in shipwrecks.

The Abbey, which was built by Ranald’s son Matthew (and completed in the 1840s by Matthew’s son Keith), is on the Glenbarr estate in western Kintyre. Glenbarr itself was purchased bit by bit during the early 19th century; it includes most of the lands that once made up the Loup estate. It is the last property in Kintyre to be owned by one of the clan’s leading families. (Nearby Torrisdale Castle was owned by the Strathaird family, but it was sold by them in the late 19th century. The current owners are called Macalister Hall.) By 1843, Keith Macalister was the only heritor in Killean & Kilkenzie parish who lived on his property year-round rather than leaving it to the care of factors.[2]

Angus Macalister died in 2007.[3] Today as he wished Glenbarr Abbey serves as a clan centre, and Macalisters come from all over the world to learn about their history and celebrate their heritage.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]Kingsburgh manuscript, copy in my possession. Original copies are held at Glenbarr Abbey.
[2]New Statistical Account, vol. 7, p. 391 
[3]Angus MacAlister of Glenbarr“, the Scotsman, 17 April 2007. 

Loup Lands Lost (sort of . . .)

On this day in 1803, William McNeill of Hayfield was seised in (registered as owner of) the Loup lands of Portachoillan, Corran, Margard, Shirgrim, and Shenakeill with the mill, on disposition by trustees for the creditors of Angus McAlester 11th of Loup; McNeill also purchased three merklands of Dunskaig and two merklands of Lemnamuick from Angus’s widow, Jane McDonald, and the wife of their son Charles (these properties were also held by Angus’s trustees.) Angus and Charles had appointed trustees for the Loup lands eight years earlier, giving them the right to sell any or all of the estate in order to pay Angus’s debts.[1] By this time, the Loup family had already settled in Ayrshire, having acquired the Kennox estate by marriage (see Macalister of Loup and Kennox.)

Local historian Ian MacDonald explains the loss of the Loup lands as the result of the family’s support for the Jacobite cause in the ’45, saying that “Generally all of the old Highland estates who supported the House of Stuart failed with the second Jacobite rebellion”.[2] However, the forfeited estates of Jacobite families had been restored to their heirs by 1784, nearly two decades before this occurred. Furthermore forfeited lairds would not have had the luxury of appointing trustees to dispose of their lands or profiting from the sales. 

A more likely explanation is given by Alexander Fraser, who notes that the late 18th century saw the beginnings of “an economic landslide in Mid-Argyll . . . . The accumulated difficulties of more than one hundred years proved insupportable, and the landed families . . . failed, one after another”.[3] Historian T. M. Devine agrees: “Manifestly, the minor lairds were under considerable economic pressure before the 1750s.”[4]

But new families were rising in Kintyre as the old ones disappeared. Within five years of MacNeill’s acquisition, most of the Loup lands were purchased by Keith Macalister of the Kingsburgh family, who was building up what became the Glenbarr estate.[5] In 1984 part of that estate was donated to the clan by Keith’s descendant, Angus Macalister of Glenbarr; it now serves as the Macalister Clan Centre.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] “Clan McAlester” Report, p. 5

[2] personal correspondance with Ian MacDonald, Oct. 2000

[3] North Knapdale in the XVII and XVIIIth Centuries, p. 81. 

[4] Scotland‘s Empire and the Shaping of the Americas, p. 67

[5]  For some time after this, apparently assuming that the designation went with the property, Keith and his close relatives titled themselves ‘of Loup’. (see, e.g., NSA, vol. 14, p. 305). However, in 1847, the Lord Lyon recognised Charles McAlester of Loup and Kennox as the “heir male and representative of the ancient family of the Macalesters of Loup.” (“Clan McAlester” Report, pp. 9–10; Castleton, p. 173), decreeing that the designation ‘of Loup’ remained with that family despite the loss of the Loup lands.

Teàrlach MacAlexander, Steward of Kintyre

On this day in 1481, Teàrlach MacAlexander (Charles Macalister) received a charter for 40 merklands in Kintyre from King James III, who was parcelling out the lands he had taken from John Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, upon that chief’s first submission to the Crown in 1475. Although most of the lands included in this grant are easy to identify on a map today (e.g., Macquhuirymore of Dounaverty is Machrimore in Southend parish), a few are less clear and their locations are still debated. As a result, the geographical extent of Charles’s grant is hard to determine.[1]

However, this charter gave Charles “a wider jurisdiction” than that of simple landholder. Charles was appointed Steward of Kintyre, which meant he was answerable directly to the Crown rather than to a higher landlord such as Macdonald, and he had some degree of legal authority over those who lived on these lands. The fact that, shortly after the mighty Lord of the Isles was brought to his knees (literally) in Edinburgh, “we find a member of clan Donald receiving a crown appointment as steward of Kintyre” is interesting. It suggests that at this point the various branches of the Clan Donald were seen as semi-separate units quite capable of acting independently. Other Macdonald chieftains, such as Macian of Ardnamurchan and Macdonald of Dunyvaig, also gained new charters and increased authority.[2] 

It appears that the Macalister Stewardry survived the final forfeiture of 1493, as Alexander Makalexander is called ‘the Steward’ in the Kintyre Rentals of 1505 and is holding the lands “pretaining to the Steward”. By 1510, the Earl of Argyll had possession of all the lands in Kintyre, North and South, and in 1515, Angus vic Ean Dhù Macalister appears on record as a Servitor of Argyll, suggesting that the family’s influence had decreased substantially. In the Rentals of 1541, none of the lands “pertaining to the Steward” appear to be held by this clan and the head of the family is simply called McAllester of Loup. Still, the Loup family’s prominence is indicated by the fact that they are among those specifically named in 1653 as having “big houses” on the land they hold, and that “Lowpes hous” is the location chosen by several local tacksmen to submit their tacks to Argyll in that year.[3]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

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[1] The grant did not include Tarbert castle, with which a branch of the clan was later associated.

[2] Munro, Acts of the Lords of the Isles, pp. xxvii, li

[3] Stewart, List of Inhabitants upon the Duke of Argyle’s Property in Kintyre in 1792, pp. 3, 6,  49, 54.

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.