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

 

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.

Macalisters in the 1694 Hearth Tax lists

On this day in 1694, Alexander McArthur, subcollector of the hearth tax in the shire of Argyll and Bute, presented to the authorities his list of ‘hearths’ (or dwellings) in these shires. The hearth tax was levied in the 1690s to raise money for one of William II’s wars against Catholic France. Each hearth was assessed at 14 shillings, so that bigger dwellings – those with multiple hearths – paid more. (The very poor were not required to pay the hearth tax.)[1] The lists compiled for this purpose thus give the name of the landholder, the location of the dwelling, and the number of hearths in each.

These lists provide a glimpse into who was living in the area at this point, but some caution is needed as the accuracy and completeness varies from shire to shire. There are nine Macalisters listed in Kintyre; in Knapdale (part of which is now considered North Kintyre) there are eleven. They are settled in small clumps from as far north as Lochgilphead all the way south to the Mull of Kintyre.  The Alexander McAllester residing at Ardpatrick, which is where the Loup family lived at this time, probably represents that family; and John McAllester ‘of Lochead’ – Macalister of Ceannlochcaolisport – is also named. But some Macalister families known to have been in the area are omitted. The Balinakill estate is not listed under any name at all, although it’s possible that Balinakill was between residents and therefore lacked inhabitants to tax.[2] A more glaring omission is Archibald Macalister of Tarbert. There are two Macalisters in Tarbert proper, but neither is an Archibald, and the only Archibald living on Tarbert lands is found not in the castle but on a multiple-tenant farm at Glenakill.

There are also Macalisters who appear on the list in disguise, such as Isobel Campbell of Daill. Isobel was the daughter of Archibald Macalister of Balinakill. She married Malcolm McKellar, wadsetter of Daill, in 1673; staying on the property after his death in 1686, she married again, this time to a Mr Campbell.

Macalister hearths in Kintyre:

Hector & Angus McAlester – 2 hearths in Kilcolmkill (now Keil)

Ronald McAllester & Charles McAllester, 1 each in Kilirvan

Ronald McAllester – 1 in Campbelton

Donald McAllister – 1 in Ulodell (parish of Killean, Saddell & Kilchenzie)

Archibald McAllester – 1 in Bellochger (same)

Allexander McAllister – 1 in Auchaluskin & Killean (same)

Angus McIllester – 1 in Drumore (near Campbelton)

Hendrie McAllester – 1 in Putachan (Killean)

Macalister hearths in Knapdale:

Allexander McAllester – 5 hearths in Ardffadrick (Ardpatrick)

John & Hector McAllester (along with three Smiths, possibly brothers) – 5 hearths in Ashens

Archibald McAllester (along with three other men) – 4 hearths in Glenakill

Allexander and Coll McAllester (along with quite a few others) – 12 hearths in Tarbert

Charles McAllester – 1 in Lochhead

John McAllester of Lochead (probably Ceanlochcaolisport family) – 1 in Lochead

Allexander McAllester – 1 in Ellary

Ranald McAllester – 1 in Brenfeorlin

Duncan McAllester – 1 in Barbe (Barbrae Ross)


Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[2]John Dow Macalister of Balinakill died in 1693; five years later the estate was purchased from a Campbell family by Archibald Macalister.