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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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