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

 

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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

Men of Their Time

On this day in 1615, two Macalisters were hanged at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh. They had been sentenced to death five days earlier, along with Angus Og Macdonald and three others, for seizing Dunyvaig Castle and holding it against the king.

Although quite a few Macalisters were involved in the complicated and ongoing Dunyvaig rebellion, Angus and Allaster MacAllaster were the only two considered sufficiently important to be brought to Edinburgh and tried along with Angus Og, the ringleader. This would suggest not only that they were deeply involved with the events at the former Macdonald stronghold but also that they held roles of some prominence among the allies of Clan Donald South, who at this point were a constant headache for the government. Angus’s identity is unclear to me, although he was probably a close relative of the chief, but Allaster is easier to trace: He belonged to the Loup family (he was probably the chief’s cousin) and had come to the attention of the authorities before.

These men lived at a time of transition, when Macdonald power in the west was rapidly subsiding and various Campbell families were slowly bringing the area under government (or at least Campbell) control. The Statutes of Iona (1609) would alter traditional Gaelic society in the space of a generation, limiting several principal elements of Highland culture and, by requiring that the heir of each chieftain be educated in the Lowlands, beginning to culturally separate the leading families from their followers. The only successful ‘plantation‘ in Scotland, that in southern Kintyre, was about to be established, replacing many of the ‘wild Irish’ (including Macdonalds and Macalisters) with Lowland settlers from the south west of Scotland, and making Kintyre one of the earliest parts of the Highlands to lose Gaelic as its primary language.[1] Soon the upheavals of the 17th and 18th century would bring national concerns to the attention of the West Highlanders and draw them into a different world.

It makes sense, then, that the events for which Allaster is known to history are very much typical of a fading era, of clan feuds and raids and the last desperate attempt of the Clan Donald South to keep its foothold in Scotland.

The first of these events was the Askomil Incident (1598), in which Godfrey of Loup, having killed Alexander’s father Charles, the Tutor of Loup, joined Sir James Macdonald and a group of armed men in pursuit of the Tutor’s sons. They had fled to Askomil House, the home of Angus of Dunyvaig (James’s father), who had offered the fugitives his protection.[2] When Angus refused to turn them over, Godfrey and Sir James attempted to burn down the house. Although Sir James was eventually brought to trial for the attack on Askomil House, Godfrey’s murder of his former guardian is only mentioned in passing as having led to that attack — it does not seem to have greatly concerned the authorities in Edinburgh.

Of more concern, because the victim made a fuss, was the 1600 raid on the lands of Knockransay in Arran. Allaster and his followers reputedly did a great deal of damage to the lands and property of Robert Montgomery, who was away at the time. They also held Montgomery’s wife and children prisoner, at least temporarily. Montgomery described the Clan Alasdair as “sic unhappy people”, warning that if Allaster were not turned over to the authorities, the whole country would be “disquyetit be the insolence of that Clan”![3]

But it was the Dunyvaig rebellion in 1614 that finally caused the government to take Allaster (and Angus, whoever he was) seriously. By that time Godfrey of Loup was dead and his son, the new chief, was a child — too young to get involved. But his kinsmen were right in the middle of it, supporting the leaders of Clan Donald South (led by Angus Og, Sir James’s younger brother) in their attempts to maintain their former position in the Isles. When the castle was recaptured, most of the rebels were imprisoned or tried in the Highlands, but Allaster and Angus were among the five “principals . . . reserved to be sent to Edinburgh for trial” with Angus Og himself.[4]

That two of the five men most deeply involved with Angus Og in his rebellion were Macalisters illustrates how closely the clan adhered to the Clan Donald South and its leading family. Their execution on this day in 1615 shows the leaders of the Clan Alasdair very much involved in the turbulent events of their times.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1]“Estimates based upon a Rental of 1678 show that some thirty per cent of the population of southern Kintyre were Lowlanders, and even many native Gaelic speakers were speaking English and adopting English names by that period” (C. W. J. Withers, Gaelic in Scotland, p. 38).

[2]Charles’s sons are named in a bond dated 29 July 1600 as Alexander (Allaster), Ranald Mor, Eachin, Gillesoic Bernache, and Aidan. How many of them were involved in the Askomil incident is unknown.

[3]Records of the Privy Council of Scotland (vol. 6, p. 303) identifies the perpetrator as “Allaster McAllaster, son of the late Charles McAllaster, sometime tutor of Loup”.

[4]Records of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 10, p. xlii.

A Bond of Manrent

On this day in 1591, John Dùbh Macalister, son of Ranald Mòr, entered into a bond of manrent with John, Lord Hamilton, in Arran. Macalister pledged himself, his sons, and his foster son Archibald (whose father was Angus Macdonald of Dunyvaig) to assist the captain of Arran and to be his obedient servants, in return for Hamilton’s protection.[1]

Bonds of manrent were very common in 15th and 16th century Scotland. Sometimes the parties to a bond were clearly a lord and a lesser man, but in other cases the bonds were made between equals. The reasons behind them varied and are not always obvious. Unlike contemporary bonds in England and Europe, few of the bonds that survive in Scotland from this period include any mention of fealty or homage. The Scottish bonds also do not usually feature an exchange of land (from the lord) for loyalty and service (from the lesser party).[2] Instead, Scottish bonds of manrent in this period reflect a personal rather than a commercial exchange.

The reason behind John Dùbh’s bond is probably fairly obvious: As the Reverends MacDonald point out, Macalisters living in Arran “occupied the position of a stranger sept, and such a bond was needful in a region where the heads of the House of Hamilton were Lords of the soil.”[3] After centuries of raiding from Kintyre, Macalisters had begun to settle in Arran in the early 1500s. They seem to have allied themselves to the Hamiltons almost from the beginning – one writer describes the Macalister family that settled in Shishkine in 1563 as the Hamiltons’ “henchmen”[4], and when Lord Hamilton appeared before James VI in 1585, one of the men in his retinue was a Walter MacAlester. But they were clearly not welcomed by everyone: In 1572, while the Hamiltons were forfeited, the Earl of Argyll promised John Stewart (the Sheriff of Bute, who had claimed the Hamiltons’ lands) that he would “prevent any pretended claim to the lands by highland men such as the Macdonalds and Macalastairs”.[5] And Macalisters from Kintyre and Knapdale were still occasionally raiding in Arran in the early 1600s. This fact no doubt made life somewhat difficult for those of the clan who wished to live there peacefully. For those who chose to do so, entering a bond like the one between the Macalisters and Lord Hamilton provided security that their own chiefs (be they Macalister of Loup or Macdonald of Dunyvaig) could not provide from Kintyre.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Fraser-Mackintosh, p. 35; Wormald, Lords and Men, p. 314. Without further evidence, we can only speculate about John Dùbh’s identity, but the fact that he was chosen to foster the son of Angus Macdonald suggests he was a man of some importance. The Dunyvaig connexion could also indicate a link to the Loup family, though of course it might not.

[2]Wormald, ibid., pp. 23-24

[3]MacDonald & MacDonald, vol. 2, p. 44
[4]Mackenzie, Book of Arran, p. 87
[5]Wormald, ibid., pp. 187-8

The Battle of Gruinart Strand

On this day in 1598, the Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart (Gruinart Strand) took place between the forces of Sir Lachlan Maclean and those of his nephew, Sir James Macdonald of the Dunyvaig family. Among Macdonald’s forces, inevitably, were Macalisters from Kintyre (possibly including their chief, Godfrey of Loup); they had been allies of the Dunyvaig family for a century and fought with them in many of their conflicts. But the Macdonald force also included some of the Clann Alasdair Bheag, whose ties to the Dunyvaig family are perhaps less well known. Although these Macalisters were followers of the Hamilton family at this point (quite sensibly, considering their location), James Macdonald’s brother Archibald had been fostered among them.[1]

This battle was the climactic episode of a feud between the Macleans of Duart and the Dunyvaig Macdonalds that had been running since before James Macdonald was even born. At issue was ownership of the Rhinns of Islay, which had been in Macdonald hands for centuries but to which the Macleans laid claim after the forfeiture of the Lord of the Isles. Nearly all of the southwestern clans had taken sides and joined in the fighting[2], causing so much chaos in the Western Isles and Kintyre that the king (James VI) got involved. At various times the Maclean and Macdonald chiefs were arrested, fined, forced to leave hostages (including James Macdonald) at court, and threatened with forfeiture.    

The marriage of Lachlan’s sister to Angus of Dunyvaig in 1579 brought a lull in the conflict (and produced James Macdonald), but it all started up again about 1586, when Angus attempted to mediate another of Maclean’s quarrels.[3] By 1596 King James was fed up with it and assembled a force to impose a military solution. At that point, most of the other warring chiefs surrendered, but Dunyvaig and some of his vassals remained in rebellion. The king thought perhaps James Macdonald, who had won favour during his time as a hostage at court, might be able to talk some sense into his father. Instead, James simply took over leadership of theDunyvaig Macdonalds – and the feud with Maclean.  

Though certainly not averse to violence, by all accounts James did his best to make peace in this situation. He offered his uncle occupation of the Rhinns, to be held as a vassal of Dunyvaig for the rest of his life. But Maclean had decided he now wanted the whole of Islay, and so, on the 5th of August, Macdonald, Maclean, and the clans that supported them faced off at Gruinart. The ensuing battle is described by almost everyone as ‘bloody’. The Macdonald force was outnumbered but perhaps better trained, and in the end they prevailed. James Macdonald was badly wounded, but he survived; Lachlan Maclean was killed along with many of his followers. The rest of the Maclean force fled to their boats.[4] 

The Macdonald victory proved to be short-lived. Within fifteen years, all the Dunyvaig lands had been granted by the crown, or sold by Angus Macdonald, to various branches of the Campbell clan and James himself was in exile in Spain. He was to be the last chief of the Clann Iain Mhòr.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Fraser-Mackintosh, p. 35 
[2]
McKerral, p. 15.
[3]Ibid., p. 232
[4]There is a story that some of the Macleans took refuge in a church, which was then set afire with only one survivor. This is certainly not implausible, considering James had not long ago done the very same thing at his own father’s house (with the help of Godfrey of Loup). But earlier accounts of the battle do not include this story, which one would expect to merit notice, and it is not mentioned in records of Sir James’s 1609 trial, which focused on the Askomil incident. Furthermore, if all the ‘burned down a church with enemies inside’ stories, told about nearly every clan in existence, were true, there would be no churches left in the Highlands. Although the story can’t be discounted without more evidence, it should be taken with some skepticism.

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. 

Allaster Macalister and the Fall of Dunyvaig

In November 1614, several men of significance in the Clan Alasdair took part in a Macdonald rebellion in which the Islay stronghold of Dunyvaig Castle was held against the king. The Macalisters had been supporters of the Dunyvaig Macdonalds for generations. After the forfeiture of the Lord of the Isles (1493), the Clan Alasdair was technically an independent clan, but “they were not sufficiently powerful to rely upon their own resources amid the turbulent conditions of the age”[1] and they sought the protection of the greatest remaining Macdonald kindred, the Clan Donald South of Dunyvaig and the Glens. Their association with this branch of Clan Donald can be seen in their involvement in the Macdonalds’ feuds, both in the north of Ireland and in the Macdonald-Maclean feud at home. Godfrey Macalister of Loup was one of the witnesses to a letter of renunciation by which Angus of Dunyvaig, facing forfeiture because of that feud, attempted to preserve his family’s position by turning his estate over to his son, Sir James.

When the same Godfrey fell out with and murdered his former guardian, the Tutor of Loup, it was to Angus of Dunyvaig that the Tutor’s sons (probably the chief’s cousins) fled, taking refuge at his home in Askomil. As close relatives of the chief, the Tutor’s family held an important position in the clan, and the Macalisters’ continued association with the Clan Donald South ensured that the Tutor’s son Allaster would play a part in that clan’s attempts to recapture their traditional stronghold at Dunyvaig.

Dunyvaig Castle had been surrendered to the Crown by Angus Macdonald in 1608 and occupied by a garrison under the Bishop of Argyll. In 1614, however, it was retaken by Ranald Og, Angus’s illegitimate son. Hearing the news, Ranald’s half-brother Angus Og gathered a force to recover the castle for the king, which was soon accomplished. “For some time the castle remained in the hands of Angus Oig, who professed his readiness to restore it to the Bishop on receiving a remission for any offences committed by him and his supporters.”[2] By November 1614, those supporters included Coll MacGillespick (father of Alasdair MacColla) and several members of the Clan Alasdair, including Allaster. But when the Bishop finally arrived, Angus Og refused to turn the castle over. Macdonald adherents were gaining in number, and the Bishop knew he was outnumbered; so, leaving his nephew as hostage, the Bishop went for help. 

At this point the Privy Council abandoned its plan to end the siege peacefully and prepared to take the castle and rescue the hostages by force. Campbell of Calder was granted a commission to accomplish this, with promises that Islay would thereafter be granted to the Campbells. With a force of mostly hired men, Calder advanced on the castle and demanded in the name of the king that it be surrendered. Instead, the rebels began firing on Calder’s men, five of whom were killed. Now there was murder to be answered for as well as treason.

The siege dragged on into February, at which point Calder stormed the castle. Quite a few of the rebels were executed on the spot, but Angus Og Macdonald and the other ringleaders were to be tried by the Privy Council. The fact that two Macalisters are among this latter group once again illustrates the connection between our clan and the Clan Donald South. Information suggesting the complicity of the Earl of Argyll and a supposed mediator named Graham was ignored[3] and the men were all convicted. Allaster Macalister is named in the Privy Council records as one of several Macalisters who were involved in the siege, and he is one of only two of this clan to be hanged with Macdonald.[4]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Macdonald and Macdonald, vol. II, p. 40
[2] Gregory, pp. 349-5
[3]Ibid., pp. 365-6. The Bishop had reported to the authorities that the Earl of Argyll was the one who encouraged Angus Og not to surrender the castles to him, something Angus later claimed in his own defence. At the time of the deaths of Calder’s men, there was suspicion that Angus Og had been tricked into violence by the interference of a Gaelic speaker called Graham who claimed to be mediating but who, like everyone else involved, had his own agenda.
[4] Pitcairn, vol. III, pp. 364-5; Macdonald and Macdonald, vol. II,pp. 49-50

Macalisters of Askomilbeg

On this day in 1609, the Earl of Argyll, “attempting to replace the former displaced tenants of his in Kintyre . . . gave a charter of Askomilbeg to John Boyle, younger of Ballochmartin”. Among the conditions included was one that forbade Boyle to sublet to anyone of the names Macdonald, Maclean, Macalister, or Macneil.[1] Ironically, this grant led within 50 years to a Macalister family holding not simply part, but all of the Askomilbeg property.

The restrictions on Boyle’s charter were not, as might now be assumed, a case of Argyll trying to squeeze out the Macdonalds (or anyone else). The lands in question already belonged to him, and the former tenants had been displaced not by him but by the government’s repeated attempts to stop the Macdonald-Maclean feud, which had wreaked havoc on Kintyre for half a century. Both of the warring chiefs were kinsmen of Argyll, and the earl had in fact interceded with the king numerous times on their behalf. But the king (James VI) had had enough, and, as he would also do in Ulster, he had decided to effect a ‘plantation’ in Kintyre, hoping an influx of ‘civilised’ (i.e., English-speaking, Protestant, and loyal) tenants would finally bring this area under royal control. Regardless of Argyll’s personal feelings, he held his own lands only as a subject of the king, and he was smart enough to abide – at least on paper – by the king’s wishes.

Although the grant was made in 1609, John Boyle of Ballochmartin did not finally take possession of the Askomilbeg property until 1618 – perhaps indicating the difficulty of actually clearing out the previous tenants.[2] In time, he passed the property on to his son. Evidently, however, there were no grandsons, or at least none that survived; with the death of Boyle’s son, the lands fell to a granddaughter, Finuella. Finuella had married Archibald Macalister[3], and so the property came to him. Archibald was thereafter known as Macalister of Askomilbeg, as were at least three generations of his family after him. These Macalisters remained in possession of Askomilbeg until 1745.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Campbell, A History of Clan Campbell, vol. 2, p. 151.
[2] Campbell, ibid.
[3] The identity of this Archibald is unclear to me. The name Archibald was used much more widely by the Tarbert family than by the Loup line, but it did occur from time to time. It’s also possible that this Archibald belonged to one of the lesser Macalister families in Kintyre, or perhaps to the Clann Alasdair Bheag.

General Band of James VI

On this day in 1587 the Scottish Parliament meeting in Edinburgh enacted a General Band (or Bond) For the quieting and keping in obedience of the disorderit subjectis, inhabitantis of the bordouris, hielandis and ilis. This legislation was the first attempt by James VI as an adult to bring these historically troublesome areas under legal control. The Band required its signators to give hostages (to be chosen by the authorities but kept at the expense of their clans) as a pledge against the good behaviour of all who lived on their lands. The penalties listed for failing to apprehend those who misbehaved included being required to make restitution to the victims, being declared rebel against the crown, and if all else failed execution of the signator’s hostage. 

Although the requirements made of the Borderers suggest slightly different issues there, feuding, raiding (theft), and blackmail are specifically mentioned as contributing to the troubles in the Highlands. What’s interesting is that many of those who signed the Band were the very chiefs and lairds whose feuds encouraged the “mischiefs . . . wasting, slaying, harrying and destroying their own neighbours” that they were now required to stamp out.[1] In the southwest Highlands, for example, that Macdonalds of Dunyvaig and the Macleans of Duart were embroiled in a long-running and violent feud over the Rinns of Islay; most of the clans around them had taken sides (Macalister of Loup, Clanranald, Macian of Ardnamurchan, Macleod of Lewis, Macneill of Gigha and Macfie of Colonsay on the side of Dunyvaig; Macleod of Harries, Macneill of Barra, Mackinnon and Macquarrie on the side of Duart), and “the whole of the West Highlands was set aflame.”[2]Lachlan Maclean of Duart was also at odds with Macdonald of Sleat[3], and in addition to his own vendetta against the Laird of Glengarry, the Earl of Argyll at one point illegally imprisoned both Duart and Dunyvaig and proceeded to plunder their lands.[4] Yet the chiefs of all but three of these clans have signed the document (Alexander Macalister appears as the ‘Laird of Lowip’).[5] 

It’s probably no surprise, therefore, that this act of Parliament does not appear to have worked, at least in the Western Highlands. Whether it was not enforced or the signators simply ignored it, it was only a year after the General Band was signed that the king found it necessary to commission a judiciary against the chief of Clan Cameron; the year after that saw Maclean and Dunyvaig arrested in Edinburgh, still pursuing their conflict; and within a decade both Macdonald of Dunyvaig and Macalister of Loup were in open rebellion.[6] 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1587/7/70 (http://www.rps.ac.uk/)
[2] A. McKerral, Kintyre in the 17th Century, p. 15.  
[3] D. Gregory, The History of the Western Highlands and Islands, pp. 230-2.
[4] Ibid., pp. 216-7. Gregory notes that after 1579, when Argyll was made Lord High Chancellor, “he seems to have paid more regard to the laws”.
[5] I can’t find Macneill of Gigha, Macquarrie, or Macdonald of Sleat among those named to the bond.
[6] This was Godfrey, Alexander’s brother. The bond however was intended to apply to successive lairds.

Death of a Redshank Chief

On this day in 1572, Sir William FitzWilliam, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, wrote to Queen Elizabeth with an update on the situation in that country. The letter included a number of enclosures, among them “Note of Aghen M’Owen Duffe M’Alastran, otherwise called the Lord of Loope, more esteemed than Sorley Boy, and other chief Scots, slain at the overthrow of their footmen by Cheston.”[1]

Although most historians who record the incident call this laird of Loup John M’Owen Duffe, the Macalister chieftain in this year was in fact Hector, 3rd of Loup.[2] The death of Hector Macalister was evidently seen by the Lord Deputy as a significant loss to the Scots. He is named, while others killed in the battle are simply ‘chief Scots’. To say that he was ‘more esteemed’ than Clan Donald hero Somhairle Buidhe (Sorley Boy) – who had seized his late brother’s Ulster estates for himself and proceeded to make an enormous nuisance of himself to the English authorities in Ireland – might have been an exaggeration, but Hector was certainly “a considerable figure in Clan Donald South”.[3]

The particular battle in which Hector was killed probably took place near Carrickfergus. It does not appear to have been especially notable, just another episode in the ongoing conflict between the Macdonnells of the Glens of Antrim and the English forces in Ireland. But the record of Loup’s death in this clash is significant to Macalister history because it highlights two longstanding Macalister traditions: military service in Ireland, and support for the Clan Iain Mòr. 

Macalister chieftains had been leading their clansmen to battle in Ireland since the very founding of the clan. Alasdair Mòr, the clan’s progenitor, appears to have spent much of his adult life fighting in Ireland, and generations of Clan Alasdair chieftains followed in his footsteps. Unlike the gallòglaich, who settled permanently in Ireland to serve as mercenary forces for whoever would pay them, the Macalister chiefs were among those later described as Redshanks: seasonal warriors, coming to fight for a time before returning to their homes in the Highlands and Western Isles. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that Hector of Loup happened to be there when Captain Thomas Cheston defeated a force of Scots.

Hector’s death in the service of Somhairle Buidhe (Sorley Boy), younger brother of Sir James Macdonald of Dunyvaig, illustrates the Macalisters’ continued alliance with the Dunyvaig family – chiefly family of the Clan Iain Mòr or Clan Donald South. Somhairle Buidhe was head at this time of the Macdonnells of Antrim and the Glens, the Ulster branch of Clan Iain Mòr. As the Macalisters reliably supported the Dunyvaig family against its foes in Scotland (including the Scottish king), they also gave Somhairle Buidhe “their most strenuous support”[4] against his foes in Ireland (including the English Queen). 

By dying in Ireland, following his military forebears in support of his clan’s closest allies, ‘Aghen M’Owen Duffe, Lord of Loope’, gave us a snapshot of the clan in its historical context.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Ireland, of the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, 1509-1573 (Vol. XXXV, p. 466).
[2] Apparently these writers took Aghen to be a variant of Ewen or Owen, and these names to be equivalent to Iain (the Lord Deputy himself used Owen for Iain in the chief’s patronymic); accordingly they assumed his English name was John. However, even if Ewen/Owen were the same name as Iain (which they’re not), Aghen would not be a logical variant. Irish –gh– equates in Scots Gaelic not to –w– but to –ch– (compare Irish lough/Scottish loch), which makes Aghen much closer phonetically to the Scots Gaelic name Eachainn than to Iain. Eachainn was always rendered Hector in English. 
[3] A. Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell, vol. 2, pp. 72-3.
[4] Donald J. MacDonald of Castleton, Clan Donald, p. 166