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

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.