THE LORD OF THE ISLES
Q: You have written a very interesting book. But why
does your publisher say this is "the first modern account of one of the
epic stories of Scottish history: the rise and fall of Clan Donald"?
What’s so different about the book, compared to others written on the
Donalds and Campbells, for your publishers to lay claim to such a boastful
A: I write the cover copy for all of
my books, so if my claim that that The Lords of the Isles is the
first modern account of the rise and fall of Clan Donald is boastful, I
have to plead guilty as charged! I take the view that when a casual reader
picks up a book it is important to grab his attention in the best way
possible, in an attempt to ensure that he will explore further. What
better way to do this than to claim some unique or special feature for the
book in question? Besides, I have to say, in pleading mitigation, that the
statement is largely true. There are other books on Clan Donald, but they
tend to be partial accounts, dealing with a limited time period or a
particular aspect of the family. As far as I am aware, the last complete
account of the family was Clan Donald by Donald J. Macdonald,
published in 1978. This book passes over the Highland Clearances in
complete silence. More seriously, it is largely based on huge and
unacknowledged grafts from the earlier Clan Donald by the Reverends
Angus and Archibald Macdonald, published in three volumes between 1893 and
Q: You write about the Battle of
Harlaw in July 1411, and you list Calum Beg Mackintosh as commander of the
left division with Maclean of Durant on the right and Donald himself in
the middle. What can you tell us about Mackintosh the man and how he came
to be a commander for the Lord of the Isles, leading the left division
against Mar? Were the men in his division Clan Chattan men? If so, what
clans of Chattan fought with Mackintosh for the Lord of the Isles?
A: Unfortunately, beyond the bare
facts outlined in The Lord of the Isles, I can provide no
additional information on the life of Mackintosh. Records at this time are
notoriously scanty, especially those dealing with Highland affairs. Clan
Chattan was, of course, part of the Lordship at the time of the Battle of
Harlaw, so it’s quite likely that Calum was accompanied by his allies,
including the Macphersons and Macbeans. It is, however, impossible to be
certain about this.
Q: I’ve often wondered if people in
the area controlled by the Lord of the Isles ever joined up with him and
moved to Islay or Jura or one of the isles to support him and live among
his people? Are you aware of any marriages that might have taken place
between the Macdonalds and the people of Inverness-shire during the time
Clan Donald controlled the Earldom of Ross or even earlier as Lord of
A: Migration and intermarriage was a
common feature of life during the Lordship of the Isles. However, blood
loyalty was confined to the older families, long established in the Isles
and Lochaber. When the Lordship acquired the feudal Earldom of Ross in the
early fifteenth century, there would, of course, have been marriages
between the Macdonalds and the Mackenzies, the leading family of
Inverness-shire. Even so, the Mackenzies never developed any lasting
attachment to their Macdonald overlords and were quick to seize their
independence after the forfeiture of the last Lord of the Isles in 1493.
Q: You mention that Alexander
Macdonald was appointed "sheriff north of the Forth" in 1438 and that his
appointment gave him "control of Inverness." How long did Alexander remain
sheriff of the north?
A: As far as I am aware, Alexander
held the post of sheriff in the north until his death in 1449.
Q: You have written several books,
and I wonder what made you decide to write on the Lord of the Isles when
so many books have been written about him. From the time you wrote your
first sentence until the book was published, how long did it take you to
write this book? Where did you do most of your research?
A: In fact, it was never my
intention to write a history of Clan Donald. In 1998 I finished my third
book, a history of the 17th century Scottish Covanateer wars. Hating a
vacuum, I at once began a fresh project. However, at that time John
Donald, my publishing company, was undergoing lengthy merger negotiations
with another undisclosed company, which later turned out to be Birlinn,
also an Edinburgh based publishing house. Unable to disclose my ideas with
a commissioning editor, I began gathering material for a history of Clan
Campbell. When the fog finally cleared, I put my proposal to Hugh Andrew,
the managing director of Birlinn. He told me that he would have been very
interested in this, but, unbeknown to me, there were already two histories
of the Campbells close to completion, including one by Alastair Campbell
of Airds. As an alternative he suggested a history of Clan Donald. After
some initial hesitation, I set out to follow this path, a decision I have
never regretted. The research took about a year. Writing took a much
smaller time. I have never been terrorized, like so many others, by the
blank page, and enjoy the whole process of creating crisp and balanced
sentences. From first word to final period, the writing took about eight
weeks. Most of the research was done in the National Library of Scotland,
based in Edinburgh.
Q: You dedicated this book to your
grandfather, Murdoch Campbell. Your middle name is Campbell. Please
briefly tell us about him and how you came to dedicate your book to him,
which, I think, is a beautiful gesture on your part and a significant way
to honor him.
A: Sadly, my grandfather died when I
was only eight years old, so I remember very little about him. His family
originally came from the Western Isles, and he served in the army during
the First World War, being wounded at the Battle of Somme. Beyond the
temporary net of living memory, most people are left with no permanent
record of their existence here on Earth. It seemed to me that the best way
of honouring him was by means of a simple dedication, which will survive
for as long as people are civilized and libraries exist. It also seemed
most appropriate to do so in a book about Clan Donald, as a small gesture
of friendship and reconciliation.
Q: Is Scotland capable of supporting
herself in the manner she is currently accustomed, including national
defense, if she ever becomes a totally independent nation with no ties to
England? Do you ever see that happening?
A: I do not believe it to be wise or
sensible for Scotland to separate completely from England, especially in
matters of national defense, and I would most certainly never wish to see
border and custom controls between the two nations. It may be that some of
these older issues will, in the end, be superseded by the continuing
development of the European Union.
Q: I always ask the above question
of the authors I interview since I thought, over a period of time, it
would give our readers a variety of answers, but that has not proven to be
the case so far. Previous authors have basically answered affirmatively.
Yet, most of the people I have talked with in Scotland during my dozen
visits over the past ten years seem to indicate it would probably not work
out as easily as some seem to think. Why do you think there seems to be
one answer for the press and another in the dining room?
A: I think that most Scots are
intensely ambivalent about their place in the world, passionate and
cautious at one and the same time.
Q: In your opinion, has the new
Scottish Parliament lived up to the expectations of the people of
Scotland? Is Scotland any better off today with its own parliament and if
so, please tell us how?
A: For many years I was a confirmed
supporter of a separate Scottish Parliament. It would, however, be wrong
to say that the reality has lived up to the ideal. This is perhaps less to
do with the institution as such. Sadly, too many of the representatives -
especially the Socialists – are at best second rate and intellectually
impoverished. I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh. London continues to
draw the better minds. Are we better off? On balance the answer to this is
probably yes. In the past, much Scottish business tended to get bogged
down in the Westminster quagmire.
Q: What are some of the advantages
of having your own parliament and what are some of the accomplishments of
the Scottish Parliament that would not have come from London?
A: I always believed that the chief
aim of a separate Scottish Parliament, besides dealing more effectively
with purely domestic business, was to give my nation a higher profile in
the world. I suppose this has happened to some extent, although not to a
sufficient high degree as yet. I certainly hope that one day American
people – beyond those of Scottish descent – will think of the British
Isles as much more than England!
Q: What is ahead for Raymond
Campbell Paterson as to your next book and when can we expect it in the
A: My next book is to be called
No Tragic Story – The Fall of the House of Campbell and is due for
publication in the spring. This deals with the events leading up to the
ninth Earl of Argyll’s rebellion in 1685 against King James VII of
Scotland and II of England, Britain’s last Catholic sovereign. At the
moment I am gathering material for a biography of John Maitland, second
Earl and only Duke of Lauderdale, who dominated Scottish politics during
the reign of Charles II. Lauderdale was both unscrupulous and corrupt. I
suppose the nearest American equivalent is a Tammany Hall Boss.
Q: In conclusion, I want to
personally thank you for your courtesies during this interview. You have
written a very fine book that is extremely interesting and well written.
It was, for many reasons, one of my favorite books read during 2001. Your
use of current words or phrases to describe people and events, such as
"Stewart Mafia," caused me to chuckle, knowing that, in my opinion, that
phrase could at times be used to describe either Clan Donald or Clan
Campbell. Do you have any closing comments you would like to leave with
A: Thank you for your kind and
generous comments on The Lords of the Isles. It gives me particular
pleasure that one of my books is available to an American audience.