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The History of the Clan MacDonald Part III


With the view of reducing the insular chiefs to subjection, and establishing the royal authority in the Islands, James IV, soon after the forfeiture in 1493, proceeded in person to the West Highlands, when Alexander of Lochalsh, the principal cause of the insurrection which had led to it, and John of Isla, grandson and representative of Donald Balloch, were among the first to make their submission. On this occasion they appear to have obtained royal charters of the lands they had previously held under the Lord of the Isles, and were both knighted. In the following year the king visited the Isles twice, and having seized and garrisoned the castle of Dunaverty in South Kintyre, Sir John of Isla, deeply resenting this proceeding, collected his followers, stormed the castle, and hung the governor from the wall, in the sight of the king and his fleet. With four of his sons, he was soon after apprehended at Isla, by MacIan of Ardnamurchan, and being conveyed to Edinburgh, they were there executed for high treason.

In 1495 King James assembled an army at Glasgow, and on the 18th May, he was at the castle of Mingarry in Ardnamurchan, when several of the Highland chiefs made their submission to him. In 1497 Sir Alexander of Lochalsh again rebelled, and invading the more fertile districts of Ross, was by the Mackenzies and Munroes, at a place called Drumchatt, again defeated and driven out of Ross. Proceeding southward among the Isles, he endeavoured to rouse the Islanders to arms on his behalf, but without success. He was surprised in the island of Oransay, by MacIan of Ardnamurchan, and put to death.

In 1501, Donald Dubh, whom the islanders regarded as their rightful lord, and who, from his infancy, had been detained in confinement in the castle of Inchconnell, escaped from prison, and appeared among his clansmen. They had always maintained that he was the lawful son of Angus of the Isles, by his wife the Lady Margaret Campbell, daughter of the first Earl of Argyll, but his legitimacy was denied by the government when the islanders combined to assert by arms his claims as their hereditary chief. His liberation he owed to the gallantry and fidelity of the men of Glencoe. Repairing to the isles of Lewis, he put himself under the protection of its lord, Torquil Macleod, who had married Katherine, another daughter of Argyll, and therefore sister of the lady whom the islanders believed to be his mother. A strong confederacy was formed in his favour, and about Christmas 1503 an irruption of the islanders and western clans, under Donald Dubh, was made into Badenoch, which was plundered and wasted with fire and sword. To put down this formidable rebellion, the array of the whole kingdom north of Forth and Clyde was called out ; and the Earls of Argyll, Huntly, Crawford and Marischal, and Lord Lovat, with other powerful barons, were charged to lead this force against the islanders. But two years elapsed before the insurrection was finally quelled. In 1505 the Isles were again invaded from the south by the king in person, and from the north by Huntly, who took several prisoners, but none of them of any rank. In these various expeditions the fleet under the celebrated Sir Andrew Wood and Robert Barton was employed against the islanders, and at length the insurgents were dispersed. Carniburg, a strong fort on a small isolated rock, near the west coast of Mull, in which they had taken refuge, was reduced; the Macleans and the Macleods submitted to the king, and Donald Dubh, again made a prisoner, was committed to the castle of Edinburgh, where he remained for nearly forty years. After this the great power formerly enjoyed by the Lords of the Isles was transferred to the Earls of Argyll and Huntly, the former having the chief rule in the south isles and adjacent coasts, while the influence of the latter prevailed in the north isles and the Highlands.

The children of Sir Alexander of Lochalsh, the nephew of John the fourth and last Lord of the Isles, had fallen into the hands of the king, and as they were all young, they appear to have been brought up in the royal household. Donald, the eldest son, called by the Highlanders, Donald Galda, or the foreigner, from his early residence in the Lowlands, was allowed to inherit his father's estates, and was frequently permitted to visit the Isles. He was with James IV. at the battle of Flodden, and appears to have been knighted under the royal banner on that disastrous field. Two months after, in November 1513, he raised another insurrection in the Isles, and being joined by the Macleods and Macleans, was proclaimed Lord of the Isles. The numbers of his adherents daily increased. But in the course of 1515, the Earl of Argyll prevailed upon the insurgents to submit to the regent. At this time, Sir Donald appeared frequently before the council, relying on a safe-conduct, and his reconciliation to the regent ( John, Duke of Albany ) was apparently so cordial that on t September 1516, a summons was despatched to ' Monsieur de Lis ,' to join the royal army, then about to proceed to the borders. Ere long, however, he was again in open rebellion. Early in 1517 he razed the castle of Manger to the ground, and ravaged the whole district of Ardnamurchan with fire and sword. His chief leaders now deserted him, and some of them determined on delivering him to the regent. He, however, effected his escape, but his two brothers were made prisoners by Maclean of Dowart and Macleod of Dunvegan, who hastened to make their submission to the government. In the following year, Sir Donald was enabled to revenge the murder of his father on the MacIans of Ardnamurchan, having defeated and put to death their chief and two of his sons, with a great number of his men. He was about to be forfeited for high treason, when his death, which took place a few weeks after his success against the MacIans, brought the rebellion, which had lasted for upwards of five years, to a sudden close. He was the last male of his family, and died without issue.

In 1539, Donald Gorme of Sleat claimed the lordship of the Isles, as lawful heir male of John, Earl of Ross. With a considerable force he passed over into Ross-shire, where, after ravaging the district of Kinlochewe, he proceeded to Kintail, with the intention of surprising the castle Eilandonan, at that time almost a garrison. Exposing himself rashly under the wall, he received a wound in the foot from an arrow, which proved fatal.

In 1543, under the regency of the Earl of Arran, Donald Dubh, the grandson of John, last Lord of the Isles, again appeared upon the scene. Escaping from his long imprisonment, he was received with enthusiasm by the insular chiefs, and, with their assistance, he prepared to expel the Earls of Argyll and Huntly from their acquisitions in the Isles. At the head of 1800 men he invaded Argyll's territories, slew many of his vassals, and carried off a great quantity of cattle, with other plunder. At first he was supported by the Earl of Lennox, then attached to the English interest, and thus remained for a time in the undisputed possession of the Isles. Throughout the influence of Lennox, the islanders agreed to transfer their alliance from the Scottish to the English crown, and in June 1545 a proclamation was issued by the regent Arran and his privy council against ' Donald, alleging himself of the Isles, and other Highland men, his partakers.' On the 28th July of that year, a commission was granted by Donald, ' Lord of the Isles, and Earl of Ross,' with the advice and consent of his barons and council of the Isles, of whom seventeen are named, to two commissioners, for treating, under the directions of the Earl of Lennox, with the English king. On the 5th of August, the lord and barons of the Isles were at Knockfergus, in Ireland, with a force of 4000 men and 180 galleys, when they took the oath of allegiance to the king of England, at the command of |Lennox, while 4000 men in arms were left to guard and defend the Isles in his absence. Donald's plenipotentiaries then proceeded to the English court with letters from him both to King Henry and his privy council; by one of which it appears that the Lord of the Isles had already received from the English monarch the sum of one thousand crowns, and the promise of an annual pension of twothousand. Soon after the Lord of the Isles returned with his forces to Scotland, but appears to have returned to Ireland again with Lennox. There he was attacked with fever, and died at Drogheda, on his way to Dublin. With him terminated the direct line of the Lords of the Isles.

All hopes of a descendant of Somerled again governing the Isles were now at an end; and from this period the race of Conn, unable to regain their former united power and consequence, were divided into various branches, the aggregate strength of which was rendered unavailing for the purpose of general aggrandisement, by the jealousy, disunion, and rivalry, which prevailed among themselves.

After the forfeiture of the Lords of the Isles, and the failure of the successive attempts which were made to retrieve their fortunes, different clans occupied the extensive territories which had once acknowledged the sway of those insular princes. Of these some were clans, which, although dependent upon the Macdonalds, were not of the same origin as the race of Conn; and, with the exception of the Macleods, Macleans, and a few others, they strenuously opposed all the attempts which were made to effect the restoration of the family of the Isles, rightly calculating that the success of such opposition would tend to promote their own aggrandisement. Another class, again, were of the same origin as the family of the Isles; but having branched off from the principal stem before the succession of the elder branches reverted to the clan, in the person of John of the Isles, during the reign of David II., they now appeared as separate clans. Amongst these were the Macalisters, the MacIans, and some others. The Macalisters, who are traced to Alister, a son of Angus Mor, inhabited the south of Knapdale and the north of Kintyre. After the forfeiture of the Isles they became independent; but being exposed to the encroachments of the Campbells, their principal possessions were ere long absorbed by different branches of that powerful clan. The MacIans of Ardnamurchan were descended from John, a son of Angus Mor, to whom his father conveyed the property which he had obtained from the crown. The Macdonalds of Glencoe are also MacIans, being descended from John Fraoch, a son of Angus Og, Lord of the Isles; and hence their history is in no degree different from that of the other branches of the Macdonalds. A third class consisted of the descendants of the different Lords of the Isles, who still professed to form one clan, although the subject of the representation of the race soon introduced great dissensions, and all adopted the generic name of Macdonald in preference to secondary or collateral patronymics.


Clan MacDonald Index