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Chat's and Book Reviews by Frank R. Shaw FSA Scot
A Chat with Raymond Campbell Paterson


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"? Whatís so different about the book, compared to others written on the Donalds and Campbells, for your publishers to lay claim to such a boastful phrase?

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 1904.

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 itís quite likely that Calum was accompanied by his allies, including the Macphersons and Macbeans. It is, however, impossible to be certain about this.

Q: Iíve 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 Lochaber?

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 Ė are at best second rate and intellectually impoverished. I hope this doesnít 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 Ė beyond those of Scottish descent Ė 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 bookstores?

A: My next book is to be called No Tragic Story Ė 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 Argyllís rebellion in 1685 against King James VII of Scotland and II of England, Britainís 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 our readers?

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.

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