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Conducted by ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, F.S.A. Scot. No. LXI. NOVEMBER, 1880. Vol. VI.
HISTORY OF THE MACDONALDS,
THE LORDS OF THE ISLES.
While the Earls of Lennox and Arran were disputing about the regency, and other members of the aristocracy sold themselves to the English King, two great chiefs in the North, Huntly and Argyll, stood firm in their loyalty to Scotland, and thus became an object of the hatred of Henry VIII. of England and the Scottish nobles who had so unpatriotically joined him in his anti-Scottish schemes. In 1513, during this unsettled period of Scottish history, Donald Dubh of the Isles, who had been for nearly forty years kept in hopeless captivity, managed again to effect his escape. It will bo remembered that we parted with this unfortunate chief, and left him, in 150G, a prisoner in the Castle of Edinburgh, and that, with the exception of a few years at that period, he had been a State prisoner from his infancy. Gregory says, that though "stigmatised as a bastard," he "seems really to have been legitimate," and that it is certain ho owed his second escape more "to tho grace of God than to the goodwill of the Government." In any case he did manage to free himself from his enemies, and on his arrival shortly afterwards in the Isles "he was received with enthusiasm by the same clans that had formerly supported his claims; and with their assistance, he prepared to expel the Earls of Argyle and Huntly from their acquisition in the Lordship of the Isles" during his long imprisonment. He soon managed to arrange a truce with Argyll, which was to last until May-day of 1543, the same year in which he secured his liberty; but meanwhile both were engaged in making preparations for the forthcoming contest. In the month of June following both Argyll and Huntly are found engaged against the Islanders. About the same time the other Island Chiefs kept in prison since the late King's voyage to the Isles were set at liberty by the influence of the English party, so as to enable Donald Dubh the more effectually to cope with the two Earls, who were violently hated by those in power and
the •western invasion was necessarily postponed till the termination of the campaign. This delay caused, in the end, the total failure of the expedition. The Lord of the Isles, after waiting for some time in vain, expecting the arrival of Lennox, and naturally anxious about the safety of the vassels he had left behind, returned with his forces to Scotland. Meantime, dissensions had arisen among his barons as to the division of the English pay received for three thousand of their men, and their quarrels ran so high that the army seems to have be broken up, whilst the chiefs retired each to his own castle."*
Donald Dubh again returned to Ireland with Lennox, where, according to the Macvurich MS., he went "to raise men; but he died on his way to Dublin, at Drogheda, of a fever, without issue, either sons or daughters." Documents in the State Paper Office prove, however, that he left " one bastard son," whom, Gregory informs us, Donald Dubh "in his dying moments commended to the care of the King of England; but it does not appear that any claim was made on behalf of this individual to the succession." Thus ended the unfortunate career of this remarkable Island Lord, who, whether legitimate by birth or not, was recognised by all the vassals of the Lordship of the Isles as their natural and legitimate leader.
On the death of Donald Dubh in 1545 no other possible claimant (except his own bastard son), legitimate or illegitimate, remained to come between the Macdonalds of Sleat and the representation of the last line of the Earls of Ross and Lords of the Isles; but they were, at the time, "almost deprived of power." It has been already seen that their chief was at this period a minor, while "the title of the family to their estates was disputed by the Macleods of Harris," who did not fail to revive their claims at a period when they thought their chance of success in enforcing it had materially improved. The comparatively humble position of the house of Sleat at this period may be inferred from the fact that the Islanders, after the death of Donald Dubh, made choice of James Macdonald .of Isla as their leader, a chief whose pretentions to the Lordship of the Isles were certainly far inferior to those of Donald Gorm of Sleat; but his greater power as an individual soon outweighed the higher and more legitimate claims of the Chief of Sleat. He was, however, opposed by many of those who were the stoutest supporters of Donald Dubh—such as the Macleans (with the exception of Allan Maclean of Gigha and Torloisk, better known as "Alein na'n Sop ") the Macleods, the Maeueills of Barra, the Mackinnons, and the Macquavries; all of whom acted independently, and sought with success to effect their own reconciliation with the Regent. It is certainly curious to find this chief, James Macdonald of Isla, who had hitherto opposed all the other Island Lords in their opposition to the Scottish Regent, now becoming their leader and placing himself at their head against the Government which ho had all through, single-handed, among the chiefs, continued to support. Gregory, however, naively suggests that his patriotism "evaporated on his perceiving a possibility of obtaining the pension of two thousand crowns promised to his predecessor," Donald Dubh, by the English; while tho author of Macdonnells of Antrim " says that the choice "was indeed remark
by those who pushed on the marriage of the young Queen with the son of Henry VIII. against the interest and independence of their own country. Almost immediately after the liberation of the principal Island vassals of the lordship, Donald assembled an army of about 1800 men, invaded Argyll's territories, slew many of his followers, and carried away a largo number of his cattle, with a groat quantity of other plunder. At this period all the vassals of the Isles, except James Macdonald of Isla, followed the banner of Donald Dubh against the Regent, and even Isla soon after joined the other Island lords and fought for the English faction.
In 1514, the terrible feud which broke out between the Macdonalds of Moydert, under John Moydertach, on the one hand, and their legitimate chief, Ranald Gallda, and the Frasers on the other, took place and culminated in the sanguinary battle of " Blar-na-leine;" but this will be more appropriately dealt with when we come to give the history of the Clanranalds of Moydert, under its proper heading, later on. In the following year, 1545, the Macdonalds of Moydert are found strenuously supporting the claims of Donald Dubh to the Lordship of the Isles, and fighting under his banner.
At the battle of Ancrum, in the same year, Neil Macneill of Gigha, one of the vassals of the lordship, was present; but whether as an ambassador from Donald Dubh, or fighting at the head of a body of the Islanders, it is difficult to determine. In June following a proclamation is issued by the Regent, Arran, and his Privy Council, against "Donald, alleging himself of the Isles, and other Highlandmen, his part-takers." The Council had been frequently informed of the "invasions" made by them on the Queen's lieges in the isles and on the mainland, assisted by the King of England, with whom "they were leagued," and which went to show, it was maintained, that it was their intention, if they could, to bring thoso parts of Scotland under the government of the King of England in contempt of the authority of the Scottish Crown. If Donald and his followers continued their "rebellious and treasonable proceedings," they were threatened with utter ruin and destruction from an invasion of their territories by "the whole body of the realm of Scotland, with the succours lately come from France." Donald and his followers paid no attention whatever to this threat, and the only effect it had was to throw the Islanders more than ever into the arms of the English. The Regent was consequently forced to adopt more stringent measures; processes of treason were commenced against the more prominent rebels, and these were followed up with as much despatch as the forms of Parliament would allow. While these proceedings were going on against the Islanders at the instance of the Government of Scotland, Donald Dubh, as Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, with the advice and consent of his Barons and Council, granted a commission to " Rorie Macalester, dean of Morvern, and Patrick Maclean, justice-clerk of the South Isles, to treat, under direction of the Earl of Lennox, with the English King, as Donald's plenipotentiaries. These gentlemen forthwith addressed a long letter to the Privy Council of Henry VIII., containing the following passage, explanatory of their hostile policy towards the Scottish Kingdom, and which we quote and modernise in spelling from a State paper given in a foot-note (page 20) of the " Macdonnells of Antrim":—" Wherefore your Lordships shall consider we have been old enemies to the realm of Scotland, and when they had peace with the King's highness (Henry VIII.) they hanged, beheaded, imprisoned, and destroyed many of our kin, friends, and forbears, as testified by our master, the Earl of Ross, who has laid in prison before he was born of his mother, and not relieved with their will, but now, lately, by the grace of God. In likewise, the Lord Maclaine's father, was cruelly murdered under 'traist' in his bed in Edinburgh, by Sir John Campbell of Calder, brother to the Earl of Argyll. The Captain of Clanranald, this last year ago, in his defence, slew the Lord Lovat, his son and heir, his three brothers, with thirteen score of his men; and many other cruel slaughters, burnings, and herschips, the which were lang to write."
The Barons and Council of the Isles who acted on this occasion, not one of whom could sign their names, are given in this document in the following order:—Allan Maclean of Torloisk, Gilleonan Macneill of Barra, Ewin Mackinnon of Strathatdill, John Macquarrie of Ulva, Alexander Eanaldson of Glengarry, Alexander Banaldson of Knoydart, John Maclean of Ardgour, Donald Maclean of Kingairloch, Hector Maclean, Lord of Dowart; John Moydertach MacAlastair, captain of Clanranald; Roderick Macleod of Lewis, Alexander Macleod of Dunvegan, Murdoch Maclean of Lochbuy, Angus Macdonald, brother german to James Macdonald; Archibald Macdonald, captain of Clanhuistean; Alexander Macian of Ardnamurchan, and John Maclean of Coll. Gregory, quoting from Tytler, gives the samo names, but places them in a different order. The remainder of Donald Dubh's career cannot better be given than in the words of Gregory, by far the best and most complete authority extant. He says—" On the 5th of August the Lord and Barons of the Isles were at Knockfergus, in Ireland, with a force of four thousand men and a hundred and eighty galleys; when, in presence of two commissioners sent by the Earl of Lennox, and of the constable, mayor, and magistrates of that town, they took the oath of allegiance to the King of England, 'at the command of the said Earl of Lennox.' In all the documents illustrative of these proceedings, we find that Lennox was acknowledged by the Islesmen as the true Regent and second person of the realm of Scotland; and while, at his command, they gave their allegiance to the English King, they, at the same time, bound themselves in particular lo forward Henry's views in regard to the marriage of the Princess of Scotland, and, in all other affairs, to act under the directions of Lennox, The name of James Macdonald of Isla, whose lands of Kintyre had been so lately ravaged by Lennox, does not occur among the Barons of the Isles who accompanied their Lord to Knockfergus. It appears also that in the month of April he had even received a reward from Arran for his services against the English. Yet, now, his brother, Angus Macdonald, was one of the foremost in support of Lennox; and his own conduct, in the course of a few months, justifies the suspicion that already this powerful chief contemplated joining the rest of the Islanders.
"The troops that accompanied the Lord of the Isles to Ireland are described in the original despatches from the Irish Privy Council, giving Henry notice of their arrival, as being 'three thousand of them, very tall men, clothed, for the most part, in habergeons of mail, armed with long swords and long bows, but with few guns; the other thousand, tall maryners that rowed in the galleys.' An equal number of warriors had been left behind, to keep in check the Earls of Huntly and Argylo, form