29 May 2012

A McAllester Counterfeiter

On this day in 1601, a "doom was pronounced" against Thomas McAllester of Drummaquhen and several other Perthshire lairds.[1] According to the Parliamentary Register, these men had been convicted of lese-majesty for having "treasonably" counterfeited money, "with no respect for the holy spirit or for [the king], and flouting and despising [the king's] authority and laws".[2] 

When questioned, McAllester and the others confessed that they had entered into a plot with Robert Young and David Johnston, "makers of false currency", to produce and use counterfeit currency and coinage. On 24 June 1599, two of McAllester's associates were in Ayr, where they used some of that money to purchase a horse at the fair. It does not appear that McAllester was with them at that point, but evidently his association with them was known, and he was summoned with the others to appear before the Privy Council to answer the accusations against them.

Lese-majesty was a capital offence, so the "doom pronounced" against these men was a sentence of forfeiture and death. One of those involved, William Borthwick of Soutra, seems not to have obeyed the original summons. Upon learning the fate of his friends he fled the country, and according to judicial proceedings the authorities were still trying to get hold of him in April 1604, when a second summons was issued. By that time, McAllester is referred to as "the late Thomas McAllester of Drummaquhen"; the record states that he and Borthwick's other accomplices had been "executed to the death".

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] I have no idea who this McAllester was. The lands of Drummaquhen, which he apparently held, are in Perthshire.
[2] Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1604/4/22 (http://www.rps.ac.uk/)

23 May 2012

Macalisters on the King's Mind

The Parliamentary Register for this day in 1649 makes two separate mentions of Macalisters. First a warrant was issued to the magistrates of Edinburgh to keep Lord Reay and others, including John McAlester, 'in sure prison'. Lord Reay was John Mackay, the second to hold that title. Like his father, he had joined the Royalists in the recent Civil Wars, and as a result, he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle.[1] John McAlester being held with him makes sense in light of the fact that the Macalisters also had been active Royalists. I’m not sure, however, who this John actually was.

In the middle ages, the Macalister chieftain was often called Iain Dùbh, John Dous (or Dow), or even just John in records regardless of his personal name - this is because the first chief actually was named Iain Dùbh[2], so mac Iain Dùbh is our chiefs' patronymic. However, in a different document written by Charles II on the same day, Hector McAlexander of Loup is granted commission, along with other leading men of Argyll, to re-establish parish boundaries and build new churches where needed.[3] Aside from the fact that the same individual could hardly be kept in prison in Edinburgh and running about having church meetings in Argyll, by this time the chiefs were generally given their own names in official documents. Therefore John in this case was not the chief.

It’s possible that the Macalister being held with Lord Reay in Edinburgh was Hector’s son, John Dow McAlester, who appears on record twice in 1665, in both cases called ‘Brother German to Gorrie M'Alister of Loup’ (Hector’s successor). A John McAlester also appears in 1674 as witness to a bond of fosterage between Coll McAlester, ‘brother to the Laird of Loup’, and John & Mary McPhale; the fact that the bond is also witnessed by Gorrie himself suggests that this John is probably the third brother.

Of course, none of these records tie John Dow McAlester, son of Hector, to the John McAlester imprisoned with Lord Reay. John is a common name, and quite a few Macalisters were in the government’s bad books after MacColla’s defeat in 1647. Which leads us back to Hector, who should have been one of them but instead by 23 May of 1649 appears in a position of responsibility, in the company of most of the leaders of clan Campbell. Despite his support for MacColla right up until MacColla left for Ireland, Hector seems to have emerged from the conflict more or less unscathed. This suggests to me that accounts of his having surrendered to General Leslie at the last minute might have some basis in truth, particularly as there are also several Macneils in this list, and the chief of that clan, too, is said to have surrendered right before Dunaverty.[4]

In any case, on this particular day King Charles apparently had Macalisters on his mind!

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]“When Cromwell came north, every prisoner except John [Mackay], 2nd Lord Reay, was released, and parliamentary forces were quartered in Tongue at Mackay's expense. He was released in December, 1650." (http://www.magma.ca/~mmackay/reay.html)
[2] Dùbh is 'brown' in Gaelic; such colour nicknames are common among Gaels as a means of distinguishing numerous people with the same name. They usually, but not always, refer to hair colour or skin tone.
[3] Warrant: to the magistrates of Edinburgh for keeping Lord Reay and others in prison (23 May 1649); Act and commission for uniting and disuniting the kirks of the province of Argyll (21 June 1649), in Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (http://www.rps.ac.uk/).
[4] The story of these chiefs' surrender was related by Jean de Montereul, the French ambassador, in a letter of 11 June 1647 to Cardinal Mazarin (J. G. Fotheringham, pp. 151-2). It was also part of the testimony given by the Maclean chief at the 1661 trial of the Marquess of Argyll.

16 May 2012

Battle of Loup Hill

On this day in 1689, the Battle of Loup Hill was fought in Kintyre.  This battle was part of the first Jacobite rising, in which those loyal to James VII/II hoped to instigate counter-revolution and drive William of Orange from the throne. The 'battle' was really just a skirmish, and today it is more or less forgotten, but Loup Hill would prove strategically decisive because the loss of Kintyre cut the Scottish Jacobites off from Ireland, where the exiled King James had established his court.[1]  It was the last battle ever fought in Kintyre.

Although there were many who felt that James was the rightful king, this first Jacobite rising "managed to attract fewer than 2000 men. Most of these were drawn from a small number of West Highland clans"[2], specifically, those Paul Hopkins calls 'the non-Campbell clans', including the Macalisters.[3] Early in May, expecting the arrival of reinforcements from Ireland, Alexander Macalister of Loup and Archibald Macalister of Tarbert, along with Macneill of Gallachoille and Macdonald of Largie, had seized Skipness Castle on the eastern side of the peninsula. There they were joined by others, including the Macalister lairds of Balinakill and Kenloch - but not by the promised Irish regiments. The Jacobites eventually totalled about 400 and controlled a good part of northern Kintyre. They were thus able to block the southward advance of a hurriedly assembled government force sent to retake the peninsula under Capt. William Young. Young opted instead to cut across to the west, where he could threaten the estates of Loup and Largie. Loup and Largie had posted about 200 men on Loup Hill, and as Young's force passed to the south, the Jacobites attacked.

Accounts of the actual fighting are few, and those that exist are contradictory, but despite the advantage of height, the Jacobites fought ineffectually and were routed. Some fled into the hills and some north into Knapdale; some headed back to Skipness to take shelter in the castle. With his inexperienced force, Young opted not to pursue, and he and his men continued on to Clachan for the night. There, local supporters who had been waiting for outside help began to join the government force. Two proposals (one of them from Loup) arrived that night for surrender on terms, but Young insisted on complete and immediate submission and the Jacobite chiefs abandoned Kintyre. 

The Macalister lairds fled to King James in Ireland. Tarbert was back by autumn to take the Oath of Allegiance, along with Balinakill; Kenloch surrendered the following May. But Loup remained in arms, returning to fight at Killiecrankie, where Viscount Dundee was killed and the rising came to an end. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Much of the information in this post comes from Dr. Paul Hopkins, 'Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First "Battle" of Dundee's Jacobite War', Kintyre Magazine, issue 29 (Spring 1991).
[2]T. M. Devine, The Scottish Nation, p. 32
[3]The Earl of Argyll had supported William, mainly because King James had refused to restore his family's forfeited estates. William had agreed to support Presbyterianism in Scotland, mainly because the bishops of the Episcopalian church refused to renounce James. Neither the restoration of Argyll nor the imposition of Presbyterianism sat well with these clans.

05 May 2012

After Culloden

On this day in 1746, about 85 members of Macdonell of Glengarry's regiment surrendered to British military personnel in Inverness. These men had fought for Prince Charles at the battle of Culloden nearly a month earlier. Among them were six Macalisters: Alexander vic Evan, Donald vic Evan, and John Og of Blairy; Donald of Delcaitach; John vic Ian Roy of Clune Beg; William of Polmale; and Angus vic Ian, whose origins are not given.[1]

The majority of those who surrendered at this time were transported to the colonies. A few of them died in prison. The transportees mostly went to Barbados or Antigua, as large-scale transportation to North America had, for the most part, ended by this time.[2] Exactly what happened to these individual Macalisters is not recorded, but it seems likely that they shared the fate of their regimental brothers.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Army, 1745-6, p. 154. Another group from this regiment would surrender ten days later.
[2] The Prisoners of the '45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3. 

26 April 2012

No Macalisters Allowed!

On this day in 1652, the Marquess of Argyll gave Campbell of Lochnell a fifteen-year tack of Ardnamurchan and Sunart, together with the castle of Mingary.[1] The tack included “restrictions on subletting to anyone who was called MacDonald, MacRonald, Macalister, MacEan or Mackay." A similar restriction had been part of the nineteen-year tack for Largie in Kintyre given the previous December to Dougall Campbell of Inverawe, who was not to sublet to “anyone named MacDonald, Macalister, MacKay or MacEan or any islander without the Marquess's written consent."[2] Such restrictions were nothing new - nearly fifty years earlier (1609), a charter granted to John Boyle by the Marquess’s father, the 7th Earl of Argyll, included a condition that no part of the land be let to anyone named Macdonald, Maclean, Macneill or Macalister. But while the reasons behind restrictions in the earlier tack were probably more political than personal, in these later examples the reverse was true. 

At the time of the 1609 tack, the major conflict in the southwestern Highlands had not been between the Campbells and Macdonalds, but rather between the Clan Donald South and Maclean of Duart. The 7th Earl of Argyll was friendly with both chieftains and in fact stood as security for their good behaviour on more than one occasion. But King James at that time was attempting to colonise Kintyre, part of a larger 'Plantation' strategy by which he hoped to separate the Gaels of the West Highlands and Isles from those in the north of Ireland, replace them with 'civilised' people (i.e., loyal, English-speaking Protestants) where possible, and in this way bring these areas under government control. As early as 1597, Kintyre had been identified as one of the areas that had to be brought to heel, and the ongoing Macdonald-Maclean feud was one of the primary reasons. Although the Campbells were just as much Highlanders as any of their neighbours[3], and were in fact related by blood to several of the more troublesome clans (including the Clan Donald), they had long since thrown in their lot with the Crown. Politically, therefore, it was in their own interest to ensure that their lands were inhabited by people amenable to the king’s rule. Therefore, when Kintyre was granted to Argyll in the early 17th century, the earl himself agreed to bring in Lowland tenants, such as John Boyle; allowing them to sublet land to the very clans who had caused such unrest would have rather defeated the purpose.

By 1652, the situation was a bit different. Clan Donald and its minions had fought for the king during the recent civil wars and thus were not, for once, under government censure. Longer term, these clans continued to be seen as a problem by the king, but at this point, the Campbell chieftain had his own reasons for wanting them kept off his lands. For one thing, there was a religious motive: The Marquess of Argyll was a staunch Protestant, one of the Covenanters who had fought for Presbyterian church government in Scotland; many of the western clans on the other hand still clung to Catholicism. But there was more to it than that. The entire period between 1550 and 1650 appears to have been one long Macdonald uprising. Their late 16th-century feud with the Macleans wreaked havoc across Kintyre; periodic attempts by various Clan Donald chieftains to regain lost clan lands had caused problems clear across Scotland; and MacColla's rising at the end of the civil war had specifically targeted Campbell lands and lives for destruction. With history as a guide, Argyll knew as well as anyone that the Macdonalds were not likely to settle down and live in submission to anyone, let alone the clan that had gradually replaced them as the great power in the west. The simple fact was that Clan Donald was trouble, the Macalister branch of it no less so, and the clan most likely to suffer as a result was his own. This is not to say, of course, that the Campbells hadn't caused just as much trouble over the centuries as any other clan. Regardless of the reasons, however, it was Argyll who was now the primary landholder in Argyllshire, and he can hardly be blamed for thinking that these particular clans were less than ideal tenants.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] A tack was a sublease of a portion of the land that had been granted by the monarch to a major landholder. Those who held tacks were called tacksmen, and they were usually relatives or allies of the chieftain. Traditionally they operated as middlemen between the chieftain and the ordinary people, though that role declined in the 16th and 17th century.
[2] These tacks are found in the Argyll Transcripts at Inveraray Castle and are quoted in volume 2 of Alistair Campbell of Airds’ History of Clan Campbell (pp. 262, 260). Other than the Mackays, all of the clans mentioned in both tacks are branches of the Clan Donald.
[3] The idea that the Campbells were Lowlanders who had 'taken over' is unfounded. Although their origins, like those of many clans, continue to be a matter of debate, the leading families of what became the Clan Campbell had settled in Argyllshire by 1300, a time when the clans as we know them had only just begun to form and some of the locals still spoke Norse. They can hardly be considered anything but Highlanders. Politically, however, they saw that the future lay in Edinburgh and not Islay, and for this reason they were more involved in Lowland affairs than were other Highland families.

16 April 2012


On this day in 1746, the last pitched battle on British soil was fought at Culloden Moor between the Jacobite forces under Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the forces of King George II under the Duke of Cumberland. It was the final act in a story that had begun in 1688, when Charles Stuart's grandfather, King James VII/II[1], fled his kingdom and was replaced by William of Orange. William, who claimed the thrones of Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales by right of his wife, Mary (James's daughter), had been invited to replace the Catholic King James by the leaders of the Protestant establishment. After holding out in Ireland for a time, James eventually went into exile on the Continent.

Though King James never returned to Britain, some in Britain remained loyal to him and his family, and his son and grandson both attempted to retake their kingdoms by force. The rising of 1745 was the last and most successful of these attempts. Gathering his forces as he went, Charles captured Edinburgh and marched into England - so far south that London seriously began to panic. And then, for no apparent reason, the Jacobites withdrew. Despite a few military successes during their retreat, they were chased into the Highlands to Culloden, where in the space of an hour they were utterly defeated. Once those on the field had been killed, Cumberland's forces began to chase down those who had escaped, anyone who had supported them . . . and some who'd had nothing to do with the rebellion at all. So many people were killed off the field that Cumberland became known as ‘the Butcher of Cumberland’. Even so, many of those who had survived Culloden reassembled several days later, willing to fight on. But Charles knew the cause was lost. He dismissed his followers, urging them to save their own lives. 

Although the story is well known, a number of misconceptions are often accepted as fact - perhaps especially in the New World, where the details of the conflict itself are largely forgotten. For example, the Rising of 1745-6 had nothing to do with Scottish independence. The Stuart kings had been kings of England as well as Scotland since 1603; they had, frankly, preferred England. Neither Charles Stuart (The Young Pretender) nor his father (The Old Pretender) had any intention of setting up a kingdom in Scotland and leaving their cousins on the throne to the south. It is true that there was greater support in Scotland than in England for the House of Stuart. However, not only were there Jacobites among the English, but a decent number of English soldiers deserted to the Jacobites during the campaign.[2]
"The '45" was also not a matter of Highlanders versus Lowlanders. Again, there were more of the former than the latter in their ranks, and certainly the Highlanders bore the brunt of the government’s retaliation. But parts of Lowland Scotland – particularly the northeast (where Marischal College in Aberdeen saw all but one of its professors deposed for Jacobitism after the rising of 1715) – were considered hotbeds of Jacobite activity. Whole units of Lowlanders are included among the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46.[3] In fact, if there was any clear division between those who supported the Stuarts in 1745 and those who did not, it was along religious lines. Catholics in Scotland and England of course supported the Stuarts, but research has shown that the vast majority of the Jacobite forces in Scotland were Episcopalians[4]; it’s likely that in Scotland the Jacobite cause was seen by some of these as the only defence against total Presbyterian dominance.[5]

The Macalisters as a clan did not fight at Culloden – indeed, there are not that many of them named in the Muster Rolls or the prisoner lists. The Loup family had always been Jacobites, as were the Tarbert family early on; by the time of the last rising, however, the Tarbert family were once again tenants of the anti-Jacobite Campbells of Argyll, and Tarbert allowed a force to be stationed on his land specifically to prevent local Jacobites from joining Charles’s army. It is possible, too, that Loup was one of the many Highland chiefs who thought the rising of 1745 doomed from the start and opted to sit it out. 

Nonetheless, individual Macalisters did serve in Charles’s army as part of the Clan Donald contingent. Seven of them are known to have survived the battle of Culloden, though at least six of these were later captured. And one branch of the clan found another way to serve 'Bonnie Prince Charlie': It was to the home of Ranald and Anne Macalister of Kingsburgh in Skye that Flora MacDonald brought Charles Stuart – famously dressed as her maid – during his escape back to France after the defeat at Culloden.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]The king was the seventh King James of Scotland; he was only the second King James of England.
[2] Seton & Arnot, The Prisoners of the '45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1928).
[3] Livingstone of Bachuil, Aikman & Hart, eds., Aberdeen University Press, 1984. See also McDonnell, Jacobites of 1715, North East Scotland, and Jacobites of 1745, North East Scotland (Clearfield, 1997).
[4] “Well over 75 percent of the manpower mobilized for the Stuarts consisted of Episcopalians”, according to Andrew MacKillop of Aberdeen University (Oxford Companion to Scottish History, p. 350).
[5] When the Scottish bishops refused to support him, William of Orange gave in to the demands of the Estates of Parliament that prelacy be abolished and Presbyterianism established as the official Church of Scotland.