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The Scottish Nation

MACDONALD, the name of a numerous and wide-spread clan, divided into several tribes, which derived its generic name from Donald, elder son of Reginald, second son of the celebrated Somerled of Argyle, king of the Isles (see THE ISLES, lord of).

      The distinctive badge of this clan was the bell-heath. They formed the principal branch of the Siol-Cuinn, or race of Conn, their great founder, Somerled, being supposed by the Sennachies or Celtic Genealogists, to have been descended from an early Irish king, called Conn of the Hundred battles. Although a Norwegian extraction has been claimed for them, their own traditions invariably represent the MacDonalds as of Pictish descent, and as forming part of the great tribe of the Gall-gael, or Gaelic pirates, who in ancient times inhabited the coasts of Argyle, Arran, and Man. The latter is Mr. Skene’s opinion (History of the Highlands, vol. ii. p. 38.) The antiquity of the clan is undoubted, and one of their own name traces it back to the sixth century. Sir James MacDonald of Kintyre, in a letter addressed, in 1615, to the bishop of the Isles, declares that his race “has been tenne hundred years kyndlie Scottismen under the kings of Scotland.â€�

      The representative and undoubted heir-male of John, eleventh earl of Ross, and last lord of the Isles, is Lord Macdonald, of the family of Sleat in Skye, descended from Hugh, the brother of Earl John and the third son of Alexander, tenth earl of Ross. A son, John, whom Hugh of Sleat had by his first wife, Fynvola, daughter of Alexander MacIan of Ardnamurchan, died without issue, but by a second wife, a lady of the clan Gunn, he had another son, Donald, called Gallach, from being fostered by his mother’s relations in Caithness. He had several other sons, and his descendants were so numerous in the 16th century that they were known as the clan Huistein, or children of Hugh. They were also called the Clandonald north, from their residence in Skye and North Uist, to distinguish them from the clan Ian Vohr of Isla and Kintyre, who were called the Clandonald south. Since the extinction of the direct line of the family of the Isles, in the middle of the 16th century, Macdonald of Sleat, now Lord Macdonald, has always been styled in Gaelic, MacDhonuill nan Eilean, or Macdonald of the Isles. (Gregory’s Highlands and Isles of Scotland, page 61.)

      Donald Gallach’s great-grandson, Donald Macdonald Gormeson of Sleat, son of that Donald Gorme, the claimant of the lordship of the Isles, who was slain in 1539 at Elandonan in Kintail, was a minor at the time of his father’s death, and his title to the family estates was disputed by the Macleods of Harris. He ranged himself on the side of Mary queen of Scots when the disputes about her marriage began in 1565. With MacLeod of Lewis he was engaged in a feud with the Mackenzies, and in August 1569 he and Mackenzie of Kintail were obliged, in presence of the regent Moray and the privy council at Perth, to settle, under the regent’s mediation, the quarrels and disputes between them. He died in 1585.

      His eldest son, Donald Gorme Mor, fifth in descent from Hugh of Sleat, soon after succeeding his father, found himself involved in a deadly feud with the Macleans of Dowart, which raged to such an extent as to lead to the interference of government, and to the passing in 1587 of an act of parliament, commonly called “The general Bondâ€� or Band, for maintaining good order both on the borders and in the Highlands and Isles. By this act, it was made imperative on all landlords, baillies, and chiefs of clans, to find sureties for the peaceable behaviour of those under them. The contentions, however, between the Macdonalds and the Macleans continued, and in 1589, with the view of putting an end to them, the king and council adopted the following plan. After remissions under the privy seal had been granted to Donald Gorme of Sleat, his kinsman, Macdonald of Isla, the principal in the feud, and Maclean of Dowart, for all crimes committed by them, they were induced to proceed to Edinburgh, under pretence of consulting with the king and council for the good rule of the country, but immediately on their arrival, they were seized and imprisoned in the castle. In the summer of 1591, they were set at liberty, on paying each a fine to the king, that imposed on Sleat being £4,000, under the name of arrears of deu duties and crown rents in the Isles, and finding security for their future obedience and the performance of certain prescribed conditions. They were also taken bound to return to their confinement in the castle of Edinburgh, whenever they should be summoned, on twenty days’ warning. In consequence of their not fulfilling the conditions imposed upon them, and their continuing in opposition to the government, their pardons were recalled, and the three island chiefs were cited before the privy council on the 14th July 1593, when failing to appear, summonses of treason were executed against them and certain of their associates.

      In 1595, Donald Gorme and Macleod of Harris, with each 500 of their followers, went to Ulster, to the assistance of Red Hugh O’Donnell, then in rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, but the former almost immediately returned to the Isles, leaving his brother in command of his clansmen. In the following year he procured a lease from the crown of the district of Trouterness in Skye, but when, two years afterwards, that district was granted by the king, with the island of Lewis, belonging to Macleod of Harris, to a company of lowland adventurers, chiefly Fifeshire gentlemen, for the purpose of colonization, he joined with Macleod and Mackenzie of Kintail in preventing their settlement either in the Lewis or in Skye, and the project in consequence ultimately failed.

      In 1601, the chief of Sleat again brought upon himself and his clan the interference of government by a feud with Macleod of Dunvegan, which led to much bloodshed and great misery and distress among their followers and their families. He had married a sister of Macleod, but, from jealousy on some other cause, he put her away, and refused at her brother’s request to take her back. Having procured a divorce, he soon after married a sister of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail. Macleod immediately assembled his clan, and carried fire and sword through Macdonald’s district of Trouterness. The latter, in revenge, invaded Harris, and laid waste that island, killing many of the inhabitants, and carrying off their cattle. The Macleods, in their turn, invaded Macdonald’s island of North Uist, when Donald Glas Macleod, a kinsman of the chief, and forth men, in endeavouring to carry off some cattle, were encountered and totally defeated by a near relative of Donald Gorme, called Donald MacIan Vic James, who had only twelve men with him, Donald Glass and many of the Macleods being killed. “These spoliations and incursions were carried on with so much inveteracy, that both clans were brought to the brink of ruin; and many of the natives of the districts thus devastated were forced to sustain themselves by killing and eating their horses, dogs, and cats.â€� (Gregory’s Highlands and Isles of Scotland, page 296.) The Macdonalds having invaded Macleod’s lands in Skye, a battle took place on the mountain Benquillin between them and the Macleods, when the latter, under Alexander, the brother of their chief, were defeated with great loss, and their leader with thirty of their clan taken captive. On being informed of this, the privy council issued orders for the contending chiefs to disband their forces and to quit the island, Macleod being enjoined to give himself up to the earl of Argyle, and Macdonald to surrender himself to the marquis of Huntly. A reconciliation was at length effected between them by the mediation of Macdonald of Isla, Maclean of Coll, and other friends; when the prisoners taken at Benquillin were released.

      In 1608, we find Donald Gorme of Sleat one of the Island chiefs who attended the court of Lord Ochiltree, the king’s lieutenant, at Aros in Mull, when he was sent there for the settlement of order in the Isles, and who afterwards accepted his invitation to dinner on board the king’s ship, called the Moon. When dinner was ended, Ochiltree told the astonished chiefs that they were his prisoners by the king’s order; and weighing anchor he sailed direct to Ayr, whence he proceeded with his prisoners to Edinburgh and presented them before the privy council, by whose order they were placed in the several castles of Dumbarton, Blackness, and Stirling. Petitions were immediately presented by the imprisoned chiefs to the council submitting themselves to the king’s pleasure, and making many offers in order to procure their liberation. A number of commissioners were appointed to receive their proposals, and to deliberate upon all matters connected with the civilization of the Isles, and the increase of his majesty’s rents. In the following year the bishop of the Isles was deputed as sole commissioner to visit and survey the isles, and all the chiefs in prison were set at liberty, on finding security to a large amount, not only for their return to Edinburgh by a certain fixed day, but for their active concurrence, in the meantime, with the bishop in making the proposed survey. Donald Gorme of Sleat was one of the twelve chiefs and gentlemen of the Isles, who met the bishop at Iona, in July 1609, and submitted themselves to him, as the king’s representative. At a court then held by the bishop, the nine celebrated statutes called the “Statutes of Icolmkill,â€� for the improvement and order of the Isles, were enacted, with the consent of the assembled chiefs, and their bonds and oaths given for the obedience thereto of their clansmen. On the 28th June 1610 the chief of Sleat and five others of the principal Islanders went to Edinburgh, to hear the king’s pleasure declared to them, when they were compelled to give sureties to a large amount for their reappearance before the council in May 1711. They were also taken bound to concur with and assist the king’s lieutenants, justices and commissioners, in all matters connected with the Isles, to live together in peace and amity, and to submit all their disputes in future to the decision of the law. In 1613 we find Donald Gorme of Sleat, Macleod of Harris, Maclean of Dowart, and Donald MacAllan, captain of the Clanranald, mentioned as having settled with the exchequer, and as continuing in their obedience to the laws. In the following year, while on his way home from Edinburgh, after transacting business with the privy council, he was sent by the bishop of the Isles, with Sir Aulay MacAulay of Ardincaple, to Angus Oig, brother of Sir James Macdonald of Isla, who had seized the castle of Dunyveg, to endeavour to prevail upon him to surrender it, but his negotiation was unsuccessful. On the escape of Sir James MacDonald from Edinburgh castle in 1615, he proceeded to Sleat, where he had a lengthened conference with Donald Gorme. Although the latter did not himself join him, a number of his clan did, when he sailed for Isla, to raise the standard of insurrection against the government.

      In 1616, after the suppression of the rebellion of the Clanranald in the South Isles, certain very stringent conditions were imposed by the privy council on the different Island chiefs. Among these were, that they were to take home farms into their own hands, which they were to cultivate, “to the effect that they might be thereby exercised and eschew idleness,â€� and that they were not to use in their houses more than a certain quantity of wine respectively. Donald Gorme of Sleat, having been prevented by sickness from attending the council with the other chiefs, ratified all their proceedings, and found the required sureties, by a bond dated in the month of August. He named Duntullim, a castle of his family in Trouterness, as his residence, when six household gentlemen, and an annual consumption of four tun of wine, were allowed to him; and he was once a-year to exhibit to the council three of his principal kinsmen. He died the same year, without issue, and was succeeded by his nephew, Donald Gorme Macdonald of Sleat.

      In July of the following year, the latter, who had been knighted, as he is styled Sir Donald, appeared, with other chiefs, before the council, and continued annually to do so, in accordance with the conditions already referred to. In 1622, on his and their appearance to make their obedience to the privy council as usual, several acts of importance, relating to the Isles, were passed, by one of which the chief of Sleat and three other chiefs were bound not to molest those engaged in the trade of fishing in the Isles, under heavy penalties. On 14th July 1625, after having concluded, in an amicable manner, all his disputes with the Macleods of Harris, and another controversy in which he was engaged with the captain of the Clanranald, he was created a baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles I., with a special clause of precedency placing him second of that order in Scotland. He adhered to the cause of that monarch, but died in 1643. He had married Janet, commonly called “fair Janet,â€� second daughter of Kenneth, first Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, by whom he had several children.

      His eldest son, Sir James Macdonald, second baronet of Sleat, joined the marquis of Montrose in 1645, and when Charles II. marched into England in 1651, he sent a number of his clan to his assistance. He died 8th December 1678.

      Sir James’ eldest son, Sir Donald Macdonald, third baronet of Sleat, died in 1695. His son, also named Sir Donald, fourth baronet, was one of those persons summoned by the lord advocate, on the breaking out of the rebellion of 1715, to appear at Edinburgh, under pain of a year’s imprisonment and other penalties, to give bail for their allegiance to the government. Joining in the insurrection, his two brothers commanded the battalion of his clan, on the Pretender’s side, at Sheriffmuir, and, being sent out with the earl Marischal’s horse to drive away a reconnoitring party, under the duke of Argyle, from the heights, may be said to have commenced the battle. Sir Donald himself had joined the earl of Seaforth at his camp at Alness with 700 Macdonalds. After the suppression of the rebellion Sir Donald proceeded to the isle of Skye with about 1,000 men, but although he made no resistance, having no assurance of protection from the government in case of a surrender, he retired into one of the Uists, where he remained till he obtained a ship which carried him to France. He was forfeited for his share in the insurrection, but the forfeiture was soon removed. He died in 1718, leaving one son and four daughters.

      The son, Sir Donald Macdonald, fifth baronet, died, unmarried, in 1720, when the title reverted to his uncle, Sir James Macdonald of Oronsay, sixth baronet. The latter had one son and three daughters. Margaret, the second daughter, became the wife of Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie, baronet, author of the Peerage and Baronage of Scotland. Sir James died in 1723.

      His son, Sir Alexander Macdonald, seventh baronet, was one of the first persons asked by Prince Charles to join him, on his arrival off the western islands, in July 1745, but refused, as he had brought no foreign force with him. Young Clanranald, accompanied by Allan Macdonald, a younger brother of Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart, was despatched with letters from the prince to Sir Alexander and the laird of Macleod, to solicit their aid. They could have brought between them 2,000 men, to his assistance, and had promised to join him, if supported by a foreign force, but when they found he had come without troops they considered the enterprise desperate, and would have nothing to do with it. On the 11th August Sir Alexander wrote to the lord-president, Forbes of Culloden, informing him of the names of the chief who had joined Charles, and requesting directions how to act in the event of any of them being compelled to take refuge in the islands. In this letter, speaking for Macleod and himself, he says: “You may believe, my lord, our spirits are in a great deal of agitation, and that we are much at a loss how to behave in so extraordinary an occurrence. That we will have no connexion with these madmen is certain, but are bewildered in every other respect till we hear from you. Whenever these rash men meet with a check, ‘tis more than probable they’ll endeavour to retire to their islands; how we ought to behave in that event we expect to know from your lordship. Their force even in that case must be very inconsiderable to be repelled with batons; and we have no other arms in any quantity.â€� (Culloden Papers, p. 207.) After the battle of Preston, the prince sent Mr. Alexander Macleod, advocate, to the isle of Skye, to endeavour to prevail upon Sir Alexander Macdonald and the laird of Macleod to join the insurgents, but instead of doing so, these and other well-affected chiefs enrolled each an independent company for the service of government, out of their respective clans. The Macdonalds of Skye served under Lord Loudon in Ross-shire.

      After the battle of Culloden, when Prince Charles, in his wanderings, took refuge in Skye, with Flora Macdonald, they landed near Moydhstat, the seat of Sir Alexander Macdonald, near the northern extremity of that island. Sir Alexander was at that time with the duke of Cumberland at Fort Augustus, and as his wife, Lady Margaret Montgomerie, a daughter of the ninth earl of Eglinton, was known to be a warm friend of the prince, Miss Macdonald proceeded to announce to her his arrival. She had previously received a letter from Charles, informing her that he intended to seek refuge on her husband’s property, and on being told by the bearer of it to burn it, she rose up, and, kissing the letter, exclaimed, “NO! I will not burn it. I will preserve it for the sake of him who wrote it to me. Although King Georg’s forces should come to the house, I hope I shall find a way to secure the letter.â€� Through Lady Margaret the prince was consigned to the care of Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh, Sir Alexander’s factor, at whose house he spent the night, and afterwards departed to the island of Rasay. Charles subsequently declared, when refused assistance by Macdonald of Morar, who had been one of his adherents, that some of those who had joined him at first, had turned their backs on him in his greatest need, while others who had refused to join him became, in his adversity, his best friends; for it was remarkable, he said, that those of Sir Alexander Macdonald’s following had been most faithful to him in his distress, and had contributed greatly to his preservation. Sir Alexander died in November 1746, leaving three sons.

      His eldest son, Sir James, eighth baronet, styled “The Scottish Marcellus,â€� was born in 1741. From his infancy he exhibited the most extraordinary abilities; and, after receiving the rudiments of his education at home, at his own earnest solicitation he was sent to Eton, where, so great was his proficiency, and so precocious his genius, that Dr. Barnard, in a very short time, actually placed him at the head of his class. On leaving Eton he set out on his travels, and was everywhere received by the learned with the distinction due to his unrivalled talents. At Rome, in particular, the most marked attention was paid to him by several of the cardinals. He died in that city on 26th July 1766, when only 25 years old. In extent of learning, and in genius, he resembled “the Admirable Crichton.â€� Like him, too, he was prematurely cut off in the full promise of his days, leaving scarcely any authentic memorials of his wonderful acquirements. On his death the title devolved on his next brother, Alexander. The third brother, Archibald, was educated at Westminster school and Christ church, Oxford, and studied for the English bar. After being solicitor-general and attorney-general, he was appointed lord-chief-baron of the court of exchequer. He was created a baronet of Great Britain in 1813. He died in 1826, aged 60, and was succeeded by his son, styled of East Sheen, Surrey.

      Sir Alexander, 9th baronet, was created a peer of Ireland, July 17, 1776, as Baron Macdonald of Sleat, county Antrim. He married eldest daughter of Godfrey Bosvile, Esq. of Gunthwaite, Yorkshire; issue, 6 sons and 3 daughters. Diana, the eldest daughter, married in 1788 Right Hon. Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, baronet. His lordship died Sept. 12, 1795.

      His eldest son, Alexander Wentworth, 2d Lord Macdonald, died, unmarried, June 19, 1824, when his brother, Godfrey, became 3d Lord Macdonald. He assumed the additional name of Bosvile. He married Louisa Maria, daughter of Farley Edsir, Esq.; issue, 3 sons and 7 daughters. A major-general in the army. He died Oct. 13, 1832.

      The eldest son, Godfrey William Wentworth, 4th Lord Macdonald, born in 1809, married in 1845, daughter of G. T. Wyndham, Esq. of Cromer Hall, Norfolk, issue, Somerled James Brudenell, burn in 1849, 2 other sons and 5 daughters.


      The Macdonalds of Isla and Kintyre, called the clan Ian Vor, whose chiefs were usually styled lords of Dunyveg, from their castle in Isla, and the Glens, were descended from John Mor, second son of ‘The good John of Isla,â€� and of Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II. From his brother Donald, lord of the Isles, he received large grants of land in Isla and Kintyre, and by his marriage with Marjory Bisset, heiress of the district of the Glens in Antrim, he acquired possessions in Ulster. He was murdered before 1427 by an individual named James Campbell, who is said to have received a commission from King James I., to apprehend him, but that he exceeded his powers by putting him to death. His eldest son, Donald, surnamed Balloch, is the chief who, when the Isles broke out into rebellion, on the imprisonment of his cousin Alexander, lord of the Isles and earl of Ross, took command of the Islanders, and at their head burst into Lochaber in 1431. Having encountered the king’s army under the earls of Mar and Caithness at Inverlochy, he gained a complete victory, Caithness being killed, while Mar saved with difficulty the remains of the discomfited force. Donald Balloch, after ravaging the adjacent districts, withdrew first to the Isles, and afterwards to Ireland. It is stated erroneously that he was soon after betrayed into the hands of his enemies, and his head cut off and presented to James, and some historians have been led into the error of calling him, Donald, lord of the Isles, but that title he never claimed. He escaped the vengeance of King James, and subsequently took a prominent part in the rebellions of John earl of Ross and lord of the Isles. He was knighted before his death, which took place in 1476. From Ranald Bane, a younger brother of Donald Balloch, sprang the Clanranaldbane of Largie in Kintyre.

      Donald Balloch’s grandson, John, surnamed Cathanach, or warlike, was at the head of the clan Ian Vor, when the lordship of the Isles was finally forfeited by James IV. in 1493. In that year he was among the chiefs, formerly vassals of the lord of the Isles, who made their submission to the king when he proceeded in person to the west Highlands. On this occasion he and the other chiefs were knighted. In the following year, the king having placed a garrison in the castle of Dunaverty in South Kintyre, Sir John of Isla collected his followers, and storming the castle, hung the governor from the wall, in sight of the king and his fleet. The treasurer’s accounts show that in August 1494 he was summoned to answer for treason in Kintyre, and ere long he and four of his sons were apprehended in Isla my MacIan of Ardnamurchan and conveyed to Edinburgh. Being found guilty of high treason, they were executed on the Burrowmuir of Edinburgh, their bodies being interred in the church of St. Anthony. Two surviving sons fled to Ireland. Alexander, the elder of them, is traditionally said in 1497 to have assisted MacIan, with whom he had effected a reconciliation, and had married his daughter, in putting to death Sir Alexander Macdonald of Lochalsh in the island of Oransay, whither that chief had retreated.