1200s: During the thirteenth century, the lands of the Hebridean sea-kings are marked by "persistent political instability, and the survival of a piratical warrior-pillage economy" that has already been abandoned elsewhere in Western Europe
[Stringer, p. 69].
1203: Benedicting monastery founded on Iona, reputedly by Ranald mac Somhairle; an Augustinian nunnery was established about the same time, its first prioress being Bethag nic Somhairle, Ranald's sister [Bridgland, p. 89].
1207: death of Ranald mac Somhairle, according to MacDonald genealogies; in fact, however, he seems to have outlived his brother Angus (see 1210), whose lands were divided between Ranald and Dugall [Grant & Cheape, p. 61; Gregory, p. 17; Caldwell, p. 38]. It appears that 1207 may be a misreading of 1200& (i.e., some years after 1200), though “MacEwen’s suggested date of c. 1227 seems too late” [Sellar, p. 196].
1209: Annals of Ulster report that "A battle [i]s fought by the sons of Ragnall, son of Somerlech, against the men of Sciadh [Skye], wherein slaughter [i]s inflicted on them" [U1209.2]. Sellar interprets the defeated 'them' to be Ranald's sons [p. 200]; Caldwell thinks they are the men of Skye [p. 39].
1210: death of Angus mac Somhairle and some of his sons “in unknown circumstances” [Grant & Cheape, p. 61; Gregory, p. 17; Caldwell, p. 39; Sellar, p. 195].
1212: Annals of Ulster report a “great naval assault” on Derry and Inishowen by Thomas of Galloway, in which again-unnamed sons of Ranald are involved [U1212.4; Sellar, p. 200].
1214: Derry is plundered in another naval assault by Thomas of Galloway; in this case Ruairi, son of Ranald, is named as one of Thomas’s associates. (Donald, the other known son of Ranald, also may have taken part.) [Sellar, p. 200; U1214.2]
1222: Dòmhnall mac Ranal, progenitor of the Clan Donald, acquires Islay and Kintyre [Feud, p. x]. His son, Angus Mòr, is the first of Somerled’s descendants to acknowledge the superiority of the Scottish king [McKerral, p. 5]. He is also the first chief of the Clan Donald, although the MacDonald surname “was not adopted by any of the main branches of the family until the sixteenth century” [Caldwell, p. 41]. Sellar tells us that “Alexander II is known to have mounted an expedition against Argyll in 1221 or 1222, or both, resulting in some reallocation of territory. Duncan and Brown suggest that land in Kintyre may have changed hands, as does Cowan, who conjectures that Donald son of Ranald may have replaced his brother Ruairi there”, though Sellar himself holds that Donald could have been the loser [Sellar, p. 201; Bower, book IX, pp. 105-7].
1228: “Norwegian sources record a punitive expedition launched against kings of Somerled’s race, who are said to have been unfaithful to King Hakon”, though these kings were probably of the MacDougall line, which is most prominent at this point [Sellar, p. 202].
1230: expedition of King Hakon IV to the Hebrides, apparently “intended to bring the Mac- Sorleys to heel” [Caldwell, p. 40]. Note: this could be the same expedition as above.
1247: Ruairi mac Ranald “is, I would suggest, the descendant of Somerled, styled simply Mac Somurli, who me[ets] his death at the battle of Ballyshannon in the west of Ireland” [Sellar, pp. 200-1; U1247.1]. The Annals of the Four Masters call him "MacSorley, Lord of Argyll" [M1247.3], which at this point would indeed be Ruairi.
1249: first record of Alasdair Mòr, progenitor of the future Clan Alasdair
“Alastair first appears as a witness to a charter granted by his brother Angus, Lord of the Isles” for the church of Kilkerran in Kintyre to the Abbey of Paisley, “ ‘for the salvation of the soul of my lord Alexander, illustrious king of Scots’ ” [Clan, p. 204, but editors give date as 1253; Kingdom, p. 109; McKerral, p. 5].
mid-13th C: The clan Alasdair originates as a branch of the mighty Clan Donald
There has long been debate about the progenitor of this clan, “chiefly because of the existence of two Alexanders, uncle and nephew, to whom its posterity has variously been ascribed”, but examination of all the available evidence has led historians to conclude that “there is no reason to doubt that the Clan Allister are the descendants of Alastair Mòr, son of Donald de Ile, the younger brother of Angus Mòr” [Castleton, p. 163; Clan, p. 204; Keay, p. 643].* According to an article on the MacDonnell of Leinster Association's web site, the misinformation about the clan's founder was intentionally put forward by the Lyon Court in effort to discredit the MacAlasdairs, for fear they would try to claim the chieftainship of the Clan Donald [MacDonnell, "Children"]. In fact, at least one MacAlasdair chief did use this erroneous genealogy to declare himself the rightful representative of the Lords of the Isles [St. James Magazine, and heraldic & historic register, vol. 1 (1850), p. 35], conveniently ignoring the fact that, even if he had been MacAlasdair progenitor, Alasdair Og was forfeited of his land and titles. In any case, the 'libel' was admitted by the Lyon Court in 1846 [MacDonnell, ibid.], and by the end of the nineteenth cen- tury, most contemporary historians took care to debunk it. In 1886, for example, Dugald Mitchell wrote, “According to Mackenzie’s History of the MacDonalds, the M’Alisters claim their descent from Alexander, eldest son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles, but their real descent seems to have been from Alexander, second son of Donald of the Isles, and younger brother of Angus Mor” [p. 72]. Five years earlier, Donald Gregory, who has been called “the most level-headed of clan historians” wrote: “The Clan Allaster derived its descent from Alexander, or Allaster, son of Donald of Isla, the grand son of Somerled” [p. 68]. And in 1895, Charles Fraser-Mackintosh stated that "the Clan Allister of Kintyre [are] descended of Allister, son of Donald, grandson of Somerled" [p. 35]. Indeed,“there is no record of a family of importance being founded by [the descendants of Alasdair Og] in Scotland” [Castleton, p. 163]. Unfortunately, the myth of the clan's founding persists; it has yet to be corrected in reprints of older clan histories, and it is widely put forth on-line. Duncan Beaton found it necessary even in 1997 to declare that “Alasdair Og, the MacDonald chief who . . . opposed the Bruce during the Wars of Independence, . . . is not, as was formerly claimed, the ancestor of the MacAlasdairs, but rather his nephew, the son of Angus Mòr” [p. 14].
* NOTE: With the advent of DNA testing, the debate about our progenitor appears finally to be laid to rest. The data compiled by the Clan Donald DNA project show that the "marker DYS458 appears . . . to distinguish MacDonald from MacAllister", showing where Alasdair Mòr and his descendants (the MacAlasdairs) branched off from the descendants of Angus Mòr (including Alasdair Og) [http://dna-project.clan-donald-usa.org/DNAmain3.htm]. Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes reached the same conclusion during an exhaustive DNA survey of the UK on which he based his book Blood of the Isles (titled Saxons, Vikings and Celts in the US) [DNA USA: A Genetic Biography of America (London & New York: 2012), pp. 107-8] .
1249: Death of Dòmhnall mac Ranald may have occurred in this year; some sources
put it at 1269; Caldwell says he was most likely dead by 1248 [p. 41, but he may be assuming that the Mac Sumarli killed at Ballyshannon in 1247 was Donald].
mid-1200s: Tarbert Castle built
However, “[m]ost of the early references to the keepership [see 1511, 1526] con- tain the words ‘when it is built’ as though there were still additions being made to Tarbert Castle at the time of James IV” (late 1400s) [CMS, p. 19; DMM; Mitchell, p. 20]. Note: probably repairs, not additions—see 1499–1500, #1. Mitchell puts the castle’s construction at 1325, qv., but notes that some believe an earlier structure existed. Barrow suggests it was “possibly built by Alexander II”, who died in 1249 [p. 137].
1253: see 1240s
1255: “Angus, the son of Donald and Lord of Isla, [i]s closely pursued by [Alexander III of Scotland], because he w[ill] not consent to become a vassal of Scotland for the lands he h[olds] of Norway” [Gregory, p. 20].
1256: Contemporary sources suggest that Angus Mòr is probably involved with the uprising in Ireland of Brian O Neill against the English in this year [Caldwell, p. 41].
1260: Clan Alasdair in Ulster:
1. “After a devastating defeat . . . at the Battle of Downpatrick, the Irish s[eek] aid from their northern cousins. These mercenary forces, called Galloglach, or galloglass, revolution[ise] the Irish military structure. . . .” [“News”, no. 35, pp.1–2]. They are "not common foot soldiers, but minor knights for hire, who, unlike the Irish, w[ear] distinctive light armor, chain-mail jerkins, and pointed metal helmets that can still be easily spotted in medieval tombstone carvings" [MacCullough, p. xxiii]. "[T]he importation by the Irish of a constant stream of these Scots, many of whom were to remain as settlers, was to have a crucial effect on Irish warfare. . . . To them we may attribute much of the resurgence of Gaelic Ireland in the next three centuries" [Wood, ed., p. 9]. Many—perhaps most—Irish MacAlasdairs descend from galloglass families [MacLysacht, Surnames, p. 4; Irish Families, p. 23].
2. “The evidence that Alisdair [Mòr] was a leader of galloglass forces is persua- sive. Other than the rather uneventful role as witness to a grant of land from his brother to the Monastery of Paisley, we have no record of his activities. . . . The Irish Annalist refers to him as ‘of Antrim’. . . . It is very possible that, as Angus be- came [more] involved in the Isles, his younger brother took over the family affairs in [I]reland. . . .” [“News”, no. 35, pp. 1–2]. Certainly later Clan Alasdair chiefs led galloglass forces in Northern Ireland (see 1360; 1493ff., #3; 1500s, #2).
1263/4: 1. (30 Sept./1 Oct.) Battle of Largs: King Haakon of Norway invades Scot- land; Clan Donald Supports him [Feud, p. x]. According to R. Andrew MacDon- ald, Angus Mòr submits to Haakon reluctantly, possibly because of blackmail, and his allegiance of choice seems to be Scotland [Kingdom, p. 130; Sellar, p. 207]. Caldwell agrees, saying that Angus and his brother Murchaid only join Haakon when that king sends a force of fifty ships to “ravage their lands in Kintyre” [p. 42], and Barrow says Angus's loyalty to Haakon is so “doubtful” that even though he joins the Norse, they require him to surrender hostages [p. 142]. Tytler conversely has Angus withstanding considerable pressure from the Scots king to renounce his allegiance to Haakon [Tytler, pp. 7-8], and Gregory reports that Haakon's inva- sion to begin with is a direct response to complaints brought to him by his sub- jects in the Isles that the Scottish king is becoming too aggressive in pressing them to acknowledge him as their sole overlord [p. 20]. In fact, “most, if not all of the descendants of Somerled, ha[ve], for a century after his death, a divided allegiance, holding part of their lands, those in the Isles, from the King of Norway; their mainland domains being, at the same time, held of the King of Scotland” [Gregory, pp. 18-19; Caldwell, p. 38]. In addition to reclaiming the Isles, however, the Norsemen also ravage the adjacent parts of Scotland, leading to their defeat at Largs as they attempt a landing in Ayrshire. They then find themselves trapped by storms, and Haakon himself dies in Orkney on the way home [Gregory, p. 20; Caldwell, p. 40; Sellar, p. 205].
2. Campbells first appear in Argyll [Feud, p. x]
1266: (2 July) Treaty of Perth: Alexander III takes advantage of his victory over the Norse "and resume[s] his projects against the Isles with such success that, on the death of Magnus, King of Man . . . Magnus of Norway, the successor of Haco [Haakon], [i]s induced to cede all the Western Isles to Scotland" [Gregory, pp. 20- 21]; the Northern Isles remain Norse. The treaty includes a condition to protect the Islesmen from retribution for “misdeeds or injuries and damage which they have committed hitherto while they adhered to” the king of Norway [Kingdom, p. 120; Gregory, ibid.]; the Scottish Crown, thus forbidden to forfeit the western chiefs, begins a policy of using “their most prominent number as agents of royal authority” [Kingdom, p. 132]. “Angus of Isla . . . bec[omes], according to the treaty, a vassal of Scotland for his lands there, and [i]s allowed to retain, under a single king, all that he . . . formerly held under two” [Gregory, p. 22]; however, hostages, including Alasdair Og, son of Angus Mòr mac Dòmhnall (MacDonald), are sent to Edinburgh to insure the good behaviour of the western chiefs [personal correspondence with Capt. Ian MacDonald; Feud, p. 12; Gregory, p. 22]. Caldwell in fact claims that “Angus Mor is known to have been in trouble, threatened with military action by the rest of the barons of Argyll if he did not enter into Alexander III’s goodwill” [p. 43]. Although three of Somerled’s descendants, including Angus Mòr, are now major landholders in the Isles under Alexander III, the wording of the treaty makes clear that none of them “at this time, . . . bore the title of Lord of the Isles, or could have been properly so considered” [Gregory, p. 23].
1269: see 1249
1284: Angus Mòr of Islay is one of those barons who pledge their support for Margaret, the Norwegian granddaughter of Alexander III, as his heir [Munro, p. 280].
1286: Alexander III dies, leaving as his only direct heir his infant granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway. A dozen or so men in the kingdom believe that they have legitimate claims to the throne, but most of them are among “the majority of magnates, laymen and churchmen alike, [who] rall[y] in loyalty to the female child they ha[ve] never seen” [Barrow, p. 184]. However, Gregory says that by this year, Angus Mòr is already a supporter of Robert Bruce [p. 24], one of the claimants to the throne. It is possible that Alasdair Mòr, as a vassal of his brother, is also an early supporter of Bruce [MacDonnell, "Children"].
late 1200s: "Contemporary with the House of Somerled there [a]re in Argyll and the Isles a number of lesser families greedy for powers and lands in a fiercely competitive environment. . . . Of these, the Macsweens who h[o]ld the lordship of Knapdale and (it seems) Arran also [a]re the most powerful. . . . [T]he foundations of Camp- bell power [a]re already being laid . . . before the end of the thirteenth century. . . . [But] the most remarkable development of [the] period [i]s the spread of Stewart power and possessions across the water from their original lordship of Renfrew" [Barrow, p. 136]. Keith Stringer asserts that as early as 1200 the Stewarts are in control of Bute, and by 1260 they have already mastered Arran, Knapdale and Cowal [Stringer, p. 56].
1290: Annals of the Four Masters mention the "MacDonnells of Scotland, and many other galloglasses” [M1290.4]; this is one of the earliest appearances of this term on record [Sellar, p. 200].
1291: Alasdair Mòr’s son Donald and grandson Alexander, like most men of significance in Scotland, swear loyalty to King Edward I of England as part of an arbitration agreement [“News”, no. 35, p. 2; “Fortiter”, Dec. 1981, p. 6; Castleton, p. 163]; see 1306; 1307; 1309; 1314, #1; 1315, #1 for more discussion of Donald’s involvement in the Wars of Independence.1292: (7 July) 'Angus son of Donald of the Isles' is named in a document dated this
day; after this he disappears from the record. He is probably dead by 1296.
[Munro, p. 280; Keay, p. 548; Caldwell, p. 43].
1296: 1.“[T]wo great interlinked families, the MacDougalls and the MacDonalds, between them contro[l] virtually every war galley available”, making it difficult for Balliol to establish control in the west [Feud, pp. 3–4].
2. see 1292
1297: Rising of William Wallace; the western clans are not involved in this revolt.
1299: death of Alasdair Mòr: According to the Irish Annals of the Four Masters, “Alexander MacDonnell (of Antrim) [i.e., Alasdair Mòr], the best man of his tribe in Ireland and Scotland for hospitality and prowess, was slain by Alexander MacDowell [i.e., Alexander MacDugall], together with a countless number of his people who were slaughtered” [M1299.3; Castleton, p. 163; Montcrieffe, p. 63; Caldwell, p. 44; Sellar, p. 212, though he confuses him with Alasdair Og]. The reason was probably a long-running feud over the Isle of Mull. (See Kingdom of the Isles for details of the MacDonald/MacDougall feud.) “It [i]s during one of these clashes that Alisdair Mòr, now an old man, [i]s slain by Alexander. . . . How and where this confrontation occur[s] is unknown” [“News”, no. 35, pp. 2–3], though it was probably in Ireland [obituary of Angus Macalister, the Scotsman, 17 April 2007].