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1300s:  emergence of Clan Alasdair

This important family [i]s one of the earliest branches to assert its independ- ence from the great Clan Donald” [Clan, p. 204]; the clan appears in the mid-14th century: a little clan, senior cadets of Clan Donald who acquire a separate identity [DMM; Stevenson, p. 220]. By 1366, this branch of the Clan Donald is already known to chroniclers as 'Clan Alexander' [M1366.9]. Castleton calls the Clan Alasdair “the oldest of all the families that sprang from the main stem” of the Clan Donald [Castleton, p. 163; Keay, p. 643; Grant, p. 148; Clan, p. 204]. 

            —“[T]he MacDonalds . . . established several branches that took on much of the individuality of clans, and during the period before the Lordship of the Isles, the MacAlisters, the MacIans and the MacDonalds of Glencoe [are] established” [Grant/Cheape, p. 70]. However, “[t]he fortunes of the McAlestor’s [sic] are closely linked to the ebb and flow of Clan Donald’s reign up to the loss of the Lordship of the Isles” in 1493 [CMS, intro.].

—“The possessions of this tribe appear to have been, from the first, in Kintyre, and were never very extensive” [Gregory, p. 68]; indeed, “it seems impossible to associate Clan Alasdair as a Highland family with any other region” [Castleton, pp. 163, 165; CMS, p. 27]. Later the MacAlasdairs are “numerically strong in Bute and Arran” [CMS, p. 27; Grant, p. 41; DMM; Keay, p. 643]. Strategic location makes the MacAlasdairs influential, but they are “by no means a numerous clan, and therefore s[eek] to secure their position by alliances with other houses” [Clan, p. 204].

---Many of this clan serve in Ulster as galloglasses;see 1260; 1360; 1493ff., #3; 1500s, #2.

1306:    Robert Bruce crowned King of Scotland at Scone in a secret ceremony   
by only a handful of people. Pursued by Edward’s forces, he escapes
            first to
Dunaverty Castle, then to Rathlin Island (Ireland): Angus Og gives Bruce
and hospitality in his Castle of Dunaverty”. Some MacDonald accounts
            hold that
he was sheltered by Donald of the Isles, son of Alasdair Mòr, during his  
 [personal correspondence with Vance McAlister, CMS historian, and Kathan
of Texas, July 2001]; certainly the evidence now available suggests that, contrary
            to the traditional view of Clan Donald historians, Donald supported Robert Bruce
            (see 1307; 1309; 1314, #2). “In the series of struggles for Scottish independence, 
            which mar[k] the close of the thirteenth and the opening of the fourteenth centur-
            ies, the [MacDougall] Lords of Lorn, who [a]re closely connected by marriage   
the Comyn and Balliol party, naturally arra[y] themselves in opposition to the 
            claims of Bruce. On the other hand, the houses of Isla and the North Isles sup-
            por[t], with all their power, the apparently desperate fortunes of King Robert I” 
             [Gregory, p. 24].

1307:    Donald mac Alasdair supports Edward Bruce (brother of Robert) in his Galloway campaign. According to Barbour, Fordun, Bower[1], and the Lanercost Chronicle, “Edward Bruce was supported by Donald of Islay (who may have been a cousin of Angus Og)[McNamee, p. 44; emphasis mine], which Donald mac Alasdair certainly was. Donald of Islay is one of only three Highland supporters of Bruce to be named in the chronicles [Grant/Cheape, p. 62; Bower, book XII, p. 345]. He may also have led the warband sent by Angus Og MacDonald to protect Robert Bruce when he returned from Rathlin Island in this year [MacDonnell, "Children"].

1308:    MacDonald chief forfeited

1.  "Alasdair Og, nephew of Alasdair Mor, . . . . join[s] the Macdougalls against Robert Bruce", for which his lands are forfeit; Alasdair Og is attacked in his principal stronghold of Castle Sween, forced to surrender, and dies a prisoner in Dundonald Castle, Ayrshire [“Fortiter”, Jan. 1982, p. 2; McKerral, p. 4; Grant/Cheape, p. 64]. The New Statistical Account for the parish of North Knapdale reports:


When the Bruce obtained possession of the crown, he found himself threatened by the strength of the descendants of Somerled, as by that of an enemy who had gradually grown up into the posses- sion of a power which frequently defied royal authority, and which had more than once shaken the stability of the Crown under Somerled. He therefore determined to proceed in person into Argyleshire for the purpose of crushing the power of the Lord of Lorn [i.e., the MacDougall], which he soon effected. After the defeat of the Lord of Lorn at Lochawe, King Robert besieged Alexander of the Isles [Alasdair Og] in Castle Swe[e]n, his usual residence. Alexander, for some days, defended himself with the most determined bravery, but was obliged to surrender himself to the King, who forthwith imprisoned him in Dundonald Castle, where he died. [NSA: N. Knapdale, p. 637]


Alasdair Og’s possessions and title are granted to his brother Angus Og [Grant/ Cheape, p. 70; Beaton, p. 14;  Feud, p. 14; McKerral, p. 4]. His “six surviving sons escap[e] to Ireland where they [form] the nucleus of the future MacDonald/Mac- Donnell clan of Ulster” [Feud, 14; MacDonnell, "Children"]; Alasdair Og’s descend- ants “are distinctly traceable in the North of Ireland” as the MacDonalds of Ulster [Beaton, p. 14].

2. “At the end of the first War of Independence, Bruce ma[kes] grants and confis-cations that materially chang[e] the pattern of land-holding in the Highlands” [Grant/ Cheape, p. 65]. However, “he [i]s too sensible of the weakness of Scotland on the side of the Isles, not to take precautionary measures against the possible defec- tion of any of the great families on that coast, who might with ease admit an Eng- lish force into the heart of the kingdom.” As a result, he require[s] Angus to resign to the Crown his lands in Kintyre [Gregory, p. 25; McKerral, p. 4].

1309:    Donald of the Isles attends Robert I’s first Parliament.[2]
            This parliament, held in March at St. Andrews, [i]s a small gathering of supporters 

            who ha[ve] proven themselves loyal to Bruce; see 1307; 1314; 1315. Later the   

            same year Donald witnesses a charter to Melrose Abbey, again with Edward

            Bruce [Bower, vol. 6, editorial note p. 444; MacDonnell, "Children"

1314:    1. 25 March entry in the Rotuli Scotiae records the commissioning of John of Argyll

            to take Douenaldus de Insula and Gotheris (Godfrey, another of Alasdair Mòr's

            sons) 'into the peace of' Edward I of England. Until recently, this has been taken 

            to mean that these men opposed Robert Bruce, but there is in fact no record of

            their ever actually being taken into Edward's peace at this time, as is usually

            assumed [Vance McAlister correspondence, 2001]; the clan supports Bruce at Ban-

            nockburn two months later, and most other evidence that exists suggests that

            Donald supported the Bruce; see 1306; 1307; 1309; 1315, #1. It is interesting to

            note that part of Edward’s plan for defeating Bruce was an “attempt to recruit men

            there [in the Isles] to fight . . . the lord of the Isles, to keep the Bruce from melting 

            away into the protection of the Islesmen” [Aryeh Nusbacher, The Battle of Bannock-

            burn, 1314 (Tempus Publishing Ltd., 2000), p. 52]. Attempts to take these Western

            lairds into his peace appears to be part of this strategy.

            2. (24 June) Battle of Bannockburn

—The Clan Alasdair supports Robert Bruce in this conflict and is later rewarded by him [MacKinnon, p. 256[3]].

—Angus Og, chief of the Clan Donald, is one of Bruce's most important allies, commanding a body of cavalry at Bannockburn [Tytler, p. 65; Feud, p. x]; his loyalty to Bruce is rewarded with large grants of land in Western Scotland [Ian MacDonald correspondence]; these include, in addition to the lands forfeited by his brother, lands previously held by the MacDougalls of Lorn [McKerral, p. 4].

1315:   12 March entry in the Rotuli Scotiae records a second commissioning of John of

Argyll to win Donald and Godfrey mac Alasdair to “the peace of” Edward I; at the time, Edward is planning an “expedition against the Scots” [McNamee, p. 169], which suggests that the first attempt was unsuccessful and Edward is again trying to win over those likely to shelter Bruce; again, there is no record of Argyll’s suc- cess.

1320:   Oliver Thomson gives this as the year of Angus Og’s death, but it was more likely

            1330, qv.

1325:    1. In this year, “Bruce commence[s] the building of Tarbert Castle” [Mitchell, p. 16; McKerral, p. 4]. The Exchequer Roll, “which details the expenses connected with Bruce’s castle, also mentions the repairing of houses, ‘placing a new vat in the brew-house, making a new kitchen, lime-kiln,’ &c., points in the direction of former ones having existed” [Mitchell, p. 17], perhaps indicating that some sort of strong hold was already standing at this location. "It is reasonable, at any rate, to suppose that a position that was really the key to Kintyre (the cradle of the Scottish Monar- chy) would not be left unprotected" [ibid.] In fact, Gregory says that Bruce about this time “greatly enlarged and strengthened” the “fortifications of the Castle of Tar- bert” [p. 25], which certainly suggests that such a fortress was already standing. See mid–1200s. Of the castle “[i]t is said that it was supplied with water by a sub- marine passage in pipes across the harbour; a circumstance which, if true, shews that our ancestors were better acquainted than we suppose with the laws of hydrostatics” [Stat. Acct.: Kilcolmonnell & Kilberry, pp. 55–6].

2. Roderick MacAlan, to whom Bruce had given the estates of Lorn, is forfeited and “it is probable that Angus Oig, whose loyalty never wavered, received further addi- tions to his already extensive possessions” [Gregory, pp. 25-6].

1326:   (20th July) Exchequer Roll accounts rendered by the Constable of Tarbert; it would seem that although “the castle, as at first designed, appears never to have been quite completed”, by this time “almost all that was then purposed being done was finished” [Mitchell, p. 20].

1329:   Death of King Robert I; by now “the house of Isla [i]s already the most powerful in Argyle and the Isles” [Gregory, p. 26].

1330:   1. Establishment of the Alexanders in Stirlingshire

            Gilbert Alexander (son of Donald of the Isles) is given the lands of Glorat in the par- ish of Campsie, Stirlingshire; the Alexanders of Menstrie are among his descend- ants (see 1500s, #1). Some authors place Gilbert among a group of dispossessed clansmen—“the Disinherited”—who petition for restoration of their land rights after forfeitures stemming from Bannockburn [CMS, p. 42; “Fortiter”, June 1982, p. 2; “News”, no. 31, p. 1; Clan, p. 209; Castleton, p. 173], although there is no mention of Gilbert in documents related to the Bruce struggle, and his family as a whole ap- pears to have supported Bruce. In any case, “the Alexanders of Menstrie . . . clai[m] relationship with the MacAlastairs in Kintyre” [Donaldson/Morpeth, p. 5; Mont- creiffe, p. 63], although Lowland Alexanders in general have other origins. Gilbert and his immediate descendants appear to have used MacAlasdair or MacAlexan- der[4] if they regularly used a surname at all; the “mac” was dropped in later gen- erations.

               2. death of Angus Og, chief of Clan Donald and younger brother of the late

            Alasdair Og, occurs about now [Ian MacDonald correspondence; Feud (p. 15) puts

            it at 1320, but Gregory has Angus still alive in 1325, qv.]. Angus’s son John succeeds

            him and manages to lose most of his father’s lands by siding with Balliol; he is

            later restored by David I, who is anxious to bring the kingdom together [Gregory,

            pp. 26-7].

1346:   Amie Macruairi, wife of John mac Angus Og, inherits lands held by her brother from the Earl of Ross; John adds these lands to his own possessions. “Thus [i]s formed the modern Lordship of the Isles, comprehending the territories of the Macdonalds of Isla, and the Macruaries of the North Isles, and a great part of those of the Macdugalls of Lorn” [Gregory, pp. 27-8; Barrow, p. 134].

1354:   John MacDonald assumes the title of Lord of the Isles (the title is not actually granted to this family until his grandson is in power). “There [a]re four Lords of the Isles, whose rule span[s] 150 years. . . . Their possessions includ[e] all the islands to the north and west of the peninsula of Kintyre, excepting Skye and Lewis which they later obtai[n] as part of the Earldom of Ross. Their mainland possessions in- clud[e] Kintyre and Knapdale, Morvern, Ardnamurchan, Lochaber, Garmoran, and other lands to the north of Loch Ness. . . . [A]ll four Lords, when circumstances [a]re in their favour, adop[t] the position of semi-independent rulers. They [a]re in fact in frequent collision with central authority and seldom . . . on cordial terms with it. They establis[h] contacts with England and in acting in this way [a]re obviously well aware that they came of royal stock” [Grant/Cheape, p. 72]. The Lords of the Isles “maintai[n] large and powerful fleets and navies, and ha[ve] their own judges and judicial system. . . . All the Stewart kings, from James I down to James IV, endeavou[r] to curb their power” [McKerral, p. 4]. However, “[i]t is of the greatest importance to realise that all up the eastern side of the Highlands, clans [a]re building up who [a]re unaffected by the culture of the Lordship of the Isles”, and that even “[w]ithin the Lordship itself, there [a]re rivalries between the great branches founded by members of the family and such favoured supporters as the MacLeans.” [Grant/Cheape, pp. 68-9]. Note: Feud [p. x] says that John became Lord of the Isles in 1336, but this is anachronistic, as his father, whom he succeeded in that year, did not use this title.

1366:    Son of Ranald, 4th Macalister chief, killed in Ireland fighting for The O’Neill.[5]

            Irish annalists report that Ranald came from the Hebrides to fight for the O’Neill and one of his sons was killed [Castleton, p. 165; “Fortiter”, Dec. 1981, p. 6; Jan. 1982, p. 2].[6] Note: The Annals of the Four Masters calls Ranald "heir to Clan-Alexander." This suggests that his father, the 3rd chief, is still alive at this time [M1366.9].

1384:     By this year, according to Fordun, “the manners and customs of the Scots vary
             with the diversity of their speech. For two languages are spoken amongst them,
             the Scottish and the Teutonic; the latter of which is the language of those who     
             occupy the seaboard and plains, while the race of Scottish speech inhabits the
             highlands and outlying islands. . . . The highlanders and people of the islands . . 
             . are a savage and untamed nation, rude and independent, given to rapine, ease-
             loving, of a docile and warm disposition, comely in person but unsightly in dress,
             hostile to the English people and language, and, owing to the diversity of speech,
             even to their own nation, and exceedingly cruel. They are, however, faithful and
             obedient to their king and country and easily made to submit to law if properly
[quoted in Grant/Cheape, p. 34].