Thursday, April 16, 2009

Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Lord of the the Isles

Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Lord of the the Isles

Alexander of Islay or Alexander MacDonald succeeded his father, Donald or Domhnall MacDonald, as Lord of the Isles. And then attained the title of Earl of Ross, which his father had sought unsuccessfully. Donald MacDonald had contended with the Duke of Albany for this earldom, while the Duke was Regent to the throne of Scotland, which he had been due to James I being in English captivity. Donald had taken forces to Ross and conquered it in battle, but had been unable to hold it. The Regent, the Duke of Albany had given it to his son the Duke of Buchan and when this son was later killed at the battle of Verneuil, it had reverted back to the crown.

Robert, The Duke of Albany died in 1420 and was succeeded in the Regency by his son Murdoch. He was not as able to effect a strong government as his father had been and the kingdom deteriorated into chaos. Murdoch fearing for the kingdom decided to negotiate for the release of James I who was being held by the English. A ranson was agreed on and James was sent home to his throne.

When James I returned to Scotland, he found that the Duke of Albany controlled too much of his kingdom and he determined to remove some of that power from him. This made James and Alexander MacDonald natural allies against a common foe.

Alexander MacDonald attended a parliament in May 1425-6 here the Duke of Albany and his son were ordered to be executed. With the Duke of Albany out of the way, this removed the need for Alexander to ally himself with the king of Scotland. Some writers believe that James acknowledged Alexander's control of the Earldom of Ross in reward for his support against the Duke of Albany. The Scottish historian Richard Oram, believed that Alexander assumed this earldom to which James was entitled to hold as a way of provoking him and asserting his independence from him. Archibald MacDonald wrote that Alexander and his mother Mary were entitled to the earldom, since she was the next in line of succession. Alexander referred to himself as Master of Ross in the records concerning the execution of the Duke of Albany. There is a charter at the island of Finlaggan in Yle and one bestowing lands of Barra and ofBoisdale in South Uist in which he referrs to himself as Master of Ross. Whether or not they had been given the title by James I, they considered that it was legally theirs and if the king was keeping the earldom from them, they would have considered it an illegal move.

James I was not happy with Alexander's uncle John Mor MacDonald because he was harboring and protecting the son of the executed Duke of Albany named James Mor (James the Fat).
The History of the MacDonalds says that James I attempted to make a deal with John Mor MacDonald in which he probably offered him the lordship of the Isles. Archibald MacDonald wrote that the rationalization fro giving John Mor MacDonald(also know as Tainistear) Alexander's possessions was that John Mor was more closely related to the Crown than Alexander was. But John Mor was loyal to his nephew and kinsman and refused to negotiate as long as Alexander was being held captive. James I's plans also backfired when he sent James Campbell to arrest John Mor MacDonald and in the process John was killed. John Mor MacDonald was summoned to a meeting at Ard Dubh point in Isla. James tried to remove himself from any blame in this and had James Campbell hanged. Anger over the murder of John Mor was causing a political uproar among James I's lords.

Archibald MacDonald wrote that the Highlands had lapsed into a virtual state of independence. The barons in Scotland's Highlands had become so powerful that many of them were virtually a law unto themselves. King James I's policy was to restore law and order to his kingdom, by curbing the power of his barons. James decided to start with the Highlands. He marched to Inverness at the head of a large army, which included most of the barons of the Lowlands. Then he convened a Parliament, and summoned the barons and others to be present.

Apparently, when the barons came, they brought with them large bodies of men, who were under them. Angus Dubh MacAoidh, Chief of the Mackays, who had fought at Dingwall when Alexander's father Donald MacDonald had invaded and taken possession of Ross. He led 4000 men. Kenneth Mor MacKenzie and his son in law John Ross came with 2000 men. William Leslie, Angus de Moravia, and Matheson, led 2000 men as well. John Macarthur of the Campbell clan, came from Argyllshire with 1000 men. The Clan Donald was represented by Alexander, Lord of the Isles and Alexander MacGorrie of GarmoranAll together, this was a massive convention of lords and their forces. At the time of this Parliament there was an ongoing dispute over Alexander MacGorrie's lordship of Garmoran. John MacAurthur from Clan Campbell believed he had a right to a part of it based on an old charter.


When the men from Clan MacDonald arrived at the Parliament, they were immediately captured. Some of them were imprisoned and some of them were murdered without benefit of trial of any sort. Alexander MacGorrie was one of those who was murdered. James imprisoned Alexander, his mother Mary(probably because it was through her that Alexander had a claim to the earldom of Ross) and around fifty others who were Alexander MacDonald's allies. This included his uncle and heir-designate John Mór, in the tower of Inverness Castle.

Among the other prisoners were Alexander's most important Ross allies; men such as Aonghas Dubh MacAoidh, the chief of the MacKays of Strathnaver. Mackay's son Niall Og, who was the daughter of Foulis Munro, from one of Ross' most important families. George Munro, who was the head of the Munros was also arrested. William Leslie and John de Ross of Balnagown, two important landowners and kinsmen of Mary were also imprisoned, as were the heads of the Wester Ross Lochalsh MacMhathain (Matheson) and the Kintail MacChoinnich (MacKenzie) kindreds. Most of these men, including John Mór, seem to have been released within a short time, although James took a few back to the south with him.

Alexander was not imprisoned for more than a few months. He accompanied James from Iverness to Perth. where March 1, 1427, he received a royal rebuke in front of "the whole estates of the realm". After being rebuked for his past behavior and offenses, he was made to promise his good behavior, and restored to favor and given his liberty. His mother was kept as a hostage for assurance of this continued good behavior in the island of Incholm, in the Firth of Forth.

The King's actions did not put down the rebellion of the Highlanders, it just mad them that more rebellious. Alexander did not just forget the murder of his relatives and the treatment of himself and his mother. Shortly after he was released from prison, Alexander was a war with the king. Domhnall Ballach the son of the murdered John Mor would have been keen to seek revenge and they were supported by their uncle Alasdair Carrach a younger son of their grandfather. They helped convince Alexander to go to war. He raised 10,000 men from the Isles and from Ross and invaded the mainland in 1429.

Alexander attacked Inverness in the Spring of 1429. Just as his father had done when he invaded the mainland, Alexander burnt Inverness and lay to waste the lands around it. Like his father before, Alexander did not manage to take possession of Inverness and so he went back to Lochaber which was used by his family as a base of operations, when they were on the mainland.
The King's army soon persued him there. The Camerons and the Mackintoshes deserted and went over to the King's side. This made the attack impossible to resist, so Alexander had to seek terms for peace. James I insisted on an unconditional surrender.

Alexander was not yet prepared to give unconditional surrender, so he returned to the Isles. He considered escape to the north of Ireland.

At the same time this was going on, James I had a serious threat to his place on the throne. James Mor, the son of the murdered Murdoch, was being supported as the backing of the former vassals of his father in Lennox, Menteith and Fife as a replacement to James I. James Mor had the support of the King of England, who was angry that James I would not recognize him as his superior and because James had not kept the terms that had been negotiated for his realsease from imprisonment in England. Alexander MacDonald now also supported him for king.

A fleet of men went from Scotland to Ireland,to bring James Mor back from his banishment so that he could be made king. But he died before he could return.

In the summer of 1429, James I raised an army and marched through Atholl and Badenoch, and somewhere near the border of Badenoch and Lochaber, they met Alexander MacDonald. When they saw the king's banner, the Chattan and Cameron clans defected to the king's side. Alexander was then defeated in battle. Alexander escaped capture, but the king continued his march and seized the castles of Urquart and Dingwall. James I now sent an expedition armed with artillery to the Hebrides.

Alexander MacDonald found himself in a difficult spot and decided to surrender on August 27, 1429 at Hollyrood Abbey, near Edinburgh. King James was advised by his barons to give Alexander grace. He sent him to Tantallon Castle in the custody of William Douglas, Earl of Angus.

With Alexander MacDonald in his custody, King James put the northern campaign under the control of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar. He also made Alan Stewart Earl of Caithness and he was to aid the Earl of Mar. The royal earldoms of Ross and Buchan were put under the command of the Earl of Mar, as well as the castle of Urquart. Alasdair Carrach's lordship of Lochaber was put under Mar's command in 1431.

James used marriages to put more lordships under the control of those loyal to him. The earl of Mar received a papal dispensation about 1432 to marry Margaret Seton, the mother of the heiress of the earldom of Moray, so that he could administer it in their right. Another marriage was arranged between Lochlan MacLean of the Macleans of Duart a vassal and kinsman of the Lords of the Isle, to the Earl of Mar's daughter in order to give him influence over the lordship of the Isle itself.

Clan Donald resented the humilation their chieftain had received. The leaders of the clan decided to strike a blow for their honor and for revenge. The whole Clan MacDonald was called together, under Donald Balloch, Lord of Dunnyveg, son of John Mor MacDonald, who had been assasinated by James Campbell.

The Earl of Mar decided that the main campaign against the Highlanders should be at Lochaber, where he hoped to establish himself in the lordship that he had been given by the king. Possibly because they had recently been beaten, the Earl of Mar, underestimated the enemy that was marching to meet his troops. He sat in his tent and played card.

Alexander MacDonald was able to get a message to his kinsmen and those loyal to him tofact the enemy with bravery, whatever the consequences to him might be. When the Islemen met the King's army under the command of Mar. it resulted in the utter defeat and slaughter of Mars forces. The Earl of Mar was wounded by an arrow in the leg and took refuge in the hills. The Earl fled through Badenoch in disguise, taking shelter in a hut in the hills.

After defeating the King's troops, Donald Balloch took a large amount of booty back to the Isles with him. From there he went by ship to his Irish lands.

King James was angry when he heard of the defeat at Inverlocy and he got Parliament to impose a tax to defray the cost of a new campaign against the Highlanders. He went to Dunstaffnage Castle in the area of Oban, intending to go to the Isles to extract reveng on Donald Balloch and his allies. Alexander MacDonald said that the Scottish historians were mistaken when they reported that 300 of Donald Balloch's men surrendered and were all either beheaded or hanged and that Donald Balloch's head was sent as a present from Ireland.

He says that Donald Balloch was alive and well enought to fight in the Scottish civil war, long afterwards. A human head was sent, and mistakenly believed to be Donald's. According to his account Donald Balloch married the O' Niell's Daughter in Ireland.

In October, 1431, James II,the heir to the throne was born and as part of the celebration, amnesty was granted to several political prisoners. Alexander MacDonald was one of them. He was free, and his dignities and possessions were restored to him.

After his release, Alexander's life was fairly peaceful. James I, however, was assassinated February 21, 1437. Sometime during that year Alexander MacDonald signed a charter as the Earl of Ross. This suggests that the Regents of the young king James II gave him the earldom. These Regents were Alexander Livingstone of Calendar and William Crichton. They appointed Archibald, Earl of Douglas Lieutenant-General of Scotland. Archibald was a friend of Alexander MacDonald. Archibald's influence may have helped achieve Alexander's advancement to Earl of Ross, and to Justiciar or High Sheriff of the region north of the Forth, within a year of the death of James I.

The position of Justiciar gave Alexander command over the town of Inverness, where many of his courts were held. This is ironic considering he had burnt it down as had his father before him.

After becoming, at last, Earl of Ross, it appears that Alexander spent his remaining years consolidating his earldom. There are charters signed by him from the castles of Dingwall and Inverness, which indicate these were his chief residences. Alexander had bastard sons Uisdean (Hugh of Sleat) who received Sleat, and Gilleasbeaig (Celsestine) who was given Lochalsh.

Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, died at Dingwall in May 1449. He was buried in Fortrose Cathedral. He had two mistresses. A daughter of MacPhee, by whom he sired several bastard sons. And another named Elizabeth Seton, the daughter of Alexander Seton, Lord of Gordon and Huntly, who bore him John MacDonald who succeeded Alexander at the age of 15.


Sources:
The Lordship of the Isles, by Richard Oram

Annals of the Four Masters, http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100005D/text006.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_of_Islay,_Earl_of_Ross

The clan Donald
By Archibald Macdonald

http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/ghi/alexanderofislay.html

http://www.electricscotland.com/webclans/m/macdonald/other_isles.htm
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