Isla, the ancient inheritance of the Lords of the Isles, and long the seat of their almost independent kingdom, was esteemed by the Western Celts of fabulous fertility, and its possession proportionally coveted. After the successive forfeitures and destruction of the direct line of its old Lords, it became the prey of the strongest, and with its fortress of Dunyveg, was the “Castle Dangerous,” won and lost in succession by the leaders of the wild clans of the isles. The following renunciation is the first announcement of the great enterprise, which the Knight of Cawdor had for some time meditated, of obtaining possession of this rich territory. The granter, among his clansmen, was known as Angus mac James, mac Alister, mac Ian cathanach, mac Ian, mac Donald Balloch, mac Ian mor, mac Ian of Isla, first Lord of the Isles. In the Parliament House and Courts of Edinburgh, he was well known as Angus MacDonald of Dunyveg, crown tenant of many lands in Isla, and father of Sir James McConnell, the Thane’s brother-in-law, who had been “warded” first in Blackness and then in Edinburgh Castle, since the year 1604; and who was tried and sentenced to death in 1609; but no time fixed for executing the sentence, and was still a prisoner in the Castle of Edinburgh.
[RENUNCIATION BY ANGUS MACDONALD, Abridged.]
Be it kend till all men me Angus Mcdonald, forasmekle as I have instantlie receavit fra the richt honorabill Sir Johne Campbell of Calder, the soume of sex thousand merkis, thairfoir witt ye me to have renuncit discharget and overgevin, fra me and my airis, to and in fauoris of the said Sir Johne Campbell all richt tytil propertie and possessioun quhilkis I ather haid hes or ony wayes may have in and to the landis of Ilay possessit be me and my subtenentis, and perteining to our Souerane lord the kingis maiestie in propertie, binding and obleissing me and my foirsaidis neuir to trubil inquyet nor molest the said Sir John nor na utheris his tenentis. At Edinbrucht 1 Januarie 1612 yeiris, befoir this witnes Johne Stewart of Aschcok Alexander Mcdonald of Lergie Johne Stewart burges of Rossay and servitor to me the said Angus.
ANGUS McDONALD off Dunivaig.
Soon after the cession of his claims to the island of Islay, the old chief of Islay died. His kinsman, Sir Ranald Macdonald, the son of Sorley Buy (afterwards Earl of Antrim), had, in the meantime, obtained a tack of the island, but had not peaceable possession of it. The castle of Dunyveg, for a short time garrisoned by the Bishop of the Isles (Andrew Knox) for the Government, had been surprised; and the Bishop himself, led into a trap by the sons of the old chief – brothers of the captive of Edinburgh Castle – was obliged to leave his son and nephew in the hands of the rebels, as hostages for his performance of some conditions, especially for doing his utmost to obtain grants by the sovereign in their favour. The Scotch Privy Council do not seem to have been much influenced by the Bishop’s undertakings, nor by the peril of the hostages, but turned in search of some one, of power and means sufficient, to reduce the castle and island, and to pay a high rent to the Crown for the possession afterwards.
The Thane of Cawdor offered the required rent, and satisfied the Council that he could perform the task of bringing the Islesmen to obedience, with such slender help of cannon and ammunition as the Scotch Government of that time could afford him. So much being settled (and “relying upon his Majestie’s gracious acknowledgement eftir the seruice be well accompleissed,” as writed Secretary Lord Binning to Patrick Hamilton at Court), he set forth on his expedition to win his island kingdom. The following documents mark in some degree his progress in his undertaking, and some of the earlier precede, in date, the Crown Charter, which conferred on Sir John Campbell of Calder and his heirs-male, heritably in few-ferme, “the Yle and landis of Ylay and Rynnis and middle-waird of Ylay, Ilyntassan, with the castell toure fortalice and maner place of Dwnyvaig.” – (Reg. Mag. Sig. 21 November 1614; ratified in Parliament 1621.)
ADVYCE gevin be the LORDS of his MAIESTIES PRIUIE COUNSAILL to the LAIRD of CADDELL his MAIESTIES LIEUTENANT in ILA anent his procedingis in executione of his MAIESTIES COMMISSIOUNE aganis the REBELLIS detenaris of DUNAVAIG 22 October 1614.
Since his Maiestie hes trustit yow with this charge and hes tane so substantious ordour for furnessing sex canones with all requesit provisiounes and twa hundred waiged souldiers to assist yow in that charge, it is expedient that ye prepair sufficient number of able and weill armed men to serue yow in this imployment, with all necessars requesite for assidging the hous of Dunavaig and persuite of his Maiesties rebelles be sea and land, so as no prouisioune of airmes poulder victuall bullet fewall boates nor uther necessars meit for that seruice be lakking, to the effect that his Maiesties Inglisch companies quho ar to sie and obserue your actiounes may find no defect of things necessar and semelie for a man trustit with so honourable a charge.
In your going to Glesgow delyver to the Archbischope and to the prouest and bailyeis our letter, and confer wyth thame anent the best and reddiest meanis to moue sum honest and responsall merchandis of ther toune or cuntrie to carie sum flour or good biscuite with sufficient store of good aitmeill and good drinking beir, gif it may be had, and failying thairof gude aile that will keip weill, with salt and coales to be transportit be schip to Ila, for furneissing of his Maiesties Inglisch souldieris at reasonable rates and reddie payment to be maid be the saidis souldieris, wyth assurance to the merchandis that gif ony accident mak thair voyage not be sufficientlie proffitable to thame, that such consideratioun sall be had and acknowledgement gevin to thame for thair losses be my Lord Thesaurar depute, as be informatioune from my Lord of Glesgow and the magistrates of that burgh to the Lords of secret counsell sall be fund reasonable.
Be cairfull to understand the dyet of his Maiesties companies to be sent to Ila with the cannone, and keip correspondence be letter and messages with the Lord Depute of Irland and thair commandaris, useing all diligence to be in the ile with your forces befoir thair comeing thither, to the effect that gif it pleis God you may end the seruice to your honour and his Maiesties thankes befoir thair comeing, and so spairing thair travell and his Maiesties chairges, yow may merite the more favour from his Maiestie.
And if thay come to the ile, tak strict ordour that your people abstene from geving thame ony offence be word or deid, and be the contrarie, command thame to dispose thame selues to gif the souldieris all conforte aid and freindlie assistance; and quhateuer salbe necessar ather for advancement of the seruice or thar reasonable eas and releiffe may be procured with all diligence and to that effect that your men boates and all freinlie menis be reddilie imployed.
It is necessar that according to his Maiesties directioune the hous be of new chairged solemnelie and ordourlie, as als that the detenaris and refusaris to randir be denunced rebellis.
Yow must also chairge the tennentis of the ile to compeir befoir the Counsale and find cautioune to obserue his Maiesties peace, and for thair compeirance so ofte as thay sall be chairged.
Such of the rebellis as God sall bring in your handis, yow must be cairfull to examine thame verrie exactlie for discouerie of the persones quho wer upoune the first deuyce of thair treasonable rebellioune and taking the hous of Duneveg, and who hes sensyne incuraged thame be counsell help or assistance to persist in thair rebellioune.
Use all possible cair and dexteritie to retire saiflie out of thair hands the Laird of Ranforlie and the bischope of the Iles sone.
If ather thair yeilding or force sall bring the hous in your powar, place thairin ane sufficient number of faithfull and skilfull men to quhome ye may trust the saife keiping of that hous quhill his Maiesties pleasour may be knawin, and let thame be furnessed with all necessares that may inhable thame to keip it.
Becaus thair is ane number in the cuntrie quho haifeing assistit the traitoris ar not in the hous, which is not able to conteane the whole number, be cairfull to apprehend als many of these as yow can and use thame as thay haue deserved.
Yow know his Maiesties mynd anent the principall rebellis.
Befoir yow leiue the ile setle perfyt ordour for establisching and mantening his Maiesties peice and obedience in it, and for protecting the peaceable inhabitantis from uniurie.
It is expected that ye will try thair consultatiounes aganis the bischoppe of the Iles his Maiesties Lieutennent, and all that usit disobedience rebellioune and violence aganis him, and proceid with thame as ye sall think expedient for his Maiesties honour and obedience.
If the rebellis leiue the hous and ile, and flie to any uther pairte of the iles or hielandis for thair saifetie, use your utermost endevour for thair searche and apprehensione, and if ye learne of thair going to Ireland or any other pairt of his Maiesties dominiounis, adverteis such as hes chairge from his Maiestie of the places of thair refuge, that thay may be persewed and apprehendit.
Suche of the cuntrie people as haue accompanied th rebelles or furnessed thame of commoditeis or intercommoned with thame, not voluntarlie bot be compulsione or just fear, must be used with discretione and reasonable fauour.
Faile not to send verrie frequent advertismentis to the Counsell of all your proceidingis and of your good succes in your chairge, quhilk we pray God to prosper.
SIR W. OLIPHANT.
THE LIEUTENNENTIS COMMISSIOUN OF JUSTICIARE, &c. (Abridged.)
JAMES, &c. Forsamekle as Angus Oig Mcconeill sone to umquhile Angus Mcconeill callit of Dunaveig according to the unhappie trade of his wicked predecessouries, hauing resoluit auther be force or policye to disturb the peace and quiet of the yllis, in the monethe of March last, causit his awne bastard brother Rnald Oig Mcconeill treasonablie to surprise and take oure castell of Dunavaig in Yla frae the reverend father in God Andro bishop of the ylis who had the keiping thairof; and the said Angus falslie pretending that he wald do some piece of service to us by recoverie of the said house from his said brother, whom he onlie usit as ane instrument to be the first authour of his rebellioun, he in a simulat manner maid a pretendit persute and assedgeing of the said house, and the same being recoverit, he to gif a forder schaw and appeirance of the sincerite of his proceidyngis, causit four of the said Ronald his compliceis to be schaimfully murdreit and slane. The said Angus has also treasonablie refusit to rendir the said hous, quhen he was chargeit be our utheris letteris, for the quhilk he and his compliceis ar denuncit our rebellis and put to our horne. And immediatlie therefter they fortifeit the said castell with men victuall powder and bullett, and hes keipit the same as he dois yet as ane house of warre agains us and our authoritie. And whereas it wes falslie pretendit be him and his complices that thair keeping of the said hus procedit upon feare that the taking thereof without commissioun micht bring them in danger of our law, we for removing all such suspitioun, wes graciuslie plesit to grant unto thame oure fauour and pardoun for all thair bigane offensis conditionale that they wald rander the said house to the said bischop as oure lieutennent conforme to thair promissis. And the said bischop haueing laitlie in the moneth of September last, past to Yla, and looking that thay wald haue renderit thair obedience to us and maid deliuerance of oure castell, thay did not onlie most undewtifullie reiect and contempne oure grace, but to oure forder contempt, they and Ronnald McJames Mcdonald, Donald Gorme his sone, Ronnald Oig Mcallaster, Johnne Mcconeill, Ronnald Mcsoirle, Soirll McCrume, Malcoum Mcilfersane, Hector Mccaishe – Mceane sometyme Mr houshald to umquhile Angus Mcconeill of Dunnyvaig, Coill Mcronnald, Archibald Mcronnald, Soirll Mcallister, Malcolm Mcleod, Allaster Mceane, Angus Mcachane alias Mcallaster, who are all combyned in this rebellioun, did amasse togidder and associat unto thame selffis the haill inhabitantis of the maist part of our ile of Yla, and first haueing most falslie and treacherouslie haldin the said bishop in fair termes, as gif nothing had bene intendit be thame bot in all humilitie to seik peace, in end quhen thair haill power and forceis wer joynd togidder to the number of sevin or aucht score of personis, thay than in the nicht addrest thame selffis to the pairt quhar the said bischop and his company lay, and first they brak his haill boitis, and than lay about the bischop and his company all that nicht, and upon the morne, thay in oppin hostilitie kythit thame selffis aganis him with mony threatening speitches to haue massacred him and his company, and in end forceit him to rander unto thame [Thomas] Knox his awne sone and [John] Knox of Ranpherlie his nephew as pledgeis that he sould do and performe such conditionis as that inioyned unto him. And we understanding the food affectioun and willing dispositioun of oure richt trustie and weilbelouit Sir Johnne Campbell of Caddell knycht to do us seruice, thairfore we with aduice of the lordis of oure secrite counsaill haue maid the said Sir Johnne oure Lieutennent and Justice within the haill boundis of Yla, geuand to him oure full commissioun to convocat our leigeis in airmes, to deuyde thame in seurall companyis, to appoint capitanis and comanderis over thame, and to conduct direct and lead thame to Yla, and thair to follow and persew with fyre and sword the said Angus Oig Mcconeil Coil Mcgillespick and remanent personis, and to commit thame to waird quhill justice be ministrat upoun thame, and siklyke to persew and strenthis quhairinto the saids traytoris sal happin to flee, and to raise fyre and use all kynd of force for winning and recouerie thairof; and gif in persute of the saidis rebellis, it sal happin the saidis rebellis to be hurte slane or mutilat, we will and declair that the samin sall not be impute as cryme nor offence to oure said lieutennent; and we dispensis… lieutennent and justice courtis within the saidis boundis at quhatsumeuer tymes and places conuenient, all and sundrie personis apprehendit be him to call, be dittay to accuse, and thame to the knawledge of ane assyse to put, and to caus justice be ministrat upoun thame: With power alsua to oure said lieutennent to tak ordoure how oure said cuntrey of Yla may be retenit and halden under oure obnedience, and to appoint constables and keiparis in oure said castell of Dunnyvaig: With power alsua to him to tak ordoure that no boitis gallayis umfaddis scautis nor birlingis go oute of Yla, and generallie all uther thinis requisite to do and use… Geuin under oure signet at Edinburgh 22 October 1614.
Per actum secreti consilii.
RANNALD McJAMES BAND TO SIR JOHNE CAMPBELL.
Be it kend till all men me Rannald McJames Vcdonald takand the burden on me of Donald Gorme Mcdonald my sone, that forsameikle as we being delaitit and declairit to his Majestie and counsall of the rebellious taking of the fortalice of Illanlochgorme in Illay, I be thir presentis for my selff and for the said Donald my sone faithfullie bindis and oblisses me to rander and delyver to the right honorabill Sir Johne Campbell of Calder knicht his Majesties lieutennent of Ilay the said ile of Illanlochgorme betwixt and the tuenty aucht day of this instant moneth of Januar, and sal becum his Majesties trew and faithfull subiectis, and in evidence of the premissis we bindis and oblissis us to do and kythe our selffis trew subiectis and faithfull serwandis in his Majesties seruice aganis the rebellis. At Balnachtan 24 January 1615, befoir thir witness Mr Donald Campbell of Barbrek Lochaw, Colin Campbell of Boith, Johne Oig Mcmurquhie leiche in Ilay.
RANNALD MAKJAMES VcDONALD
with my hand tuiching the notaris pen.
The leech signs with his own hand thus –
Doctour off medicine witness.
[APPROBATIO REGIA, abbreviata.]
Jacobus dei gratia Rex, etc, salutem. Sciatis quia nos considerantes prudentissimo ac felici nostro regimine statum et regnum hoc nostrum sub perfecta et solida obedientia stabilitum esse, ac nullam aut perexiguam rebellionem intra aliquam partem eiusdem aperte professam esse preterquam in Ila insula, ac in nefandis ac exlegibus illis rebellibus vulgo Clandonald nuncupatis, qui cum ipsorum sociis arcem nostram Dunyvaig ac insulam de Lochgroome nuper proditorie intercipientes ac redigentes, ipsaque magno numero rebellium puluere sulphureo globulis ac tormentis instructorum munientes ad resistendum nobis nostreque auctoritati. Cuius consideratio quemadmodum in animo nostro regio indignationem regalem procreauit tam exiguum manipulum nefandorem et rebellium in contemptum nostrum tam diu grassari tolleratum esse, ita nos decreuimus nomen ac memoriam infamis illius tribus omnino abolere ac supprimere vel ad obedientiam nostram reducere; ac nos varia consilia circa executionem nostri decreti agitantes, tandem deprehendimus nullum aptiorem esse cui dicti negocii cura committeretur fido ac dilecto nostro subdito domino Joanne Campbell de Calder milite, non solum ratione propriarum eius virium amicitie ac nervorum ad dictum seruicium exequendum, verumetiam respectu preteriti speciminiss et bone experientie quam habuimus de quondam patris dicti domini Joannis fide et diligentia variis preteritis magni momenti negociis ipsi per nos cum in insulis cum contra varios montanos commissis, in quibus bonum ac felicem successum perpetuo habuit. Quemadmodum dictus dominus Joannes nobis specimen sui fidelis seruicii prebere (prout dictus eius quondam pater nobis prius fecerat) libentissime cupiens, non solum curam negocii contra eos e dicta tribu Clandonald, verum etiam varias alias instructiones contra dictam insulam in se suscepit, in quibus varia bona officia prestitit, in quorum prosequutione non solum propriam personam suasque vires ac robur et personas robur ac vires amicorum familiarium impendit, verum etiam ipse ac varii nobiles amici eius qui se illi adiunxerunt, sese in eodem tanta prudentia fortitudine et dexteritate gesserunt, ut eorum opera factum sit ut varii dictorum rebellium deprehensi necati ordine justicie morte multati sunt ad nostrum honorem ac magnum solatium bonorum subditorum, adeo ut nomen illud de Clandonald jam quondam modo extinctum sit, et de tota illa tribu non ultra […] persone superstites sunt qui rebelles sint preter et ultra numerum primariorum ducum dictorum rebellium qui jam in vinculis per dictum dominum Joannem justiciario nostro presentandi sunt. In quo seruitio dictus dominus Joannes et socii non solum coacti sunt proficisci contra dictos rebelles dispansis vexillis more militari sclopettis vulgo hagbuttis muscatis pistollis aliisque hostilibus armis, necnon tormentis muralibus et colubrinis vulgo culveringis ad dictam arcem de Dunyvaig obsidendam et quassandam instructi, unde multa in dicto seruitio acciderunt que in bellicis negociis ac nostre voluntatis ac commissionis in talibus casibus exequutioninbus recitata sunt et que ut evitarentur vix fieri potuit. Ac nos agnoscentes quam egregie dictus dominus Joannes eiusque amici sese in dicto seruitio gesserunt, idcirco invenimus et decernimus dictos dominum Joannem Campbell aliasque personas viz. […] magistrum Donaldum Campbell in Barbreklochhow Archibaldum Campbell fratrem domini de Laweris Archibaldum Campbell in Dunstafnege Colinum Campbell in Kilcalmowkill Archibaldum Campbell in Inneraw Colinum Campbell de Both […] fidelissimum sincerum ac gratum seruitium nobis prestitisse in obsessione et occupatione dicte arcis de Dunyvaig tormentorum ac colubrinorum nostrorum subversione dicte insule de Lochgroome, ac apprehensione incarceratione cede mutilatione morte exilio aut pena pecuniaria omnium et singularum cuiuscumque status [personarum] ac salui consuctus et diplomatis concessione talibus e dictis rebellibus qui sese tradiderunt, in acquirenda ipsis remissione nostra, ac in exequutione omnium aliorum hostilium factorum per dictum dominum Joannem eiusque antedictos commissorum. Quemadmodum nos ratificamus authorizamus et approbamus omnia antedicta facta super quibus ulla actio criminalis seu ciuilis concipi seu fundari poterit. Preterea nos ex speciali gratia remisimus omnem indignationem animi nostri sectamque regiam que nos contra eos habere seu mouere poterimus. In cuius rei testimonium presentibus magnum sigillum nostrum apponi precepimus. Apud regiam nostram de Quhytehall 20 Aprilis 1615.*
Early in the year 1615, the Knight of Cawdor, with the help of Sir Oliver Lambard’s cannon, had taken the castles of Duniveg and Lochgorme, and ruled undisputed sovereign in the island of Isla. He and the Lords of the Council were planning the repression of the bands of McDonalds and their followers, now mere marauders and pirates on all the shores and seas of the West, when they were startled by the intelligence that Sir James McDonald, so long a prisoner, had escaped from Edinburgh Castle (24 May 1615), and was hastening to put himself at the head of his Clan, to gather round him the scattered outlaws of the isles, very ready to follow so daring a leader, and to recover his inheritance. The Council seemed at first paralysed and helpless, and Sir James with a few followers, dashed through Atholl and Rannoch in safety, and met with no opposition in the Isles. The men of the north isles flocked to his standard. Isla was his first object. He surprised the castle, subdued the island – the natives evidently favouring him rather than the Campbells; and then he sent out the fiery cross, and overran his hereditary territory of Kintyre. But his success was short-lived. The Council, compelled to some exertion in support of law, placed the affair in the hands of Argyll, though evidently unwillingly; and the head of the Campbells, with some soldiers hired at the public expense, and expense sorely complained of by the Council, speedily brought the war to a conclusion. There was, indeed, no open war, no pitched battles. Equally in Kintyre and in Isla, McDonald’s undisciplined followers fell from him; and Sir James himself, almost singly, escaped to Ireland, and from thence to Spain. This remarkable person’s career was not to end even there. After Argyll’s apostasy and disgrace, and when he too had taken refuge in Spain, Sir James McDonald returned to England, was restored to royal favour, and died a pensioner at London (1626).
We should err if we counted this last chief of the old race of Isla a mere Celtic savage, as those who drew his indictment seem to have held him. He was no doubt unscrupulous like his time and his country, and human life was not then held in much respect in the Isles; but Sir James, with the virtues of the savage, had some tinge also of civilisation, and some qualities perhaps acquired during his long imprisonment. He was a reader, and he writes to his friend Lord Crawfurd very anxiously about books he left behind him in prison, and some that fell into the hands of his pursuers when he himself narrowly escaped. These were chiefly controversial books of the old religion, all indeed but one, a “mekle old cornikle in writ.” Though his early exploits show him reckless of blood, in later life he was not cruel, and sometimes spared his enemies when in his power. His letters, many of which are preserved and have been printed, show a touch of feeling and of self-respect, and of what was due to his ancient race, with a straightness and manliness of expression that contrast favourably with some of the lawyer’s letters among which they are found.
His wife, Margaret Campbell of Cawdor, the daughter of the murdered Thane, attended him at his trial when the Advocate assigned him by the Council feared to defend him. After his escape, he puts his friend the Earl of Crawfurd in mind of some promise of assistance to his wife, whom he must have left behind, – “Remember on our last discourse that same nicht I braik ward, anent Margarett.” The documents illustrative of his romantic life are to be found in the Records of Secret Council, and among Secretary Binning’s letters, in the Advocates’ Library. Most of them have been printed or used in well-known publications – Gregory’s History of the Highlands and Isles, c. 7, 8; Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials; “The Melros Papers” (Abbotsford Club), &c.
The following paper shows that Argyll recognised the right of the Thane of Cawdor to the island of Isla; and the immediate effect of the defeat and dispersion of the McDonalds was the restoration of Sir John Campbell to the peroperty of the island.
[ASSIGNATION OF ESCHEAT OF THE CLANDONNELL.]
Be it kend me Archibald erle of Argyle Lieutennent to his Majestie oure the illes, and donator to the whole escheittis of the Clandonnell and thair complices his hienes rebellis, for certane soumes of money payit to me by my weilbelovit cousin Sir Johne Campbell of Caddell, thairfoir to haif maid him and his airis my very lawfull cessioneris in and to the whole debtis soumes of money takis possessiounis insicht plenisching cornis cattell guidis and geir pertening the saidis rebellis inhabiting the boundis of Ilay, fallin to me as escheit be vertew of his hienes gift, &c. At Dunovaig 11 October 1615, befoir this witness Colen Campbell of Abirurquhill Archibald Campbell his brother Mr Donald Campbell of Barbrek Lochow.