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jurisdiction of the baron court, and it continued to
sit and adjudicate in cases affecting values up to
40s, and in all cases in connection with estate
management. The most far-reaching effect of this
Act was the dissolution of the bond between chief
and vassal. The claim of the chiefs upon the obedi-


ence and service of his followers was released ; but,
while his ritrhts were preserved, those of his vassals,
who had for ages made the chief's position what it
was, were left absolutely unsecured. The economic
movement must have inevitably made a great change
upon the social conditions. The sudden rise in the
value of agricultural holdings was caused by the
increased price of stock, and the change came
about in such a way that neither tacksmen nor
small tenants were able to cope with the new con-
ditions. All this was the result of transforming the
chief into a landlord, without conservino; the tenants'
rights under the immemorial, though miwritten, con-
tract which gave the people, as well as the heads, a
right upon their native soil. Sometimes those who
remained, despite the rack-renting and tyranny of
Lowland factors, relieved their pent-up feelings by
snatches of satirical song. Such was the case of
an Ardnamurchan tenant groaning under a South
country factor or proprietor, who rejoiced in the name
of Ruddle, c. 1760 :—

" 'Sann a iiis is beag m' fheuni
Ged a dh' eireas mi moch
Le m' cheib as mo leine
Dol a reubadh nan cnoc
Cha choisinn mi 'n deirce
Dhomh fcin no do 'n bhochd
'S tri mail mini ag eigheach
Aig an eucorach olc."

No doubt the circumstances of the chiefs tempted
them to a commercial policy in relation to their
estates. Many of them had become considerably
impoverished owing to a large extent to previous
forfeitures, and the stringent measures that followed
the disastrous year of Culloden, and it was only


natural they should seek to increase their rent-rolls
when the opportunity ottered. Bui the commercial
policy gradually alienated from them those loyal
clansmen whose services were no longer reepiired to
defend them and their possessions ; the farms of the
Tacksmen were tlirown into the market and offered
to the highest bidder, wliile great numbers of the
Tacksmen and multitudes of their sub-tenants,
unable to retain their holdings at the increased rent,
emigrated to the American Colonies.

After the troubles of the. '45 passed away as to
their immediate eifects, we find a new feature of
land tenure, a system of joint tenanc}- b^' tack upon
the Clanranald estates. In some cases the Tacks-
men emigrated, leaving the sub-tenants, or at least
such of them as did not follow them to the new
world, to hold directly from the proprietor. In other
cases, wdien the Tacksman who did not emigrate
wished to farm his own lands, the small tenants,
instead of being expatriated, w^ere migrated to hill
pendicles formerly used as summer grazings, and
these, holding directly from the proprietor, were
converted into joint tacksmen. In the new settle-
ments houses were to be built, and march dykes
erected within two years on spots marked out by
the proprietor. It is interesting to note that these
tenant tarms were organised on the principle of the
ancient township, wlilcli modern crofter legislation
has perpetuated. The liouses were built on one
contiguous spot to be marked out, and the tenants
were to obey the overseers and rulers appointed for
regidating their labouring, times of grazing, and
making of kelp. The stream of emigration from the
Highlands continued to How unrenn'ttingly, until in
1775 some 20,000 people had left their homes. It


was not, however, till the failure of the kelp industry
and the population had greatly increased that com-
pulsory emigration was resorted to. The country
was no doubt over-populated when emigration
began ; but even after it had continued for many
years, the pressure at home does not appear to have
been relieved where it was most felt. There was
no re-distribution of the people when the Tacksmen
vacated their farms ; but, on the contrary, the
number of large holdings was increased, and the
remnant of the Clansmen were relegated to the least
productive areas of the Isles.

While many of the straths and glens were being
depopulated, the military authorities realised what
a valuable asset for national defence was being
scattered to the winds by the policy of compulsory
emigration. The necessity for increasing the
military forces of the Crown opened the eyes
of the authorities to the Highlands as a recruiting
ground. Although the response made by the High-
landers to the call to arms is said to have been
hearty, they had not all at once turned loyal to the
house of Hanover, nor yet was it without pressure
that the rank and file were induced to enlist in the
Highland regiments. Officers had much difficulty
in making uj) their quota of men, and many stalwart
youths fled to the hills rather than take the King's
shilling. Lord Macdonald raised a regiment on his
estates in Skye and Uist in 1778, giving Alexander
Macdonald of Vallay the captaincy of a company,
on condition of his raising 45 men, while two
lieutenants were to raise 25 men each, and the
ensigns 18 men. Hardly a single recruit could be
obtained without undue pressure, and the conduct
of the officers is said to have been harsh in the


extreme towards those whom they compelled to
follow them. Brave though the Islesmen have
proved themselves to be when led by their Chiefs,
and heroically though they fought in the American
War for which they so reluctantly enlisted, yet
they have always had an antipathy towards regular
military service. The love of home and freedom
and the traditional attitude towards the Crown may
explain this aversion towards military service on the
part of the Highlanders of the 18th century.




The Chiefship of a Highland Clan nor- a feudal dignity.— Held by
the consent of the Clan.~The family of Dougall of Clan-
ranald excluded from the headship of the Clanranald branch.
— Kanald Gallda and John of Moidart. — Deposition of Iain
Aluinn.— The Chiefs of Sleat hold their lands without feudal
investiture defended by the Clan.— The Law of Tanistry.—
Issue of Handfast Marriages and bastards eligible for Chief-
ship. — Instances of Lachlan Cattanach Maclean of Duart,
John of Killin, Angus Og of the Isles, and Donald Dubh.—
History of the Chiefship of the Clan Donald traced from
early times— The family of Alexander, Lord of the Isles,
excluded from the Chiefship.— Succession of Donald of Isla.
— Celestine of Lochalsh and Hugh of Sleat.— Claim of
Lochalsh family to the Chiefship.— The Earldom of Ross.—

The Chiefship of the Clan Donald in the family of Sleat.

The Glengarry claim.

The question of the chiefship of a Highland clan
has to be decided by the laws and customs which
have regulated the community which formed the
clan. It is a Celtic, not a feudal dignity, though
feudalism aftected to a large extent the political
organisation of the Gael from the very beginning of
the clan system. Celtic customs survived. The
land belonged originally to the tribe, or clan, and
though the chief came in course of time to hold by
feudal right, yet the clan had not lost their interest
ni the soil. The chief exercised a certain superi-
ority, or lordship, over the clan territory, not in his
individual or private capacity, but as head and in
name of the clan. The chiefship of a clan is distinct


from feudal ownership, though both are held in the
same person. The chief derives his position as such
from the clan, and he cannot be put over them
without their consent by any authority whatever.
This may involve collision with feudal authority.
Several instances of this are to be found in the
history of the Clan Donald, and in each case the
will of the clan prevailed. Dugall MacRanald of
Islandtirrim, chief of the Clanranald branch, who
held his lands by feudal tenure, becoming odious to
the clan, was not only himself assassinated, but his
sons, by the ancient prerogative of a Celtic tribe,
were excluded from the succession. The eldest son
of Dugall was, according to the feudal law, the
lawful successor to the property, but he a^Dpears to
have bowed to the verdict of the clan and made no
claim to his father's inheritance. Another instance
of a conflict between the jDatriarchal and feudal
systems, and in which the former finally prevailed
over the latter, is to be found in the case of Ranald
Gallda, the son of Allan MacKory of Clanranald.
John of Moidart, the acknowledged chief of the
Clanranald, who had offended the Scottish Govern-
ment, was thrust into prison in Edinburgh Castle in
1540, and his feudal right was cancelled. During
his imprisonment Ranald Gallda was discovered and
feudally invested at Castletirrim. Ronald, though
of the chief's family and in the line of succession,
was not the choice of the Clanranald, and, therefore,
he was repudiated. With the strong arm of the
Scottish Government behind him, he was not able
to hold the position against the wish of the clan.
Their chosen chief, John of Moidart, on being liber-
ated from his imprisonment, was reinstated by
them, and he remained in possession of the chiefship


and the heritage of the Clanranald, without feudal
investiture, for the remainder of his Hfe —
dli aindeoin co theireadh e.

The case of Iain Aluinn of Keppoch is no doul)t
somewhat different from those to which we have
referred, inasmuch as there was no actual conflict
between Celtic and feudal law, but it aifords a
practical illustration of the right inherent in a clan
to choose, or reject, its own chief. John of Keppoch
became an object of aversion to his triba for reasons
which do not lie within the scope of this chapter,
and they deprived him of his chiefship, electing at
the same time another member of his family in his
stead. The new chief thus succeeded not only to
the patriarchal dignity, but in virtue of his chief-
ship, to the family iDheritance as well. The chiefs
of Keppoch, however, did not hold the inheritance
of Alastair Carrach by feudal tenure, and there
were, therefore, no hereditary feudal rights based on
primogeniture to cause any complications in the
future between the patriarchal and feudal occupiers
of the Keppoch lands.

From the instances now adduced, it will appear
that while the Highland clans usually accepted as
head of the race the individual on whom by feudal
law the ancestral property devolved, emergencies
sometimes arose when ancient Celtic custom asserted
itself and the provisions of the feudal law were for
the time overturned. That the feudal law of
succession remained inoperative against the wish of
those occupying the clan territory is seen from the
case of the Macdonalds of Sleat, who held their
lands for well nigh a hundred years without feudal
investiture, the strong arm of the clan proving more
than a match for the sheepskin right of the charter


holder, Macleod of Dunvegan. Thus it appears that
without the consent of the clan neither the feudal
possession of the clan territory nor the dignity of
chief could be held, and that without chiefship
feudal investiture could not be obtained. In this
way the clan retained in a measure its original hold
on the tribal inheritance. It held the key of the
position and exercised its right when the occasion
arose to depose one chief and elect another, as the
British people exercised their right when in 1688
they deposed one monarch and elected another
member of his family to reign in his stead.

While the law of primogeniture is the dominating
principle of feudal succession, the law of tanistry is
the regulative law of Celtic succession. This law of
tanistry embraced certain main features, one of
which was that the succession was always continued
in the family of the chief, within three degrees of
relationship to the main line. Brothers succeeded
preferably to sons, with the view of providing the
tribe with a leader in all their enterprises, while the
succession must always be carried on with the
approval (jf the clan. The feudal law no doubt
greatly modified the ancient Celtic law. Primo-
geniture as the law of feudal succession was allowed
in most cases to supersede Celtic tradition. It was
convenient so long as the feudal heir was acceptable
to the community that he should also succeed to the
chiefship, yet there were occasions when the
unwritten law of Gaelic society broke through the
restraints of feudalism, powerful though they were,
and when the right of election, which in the last
resort lay with the clan, was put in force. If the
clan accepted him and called him to his position, the
chief's right is not to be questioned. The issue of


handfast marriages, and even bastards, were not
excluded. Lachlan Cattanach Maclean, though
undoubtedly illegithnate, was acknowledged by his
clan as their chief. His illegitimacy has never been
made an argument against the chiefship of the
family of Duart, and the present representative of
that family who is Chief of the Clan Maclean, is the
direct male heir of Lachlan. In like manner, John
of Killin, though illegitimate, became the chief of
the Clan Mackenzie, and transmitted the chiefship
to a long line of successors. Similarly, Angus Og,
who was also illegitimate, was not only declared
feudal heir to his father, John, Lord of the Isles, but
was besides acknowledged by the Clan Donald as
heir presumptive to the chiefship. His son, Donald
Dubh, was afterwards acknowledged ae chief, and
there is no doubt whatever that if he had left
descendants the chiefship would have remained
undisputed with them. The title of Lord of the
Islee was not synonymous with chiefship. It
certainly included, but it meant more than the
chiefship of the Clan Donald. The vassals of the
Lordship who were not of the Clan Donald adhered
to the Lord of the Isles ae the embodiment
of Gaelic supremacy rather than as chief of a
clan. These ' vassals as separate clans adhered
to their own chiefs, while the Clan Donald, besides
acknowledging Donald Dubh as Lord of the Isles,
accepted him as their chief. It will thus be seen
that the clan, in the exercise of their undoubted
right, acknowledged the feudal heir of the Lord of
the Isles as their chief, in spite of the irregularity of
his descent.

Having so far considered the principles that
determine Celtic succession, we shall now endeavour


to trace the history of the chiefship of the Clan
Donald from early times, and notice the claims
which from time to time have been put forward to
that dignity. The arguments which have been
adduced point with no uncertain indication to the
conclusion that the question of the chiefship of the
clan must be looked at and determined not upon the
principles of feudal law as expressed in succession by
primogeniture, but that the elective power resting
in the clan must be regarded as having a most
important bearing on the issue. The first break in
the chain of feudal succession in the family of Isla is
to be traced to Alexander, Lord of the Isles, who on
account of his opposition to the Bruce interest was
deprived of his possessions and dignities. It is not
easy to arrive at any definite conclusion as to the
attitude of the adherents of the House of Isla at this
juncture in the fortunes of the Bruce party. They
may or may not have approved at the outset of the
part played by Alexander. It may have been that
when they saw the tide turn in favour of Bruce they
rallied to the standard of Angus Og. In any case,
the Clan Choi la, whose numbers must have been
considerable at this time, accepted Angus as chief,
and with many other adherents of the family
followed his banner to Bannockburn. It is quite
evident that Angus Og, feudal investiture notwith-
standing, could not have succeeded to the chiefship
to the exclusion of the son of Alexander, if the
adherents of the family had chosen to oppose his
claims. No amount of pressure from without would
have sufficed to keep the new Lord of the Isles in
possession of the patriarchal dignity against the
consent of the adherents of the House of Isla. The
sons of Alexander, who afterwards settled in Ireland,


appear to have acquiesced in the decision of their
kinsmen. Neither they, nor any of then' descend-
ants, so far as we know, ever put forward a claim to
the dignities of the House of Isla.

The succession by primogeniture is not again
interrupted until we come to DonakI, the eldest son
of the second marriage of John of Isla, who suc-
ceeded to the chiefship in preference to Reginald,
the eklest son of the first marriage. In view of the
claims which were afterwards put forward by the
descendants of Reginald, and the controversy which
arose over the representation of his family, it will be
necessary at this stage to state the facts of the case.
The jDrimary question which presents itself for
solution is, in which of the two families, the family
of Amie MacRuarie, John of Isla's first wife, or that
of Margaret Stewart, John's second wife, was the
chiefship of the Olan Donald handed down. In
answering this question we shall be careful to
remember, as already stated at length, that v/e a,re
dealing with a Celtic and not a feudal dignity, and
that it is necessary to separate the two questions
and treat them in the light of the phases of social
culture to which they respectively belong. In pro-
nouncing upon the chiefship as a Celtic question, we
are not called upon to consider whether the sons of
John of Isla by Amie, or his sons by the Princess
Margaret, were his feudal heirs. We have rather to
ask whether there is evidence to show how in the
order of Celtic succession the chiefship was trans
mitted, whether through the family of Amie Mac-
Ruarie or that of Margaret Stewart. The answer
to this question lies in the fact, to which the
traditional historian of the family of Clanranald
draws attention, that the old Celtic Lordship of the



Isles, which included the chiefship of the Clan
Donald, down from the immemorial past, was trans-
mitted to Donald, the eldest son of John of Isla, by
the daughter of the King of Scotland. The inter-
esting ceremonial by which this dignity was trans-
mitted has already been fully related in the first
volume of this work. All that is necessary to add
at present is that the ceremony described by Hugh
Macdonald, Celtic in its spirit, conception, aad
details, and conducted with the approval of the
gentry of the Isles, settled the question of the chief-
ship. On a certain day at Kildonan, in the Island
of Eigg, Reginald, the son of John of Isla, who,
according to MacVurich, was Stewart of the Isles at
the time, handed over to Donald the sceptre of
Innsegall, in the presence, and finally with the
consent, of the men of the Isles, when " he was
nominated Macdonald and Donald of Isla." The
MacYurich narrative indicates a certain amount of
natural hesitation on the part of the men of the Isles
to give their consent to Reginald's surrender of, and
Donald's election to, the chiefship ; but in the
course of the narrative it becomes clear that after
all the procedure was carried out with the consent
of the brethren and nobles of the Isles. Donald's
proclamation as " Macdonald and Donald of Isla"
must be regarded, on any reasonable view, as his
appointment to the position of patriarchal head of
his race. In recognition of this fact, all the
branches of the family of Macdonald followed the
banner of the Lords of Innsegall through fortune
and misfortune down to 1493, when the feudal
honour was for ever withdrawn. Even after the
Lordship of the Isles as a feudal honour had passed
away, the clan followed the lead of Donald Dubh,


the representative of the old family, and acknow-
ledged him as their chief The abortive and short-
lived effort on the part of the clan to put James
Macdonald of Dunnyveg into the place left vacant
by Donald Dubh's demise was made in consequence
of the fact that the only descendant of Donald of
Harlaw qualified by birth to possess the vacant
dignity, namely, the Chief of Sleat, was at this
time a -child, a fact which at such a crisis in the
history of the family was sufficient to invalidate his

On the death of Donald Dubh the direct line of
chiefs from John, Earl of Ross, came to an end.
But besides John, Alexander, Earl of Ross, left other
two sons, Celestine and Hugh, either of whom was
quahfied by birth and position to perpetuate the
chiefshijD of the clan. Were the chiefship a feudal
honour, it is questionable whether these two sons
of Alexander could have inherited or transmitted
that distinction, seeing that both appear to have
been the issue of those " handfast " unions, corres-
ponding to what is known in modern times as
Scotch marriages. These marriages were not
solemnised by the Church, and, therefore, in the eye
of the feudal law, their offs^^ring was not strictly
legitimate. We have shown, however, in our first
volume (page 432, et seq.) that these unions were
recognised in Celtic law and their offspring was
regarded as legitimate by the canon law of the
Church. It is noteworthy that in the various
charters and confirmations in favour of Celestine
and Hugh, the term hastardus, which is always
employed when thorough illegitimacy is meant to be
conveyed, is never used. In the charter of con-
firmation granted by James IV. to Hugh of Sleat m


1495, he is refeiTed to as a brother simply of John,
Lord of the Isles, without the qualification of either
cmiialis or hastardiis. Nor was it deemed necessary,
as in the case of others, that Hugh should obtain a
charter of legitimation before receiving feudal investi-
ture. In any case, the feudal irregularity of the
birth of Celestine and Hugh was no barrier against
the inheritance or transmission by either of them of
the chiefship of the Clan Donald. In the line of
Celestine of Lochalsh, who to all appearance was the
older son, we should have looked for the chiefship
after the death of Donald Dubh, but Donald Gallda,
the grandson of Celestine, died in 1519, when the
male representation of the family came to an end.
Both Alexander of Lochalsh, and his son, Donald
Gallda, however, aspired to the succession to the
Lordship of the Isles, and the chiefship of the Clan
Donald. Before proceeding to consider the claim of
the family of Sleat to the chiefship of the clan,
the opportunity seems favourable for indicating our
opinion, and it is quite unnecessary to be otherwise
than brief, about the Earldom of Boss. It has been
contended that this Earldom, destined to heirs
general, devolved upon the family of Glengarry by
the marriage of Margaret, eldest daughter of Alex-
ander of Lochalsh, to Alexander, the sixth of
Glengarry. Had the Earldom of Boss been a Celtic
honour, this contention might be successfully vindi-
cated. It must be obvious, however, that in this
case we have to deal, not with a Celtic but with a
feudal dignity, and while we contend, and rightly,
we believe, for the legitimacy of Celestine and Hugh
for the transmission of the Celtic honours of the
clan, neither of them was qualified without a charter
of legitimation from the Crown to hand down the



Earldom of Ross. If this view is correct, it follows
that the rej)resentation of the Earldom of Ross
passed out of the family of the Isles with the for-
feiture of John, Earl of Ross, in 1476.

From the death of Donald Dubh downwards, there
is no doubt whatever as to the family which the
general concensus of the clan regarded as containing
the chiefship of the race of Donald. The family of
Sleat alone stood in the direct line of succession to
the old family of the Isles, and beside theirs there is
no other claim that can for a moment be enter-
tained. Though John, the second of Sleat, regard-
less of the honour of his house, attempted to put the
patrimony of the family past his brother, Donald
Gallach, that does not affect the patriarchal position
of Donald in the very least. The Clan Uisdein
accepted Donald as their chief, and defended him in
the possession of the family inheritance. Without
their consent it was not possible for him to hold the

Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 13 of 48)