Clan Donald

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Clan Donald Magazine No 4 (1968) Online

The '08 by Jean Munro Ph.D.

For every one hundred Scots who know something about the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745, and even about the Attempt of 1719, there may only be one who has heard of the first of these expeditions which took place in 1708. Five letters written by Sir Donald Macdonald of Sleat to his Edinburgh lawyer and relative, John Mackenzie of Delvine, preserved in the National Library of Scotland and here printed for the first time, give an idea of the stir that this abortive invasion created and show how the Jacobite leaders were treated at a critical stage in the relations between Scotland and England.

Sir Donald succeeded his father in 1692, having been 'out' at Killiecrankie, and did not submit to the Government for a few years. He was apparently on good terms with the authorities in the early years of Queen Anne's reign but, about 1705, was listed as a Jacobite by a spy. He was probably not closely connected with the plots of 1707 and 1708 but, as these centred on north-east and midland Scotland, he would not have expected a major role at first. In 1715 he was certainly in the thick of the plans, but of course few Jacobites were careless enough to commit their thoughts to paper.

The actual invasion was a poor spirited affair. During 1707 Jacobite agents had been travelling the north-east and midlands of Scotland preparing the way for a Rising, timed to profit from the unpopularity of the Union just taking place, and also to provide a 'second front' on which the French could attack Marlborough. The winter months of 1707-1708 saw French naval preparations at Dunkirk, regularly reported on by English spies. On March 2nd Charles Fleming, brother to the Earl of Wigtown, landed at Slains to alert the Jacobites, but the fleet was delayed at Dunkirk until 8th March, first by an attack of measles on James VIII, already on board, and then by contrary winds. Finally, 5 men of war, 2 transports and 21 frigates arrived off the east coast of Scotland on 12th March and, entering the Firth of Forth, anchored off the Isle of May. Burntisland was said to be the chosen landing and Stirling the first objective. But an English fleet under Sir George Byng came on the scene during the following night and the French cut their cables and escaped before they could be attacked. On 14th March they were seen off Buchanness and there was, in fact, a plan to land at Inverness, but once again the wind beat them, and the invasion abandoned, they arrived back at Dunkirk on 27th March.

Meanwhile there was panic at home. Early reports magnified the size of the fleet preparing - one rumour stated that 32 men of war had sailed - and London was full of alarm during February. Another reason for the general uneasiness was that administration had not settled down to its post-Union pattern, and in particular the Scots Privy Council - traditionally responsible for keeping order, and retained for this purpose under the Act of Union - had, in January, become the victim of political manoeuvre and was to go out of existence on 1st May, without any real alternative proposed.

On the very day that Charles Fleming landed, a meeting of the Scots Privy Council heard the Queen's anti-invasion instructions and started to consider a list of suspected Jacobites. A week later, on 9th March, they issued a summons to 22 people, including Sir Donald, to appear before them in Edinburgh. The previous day the Privy Council in London issued warrants for the arrest of 31 people, not including Sir Donald, and the Earl of Mar wrote from London that for the time being the Habeas Corpus Act was to be suspended. Already the dual control was leading to confusion, and Robert Forbes, the clerk of the Scots Privy Council, wrote: "The Chiftains of clanns are imediatly to be called in, but I cane scarce understand what good that can produce, when the endureance of Counsell is so short."

By this time the French fleet was on its way home, but it was some days before the authorities knew where it had gone and lost the dread of an invasion in some remote part of the Highlands. On 7th March the Duke of Gordon, Seaforth, Kilsyth and others were reported to be on parole in their chambers in Edinburgh, but by the end of the month they and some others were in the Castle, and being interrogated by the Scots Privy Council.

At first Sir Donald's movements are obscure. Following the Scots Privy Council meeting on 9th March, he was almost certainly cited to appear, and such a summons had reached Lord Reay at Tongue by 20th March. Apparently Sir Donald did not come in, for a warrant was issued in Edinburgh for his arrest on 29th March, though it is not until 23rd April that his name appears on a list of prisoners. Even then no place of imprisonment is given and it is possible that he was first held at Inverlochy.

On 15th April a warrant was issued at Kensington for sending the more important prisoners to London. The Earl of Mar explained to his brother that the Cabinet had advised the Queen to do this - "The Council of Scotland being just a falling so that nobody there was of authority enough to examine them." It was decided to send them in parties. Originally 24 were to form the first batch but in the end only 12 prisoners left Edinburgh on 30th April under a guard of Scots dragoons, followed by another 12 on 7th May, and a final party a few days later. Sir Donald travelled in the first party, and as his was the only name not included in an advance list made up on 27th April, it may be that he had not then arrived in the capital from, perhaps, Inverlochy.

The day following the departure of the first party of prisoners saw the official demise of the Scots Privy Council. and one cannot help wondering whether the slow journey south may not have had another motive than the bad condition of the guards' horses - namely to keep the prisoners safe while the Government decided what to do with them.

Their treatment was to some extent dictated by party political issues - an election was pending and no one wished to antagonise the numerous Jacobite sympathisers in Scotland. The Earl of Mar and his supporters took credit that they had advised the Queen to allow the prisoners to be put in charge of messengers at Barnet, rather than go through the city mob under a more obvious guard, and when on 6th June the Council agreed to allow bail, Mar wrote that he hoped they would realise to whom they owed such favourable treatment. It was arranged that the prisoners should give bail as security for their appearance before the Lords of Justiciary in Edinburgh early in November and the first -Kilsyth- left London on 10th June. Some were less fortunate. Three, correctly named by Sir Donald, remained some time longer in the Tower, and five Stirlingshire lairds, who had brought out their armed tenants a little too soon, were sent back from Newgate to Edinburgh for trial in the autumn, but were acquitted for lack of acceptable evidence.

8th May, 1708
Dear Sir,

Find the opportunity of the gentleman Eglesham, I could not omitt to tell you (I) have keept health very well since I parted with you and am uneasie in nothing but the short journies we make, being noe more than a stage a day, and we are oblig'd to rest a week day as well as the Sabath, soe as it will be reddily three weeks hence before we gett to London. This is done by orders because of the bad condition the horse that guard us are inn. However we are most civily treated by our officers, and all in generall, except our houses of intertainment who indeavour frequently to exact upon us. This (wishing I may have a good account of you, your Lady and Mrs. Ann and children, and of all other friends there or at home) is all from Dear Sir, Your most faithful cousin and servant,

We are to be this night at Durham, London.


5th June 1708.
Dear Sir,

Tho we arriv'd here Wednesday the 2nd instant and that I might have writt to you on Thursday, our getting orders the night we came to be reddie to appear before the councill be eleven next morning if called, and which we look'd everie hour for, made me put off giveing the trouble of a letter for that night: but tho the councill forebore us that day, we were all conveen'd and examin'd by them yeasterday afternoon. What we were question'd upon was, what we knew of the descent from France or what tyme we had first heard of it. I need not tell you my ansure being you are soe well known to my innocence, and I hear all the rest made the same ansurs. There was one question ask'd the Stirlingshire gentlemen (or part of them) concerning their going from their houses about the tyme the landing was expected, to which I'm told they made little ansure: We were all in one roome, and as one was examin'd, he return'd to the company and ane other was brought inn. We returned all to our lodgings about ten of the clock at night (some sooner) each haveing his messenger to attend him, for to them we were deliver'd at Barnett. What will be done with us now we know not but we are not allow'd to goe abroad tho all that please are suffered to visite us. Severall of our countrie men have come to see me, and I have seen a great many more both south and north brittains in Huntlys and Drummonds appartments (for I lodge in one house with them tho I intend to change Monday next). The Earle of Jersey [1] did me the honour to come to see me yeasterday, and he was not well gone, when I was calld to the councill. You are so anxious to know how I keept upon the journey, that I cannot omitt telling we all keept health prettie well, and in all our long journey we had noe rain any tyme we travell'd except the day we came off and the day we came to Newcastle, tho at other tymes ther was very great rains. I was allmost as much in coach as on horseback, which I ow'd mainly to the Marquis Huntlys kindness who does not suffer me to be long out of his company, I'm much taken with your chiefe alsoe, who is one of the finest tempers of a youth I have mett with at any tyme, he and his mother, Nithsdale and his Lady lodge in Powisis house, they are all very well. One thing I cannot but tell you which is that I am very much displeased at the Earl of Mortouns [2] indifference about me for after what you saw I wrott to him from Edinburgh. I wrott again once or twice upon the road, wherin amongst other things I desir'd in case he went for Scotland befor we arriv'd here, that he wod leave a letter for me with his advice and directions to whom I should address, but for all the search I have been able to make, I have non, or any word from him less or more, tho I desir'd he should leave his letter with some trustie person that wod deliver it how soon it were known we arriv'd. I take this soe ill that I have writt non to him now, and I wish you lett his brother the collonell know how unkind the Earle has been. Pray give my heartie respects to the collonell [3] and his Lady, and tell him to have me excus'd I have not writt to him with this post, for its all I have tyme (there have soe many come inn to us this day) to writt this and the inclos'd to my wife, forgett not alsoe to present my duty to the Earle of Cromartie and Major Generall Maitland who tho I have not the honour of being his relation, wod not forget me as Mortoun has done. I beginn now to long for John Martin for I'm uneasie that I have had noe account of my wife and family ever since I parted with them I doe not want some fears they are not all well. I have furnish'd myselfe with wigg, linens etc but have made noe cloaths as yett, and designe only to make a drogett one that will stand me towards five lib; my journy stood me not under 20 guinies. I keep your horse till John MackDonald be going down, he mend still everie way upon the road. I have gott such ane use of writting you long letters, that I thinke I can never fall upon sending you a short one but i'le end this with intreating you mind me to all my Friends there, but in a more particular frindly manner to your Lady and her sister whose civilitys and kindness can never forgott be Dear Sir, your Faithfull and affectionat cousin and servant

Pray lett me know whats come of Mudart and Glengary.


10th June 1708.
Dear Sir,

You'le I hope this day have mine of the 5th current as I bad yours of the first of June upon the eighth, since which I have been most uneasie for I can think of nothing could hinder my wife from sending either John Martin or some other, but either want of health or miscarriage of mine I wrott from Edinburgh and even in this ease she wod have sent some person if it were but to bring her news of me, so as I fear that either she is not in condition to look after any business, or she has sent some indiscreet fellow that has been abus'd in the upcoming. If any has arriv d since your last I hope you have writt to me without waiting to hear from me. There is some change in our condition since my last, for Monday the 7th instant Huntly, Seafort, Nidsdale, Stormont, Killseith, Pewmais and I were acquainted from the Secretar the Earle of Sunderland to prepare our petions (sic) to her Majestie for being admitted to bail, and the same night Drummond, Sir George Maxwell and Mr Robert Murray were sent to tour and Kire and Cardenn were committed to Newgate.

Our petitions were given inn to the Secretarr tewsday morning, and the Messinger was here presently to tell us that Huntly and two more (he knew not their names but I suppose them to be Kilseith and Stormont) were alreddie baild, and that all of us will be soe tomorrow but that the councill had not tyme to doe it this day. I know not who or how my bail is to be as yett, Huntly most kindly offers himselfe to bail me in whole or if that be not taken to bail me that I will give sufficient bail in Edinburgh in one of which states I expect he'le be accepted. By what I have said you see I'le reddily be at libertie once tomorrow, but if John Martin be not come off, or that you have not sent a bill for mony you may have receav'd by some other hand, I'le need to have sextie lib. at least befor I go from this, which if I he at liberty as I hope, I designe to doe (health serving) the 22nd instant if want of mony doe not keep me. I lyve not to be soe scarce as to have just to serve me, and I have horses and severall necessars more to furnish myselfe with before I goe off. I have not forgott to speak for protection [4] but by all I understand from them have spoken to the statemen for me, the Queen is not in power by the laws to give any. This is not (or at least was not) the practice or law in Northbritain, however I'm to expect all can be given in this case, but being its more than probable I must compear at Edinburgh to renew my bail, I intreat if you can, end with Blakewood, tho you shou'd give all was sought be Campbell as I cam away; this is better than that I be exposed. The Duke of Gordon and the rest of the prisoners were with him, arriv'd tewsday morning, and were examined last night, and I hear Touch, Newtoun and Kippendavie are keept closs, but not committed to any prison as yett. Keppoch is here in the house with me (for I parted from Huntly tewsday afternoon when the Duke arriv'd) he gives you his service and his thanks for your kinduess to him, and desirs you be pleas'd to send him that little mony his wife sent you, whither her Majestie will consider us in our expence and losses great we have sustained, but I can tell you that the statesmen here have us'd us most civilly, suitablie to their character and quality. I writt to my wife with this post but how soon I'm at libertie, I'le writt to her to send my servants and horses to meet me. We have noe news but what the prints bear which you'le see, nor have I any more to add to this but that you doe me the favour to mind to give my service to my friends, but more partticularly to your Lady and the others I nam'd in my last. Longing extreamly to hear from you again I remain, dear Sir, your most affectionat and most Faithfull cousine and servant

Give my service to Mudoirt I'le writt to him by the next, my things cam very safe.


June 1708.
Dear Sir,

I cannot forbear acquainting you I was not baild till this day after twell of the clock, which happened to be delay'd soe long by the forgettfullness of those should have acquainted me yeasterday morning. A Mackdonald and a MackIllivray [5] are my bail for 1000 lib. I myselfe for ane another 1000 lib. To compear befor the Lords of Justitiar at Edinburgh again the first of November next, as all of us baild must doe. Here is a second journy I cannot shun, but still it's better than to remain here till that tyme. I find I cannot have a good protection, therfor by all means end with Blakewood, and the rather that of necessity I must come to Edinburgh a second tyme besids that I must be in a sort of confinement within the liberties here till I know that is ended. I wod writt to my wife to send two horse and servants and a baggage horse to meet me to Dunkell (a groom and one foot man and a baggage man only if John Martine be come) but that I know not what tyme to appoint ther being there, being I'm in doubt what tyme the coast may be clear or when the mony I desir'd may be receav'd here, but being you can know this more certainly you may cause send ane express from Inverness appointing her when to have those servants at Dunkell, for be sure after I gett to doe my business with, I'le make noe stay either here or at Edinburgh. Please to offer my service to the Earle of Cromartie, your Lady, and all other friends, and beleeve I am with all sincerity Dear Sir, Your most affectionat cousine and faithfull servant

The Duke of Gordon is baild and is allow'd to bail his vassalls in which number Keppoch has been bail'd. The three named in last are committed to Newgate.


5th July 1708.
Dear Sir,

This serves to lett you know I receaved your last just as I was takeing horse at London, by which I was much eas'd, the bill was not ansurd till Friday before which with my companies not bein reddie, keept me till tewsday morning. Keppoch (whose petion (sic) and his three partners were refused by the D.) was not reddie to come off with us, but we expect his coming up every minute, my companie are Locheal and Appin. We propose to be at Edinburgh next Saturday, but expect not our coffers we sent by the carrier before tewsday or wednesday. Waiting them is all the stay we intend to make at Edinburgh and I have a strong inclination to goe the shortest way home tho my mother and sister may expect me and be offended I goe not their way. Therfor if you find any occation, acquaint my servants if they be come as I expect, that they be at Edinburgh with the horses, the 13th or 14th instant. We'le be this night at borrowbridge, and goe by Kelso. This with my service to your Lady and other friends, is from Dear Sir, Your most affectionat cousine and faithfull servant



Sir Donald was home at Duntulm well before 17th September when he next wrote to Delvine describing bad weather on the final phase of his journey, and mismanagement at home during his absence. On 14th October he is about to set out for Edinburgh once again, and he was probably one of those referred to by the Lord Advocate in a letter of 30th October as being "come specially to town to present themselves." Sir James Steuart goes on to admit that the Judges can neither discharge the ex-prisoners nor proceed against them, and can only allow them to take instruments on their compearance to save their bail.So the whole affair petered out, mismanaged to the last. A suitable footnote is provided from among the Macdonald papers in the form of a receipt for �2 8s. 0d. for carrying Sir Donald's baggage home from London.


[1] Related to Sir Donald through his mother. Return to text.

[2] This was James, 10th Earl. Sir Donald's mother was Mary, daughter of Robert 7th, Earl of Morton, and first cousin of 10th Earl. Return to text.

[3] George Douglas, later 12th Earl of Morton. Return to text.

[4] i.e. Protection from arrest for debt. Blackwood and Campbell were evidently pressing for payment. Return to text.

[5] Neither of these have been identified. Return to text.

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