Clan Donald Magazine No 12 (1991) Online
The Islay Rebellions 1614-15 By David McDonald
By 1614 the superiority of both Islay and
Kintyre had passed out of the hands of Clan Donald, or more
specifically the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg. The family's main seat
Dunnyveg Castle on Islay had for three years been in the hands of
the Bishop of the Isles, who had placed a small garrison in it.
Towards the end of March 1614, for reasons which have never become
fully clear, Ranald Og, an illegitimate son of Angus MacDonald of
Dunnyveg, with four followers, Malcolm MacMillan, Donald Mcilveny,
his brother and one Maclachlan, surprised and captured the castle.
Angus Og, another son of Angus of Dunnyveg,
though legitimate, was then living within six miles of the castle.
Knowing that his family would be blamed for Ranald Og's actions
Angus Og decided to retake the castle. He left the siege to his
cousin Coll MacGillespick who was aided by Ranald MacJames
MacDonald, Angus Og's uncle; his sons Donald Gorm, Coll and
Archibald; John MacDonald; Ranald MacSorley; Sorley MacBrume;
Malcolm Macleod; Alastair Macian and Angus MacEachan MacAlister. The
siege commenced on about the 6th or 7th April.
After six days Ranald Og and his followers
escaped by sea and the castle was occupied by Coll MacGillespick.
Angus succeeded in capturing the escapees after twenty days, and
with the exception of Ranald Og, put them to death. Ranald Og on
being pressed to say what had prompted him to capture Dunnyveg laid
the blame on Donald Gorm, an illegitimate son of Sir James
MacDonald, elder son of Angus of Dunnyveg. Sir James was at this
time a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle, under sentence of death for
rebelling against his father.
Dunnyveg remained in the hands of Angus Og
for some time,although he made it clear that on receipt of a
remission for himself and his supporters for their actions, he would
restore it to the Bishop.
Sir James, who had been in prison for some
twelve years, on hearing of the goings on in Islay, presented a
petition to the Privy Council asking to be released and be allowed
to reside anywhere the King might appoint, and promising not to go
to Kintyre or Islay without licence. He offered surety for his
appearance before the Council whenever summoned to do so. The
Council took no action other than to refer the petition to the King.
In the meantime the Bishop went to Islay to
recover the castle, but had to report that Angus Og not only refused
to surrender Dunnyveg, but had prepared himself for a siege. The
Council became suspicious that Sir James had been behind the
enterprise and a warrant was obtained to seize all his papers.
However the papers showed the opposite to be the case, and that Sir
James had been advising his brother to give the castle up. One of
the papers was a letter to the Council from Angus Og, which Sir
James had not had time to forward. This offered to restore the
castle to the Bishop if he received approval for his actions in
retaking it and apprehending Ranald Og.
At the beginning of August, Donald Gorm, the
man said to be behind the whole affair, arrived at Dunnyveg with
seven or eight of the Clan Alister and offered his service to Angus
Og. On the 11th August a remission was granted to Angus Og, Coll
MacGillespick, Coll MacRanald, Gillespick MacRanald, Donald Gorm
MacRanald and Sorley MacAlister. The Bishop again set out to take
possession of Dunnyveg carrying the pardon with him. From Arran the
Bishop sent a messenger to Angus Og with the pardon, but Angus Og
refused to surrender the castle except to the Bishop personally. The
messenger also delivered a letter from the Bishop to Donald Gorm
asking that he visit him on Arran, which he duly did.
The Bishop with a small force arrived at
Islay on the 19th September. Not only did the garrison refuse to
surrender but they managed to seize the Bishop's boats and destroy
them, thereby preventing him from leaving the island. The Bishop was
therefore (breed to enter into a contract on the 22nd September
promising to help Angus Og obtain a seven year lease of the Crown
lands of Islay, for a rent of eight thousand merks, also to have
Dunnyveg Castle transferred to him, and to obtain a pardon for all
crimes committed P nor to the contract. The parties were Angus Og;
Ranald MacJames, his uncle; Coll MacGillespick and Ranald MacSorley,
on the one part, and the Bishop of the Isles on the other part. The
witnesses were Alexander MacDonald of Largie; Donald MacAlister,
tutor of 1 .oup; Donald Og MacRanald Buy; Master John Vas servant to
the Bishop; Master Patrick MacLachlan, minister of Kilchoman and
Hector MacKawiss of Kenobus.
In order to prevent the Bishop breaking the
contract, he was required to leave as hostages his son Thomas Knox,
and his nephew, John Knox of Ranfurlie. On the 23rd
September the Bishop wrote to the Council complaining of his
treatment and stating that the Clan Donald had "built a new fort in
a loch, which they have manned and victualled. Angus Oig, their
captain, affirms, in the hearing of many witnesses, that he got
directions from the Earl of Argyle not to surrender the castle, and
that he should procure for Angus the whole lands of Isla, and the
house of Dunyveg."
The Privy Council not surprisingly took a
dim view of this and despite the hostages prepared to reduce the
rebels by force. John Campbell of Calder, Sir James' brother-in-law,
who himself had designs on the crown lands of Islay, was given a
commission against Angus Og and his followers. Calder agreed to bear
the expense of the military action provided that artillery and
ammunition were provided at the public cost. Even the Bishop
questioned the wisdom of making "the name of Campbell greater in the
Isles than they are already; nor yet to root out one pestiferous
clan, and plant in another little better."
Angus MacDonald of Dunnyveg died, a bitter
old man, at Rothesay on the 21st October and was succeeded in the
title by his elder son Sir James. Sir James learning that he was now
head of the family and of the impending military campaign again
wrote to the Council making proposals. He offered a rent of eight
thousand merks for the crown lands of Islay; or if this was not
acceptable he would transport himself, his brother, and his clan to
Ireland or anywhere else the King should direct. He made other
offers concerning the recovery of Dunnyveg Castle, and the
apprehension of those who had taken it. He said he would deliver up
Ranald Og "who first took the house and Ranald mcdonald vallich to
suffer for their fault, and Coll mcgillaspie to be keipt in irnes
during his Maties pleasr." Finally, if all his other offers were
rejected, Sir James asked to be allowed to remove himself, his
brother, and his clan out of the King's dominions, asking no lands
or money, only a free pardon, and a letter of recommendation to the
States of Holland.
Sir James' offers were ignored and
preparations hastened to despatch Calder to Islay. At the end of
October arrangements were made to bring two hundred soldiers and six
cannon across from Ireland to assist him. At the same time Angus Og
was again offered a pardon provided he gave up the castle, his
hostages and two of his leading followers.
In the meantime the Lord Chancellor, the
Earl of Dunfermline, without consulting the Privy Council, began an
intrigue to obtain the release of the hostages. His agent, George
Graham of Eryne, arrived on Islay in November. Graham met Angus Og,
and showing him his instructions and promising in the Chancellor's
name that Calder's expedition would be stopped, he persuaded him to
deliver up both the castle and hostages. Having
gained his object of freeing the hostages Graham returned the castle
to Angus Og to await further instructions from the Chancellor. Angus
Og, on asking what he should do if called upon to surrender by
Calder, was told to hold out until he heard from the Chancellor.
The Royal herald, Robert Winrahame, sent by
Calder to demand the surrender of the castle was intercepted by
Graham who failed to persuade him to turn back. Graham therefore
hastily returned to the castle where he was able to convince Angus
Og that he should disobey the royal summons. Not only that but when
the herald arrived accompanied by Angus Og's father-in-law, Duncan
Campbell of Danna, he was treated in a violent and abusive manner by
Coll MacGillespick, at Graham's instigation. Graham having succeeded
in considerably worsening Angus Og's position then departed with the
hostages leaving the rebels to their fate. It seems clear that the
Chancellor had succeeded in both his aims, to free the hostages and
to deprive Angus Og and his followers of the pardon promised to
them. It has been suggested that he too had designs on Islay.
On the 21st November Calder received a
charter of the crown lands of Islay, and by the end of the month had
arrived at Dunnyveg with his forces. He waited for fourteen days for
the Irish troops and cannon, but with his provisions running out he
was forced to return to Duntroon on the mainland. Two days later the
Irish under the command of Sir Oliver Lambert arrived on Islay.
Having sent word to Calder of his arrival Lambert summoned the
garrison in Dunnyveg to surrender. Angus Og replied that had he not
received a warrant from the Lord Chancellor to keep the castle for
him, he would have obeyed the summons. He offered to show his
warrant, and when this was accepted, sent to Lambert a copy of
Graham's instructions. Although Lambert accepted that this
authorised the retention of the castle, he was not satisfied that
Graham had any authority to give such instructions. He therefore
decided to proceed with the siege on Calder's arrival.
Calder, with two hundred men, landed on
Islay on the 6th January, 1615. A further one hundred and forty men
arrived the next day. During the next few days several of the rebels
deserted the castle, and were pardoned on condition they did service
against their former colleagues. Among these were Ranald MacSorley
VicDonald Baillie, John MacDonald Baillie and Sorley MacAlister
On the 24th January, Ranald MacJames, in
command at Lochgorm, entered into a bond with Calder that he and his
son Donald Gorm would surrender the fort before the 28th of the
month. This they duly did and were granted a remission on the 31st.
By the following day the cannon had all been
landed at Dunnyveg and the battery was ready to open
fire. The garrison however fired first and one of Calder's men was
killed and Captain Crawford, one of Lambert's officers was wounded
in the leg and subsequently died. After a day of constant
bombardment Angus Og had a meeting with Calder at which it was
explained that Graham had deceived him. Angus Og was persuaded to
agree to surrender with as many men as would follow him. However on
his return to the castle he changed his mind under pressure from
Coll MacGillespick. The battery again opened fire and some time
later not being able to obtain terms Angus Og and some of his
principal followers surrendered unconditionally. Coll MacGillespick
refused to surrender and with a number of others escaped by night in
a boat which turning leaky forced them to land elsewhere on Islay.
Calder on the 3rd February held a justice
court at which fourteen of the defenders of Dunnyveg and six from
Lochgorm were tried and executed. Angus Og and several of his
principal men were sent for examination by the Privy Council. On the
6th, six of those who had escaped with Coll MacGillespick were
apprehended and executed. This, according to Archibald Campbell of
Glencarradale, left "fowre of the name of Clandonald as yet not
aprehendit" and "nyne or tenn of wther clannis wha war yair
associats as yet not aprehendit."
Angus Og together with Alastair MacAlister,
son of Charles MacAlister, the former Tutor of Loup; Angus MacEachan
MacAlister; Alastair MacArliche; John MacCondochie and John Gair
MacMillan of the Knap family, were brought before the Privy Council.
On examination they declared that they had taken the castle at the
instigation of the Earl of Argyll. They further blamed the Lord
Chancellor for their continued occupation of it. The Chancellor
however denied having given Graham any instructions other than to
procure the release of the hostages. He also denied having
authorised him to offer any conditions to the rebels. The evidence
of Graham himself was so contradictory and at variance with other
witnesses including Calder that no regard was paid to it.
On the 2nd March there was a proclamation
against harbouring the remaining rebels, the principal of whom were
Coll MacGillespick; Coll, Archibald and Donald Gorm MacDonald, the
sons of Ranald MacJames; Malcolm MacRory Og MacLeod; Ranald Og
MacAngus; Angus MacRaichan VicDonachie Dubh VicAlastair and
MacRanald VicAngus VicAlastair. It was said that Coll MacGillespick
"with four score broken hieland men assisted with a bark and some
birlings had taken the seas and lay betweene the coastes of Scotland
and Yreland awaiting the opportunitie and meanes to robbe his
While the Privy Council were taking measures
for the apprehension of the pirates they were shocked to discover
that on the 23rd May Sir James had succeeded in
escaping from Edinburgh Castle. In this he was assisted by Alexander
MacRanald of Keppoch; his eldest son Ranald Og, who had obtained the
key to open the prison door; and John MacDonald, younger of
Clanranald. Sir James gave as his reason for escaping the fact that
Calder had obtained a warrant to have him executed. They crossed the
Firth of Forth in a small boat from Newhaven to Burntisland and then
into Perthshire. On the 24th May a commission was given to the
Marquis of Huntly and the Earl of Tullibardine for their
apprehension. A reward of two thousand pounds was offered for Sir
James, dead or alive. Archibald Campbell, Bailie of Kintyre was
instructed to pursue them, which he did through Atholl, almost
intercepting them at the east end of Loch Rannoch. Huntly and
Tullibardine approaching from the other direction were only
prevented from capturing them by a warning which allowed them to
escape on foot into the woods, abandoning their horses. Some of
Keppoch's servants were captured, but were later released by
Tullibardine. Also left behind was Sir James' collection of books,
the loss of which he greatly regretted, and in a letter to the Earl
of Crawford, he asked the Earl to try and recover them for him.
At Rannoch Sir James and his party were met
by some of Keppoch's men who escorted them through Lochaber to
Glengarry. They visited Donald MacAngus of Glengarry at Invergarry
Castle in an effort to obtain his support, but were unsuccessful.
On their way to Knoydart they captured and
took away with them Donald Gorm, a son of Glengarry, as hostage for
his father's behaviour. An enraged Glengarry sent his eldest son
Alastair Dearg in pursuit, but he only succeeded in capturing two of
Keppoch's principal men, John Dow MacDonald VicAngus and Duncan
MacGorrie, who were later exhibited before the Privy Council.
From Knoydart they sailed to Skye where they
met with Donald Gorm MacDonald of Sleat, who though not openly
joining them himself, allowed a number of his men to do so. Donald
Gorm of Sleat also supplied them with a large boat in which they
sailed for liigg. Here they met Coll MacGillespick and his followers
who now i ncluded Sir James' son Donald Gorm and Sorley MacJames, a
son of the late Sir James MacSorley of Dunluce in Antrim. Sir James
was given an enthusiastic reception, Coll MacGillespick and his men
inarching round him for half an hour firing volleys of small arms.
Afterwards each one came forward to shake his hand.
Now some three hundred strong. Sir James and
his followers sailed to Ardnamurchan, where according to
Tullibardine they were joined by Alexander Maclain of Ardnamurchan
himself "with all his company with him, at the least, there is a
great part of them." They then travelled in the direction of Islay.
The Privy Council, still ignorant of Sir
James' whereabouts, were ai this time taking measures to place the
whole of the Western Isles and adjacent mainland from Skye down to
Kintyre in military readiness, in order to deter any landing. A
reward of five thousand pounds was offered for the apprehension of
Sir James; five thousand merks each for Coll MacGillespick, Keppoch
and his son; and three thousand merks each for Ranald Og MacAngus
and Malcolm MacLeod.
On or about the 18th
June, Sir James with several hundred men landed on Colonsay where
they spent the next few days building a fort. After four or five
days they left for Islay landing in the neighbourhood of Dunnyveg.
An ambush was planned, and the constable, Alexander MacDougall,
brother to Raray, with twelve of the garrison was lured out of the
castle. Sir James' men attacked too soon however and the constable
and his men tried to regain the Castle. About half reached the inner
gate and closed it. The constable and the remainder were overtaken
and killed. Sir James having taken the outer court and the castle's
water supply, the garrison surrendered on the following morning. Sir
James in the attack had lost a soldier and a boy killed and two men
slightly wounded. Hector MacNeill of Taynish however reported that
three of Sir James' men had been killed including his illegitimate
brother Ranald Og. This proved to be incorrect. Having taken the
castle Sir James committed no excesses merely ejecting Calder's men
from the island.
During this time Sir
James wrote letters to a number of prominent men notifying them of
his capture of Dunnyveg. All these letters had an anti Campbell
theme. To the Earl of Crawford he wrote "I trest in God that all the
Campbelles in Scotland, without his Maties powar, shall nor recouer
it, so long as they live." To the Bishop of the Isles he said "And
now if your lo. may get me fauourable conditions be his Matie, ze
may assuir zour self I will give yow the Hous, provyding it be in
your handis, and nane of the Campbellis to gett it."
On receiving notice
of the capture of Dunnyveg, the Privy Council wrote to the King
urging that he send the Earl of Argyll back to Scotland as soon as
possible to take command of operations against the rebels. In the
meantime Campbell of Auchinbreck received a commission as Lieutenant
until the arrival of Argyll.
Among further letters
written by Sir James was one on the 1 st July to Lord Binning "If
his Maiestie be not willing that I sail be his heighness tennent in
Ila, for Goddis cause let his Matie hauld it in his awin hand; for
that is certane, I will die befoir I sie a Campbell possess it."
This and all his other letters were sent to the Earl of Tullibardine
to be forwarded. They however never reached their intended
recipients being sent instead to the Privy Council.
On the 3rd July Sir
James' brother Angus Og and his fellow prisoners were tried for high
treason and condemned to death, being executed on the 8th of the
same month. Sir James' force on Islay was gaining strength and now
included Malcolm MacDuffie of Colonsay and Donald Gigach Maclain,
the principal man in Jura, who between them brought sixty-four men.
While Sir James strengthened the fortifications on Lochgorm he began
to make plans to add Kintyre to his conquests. Hector MacNeill of
Taynish wrote "Donald Gorme, Sir James bastardis son came into
Kintyre the number of tuentie four souldiours and finding the Kingis
houss in Keanloch woid without any in it hes taine thesame ..."
Kinloch Castle Donald Gorm returned to Islay and was installed as
keeper of Dunnyveg while Sir James with four hundred men crossed
over to Kintyre where they soon made themselves masters. They were
soon joined by many of Sir James' father's former tenants. By the
end of July the rebels had taken up position near Tarbert and there
was a great fear that they would attempt to break out of Kintyre
into Knapdale. Campbell of Auchinbreck with difficulty collected
three hundred men whom he positioned in Knapdale to counter any
attempt by Sir James to leave Kintyre. At the same time Auchinbreck
wrote to the Council seeking help and received in reply a renewal of
his commission and a promise that he would be joined by the Campbell
lairds of Ardkinlass and Lochnell with the men of Cowal and Lorn. So
successful was he that Sir James was contained in Kintyre throughout
August although his numbers continued to rise.
Argyll arrived in
Edinburgh during August to consult with the Privy Council. He was
allowed four hundred hired soldiers who were to muster at Castle
Sween in Knapdale on the 2nd September. Argyll then proceeded to
Cowal and collected all his forces at Dunoon. His spies informed him
that Sir James with a force of nearly one thousand was camped on the
west coast of Kintyre opposite the island of Cara which belonged to
Alexander MacDonald of Largie. Having established the whereabouts of
the rebels Argyll split his force of between fifteen and sixteen
hundred in two. Calder with two companies of the hired soldiers and
the men of Campbell of Lochnell and MacDougall of Dunollie were sent
by sea down the west coast of Kintyre to surprise Sir James by night
and capture his boats. Argyll himself, with the other two companies
of soldiers and the lairds of Kilmichael, Ardkinlass, Lamont and
MacLachlan landed at Tarbert where they were joined by Auchinbreck
and his men.
with sixty men in three boats was sent north by Sir James in order
to spy out the land. He succeeded in capturing Colin Campbell of
Kilberry and three or four of his followers who had been scouting
for Argyll. On his return to Cara he passed close to Gigha which
unknown to him was now occupied by Calder's force. Calder pursued
him and Coll was forced to run his boats aground on Kintyre and only
just was able to escape with the loss of fifteen or sixteen men.
Another party of Calder's men proceeded to Cara where the rebel
fleet was moored under the protection of Keppoch and Sorley MacJames. They however
were warned by some of Largie's men who lit beacons and so were able
Keppoch and his men fled to the very south
of Kintyre and was able to make his escape despite the loss of some
of his followers. Sorley MacJames was pursued to Islay where he took
refuge in Dunnyveg Castle. Sir James, who with the majority of his
force, was facing Argyll's advance from the north-east having
realised that he was outnumbered and had been outflanked, also took
Argyll directed Ardkinlass with four hundred
men to assist Calder's force in the pursuit of the rebels in Kintrye
while he crossed to Jura. At Ardnel in the south of Jura Donald
Campbell of Barrichbeyan with forty men came upon Coll MacGillespick
who was skulking there with some sixty of his followers. A short
engagement followed which left Barrichbeyan and about half his men
killed. Coll then fled to Islay. Shortly afterwards Argyll received
information that Sir James had arrived in Islay and was camped in
the Rhinns with a force of about five hundred men. Argyll therefore
arranged for his force and that of Calder to be transported to
Sir James, greatly outnumbered, knowing he
had little prospect of success and unable to escape to the North
Isles as he had hoped because of the contrary winds, sent a
messenger to Argyll requesting a truce for four days, at the end of
which he promised to surrender unconditionally. Argyll agreed on
condition that Dunnyveg Castle and the fort on Loch Gorm were
surrendered within twenty-four hours, otherwise he would consider
the proposal to be nothing more than a delaying tactic to allow him
to escape if the wind changed. Coll MacGillespick however now had
the command of both strongholds and refused to give them up, hoping
to negotiate his own terms.
Argyll on being notified by Sir James that
he could not surrender the forts sent Calder with one thousand men
by sea in order to surprise the rebels. Sir James received warning
of the attack and with Keppoch, Sorley MacJames and some forty
others fled by boat to Ireland. Another boat containing some of his
Kintyre followers who had fled with him to Islay also succeeded in
escaping, but in their case back to Kintyre. The remainder, mainly
Islay men, were left to their fate.
On the following day Coll MacGillespick
surrendered the forts and his Campbell prisoners on condition of a
pardon for himself and some of his followers. Having obtained his
release Coll treacherously delivered nineteen rebels to Argyll
including MacDuffie of Colonsay. Coll no doubt had designs on
MacDuffie's land on Colonsay the island where he was born and where
his family lived.
Shortly afterwards Argyll apprehended ten of
the principal men of Islay who have been with Sir James. They
were immediately tried and executed. At the end of October Argyll
left for Kintyre having executed a further nine of the principal
rebels in Islay. In Kintyre there was still a number of rebels in
arms and these were dealt with very severely, many being imprisoned
and others executed. Among those executed was "Gilespuig Dhu son to
Eneas McDonald of Kintyre." This can only be Archibald MacDonald of
Gigha, natural son of Angus of Dunnyveg. By the end of November
Argyll was able to report to the Privy Council that the rebellion
had been crushed.
Many of the leaders of the rebellion had
escaped and the Privy Council were displeased. Lord Binning wrote
"Since Sir James and his son, with MacRanald and his son, and
Glengarry's son, and MacSorley are all escaped, and Coll pardoned, I
know not what ringleaders these are whom ye write ye are
to bring in ... So long as the heads are all to the fore, the rebellion
will never be thought quenched."
At this time Sir James, his son Donald Gorm,
and two others were being sheltered in Galway by Jesuits, while
Sorley MacJames and a number of others including Malcolm MacLeod and
Ranald Og MacAngus were in the Route, Antrim with Sorley's
relatives. Keppoch and his sons were back in Scotland having
returned with a number of Macalisters and Mackays from Kintyre who
had fled with Sir James from Islay to Ireland.
Sir James with the aid of the Jesuits was
able to make his escape to Spain, where he was later joined by
Keppoch and his second son Donald Glas. There they remained until
1620 when they were recalled to London by the King, who granted
pardons to all three. Sir James was awarded an annual pension of one
thousand gold merks. Keppoch and his son were eventually permitted
to return to Scotland but the Privy Council raised objections in the
case of Sir James and he remained in London until his death in 1626.
He is said to have been buried in St. Martin's church. With Sir
James' death the direct line of the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg came to
an end and the Clan Donald ceased to be a force in Argyll, the
Campbells having almost total domination.
Highland Papers Volume Three : J.R.N.
History of the Western Highlands and Isles
of Scotland : Gregory
Kintyre in the Seventeenth Century : Andrew
Miscellany of the Scottish History Society
The Clan Donald : Rev. A. MacDonald & Rev.
The Clan Ranald of Knoydart & Glengarry :
Norman H. MacDonald
The Clan Ranald of Lochaber : Norman H.
The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland
The Last MacDonalds of Isla : Charles
The MacMillans and their Septs : Somerled
The Register of the Privy Council of
The Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland
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