Clan Donald Magazine No13 (1995) Online
Relating to the Chiefs of Clan Donald in the Early
14th Century by the Editor.
has generally been assumed by historians that Angus Og succeeded his
eldest brother, Alexander of Isla, as Chief of Clan Donald after the
supposed forfeiture of the latter by King Robert I (Bruce), for his
opposition, around 1308 based on the account given in the Knock MS.
History of the MacDonalds, attributed to Hugh MacDonald, which
states that Alexander of Isla fought against Edward Bruce in
Galloway from whence he escaped and was besieged by King Robert at
Castle Sween, in North Knapdale, which he was compelled to surrender
and died soon after, a prisoner in Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire.
account, however, is not supported by any other authority, or
evidence and must be regarded with scepticism. Knapdale did not come
into the possession of the House of Isla until the time of Angus
Og's son John, first Lord of the Isles.
Annals of Ulster record that in the year 1299
"Alexander Mac Domnaill, the person who was the best for
hospitality and excellence that was in Ireland and in Scotland
was killed, together
with a countless number of his own people that were slaughtered
him, by Alexander Mac Dubghaill."
this entry refers to Alexander
and not to his
uncle Alexander, the
younger brother of Angus Mor, as
historians of the Clan, seems clear on account of the importance
given in it
to the deceased Alexander and his reputation both in Ireland and in
Scotland, and by
the fact that Alexander of Isla and Alexander MacDougall of Argyll
at war with each other since at least 1297. Further, Alexander of
Isla and his father,
Angus Mor, are on record as having had much dealing with Ireland.
Assuming that it was Alexander of Isla who was killed in 1299 the
as to who succeeded him as Chief of Clan Donald. At the time of his
death, Alexander of Isla, as Admiral of the Western Isles, was well
in favour with Edward
I of England, while his arch enemy Alexander MacDougall, on account
his family relationship with the Comyns who were in turn related to
whom Edward had, in 1926, unceremoniously deposed, certainly was
not. Robert Bruce did not begin his bid for the Scottish throne
until 1306 after which the Comyns and their MacDougall kinsmen went
over to Edward.
According to the poet John Barbour in The Bruce, Angus Og sheltered
Bruce in 1306 in the castle of Dunaverty and it has been supposed,
in the Isle of Rathlin, off the Antrim coast but curiously, the name
of Angus Og does not appear among those who attended the Parliament
held by Robert Bruce at St. Andrews in 1309. The representative of
Clan Donald who presented himself on that occasion was Donald of
Isla (Douenaldus de Yle) whom Professor Evan Barron, in The Scottish
War of Independence, assumed was Angus Og. There are, however, on
record, several references to a Donald of Isla prior and subsequent
to 1309. Among the
charters found in the tower of London, was one dated 29th December
which Donald of the
Isles (Donaldum de Insulis) and Alexander his son were
given custody of the isles, presumably the Hebrides, for conducting
Edward I, King of England (Ayloffe's Calendars of Ancient Charters).
of the witnesses to an undated charter by King Robert I was
Donald of Isla (Douenaldus
de Yle, in Melrose Liber II, no. 376) and in an entry
in Rotuli Scotiae,
dated 25th March 1313/14 and repeated under 12th March 1314/15, John
(Bacach MacDougall) of Argyll was commissioned to take into Edward (II)'s
peace Donald of the Isles (Dovenaldus de Insula) and Godfrey
brother. An undated version in Norman French gives the names as
Douenald de Yle and Gotheri his brother. It is clear, therefore,
that a Donald
of Isla did exist about
this time and Professor Geoffrey Barrow in his book Robert
asserted that Angus Mor must have had a second son named Donald who
was older than Angus Og, who has been overlooked by the clan
and who must have
succeeded Alexander of Isla as Chief of Clan Donald for a
this reasoning seems to make sense, it is difficult to believe that
a prominent member of
the House of Isla would be so completely ignored in all the
surviving genealogical records of the Clan. The only Donald who
records, at that period, is the son of Angus Mor's brother
reputed progenitor of the MacAlisters of Kintyre and it would
seem natural for
him to have named his eldest son Alexander. It seems to the
probable that the same Donald is the subject of all the foregoing
entries and that
his son Alexander was the recipient of the islands of Mull and Tiree
and other lands not stipulated in one the lost charters of King
Robert I's reign and also that he was the Alexander MacDonald,
"king, or lord of Argyll," mentioned in the Irish Annals as having
been killed with Edward Bruce (King of Ireland and brother of King
Robert I of Scots) at the Battle of Dundalk, in Ireland,
on 14th October,
Donald of Isla, whoever he was, seems likely to have succeeded
Alexander of Isla as Chief of Clan Donald on the death of the latter
in 1299, either by tanistry or because he was appointed by Edward I
to succeed Alexander as the English Icing's representative in the
West Highlands. When Robert Bruce made his bid for the Scottish
throne in 1306 and the Comyns and MacDougalls transferred their
allegiance to the English cause, it would have been a natural
political move for the MacDonalds to switch their support from
Edward to Bruce in order to protect themselves from their enemies.
Donald as well as Angus Og may therefore have sheltered Bruce in
1306 but by the time Barbour wrote The Bruce, Donald, having again
gone over to the English and been forfeited, had been forgotten.
next problem to be dealt with is that of three undated letters
written, according to Joseph Bain, by the same scribe, on behalf of
Hugh Bisset, Angus (Og) of Isla and John MacSween to "King Edward"
clearly expressing their support for that monarch, first published
in 1870 by Joseph Stevenson, who allotted them the date "1301 Oct?"
which until recently, have been accepted without
question as evidence that these three magnates were supporters of
Edward I in 1301 and that sometime after that time but certainly by
1306, on the evidence of John Barbour, Angus Og changed sides and
offered Bruce protection when his fortunes were at their lowest ebb.
A recent writer (Andrew MacEwen) however, has endeavoured to show,
most convincingly, that these letters were, in fact, written in
1310, to Edward II, not Edward I, who died at Burgh on Sand in 1306.
If this assertion is correct, it could perhaps account for the fact
that Angus Og did not attend Robert Bruce's Parliament in 1309 and
would also throw into question the accuracy of Barbour's story
regarding the position of Angus Og in 1306. One assumes that Barbour
is correct in stating that Angus Og did lead the West Highland
contingent at the Battle of Bannockburn on 24th June, 1314 when
Bruce is supposed to have addressed
him with the words "My hope is constant in thee" which certainly
implies that the Chief of Clan Donald had already rendered valuable
service to his sovereign and the fact that Angus Og benefitted to
such a degree by the enormous grants of land bestowed upon him by
the grateful monarch seem to prove this beyond doubt.
present writer has dealt at length with the foregoing problems in
his forthcoming history of the MacDonalds of Clanranald.
annals of Ulster, vol. II, ed. and trans, by B. McCarthy (1893).
The Bruce, Book III, by John Barbour, ed. by W.M. Mackenzie (1909).
Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, vol. IV, ed. by the Rev.
Joseph Bain (1884).
Calendars of Ancient Charters, by Sir Joseph Ayloffe (1774).
The Clan Donald, vol. I, by the Revs. A. & A. MacDonald (1896).
Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland, vol II, ed. by
the Rev. Joseph Stevenson (1870)
Fleet in 1301, by Andrew B.W. MacEwen, in The Society of West
Highland and Island Historical Research - Notes and Queries, no.
XXIV (Aug., 1984).
The Knock MS. - History of the MacDonalds attributed to Hugh
MacDonald, Gaelic MS CVII - Ref. ADV 73.1.12, in National Library of
Melrose Liber, II, ed. by Cosmo Innes (1837).
Robert Bruce, by Professor G.W.S. Barrow (3rd ed. 1988).
Rotuli Scotiae, vol. I, ed. by D. MacPherson (1814).
The Scottish War of Independence, by Professor E.M. Barron, 2nd ed.
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