MacDonald of MacDonald

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Clan MacDonald

Macdonald of macdonald.png

Clan Donald is one of the largest Scottish clans. They were considered the most powerful. <ref>George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia, 208</ref> There are numerous branches to the clan. Several of these have chiefs recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms; these are: Clan Macdonald of Sleat, Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, Clan MacDonell of Glengarry, Clan MacDonald of Keppoch, and Clan MacAlister.

Notable branches without chiefs so-recognised are: the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg, MacDonalds of Lochalsh, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and the MacDonalds of Ardnamurchan. The MacDonnells of Antrim are a cadet branch of the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg but do not belong to the Scottish associations and have a chief officially recognised in Ireland.

The original pronunciation of the name was 'mak-hoonil', from the Gaelic MacDhomnuill. <ref>David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 209</ref> MacDonald remains the commonest 'Mac' surname in Scotland. <ref>David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 209</ref>


The Norse-Gaelic Clan Donald traces its descent from Dòmhnall Mac Raghnuill (d. circa 1250), whose father Reginald or Ranald was styled "King of the Isles" and "Lord of Argyll and Kintyre".<ref>Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Sir Ian. The Highland Clans. (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1982) 127–131</ref> Ranald's father, Somerled, was styled "King of the Hebrides". Somerled campaigned for over forty years and built an empire stretching from Bute to Ardnamurchan.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref> On Somerled's death his empire was partitioned between his sons, each of whom founded a clan.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref>

Gaelic tradition gave Somerled a Celtic descent in the male line, as the medieval Seanachies traced his lineage through a long line of ancestors back to the High Kings of Ireland, namely Colla Uais and Conn of the Hundred Battles. <ref>Gregory, Donald. History of the Western Highlands And Isles of Scotland, From A.D. 1493 To A.D. 1625. (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1836) 10</ref> However DNA research has contended that Somerled was in fact Norse. <ref> (accessed 19th June 2014)</ref>

Somerled's son, Dougall recieved Lorne, Mull and Jura and became the ancestor of the MacDougalls.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref> Angus gained Bute, Arran and Garmoran (Moydart, Morar and Knoydart) and through his daughter these passed to the Stewarts.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref> A third son, Reginald, received Islay and Kintyre. His son, Donald, became the founder of the clan. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref> Unlike his father, Donald was said to be a perpetrator of 'black deeds' and he died around 1269 while on a pilgrimage to Rome to seek absolution from the Pope.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref>

Middle Ages

MacDonald of the Isles tartan

Following the Norwegian defeat at the Battle of Largs in 1263 the King of Scots became overlord of the Western Isles. Angus Og assisted Robert the Bruce against the English at Bannockburn in 1314. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref> However the relationship between the Lords of the Isles and the Scots Crown were troubled. In 1386 Donald, Lord of the Isles claimed the earldom of Ross, through his wife.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 208</ref>

The title and territory of the Earl of Ross had originally been held by the Chief of Clan Ross. However Angas Og's grandson, Dòmhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles married the first female heiress of the Earl of Ross. He claimed the position of Earl of Ross through marriage, but was opposed by Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany and effective ruler of Scotland. The Battle of Harlaw, near Aberdeen, was portrayed by contemporary chroniclers as a struggle between Highland and Lowland cultures. <ref>Michael Lynch, Scotland, A New History (Pimlico, 1991)</ref> Donald was defeated but his son Alexander later successfully claimed the Earldom. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref>

The Lordship of the Isles peaked under Alexander's son, John, Earl of Ross. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref> However, John's involvement in plots against the Scottish crown with Edward IV of England led to his downfall. In the Treaty of Ardtornish he agreed to accept the English king as overlord, an act of treason which resulted in the invasion of the Isles by James IV and the forfeiture of the MacDonald titles in 1493. <ref>Ian Donnachie and George Hewitt, the Birlinn Companion to Scottish History, 169</ref> <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref> Attempts to regain the lordship by successors, notably Donald Dubh (c.1480-1545) were unsuccessful. <ref>Hunt, Donnachie, Companion, 168</ref>

Branches of Clan Donald gradually accepted royal authority through charters and recognition of their separate holdings. This was part of a deliberate crown policy of dividing Clan Donald to reduce the threat they posed to central authority. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref>

The Battle of the Spoiling Dyke took place in 1578 where the MacDonalds of Uist fought against the Clan MacLeod. <ref>Gordon, Sir Robert. "History of the Earldom of Sutherland". Written in about 1625. Re-published in 1813</ref>

Seventeenth Century

Clan Macdonald were heavily involved in the political and religious violence of this era. In 1642 on Rathlin Island, during the Irish Rebellion, Covenanter soldiers of the Clan Campbell who formed Argyll's Foot were encouraged by their commanding officer Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck to kill the local Catholic MacDonalds. This they did with ruthless efficiency throwing scores of MacDonald women over cliffs to their deaths on rocks below.<ref>Royle, Trevor (2004). Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638–1660. (London: Abacus)143</ref> The number of victims of this massacre has been put as low as 100 and as high as 3,000.

Scotland in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of 1644–47, was in large part a clan war between the MacDonalds and Clan Campbell. The MacDonalds sided with the Royalists in the English Civil War and the Irish Confederate Catholics in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Campbells sided with the Scottish Covenanters. A MacDonald clansman, Alasdair Mac Colla raised an Irish force in 1644 and landed in Scotland, with the aim of linking up with the Scottish Royalists and taking back the lands that Clan Donald had lost to the Campbells.

After a year of campaigning around Scotland, in which Mac Colla's men ravaged the Campbell lands, the two sides met at the Battle of Inverlochy. This battle was between the Scottish Covenanter government forces of Clan Campbell led by Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and the Royalist forces of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose mainly made up of Irish, the MacDonalds and Clan MacLean under Alasdair Mac Colla. Through cunning tactics the Royalist army of 1500 defeated the Covenanting force of 3000. In 1645 during the Civil War, Kinlochaline Castle of the Clan MacInnes was attacked and burned by MacDonalds serving under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose.

In 1692 the notorious Massacre of Glencoe resulted in the deaths of thirty eight unarmed members of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe, when an initiative to suppress Jacobitism became entangled in the long running feud between Clan MacDonald and Clan Campbell. The slaughter of the host MacDonalds at the hands of their Campbell guests was a major affront to Scottish Law and Highland tradition and resulted in centuries of notoriety for Clan Campbell.


During the Jacobite risings of 1715 the MacDonalds supported the Jacobite cause of the House of Stuart. Made up amongst others, men of Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, whose chief was killed at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

The majority of Clan Donald fought on the side of the Jacobites during the 1745–1746 uprisings with three regiments from Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry, Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe fighting at the Battle of Prestonpans, Battle of Falkirk (1746) and the Battle of Culloden. A number of MacDonalds were killed at Culloden although many of them left the field after seeing the slaughter of other clans who charged the government lines before them.

The Clan MacDonald of Sleat branch fought for the Jacobites in the 1715 rebellion, however they actually formed two battalions in support of the British government during the 1745 rebellion and as a result the Sleat possessions remained intact.<ref> Macdonald, Angus; Macdonald, Archibald (1900). The Clan Donald. 3. Inverness: The Northern Counties Publishing Company, Ltd. 84–92</ref>


Hugh MacDonald of Sleat was recognised by the Privy Council as Laird of MacDonald in the late seventeenth century. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref> The lairds became baronets and in 1776, Lords MacDonald in the Irish peerage. The third Lord MacDonald split the chiefship from the peerage and this was achieved by Act of Parliament in 1847.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref> The situation was eventually resolved in 1947 when the current chief's father was recognised by the Lord Lyon as High Chief of Clan Donald.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 209</ref> More recently the MacDonalds of Keppoch have had a chief recognised by the Lord Lyon.

Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, 8th Lord Macdonald, is the current high chief of Clan Donald.