Lord of the Isles: Wikis


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MacDonald, Lord of the Isles

The designation Lord of the Isles (Scottish Gaelic: Triath nan Eilean or Rí Innse Gall), now a Scottish title of nobility, emerged from a series of mixed-blood Viking/Gaelic rulers of the west coast and islands of Scotland in the Middle Ages. Their power rested on large fleets of Birlinns, a type of galley which evolved from the Viking longboat and is unique to Scotland. Although at times nominal vassals of the King of Norway and/or of the King of Scotland, the island chiefs remained functionally independent for many centuries. Their territory included the Hebrides, Skye and Ross from 1438, Knoydart, Ardnamurchan, some parts of Ulster in the 1500s, and the Kintyre peninsula. At their height they were the greatest landowners and most powerful Lords in the British Isles following the Kings of England and Kings of Scotland.



The west coast and islands of present-day Scotland formed part of the territories of the Northern Picts. They were possibly invaded by Gaelic tribes from Ireland starting perhaps in the 4th century, who settled amongst the Picts and whose language eventually predominated. In the 7th and 8th centuries this area, like others, suffered raids and invasions by Vikings from Norway, and the islands became known to the Gaels as Innse-Gall, the Islands of the Strangers. Around 875, Norwegian jarls, or princes (literally "earls"), came to these islands to avoid losing their independence in the course of King Harald Fairhair's unification of Norway, but Harald pursued them and conquered the Hebrides as well as the Isle of Man, Shetland and Orkney. The following year, the people of the Isles, both Gael and Norse, rebelled. Harald sent his cousin Ketil Flatnose to regain control, but Ketil then declared himself King of the Isles. Scotland and Norway would continue to dispute overlordship of the area, with the jarls of Orkney at times seeing themselves as independent rulers.

In 973, Maccus mac Arailt, King of the Isles, Kenneth II of Scotland, and Máel Coluim I of Strathclyde (King of Strathclyde) formed a defensive alliance, but subsequently the Scandinavians defeated Gilledomman of the Isles and expelled him to Ireland. The Norse nobleman Godred Crovan became ruler of Mann and the Isles, but he was deposed in 1095 by the new King of Norway, Magnus Bare Leg. In 1098, Magnus entered into a treaty with King Edgar of Scotland, intended as a demarcation of their respective areas of authority. Magnus was confirmed in control of the Isles and Edgar of the mainland. Lavery cites a tale from the Orkneyinga saga, according to which King Malcolm III of Scotland offered Earl Magnus of Orkney all the islands off the west coast navigable with the rudder set. Legend has it that Magnus had a skiff hauled across the isthmus of Tarbert, Loch Fyne with himself at the helm, thus including the Kintyre peninsula in the Isles' sphere of influence. (The date given falls after the end of Malcolm's reign in 1093).

Founding of the dynasties

Somerled, Gilledomman's grandson, seized the Isles from the King of Mann in 1156 and founded a dynasty that in time became the Lords of the Isles or the Clann Somhairle. He was both Gael and Norseman: his contemporaries knew him as Somerled Macgilbred, Somhairle or in Norse Sumarlidi Höld ('Somerled' means "summer wanderer", the name given to the Vikings). He took the title ri Innse Gall (King of the Hebrides) as well as King of Mann.

After Somerled's death in 1164 three of his sons divided his kingdom between them:

  • Aonghus (ancestor of the MacRuari or MacRory)
  • Dughall (ancestor of Clan MacDougall)
  • Ragnald, whose son Donald Mor MacRanald would give his name to Clan Donald, which would contest territory with the MacDougalls.

King Haakon IV of Norway (reigned 1217–1263) confirmed Donald's son Angus Mor (the Elder) Mac Donald (the first Macdonald) as Lord of Islay, and the two participated jointly in the Battle of Largs (1263). When that ended with an effective victory for Scotland, Angus Mor accepted King Alexander III of Scotland as his (nominal) overlord and retained his own territory. The Isles themselves were formally ceded to Scotland in the 1266 Treaty of Perth.

Now began the process of integrating the semi-independent Island chieftains into the kingdom of Scotland. By 1284, this had gone far enough for Angus MacDonald, Alexander MacDougall and Alan MacRuari, heads of the three branches of the family descended from Somerled, to attend a council summoned by King Alexander to Scone to decide the succession to the throne. Described as 'barons of the realm of Scotland', they joined with the other nobles in recognising Margaret, the Maid of Norway, Alexander's granddaughter, as heir to the kingdom.[1] This was a remarkable development. The Gaelic chieftains were, in effect, recognising the feudal practice of primogeniture in its purist form: that an infant female should have rule over a warrior society by right of birth alone. This seemed to confirm that the day of the ancient sea kings was over. Angus Macdonald's immediate successors, his sons Alexander and Angus, had no grander title than de Yla-'of Islay.'

In two years, Alexander was dead, followed not many years later by the little Maid, who never set foot in her kingdom. With no agreed successor, Scotland was beset by a major constitutional and political crisis. One of the consequences was a steady weakening of the authority and majesty of the Scottish state. It was to take time for the consequences of this to become clear, but by the middle of the fourteenth century, the Gaelic sea lords of Clan Donald had recovered a large measure of their ancient independence. No longer kings of the Hebrides, they nevertheless recaptured something of their vanished majesty as Lords of the Isles.

Council of the Isles

The sea empire of the Lordship of the Isles was governed by the Lord with the assistance of the Council of the Isles. The council most often met at the Council Isle of Loch Finlaggan on the Isle of Islay.[2]

The council was made up of the chiefs of many of the north-western Scottish clans. The leaders of the council were of the 'royal blood' of Clan Donald, which included the chiefs of Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg, Clan MacDonald of Keppoch, Clan Macdonald of Clanranald and MacDonald of Ardnamurchan.[2] There were also the major families which included the chiefs of Clan Maclean of Duart, Clan MacLeod of Dunvegan and Harris and Clan MacLeod of Lewis.[2] The council also included 'Thanes' such as the chiefs of Clan Mackinnon, Clan MacQuarrie, and Clan MacNeil of Gigha and of Barra, and 'Freeholders' such as the chiefs of Clan MacNeacail, Clan MacEacharn, Clan MacMillan and the powerful Clan Mackay. [2]

The council's business included the regulation of land grants and appointments to lordship offices. The council was also responsible for the inauguration of each new Lord of the Isles, and for foreign relations, particularly those with England.[2]

Lordship in the Isles during the Wars of Scottish Independence

Robert I of Scotland (Robert Bruce) made good use of the fighting skills of the Gael during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Angus Og of Islay, head of Clan Donald, was especially valuable as an ally. He was well rewarded for his services, receiving lands in Lochaber, Ardnamurchan, Morvern, Duror and Glencoe. Even so, the relationship between the chieftain and the king was not quite as straightforward as later historians have tended to suggest. Angus was not a selfless patriot, but an ambitious man, true to the traditions of his family. It appears that he was not entirely trusted by Bruce: notwithstanding his extensive land grants, he was effectively frozen out of the new family power structure emerging in the west. Land that Angus might have been expected to receive in Kintyre went instead to Robert II of Scotland (Robert Stuart), the king's grandson, thus completing the westward expansion of the Stuarts begun at the time of Somerled. Although Angus became Lord of Lochaber, the whole area was incorporated in the earldom of Moray, held by Thomas Randolph, the king's nephew. Much of the old Macdougall land in Argyllshire went to Duncan Campbell of Lochawe, also related to King Robert by marriage. While elsewhere in Scotland, castles were destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of the English, Tarbert Castle was rebuilt, a royal garrison placed in Dunaverty Castle, Angus' chief stronghold in Kintyre, and Dunstaffnage Castle, at the very heart of the Macdougall lordship, was entrusted to the Campbells.

King Robert clearly had his own strategic interests at heart, and knew enough of the history and traditions of the area to ensure that the key to the west was kept firmly in royal hands. However, this policy alienated Clan Donald, as the following reign would demonstrate.

The death of Robert Bruce in 1329 brought his infant son, David II, to the Scottish throne. Reigns of royal minors were always times of political uncertainty in the Middle Ages, never more so than that of David II. The Scottish Wars of Independence had also encompassed a civil war between the supporters of Bruce and the kinsmen and allies of the former king, John Balliol. In 1332, Edward Balliol, son and heir of King John, invaded Scotland with a small army. The royal army was destroyed at the Battle of Dupplin Moor and Balliol subsequently crowned at Scone. Despite this unexpected success, his base of support in Scotland was too narrow for a secure hold on the crown. He spent much of his 'rule' appealing to Edward III for aid, or reaching out to potential Scottish allies. It was against this background that the Lordship of the Isles began to take definite shape.

In the political vacuum caused by the Second War of Scottish Independence, John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, the son of Angus Og, took charge of Clan Donald. Because of his continuing support for the church he is known to history as Good John of Islay. Besides being a benefactor of the church, John was also an astute politician. His enormous power base in the west made him attractive as an ally, and he was actively courted by both sides. His naval and military strength could offer tremendous advantages. John, having recovered something of the ancient independence of his family, weighed these matters in entirely political rather than patriotic terms. After the Battle of Halidon Hill, he clearly was inclining towards the Balliol party. In 1335, John Randolph, Earl of Moray, Acting Regent for David II, visited John of Islay, Lord of the Isles at Tarbert Castle, but failed to persuade him to drop his pro-English leanings. Subsequently, Edward Balliol, under increasing pressure from the patriotic party, made John an offer too good to refuse.

Although Robert had been wary of inflating Macdonald power in the west, Balliol was so desperate for support he granted John vast new estates, without balance or reservation. At the expense of the Earl of Ross, killed at Halidon Hill, and Robert Stuart, forfeited for his continuing opposition, in September 1336, John of Islay, Lord of the Isles received a grant to the Isles of Skye and Lewis, and the peninsular Kintyre and Knapdale. He also received a new charter confirming his existing lands. While John accepted this largess, there is no evidence that he did anything to support his beleaguered benefactor.

Aware of the real power behind Balliol's shadowy kingdom, John subsequently wrote to Edward III, seeking confirmation of the new land grants. Significantly, he signed himself for the first time as Dominus Insularum-Lord of the Isles. This politically important step has been obscured by the insistence of traditional historians that the chiefs of Clan Donald were always known by this title. There is no evidence that Somerled's successors ever used, or were accorded, any regal or semi-regal title. That John would call himself Lord of the Isles in a letter to Edward is also significant because Edward's various titles included Dominus Hibernie-Lord of Ireland. John may have been trying to shape his relationship with Edward into that of equals. The two men enjoyed good relations, and there is evidence to suggest Edward saw John of Islay, Lord of the Isles as an independent prince, different from the other supporters of Balliol.

Feudal chieftain

Having shown his hand so clearly, John of Islay, Lord of the Isles was formally declared a traitor after David II, now grown to manhood, returned from his temporary French refuge in 1341. As relations with England remained bad however, David could not afford to face such a powerful opponent on his northern flank, so the two men reached an accommodation. John lost Kintyre and Knapdale, returned to Robert Stuart, the king's nephew and heir, and Skye was returned to the earldom of Ross; but he kept the other territory, both mainland and insular, granted by Balliol and Edward III.

John had married Ami Macruari, sister and only relative of his cousin, Ranald Macruari. As Ranald had no heir, John thus acquired a direct interest in the extensive holdings of the family. This included the Lordship of Gamoran on the mainland, embracing Knoydart, Moidart, Arisaig and Morar, as well as the islands of Uist, Barra, Eigg and Rhum. In 1346, as David was preparing to invade England, Alan Macruari was murdered near Perth on the instigation of Uilleam III, Earl of Ross. The circumstances of this crime are fairly obscure, but seem to have involved a dispute over land. One thing at least is clear: it was John of Islay, not William of Ross, who benefited. He at once laid claim to the inheritance of Clan Ruari on behalf of his wife. It was to be years though, before this considerable extension to the power of Clan Donald received official sanction. John may have been involved in the murder of his brother-in-law, as Ross was also linked to him by marriage, and no attempt was ever made to avenge the murder of his kinsman.[citation needed] This is a matter that cannot be proved one way or the other.

After the defeat of the Scots army at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, and the capture and lengthy imprisonment of King David in England, there was little anyone could do to stop John extending his power. He had effectively recreated the ancient kingdom of Somerled, a remarkable achievement. It is sometimes maintained that feudal law was alien to the Gaelic way of life, but as John's career demonstrates, this is far from the truth. He brought together the threads of an inheritance, divided at the time of the death of Somerled in accordance with ancient Celtic custom. In future, although younger sons received an inheritance, the Lord of the Isles remained the feudal superior of the whole. Primogeniture also became the standard basis for inheritance in the Isles, rather than tanistry-succession by cousin-which continued to be practised in the Gaelic lordships of Ireland. Although John's second son and namesake was declared to be the 'Tanist' during the lifetime of his elder brother, Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles, it was Donald's eldest son, Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross, who succeeded Donald to the Lordship, rather than his uncle or cousin. Above all, John instituted the practice of issuing feudal charters, very much in the same fashion of any other king or noble of the medieval state.

Unlike his father Angus or his son Donald, John of Islay, Lord of the Isles was not a warrior, and it is doubtful if he ever fought in battle. He was first and foremost a skilled politician and diplomat, managing to steer the affairs of Clan Donald through turbulent times, never committing himself too far to one side or the other. He played a clever game, consolidating his power within the feudal state, while bringing back together the old patrimony of Somerled, now established on a more secure legal basis. John was gifted with acute political sense, always knowing which way to jump, and always landing on firm ground. While his ancestor Somerled had died fighting a rearguard action against feudalism and the house of Stuart, John was comfortable with both, entering into a marital alliance which was to bring political and territorial benefits to his family.

Stuart marriage

In 1350, John took as his second wife Margaret Stuart, daughter of Robert Stuart, regent of the kingdom during the absence of David II. The new alliance proved to be lasting. After David was ransomed in 1357, John continued to align himself with the Stuart party, often in conflict with the interests of the king, who continued to refuse to recognise his assumption of the Macruari inheritance.

After the death of the childless David in 1371, John's father-in-law succeeded to the throne as Robert II of Scotland. This brought immediate benefits. As well as confirmation of the Macruari inheritance, he received a grant to the Stuart lands in Kintyre. John was quick to make the most of the new royal connection, demanding delicate handling within the family. Ranald, his oldest son by his first marriage, was persuaded to give up his claim to the chieftainship in favour of Donald, his oldest son by his second marriage, and now the grandson of the king. As a reward for his co-operation, Ranald was allowed to inherit the Macruari lands of his mother, and in the process founded the Clanranald branch of the family.

John had amassed great power and influence for himself, always managing to balance competing interests. His manipulation of the clan leadership shows that he saw good relations with the royal House of Stuart as the key to the future prosperity of the Isles. He had in the past enjoyed good relations with the English, but never allowed himself to be drawn too far down an anti-Scottish course. His successors were less judicious: John's legacy created an understandable arrogance, and relations with England became increasingly treasonable. John created a semi-regal power in the west, but never claimed full sovereignty, or never acted as if he did. As Alexander II of Scotland and Alexander III of Scotland had proved, the Isles were always vulnerable to a powerful Scottish state. In seeking an illusiory sovereignty, his successors were destined to ruin the Lordship.

John died in 1387. The Book of Clanranald records the event with poignancy:

Having received the body of Christ and having been anointed, his fair body was brought to Iona, and the abbot and the monks and the vicars came to meet him, as was the custom to meet the body of the kings of Fionngall, and his service and waking were honourably performed during eight days and eight nights, and he was laid in the same grave as his father.

Footsteps of the father

Soon after his father's death, Donald was elevated to the full dignity of Lord of the Isles. The Book of Clanranald notes that "he was nominated MacDonald and Donald of Islay." It appears from this that while the men of the Isles belonged to Clan Donald in the widest sense, the name 'MacDonald' itself has the dignity of a royal title, conferring some special power and status on its holder. The ceremony of appointing the new Lord of the Isles is also quite unique in medieval Scotland, and would have amazed even the most powerful of the Lowland nobles. In the History of the Macdonalds, the first written native account of the family, Hugh Macdonald provides a little more insight into the process involved: "There was a square stone, seven or eight feet long, and the tract of a man's foot cut thereon, upon which he stood, denoting that he should walk in the footsteps and uprightness of his predecessors, and that he was installed by right of his predecessors."

This is an ancient ritual that can be traced back at least as far as the kingdom of Dál Riata. A footprint can still be seen on the hill of Dunadd in Argyllshire, carved in the living rock, where the earliest of the Gaelic kings walked in the path of their ancestors. Hugh Macdonald continues by saying that the Lord of the Isles was then clothed in a white habit to show his innocence and then: "He was to receive a white rod in his hand, intimating that he had the power to rule, not with tyranny and partiality, but with discretion and sincerity."

Earldom of Ross

Land, and disputes over land, were a recurrent feature in the history of the Lordship. Some of these could be petty, but by far the grandest occurred during Donald's time. The dispute over the Earldom of Ross, a huge northern territory stretching from Skye to Inverness, was a complex affair, involving a mixture of national politics, family ambition and dynastic rivalry.

While the Bruce dynasty had proved itself economical in the production of children, so much so that it died out altogether in 1371, the reverse was true of the Stuarts. Robert II had many children, all of whom had to be provided for by a steady accumulation of honours and territory. Beginning with the earldom of Atholl in 1342, they spread northward, obtaining Strathearn in 1357, Mentieth in 1361, Caithness in 1375, Buchan in 1382 and the old Macdougall Lordship of Lorne in 1390. The important earldom of Mar fell to them in 1405, when Alexander Stuart, Earl of Mar, the thuggish son of a thuggish father, arranged the murder of the previous incumbent and forcibly married his wife. At the same time, the Stuart tide was lapping against the shores of Ross.

Donald could not remain indifferent to these developments. For one thing, Ross, standing on the northern flank of his sea kingdom, was of vital strategic interest. For another, his wife Mariota Leslie was the sister of Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross, who died in 1402, leaving as his heir a disabled girl by the name of Euphemia. The contest between the Macdonalds and the Stuarts over Euphemia's legacy resulted in one of the most savage battles in Scottish history.

Matters might have been different if the king had been a stronger man, but Robert III, who succeeded his father in 1390, was one of the weakest rulers in Scottish history. Unable to control events, he let events control him. For much of his reign, national affairs were under the control of his brother Robert, Duke of Albany, a ruthlessly ambitious man. No sooner had Alexander Leslie died than Albany seized hold of his granddaughter Euphemia. Completely ignoring the rights of Donald's wife, Albany assumed responsibility for the girl's affairs. In 1405, he took the title 'Lord of the Ward of Ross', clearly a preliminary to the complete absorption of the area.

Matters deteriorated still further in 1406. Prince James of Scotland, the only surviving son of the king, was taken prisoner by the English while on his way to France, ostensibly to escape the tender care of his uncle. This was followed soon after by the death of Robert III. Albany, in no hurry to see the return of his nephew, settled in for a period of prolonged personal rule. For Donald this was an alarming development; Albany now seemed to hold all the cards, and was likely to put pressure on Euphemia to surrender her rights to Ross. Worse, he had clear ambitions to ascend the throne himself. Donald made contact with Prince James in England and later, his representatives had talks with Henry IV. Unfortunately, we have no detailed evidence on the content of these discussions, but it is possible that Donald was seeking approval for an attack on the Scottish regent. What is certain is that the Donald and James made an informal alliance against the Albany Stuarts, which continued after the king's return in 1424.

Battle of Harlaw

Donald finally made his move in the summer of 1411. Euphemia of Ross was still alive, and had not yet surrendered her rights, but this was only a matter of time. With the Albany Stuarts in possession of Skye and the rest of the earldom, Donald clearly saw himself facing the same danger his ancestor Somerled had prior to the Battle of Renfrew. Summoning his vassals and kin-most likely by the old Gaelic method of the fiery cross-Donald is said by Walter Bower, the only contemporary chronicler of the event, to have gathered an army of 10,000 men. Advancing eastwards, he established a hold of Ross by sheer force of arms. His conduct from this point forward has been subject to endless speculation, much of it ill-informed. Bower says that he aimed to sack Aberdeen and establish his authority south to the River Tay. It has also been claimed that he simply intended to establish his right to the Aberdeenshire lands pertaining to the earldom, though why he needed to take his whole army to achieve this simple aim is difficult to say. The reality is that his formidable army could only be kept in the field for a short season, and harvest time was coming fast. If the conquest of Ross was to be made secure, Donald would have to launch a pre-emptive strike to destroy the forces that Mar was gathering to the south-east. The suggestion that he aimed at the throne of Scotland itself is totally without foundation. If anything, the whole campaign was designed to end Albany's royal pretences rather than advance his own.

On 24 July, the two sides finally met at the Battle of Harlaw to the west of Aberdeen. It was a savage day, long remembered in poetry and tradition as the 'Reid Harlaw.' The Annals of Lough Cé claims it as a "great victory for MacDomhnaill of Alba over the Foreigners of Alba" and Macdonald tradition remembers it thus. One of the many Scots poems on the battle makes a simple observation:

On Monandy at mornin'
The Battle it began;
On Saturday at gloamin'
Ye'd scarce tell wha had wan.

The timescale is exaggerated for poetic effect; the essential truth is not: Harlaw was a stalemate, a judgement confirmed in the later chronicles of both John Mair and Hector Boece. This was as good as a defeat for Donald. If his objective was to sweep Mar away, prior to advancing on Aberdeen and then south to the Tay, he lost. If Mar's objective was to stop him doing these things, he won: his casualties may have been heavier than Donald's but he still remained in place. Donald retreated not to Ross, but back to the Western Isles. Albany, with more to lose than most, treated the outcome with considerable relief. The families of the dead were allowed to succeed to their estates without incurring the usual feudal charges, a privilege that had in the past only ever been extended to those killed fighting foreign enemies.

Wasting no time, Albany raised a fresh army to exploit Donald's setback, advancing into Ross and capturing the important castle of Dingwall. The offensive resumed in the summer of 1412, when the Regent made ready to invade the Isles. Before this could happen, Donald came to Lochgilphead to make formal submission. No details of this treaty have survived, but Albany is likely to have insisted that Donald abandon his claim to Ross.

As if to confirm the outcome of the Treaty of Lochgilphead, Euphemia finally surrendered her rights in the earldom to her grandfather in 1415, who conferred the title upon his second son, John Stuart, 2nd Earl of Buchan. Buchan died in 1424, fighting for the French at the Battle of Verneuil. After that, the title technically reverted to the crown; as late as 1430 James I of Scotland was signing himself as king of Scots and earl of Ross. It is certain that Donald was never reconciled to the loss. In 1421, he is referred to in a supplication to Rome as "Donald de Yle, Lord of the Isles and of the Earldom of Ross." Albany had died the previous year and had been succeeded by his eldest son, Murdoch Stuart, a particularly ineffective individual.

Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross

Donald died sometime prior to the return of King James in 1424. He was succeeded by his son, Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross, who soon found himself caught up in a political whirlwind. James was a king in a hurry, determined to make up for the lost years spent in England. He quickly dispensed with the hated Albany Stuarts, before turning his attention to other matters, one of which was reining in the Lord of the Isles. Alexander was summoned to a parliament in Inverness in 1427, only to be arrested. It was an arbitrary and high-handed act that only succeeded in ushering in a period of intense disorder and the defeat of a royal army at the Battle of Inverlochy in 1431. Unable to contain the disorder in the Isles, James was eventually obliged to release Alexander. In the end, the king appears later in the reign to have made some concessions to Alexander, who was using the title of earl of Ross in January 1437, shortly before the king was murdered at Perth.

Under Alexander, the power of Clan Donald reached its high tide. With Ross and all of the Western Isles under his control, Alexander's power was even greater than that of Somerled. However, he appears to have lost his attachment to the heartlands of Clan Donald, basing himself towards the end of his life in the richer lands of eastern Ross, from where his later charters were issued, mainly at Dingwall or Inverness. This trend continued under his son John. There were real problems in this for the political unity of the island kingdom. Ross, unlike the Macruari lands in Gamoran, was not clan territory, but a purely feudal acquisition. Most of the local families, the Mackenzies above all, never developed any real sense of attachment or loyalty to the chiefs of Clan Donald. In a sense, the eastward shift of the Lord of the Isles mirrored the earlier eastward shifts of the kings of Dalriada. Against this background, kinship ties began to unravel, an important factor in the crisis which enveloped the Isles after 1476.

Decline and fall

Charles, the current Lord of the Isles

Alexander died in 1449 and was succeeded by his politically inept son John of Islay, Earl of Ross. In 1462, abandoning all caution, John entered into a treaty with Edward IV of England, in which he agreed to become a vassal of the English king, in return for the promise of aid in conquering Scotland north of the Forth — 'beynde Scottische see.' It is doubtful though that Edward ever took this agreement seriously, and he certainly never took any practical step to fulfilling the terms. In 1476, he revealed the details of this treaty to the Scottish crown. John was summoned before parliament, and then forfeited as a traitor when he failed to appear. The sentence was subsequently reversed when John made formal submission to James III of Scotland. He was allowed to retain the Isles, but he lost control of Kintyre, Knapdale and the earldom of Ross. Moreover, from this point forward, the title of Lord of the Isles was granted by the crown, rather than assumed in the style of an independent prince. John was to prove to be the least competent of his family; in 1493, continuing disorder in the Isles led James IV of Scotland to deprive him of the title, sending John into retirement in the Lowlands, where he died in obscurity.

In 1540, after unsuccessful attempts to revive the Lordship by John's descendants, James V of Scotland reserved the title to the crown. Since then, the eldest male child of the reigning Scottish (and later, British) monarch has held the title of the Lord of the Isles. Charles, Duke of Rothesay currently bears the title.

See also


  1. ^ Barrow, G. W. S. (1989), Kingship and unity: Scotland 1000-1306, Edinburgh University Press, p. 119, ISBN 9780748601042, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZZTk5S-kLcoC&pg=PA119 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Oxford Companion to Scottish History”. Edited by Michael Lynch. Pages 346 – 348. ISBN: 9780199234820.
  • Bannerman, J., The Lordship of the Isles, in Scottish Society in the Fifteenth Century, ed. J. M. Brown, 1977.
  • Brown M, James I, 1994.
  • Dunbar, J., The Lordship of the Isles, in The Middle Ages in the Highlands, Inverness Field Club, 1981.
  • Gregory, D., History of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1975 reprint.
  • MacDonald, C. M., The History of Argyll, 1950.
  • McDonald, R. A., The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, 1100–c1336, 1997.
  • Munro. J., The Earldom of Ross and the Lordship of the Isles, in Firthlands of Ross and Sutherland, ed. J. R. Baldwin, 1986.

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