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The Strength of the MacDonalds

The strength of the Macdonalds has at all times been considerable. In 1427, the Macdonnells of Garmoran and Lochaber mustered 2000 men: in 1715, the whole clan furnished 2820; and in 1745, 2330. In a memorial drawn up by President Forbes of Culloden, and transmitted to the government soon after the insurrection in 1745, the force of every clan is detailed, according to the best information which the author of the report could procure at the time. This numeration, which proceeds upon the supposition that the chieftain calculated on the military services of the youthful, the most hardy, and the bravest of his followers, omitting those who, from advanced age, tender years, or natural debility, were unable to carry arms, gives the following statement of the respective forces of the different branches of the Macdonalds.

Macdonald of Sleat 700
Macdonald of Clanranald 700
Macdonnell of Glengarry 500
Macdonnell of Keppoch 300
Macdonald of Glencoe 130
In all 2330

Next to the Campbells, therefore, who could muster about 5000 men, the Macdonalds were by far the most numerous and powerful clan in the Highlands of Scotland.

"The clans or septs," says Mr Smibert, "sprung from the Macdonalds, or adhering to and incorporated with that family, though bearing subsidiary names, were very numerous. One point peculiarly marks the Gaels of the coasts, as this great connection has already been called, and that is the device of a Lymphad or old-fashioned Oared Galley, assumed and borne in their arms. It indicates strongly a common origin and site. The Macdonalds, Maclachlans, Macdougals, Macneils, Macleans, and Campbells, as well as the Macphersons, Mackintoshes, and others, carry, and have always carried, such a galley in their armorial shields. Some families of Macdonald descent do not bear it; and indeed, at most, it simply proves a common coast origin, or an early location by the western lochs and lakes."

  1. The Lordship of Garmoran (also called Garbhchrioch) comprehends the districts of Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, and Knoydart.

  2. The properties of Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, and Knoidart, on the mainland, and the isles of Uist, Barra, Rum, Egg, and Harris were assigned and confirmed to him and his heirs by charter dated at Scone March 9, 1371-2.

  3. The authority of Mr Skene is usually to be received as of no common weight, but the account given by him of this portion of the Macdonald annals does not consist with unquestionable facts. As such, the statements in the national collections of Foedera (Treaties), and the Records of Parliament, ought certainly to be regarded; and a preference must be given to their testimony over the counterassertions of ancient private annalists. Some of the latter parties seem to assert that John II., who had no children by Elizabeth Livingston (daughter of Lord Livingston), had yet "a natural son begotten of Macduffie of Colonsay's daughter, and Angus Og, his legitimate son, by the Earl of Angus's daughter." No mention of this Angus' marriage occurs in ant one public document relating to the Lord of the Isles, or to the Douglases, then Earls of Angus. On the other hand, the acknowledged wife of John of the Isles, Elizabeth Livingston, was certainly alive in 1475, at which date he, among other charges, is accused of making "his bastard son" a lieutenant to him in "insurrectionary convocations of the lieges;" and Angus could therefore come of no second marriage. He indubitably is the same party still more distinctly named in subsequent Parliamentary Records as "Angus of the Isles, bastard son to umquhile John of the Isles." The attribution of noble and legitimate birth to Angus took its origin, without doubt, in the circumstance of John's want of children by marriage having raised his natural son to a high degree of power in the clan, which the active character of Angus well fitted him to use as he willed.

Clan MacDonald Index


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