Macdonald, Alexander (d.1449) (DNB00)

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MACDONALD, ALEXANDER, third Lord of the Isles, and tenth Earl of Ross (d. 1449), was the eldest son of Donald Macdonald, second lord of the Isles [q. v.] by Mary Leslie, daughter of the Countess of Ross. The Earl of Buchan, to whom his father the regent Albany had in 1415 granted the earldom of Ross, died in 1424 at the battle of Verneuil. Thereupon the earldom of Ross was restored by James I to the mother of Alexander of the Isles, who assumed the authority of the earldom, with the style of master of the earldom of Ross.

In 1425 Alexander of the Isles sat as one of the jury who condemned Murdac or Murdoch, duke of Albany. Not long afterwards he was engaged in rebellious proceedings in the north, and he was summoned to attend a parliament at Inverness in 1427, when he and other chiefs were at once seized and confined in separate prisons. The Countess of Ross was also apprehended and imprisoned (Bower, Continuation of Fordun in Hearne's ed. iv. 1283–4). A large number of the chiefs were executed, but Alexander of the Isles, on promise of constant loyalty in future, was about 1429 set at liberty. Immediately afterwards he assumed the title of Earl of Ross, not, as has been supposed, on the death of his mother, for she was alive as late as 1435 (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1400–36, p. 633), but merely as an assertion of independence, and to enable him to assert his authority over the earldom. Having collected the full fighting strength of Ross and the Isles, he, at the head of ten thousand men, wasted the crown lands round Inverness, and rased the royal burgh to the ground (Fordun, ed. Hearne, iv. 1285). With great rapidity James collected a large force, and overtook him in Lochaber. On the approach of the royal army the Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron deserted their leader, and the highland warriors, thus weakened and disheartened, and cramped in their movements by the marshy nature of the ground, suffered on 29 June 1429 an overwhelming defeat (ib.) The pursuit was followed up so hotly that Alexander sent an embassy to treat for a peace, but the king, disdaining to deal with a subject on terms of equality, refused to enter into negotiations, and returned to Edinburgh, leaving directions that every effort should be made for his capture. Finding his position desperate, Alexander journeyed secretly to Edinburgh, and on the eve of the festival of St. Augustine presented himself, in suppliant attitude and clothed only in his shirt and drawers, before the king, queen, and court in front of the high altar of the church of Holyrood, and in token of submission delivered up his sword. The king spared his life, but sent him a prisoner to Tantallon, under the charge of William, earl of Angus, while his mother was also imprisoned in the island of Inchcolm (ib. p. 1286).

The imprisonment of their chief was deeply resented by the clan, and a cousin, Donald Balloch, resolved on revenge. Collecting a large force of islesmen, he sailed to Lochaber, which he ravaged with fire and sword. A powerful force, gathered to oppose him under the Earls of Mar and Caithness, and was completely routed at Inverlochy, the Earl of Caithness being slain, and Mar barely making his escape with the remnants of the royal army. Donald then continued the work of plundering and ravaging, and after amassing a large booty retreated to the Isles, whence he passed over into Ireland (ib. p. 1289). The king soon afterwards undertook an expedition against the Isles, but was met at Dunstaffnage by the chiefs, who gave in their submission (ib.) So satisfied was the king with their excuses that he not only refrained from punishing their insurrection, but shortly afterwards conferred on Alexander a free pardon for all his crimes, and set him and his brother at liberty.

During the remainder of the reign of James I, Alexander of the Isles gave him loyal obedience. In 1438, after the death of James I, he was appointed justiciar of Scotland north of the Forth, and took advantage of the prerogatives of his office to revenge himself on the chief of the Clan Cameron for his desertion by depriving him of his lands, and compelling him to seek refuge in Ireland. With the Earls of Douglas and Crawford he also in 1445 entered into a treasonable league against the infant prince, James II. He died at his castle of Dingwall, and according to the ‘Breve Chronicle of the Earles of Ross’ was interred in the chanonry of Ross on 8 May 1449.

By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Seton, lord of Gordon and Huntly, he had a son John [q. v.] who succeeded him. He had also two other sons, Celestine, styled also Archibald, and its Gaelic equivalent Gillespie, lord of Lochalsh and Lochearne; and Hugh (Gaelic, Huistean), also called Austin, and Augustine, lord of Sleat. These two sons are usually supposed to have been children of his lawful wife, but as entries in the Exchequer Rolls clearly show that John was younger than they, the presumption is that they were sons merely by concubinage. Of several daughters, Margaret married John, twelfth earl of Sutherland, and Florence, Duncan MacIntosh, ninth of MacIntoch.

[Bower's Continuation of Fordun; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland; Gregory's Hist. of the Western Highlands; Mackenzie's Hist. of the Macdonalds.]

T. F. H.