Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Macdonald, Donald

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MACDONALD, DONALD, second Lord of the Isles and ninth Earl of Ross (d. 1420?), was the eldest son of John Macdonald, first lord of the Isles [q. v.], by his second wife, Margaret, daughter of Robert II of Scotland. Being a minor at the time of his father's death, about 1386, he was brought up under the guardianship of Ranald, younger son of John, first lord, by his first wife. When Donald attained his majority, Ranald, who according to the sennachies was ‘old in the government of the Isles at his father's death’ (Gregory, History of the Western Highlands, 2nd edit. p. 31), delivered over to him the lordship, ‘contrary to the opinion of the men of the Isles’ (ib.) On the death of Ranald not long afterwards, his children were dispossessed by his elder brother Godfrey, who assumed the title of Lord of Uist and Garmoran, but made no attempt to dispossess Donald of the lordship of the Isles. Resolved to maintain his independence of the Scottish crown, Donald entered into close alliance with England, whose interest it was to encourage him in his pretensions. On 16 Sept. 1405 Henry IV sent commissioners to treat for an alliance with him and his brother John (Cal. Documents relating to Scotland, vol. iv. entry 704), and the alliance became permanent.

Donald married Mary Leslie, only daughter of Euphemia, countess of Ross in her own right and wife of Sir Walter Leslie of Lesley, Aberdeenshire. Alexander, the brother of Donald's wife, became Earl of Ross on the death of his mother, the countess, and by Isabella Stewart, daughter of the regent, Robert, duke of Albany, he had an only child, Euphemia, who succeeded her father in the title on his death in 1406. But the new countess became a nun, and committed the government of the earldom to Albany. This was resented by Donald of the Isles, who claimed that by the fact that the Countess Euphemia had taken the veil, the earldom devolved on him by right of her aunt, his wife. He also feared that if Albany once obtained possession of the earldom of Ross, he and his heirs would be debarred from it for ever. In this he was justified; for it was the interest of the Scottish crown to prevent the menace to its authority which would be caused by the union of such a powerful earldom with the lordship of the Isles. To make good his claims Donald invaded the earldom with a powerful force, and obtained the willing subjection of the people without striking a blow. At Dingwall he was, however, met by Angus Dubh Mackay, who attacked him with great determination, but was overpowered and captured. Donald then ordered a general rendezvous of his forces at Inverness, and proceeded to ravage and plunder Moray and Aberdeenshire. The gentry of Angus and Mearns thereupon joined their forces to those of the Earl of Mar, and marched northwards to bar his progress to Aberdeen. The two armies met on the moor of Harlaw, below the slopes of Benochie on 25 July 1411 (for minute description of the site of the battle, see quotation from manuscript in Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, printed in Appendix to Tytler, Hist. of Scotland). Donald's highlanders, who were much the superior in numbers, charged down from the hill on the serried ranks of the lowlanders, but their successive furious onsets were met with such steady and stubborn resistance, that, notwithstanding the extraordinary slaughter on both sides, the battle at nightfall remained undecided, and Donald, despairing of his purpose to burn and ravage Aberdeen, drew off during the night towards the north. The battle, one of the fiercest and bloodiest ever fought on Scottish soil, powerfully affected the imagination of the time, and description of it was handed down by tradition in what is probably the oldest extant specimen of the Scottish historical ballad.

No attempt was made to molest the Lord of the Isles in his retreat, but the Duke of Albany immediately collected a strong force, and marching in person into Ross seized the castle of Dingwall, and compelled Donald to retreat to the Isles, where he took up his winter quarters. The contest was renewed by Albany in the following summer; and ultimately Donald, by a treaty signed at Polgilbe (now Lochgilp) in Knapdale, Argyllshire, agreed to surrender his claims to the earldom of Ross and acknowledge himself a vassal of the Scottish crown. In June 1415 the nun-countess of Ross resigned the earldom to the regent, who reconveyed it to her, with surrender to her maternal uncle John, earl of Buchan, Albany's second son. Donald was, however, still recognised as independent Lord of the Isles by the king of England, and is mentioned as one of his allies in a truce which he concluded with the king of France and his allies, 13 Oct. 1416 (Cal. Documents relating to Scotland, iv. 876). Donald died about 1420, according to the sennachie, John Macdonald, at ‘Ardtornish in Morvern, in the forty-fifth year of his age, and was buried at Icolmkill [Iona]’ (quoted in Mackenzie, Hist. of the Macdonalds, p. 72). He had two sons and one daughter: Alexander, third lord of the Isles [q. v.]; Angus, bishop of the Isles; and Mariot, married to Alexander Sutherland, to whom her father in 1429 gave the lands of Duchall.

[Cal. Documents relating to Scotland; Bower's Continuation of Fordun; Skene's Highlanders and Highland Clans; Gregory's Hist. of the Western Highlands; Mackenzie's Hist. of the Macdonalds.]

T. F. H.