Macdonell, Alexander Ranaldson (DNB00)

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MACDONELL or MACDONNELL, ALEXANDER RANALDSON (d. 1828), colonel, highland chieftain, was eldest son and successor of Duncan Macdonell, fourteenth hereditary chief of the Glengarry branch of the Macdonald clan, which was distinguished by the spelling of the name as Macdonell, or more rarely Macdonnell. His mother was Marjory, daughter of Sir Ludovic Grant, bart., of Dalvoy, and General Sir James Macdonell [q. v.] was his brother. In 1794–1795 he raised a company for the Glengarry or British highland fencible infantry, of which regiment he became major. Stewart describes the corps as a handsome body of men, more than half of them from the Glengarry estate (ii. 246). When with the rest of the fencible regiments it was disbanded in 1801, most of the Glengarry men, with their families and relatives, emigrated to Canada, and on the banks of the St. Lawrence founded a Gaelic-speaking settlement, called after their native glen, and now a county of the province of Ontario. Each head of a family gave the name of his holding in Glengarry to his plantation in the new home. During the American war of 1812–15 the settlement raised a corps for the British line, which did excellent service under the name of the Glengarry light infantry.

Macdonell, who remained on his paternal estate, became colonel of the Glengarry, Morar, and Letterfindlay volunteers in 1803, and when the Local Militia Act was extended to Scotland in 1808 (48 George III, c. 150), was made lieutenant-colonel-commandant of the 2nd Inverness local militia, with headquarters at Fort William. He lived in feudal style, wearing the highland garb, and when away from home having with him a following of retainers, popularly known as ‘Glengarry's Tail.’ When George IV visited Edinburgh, Glengarry, his brother, Sir James Macdonell, and the principal gentlemen of his house, all with their henchmen, were in attendance, and the Glengarry retainers were sworn in as part of the royal bodyguard at Holyrood.

Walter Scott, who knew Macdonnell well, and is supposed to have drawn the better side of his character in ‘Fergus MacIvor’ in ‘Waverley,’ describes him as generous and warm-hearted—a sort of Quixote who had lived a century too late. He was a keen sportsman, sleeping out in his plaid for nights together when in pursuit of the deer, and was a treasury of highland lore (Lockhart, p. 606). His impetuous temper brought him into frequent scrapes, sometimes unfairly, as Scott implies, his opponents knowing full well that when roused he would be certain to put himself in the wrong. He killed a young subaltern, Norman Macleod (a grandson of Flora Macdonald [q. v.]), in a duel arising out of a fierce quarrel at a ball at Fort William. He was arraigned on a charge of murder before the high court of justiciary at Inverness, but was acquitted. He instigated the dispute with Clanranald respecting the chieftainship of the clan Macdonald, which was waged hotly in the local press in 1817–18, and which Scott described as a ridiculous affair (ib. p. 600). Macdonell's style of living greatly embarrassed him, and he is said (Hist. of the Macdonalds) to have been on his way south to make arrangements respecting his estate, when he perished on 14 Jan. 1828, in attempting to escape from the wreck of the steamer Stirling Castle at Corran, near Fort William. Macdonell married, on 28 Jan. 1802, Rebecca, daughter of the great Edinburgh banker, Sir William Forbes, bart., of Pitsligo, by whom, besides six children, who died young, he had a son and seven daughters. His son Æneas Ranaldson Macdonell, who was at Eton at the time of his father's death, afterwards sold the heavily encumbered estate in West Argyllshire, twelve miles from Fort Augustus, to the Marquis of Huntly, and emigrated with his family to Australia. The estate was resold successively to the Earl of Dudley (Lord Ward) in 1840 for 91,000l., and to Mr. Ellice of Glenquoich in 1860 for 120,000l.

[Anderson's Scottish Nation, ii. 728; A. Mackenzie's Hist, of the Macdonalds, Inverness, 1881, p. 356; Stewart's Scottish Highlanders, Edinb. 1822, vol. ii.; Lockhart's Life of Scott.]

H. M. C.