Alexander Macdonald of Glencoe and the Forty-Five By David McDonald

After the arrival of Prince Charles on the Scottish mainland at Loch nan Uamh on 25 July 1745, Alexander Macdonald, 14th of Glencoe with other chiefs known to be sympathetic, was summoned to pay his respects Alexander had been “out” in the ’15 and was now about fifty-five years of age, but despite his years he agreed to raise his followers on behalf of the exiled King James.

Alexander did not lead his men north to Glenfinnan for the raising of the Royal Standard, intending instead to join the Prince’s army on the march south. The army left Glenfinnan on the 20th August. The following evening camped at the head of Loch Eil, Prince Charles sent dispatches to Alexander of Glencoe and his near neighbour Stewart of Ardshiel informing them that the government army under the command of Sir John Cope, was said to be marching north towards Fort Augustus. Charles instructed Alexander and Ardshiel to join his army at Aberchalder in Glengarry’s country.

Prince Charles arrived at Aberchalder on the 27th August to find Alexander of Glencoe waiting with 120 men, Charles Stewart of Ardshiel with 260 Appin Stewarts and some Grants of Glenmoriston. For his officers, Alexander had his brothers James and Donald, Donald Macdonald of Laroch and his brother Alexander, and Angus Roy Macdonald of Achtriachtan, although then over seventy years of age. Alexander was described by the Prince’s secretary, John Murray of Broughton as “exceedingly proud, and his people reckoned false and traitorous, so that they are seldome trusted by their neighbours”.

The Jacohites captured Edinburgh on the 17th September and four days later on the 21st defeated Cope’s army at Prestonpans in a battle which lasted only a matter of minutes, virtually all the government infantry having been killed, wounded or captured. The Glencoe men, with the other Clan Donald Regiments of Keppoch, Glengarry and Clanranald, had formed the right wing of the Prince’s army. The Jacobite casualties were slight, but included one of Alexander’s officers, Angus Roy of Achtriachtan who was killed. Some trinkets found on his body were taken by his friends and became treasured heirlooms in the Achtriachtan family.

After the battle, because of their small numbers, the Glencoe men were merged into the Keppoch Regiment. It is not known for certain what rank Alexander of Glencoe held in the new Keppoch Regiment, but it is probable that he became second in command under the Colonel, Alexander Macdonell of Keppoch, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In “The Prisoners of the ’45”, Alexander’s rank is given as “Captain (? Lieut. Col.), Keppoch’s Regiment” – On the day after the battle a council was formed, which “met regularly every morning in his (the Prince’s) drawing room”. The council comprised the Duke of Perth, Lord Lewis Gordon, Lord George Murray, Lord Elcho, Lord Ogilvy, Lord Pitsligo, Lord Nairne, Lochiel, Keppoch, Young Clanranald, Glencoe, Lochgarry, Ardshiel, Sheridan, O’Sullivan, Glenbucket and Murray of Broughton. The presence of Alexander on the Prince’s council, I would contend, supports the argument that he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and not merely that of Captain, which was a rank held by his younger brother James. No other member of the council held a rank below that of Lieutenant Colonel.

Alexander and his Glencoe men do not appear to have been with the Keppoch Regiment when it took part in the march into England. During the Prince’s absence in England, Viscount Strathallan was collecting a considerable number of reinforcements at Perth. Amongst those assembled by Strathallan was “Glenco with a 100”. Alexander may have been one of the officers sent north before the invasion of England to collect reinforcements and recover deserters.

After the return of the Jacobite army to Scotland the Prince was joined by Strathallan’s reinforcements at Stirling where some of them were incorporated into existing regiments including “Glenco with 100, & Glengyle with 50 into Keppocks”.

On 17th January 1746, the Prince’s army defeated General Hawley’s government army at Falkirk, Alexander and the Glencoe men being on the right of the front line with the Keppoch Regiment. Two weeks later the Highland chiefs at Falkirk sent a letter to the Prince at Bannockburn, requesting that they retire north for the winter as the army had been so reduced by sickness and desertion that they would not be fit to meet the Duke of Cumberland’s approaching army. The Prince reluctantly agreed.

The Jacobite army was camped at Inverness when at the beginning of March the Prince decided that a force should be sent to capture Fort Augustus and Fort William. Brigadier Stapleton with about 1,500 men including the Lochiel and Keppoch Regiments were therefore dispatched and with them went Alexander and the Glencoe men. Fort Augustus was attacked on the 3rd March and after two days it surrendered. On the same day the Highlanders unsuccessfully attacked Fort William and so were forced to await the arrival of Stapleton and his Franco-Irish troops with the artillery, who on the 7th commenced the siege.

On the 18th March Donald Campbell of Auchindoun, the Duke of Argyll’s Baillie in Ardnamurchan, wrote to Major-General John Campbell of Mamore:

 “Locheills, Keppoch and Glencoe with all there men and 400 of those they call the French are now at Lochchaber in all 17 or 18 hundred. They are in a starveing way tho’ I am credibly inform’d that they are makeing up girnells and other convenieneys for stores at Locheills house at Auchanacary.”

The siege of Fort William was abandoned on the 4th April and Stapleton and the Irish troops were recalled to Inverness. Meanwhile Keppoch, Lochiel and Alexander of Glencoe remained in Lochaber having been given permission to make a punitive attack on the Campbell lands in Argyll. They too, however, were soon ordered to return to Inverness on the approach of Cumberland’s army.

Alexander of Keppoch with 200 men arrived at Inverness on the evening of the 15th April, the day before the disastrous battle of Culloden. The Keppoch Regiment was greatly reduced in numbers and many of the men had obviously deserted in Lochaber. The number of Glencoe men in the 200 is not known, but their numbers too must have been much below their original strength of 120. Alexander of Glencoe himself was probably not even present as the Glencoe men were led at Culloden by Donald of Laroch, “his chief’s lieutenant”. No details are known of the Glencoe casualties during the battle, but Alexander of Glencoe later recorded that in the whole campaign he had lost fifty-two men killed and thirty-six wounded.

Soon after Culloden an unsuccessful attempt was made to capture Alexander and in a letter to Sir Everard Fawkener, Cumberland’s secretary, Major-General Campbell wrote:

“On the 29th being inform’d that Glencoe was at home I order’d two detachments of 80 men each to march by different routs so as to meet at his house at the same time, but the violent rains made a delay of one day by which my design was discover’d and when the parties met, which was in the night, the bird was flown, both man woman and child with all their cattle hav’ing retir’d to the mountains which are inaccessible…”

Although he had evaded the soldiers, Alexander, now about fifty-six and in poor health, decided it would perhaps be wiser to surrender to Major-General Campbell, a fellow Highlander, than wait skulking in the hills with the probability of capture by Cumberland and so on the 12th May he wrote to the Major-General:

Very honourable Sir, By this my subscribed missive I do informe you that I am now very sensible of my folly and great error in taking up arms against his Majesty and resolve never to do the like while I’ve life and so surrender and give up my self as your prisoner, depending on his Majesty’s clemencie and pardon, as I am most willing to return from my error, and behave my self for the future as becometh a loyall subject and begging you’ll please befrind me in my great extremity and interpose your good offices with his Majesty in procuring my remission and sparing a life that is in all probability near an end. By your so doing, you’ll lay me and my posterity under the greatest obligations to serve you and (your) posterity. Wishing you success I ever am, with the utmost regard.

Very honourable Sir

Your most obedient humble servant

  1. McDONALD Glenco.

P.S. I have order’d such of my people as live in Glenco to meet of you, and to deliver all there arms to you as an evidence of my submission. I have sent by my son one gun one sword one pistill and durk which I beg you’ll please lay aside by them selves. My bad state of health will not allow me to wait of you att this tyme.



Three days later on the 15th, Alexander again wrote to Major-General Campbell saying:

 “I am not in a condition anyhow to travel, being for some considerable time leaded with great sickness … and how soon it please God I recover I shal most willingly go and surrender myself to your Excellency or any of His Majesty’s officers at any place you’ll appoint”.

Alexander’s “great sickness” with which he had been suffering for “some considerable time” may well provide the answer to his probable absence from Culloden a month previously. On receipt of the second letter Major-General Campbell, who appears to have had a great deal of sympathy for Alexander’s plight, wrote to Sir Everard Fawkener requesting that Cumberland show leniency:

“I think it my duty to inform His Royal Highness that most of his people’s arms that are deliver’d up are very good, he seems very much in earnest, and has sent his son to Morvern to order some of his dependants there to come and deliver up their arms. In short I really think that being amongst the first that surrender’d and so much in earnest, was His Royal Highness to recommend him to His Majesty’s mercy it would do good, all which I submit to his better judgement and determination.”

The fact that he had surrendered did not prevent Alexander’s house, built in 1708 by his father John, from being burnt down. Alexander was then sent on parole to Inveraray, where he remained for sometime, Fawkener having informed the Major-General that Cumberland had decided “he might be very well left where he was, a guard being placed about him to prevent his escape, if he should recover.”

On the 26th May, Campbell of Skipness reported from Mingary Castle in Ardnamurchan:

 “This day the young Laird of Glencoe brought me in some arms from his clan in this countrey viz. thirteen firelocks six very bad swords one holster pistol one durk … I expect more arms to-morrow.”

A letter written at Inveraray on 26 August 1746 and printed in The Scots Magazine stated that: “The prisoners of any note taken by our militia are sent, some to England, and some to Fort Augustus. A few of them that submitted are still here, waiting their fate.” Alexander was among those still at Inveraray.

On 6th March 1747, Alexander was removed from Inveraray and taken to Edinburgh where he was lodged in the castle. Soon afterwards the Duke of Newcastle wrote to Major-General Campbell concerning Alexander and other prisoners who had surrendered voluntarily asking for “an account of the circumstances of their cases, and at what time they surrendered themselves, to be laid before his Majesty”. In his reply Major-General Campbell did all he could on behalf of the prisoners, stating that they “did voluntarily surrender themselves”, and that Alexander of Glencoe “was the first of the rebel gentlemen who surrendered to me.” The reply apparently had no effect as far as Alexander was concerned as he was excepted from the Act of Pardon of June 1747, and transferred from Edinburgh Castle to Edinburgh Tolbooth. He remained in the Tolbooth until 11 October 1749 when he was released by order of a Judge of the Court of Justiciary as the result of an application he made “… in terms of our Habeas Corpus Act of 1701.”

Alexander was able to return to Glencoe for although his Estate had been surveyed by order of the Barons of the Exchequer, no forfeiture had been ordered. The date of Alexander’s death is not known, but he did not long survive his release, for on 29 July 1751 a charter was granted by Robert Stewart of Appin, superior of Glencoe, disponing to John Macdonald, 15th of Glencoe the two Merklands of Polvig, and the two Merklands of Carnick with the Glen of Lecknamoy.

Alexander was no doubt laid to rest in the traditional burial place of the Macdonalds of Glencoe on the island of Eilean Munda at the head of Glencoe in Loch Leven.


Argyll and the Forty-Five. Sir James Ferguson.

Itinerary of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Walter Biggar Blaikie.

Jacobite Estates of the Forty-Five. Annette M. Smith.

Memorials of John Murray of Broughton 1740-47.

Origins of the Forty-Five. Walter Biggar Blaikie.

Slaughter under Trust. Donald J. Macdonald.

The Affairs of Scodand1744-6. David, Lord Echo.

The Clan Donald. Rev. A. and Rev. A. Macdonald.

The Prisoners of the ’45. Sir Bruce Gordon Seton and Jean Gordon Arnot.
Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. Vol. XXIII.