Letters of the Clanranald Family (1746-1752) by Marjorie F. Macdonald.

In my article on The Bards of the ‘Forty-five, in the Clan Donald Magazine No 5, I stated that “Old Clanranald”, who was the Chief at that period, signed his name “Ronald McDonald Clanronald”. The basis of this statement was a facsimile signature in Vol. III of Clan Donald, attributed to “Ranald Macdonald Snr. of the ’45”. Therefore the guarantors of the signature’s authenticity were the authors of Clan Donald, and particularly the Rev. A.J.N. MacDonald (Minister of Killearnan), since the facsimile signatures were reproduced from tracings he had made of signatures on unspecified documents.

After that article of mine was published, I found (in the Campbell of Mamore papers in the National Library of Scotland) four letters written by the Chief in 1746. Every one of them is unmistakably signed, “Ranald Clanranald” (with no surname). Although both Ranald and Ronald are English versions of the Gaelic name Raonall or Raonull, respectively Raonaill and Raonuill in the genitive case. I was greatly upset to think that I had misrepresented the Chief’s signature. However, now that I have found the original tracings (again, in the National Library of Scotland, which acquired them from the Lauriston Castle Library), I believe I can resolve the conflict. On the tracing paper, the date 1764 is assigned to the “Ronald McDonald Clanronald” signature. The handwriting resembles that of “Ranald Clanranald” (AD 1746), allowing for the fact that the writer was now 18 years older. “Old” Clanranald, who was 58 in 1746, lived until 1766, but by 1754 he had made over his own liferent of the estate to his eldest son, Ranald. Thereafter the father changes his signature, so that the son can now sign as “Ranald Clanranald”.

Readers may wonder how Young Clanranald was able to return to this country and take over his father’s estate when so many other people who had played a far less conspicuous part in the ’45, had ended on the scaffold. He owed this happy outcome to an error in the Act of Attainder of May 1746, in which his Christian name had been entered as Donald instead of Ranald. (Donald was the name of Old Clanranald’s second son). In June 1747, Parliament passed an Act of Indemnity, granting pardon to all the surviving “rebels” of the ’45, with the exception of about 80 persons mentioned by name, plus all those who had been attainted of treason. If Young Clanranald’s attainder was invalidated by the misnomer, he could not be excluded from the pardon. On 21st December 1751, the Judges of the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that Clanranald’s eldest son was not attainted. Thus, by a strange irony, the Clanranald estate passed to the son who had been the first adherent to join the Prince at the head of a clan in 1745, and the last to lay aside his arms in 1746!

But let us return to Old Clanranald’s plight in 1746. Although his son Ranald had led out the clan without seeking his consent, and against his wishes, no-one had done more than himself to help the Prince after Culloden. What he and his wife and their kinswoman Flora had done was known to many people in the Isles, and some of them, who were arrested, had broken down under interrogation and told the whole story to their captors. So the arrest of the three principals was inevitable.

The first of those four “Ranald Clanranald” letters is dated August 14th, 1746. It was written on board H.M.S. Looe in Hebridean seas, and heavy seas at that! Addressing it to Colin Campbell of Skipness with a message for “his Excellency” (Major General Campbell of Mamore), Clanranald complains of being seasick for the first time in his 63 years. He adds, “I begg the favour of you to signifye to his excellency I must soon end my dayes at Sea or be transferred to whatever land Confinement his Excellency shall please…” Next day he had the General’s answer – he could not be put ashore. He writes to George Anderson, one of the General’s aides: “If I may presume to begg as the last and utmost favour that I may be delivered (as I hoped) to Commodore Smith, God of his mercy deliver his Excellency and all his from Sea or Land Sickness…” This “utmost favour” was granted ere long. On 21st September we find the Chief writing two letters on board the Commodore’s flagship, H.M.S. Eltham, which had arrived in Leith road from the Isles. One of these missives was for General Campbell: the other was a covering letter to Lord Albemarle, asking him to forward the enclosure. Albemarle had succeeded the Duke of Cumberland as Commander in Chief in Scotland, and in August had moved his headquarters from Fort Augustus to Edinburgh.

Now Clanranald writes to General Campbell: “My wife and Brother went up in the Hound sloop and probably are arreyved Befor now … I begg … my fate shall be determined …” The “Brother” was really the Chief’s stepbrother, Alexander MacDonald of Boisdale, who had done everything in his power to keep the clan out of the Rising; but he, too, had helped the Prince after Culloden, and had consequently been arrested and taken with Lady Clanranald to London.

The Presbytery of Uist petitioned the Government on Boisdale’s behalf, and he was presently released. Clanranald and his wife were placed under arrest in London, in the house of a King’s Messenger, and kept in racking suspense until July of the following year. The Government was faced with serious difficulties in dealing with the Chief. All the people who had been hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason committed in the ’45, had been tried and executed in England for actions performed in England during the Jacobite army’s invasion of that country. All the charges laid against Clanranald related to things he had done in Scotland. It was therefore impossible to try him in England, since he was not a peer (like Lord Lovat) who could be brought before the Bar of the House of Lords. The Whitehall authorities discussed the feasibility of putting him on trial in Scotland; but, being convinced that any Scots jury would automatically acquit him, they finally gave up and released him along with his wife, whose mind had given way under the stress of that yearlong ordeal. Since he had not been convicted, the Clanranald estate was not forfeited.

We turn now to Young Clanranald. A week after Culloden he had rejoined the Prince in Arisaig and urged him to make a stand there till a French ship brought supplies and reinforcements. Charles was alarmed by rumours that the Government militia had blocked all the passes. He wanted to sail to the Isles, but Young Clanranald told him that he was far more likely to be trapped there than on the mainland, and offered to guarantee his safety if he stayed in Arisaig. So Charles agreed to wait while guards were posted and scouts were sent out to investigate the rumours. But then a fresh prophet of doom arrived – John Hay of Restalrig. According to Hay, the enemy had re-occupied the remains of Fort Augustus, made contact with Fort William, cut off all communication with Badenoch, and driven a wedge between the Camerons and the Glengarry men. He added that the Prince’s clans were surrendering and that Lord Loudoun was on his way from Skye with two thousand militia to lay waste the lands of Arisaig, Morar and Moidart. So Young Clanranald was forced to provide a boat and a crew to take the Prince to the Isles. Charles embarked with O’Sullivan, Captain O’Neill and Father Allan MacDonald (the chaplain of the Clanranald Regiment), but Young Clanranald stayed behind to defend his father’s mainland territories.

Three days after the Prince’s departure, two French privateers (Mars and Bellone) sailed up Lochnanuamh to Borradale, his recent place of refuge. They sent off some men in a longboat for information; but as this craft approached the shore, it came under fire from a number of Highlanders who had run to cover among the rocks. Hastily the French flag was hoisted on board the privateers, and immediately the shooting stopped and the marksmen stood up and cheered. The Clanranald flocked aboard the ships with the news of Culloden and the Prince’s departure to the Isles. The French reacted by refusing to land their supplies unless some properly authorised person was produced to sign for them. The Clanranald gentlemen were aghast at the thought of losing those supplies: 35,000 Louis d’or, a large number of guns, 20 barrels of gunpowder, and several casks of brandy. Frantic messages were sent to Sir Thomas Sheridan and Secretary Murray, who, with Lochiel, had been trying to rally the clans.

By the 3rd May, Sheridan had arrived and the unloading was in full swing when the frigate H.M.S. Greyhound and the sloops of war, Baltimore and Terror, came sailing up the loch. The sloops were commanded by two future Admirals, Captains Richard Howe and Robert Duff. (Elcho, in his account of the action, mistakenly names Fergusson as captain of the Baltimore. Fergusson’s sloop, the Furnace, was not present).

Because of Commodore Rouillee’s anxiety to finish discharging his cargo, the Mars remained too long at anchor, thus enabling the frigate to come in close, deliver a broadside and then go about and score with another. The privateer’s forecastle was a shambles of smashed guns and dead or dying men lying in pools of blood. The engagement went on intermittently from daybreak till four o’clock in the afternoon, during which time the Bellone put up a magnificent fight, continually turning to shield her stricken consort. The watchers on the shore were amazed to see the speed with which the 36 gun ship manoeuvred in those narrow waters: time and again they expected to see her go on the rocks.

By 4 p.m. the rigging of the British ships had taken such a pounding that their captains decided to retire to the Isle of Mull to refit. Before she withdrew, HMS Greyhound fired a broadside at the Clanranald men who were carrying away the supplies from the beach. Captain Daniel of the Prince’s Life Guards was amazed at the coolness with which the men continued their task. As the Greyhound sailed away after the sloops, there came from her main-top the flash and bang of exploding hand-grenades, triggered off by a parting shot from the Bellone.

The Mars had received 65 hits above the waterline and 7 below and there were 3 feet of water in her hold. Her casualties were 29 killed and 85 wounded, but the survivors worked like demons to get her seaworthy again. Meanwhile, scores of he Prince’s Lowland Officers were being taken aboard both the French ships. In view of the desperate food situation, most of them went with his permission. The privateers sailed at 2 a.m.

The arrival of gunpowder galore had been a real shot in the arm for the Clanranald. Within a week they were in action at Loch Ailort against a landing party of troops and sailors from the Furnace. Captain Fergusson reported that Young Clanranald, with 500 of his men, made repeated attempts on this detachment, which finally drove them back with some assistance from the sloop’s guns. The Captain’s arithmetic was deplorable. At Edinburgh in 1745 a Government spy had estimated the whole strength of the Clanranald regiment as 300 men. Cumberland’s diagram of the battle of Culloden puts the number at 250, “Our little regiment”, Alasdair the Bard called it. Boisdale had forcibly  prevented the South  Uist men from answering Young Clanranald’s call to arms.

In the month following Culloden, Lochiel, Lochgarry and Barrisdale failed dismally in their endeavours to rally their men. Of those who did appear at the rallying-place, many deserted as soon as their arrears were paid. The remainder had to disperse in record time to avoid being surrounded by a force of 1500 militia. The Clanranald operations in Moidart and Arisaig ended on a day when a landing-party found 80 muskets and 20 barrels of gunpowder at Glenbeasdale and carried them off. Thereafter we hear no more of skirmishes at Loch Ailort, sharpshooters in Glenbeasdale, or home-made mines on the beach at Borradale.

During the summer several French ships arrived to rescue the Prince but he could not be found. Then, on 6th September, the privateers Heureux and Prince de Conti sailed into Lochnanuamh. It took 13 days to fetch Charles from “Cluny’s Cage” on Ben Alder. During that time, no British ship appeared. Commodore Smith had left Hebridean waters about the end of August with his force of ships, which might otherwise have intercepted the privateers when they emerged. Several of his sloops remained, mostly based at Stornoway. Albemarle afterwards opined that their captains must have been asleep.

The refugees arrived in twos and threes. Young Clanranald appeared on the 12th and took up his quarters in the Prince de Conti. The Prince arrived on the 19th, and the ships sailed at first light next morning. The authorities were soon deluged with eyewitness reports of the embarkations. Many of these accounts appeared in the newspapers, and the public read of the embarkation of Cluny, Ardsheil, Keppoch and Young Clanranald, among others. Yet Cluny, who remained in hiding on his own estate for 9 years, hadn’t even gone to Lochnanuamh to see the Prince off; Ardsheil had arrived too late to embark; Keppoch was dead; and Young Clanranald had come ashore, unobserved, after dark. It was no time for Ranald to leave his little regiment.

When the Prince arrived in France, King Louis proposed to award gratuities to the Scottish officers who had disembarked with him in Brittany. The official list headed by Lochiel (Brigadier and Colonel) and Lochgarry (Colonel) – survives in the Stuart Papers at Windsor. Young Clanranald is not on the list. The first indication of his arrival in France is an entry (dated July 4th, 1748) in the Prince’s Bank account – “His RH’s order to Bearer Clanranald – 600 Livres“.

Young Clan had “lurked” in Moidart till all hope of the Prince’s return was gone. Then, indeed, he turned from Mars to Venus and set his heart on a secret wedding and a honeymoon cruise to France! The bride was Mary Hamilton, daughter of Basil Hamilton of Baldoon and his wife Isabella MacKenzie (a granddaughter of the 4th Earl of Seaforth). Mary Hamilton was a cousin of the proprietor of Brahan Castle – Lord Fortrose, who had been denied the title of 6th Earl of Seaforth because his father, the 5th Earl, had been attainted of treason after the ‘Fifteen. This young man was a Member of Parliament and had espoused the Hanoverian cause. One can only suppose that he was safely in London when Young Clanranald married Mary Hamilton at Brahan Castle! The wives of Government supporters got up to all sorts of Jacobite ploys when the goodman was not at home. From Skye, Lady Margaret MacDonald sent some of her husband’s shirts to Charles Edward in South Uist while Sir Alexander was at Fort Augustus. Lady Fortrose was a descendant of two fanatically Jacobite families – the Earls Marischal and the Earls of Perth. What joy that secret wedding must have given her!

From Brahan the happy couple proceeded to Cromarty, where they embarked on a London-bound coaster, under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Black. In due course they arrived in France – no strange land to the bridegroom, who had been educated at St. Germain. The Prince’s original payment of 600 livres was followed next month by one of 200 livres – the first instalment of a monthly pension which Charles was still paying at the end of 1751. Vague statements (in Clan Donald and elsewhere) that Young Clanranald “obtained military employment in France” after the ’45 are quite untrue, and arose from his being confused with his brother Donald, who began his military career as a Cadet in an Irish regiment in the French service, and in 1744 obtained a Captain’s commission in Lord John Drummond’s newly-raised Regiment Ecossois Royale. If Young Clanranald had entered the French army while France was at war with Britain, that in itself would be construed as an act of treason, and it would not be covered by an amnesty relating to the ’45. By the time the war ended with the treaty of Aix-la-chapelle (October, 1748), Old Clanranald, with the help of Glenalladale; had begun the legal proceedings in Edinburgh, which were to end with the rehabilitation of his heir and the saving of his own estate from the Crown Commissioners who had sent their surveyors to report on it.

A clause in the treaty of Aix-la-chapelle bound the French to abjure the Jacobite cause forever and expel Charles Edward from France. Soon he was wandering in disguise all over Europe. On 17th January 1750, Young Clanranald wrote to him from Sceaux:

Sir, It was the greatest Pleasure in the world to me to learn by the same hand that forward’s this that your Royal Highness was well. Many an anxious and uneasy hour have I spent for you since I had last the honour to see you. When I have that Pleasure again God grant it may be in a happier time.

As the same person informs me that this will come safe to your hands, I take the liberty of troubling you to ask if your Royal Highness has any commands for your friends in Scotland. My Wife will carefully carry them, as she goes there with a design to Lye in. If God gives us a Son I hope your Royal Highness will do us ye honour to stand God Father, which we will take as the greatest honour and obligation. Her cousin Duke Hamilton who has been here desires to stand along with your Royal Highness, if you do us that Honour which I flatter myself you will not refuse. If I have a son it shall be my care to educate him in Principles agreeable to you and render him worthy of the honour of bearing your name.

My wife begs leave to offer Your Royal Highness her most humble duty, and both of us wishes you many happy and successful years. And I am ever with ye truest sincerity and Loyalty, your Royal Highness’s most obliged and most obedient and most devoted Subject and Servant.

R. MacDonald.

The child was a son but the mother died in childbirth. It was nine years before Mary Hamilton’s husband married again. The boy, who was destined to live for only five years, was christened Charles James Somerled. I can find nothing to suggest that the Prince became his Godfather, or even that he was taken to his father in France. A year later, Ranald had good news to impart to the Prince:

Sir, The Lords of Session in Scotland having given a decision in my favour as not being attainted, my best friends in Scotland advise me to return there soon, tho’ privately in hopes that in virtue of the above decision I may be restored my Estate.

I have too sincere a zeal for your H.H. person and cause to go without acquainting you, as if my affairs succeed to my desire, hope to have some occasion or other of being of some use to Your R.H in that country, since my birth and alliance give me connection with almost all the great family’s of that kingdom. Therefore if you have any commands to your Subjects I will cheerfully carry them if your R.H. does me the honour to trust them to me.

If I have the good fortune to get again possession of my Estate I wilt as readily venture it again whenever your R.H. requires as if I had never lost it. God grant I may soon have an occasion to venture life and fortune with you…

Ranald MacDonald, Clanranald junior.

So Young Clanranald arrived in London. Although a secret agent had warned that the Clanranald would rise again at the first opportunity, there was really no way in which the authorities there could get round the ruling of those Judges in Edinburgh. Some pretext was found for detaining him in London, but after two years they were forced to let him go, and he went home. His father, who had never had any talent for estate management, thankfully abdicated in his favour, and he got a 9 year tack of Benbecula from his brother Donald. But in 1755 he suffered a grievous loss. Five-year-old Charles died in Edinburgh on the 25th May. He was interred in the Hamilton burial ground in the Abbey church of Holyrood, and the interment was recorded in the Holyrood burial register. I mention this because De Ruvigny’s Jacobite Peerage states that he died in France and was buried there.

In the following year, Donald of Benbecula came home from France and got a company in Fraser’s Highlanders. There has been endless confusion over this young man. The editors of The Prisoners of the ’45 confused him with a Donald MacDonald from Benbecula, who served in the Clanranald Regiment. But let Young Clanranald’s brother speak for himself in a letter which he wrote to Lord Albemarle while he was a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle. Britain had a cartel with France and Spain for the exchange of prisoners of war. Since Donald had joined the French army before the war broke out, he was hoping to be given the benefit of the cartel:

My Lord, I have the honour to represent to your Lordship, that I went to France in year 1742 and served as Cadet in Booth’s Regmt. till I got a Company in Drummond’s Regmt. the year 44, and came along with it to Scotland in Novr. 45, and being wounded before Sterling, I returned to my fathers country, where I remained till hearing that all my Regmt surrender’d themselves prisoners of War at Inverness, after the Battle of Culloden, I was desirous of doing the same, and I surrendered myself to Capt. John MackDonald as soon as he came to the Country I was in, in July last I have the honour to remain with profound respect.

My Lord, Your Lordship’s most humble and most obedient Servant,

Donald Mack Donald.

Castle of Edinburgh
Dec. 15th 1746.

Albemarle forwarded the letter to the Duke of Newcastle, with a covering note in which he called the writer “young Clanranald”. Donald was eventually sent back to France in accordance with the cartel. After his return home in 1756 he went off to the American wars as a Captain in Fraser’s Highlanders. He was severely wounded at Cape Breton in 1758, and in 1760 he was killed while storming the Heights of Abraham at Quebec. General Stewart of Garth wrote of him, “Capt. MacDonald was an accomplished, high-spirited officer. On the expedition against Louisburg and Quebec he was much in the confidence of Generals Amherst, Wolfe, and Murray, by whom he was employed on all occasions when more than usual difficulty and danger had to be encountered, and where more than usual talent, address. and spirited example were required”.

Four years after the death of his son Charles, Ranald married Flora, daughter of John MacKinnon, younger of MacKinnon. By her he had two sons and three daughters. From the time of his return home in 1754, he devoted his whole life to the estate and the people who lived thereon. In 1772 he intervened to stop his cousin, Colin MacDonald of Boisdale, from persecuting the Roman Catholics on his (Colin’s) own estate. The said Colin had not ventured to employ such tactics against the Catholic tenants on certain lands which he had on lease from Clanranald.

When the 18th Chief – the “Young Clanranald” of the ’45 – died at Nunton in Benbecula in 1777, the ancient patrimony was intact – Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, the Small Isles, Moidart, Arisaig and Morar. He could never have dreamt that his grandson, Ranald George the 20th Chief, would die possessed of no more land than Castle Tioram’s sea-girt rock. It was the hammer blows of 19th century economics, and particularly the collapse of the kelp industry, that demolished the ancient heritage which had withstood all the wars and tumults of contending dynasties But that story has no place in this article.