6. Crash of Fortunes

AFTER the death of Sir Alexander, it was the fate of his son John MacNauchtan as chief eventually to stand by helplessly at the liquidation of the fortunes of his clan in Argyll. The fall of the Stewart dynasty in the Revolution of 1688-89 was the immediate cause of the disaster. The finishing strokes were delivered by the Campbells, who returned to ascendancy with the advent of William of Orange as King.

Sir Alexander had a younger brother John, as well as a son of the same name. We cannot be sure in some instances which John figured in events recorded before 1685, but it is likely that the heir to the chief usually was meant. Let us venture that it was his uncle who was involved in a high-spirited adventure that came to the attention of the Privy Council in Edinburgh on 7th December 1665 (RPC, 3d series, Vol. II, pp. 112 ff.) Proud Scots had great capacity for indignation and when they suffered they sought passionately to get even. Here is the record:

Complaint by Sir John Nisbet of Dirletoun, knight, the King’s Advocate [prosecutor], and Malcolm McKellar of Kilblane and Colin Campbell of Lochinell, sheriff-depute of Argyll, as follows:

Notwithstanding the Acts of Parliament against carrying hagbuts, guns, and pistols, John McNauchton, Henry Oneill and Art Oconeill, his servants, daily go up and down the country armed with guns and pistols; and "in speciall the said John McNauchtan, upon the—day of Apryle last, did repair to the toune of Inveraray, at leist to the Brigend [bridge-end] theroff, accompanied with the said other persons and diverse others as his servants and attendents, all armed and boddin in feir of weir, with hagbutts, pistolls, gunes, and other weaponis invasive . . . the said John McNauchtan, at the Brigend of Inveraray, called the Old Kirk, in a most violent and insolent way did assault the said Malcolm McKellar, who was neither doeing nor fearing any harme, gave him many cruell stroaks and beat and threw him to the ground."


The record relates further that on October 30th Oneill and Oconeill, coming to the house of the Laird of McCleod where Colin Campbell and John McNaughton were sitting, aimed weapons through the door at Campbell. The servants were disarmed by Donald McCleod; then with their master they were locked up in the Inveraray tolbooth. The Privy Council decided John should continue to stay in the tollbooth until he gave bond to keep the peace and paid each of the witnesses one dollar. The Spanish rix dollar then current in Scotland probably was meant. The record shows that notice was taken of the fact John was under civil action for debt, and it is possible his behavior was provoked by pressure from creditors.


John, heir to the chief ship, married in 1683 Isabel, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, the twenty-fourth of his family of twenty-seven children. The marriage contract was dated December 6th.


While Sir Alexander MacNauchtan of Dunderave was known to be a firm supporter of the royal cause, there may have been some slight misgiving about his son John. The Earl of Argyll had been convicted of treason in 1681 and had fled to Holland to save his head and to plan a rebellious invasion of Scotland in the Protestant cause. His designs were known, and the Marquis of Atholl was sent as a Commissioner to Argyll to require the possibly disaffected — that is, those presumed to be friendly to the Earl’s purposes and opposed to the ascendancy of the Catholic Duke of York — to give bonds insuring conformity and allegiance to the Crown.


In a long list of Argyllshire men required in August 1684 to give bonds, appearing in RPC (3d series,’Vol. IX, pp. 326-7), we find these entries:

Item, Archbald Campbell of Stracurr, principall, and John McNaughtone of that Ilk, cautioner, penaltie 6,000.

Item, be James Campbell, provest of Kilmore, principall, and Archbald Campbell of Strachure and John McNaughtoune of that Ilk, cautioners, penaltie 6,666 13 4.

Item, be John McNaughtone of that Ilk, principall and Archbald Campbell of Stracur, cautioner, penalty 6,000.

Assuming that Sir Alexander MacNauchtan was no longer living in 1685, the Laird of MacNauchtan appointed a Commissioner of Supply in that year must have been the new chief. In 1686 "John Macnaughton" became member of the Scottish Parliament for Inveraray.

After the death of Charles n in 1685 his brother, the Duke of York, became King James II. The course of history might have been considerably different had James been a moderate Protestant instead of an avowed Catholic. Had he also been a moderate ruler, with less of the old Stewart passion to dominate the realm, the Stewart dynasty might have lasted indefinitely. Protestant England rose against him, drove him to France in December 1688, and installed William of Orange and his wife Mary in 1689.

We may only guess at all the complex emotions that were stirring in John MacNauchtan’s mind through this period. He had been obliged in 1684 to give caution in 6,000 that he would not aid in a Protestant revolt planned by the Earl of Argyll. While always loyal to the Stewarts in a political sense, he may have been something of a Covenanter in spirit.


Before James fled England he gave John MacNauchtan a commission as a Colonel of Infantry, which he presented to Graham of Claverhouse, chief Jacobite leader. Claverhouse did not make a place for John in his forces, but kept the commission in his own custody. James also had elevated Claverhouse, to the rank of Lord Graham, Viscount Dundee, and Lieutenant General of his forces. After the flight of James, John MacNauchtan sent a letter to the Laird of MacFarlane asking him to advise the Privy Council of his wish to serve Scotland as a Colonel. (RPC, 3d series, Vol. XIII, p. 554.) MacFarlane handed the letter to the Council, and it was read and considered. To have been associated in any way with Viscount Dundee, who then had possession of John’s commission, was not helpful to MacNauchtan at that time, as the Jacobite leader was active in opposing William of Orange. A commission from James necessarily had little or no validity after the King had departed, but John perhaps hoped his request for a chance to serve would be granted anyway. After consideration, the Privy Council drily "ordains the said letter to be keeped by the Clarks of Councill." His overture having been brushed aside, John presently was in arms with the Viscount. Dundee raised a Highland army to strike a blow for the fading Stewart cause, and MacNauchtan undertook to enlist fifty of his clansmen to participate. The objective of the Highland army was to threaten the Lowlands and to retain Scotland at least for James. General MacKay, called by Bishop Burnet "the piousest man I ever knew in a military way," was sent with 3,000 infantrymen and four troops of horse to stop Dundee.

The rival armies met in the famous battle of the Pass of Killiecrankie on July 27, 1689. The Highlanders cut the Protestant forces to pieces with claymores, and General MacKay didn’t stop running his horse until he was many miles away. Jacobite joy in victory was brief; Dundee had fallen, and the impetuous bravery of the Highland soldiers was not effective without good leadership.

On August 27th the Highlanders under General Cannon besieged Dunkeld. Here they encountered fighting men as determined as Cromwell’s Ironsides in a regiment of the sternest sect of Presbyterians: the Cameronians, under Colonel Cleland. Cannon’s force was driven away after savage fighting, and a threatened invasion of the Valley of the Tay was thwarted. That was the end of effective resistance at home to the revolution against the Stewarts; the victory at Dunkeld aligned Scotland on the side of William and Mary. The Cameronian regiment had won so much glory it was later perpetuated as a unit in the British Army.

It must not be supposed that when John MacNauchtan applied to the Privy Council for service as a Colonel he was thinking of fighting the Stewart cause. Scotland was in ferment at the time with the final issue of its allegiance undetermined, and John wished only to be on Scotland’s side. As we have just seen, it was not until after Dunkeld that Scotland’s course became clear.

In addition to giving John a commission in his last weeks as King, James also had ordered restored to him all the lands formerly belonging to the MacNauchtan chiefs. Douglas says John received from the King "a Signature wherein all the lands belonging to him or his predecessors are particularly expressed: also a commission of stewartry and heritable balliary over all the said lands." Had the Stewart cause prevailed the MacNauchtan lands would again have been held directly of the King as in bygone days. In the circumstances James’ orders had no effect.

In France, James received help in the form of money and an army, which he took to Ireland, there to be augmented. His determination to fight to the last is shown in a letter he sent to John MacNauchtan from Dublin Castle on November 30, 1689, asking John’s further aid at whatever expense to himself, with a promise of repayment from forfeitures. This letter is found in the "Leven and Melville Papers, 1689-1691", edited by Leslie Melville for the Bannatyne Club, p. 331:


Trusty and well beloved, We greet you well. The constant loyaltie of yourselfe and ffamily, has been all allong soe well known to us, that wee cann never doubt the continuance of your endeavours for our service. And now that God appears soe signally to bless our endeavours everie where, and that such of our enemies that durst not encounter the justice of our cause, he has by want and distemper destroyed, we expect that you and everie brave and honest man will, with your freinds and followers, rise and lay hold of so great a providence; and tho the fforces you raise for our service may engadge you in an expence farr beyond what you are provided for, yett we hope you will not decline the charge, nor refuse to undergo the difficulties; since all things, both at home and abroade, seem to conspire to putt us soone into such a condition as will not onely enable us to satisfy the debt our ffreinds have contracted upon our accompt, but also to distinguish them from others, by particullar marks of our ffavor.

We have therefore resolved to send immediately our richt trusty and richt well beloved the Earie of Seafort to head his freinds and followers; and as soone as the season will permit the shipping of horse, our richt trusty and intirely beloved naturall son, the Duke of Berwicke, with considerable succors to your assistance, which the present good posture of our affaires here will allow us to spare; and wee doe assure you that the success wee hope for from this and your endeavours shall be acceptable to us, for nothing more than that thereby wee shall shew you our gratitude, not onely by protecting you in your religion, laws, and libertyes, as wee have already promissed, but by rewarding your and each mans meritt in particullar, out of such forfeitures as shall come to us by the unaturall rebellion of the rest of our subjects there.

We must, above all things, recommend unto you a thorough union amongst yourselves, and a due obedience to your superior officers, and that you look with the greatest indignation upon any body that, under any pretence whatsoever, shall goe about to disunite you, such an one being a more dangerous enemie to our interest, than those that appeare in open armes against us.

We refer to the bearer to give you a full accompt of our fforce, and the present condition to our enimies, which is such as will putt our affaires here soon out of all doubt; and soe we bidd you heartily farewell. Given at our Courte at Dublin Castle, the last day of November 1689, and in the fifth yeare of our reigne.

By his Majesties Command.

To our trusty and well beloved THE LAIRD OF McNAUGHTEN.


In a later chapter it will appear that James Stewart’s fortunes already had crumpled at the failure of the Siege of Londonderry, although the war still was continuing. We may surmise that when James’ messenger brought the letter, John MacNauchtan summoned clansmen and friends to hear the news from Ireland, and to consider what could be done to help James. Nothing in fact could be done.

Meanwhile the fortunes of the Campbells were rising from the disasters of recent years; their clan was destined to remain thereafter in power. The eighth Earl (and Marquis) of Argyll had been beheaded in 1661; the ninth Earl had lost his head in 1685 in consequence of an attempted revolt against James II. His son Archibald, who was in 1701 to become the first Duke of Argyll, sought to have his father’s attainder removed. When unsuccessful he went to Holland to join William of Orange and to become an active promoter of the Revolution of 1688-89. The success of the revolt brought him to the top in Scotland; he was appointed one of three by the Scottish Convention of Estates to offer the crown to William and to tender the coronation oath. In due course his title and estates were restored by Parliament and he was deputed to bring into subjection to himself and the new King the clans still loyal to the Stewart dynasty. When the MacDonalds of Glencoe held out, he organized the massacre never to be forgotten in the Highlands.

It was with this tenth Earl of Argyll that John MacNauchtan now had to deal. In 1689 the Campbells presented to the government of William and Mary an account of "depredations" committed against their clan and lands by unfriendly neighbors in 1685. In this there was an item of 2,727:6:8 Scots for cattle and other moveable goods said to have been taken by John MacNauchtan and accomplices from the estate of the Captain of Carrick on Lochgoilside.

The Scottish Parliament on July 14, 1690 passed a decree of forfeiture against all the chiefs and other Jacobite leaders, including "the Laird of Mcnaughtoun"; the "lybell" against "McNaughtane" was proved. It may be doubted whether any step was taken to seize the MacNauchtan lands so declared forfeited; the Campbells had more direct measures available to get them. All the clans except the MacDonalds had taken the oath of obedience to William and Mary by January 1, 1692, and had been forgiven their trespasses. In 1704 the "Laird of MacNaughtoun" was again one of the Commissioners of Supply for Argyllshire.


With the implacable tenth Earl now holding Argyll in his grasp, doom was approaching the Clan MacNauchtan and its possessions. In 1695 a process that must have resembled a modern foreclosure was instituted by Archibald Campbell, brother of Colin Campbell of Duncrost, against "the lands of McNachtane." In 1696, a horning was pressed "at the instance of John Ritchie, merchant burgess of Glasgow, against John McNauchtan, brother german to the Laird of McNauchtan, for a bond dated 1st September, 1672, for 86:12:0 Scots." This horning is registered as of May 30, 1696, in the "Particular Register of Hornings and Inhibitions for Argyll" (Register House, Edinburgh), Vol. III, folio 15.

The Laird when the bond had been executed in 1672 was Sir Alexander, and it follows that the object of the 1696 horning was his brother John. It is still necessary to distinguish carefully between this brother and Sir Alexander’s son John, who was Laird in 1696.

We come to what must have been the principal and perhaps final blow against the MacNauchtan estates. Reference has been made to a process of foreclosure in 1695. We find this record of further action in Argyll Homings, Vol. III, folio 74:

January 23rd, 1701. Inhibition at the instance of Archibald Campbell, brother german to Colin Campbell of Duncrost, against John McNachtan of Dunderaw, as son and heir of the deceased Alexander McNachtan of Dunderaw, and the deceased Malcolm McNachtan of Dunderaw, his grandfather, for a debt in a bond granted for 17,000 merks by the deceased Archibald, Marquis of Argyle, with the said deceased Malcolm McNachtan as cautioner, to Sir Archibald Campbell, brother german of the deceased Sir James Campbell of Lawers, whom failing to Mr. Archibald Campbell of Kilpunt, dated 5th July 1645, and the said Mr. Archibald Campbell granted bond of corroboration to Janet Gray, widow of George Campbell, bailie of the Canongate, for 13,736:13:4: and on 3ist January 1673 she assigned the same to Mr. George Campbell, indweller in the Canongate, who apprised the lands of Kilpunt and McNachtane and others for this debt, and by contract the said Mr. George Campbell disponed [assigned] the lands of McNachtane to James Campbell of Kilpunt and Alexander Hamilton, bailie of Strabrock, and they again, in 1695, sold the lands of McNachtane to the complainer. Service was made upon John McNachtan in the Abbey of Holyroodhouse.

A bit of delving into the manners and legal customs of the period helps to make clear the meaning of this difficult-sounding document, and to enable us to reconstruct the dramatic events that marked the fall of the MacNauchtan fortunes.

Learning that Archibald Campbell was planning to strike, John MacNauchtan acted in the only way possible to escape imprisonment for debt, if caught. A Parliamentary Act of 1696 had provided that a debtor in danger of bodily seizure might take sanctuary in the Abbey of Holyroodhouse in the Canongate just below the city limits of Edinburgh. There he might remain safe for twenty-four hours, or for a longer period if he entered his name in a book kept by the bailie of the Abbey.

So John hastened to Edinburgh in January 1701, perhaps in constant apprehension of being overtaken. We may imagine his having some food in a secluded place, or perhaps in the home of some friend, and then making a dash down the High street into the Canongate, and the protection of the Abbey. With eyes alert for a Campbell or a law officer, it is certain he would not dally near the old tolbooth.

Although safe from imprisonment, John was served in the Abbey with an inhibition or injunction by Archibald Campbell, which prohibited him from selling or otherwise disposing of his lands in Argyll. Proclamation of the document was at the same time made at the market cross of Inveraray, warning all to have no dealings with John MacNauchtan until Campbell had finished with him.

We recall from what has been related earlier that in 1645 John’s grandfather, Malcolm MacNauchtan, indorsed the bond of the Marquis of Argyll, whom he served as chamberlain for lands in Kintyre. The Campbell who made the loan of 17,000 merks to the Marquis passed the bond along to other Campbells, who eventually brought action in 1695 against the lands of John MacNauchtan, grandson of the obliging endorser. The claim had grown considerably in fifty years by the addition of accumulated interest.

The lands had been "sold" in 1695 to Archibald Campbell, the complainer first named, but the process had not yet resulted in the passing of title. Campbell is presumed to have heard that John meant to raise money on his lands or to dispose of them to a bona fide purchaser, and it is conceivable he made threats to have John flung into prison. So John fled to the Abbey, escaped imprisonment, and accepted service of the document of inhibition that marked the beginning of the final stages of downfall.


Why was the debt not collected from the tenth Earl of Argyll, who had inherited the patrimony of his grandfather, the Marquis who borrowed the money? Why were lands of the grandson of the indorser seized and held? In 1701, when the inhibition or injunction was served upon John MacNauchtan in the Abbey of Holyroodhouse, the tenth Earl was elevated to the rank of first Duke of Argyll. He had ample means to satisfy the claims of the minor Campbells. Why didn’t he? Perhaps the minor Campbells were afraid of him. He may have held that the attainder of his grandfather and father, both executed for treason, removed any obligation from him to pay any part of his grandfather’s debts. John MacNauchtan, Laird of Dunderave, had been on the losing side when the Stewart dynasty collapsed, and he lacked power and influence to prevent the Campbells from despoiling him. And they did it, thoroughly.

Writing at some time between 1720 and 1740, Nisbet said "The present Laird of MacNauchtan is in possession of no part of his estate, the same being evicted some years ago by creditors for sums no way equivalent to the value thereof, and there being no diligence [legal process for recovery] used for relief thereof, it went out of the hands of the family."

Other interesting traditions of the later period of the MacNauchtans in Glenshira are related in Records of Argyll. The Campbells became. Protestants at the Reformation while the more conservative MacNauchtans continued for a while in the old faith. The places of worship for the people of the glen were approached by paths on either side of the Water of Shira, and Protestants and Catholics shot darts and arrows at each other across the stream. Even the clergy carried weapons with which to defend themselves. "The Roman Catholic portion of the inhabitants of this glen were followers of MacNauchtan; the Protestants were followers of Argyll."

"Down to the time when MacNauchtan left," we read further, "no sheep could be kept at large on the moors, on account of the country being overrun with wild animals." The Last MacNauchtan chief kept the mountain slopes of Ben Buie and Ben-an-tean as a deer forest, under the protection of a ranger or forester named Turner. To this trusty guardian of the deer he "feued off" or sold as superior the farm of Drumlee.


John MacNauchcan’s first wife as earlier noted was Isabel, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Glcnorchy. The elder of their two sons, Alexander, a Captain in Queen Anne’s Guards, was killed on an expedition to Vigo, Spain, in 1702. He left no children. The second son was another John MacNauchtan, who became a collector of customs at Anstruther and an inspector general. The most interesting and romantic of all the legends of the Clan MacNauchtan have been woven about this man, who in his own time may have regarded himself as the last of a great line, condemned to obscurity and to blame for his quite unusual experiences in marriage. The chapter to follow will enable the reader to judge whether he is deserving of blame or of sympathy.

The last chief may have been allowed to stay on for a while at his lost castle of Dunderave, or he may have been summarily evicted by the Campbells. His daughter Christian married Hugh Fraser of Kissog, a Colonel of the Guards, who was killed while fighting in Flanders. The Erasers had a daughter, Henrietta, who married Sir Charles Erskine of Alva.


After the death of his first wife, John married Florence, daughter of Sir James MacDonald of Slate. No heir came of this second marriage. The direct senior line of the MacNauchtans of Fraoch Eilcan, Dubhloch, and Dunderave had come to an end.

The clan was by no means finished in Scotland, however. Others of the name continued living in Perthshire and Argyll, and many sons migrated to the American colonies and to various other places about the world. A strong branch had been established in Antrim by Shane Dhu.

The chiefship presently was revived, and there is every prospect that it will be passed on to heirs for indefinite periods of time. The disaster in Argyll about 1700 was only an interruption and a diversion of the stream of clan vitality.

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