MacDonald, John, 4th lord of the Isles

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MacDonald, John, 4th lord of the Isles (1434–1503). According to a MacDonald chronicler of the 17th cent., John, 4th lord, was ‘a meek, modest man … and a scholar, more fit to be a churchman than to command so many irregular tribes of people’. He succeeded his father Alexander, 3rd lord, in 1449, aged 15, and was almost immediately involved in efforts to defend his huge inheritance—which included not only the Hebrides and western coastline from Lewis to Kintyre, but also the earldom of Ross—from predatory neighbours (especially the earl of Huntly), discontented lordship families, and a hostile crown.

MacDonald's rebellion of 1451, and his bond with Crawford and Douglas (1451/2), put him on the wrong side in the James II–Black Douglas civil wars of the 1450s. In 1462 he made the treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish with Edward IV of England, an abortive pact which envisaged the tripartite division of Scotland between MacDonald, his cousin Donald Balloch, and the forfeited 9th earl of Douglas. Summoned for treason, MacDonald finally forfeited his earldom of Ross in 1476, and lost his credibility in the Isles at the same time, with his illegitimate son Angus and—much later—his grandson Donald Dubh seeking to provide the focus for a reunited MacDonald lordship. The forfeiture of the lordship (1493) left John MacDonald a pathetic pensioner of the crown until his death at Dundee in January 1503. The Achilles heel of the lordship had always been Ross, control of which fell to Alexander Gordon, earl of Huntly.

Norman Macdougall