It appears that the 17th century came without much ado for the Lamonts. In 1612, James Lamont was born and the Barony passed to him in 1624. In 1634, he married his cousin Margaret, daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinglas. Later in 1634, he succeeded his father as Chief of Clan Lamont. In 1637, he was made a member of the next Court of high Commission in Scotland and also became a Justice of the Peace.
Sharp eyes will note this was all taking place at about the time of the signing of the National League and Covenant.
On the other hand, the Campbells were prospering at a tremendous rate. Their Chief, who was hereditary heir to title of Earl of Argyll since 1457. He was now backed by a large clan whose lands nearly surrounded those of the Lamonts. In 1638, the Earl of Argyll passed and was succeeded by Archibald, the Eighth Earl of Argyll and after 1641, the first Marquis of Argyll.
And Now, the Stage Is Set
The problems arising during King Charles I’s reign saw both the Lamonts and the Campbells doing what they could do to ensure they would be on the winning side. As pointed out in an earlier article, the Lamonts were only too familiar with the consequences of backing the wrong side. Scotland was in upheaval as most people had made the choice to back either the King or the Covenant. In 1639, the Treaty of Berwick was signed, in an effort to bring pacification to Scotland. James Lamont was a member in the Assembly and in Parliament, both of which saw Covenanters in the majority.
Also in 1639, James Lamont determined to join with other clan chiefs in an effort to support King Charles against the Presbyterian Earl of Argyll and his allies. And this decision ended up in a curious state, as Lamont’s trustworthiness would be called into question.
The plan to support King Charles became known and James Lamont was eager to not offend the opposite party. Lamont made a full disclosure in a document known as ‘Lamont’s Declaratione’, which McKechnie saw as a shameful act. This Declaratione is not dated, but its approximate time of writing can be determined as Lamont made reference to events which took place when the Earl of Traquair was Lord High Commissioner. The document, as described in The Lamont Papers refers to Sir James Lamont signing a Bond of Loyalty and ‘absolute obedience’ to His Majesty and it was intended that a similar document be signed by McLeod, MacLean, Seaforth and McDonald of Clanranald, which, ‘should make the Illesmen stand sure to His Majestie, and to his forces, and that they should be directed to come and invaid Lorne, quhile the King’s other forces (I.e. the irish) should land in Kintyre and Tarbette’.
Lamont made clear his desire was to be free of the Earl of Argyll’s jurisdiction. ‘And Lykwise the said Sir Donald (Sleat) assured me that he had heard the King swear that if he brookit the Crowne, he should ruin the Earl of Argyll and all that would stand by him.’
Sir James went on to say: ‘he would never be ane advyser to his Majestie to invaid us by hostilitie bot to make show upon our borders that thereby we might ever be in armes, and thereby consume our means and be impoverished, that so the King might the more easily obtaine his end’.
MacKechnie observes ‘The chiefs of the north-west were only too ready to pay off old scores against Argyll under royal sanction’.
Sir James stated that MacDonald of Sleat had promised to furnish the King with 2000 men to make service against Scotland ‘if supplied with 1000 stand of arms’. he also claimed Sir Donald had ‘sworne Sir Lauchlan Mackleane having laid the Bible on his head’.
Sir James closes by saying ‘I heard the Commissioner to say that for thie wronges the Earl of Argyll had done to His Majestie in this business that if he ever could overtake him in law or otherwise that His Majestie should be equall with him.’
McKechnie shows his impartiality by saying ‘Lamont’s Declaration does its author little credit for it shows him to be two-faced.’
There is evidence in The Lamont Papers which says some of the Covenanting Party had given in with Lamont’s Declaration, giving information as to the secret meetings between ‘the Earl of Seaforth, McDonald of Sleat, McLeod of Dunvegan, MacLean of Duart, Stewart of Bute, Stewart of Blacknall and Laird of Lamont who all, except Seaforth, met in Euphame Wilsons in the Channongaite, and Dixone in the Potteraw’, with regard to bringing in an army from Ireland and from the Isles.
McKechnie goes on with his criticisms of Sir James, saying ‘Although he soon reverted to his old allegiance to the King, if will be seen tht Sir James and Silvereraigs were in Argyll’s army when it was routed at Inverlochy by the King’s forces under Montrose. By such arbitrary actions Sir James could not be looked on as a reliable ally.’
McKechnie made the following observation about the position of the Lamonts in the early 1640′s:
‘As they stood poised and ready to plunge into the civil wars, the Lamonts were at the height of their power. Never again in the history of the clan did they attain the same position while it seemed that they might regain the domination of Cowal which Sir Laumon had achieved before. Alas! Their hopes were doomed to disappointment.’
It is at this point I feel I must question McKechnie’s observation, as records clearly indicate Sir James was in dire financial straits prior to 1640. Even McKechnie records that Sir James had admitted in 1636 that he was some £64,000 in debt, which clearly exceeded one-third of the estimated value of his estate.
Prior to his indictment, Argyll had a note prepared that stated ‘In 1640 he (Sir James) being drowned in debt made ane fashion to undertake some service for the King as one means to recover his estate’.
If this debt seems to be insignificant, it should be pointed out that this amount would be approximately £4,000,000 ($8,000,000) by current standards.
It is easy to accept McKechnie’s observation that ‘If only he could back the winning side he would be able to ride roughshod over the hated Clan Diarmid and his loans, in the old Highland phrase, “would be sent laughing home”. What would happen if he lost he did not stay to consider.’
The Marquis of Montrose
It now is time to introduce the Marquis of Montrose into this story. Montrose was one of four noblemen who signed the National Covenant. It is known Montrose attended at the Treaty of Berwick and in the General Assembly of 1639 he showed his personal dissatisfaction with respect to the Covenant. It is known that in 1640, Montrose entered into a secret agreement with Argyll and it was also leaked that he had been communicating with the King. Montrose was then brought before the Scots Parliament and was imprisoned for five months in Edinburgh Castle. upon his release, he went to England and returned in disguise in 1644. When he arrived in Perthshire, an important meeting took place between he and Alasdair MacColla.
On 24 March 1644, Sir James Lamont was issued a Royal Commission, ‘with power to invade the countrie and bounds of Archibald, Marquis of Argyll’.
The Commission also read, ‘We would have you confident that we shall ever preserve a livlie memory of your forwardnes and faithfulness to reward it fully whenever God shall enable us so to do and we bif you heartily farewell’.
As McKechnie points out, this Commission was significant, on two counts. First, it forms the basis for the main count of the indictment brought against Argyll. Also, it shows the siege and plunder of toward and Ascog couldn’t be viewed as matters of clan dispute, as they were actually held under King Charles’s Commission.
Sir James wasn’t finished with his picking and choosing of sides, however. He claims to have received his Commission in late April 1644 from the Marquis of Montrose, who asked Sir James to meet him in Dumfries near the beginning of May. This meeting never took place as the rebels had sent their forces to the Borders and he was forced to retreat to England.
Later in May, Lamont was chosen as a Presbytery Representative to the forthcoming General Assembly and on 24 July, was also made Commissioner for War for Argyllshire. Had Lamont decided to once again become a supporter of the Covenant?
2 July 1644 saw the Royalist forces defeated at Marston Moor in Yorkshire. Shortly thereafter, Montrose formally declared support for the King and the King drew up a plan whereby the Earl of Antrim would land with an Irish force to meet up with Montrose who would bring troops from England.
And so we now introduce Alasdair MacColla, Ciotach MacDomhnaill (Alasdair, son of Colla, the Left-handed, of the Clan MacDonald). His rank was Lieutenant General Alasdair MacDonald, but was known simply as MacColla. His uncle, the Earl of Antrim, was well-known and trusted by the King as the Earl had married the widow of the Duke of Buckingham, who was a former favorite of the King’s.
The Earl of Antrim approached the king and made the offer of his forces, with MacColla to lead them. The King would have been aware of the hatred the Earl and MacColla had for the Campbells. The Earl, on the other hand, hoped the Covenanters in Ireland would be withdrawn if defeated in Scotland.
Professor D. Stevenson, in Alasdair MacColla and the Highland Problem in the 17th Century said this of MacColla:
‘He must have been brought up in an atmosphere of nostalgia for the great days of the MacDonald power and of bitterness at how his own clan Ian Mor (MacDonald of the Isles) still in the mid-sixteenth century had lost it through treachery and deceit on the part of the Campbells; in such tales the major contribution the MacDonalds had made to their own downfall by internal feuding was no doubt conveniently forgotten. Stories, poems and music relating to his father exploits in trying to uphold the Clan Ian Mor and describing the cunning which had enabled him to survive the disaster must have surrounded Alasdair throughout his youth. Coll (Colkitto), his father, must have been an old man when Alasdair came of age. The rebellion of the Covenanters led by the Earl of Argyll against king Charles I was looked upon by Coll as a heaven-sent opportunity to give his clan a chance to regain what he regarded as its place as the premier clan of the Highlands.’
In his Clans and Chiefs Ian Grimble says this:
‘It was the Campbells who advanced down through the centuries to the most powerful position of all among the clans, earning for themselves in the process a reputation for perfidy and unscrupulousness that had passed into Scottish folklore. For the most part they were as others did given the opportunity, and their greatest crime was that they were so much more frequently successful. This they owed to the gift for strategy and tactics of so many of their chiefs, who seemed to have possessed in an uncommon degree a sense of the direction in which events were moving, of the course of unfolding history, which enabled them to remains so often in the van of circumstance. Where the Great Clan Donald was so frequently to be found in opposition to the tide of events which swept their redoubts one after another, the Campbells displayed a hereditary flair for joining the winning side.’
MacColla was the subject of many tales, some more factual than others, which pointed him out to be a most fearsome adversary. He was said to have been a man of great strength and stature and trained in the use of all weapons.
When MacColla arrived in Scotland, he brought with him 1500 Irish troops, who are variously described as ‘expert soldiers’ and ‘an undisciplined horde’. It is unfortunate that the latter description may have been the more accurate of the two.
MacColla met with Montrose in Perthsire where they joined forces. They marched on Perth (St. Johnstone) and at Tippermore defeated the Royalist forces on 1 September 1644. Sir James Lamont and his men were absent at Tippermore, as his men were all at Toward, surrounded by Campbell land holdings, with the sea as his only route out of Cowal.