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Lordship of the Isles

This map from Skene’s Celtic Scotland shows the ancient divisions of the land and Lismore is not part of Lorn.  I think this is because the Coarbs of St Moluag were independent.  I am working on a theory that as Lismore was part of the islands of the west that had been circumnavigated by Magnus Barefoot it was ceded to Norway. 

However, this begs the question as to whether Lismore was truly part of the Lordship of the Isles.  Parish boundaries, and estate boundaries change little over time, and as has been discussed Lismore and Appin (including Morvern) were one parish and part of the ancient tribal area of the descendents of Loarn.  As Abbey lands they would have been ruled by the Coarb of St Moluag and, in Sir Thomas Innes of Learney’s words, ‘acknowledging no earthly authority or hierarchy’.  Therefore although they were within the tribal area of Loarn I don’t believe they were in the superiority of the Lords of Lorn or the Lords of the Isles. 

On the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles in 1493 the Crown annexed the land and redistributed it to its favourites.  This is further demonstrated below.

Magnus Barefoot annexes the Western Isles

In 1070 Malcolm (Canmore) III of Albany married Margaret, the sister of Edgar Atheling who had fled north as refugees from the Norman Conquest.  In 1098 he ceded to Norway all the land to the west of Scotland around which Magnus Barefoot of Norway could sail his ship – this included the Mull of Kintyre. 

In the early 1100’s Somerled drove out the Vikings and acquired the Kingdom of Argyll (technically a regulus or sub-kingdom under the very nominal paramountcy of the Kings of Scots) and took the Kingdom of the Isles (under the nominal paramountcy of the King of Norway).  The Argyll kingdom included Lorn together with Lismore and Appin (its Abbey Lands).  His ancestry is not altogether clear but many believed he had a claim to the regality, inasmuch as he was descended from an heiress of the royal house of Lorn.  Sir Ian Moncreiffe of that Ilk thought it probable that Somerled was descended from a daughter of Alpin, King of Argyll (father of Kenneth mac Alpin) who married Godfrey mac Fergus, prince of Oriel, who came to help Kenneth and who died as Toiseach of the Isles in 853.  Somerled certainly acted as an independent prince and their is no doubt that the Kings of Scots had singularly failed in their duty to protect the area from Norse raids.

McDougall Lords of Lorn

In 1263 Somerled’s descendant, Ewan McDougall of Argyll, surrendered his island possessions to the King of Norway.  He owed fealty to the King of Norway for his island territory and to the King of Scots for his mainland possessions and tried hard to be loyal to both.  However, that year King Hakon decided to assert his claim to the islands and arrived at Kerrera with over 200 ships.  He summoned Ewan of Argyll and ordered him to join him in an expedition against the king of Scots.  It was clear he was going to have to choose sides so, having obtained Hakon's leave, he surrendered his island possessions and gave his allegiance to the kingdom of Scotland.  In October that year the Norwegians were beaten at the battle of Largs and withdrew to Norway.  Eventually in 1266, at the Treaty of Perth, Norway relinquished its claim to the Hebrides and Man so Lismore became part of Scotland.  In the Memorials of Argyleshire there is a description of the Possessions of the Five Families in Argyle, on Record before the Death of Alexander III, in 1285. “The family of Somerled, as represented by Reginald, possessed all the islands from Islay to Ardnamurchan, including Bute and Arran, and on the mainland the lower half of Kintyre, Craignish, Lorn, Benderloch, Appin, Morvern, and Ardnamurchan, and even to Ross-shire.”

The Macleans were originally supporters of the McDougalls, Lords of Lorn, indicating that Morvern was in that Lordship, but later transferred their allegiance to MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, and became one of their most powerful vassals with large tracts of land on Mull.

The MacDougalls forfeited most of their lands when they were caught up in the blood feud supporting Balliol (to whom they were related through intermarriage with the Comyns) against Robert the Bruce. At the time the family controlled Lorn and Benderloch, the islands of Mull, Lismore, Coll and Tiree. 

In 1354 however some of these lands were restored when John McDougall of Lorn married Robert the Bruce's granddaughter.  In an agreement between John of Lorn and John of the Isles made in that year it was agreed that until John of Lorn delivered the Castle of Kerneburgh [I suspect this is the fortress of Cairnburgh in the Treshnish Isles to which the Macleans later retired when Duart became untenable] to John of Isla, Lord of the Isles, he should give him three hostages, including a lawful son of John MacMolmari, (Maol Mari means the tonsured of the B.V. Mary) or of another good man of his clan.  It is believed that John MacMolmari was the Coarb at the time.


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