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of Clan Donald are vast and confusing. There is a High Chief in the
person of Godfrey, 8th Lord Macdonald of Macdonald, and four other
acknowledged Chiefs — Clanranald, Glengarry, Sleat, and Keppoch; all of
them are descendants of the legendary 12th-Century King of the Isles:
With their traditional headquarters on the island of Islay, Clan Donald
dominated Scotland's western seaboard for centuries and were related
through marriage to King Robert II of Scotland. The founder of the
Macdonalds of Sleat was Uisden (Hugh), a six times great grandson of
Somerled. With territories that encompassed the Sleat Peninsula on Skye,
this branch of the Clan became known in the Gaelic language as ‘the
children of Uisden’.
After a century of feuding, Donald of Sleat finally submitted to King
James VI and, after his death, his nephew succeeded as Chief and was
created 1st Baronet of Sleat. However, when his son succeeded as 2nd
Baronet of Sleat in 1644, Civil War had broken out in the British Isles.
Although the 2nd Baronet, Sir James Mor Macdonald, declined to become
personally involved in the conflict, he was eventually persuaded to
allow around 400 of his clansmen to support the Marquis of Montrose and
the Royalist Cause.
As is so often the case, there was originally a true fortress at
Armadale but it was burnt down, in revenge for the Clan's early support
of the Jacobite cause at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1690. As a
result, the Chief was forfeit of his lands, but they were fortuitously
restored to his grandson in 1727 as the Barony of Macdonald — although
it seems that by then he preferred to spend time at his castle at
Duntulm (at Trotternish, in the far north of the island) or in Glasgow.
While he did so, his factor and kinsman Hugh Macdonald was installed at
Armadale. Hugh was married to his widowed cousin Marion, the mother of
Flora Macdonald, heroine of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, and it was to
Armadale that Flora came for refuge after helping Prince Charles Edward
Stuart to escape from Benbecula, in the Uists, to Portree. Five years
later, it was at Armadale House that Flora married her kinsman Allan
Macdonald of Kingsburgh.
Memorably, this same house was visited by Dr. Samuel Johnson and his
companion James Boswell in 1773, while on their famous tour of Scotland.
However, the property was by then in the keeping of Sir Alexander
Macdonald, 9th Baronet of Sleat and 1st Baron Macdonald, yet another
Clan Donald kinsman. Famously, in Boswell’s account Sir Alexander is
noted to have been criticized by Dr. Johnson for putting on a poor show
of being a Highland chief, a criticism that was watered down for the
book's second edition!
The 1st Baron’s son, another Alexander, succeeded him in 1795 and,
although he chose to live for the most part in England, the improvements
to the estate began. In 1815, Gillespie Graham was commissioned to
design a castle built on the existing mansion house, facing southeast
across the Sound of Sleat, which would reflect the status of one of the
most influential Chiefs and barons of Scotland's west coast.
However, the 2nd Baron Macdonald died unmarried in 1824 and his brother,
Godfrey Bosville Macdonald, succeeded him. When his son inherited in
turn, chunks of the family's inheritance were sold off to pay debts,
including North Uist and Duntulm Castle. This did not seem to deter the
4th Baron Macdonald from commissioning the architect David Bryce in 1850
to extend Armadale Castle, following a fire that severely damaged the
By this point, inheritance matters had by then become a trifle
complicated to say the least. The eldest son of the 3rd Baron was born
prior to his parents' marriage. Under English Law, rules of
primogeniture therefore prohibited him from succeeding to the Macdonald
peerage. As a result, the second son inherited the peerage and the
Scottish lands, becoming Chief of Clan Donald, while his elder brother
inherited his grandmother's Bosville estates in Yorkshire.
In 1910, Alexander Wentworth Macdonald Bosville, grandson of Alexander
William Robert Bosville, obtained a Court of Session decree and was
recognized as 14th Baronet of Sleat and 22nd Chief of the Macdonalds of
Sleat. Financial circumstances obliged the Macdonald family to abandon
Armadale in 1925 when the 6th Baron Macdonald moved his family to the
more habitable Ostaig House, which had previously been used as
Armadale's Dower House.
With his father's death in 1970, Godfrey, 8th Lord Macdonald was
confronted by crippling death duties and forced to sell off the better
half of the Sleat Peninsula and a hotel. As a result, in 1972 the
20,000-acre Armadale Estate was purchased by the Clan Donald Lands
In 1984, Armadale's Category A listed stables were converted by the Boys
Jarvis Partnership into The Clan Donald Centre, which now operates as
the café and visitor center. In 2002, the Museum of the Isles was opened
on the site of the Little Garden.
With the west section demolished, the Category C listed Armadale Castle
today stands partially derelict, but nevertheless survives as a romantic
and impressively dramatic testimony to past glories.