Alastair Ruadh MacDonnell

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Alastair Ruadh MacDonnell, 13th Chief Glengarry
Jacobite broadside - Pickle the Spy.jpg
Alastair MacDonnell of Glengarry (foreground), unnamed servant behind
Born(1725-01-05)5 January 1725
Invergarry Castle, Scottish Highlands
Died23 December 1761(1761-12-23) (aged 36)
Invergarry Castle, Scottish Highlands
Title13th Chief, Clan MacDonell of Glengarry
Tenure1754-1761
Other titlessoi disant Jacobite Lord MacDonald
NationalityScottish
PredecessorJohn MacDonnell, 12th Chief of Glengarry (1754)
SuccessorDonald MacDonnell, 14th Chief of Glengarry (1754)
ParentsJohn MacDonnell of Glengarry (died 1754)
Margaret Mackenzie

Alastair MacDonnell of Glengarry (ca 1725-1761), also known as Alasdair Ruadh Mac Dhomhnuil, was the 13th chief of Clan MacDonell of Glengarry. Brought up as a Catholic and largely educated in France, he was arrested in November 1745 on his way to join the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

After his release from the Tower of London in 1747, he continued to be active in Jacobite plotting but became a British government agent; this remained secret until 1897 when Scottish historian Andrew Lang confirmed his identity as 'Pickle the Spy.'

He became 13th chief of Glengarry in 1754 and died unmarried in 1761, when he was succeeded by his nephew Donald.

Life[edit]

Invergarry Castle ca 2017; MacDonnell's family home was destroyed after the 1745 Rising

MacDonnell was born about 1725, eldest son of John McDonnell of Glengarry (?-1754), a leader of the tiny Scottish Catholic community, and his first wife Margaret Mackenzie. After his mother died in or about 1728, his father married again, this time to Helen Gordon, daughter of John Gordon of Glenbucket (1673-1750).

He had a younger brother Aeneas (1727-1746) and a number of half-brothers and sisters from his father's second marriage; these included James (1729-?), Isabel (1731-after 1775), Charles (1732-1763) and four others.[1]

Career[edit]

As was common for many Catholics in this period, MacDonnell was sent to France in 1738 to complete his education; this coincided with an improvement in Jacobite prospects for the first time in over two decades, as French and Spanish statesmen looked for ways to reduce the expansion of British commercial strength.[2] The 1740 War of the Austrian Succession placed Britain and France on opposing sides, although they were not yet formally at war and Louis XV proposed an invasion of England in early 1744 to restore the Stuarts. To support this, in late December 1743 Lord John Drummond was authorised to raise a regiment known as the Royal-Ecossais. MacDonnell was commissioned into the regiment as captain but the landing was cancelled in March 1744 after the French fleet was severely damaged by winter storms.[3]

Prime Minister Henry Pelham, who recruited MacDonnell as a British agent

In early 1745, Prince Charles, the Stuart heir, began assembling weapons and transport for an alternative landing in Scotland. Heavily dependent on promises of support from a small number of clan chiefs in the western Highlands, it ignored their stipulation this was conditional on the supply of regular French troops, money and weapons. MacDonnell was sent to Scotland in spring 1745 to meet with the Jacobite chiefs who reiterated their opposition to his arrival without substantial support. By the time MacDonnell returned, Charles had already sailed.[4]

After the Jacobites achieved considerable success in the early stages of the 1745 Rising, the Royal Écossais was shipped to Scotland in November; the ship carrying MacDonnell was intercepted and he joined his father John in the Tower of London, his younger brother Aeneas raised a clan regiment and fought at Falkirk in January 1746 but was accidentally killed after the battle.[5]

Archibald Cameron being taken to his execution, 1753; he was allegedly captured using information provided by MacDonnell

Released under the 1747 Act of Indemnity, MacDonnell returned to France where he continued to be active in Jacobite plotting. At some point, he was recruited by Henry Pelham as a British government agent, known as 'Pickle;' this remained secret during his lifetime but his identity was confirmed by the Scottish historian Andrew Lang in 1897,[6] his reasons appear to have been a combination of poverty, resentment at not being compensated for his losses and a liking for the art of deception; whatever his faults, cowardice was not one of them.[7]

His major coup was providing information on the 1752 Elibank Plot, which led to the arrest in March 1753 of Archibald Cameron, who had escaped into exile after Culloden, he was tried and executed in June but using the warrant issued in 1746, supposedly to conceal the source of the information.[8] The betrayal of the plot also coincided with the resumption of Charles' affair with Clementina Walkinshaw, whom he first met in 1746; by coincidence, one of her sisters was lady in waiting to the Dowager Princess of Wales and it was widely believed she was the informer.[9]

It has also been suggested MacDonnell 'helped himself to the Loch Arkaig treasure,' a consignment of gold coins provided by the French in June 1746 to finance the Jacobite war effort;[10] this may have been an attempt to explain his secret income from the government; the money certainly existed but there were numerous accounts from contemporaries as to what happened to it, including a detailed account provided by Archibald Cameron in 1750.[11] Cameron's explanation is not complete but since McDonnell was in prison at the time, he was is unlikely to have a better idea of its location; modern-day treasure hunters have yet to find any trace of it.[12]

In 1754, Pelham's death ended MacDonnell's career as a government informer and he succeeded his father as 13th chief of Glengarry, he returned home, although Invergarry Castle was demolished by government troops after the 1745 Rising and he could not afford to restore it. He never married and on his death in 1761, his nephew Donald succeeded as 14th chief of Glengarry.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Helen Gordon". Clan Macfarlane Genealogy. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  2. ^ McKay, Derek (1983). The Rise of the Great Powers 1648–1815. Routledge. pp. 138–140. ISBN 978-0582485549.
  3. ^ Harding, Richard (2013). The Emergence of Britain's Global Naval Supremacy: The War of 1739–1748. Boydell Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-1843838234.
  4. ^ Douglas, Hugh (2004). MacDonnell, Alasdair Ruadh, of Glengarry [alias Pickle the Spy] (Online ed.). Oxford DNB. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17450.
  5. ^ Reid, Stuart (2006). The Scottish Jacobite Army 1745-1746. Osprey. p. 21. ISBN 978-1846030734.
  6. ^ Lang, Andrew (1897). Pickle the spy; or, The incognito of Prince Charles. Longmans Green.
  7. ^ Davenport-Hines, Richard (2019). Enemies Within;. Williams Collins. p. 36. ISBN 978-0007516698.
  8. ^ Petrie, Charles (1931). "The Elibank Plot, 1752-1753". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 14: 186. doi:10.2307/3678512. JSTOR 3678512.
  9. ^ Douglas, Hugh (24 November 1999). "Historical Notes: Secrets of the pillow and 'Pickle the Spy'". The Independent. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  10. ^ Douglas, Oxford DNB Online
  11. ^ "Dr. Archibald Cameron's Memorial Concerning the Locharkaig Treasure (Stuart Papers, Vol. 300, No. 80) circa 1750". Clan Cameron. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  12. ^ Cowie, Ashley. "Jacobite Gold". Ashley Cowie. Retrieved 6 May 2019.

Sources[edit]

  • Davenport-Hines, Richard (2019). Enemies Within;. Williams Collins. ISBN 978-0007516698.
  • Douglas, Hugh (2004). MacDonnell, Alasdair Ruadh, of Glengarry [alias Pickle the Spy] (Online ed.). Oxford DNB.
  • Harding, Richard (2013). The Emergence of Britain's Global Naval Supremacy: The War of 1739–1748. Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1843838234.
  • Lang, Andrew (1897). Pickle the spy; or, The incognito of Prince Charles. Longmans Green.
  • McKay, Derek (1983). The Rise of the Great Powers 1648–1815. Routledge. ISBN 978-0582485549.
  • Petrie, Charles (1931). "The Elibank Plot, 1752-1753". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 14.
  • Reid, Stuart (2006). The Scottish Jacobite Army 1745-1746. Osprey. ISBN 978-1846030734.

External links[edit]