The Macdonalds of Sleat descend from Uisdein or Hugh, younger son of Alexander, Lord of the Isles, who had died at Dingwall in 1449. Hugh was a man of power and ability, and sat on his brother’s Council of the Isles. In 1495, after the Lords of the Isles had been forfeited, Hugh obtained a Crown charter to the lands he held. These he passed to his son, John, whose own sons plunged the clan into a period of death and destruction. John eventually married a daughter of Macleod of Harris by whom he had one son, Donald Hearach, but he also had at least four more sons, each by different mothers. Gilleasbuig Dubh, or Black Archibald, his son by a daughter of Torquil Macleod of Lewis, has been said by clan historians to have had a soul as dark as his complexion. He conspired with two more of his half-brothers, Angus Dubh and Angus Collach, to murder both Donald Hearach and the eldest of John’s illegitimate sons, Donald Gallach. Black Archibald had Gallach strangled, and stabbed Donald Hearach in the back after inviting him to dinner to view a new galley he had built. Reprisals followed, and Archibald’s half-brothers both died violent deaths. Archibald became, in this manner, the sole surviving son of John. He paid the penalty for a life of blood when he was murdered by his nephews, Ranald and Donald Gruamach. Donald was proclaimed chief, probably around 1518.
Donald’s son, Donald Gorm, is best remembered for his attempt to restore the ancient Lordship of the Isles. He was proclaimed chief of Clan Donald and Lord of the Isles, and in 1539 he led his men against the great Mackenzie castle at Eilean Donan in Kintail. Macdonald’s galleys came under fire from the castle which was commanded by Duncan Macrae. Donald Gorm was shot in the leg by one of Macrae’s arrows, which severed an artery, and the chief died from loss of blood. The feud with the Mackenzies was settled in 1569 at the Council of Perth. Donald Gorm’s son died in 1575, leaving his heir, Donald Gorm Mor, a minor. When he reached manhood, he embarked upon a campaign against the Macleans. The men of Sleat invaded Mull but, after some initial success, they were driven back to their galleys. In 1608 Donald, along with his kinsmen Clanranald, the Maclean of Duart and other leading chiefs, was invited to meet the king’s representative, Lord Ochiltree, to discuss the royal policy for the isles. The chiefs disagreed with Ochiltree’s plans, and were consequently imprisoned. Donald was confined in Blackness Castle, only being released when he agreed to submit to the king. He died in December 1616, when he was succeeded by his nephew, Sir Donald Macleod, later first Baronet of Sleat. He supported the royalist cause in the civil war, and when he died in 1643, his son sent four hundred of his clansmen to join Montrose. They were led by Donald Macdonald of Castleton, and they returned to the islands only when the king ordered his forces to disband.
Sleat remained loyal to the Stuart cause and fought with his clansmen at Killiecrankie in 1689, when they suffered heavy losses. His son, Sir Donald, the fourth Baronet, was an ardent Jacobite, and although he was taken ill and forced to return home, he left his brothers, James and William, to lead the clan at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. Despite strong Jacobite sympathies, the next chief, Sir Alexander, took no part in the rising of 1745 and the Sleat estates remained intact. Sir Alexander’s second son, who succeeded as ninth Baronet, was created Lord Macdonald in July 1776.
Sir Godfrey, the eleventh Baronet and third Lord Macdonald, became a professional soldier and served in the Peninsular War of 1808–14, achieving the rank of lieutenant general. He married Louisa, natural daughter of the Duke of Gloucester, brother of George III. He did not, however, contract a marriage which was legally recognised in England until 1803, by which time his wife had borne him three children. They subsequently had ten more. Although Lord Macdonald’s eldest son was legitimate in Scots law, he was not so under the law of England. Macdonald therefore settled upon him the substantial estates he had inherited from his mother, who was the heiress of the old Anglo–Norman family of Bosville of Thorpe in Yorkshire. He decreed that his eldest son should change his name to Bosville, while the eldest son born after the marriage was recognised in England should have the chiefship of Clan Donald and the peerage. A private Act of Parliament was procured in 1847 to regulate the position in accordance with the chief’s wishes. However, in 1910, Alexander Bosville, grandson of Macdonald’s eldest son, obtained a declarator in the Court of Session that his grandfather was legitimate and he was therefore entitled to resume the name of Macdonald and the Scottish baronetcy, a decision which overturned the settlement which had been reached in the previous century.