Glengarry lies in Lochaber, part of the ancient kingdom or province of Moray once ruled by the Picts. Ranald, a son of the Lord of the Isles, had five sons, including Alan, the progenitor of Clanranald, and Donald. Donald married firstly Laleve, daughter of Maciver, by whom he had a son, John. He took as his second wife a daughter of Fraser of Lovat, and had two further sons, Alexander and Angus. John died without heirs and he was succeeded by his half-brother, Alexander, considered by some historians to be the first true chief of Glengarry, but usually counted as the fourth.
It was not until the late fifteenth century that Glengarry played an independent part in the politics of Clan Donald. Royal policy to pacify the Highlands required that the traditional rights of chiefs should be replaced with feudal relationships, in which the Crown was acknowledged as ultimate superior. James V received the submission of most chiefs, and even lofty Clanranald accepted charters in 1494. Alexander of Glengarry did not receive a Crown charter at this time, which may suggest that he continued to have a rebellious attitude, but in 1531 he finally submitted to royal authority, and was pardoned for all past offences. On 6 March 1539, Alexander received a Crown charter to the lands of Glengarry and Morar, half the lands of Lochalsh, Lochcarron and Lochbroom, together with the Castle of Strome. However, this did not stop Alexander from following Donald Gorm of Sleat in his attempt to reclaim the Lordship of the Isles. The rebellion swiftly collapsed when Donald was killed while attacking Eilean Donan Castle. Glengarry was among the island chiefs tricked into attending on James V at Portree, whereupon they were seized and imprisoned in Edinburgh. Glengarry remained in the castle until the king’s death in 1542, and he himself died in 1560. His son, Angus, the new chief, seems to have been politically astute, and he was able to use the influence of his father-in-law, the Laird of Grant, to regain his ancestral estates by charter of James VI in July 1574.
Angus’s son, Donald, who succeeded him as eighth of Glengarry, is reputed to have lived for more than a hundred years and ruled his clan for at least seventy. He obtained a charter under the great seal in March 1627, erecting his lands of Glengarry into a free barony. However, he had not always enjoyed such royal favour. Donald had been infuriated by the treatment of his kinsmen a year earlier, when they had been invited to dinner on board the ship of Lord Ochiltree, the king’s representative, to discuss royal policy for the isles.They disagreed with the king’s plans, and were consequently arrested and imprisoned on the mainland. In February 1609, Donald was warned by the Privy Council to stop harbouring fugitives from the isles, and to appear before them on 25 March in that year to answer for his conduct. He failed to appear, and was denounced as a rebel.
When Charles I’s religious policies brought him in direct conflict with many of his Scottish subjects, Glengarry was too old for active campaigning. Effective leadership of the clan passed to his grandson, Aeneas, who became the ninth chief when his grandfather died on the very day of Montrose’s victory at Inverlochy. Aeneas was with Montrose at that victory, as well as at Dundee and Auldearn. Five hundred of Glengarry’s men fought in the Marquess’s most impressive pitched battle, when he routed General Baillie at Kilsyth. When Montrose was surprised by a strong force of Covenanter cavalry at Philiphaugh, he barely escaped with his life, and made his way to safety in the Highlands. He was sheltered by Aeneas at Invergarry Castle. Aeneas’s devotion to the Stuart cause was so strong that he led his men south into England, only to be utterly defeated by Cromwell at Worcester in September 1651. Glengarry made good his escape, but his estates were forfeit under the Commonwealth. At the Restoration his loyalty was rewarded when he was created a peer, taking the title of ‘Lord Macdonell and Aros’. The honour was short-lived; when he died in 1680 without issue, his peerage became extinct.
The Stuart monarchs called upon the Macdonells again when they returned to claim their throne in 1715, and at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, when the captain of Clanranald was killed, Alasdair, eleventh of Glengarry, is said to have rallied the dismayed Highlanders by throwing up his bonnet and crying, ‘Revenge today and mourning tomorrow’. On 9 December 1716, James VIII, the ‘Old Pretender’, issued a patent of nobility under his hand and great seal, raising Alasdair to the peerage as Lord Macdonell. The title was, of course, only recognised by Jacobites. Alasdair Ruadh, the thirteenth chief, was captured by an English frigate when hurrying from France to join the rising of 1745. He was conveyed to the Tower of London and was not released until 1747.
The chiefs of Glengarry have served their country ably in the field in the last two centuries. General Sir James Macdonell, brother of the fourteenth chief, was one of the heroes of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The present chief's father was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain and attained the rank of Air Commodore.