Randal MacDonnell, 1st Marquess of Antrim (1645 creation)

Randal MacDonnell, 1st Marquess of Antrim (1609  3 February 1683) was a Roman Catholic landed magnate in Scotland and Ireland, son of the 1st Earl of Antrim. He was also chief of Clan MacDonnell of Antrim. He is best known for his involvement, mostly on the Royalist side, in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

The Marquess of Antrim
The Marquess of Antrim
Died3 February 1683 (aged 74[1])
Resting placeBonamargy Friary, Ballycastle
Occupationchief of Clan MacDonnell, politician, military contractor
Spouse(s)Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1st)
Rose O'Neill (2nd)
Parent(s)Randal MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim
Alice O'Neill

Early life


Randal was born in Ireland in 1609, as eldest son of Randal MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim and Alice (sometimes written as Ellis) O'Neill. Through both his parents he was related to many of the leading Gaelic Irish families of Ulster. His maternal grandfather was Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, the leader of Tyrone's Rebellion who had fled into exile in 1607.

Through his father Antrim was descended from the Twelfth Century Scottish warlord Somerled and a later anscestor was Alexander MacDonald, 5th of Dunnyveg, a Scottish-Irish magnate who had been driven out of Scotland by James IV and had fled to Ulster where the family was already powerful through a series of marriages. Their former Scottish territory was taken over by their rivals the Clan Campbell, although MacDonalds continued to inhabit the lands and instinctively looked towards the MacDonnell family for leadership. Recovering these former lands in Scotland remained a major objective of Antrim throughout his life.

Over several generations the MacDonnells established themselves as a dominant force in Antrim. Having demonstrated their loyalty to the crown, they were rewarded by James I who granted Antrim's father an Earldom in 1620.[2] Unlike most of the Ulster Catholic elite, the MacDonnells benefited financially from the Plantation of Ulster, which brought large-scale Scottish and English settlement of Northern Ireland. In spite of this, and their good relations with their Protestant neighbours and tenants, the MacDonnell's remained strongly Catholic.

Relatively little is known about Antrim's early years, when he was known as Viscount Dunluce. Although the family was part of an increasingly Anglicised Irish elite, he was exposed to Gaelic culture, the Gaelic language and raised as a staunch Catholic. At the age of four an arranged marriage was made for him with Lucy Hamilton, a daughter of James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Abercorn but the wedding never eventually took place.[3]

Family tree
Randal MacDonnell with selected relatives.
Sorley Boy

d. 1590
1nd Earl


d. 1665



d. c. 1690
3rd Earl
of Antrim

4th Earl


d. 1739
5th Earl
XXXEarls & marquesses
of Antrim
First wife on the left, second on the right. Also see the lists of siblings and children in the text.

France and England

In 1625 Antrim travelled to France to complete his education. After two years there he went to London, where he was presented at court. At the time he was described as "a tall, clean-limbed, handsome man with red hair".[4] Antrim spent the next ten years in England, with only occasional, brief visits to Ireland. In 1635 he began a career as a military contractor by agreeing to raise two regiments of Irish troops for service in the French army, but the plan was vetoed by Charles I.[4]

After abandoning his long-standing fiancée Lucy Hamilton, Antrim was linked with several other prospective marriages. In 1635 he married Katherine Manners, the widow of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham who had been England's Chief Minister under both James I and Charles before his assassination in 1628. The Duchess was a devout Catholic, who was extremely wealthy and owned several properties. She was very close to Queen Henrietta Maria, and further enhanced Antrim's status at court.[5] He became friends with leading British politicians including the Earl of Nithsdale, Duke of Lennox and Duke of Hamilton.

Along with Hamilton, Antrim planned to acquire large amounts of land in the Londonderry Plantation but this was blocked by Thomas Wentworth, the Lord Deputy of Ireland who mistrusted Antrim and was to become a major opponent of his.[6] Antrim also made a failed attempt to recover some of the family's traditional lands in the West of the Scotland by purchasing them, but this also fell through.

Antrim was emotionally very close to his wife, and became stepfather to her children including George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. The couple lived a lavish lifestyle, and Antrim ran up large debts in England which troubled him for the rest of his life. In an effort to cut down on expenses he and his wife relocated to Ireland in 1638.[7]

Two years earlier Antrim's father had died, and he had inherited most of his lands and titles (although some went to his younger brother Alexander MacDonnell). Antrim set up home in his family's traditional seat of Dunluce Castle as one of the wealthiest men in Ireland. He oversaw nearly 340,000 acres of land, which was mostly sublet to tenant farmers.[8] Along with the family's traditional Scottish followers in the Western Isles, Antrim's tenants provided him with an important power base during the coming wars.

Scottish Crisis

Antrim Plan

Due to his family connections there, Antrim took a strong interest in Scottish politics. By 1638 the King's attempts to introduce religious reforms there had led to protests, the signing of a Covenant and eventually armed resistance from many Protestant inhabitants. Antrim saw in the developing situation an opportunity both to assist the King and to regain his family's traditional lands in Scotland from his hereditary enemy Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll who had joined the Covenanters.[9] He proposed raising an Irish Catholic army from his tenants in Ulster and then making the short sea crossing to the Western Isles where they could link up with the Scottish MacDonalds, many of whom had refused to sign the Covenant.

Antrim's proposed expedition would take place in conjunction with other landings and an invasion by the main English army under Charles. The expedition would divert Covenanter troops away from the King's army while in the process Antrim would be able to recover Kintyre, a peninsula in Western Scotland, for his family. Antrim also tied the project to the fears of the Irish government that the Covenanters might invade northern Ireland where they enjoyed strong support amongst the Presbyterian settlers. He suggested that an Irish invasion of Scotland would pre-empt this threat.[10] Nonetheless Wentworth in Dublin was extremely sceptical about the plan. He rejected Antrim's appeals for money, supplies and weapons. Wentworth's refusal was likely due to his own plans for the regular Irish Army to launch a rival invasion from Ireland against Dumbarton and his mistrust of the Earl's motives.[11] Eventually, Wentworth was ordered to assist Antrim by the King.[12]

The growing crisis re-ignited the MacDonald-Campbell feud. In response, Argyll raised troops of his own in Scotland and attacked the MacDonalds who were arming in anticipation of Antrim's invasion, driving many into exile in Ireland. The threatened invasion by Irish Catholics also strengthened support in Scotland for the Covenanters, and further damaged the King's reputation there.[13]

New Irish Army

Based in Carrickfergus, Antrim began raising his army from December 1638 although it wasn't until April the following year that he formally received a commission from the King authorising him to do so. Antrim recruited his army from many of the leading Gaelic families of Ulster, but Wentworth blocked a plan to import experienced Irish mercenary officers from Europe to command them. The army was raised separately from the existing standing Irish Army, which was more heavily Protestant. The army was to consist of 5,000 infantry and 200 cavalry.[14]

Assembling of the force took longer than expected, and by the time it was ready the First Scottish War had been ended by the Treaty of Berwick (1639). This settled relatively little and was closer to a ceasefire than a final agreement. A second war was widely expected, but Antrim had to postpone and then abandon his expedition. Nonetheless, sporadic fighting continued in western Scotland between local MacDonalds and Campbells.[15] Antrim and Wentworth both blamed the other for the delays with the expedition.

In 1640, the Scottish situation flared up again and the Coventanter Army now launched an invasion of England. Antrim's planned expedition was revived, but this time Wentworth himself oversaw the recruitment of an 8,000-strong "New Irish Army" which assembled at Carrickfergus. Like Antrim's earlier force, the army was made up mainly of Irish Catholics. By this time the Scots had captured Newcastle, and were able to agree a favourable peace at the Treaty of Ripon before the Irish army had crossed to Scotland. This effectively left the new Covenanter government intact in Scotland, with Argyll one of its leading figures.

Antrim moved to Dublin during 1640, occasionally attending the Irish House of Lords and generally opposing the policies of Wentworth. In November 1640 Wentworth was recalled to London where he was impeached by Parliament and ultimately executed.

The future of the New Irish Army became a source of controversy once the Scottish crisis ended, as it was alleged that Charles I intended to ship them to England to enforce his will against the London Parliament with whom he was in dispute. Antrim's exact role remains controversial. He later claimed he was contacted by a messenger named Thomas Bourke, on the King's behalf, and encouraged to stop the New Irish Army from disbanding, to raise its strength to 20,000 and to equip it for operations in England. Antrim worked alongside other Irish supporters of the King such as Ormonde and Castlehaven and kept in contact with Charles. Some of the other figures Antrim worked with at the time such as Lord Enniskillen were soon to take part in the Irish Rebellion. As the King's political situation in both England and Scotland seemed to improve in 1641 the need for Irish military intervention lessened. Nonetheless, Antrim worked hard to secure support for the King in Ireland, planning to get the Irish Parliament to declare for the King against the English Parliament should fighting break out in England.[16]

Antrim's plan to use Ireland to solve the King's English problems, was wrecked by the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641.[17]

The New Irish Army remained unpaid in the wake of Strafford's execution, and were waiting to be shipped abroad for foreign service.

War of the Three Kingdoms

Irish Rebellion

Soon afterwards he returned to Ireland, and sought in 1641 to create a diversion, together with Ormonde, for Charles I against the parliament. He joined in his schemes Lord Slane and Sir Phelim O'Neill, later leaders of the rebellion, but on the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 in the autumn he dissociated himself from his allies and retired to his castle at Dunluce (now in Northern Ireland). Although Sir Phelim O'Neill announced he had a commission from the King which authorities the rebellion, Antrim remained broadly neutral. He assisted the besieged Protestant garrison during the Siege of Coleraine, persuading his Catholic tenents to abandon the campaign and sending supplies of food in to the hard-pressed inhabitants.

His suspicious conduct, however, and his Roman Catholicism, caused him to be regarded as an enemy by the English party. In May 1642 he was captured at Dunluce Castle by the Scottish Covenanter general Robert Monro, and imprisoned at Carrickfergus. Escaping thence he joined the queen at York; and subsequently, having proceeded to Ireland to negotiate a cessation of hostilities between the English Royalists and Irish Catholic rebels, he was again captured with his papers in May 1643 and confined at Carrickfergus, thence once more escaping and making his way to Kilkenny, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic confederation.

He returned to Oxford in December with a scheme for raising 10,000 Irish for service in England and 2000 to join Montrose in Scotland, which through the influence of the duchess of Buckingham secured the consent of the king. On 26 January 1644 Antrim was created a marquess. He returned to Kilkenny in February, took the Irish Confederate oath of association, and was made a member of the council and lieutenant-general of the forces of the Catholic confederacy. The confederacy, however, giving him no support in his projects, he threw up his commission, and with Ormonde's help despatched about 1600 men under his kinsman Alasdair MacColla in June to Montrose's assistance in Scotland, sparking a Scottish civil war. Antrim subsequently returned to Oxford and being sent by the king in 1645 with letters for the queen at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

He proceeded thence to Flanders and fitted out two frigates with military stores, which he brought to the Prince of Wales at Falmouth. He visited Cork and afterwards in July 1646 joined his troops in Scotland, with the hope of expelling Argyll from Kintyre; but he was obliged to retire by order of the king, and returning to Ireland threw himself into the intrigues between the various factions.

Cromwell era

In 1647 he was appointed with two others by the Irish confederacy to negotiate a treaty with the Prince of Wales in France, and though he anticipated his companions by starting a week before them, he failed to secure the coveted lord-lieutenancy, which was confirmed to Ormonde. He now ceased to support the Roman Catholics or the king's cause; opposed the treaty between Ormonde, and the confederates; supported the project of union between O'Neill and the parliament; and in 1649 entered into communications with Cromwell, for whom he performed various services during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, though there appears no authority to support Carte's story that Antrim was the author of a forged agreement for the betrayal of the king's army by Lord Inchiquin (Life of Ormonde, iii. 509; see also Cal. of State Papers, Ireland, 1660–1662, pp. 294, 217; Cal. of Clarendon St. Pap., ii. 69, and Gardiner's Commonwealth, i. 153). Subsequently, he joined Ireton, and was present at the Siege of Carlow.

He returned to England in December 1650, and in lieu of his confiscated estate received a pension of £500 and later of £800, together with lands in County Mayo.[18]


Following the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, Antrim went to London to demonstrate his loyalty to the King. Before being able to meet Charles he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of collaboration with Cromwell and the English Republicans. Antrim was excluded from the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, which offered a pardon for offences that might have been committed during the previous two decades. His long-standing rival Argyll also came to London to swear his loyalty to Charles, and was likewise imprisoned before being taken back to Scotland, tried and executed for treason.[19]

From July 1660 until May 1661 Antrim remained in the Tower. He was investigated by the new Royalist authorities for several offences, particularly allegations that he had taken part in the 1641 Irish Rebellion and that he had publicly suggested Charles I had secret involvement with the rising. He was also accused of a variety of other crimes including specific charges of his dealings with Ireton and other Republican officers during the Irish campaigns. Although all but the first of these accusations were essentially true, Antrim was eventually released without being charged.[20]

Later life

Despite being cleared he still faced serious battles to recover his Irish estates. He had to prove that he was innocent of any involvement in the Irish rebellion.

Subsequently, being called before the lords justices in Ireland, In 1663 he succeeded, in spite of Ormonde's opposition, in securing a decree of innocence from the commissioners of claims. This raised an outcry from the adventurers who had been put in possession of his lands, and who procured a fresh trial; but Antrim appealed to the king, and through the influence of the queen mother obtained a pardon, his estates being restored to him by the Irish, Act of Explanation in 1665[18] (Hallam, Const. Hist., iii. 396 (ed. 1855)).

Antrim was described by Clarendon as "of handsome appearance but of excessive pride and vanity and of a marvellous weak and narrow understanding." He married secondly Rose, daughter of Sir Henry O'Neill, but had no children, being succeeded in the earldom by his brother Alexander, 3rd Earl of Antrim.[18]


  1. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms. p.276
  2. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.21
  3. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.26-27
  4. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.28
  5. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.28-31
  6. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.55-60
  7. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.72-73
  8. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.33-48
  9. Stevenson p.22
  10. Stevenson p.22-23
  11. Ohlmeyer War of the Three Kingdoms p.81-82
  12. Ohlmeyer War of the Three Kingdoms p.83
  13. Stevenson p.24
  14. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.82-85
  15. Ohlmeyer War of the Three Kingdoms. p.94
  16. Ohlmeyer p.96-99
  17. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.99
  18.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Antrim, Randal MacDonnell, 1st Marquess of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 152.
  19. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.260
  20. Ohlmeyer. War of the Three Kingdoms p.258-59


The book by Jane Ohlmeyer on Randal is listed twice below because it exists in two editions. It was first published by Cambridge University Press in 1993 and then later by Four Courts Press in 2001. The pages cited above are those of the 1993 edition.

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Randal MacDonell
Earl of Antrim
Succeeded by
Alexander MacDonell
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.