MacDonnell, Randall (1609–83), 2nd earl and 1st marquis of Antrim , was the eldest legitimate son of Sir Randal MacDonnell (qv), 1st earl of Antrim, and his wife Alice, daughter of Hugh O'Neill, 3rd earl of Tyrone. Viscount Dunluce, as he was known prior to his father's death, had one younger brother, Alexander, four illegitimate brothers, and six sisters. Reared at Dunluce castle in Co. Antrim and fluent in both Irish and English, he was ‘bred the highland way’ wearing ‘neither hat, cap, nor shoe, nor stocking’ until he was seven or eight years old (Hill, MacDonnells, 252). In 1625 he left Ireland to spend eighteen months completing his education in France before being presented in the spring of 1627 at the Stuart court, where he was to remain for over a decade living ‘in great expense and some lustre’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, iii, 509).
Marriage, wealth, and power
Antrim's marriage (April 1635) to Katherine MacDonnell (c.1603–1649), duchess of Buckingham , transformed his position at court from that of an impoverished, carousing bystander to someone who enjoyed access to great riches and the centre of power at Whitehall. Katherine was the daughter of Francis Manners , 6th earl of Rutland, the leading noble of the English midlands and a prominent courtier, and Frances Knyvet, daughter and heiress of a rich Wiltshire gentleman. Katherine was sole heir both to her mother's fortune and to extensive, unentailed portions of the Manners estates in Northamptonshire and Yorkshire, together with estates in Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire. Her wealth and good looks made her particularly attractive to the young favourite of James I and VI, George Villiers, marquis (and later first duke) of Buckingham, whom she married in 1620 (having first renounced her catholicism). Over the course of the next nine years she bore him five children (only George, Francis, and Mary survived infancy). With Buckingham's assassination (1628) she inherited, together with her sons, an enormous fortune (an annual income of roughly £4,550 from the Irish customs, and a state pension of £6,000), his London mansions – Wallingford House, Walsingham House, and York House – together with nineteen more modest properties on the Strand, a mansion in Chelsea, and another, New Hall, north of Chelmsford in Essex.
The duchess, who had reverted to catholicism, was initially forced to pay a high price for marrying an Irishman seven years her junior. However, within a relatively short period of time the court – led by the king – became reconciled to the match, and the duchess was restored to her former position of favour and influence. Thanks to her Villiers connections, she was related to the earls of Desmond, Arundel, Suffolk, Northampton, Nithsdale, Pembroke, and Hamilton (who replaced her late husband as the royal favourite). Loyalty to the late duke's memory also brought the patronage of numerous old Buckingham clients including Endymion Porter, Sir Robert Pye, Sir Edward Conway, and Secretary Windebank. The marriage of Katherine's daughter – Lady Mary Villiers – to James Stewart, 4th duke of Lennox (and, after 1641, of Richmond) in the summer of 1637 also secured the patronage of Charles’ closest blood relative and one of his most intimate friends. However, Katherine's most important and influential patron was William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury.
During the early years of their marriage (during which time Katherine miscarried at least twice), the couple lived at York House, but in an effort to cut down on expenditure they moved to Ireland in 1638, making Dunluce castle their primary residence. On his father's death in 1636 the young earl had inherited the baronies of Dunluce, Cary, and Kilconway, together with Dunluce castle, and took control over his brother's estates in the barony of Glenarm. His empire measured nearly 340,000 acres, making him the largest landowner in Ulster and one of the greatest in Ireland. Contemporary valuations suggest that he received an approximate annual rental from his Irish lands of between £6,000 and £8,300. Yet Antrim's income proved insufficient to service his debts. Surviving figures suggest that these hovered between £40,000 and £42,000 during the late 1630s, and by the end of 1638 there was hardly a leading merchant or tradesman in London and Dublin to whom Antrim did not owe money. In order to secure these debts he mortgaged many of his own – and his wife's – properties, including the barony of Cary, the lordship of Ballycastle, Rathlin Island, and his English mansion in Hampshire. Ironically, however, indebtedness also had a positive side, and in Antrim's case his indebtedness – particularly to leading landowners in Ulster and to members of the London business community – helped to ensure his political survival. At the restoration his creditors formed a powerful pressure group which lobbied for the earl's restoration, principally to ensure that the money he owed them from the late 1630s might at last be repaid. In the long term, therefore, Antrim's debts bought him political and tenurial security, while in the middle term (1640s and 1650s) his indebtedness was relative since the majority of his class was similarly embarrassed. However, his debts had their dangers in the short term (the late 1630s) because they put him in severely straitened circumstances.
Ultimately, however, Antrim's power rested not on money or land but on the influence he exercised over a heterogeneous pool of people in both Ulster and along the western seaboard of Scotland. To begin with, he commanded the loyalty and support of many of his Co. Antrim tenants (especially the native Irish and Highland Scottish ones) and the various branches of the Irish MacDonnells. He enjoyed extensive contacts in Scotland: the MacDonnells of Antrim, the MacDonalds of Dunyveg and the Glens, of Clanranald, of Glengarry, of Keppoch, and of Sleat all shared a common heritage and outlook and were united by an overriding ambition to rid the Western Isles of their arch-rivals, Clan Campbell. The earl was also closely allied to the great catholic Scottish house of Gordon and, as an opponent of Campbell hegemony, was supported by the Ogilvies, the Hamiltons, and the lesser clans of MacLeod of Lewis, MacNeils of Gigha, MacAllasters of Loup, and MacFies of Colonsay. These ties of blood and animosity were supplemented by bonds of marriage. Thanks to the carefully calculated marriages of his siblings, the earl was allied with leading Old English families in the Pale (the Westmeaths, Slanes, Dillons, and Louths), and native Irish ones in Munster (MacCarthy More) and Connacht (the O'Connors). Their strongest connections were in Ulster, where they had intermarried with most of the leading Gaelic families (the O'Neills, O'Haras, O'Cahans, MacQuillans, and O'Donnells) and even with English protestant settlers such as Sir Moses Hill. Given these links and the English patronage networks to which he had access through his wife, Antrim enjoyed the rare privilege of truly being a man of the ‘three kingdoms’.
The coming of war: Scotland and Ulster
It was to these supporters that Antrim turned in 1638. In May, Hamilton – who was eager to foster an anti-Campbell alliance – recommended Antrim to the king and suggested using the MacDonnells on both sides of the North Channel as bulwarks against the covenanters in western Scotland. In return Charles promised the earl that ‘whatsoever land he can conquer from them [the Campbells], he, having pretense of right, he shall have the same’ (Knowler, Letters, ii, 319). By the spring of 1639 Antrim had levied an army of 5,000 foot and 200 horse. These men were drawn from the leading Irish families in Ulster or, as the lord deputy charmingly phrased it, ‘as many Oe's and Macs's as would startle a whole council board’ and ‘in a great part the sons of habituated traitors’ (Knowler, Letters, ii, 300). Ultimately the expedition was frustrated by Charles I's inconsistent attitude towards it and by Wentworth's (qv) hostility to it. The abortive expedition destabilised affairs in Scotland by alienating support for the king and forcing Argyll and his followers into the covenanting camp. Moreover, the king's willingness to conspire with an Irish papist against his protestant subjects (albeit Scottish ones) did little to dispel the rumours of popish plots which were circulating around London.
Antrim played no part in the second ‘bishops’ war’, and from the summer of 1640 until the outbreak of the Irish rebellion he appears to have lived principally in Dublin. From here Antrim continued to plot with the king. According to his own account (made in May 1650), some time early in May 1641 Charles I sent Antrim and Ormond (qv) a messenger with instructions that the New Army of Thomas Wentworth should be increased to 20,000, ‘armed out of the store of Dublin, and employed against the parliament’ (Hill, MacDonnells, 448–51). Ultimately this, the ‘Antrim plot’, came to nothing and it was the ‘O'More-Maguire plot’ which gave rise to the insurrection of October 1641. With the outbreak of rebellion Antrim remained in Dublin and agreed to act as an intermediary with the ‘discontented gentlemen’ (as he termed the insurgents). In order to negotiate more effectively he moved to the house of the earl of Castlehaven (qv) at Maddenstown, Co. Kildare, where he also harboured protestant refugees. It was here that he learned that his followers in Co. Antrim had joined the rising and that a Scottish army, under the command of Robert Monro (qv), had occupied his patrimony. The need to recover his confiscated estates became his priority for the next twenty years.
Antrim was prepared to do almost anything in order to secure their return. In May 1642 he attempted to forge a deal with the Scottish commander in Ulster, but this resulted in his capture and imprisonment. Six months later he escaped when a friend procured a passport for an invalid to leave Carrickfergus castle and Antrim, disguised as a cripple, fled to York. From here he plotted an invasion of Scotland, the details of which were made public in May 1643 when he was captured by a Scottish colonel off the coast of Co. Down. Following another dramatic escape from Carrickfergus he hurried on to Waterford, where the third confederate general assembly had just convened. Almost at once he secured the support of the assembly for an invasion of Scotland. The following June some 1,600 fully armed soldiers under the command of Alasdair MacColla MacDonnell (qv) left Ireland and went on to form the backbone of the earl of Montrose's very successful army. Delighted, the king rewarded Antrim with a marquisate in February 1645.
However, the need to reinforce his brigade in Scotland now preoccupied Antrim. Unable to secure additional aid from the confederates, he turned to the Spaniards. In May 1645 he signed a contract with Don Manuel de Moura y Cortereal, marquis of Castel Rodrigo, governor-general of the Spanish Netherlands, promising to recruit 2,000 men from among his Irish and Scottish dependants. In return Castel Rodrigo gave him two Dunkirk frigates which he collected late in 1645. Rather than sailing directly to Scotland, as originally planned, Antrim led in November 1645 his armada instead to Falmouth, Cornwall, where he rescued the prince of Wales and provided supplies, which were subsequently stored in Pendennis Castle, for the beleaguered royalist garrisons in Cornwall. Early in 1646 he returned to Ireland and set his frigates up as privateers. Within a short period he had acquired at least four other vessels, which provided him with a lucrative, if erratic, source of income and enabled him to ship supplies and reinforcements to Scotland.
In May 1646 Antrim arrived in the Western Isles with between 600 and 800 men. Even before he had disembarked his troops the political situation in all three Stuart kingdoms was transformed when Charles I handed himself over to the Scots, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, on 5 May 1646. Almost immediately, the king sent orders that all men in arms in Scotland in his name should disband their forces. Fired both by his desire to keep the traditional Clan Donald heartland under his command and by the hope that his continued presence there would free his lands in Co. Antrim from the Scottish army of occupation, he refused and during the late summer and autumn of 1646 mooted a plan to raise another army that would free the imprisoned king. Antrim's military endeavours in Scotland were thus no longer merely an embarrassment, but rather a serious threat to any chance of securing a British peace. Only after Charles I personally intervened did the marquis order his army to disband, his compliance purchased by an express verbal undertaking that, as soon as Argyll's estates in Kintyre could be forfeited, he would receive all those lands that he claimed belonged to the MacDonnells.
Antrim and the confederation
Antrim returned to Ireland in January 1647 and played a key role in the seventh confederate general assembly by leading the opposition to any peace with the marquess of Ormond. In March the general assembly elected him president of the new supreme council and he became responsible for the day-to-day administration of the confederate armies, for the smooth running of the confederate provincial assemblies, and for the distribution of confederate material and financial resources. Antrim's eagerness to serve as a member of the supreme council and his enthusiastic adherence to the papal nuncio, Rinuccini (qv), marked a new phase in his political career and illustrated his willingness to be formally associated with the Irish catholic – as opposed to the royalist – cause. Despite his ties to the increasingly unpopular nuncio, the eighth general assembly nominated him as part of a confederate delegation that was to treat with the royalist court in exile. Antrim arrived at Saint-Germain in March 1648 but was outwitted by Ormond during the subsequent negotiations. Furious and increasingly marginalised, Antrim now resorted to armed rebellion in an effort to undermine Ormond (who returned to Ireland in September 1648 at the head of a pan-archipelagic royalist coalition). The plan ran awry from the start and the insurrection was quashed, forcing Antrim to flee late in 1648 to the safety of the camp of Owen Roe O'Neill (qv) in Ulster.
Throughout these years the duchess of Buckingham had supported her husband. She divided her time between the royalist court in England, Ireland, and Flanders and she repeatedly importuned the king and other leading figures on Antrim's behalf. From October 1647 she remained in Ireland, administering her husband's privateering business and involving herself in confederate politics. In November 1649 her health took a dramatic turn for the worse and she died, perhaps from the plague that was raging through Ireland. She was buried outside the walls of Waterford. Numerous portraits of the duchess, often with her first husband and children, survive, including ones by Van Dyck, Cornelius Janssen, Gerard Honthoust, and Reubens. They portray a woman of great beauty who, according to Clarendon, was a person of ‘very great wit and spirit’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, iii, 509). Extant letters suggest that she was pampered, extravagant, resilient, and shrewd, and illustrate her loyalty and devotion to and her passion for her husbands and her faith.
With the death of his wife Antrim's prospects looked increasingly bleak, yet in another remarkable volte-face, he clandestinely threw in his lot with the Cromwellians. Though the details are obscure, he appears to have been in fairly close contact with the parliamentary commander, Michael Jones (qv), since he returned from France in the autumn of 1648 and quickly made contact with Henry Ireton (qv), Cromwell's son-in-law, when he arrived in Ireland late in the summer of 1649. He demonstrated his willingness to serve the Cromwellians by securing the surrender of New Ross (19 October 1649), by persuading his former followers to surrender Carlow peacefully (July 1650), and by disrupting the Scottish royalists’ war effort during the ‘third civil war’. The administration in Dublin, though it refused to restore his estates, rewarded him financially for his loyalty to the regime. In addition to an annual pension of £500 (later increased to £800), he received occasional, additional contributions towards everyday expenses, and the Cromwellians also paid off a number of his creditors and protected him from others.
Second marriage; recovery of estates
In 1653 Antrim married a protestant heiress, Rose O'Neill (1631–95). Rose was the daughter of Sir Henry O'Neill, from one of the pro-English cadet branches of the O'Neills of Clandeboy, and Martha Stafford, daughter of the English administrator and governor of Ulster, Sir Francis Stafford. On her father's side she was related to local native Irish families, including Sir Arthur Magennis (qv), Viscount Iveagh, and the MacDonnell s of Antrim. Rose had three brothers and one sister but since her siblings were declared insane she inherited, on her father's death in 1638, his estates of Edenduffcarrick (also known as Shane's Castle) in the barony of Toome, Co. Antrim. Though the details are obscure, Rose spent some time at the Caroline court and in 1642 she accompanied the 11-year-old Princess Mary to Holland after her marriage to William II of Orange. An extant pair of portraits – one of Rose and another of her father, both depicted with black slaves – are associated with this period of her life. As a member of the established church Rose appears to have spent most of the civil wars of the 1640s on her estates in Co. Antrim, which were spoiled by the Scottish soldiers garrisoned on them. Despite this the property allegedly brought in an annual rental of £1,600 even during the 1650s. In 1655–6 Rose was allotted 26,664 Irish acres of good quality land, ‘with convenient accommodation’, in Connacht. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that she ever left Ulster, and she appears to have lived at her husband's seat at Dunluce throughout the 1650s.
With the restoration of Charles II, Antrim was immediately imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he languished until May 1661. However, thanks to an extraordinary combination of factors – especially the tenacity of his creditors, the support and generosity of his family (especially Rose), the queen mother, and members of her court, combined with the fact that his enemies were disorganised, disunited, and unprepared – he finally regained his estates. In July 1663 Charles II declared the marquis ‘innocent of any malice or rebellious purpose towards the crown’ and ordered Ormond to assist him to recover his estates by making known the king's wishes to the commissioners of the court of claims (Hill, MacDonnells, 467–8). Adventurers and soldiers – led by Sir John Clotworthy (qv), later Lord Massareene – who had acquired farms on the Antrim estate during the 1650s, immediately protested and the publication of a pamphlet entitled Murder will out (August 1663) drew public attention to their grievances. But the marquis's tenacity was eventually rewarded and clause 173 of the act of explanation (December 1665) granted him a full pardon and restored him to his property in Co. Antrim.
With this, Antrim's dramatic political career came to an end and he distanced himself from international and even national affairs, dividing his time between Dunluce, his summer residence at Ballymagarry, and his wife's estate near Randalstown. A portrait, ascribed to Michael Wright, dates from this period and evokes the ‘tall, clean-limbed, handsome man with red hair’ of the pre-war years (Clarendon, Rebellion, iii, 509). During the 1670s he passed his time hunting, gaming, arranging suitable matches for his family and friends, interfering in county politics, socialising with other local grandees, and settling his debts. Just before he died Antrim mortgaged his entire estate for thirty-one years so that his financial obligations to roughly 220 individuals – some incurred nearly fifty years before – could be honoured. On 3 February 1683 he died ‘at his dwelling near Dunluce’ aged 74. His body lay in state until 14 March 1683, when he was finally buried, after an elaborate funeral, alongside many of his ancestors in the family vault at the Franciscan friary of Bonamargy near Ballycastle. Since he had not produced an heir, the marquisate died out and his younger brother Alexander (qv) succeeded him as the 3rd earl; it is from Alexander that subsequent earls are descended. Rose lived on for another decade and in 1689 allegedly married the duke of Schomberg (qv), commander and chief of the Williamite forces in Ireland. She died childless 27 April 1695 (her infertility has been attributed to congenital syphilis) and was buried in St Nicholas's church, Carrickfergus, beside her parents and grandfather.
Documenting the lives and actions of this catholic statesman, courtier, landlord, entrepreneur, collaborator, and survivor and his spouses is frustrated by the absence of evidence. The ‘Antrim archive’ (housed in the PRONI) contains material seminal for the study of the estate, but personal correspondence is sadly lacking. Instead the historian is forced to rely on Antrim's 200 letters preserved among the papers of his contemporaries (especially Hamilton, Strafford, and Ormond). The majority are brief and uninformative, and only those to Hamilton and the duchess allow us to begin to recapture the complex personality of one of the great survivors of this period.