B. c.1434, s. of Alexander, 3rd lord of the Isles, and Elizabeth, da. of Alexander Seton, lord of Gordon and Huntly; m. Margaret, da. of Robert II and Elizabeth Mure, c.1450; illeg. issue: 2 s.; d. Dundee, 1498; bur. Paisley.
Still a minor when he succeeded his father in 1449, and described later as a ‘meek, modest man … and a scholar more fit to be a churchman than to command so many irregular tribes of people’, John MacDonald was affected by his father's league with the earls of Douglas and Crawford against the young James II, but eventually came to terms with the king, and was appointed a warden of the marches. He joined James against the English, but after Roxburgh (1460) became re-involved with the Douglases. In 1462 he made the secret treaty of Westminster–Ardtornish with Edward IV, who was hoping to regain some of his lost influence in Scotland, whereby Ross and Douglas would become his vassals and share all lands north of the Forth; the `Wars of the Roses' prevented English help, and the rebellion collapsed. Knowledge of this treaty eventually emerged and Ross was attainted (1475), but on the queen's intercession his lands except Ross (which went to the crown) were restored, though he resigned them immediately into the king's hands, and was formally created ‘lord of the Isles’. Subsequent rebellion in Ross under MacDonald's sons and nephew led to forfeiture again, but his voluntary surrender of the lordship (1493) enabled him to remain at court, with a pension, before retiring to the monastery of Paisley.
Subjects: British History.