MACDONALD, Ranald George (1788-1873).
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Family and Education
b. 29 Aug. 1788, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of John Macdonald, 18th chief of Clanranald, by 1st w. Katherine, da. of Robert Macqueen, SCJ (Lord Braxfield), of Braxfield, Lanark. educ. Edinburgh; Eton 1799. m. (1) 13 Feb. 1812, Lady Caroline Anne Edgcumbe (d. 10 Apr. 1824), da. of Richard Edgcumbe*, 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, 1s. 5da.; (2) 30 June 1826, Anne Selby (d. 8 July 1835), da. of William Cunninghame of Lainshaw, Ayr, wid. of Richard Barré Dunning, 2nd Baron Ashburton, s.p.; (3) Nov. 1855, Elizabeth Rebecca Newman. suc. fa. 1794.
Lt.-col. commdt. 4 Inverness militia 1809.
Macdonald’s grandfather Ranald, 17th chief of Clanranald, came out for the Pretender in the ’45, was wounded at Culloden, went into hiding and eventually escaped with his wife to Paris, where he enlisted in the French army. He was able to evade his attainder on a technicality, his name having been wrongly inscribed as Donald in the bill, returned home in about 1752 and spent the remaining 24 years of his life consolidating his property, though the family’s finances had been impaired by the large bond which he had given to enable the Pretender’s army to leave Edinburgh. His son John died in 1794, leaving the six-year-old Ranald George a promising inheritance of landed property in western Inverness-shire. Macdonald travelled in Europe after leaving Eton and matriculated arms as 19th chief of Clanranald in 1810. His claim to the title was later challenged, absurdly, by Colonel Macdonell of Glengarry, though his own counter-claim to be chief of the Clan Donald was equally inadmissible.1
In 1812 he married the daughter of Lord Mount Edgcumbe, on whose interest he was returned for Plympton at the general election later in the year. Ministers were counting on his support, but John Goodwin, the Whig agent, told Lord Grey, 24 Dec. 1812, that he had listed Macdonald as ‘doubtful’:
[He] has Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s letter saying ‘he had no attachment to any party; whatever political bias he had, was personally to the King’. On this explanation his son-in-law allowed himself to be nominated, and my informant assured me, Macdonald at his own table in Scotland toasted your lordship as the only man worth acting under in these realms, and made Lady Caroline join in it.2
In the event Macdonald, who is not known to have spoken in the House before 1820 and was evidently an indifferent attender, voted with government on the army estimates, 6 and 8 Mar. 1816; the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817; the attempted censure of the lord advocate, 10 Feb.; the domestic spy system, 11 Feb. and 5 Mar.; the Duke of Clarence’s allowance, 15 Apr. 1818, and Tierney’s motion on the state of the nation, 18 May 1819. His only known hostile vote was against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. After voting for consideration of Catholic claims, 2 Mar. 1813, he supported Hippisley’s amendment concerning safeguards, 11 May, but went on to vote for the relief bill, 13 and 24 May 1813, and was again in the pro-Catholic minority on 9 May 1817.
Between 1813 and 1838 Macdonald was forced to sell virtually all his inherited property, sparing only the uninhabited island of Risca and the rui of Castle Tirrim. Neither the £214,211 realized by these sales nor his second marriage to a widow ‘said to be possessed of a fortune of £200,000’ saved him from the ‘very great penury and privation’ which he pleaded when writing a begging letter to Sir Robert Peel in 1844:
I inherited large possessions, although only the remnant of the princely domain of my ancestors. I was minor during 15 years, in which period a course of deception and plunder was pursued by those entrusted with my affairs. On coming of age, false statements were rendered, concealing enormous debts, and deceiving me altogether as to my situation, and their conduct. These dark transactions must soon have come to light, and to prevent my discovering the treachery, I was persuaded to grant a deed of trust to the same individuals. While my private expenditure was restricted to one 4th of the income they pledged themselves to the speedy liquidation of the debts and the certain preservation of the estate. The revenue admitted by the trustees to be received by them on my marriage with Lady Caroline Edgcumbe was £16,000. Thirty two years have elapsed, all my estates are sold, and seven years ago the trustees required a discharge and exoneration from me, on terms I would not agree to.
Peel declined to assist, pointing out that Macdonald had no shortage of wealthy relatives and friends; and historians of the family have laid most of the blame for the alienation of its property on Macdonald’s own folly and extravagance.3 He died 11 Mar. 1873.