I think most of you consider yourselves familiar with Rob Roy. Sorry. You aren't. What you are familiar with is the legend as portrayed by Sir Walter Scott (I'll be coming back to this....).
Before getting into the meat of the story, a bit little of history is required:-
Jamie Saxt didn't like or trust the inhabitants of the northern part of his realm - being fair, he didn't like or trust anyone except his current squeeze (normally of the male variety) – but he totally lost patience with the northern lot in the aftermath of the Battle of Glen Fruin (which wasn't really a battle at all, it was merely a cattle raid – which Gaels looked on as sport). In this so-called battle, Colquhuon of Luss lost a significant number of cattle and a lesser number of clansmen. Colquhuon appealed to the local government man, Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll, for restitution. Argyll used this opportunity to set up a publicity stunt. He organised a procession of widows of those who died at Glen Fruin, each of these several hundred women rode through Edinburgh in their shifts, carrying a lance on which was displayed a bluidy sark (bloody shirt). While some of these women may have been widowed at the battle, most were hired for the occasion.
This happens not long after Jamie finally (in his opinion) pacifies the Reivers. It also gives him the chance to do the same to those other ungrateful bastards who won't emulate Argyll and kiss his royal arse. Glen Fruin gives him the opportunity to make his mark on the Highlands as well. He takes it. He orders the proscription of the name MacGregor and all who bear it are outlawed, he also orders the execution of MacGregor of Glenstrae. Here's the original decree of proscription:- Welcome to Clan Gregor
One effect of this proscription was that using the surname MacGregor became a capital crime (a bit like murder without the killing...).
Jumping forward a bit, we come to the War of the Three Kingdoms and the other conflicts which bedeviled the kingdoms. In 1661, all proscriptions against the Clan Gregor were removed, principally because during these conflicts, the MacGregors supported the Stuart cause – even though they had been on the receiving end of mild (for a given value of mild) Stuart displeasure. Anyways, after the restoration, the sentence is lifted, but they still aren't fully trusted. Mind you, this is basic common sense as they're a tribe who who would rob you blind in front of your face, and, if you nailed your possessions down, they'd have the nails as well.
So far we've seen the imposition and removal of the first proscription, for the second you'll have to wait a bit. (Not that all that long though).
In 1688, the so-called “Glorious Revolution” happens in England and the ramifications of this are felt throughout Scotland and Ireland as well. In 1689, the Williamite forces in Scotland get a wake-up call when “Leslie's foot and Leven's troopers, marching to the beat of drum
” as the poem has it, are caught in line of march in the Pass of Killiecrankie where they learn a lesson in fighting Highlanders (just - don't). Although the commander of the royalist forces (the Royal in question being James VII), James Graham (Bonnie Dundee) dies during the battle, the Williamites have been shown that not everyone follows their agenda. Where this impacts on our story, though is that Rob, at the age of 18, was a captain in the MacGregor contingent at the battle (according to legend anyway). At any rate the MacGregor contingent was considered too small to fight on it's own, so it was placed under the command of Locheil.
Be that as it may, in June, 1693, in the wake of the massacre of Glencoe, a law is passed in the Thrie Estatis (the Scottish Parliament) which provides for new courts to regulate the highlands and the edict of proscription pronounced against the Clan Gregor in 1603 is attached to it as originally penned. As an aside here, I'm not all that sure that this proscription was ever lifted as the Scottish parliament was sold to England less than 15 years later. Nonetheless from then on, until his death, our hero wore the name Robert MacGregor Campbell. So for most of his life he was to all intents and purposes, a Campbell.
The legend says that Rob Roy was a cattle-thief, a blackmailer, a robber, a duelist and a Jacobite. It was partially right. He was a cattle-thief. He was a blackmailer (not to worry, he had a contract) and he was a robber. But he wasn't a duelist or a Jacobite. Apart from his “military accomplishments” and blackmailing, how did he make his living? Basically as a cattle-drover (something else that wasn't invented in the USA). This business of droving didn't just involve cattle – other forms of livestock included sheep, pigs and geese. This livestock was driven from various parts of Scotland to the principal markets in Creiff and Falkirk.
Yep, we're back to the legend and, although Sir Walter Scott produced the definitive version in 1817, it was based on earlier accounts. One of these was, notably, “The Highland Rogue” (which was published in London in 1723), this tome has been attributed to Daniel Defoe, but it was written (presumably) by an Elias Brockett who, in the title included the disclaimer “impartially digested from the memorandums of an authentick Scotch MSS”.
There were others, even before Scott, notably the Wordsworth family (Dorothy and William), Dorothy wrote a “What I did on my holidays” (Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland A.D. 1803 (available on-line from Project Gutenberg)) while her brother William wrote a poem (Rob Roy's Grave), apparently, he got the inspiration for this at Rob Roy's graveside in Glengyle - which is slightly astonishing given that our hero is buried in Balquhidder (pronounced Bal-whidder, and no, I don't know).
There is also a book(?) entitled “Highland Constable. The Life and Times of Rob Roy MacGregor”
published in Edinburgh in 1950 which is, frankly, hilarious. Rob Roy as a proto-Hercule Poirot? Gimme bloody strength.
The man himself, Robert MacGregor was born in 1671, but we don't know his birthdate for certain. We do, however, know that he was baptised on 7th March 1671 in the parish kirk of Inchailloch – even though he was born in the parish of Callendar. He was the third son of Donald Glas
(Pale) MacGregor in Glengyle. In Scotland at this time, baptism normally occurred as soon as the mother was able to travel but it wasn't normal for the child to baptised in another parish.
In reality, he was a cattle-thief, he was a blackmailer, he was also a cattle-trader and a baillie (local judge). What he wasn't was a duelist – he only fought one duel - which he lost – but it wasn't really a duel. It was more of an impromptu, unstructured event which involved alcohol (or as us Scots call it – Anti-freeze). Having said that, he also issued a written challenge to the Duke of Montrose which I'll supply here:-
| Rob Roy to ane high and mighty prince James duke of Montrose. |
In charity to your grace's couragde and conduct, please know, the only way to retrive is to treat Rob Roy like himself, in appointing your place and choice of arms, that at once you may extirpate your inveterate enemy, or put a period to your punny life in falling gloriously at his hands. That impertinent criticks or flatterers may not brand me for challenging a man that's repute of a poor dastardly soul, let such know I admit of the two great supporters of his character and the captain of his bands to joyne with him in the combate. Then sure your grace wont have the impudence to clamour att court for multitudes to hunt me like a fox, under pretence I am not to be found above ground. This saves your grace and the troops any further trouble of searching; that is, if your ambition of glory press you to embrace this unequald venture offrd of Roy's head. But if your grace's piety, prudence and cowardice, forbids hazarding of this gentlemanly expedient, then let your design of peace restore what you have robed from me by the tyranny of your present cituation, otherwise your overthrow as a man is determined; and advertise your friends never more to look for the frequent civility paid them, of sending them home without their arms only. Even their former cravings wont purchase that favour; so your grace by this has peace in your offer, if the sound of war be frightful, and chuse you whilk, your good friend or mortal enemy.
Somewhat tellingly, he did not send this missive to Montrose, but to one of his own friends, a Mr Patrick Anderson at Hay with the inscription “Receave the enclosed paper qn you are takeing your botle: it will divert yourself and your comrads.”
(NLS, Ms 910)
I'm sort of doing this on the fly, I haven't been able to find any of his blackmail contracts, so you'll have to be content with the contents of a contract executed in the 1740s between his nephew, James Graham of Glengyle and some other landowners. This contract was recorded in the register of deeds in Edinburgh . It specifies that Glengyle undertakes to keep the lands of the subscribers free from the theft of horses, cattle and sheep for a period of seven years. It specifies that if the animals are not recovered and returned to their owners in six months, Glengyle will repay the full market value of the missing beasties. In the small print though, is a clause defining “small pickeries” (in this case the theft of less than 6 sheep) – this puts me in mind of some motor insurance policies.......
Back on topic (again). Robert MacGregor, 3rd son of Donald Glas of Glengyle, at the age of 18 may have taken part in the Battle of Killiecrankie where a Williamite force under the command of two veterans of the European wars was destroyed. Rob wasn't named as being part of the MacGregor contingent, but he is recorded as being a captain of the MacGregor men, so maybe he was present. This “mebbe yeah – mebbe no” was to follow him all his life and make things difficult for future historians. I've already mentioned this so I'll move on to the Jacobite times and his “involvement”, in the first Jacobite rising in Scotland, in 1708 (for some reason the campaigns in Ireland between 1688 and 1692 are referred to as being Jacobite), a French fleet brought James VII and 6,000 or so French soldiers to Inverkeithing on the Firth of Forth, but owing to the presence of some government ships, the French admiral refuses to land them and heads homeward to think again. Some of the Scottish magnates who had been involved in the event are arrested, smacked on the wrist and told not to do it again. Our hero, not being a magnate (even if he was involved) gets a pass.
Seven years pass, and the Scottish nobles who sold out to England are still feeling a bit pissed off – they had been big fish in a very small pond until the Union, and they weren't all that happy with being small fish hiding in the shallow end of a big pond. This brings us to 1715, the year when the only Jacobite rising with any chance of succeeding occurs. Some of those who had been signatories to the Treaty of Union actually supported this rising. Unfortunately, the guiding light, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, isn't at all decisive (in Jacobite mythology he is referred to as “Bobbing John”), but he did manage to proclaim James VIII in Braemar. Nevertheless, the Jacobites manage to gather a force of around 10,000 to 12,000 (which is more than twice the size of Kid Shortbried's army which “invaded” England in the '45 and by far the largest Jacobite force in Scottish history).
This is the period in which himself makes his military reputation. He actually shows up in the Jacobite army with a contingent of MacGregors, but he didn't stay long – possibly because MacGregors aren't very trustworthy. In fact, the Jacobites decided that they couldn't trust Rob according to the “Memoirs of the Insurrection in Scotland in 1715”
(edited by J. McKnight for the Abbotsford Club (1815) p.206).
The Earl of Argyll also raises forces, but, in his case, these forces are from what passes for a regular army. In effect he has 6,000 professional soldiers against Mar's 12,000 amateurs of varying enthusiasm. Some (but not all) of these not all that enthusiastic amateurs are MacGregors. The Battle of Sherrifmuir takes place on 13th November 1715. The MacGregor contribution to the battle isn't spectacular at all, in fact, it's non-existent. Reports have them standing aside watching to see who comes out on top, yet other reports say that they weren't present at all, John Cameron the younger of Locheil, who met them during his retreat says “I rallied there all I could meet with, and caused such of them as had fyred to charge [reload] their pieces. At the same time I perceived Rob Roy Mcgrigar on his march towards me, coming from the town of Down [Doune], he not being at the engagdement.” (from: The Camerons in the rising of 1715, (Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol: xxvi, p 74)
Even so, our hero was playing both ends against the middle as shown by the contents of the only surviving letter from his correspondence with Argyll “The bearer will give you sufficient intelligence upon the late moves here as I cannot put down on paper”. He goes on to say “[Further intelligence will be sent] when I get the matter on hand settled with them.” (This letter is in the Argyll manuscripts which are held in Inverary Castle – it is not available to the public, but the full text appears in Murray's Rob Roy, pp192-193).
What the matter he refers to here is not known, but the MacGregors went walkabout. On 26th December they were rumoured to be in the vicinity of Loch Katrine, yet on 4th January 1716, they “occupied” the semi-derilict Falkland Palace. The Jacobite records say “at Falkland, MacGregors, 134” (Atholl MSS). Incidentally, this was the only time he and his clansmen appeared on a Jacobite muster-roll.
That's the '15 out of the way, so we'll move on the Rising nobody knows anything about – the '19. This is principally because it was an idea dreamt up by Cardinal Guilio Alberoni which was intended to land 7,300 Spanish troops and marines in the Highlands to take the pressure off (and, hopefully remove any chance of an invasion of Spain). Anyone who has ever heard of it will refer to it as “The Affair in Glen Sheil”. But, before anyone gets excited about these 7,300 troops, don't. Only 300 actually arrived. The other 7,000 were caught in massive storms and the ships carrying them managed, after some pretty drastic measures which included dumping guns over the side, to return to Spain.
These 300 landed in Stornoway on or around 24th June under the command of the Marquess of Tullibardine (who, 30 years later, would raise the standard in Glen Shiel). After a period of hanging about twiddling thumbs, they moved to the mainland and landed in Loch Alsh on 13th April from where they moved to occupy Eilan Donan Castle in Loch Duich. Some six weeks later, the Hanoverians have finally got their act together, while the Spanish have been educated on the fact that Maň
ana is a helluva hurry.....
However on 10th June 1719, the battle commences. While there were 300 Spanish marines present, they had been reinforced by some 700 or so Highlanders including Rob Roy and approximately 40 followers – this gives the Jacobites around 1,000 men and a pretty good defensive position while the Hanoverians have 900 infantry, 120 dragoons and 4 Coehorn mortar batteries. So numbers are equivalent but the Hanoverians have the advantage in artillery (and, in the terrain around Loch Duich, mortars are far more effective than field-guns). The battle began at about 6 o'clock with a bombardment from the Hanoverian mortars after which an infantry assault was mounted against the Highlanders under Lord George Murray who were isolated on the south of the Jacobite position. The Spaniards, on the northern flank were pinned down by the mortars and the main Hanoverian attack went in against the Jacobite centre it succeeded and the Spaniards were then targeted by the full Hanoverian might. They retreated up-hill, fighting all the way but they were surrounded and out-gunned so, about 3 hours after the beginning of the battle, they surrendered.
The mountain in Glen Shiel on which the battle took place is called Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, (Peak of the Black Chest) it has a subsidiary peak which was named Sgurr nan Spainteach (Peak of the Spaniards) in honour of the Spanish forces who fought in the battle.
What has this got to do with our gallant hero, you ask? This was the second battle in his lifetime at which it can be be proven he was present, and like the first one, neither he nor his men fired a shot.
The moral of this little story is never believe anything you read.
David Stevenson: The Hunt for Rob Roy, The Man and the Myths. (pub. John Donald, 2004) ISBN: 0 85976 590 3
W H Murray: Rob Roy MacGregor: His Life and Times (Canongate, 1982)
D. Hume: Commentaries on the Law of Scotland respecting the descriptions and punishments of crimes. (ed: B R Bell). Published in Edinburgh 1986 (facsimile of 1844 edition) vol. 2, p 551 (and yes, that David Hume)