Monday, 21 January 2008

Rob Roy MacGregor: king of outlaws or oppressed son of the Church?

Robert Roy MacGregor, (1671-1734), called Rob Roy within the MacGregor Clan, was the most famous of the Gregor chieftains albeit not Clan Chief. The Chief of Clan Gregor is MacGregor of MacGregor. MacGregor means "son of Gregor".

The Highland chiefs often adopted the re-duplication of the name in the old Celtic style in preference to the Lowland custom of adding a “designation” to the name. A “designation” is the name of the lands whereon the Chief has his caput (Latin for "head"), his primary house or seat, for example “Cameron of Lochiel”, the Chief of Clan Cameron, has his seat at Achnacarry near Loch Eil.

This designative style is the same as that used by the European nobility who add the name of their primary estate to their name by custom or by royal or imperial permission.

Some other Highland chiefly styles are “The Chisholm” or “the Captain of Clan Chattan”, for example.

Clan Gregor – also called in Gallic, Gregarach - are one of the oldest of Highland Clans, the true “children of the mist”, as many call them whose origins stretch back to the earliest times.

The MacGregors being Catholics and Jacobites who actively opposed the oppressive Whig government were treated with great harshness and severity by the government. Because they resisted so stoutly the oppressive way they were treated, they were declared outlaw and even the use of their name was banned. The Highland dress and language, called Gallic (Scots Gaelic), had already been banned.

The treachery of the government is famously remembered in the story of the Massacre of Glencoe. MacDonald of Glencoe, having indicated he would take up the amnesty for Jacobite "rebels", entertained a party of British troops commanded by a Campbell (the arch-enemies of the Jacobites and especially the McDonalds and Camerons) and gave them hospitality, in return for which the Redcoats treacherously slaughtered many of the MacDonalds in their beds.

Men like MacGregor set themselves against this treachery and oppression and were outlawed for it.

As a result he is sometimes known as the Scottish Robin Hood. Rob Roy is anglicised from the Scots Gaelic Raibeart Ruadh, or Red Robert. This is because Rob Roy had red hair, though it darkened to auburn in later life.

Rob Roy was born at Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine. His father was Donald MacGregor, and his mother Margaret Campbell (not all Campbells were anti-Jacobite).

He later met Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar, who was born at Leny Farm, Strathyre, and they were married in Glenarklet in January 1693 later and had four sons: James (known as Mor or Tall), Ranald, Coll, and Robert (known as Robin Oig or Young Rob). A cousin, Duncan, was later adopted.

Rob and his father joined the Jacobite rising led by John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, along with many Highland chiefs and chieftains, to support the Stuart King James II and VII who had been deposed by William of Orange, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands and a scheming, ambitious Protestant but also the son-in-law of King James.

John Graham of Claverhouse (pronounced "Clavers"), Viscount Dundee, nicknamed "Bonnie Dundee" on account of his famous good looks.

“Bonnie Dundee”, as he was called on account of his handsome looks, was a brilliant Brigadier-General and persistently harried and defeated the government troops with his blue-bonneted Jacobite clansmen but, by an unfortunate chance, was killed at the point of victory in the Battle of Killiecrankie. Thereafter, lacking his brilliance, the Jacobite cause began to lose its advantage.

Rob’s father was taken to jail, where he was held on doubtful treason charges for two years. His mother’s health deteriorated during this time and she died upon Donald’s release.

Nevertheless, Rob Roy continued to fight in the Jacobite cause and led an army at the inconclusive Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719 in support of King James’s son, also James, the rightful King James III and VIII but who never regained his father’s throne. Rob Roy was badly wounded at Glen Shiel.

Thereafter, he was forced to become a cattleman and to sell protection for other men’s cattle, sometimes by taking them himself, robbing the rich to give to the poor. Needless to say, many Whig historians have – with consummate hypocrisy given their own legalised grand larceny and robbery – have much vilified him and his Clan for this “blackmailing”.

Rob Roy later borrowed a large sum of money to increase his own cattle herd, but due to a deception, some say by Whig skullduggery and some say by his own chief herder who was entrusted with the money to bring the cattle back, Rob Roy lost his money and cattle, and defaulted on his loan.

He was again re-branded an outlaw, and his wife and family were evicted from their house at Inversnaid, which was then burned.

His principal creditor was, ironically, James Graham, Marquess (later Duke) of Montrose who was close kinsman to John Graham, Viscount Dundee, the same “Bonnie Dundee” who had been the great Jacobite general.

Montrose seized his lands forcing Rob Roy to war with the Duke until 1722, when Rob was finally forced to surrender. Later imprisoned, Rob was finally pardoned in 1727 thanks to the fictionalised account of his life told by Daniel Defoe, the English novelist, entitled Highland Rogue which influenced King George I to pardon him. He died in his house at Inverlochlarig Beg, Balquhidder, on 28 December 1734.

His grave states, defiantly, “MacGregor despite them”, a reference to his determination to carry on his family name despite the oppressive ban upon it.

Sir Walter Scott, Bt, later glorified his name yet further in his 1817 novel Rob Roy.

The MacGregor seat, Glengyle House, on the shore of Loch Katrine, dates back to the early 18th century. It is built on the site of the 17th century stone cottage in which Rob Roy is said to have been born.

Glengyle House, Loch Katrine, in the heart of MacGregor country

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Catriona, sequel to Kidnapped, the hero. David Balfour of Shaws, meets and falls in love with Catriona MacGregor-Drummond, the daughter of James MacGregor-Drummond, also known as James Mor (meaning James the Great). There was a real James Mor MacGregor in the muster roll lists of the Battle of Culloden, the last great Jacobite battle in which “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, the grandson of James II and VII, was defeated and his wounded men massacred by the Whig general, “Butcher” Cumberland (Duke of Cumberland and a Hanoverian).

Catriona’s family append the name “Drummond” because the MacGregor name has been banned. Catriona engineers her father’s escape from prison. David marries her allying himself thereby with the Clan Gregor, the most ancient of the Jacobite clans.

The message is clear: the author, though a Protestant like Sir Walter Scott, is, like Scott, more in sympathy with the Jacobites than he is with those of his own background.

The grave of Rob Roy, his wife and children which defiantly states "MACGREGOR DESPITE THEM".

Domine, miserere eis.

Dona eis, Domine, requiem aeternam. Requiescant in pacem et lux perpetua luceat eis.



Fr PF said...

Very nicely done. As a child, I was always moved to tears when my mother would sing Walter Scott's "MacGregor's Gathering".

Tribunus said...

Sounds wonderful!