Rob Roy McGregor and the Persecuted Clan
by Evelyn McKechnie
Scotland has a blood-soaked and turbulent history that once pitted clan against clan, witnessing a brutal civil war, with risings and rebellions that ended with the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden.
Scotland is crammed full of history, with castles steeped in tales of ghosts, torture, dungeons, of sieges, and of betrayal. There are many famous Scottish clans, Clan McGregor is famous because at one time, saying their very name could mean execution unless you renounced it. The most famous of all McGregors is known over over the world as Rob Roy McGregor.
Roy Roy McGregor
Clan McGregor has had a notorious reputation over the years, sometimes also called ‘The Wild MacGregors’. They offered a protection racket to farmers to ensure their cattle remained secure.
The most famous of clansmen, Rob Roy MacGregor has been the subject of legends, songs and films. He was viewed as a folk hero, a kind of Scottish Robin Hood. The name Rob Roy comes from the Gaelic ‘Raibeart Ruadh’ or Red Robert because he had flaming red hair.
He was the main inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s 1723 fictionalised pamphlet biography ‘Highland Rogue, or the Memorable Actions of the Celebrated Robert MacGregor, commonly called Rob Roy.’ This established him as a legend in his own lifetime.
The MacGregor clan had been outlawed and persecuted for over two hundred years by the powerful Clan Campbell. Robert the Bruce had granted the barony of Loch Awe, and much of the MacGregor lands, to the Chief of the Campbells. The Campbells pursued and harried the MacGregors, who were forced to retire deeper into their lands.
In 1589 John Drummond, the King’s forester, hanged some MacGregors for poaching and he was later found murdered. The clan chief of the MacGregors bore responsibility for the murder. King James VI then issued an edict which proclaimed the name MacGregor as abolished and anyone bearing that name must renounce it or be executed, and some women and children of the clan were sold into slavery to the new colonies in America.
This extreme measure was further enforced in 1604 as Alasdair MacGregor of Glenstrae, Chief and Laird of MacGregor was hung with thirty of his clan near St Giles in Edinburgh. The ‘Heart of Midlothian’ marks the spot where the MacGregor Chief was executed and the direct male line of the MacGregor chiefs was extinguished. The persecution of Clan Gregor ended in 1774 when the proscription against them was repealed, over 171 years after it had begun.
In this beautiful old Kirk at the head of picturesque Loch Voil, Rob Roy’s grave is alongside his wife and two sons. His tombstone is engraved with the defiant epitaph, ‘MacGregor Despite Them’.
Rob Roy was born in 1671 and because of the proscription in place against the MacGregors, he had to take his mother’s name, Campbell. The MacGregors fought with the Jacobites in the uprising which was led by Viscount ‘Bonnie Dundee’.
The Battle of Killiecrankie
In 1689, as an 18-year-old, Rob Roy fought alongside his father at the Battle of Killiecrankie.
This battle was a resounding victory for the Jacobites but also led to the loss of their leader, Bonnie Dundee.
In 1711, Rob Roy borrowed some money from James Graham, the 1st Duke of Montrose, but after allegations of his drover stealing the money, Rob Roy was declared bankrupt, his lands confiscated and he was outlawed. After many skirmishes, he was captured and imprisoned in London in 1725.
He was supposed to be transported to Barbados but was eventually released after gaining a pardon from King George I. He returned home to spend the rest of his life with his family at Inverlochlarig, where he died on 28th December 1734 at the age of 63.
Rob Roy’s life was also fictionalised by Sir Walker Scott in ‘Rob Roy’ the novel and in 1817 William Wordsworth wrote about this most famous MacGregor in his poem ‘Rob Roy’s grave’. Disney made the movie ‘Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue’ which featured Richard Todd as Rob Roy, but more recently in 1995 Liam Neeson played the leading role in the movie ‘Rob Roy’.
In nearby Callander, there is the Rob Roy and the Trossachs Visitor Centre, which has an exhibition on the daring exploits of this Scottish hero.
Inside the kirk, there is a large stone called the Angus Stone. In 1772, the minister Duncan Stewart cast it out of the church as he objected to the superstitious practices of his parishioners who stood on it at weddings and baptisms.
Rob Roy McGregor’s last words were ‘It is all over. Put me to bed. Call the piper. Let him play ‘Cha till me tuille.’ I shall return no more.
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