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Rob Roy MacGregor

Rob Roy MacGregor was the chief of the Clan Gregor who styled themselves the "Children of the Mist." The clans motto was "Royal is our race," and they were descended from a brother of the great Scottish king Alpin. Lately of course the story of Rob Roy has been made into a feature film of the same name and indeed this is one of the things that prompted me to write this
little piece about the famous "reiver and retriever."

Unlike Braveheart, Rob Roy stuck closer to the truth of the matter, but even so, some things were obviously changed for artistic license. What I intend to do in this article is to tell his story in as straightforward and concise a way as possible. I will try to avoid the film as much as possible unless needs be. Here then is the story of Rob Roy: Scotland in the late 17th/early to mid 18th Century was a turbulent place with many events of importance taking place that would shape this nation in the centuries to come. James VII of Scotland and II of England had been replaced by William of Orange, whose victory at the battle of the Boyne in Ulster is the stuff of legends in some circles. Many attempts were made to bring the Stewart Kings back to the throne and these would be known in some circles as the "Jacobite rebellions," though I personally would prefer to call them the "Jacobite wars." As much as these were a war with those who it was thought were usurpers of the crown, in fact it could be said that it was also a sort of civil war. Many families had members fighting on either side depending on whether their sympathies fell with the Protestant William of Orange, or the Catholic James. It can also be said therefore that these "wars" were also a tail-end effect of the "Killing Times" of the mid to late 17th Century. How does this all tie in with the story of Rob Roy I hear you ask? well all will be told in its time, for these "wars" would have repercussions for the Clan Gregor which would long outlast the events which caused them.

Rob Roy (Robert the Red) MacGregor:

The following is known for sure about Rob Roy: He was born in 1671 in Loch Lomondshire and was the youngest son of the 15th "chief of the MacGregor's" the previously aforementioned, "Children of the Mist." His father was Donald MacGregor of Glengyle, a man who served it was said as a lieutenant in the army of James VII . His mother was of the Campbell's of Glenfalloch and Rob himself was Laird of Inversnaid. He is also known to have owned the property of Craig Royston which lies on the east side of Loch Lomond. Even in the times of The Bruce, the area around Loch Lomond was Clan Gregor land.

Not much is known about Rob Roy's life, but a popular belief is that he took the lead in an incident called the "Hership" or "Devastation of Kippen" in 1691. Only one man was killed in this incident therefore it can be said that the incident was somewhat over-dramatized. The next stage of his life brings us into the realm of the movie. During this period he lived under the protection of the Graham, Duke of Montrose and followed the fairly respectable career of cattle dealer. At that time what little money was to be made in the Highlands mainly came from the selling of black cattle to the Lowland areas and England and considerable fortunes could be made in this way. Rob soon developed a sound reputation and became known as a man who could get his clients a fair price for their beasts and was renowned as an honest man into the bargain. In the years then between 1691 and 1712, Rob led a fairly prosperous life and Montrose confirmed upon him the rights to the properties of Inversnaid and Glengyle, which of course were already Clan Gregor territories. The peaceful days would inevitably come to an end for MacGregor and his people, and if they had continued instead of ceased, The story of Rob Roy may never have passed into popular history and legend.Five years after the act of Union was passed between the countries of Scotland and England thus creating what became the "United Kingdom" (technically Scotland and England now ceased to exist - at least that is how it was meant to be), the cattle trade underwent severe depression. The times were hard in 1712 and many went hungry in the highlands. Rob himself had been cheated by a client of his and found himself out of pocket and insolvent.

Just because he had no money of his own however didn't mean he didn't have access to other peoples. Indeed Rob had been given the sum of 1000 pounds by his clients. One of these was Montrose his protector. Faced with many difficulties, both financial and also how to feed his clan, as famine had come to Scotland that year amongst other things, Rob made off with the money and thusly exchanged the life of cattle dealer for that of bandit.

For his part, Montrose immediately took action and confiscated MacGregor's lands, forcing his wife and family out in the process from the house they occupied. From that day on, there would be no more peace between MacGregor and Montrose. Being that his mother had been a Campbell and indeed his wife was of that clan, Rob sought the protection of the Duke of Argyll. This was a logical move to make as the Campbell's and Graham's had forever been in feud, indeed it could be said that they were hereditary enemies to some extent and both had many scores to settle with one another. Argyll, as well it can be said, found it useful to have Rob at his disposal. He was still a man of renown and was known well, therefore if anyone could make difficult tenants or political opponents fall into line then it was he.

The MacGregor came out on the side of the Stewart kings during the Jacobite Wars, but Argyll, Rob's protector, was known to support the new monarch and was a Whig. Rob called himself a Jacobite, but it might be that he was a spy for both sides during the conflicts. This enabled him to claim that any who supported the "Revolution Settlement," or those who supported the act of union with England as legitimate targets for his Clansmen's brigandry, unless they were prepared to buy him off. A very early form of protection racket it would appear. Those who paid him off were given his word that he would protect their lands, those who did not, soon found themselves literally minus cattle etc!


The Jacobites were of course the followers of the claim of King James VII to the Throne of the United Kingdom. They took their name from the Latin for James which is Jacobus. Predominantly Catholic or Episcopalian in composition, they led many campaigns in the latter half of the 17th until the mid 18th Century. As the Clan Gregor was a Catholic clan, as were most of the other clan's, Rob's sympathies lay primarily with the Jacobite's, though as I have said previously, it is more than likely that he was spying for both sides in these conflicts. At the indecisive battle of Sherriffmuir in 1715, it was said that Rob took no part in the proceedings, but instead stood from a safe vantage point with the rest of his Clan and watched events unfold before him. In the end the battle was declared a draw, as such being an indecisive one. When Rob joined the Jacobite army, he was sent by their leader the "noble" Earl of Mar to recruit from the members of the Clan Gregor settled in North East Scotland. Later he even acted as a guide on the armies march from Perth to Dunblane.

One reason why he might not have taken an active role in the battle was that his protector, commanded the Hanoverian's, and Rob had no high opinion of the abilities of the "noble" Mar. So despite being a Catholic, his sympathies would be somewhat divided between the two camps. After the war of 1715 collapsed for the Jacobites, Rob wrote a letter to Field Marshal Wade (later General Wade of infamy) claiming that the rebellion had been forced upon him, it was either that he said or be thrown into prison, on the account of the action he had earlier committed against Montrose. He went on to say that this indeed would have happened if he had followed his own instincts and fought with the Hanoverian army during the war. He also said that he supplied Argyll with intelligence's from time to time, as to the strength and composition of the "rebel" army. Again a ring of truth in this, as Argyll certainly never removed his protection from Rob, which you may have expected having fought on opposing sides.

Rob survived Sherriffmuir by almost 20 years and in the time afterwards it appears he continued his brigandry, and had his finger in more than one illegal pie no doubt. Of these incidents the kidnap of Montrose's factor, John Graham of Killearn, whilst the same was collecting the rent owed to the Duke was the most notorious. Rob grabbed the money and even gave receipts to those who had paid already, then he held Killearn to ransom. In the end the factor was released unharmed, but if the movie is to be believed, he was murdered by Rob's younger brother. Rob's infamy reached far outside his Trossachs lair and whilst still alive a highly dubious biography was written about him called "The Highland Rogue," being published in London. Such was his repute that mother's would often tell their children to behave or the "Red MacGregor" would get them . Indeed Rob was captured, but managed to escape on more than one occasion by using his guile and cunning. It eventually came to pass that Rob was captured (he didn't escape this time) and thrown into London's Newgate Prison to await transportation to the colonies as a "bonded servant," in other words, little more than a slave. In 1726, whilst still at Newgate he received a full pardon and returned to Scotland there to live out his last few years.

On his return to Scotland Rob moved to Balquhidder, practically a hero, almost becoming like a Scottish "Robin Hood" like character. Here he died at the age of 63 years in 1764. After Rob's passing the Highland's had roads and, as a result of improved communications, law and order. A tale is told that when Rob was lying on his death bed awaiting his maker an old foe-man of his came calling upon him. Upon hearing this Rob rose from his death-bed and armed himself to the hilt. "Never let it be said that any enemy of MacGregor ever saw him defenseless and unarmed," were purportedly his words. When the offending person had been
shown the door, Rob is reported as supposedly saying:

"Now it is all over - let the piper play "Ha til mi tulidh (we return no more)," and before
the lilt of the tune had drawn to an end, he slipped away from this to a better world.

Clan Gregor after Rob Roy:

After the passing of Rob Roy the Clan Gregor continued to support the Jacobite cause and after the debacle of the '45 they were one of the Clan's most ardently sought out for elimination by the Government forces. This was following the draconian "Act of Proscription" which was introduced in 1747 and stayed in force until 1782 when it was repealed. This Act of course affected more than the Clan Gregor. It basically made it illegal for anyone to wear Highland dress (unless they were in the military), banned the use of Clan names and even the music was banned. Indeed anything that could be deemed to have a highland connection was outlawed. The Clan Gregor was one of the Clan's sought out for the harshest treatment, perhaps because of the supposed deeds of their chiefs. Their name was not restored to them until ten years after Rob Roy's death, that is, it was illegal to use the name MacGregor until 1774. Many defiant Highlander's were hunted down and in the plaid's of their forefather's were shipped abroad as bonded slaves to the colonies (especially Virginia) or the West Indies.

If you would like to visit Roby Roy country as part of a highly personalized small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:

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