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Rob Roy MacGregor and History of Clan MacGregor

A Short History of Clan MacGregor

The MacGregors ("Children of the Mist") are one of the most ancient Scottish clans, tracing their ancestry back to the time of Malcolm Canmore, though Roy Roy is their most famous son. They fought for Bruce at Bannockburn and have remained staunch warriors for Scotland and the Highlands ever since.

Indeed, their proud spirits and boundless courage have caused the clan much grief over the centuries, not least due to the enmity and greed of Clan Campbell.

King David II, Bruce's son, gave Glenorchy, ancient seat of the MacGregors, to the Campbells. The MacGregors were loathe to leave, but by 1400 the Gregor chiefship had moved to Glenstrae. However, their troubles were only beginning.

The Campbells were great ones for using the law against those whose lands they coveted (their great feud with Clan Donald is well-attested). Their method was to provoke the MacGregors to acts of violence (not especially difficult, given the MacGregor temper) and then invoke the law to put them down and take their lands. By this method, the Campbells stripped Clan Gregor of their Glenlyon holdings in 1502.

In 1589, the MacGregors killed a royal forester - an offence against the crown, which promptly issued letters of "fire and sword" against the clan, making it illegal to shelter or have any dealings with clan members. Various "fire and sword" orders were continually proclaimed against the MacGregors for the better part of 200 years - they simply couldn't keep out of trouble. In 1603, after Clan Gregor trapped and murdered the Colquhouns, an Act was passed proscribing the very name MacGregor. This meant any member of Clan Gregor (if caught) could be beaten, robbed or killed without fear of punishment. Anyone with the name MacGregor was banned from the church (no marriages, burials, communion, etc.). It was complete ostracism for the entire clan.

During this time, the Earl of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, promised safe conduct out of the country to MacGregor of Glenstrae and his men, then turned them over to be hanged. This treachery united the entire highlands in their loathing of the Campbells.

Though reduced to the status of outlaws, the MacGregors never forgot or relinquished their identity. They fought for the king (who had renewed the Acts against them) with Montrose in 1644-45 (the Campbells fought on the other side). In 1661, the Acts were finally repealed, but only for about 30 years, until William of Orange and his successors renewed them and kept them in force. No wonder that Clan Gregor fully supported the Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745. The Acts were finally repealed permanently in 1774 - Clan Gregor surviving almost 200 years as outlaws.

Biography of Rob Roy MacGregor

The most famous MacGregor of all is, of course, Rob Roy, of the Glengyle branch (1671-1734). Rob Roy was a multi-talented man - a great swordsman and soldier (fighting alongside his father by the age of 18 against William of Orange), an astute businessman, and master of the highland "protection racket". That is, rather than just rustling cattle - the age-old highland way - Rob Roy discovered there was more money in "protecting" cattle for pay. Between 1689 and 1711, Rob Roy stayed at home (he was a loving family man) and prospered his business, increasing his lands and resources.

The legend of Rob Roy MacGregor grew out of his famous feud with the Duke of Montrose. As with all farmers and ranchers, Rob Roy found it difficult to lay hands on ready cash to expand his regular cattle business and turned to Montrose for a loan (or investment money). One of Rob Roy's employees made off with £1000 and Montrose, in his greed, brought charges of embezzlement against Rob hoping to gain his lands. Failing to answer the charge, Rob Roy was declared an outlaw and began his campaign of harassment against the Duke (rustling his cattle).

In 1715, despite his outlaw status, Rob Roy rallied the MacGregor clan and led them in battle against the English, making many successful raids. Afterwards, he was tried for treason and lived life on the run, being captured twice but making spectacular escapes both times. Finally, in 1725, he turned himself in and received a pardon from the king. He died quietly at home in 1734.

Ironically, Rob Roy's mother was a Campbell, and since the name MacGregor was proscribed by William of Orange, Rob Roy used the name Campbell at various times throughout his life and hid (with permission) on the Duke of Argyll's lands while an outlaw.

Read the definitive, 5-star Canongate biography of Rob Roy - Rob Roy MacGregor : His Life & Times
by W. H. Murray

The movie based on Murray's book, Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange is fun, too, lots of well-choreographed sword fighting.

How to make a Rob Roy: one jigger scotch (1-1/2 oz.), 1/2 oz. vermouth (sweet or dry depending on your taste) and a dash of bitters (optional). Pour over rocks and stir, or use a shaker. Pop in a cherry or lemon twist.

Rob Roy MacGregor
Rob Roy MacGregor

by Nigel Tranter
Lively and historically accurate telling of the story of Rob Roy MacGregor by Scotland's best and most revered author of historical fiction. 5 stars.

Rob Roy
Rob Roy (1995)

starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange
Beautifully filmed and well-acted story with exciting sword play and lovely romance.

Rob Roy MacGregor: His life and times
Rob Roy MacGregor: His life and times

by W. H. Murray
Well written biography of Rob Roy MacGregor sets him into the context of his times and explores his great character and courage. 5 stars.

Rob Roy : The Highland Rogue
Rob Roy : The Highland Rogue (1954)

starring Richard Todd and Glynis Johns
Old movie favorite from the Walt Disney Studios, filmed in England with British actors. Based on Sir Walter Scott's classic, there is a lot of dash and derring-do and little historial fact.

Rob Roy (Collins Classics)
Rob Roy (Collins Classics)

by Sir Walter Scott
Highly romanticized and historically inaccurate, yet wonderfully fun to read, from the father of historical fiction, Sir Walter Scott.







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