Rob Roy MacGregor and the Children of the Mist"
The MacGregors were legendary outlaws, known as the Children of the Mist, who suffered the extremes of State oppression. Following the Battle of Glen Fruin in 1603, the MacGregors massacred over 140 members of the clan Colquhoun; and a party of schoolboys who had simply come to watch the fight. King James VI subsequently outlawed the entire MacGregor Clan. Under the Proscriptive Acts of Clan Gregor, the name MacGregor was abolished and bearing the MacGregor name became punishable by death. MacGregor men were executed, the women were stripped bare, branded, and whipped through the streets. MacGregor women and children were sold into slavery for Britain's new colonies in North America. As outlaws, or people outside the protection of the law, MacGregors were denied food, water and shelter as well as the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, marriage, and last rites. They were hunted with hounds and MacGregor heads could be sold to the government to attain pardon for crimes of thievery and murder. Enormous rewards were offered for the killing or capture of the clan's most important members.
In the spring of 1604, Alasdair MacGregor of Glenstrae, Chief and Laird of MacGregor was hung with thirty of his warrior clansmen against the western end of St Giles Kirk in Edinburgh where the “Heart of Midlothian” emblem is now built into the cobbles. The surviving MacGregors continued in two groups. The first were those who legally changed their name to satisfy the law, but never changed their heart or blood. The other group were those who took to the vast highlands and continued to use their Gregor names in defiance.
Rob Roy MacGregor was born on the banks of Loch Katrine, the third son of Donald Glas of Glengyle and Margaret Campbell on the 7th of March, 1671. Because of the proscription he was forced to assume his mother’s maiden name of Campbell. As the son of a senior member of the clan, he was well educated in reading, writing and schooled in the art of fighting and swordsmanship. Rob gained land on the east side of Loch Lomond near Inversnaid and augmented his meagre living there by rustling and droving cattle. Also, he managed to “persuade” cattle owners to pay "black rent" or "black meal" (the origin of the word blackmail) to have their cattle protected by Rob and his fellow MacGregors. Since the MacGregors were often the guilty cattle rustlers themselves, being paid to “protect” the cattle proved to be an extremely lucrative endeavour.
The MacGregor clan was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause, supporting the deposed King James VII rather than William of Orange and Queen Mary. When "Bonnie Dundee" raised a Jacobite army in support of James, the MacGregors joined him. Rob Roy and his father fought at the subsequent Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 but the rebellion fizzled out soon after. Rob’s father was captured on a cattle raid and imprisoned the following winter. The MacGregors returned to “protecting cattle” to earn money. This eventually resulted in Rob restoring one particular herd of stolen cattle to their rightful owner, the Campbell Earl of Breadalbane. Rob's status increased accordingly and he was soon employed to “protect” a number of other estates.
The Jacobite cause had faded somewhat and an armistice was agreed in 1691 on the condition that the clan chiefs agreed to sign an Oath of Allegiance to William of Orange. The late signing of this Oath subsequently led to the massacre of Glen Coe the following year. Still imprisoned, Donald Glas MacGregor initially refused to sign but relented after the death of his wife. After signing the oath, however, the Privy Council demanded that he pay the cost of his own imprisonment. Rob undertook a raid to steal some cattle to pay this levy. He targeted land around the village of Kippen but a fracas ensued and a local man was killed in the fight.
During a visit to Glasgow in December 1695, Rob was arrested and was sentenced to be sent to Flanders. But he escaped and returned home. Despite exceptionally hard times, he managed to become a successful businessman and Mary gave birth to at least five sons who survived to manhood. During this time he earned a fearsome reputation as a swordsman by winning a number of duels, crediting his success to his skill, and the length of his arms.
Rob made money by buying cattle in Scotland then droving them south to England and selling them at a profit. In 1712 he borrowed £1,000 from the Duke of Montrose to finance a deal but it is believed his chief drover promptly disappeared with the money. Montrose believed that Rob was complicit in the loss and, even though Rob offered to pay back what he could immediately, he was taken to court and declared a bankrupt and a thief. To avoid imprisonment, Rob headed north once again. Montrose demanded the seizure of Rob's property and it is said that Rob's wife was raped and branded when the soldiers carried out the eviction.
Rob remained at large in the Highlands, evading capture. Eventually, the Campbell Earl of Breadalbane, an enemy of Montrose, granted him land in Glen Dochart. Rob returned to taking “protection” money and raiding once again to make a living. Not surprisingly, the lands of the Duke of Montrose suffered repeatedly and Rob earned a reputation for assisting poorer clansmen who also had financial problems with Montrose.
In 1715, the Jacobites rose again and, once again, Rob Roy joined the cause. But he and his men arrived too late for the main battle of the campaign at Sheriffmuir. The Jacobites had won a slender victory, but hesitation on the part of the Jacobite leaders and the late arrival of King James from France led to the withering of the Uprising once again. Rob Roy was accused of treason for his part in the Uprising but, eventually, an amnesty was offered to all who surrendered. Rob eventually handed in some old and useless weapons to the Duke of Argyll - who gave him a house in Glen Shira.
Rob continued to raid the lands of the Duke of Montrose, despite the Duke’s repeated attempts to capture him. Finally, Montrose obtained letters of "Fire and Sword" against Rob Roy McGregor and he was finally captured at Balquhidder. Rob escaped on the journey back to Stirling. He was captured again when a promise of safe conduct from the Duke of Atholl was broken but he escaped his prison cell in Dunkeld by bribing the guards.
By 1720, Montrose and Atholl had given up trying to capture him and he moved back near Balquhidder to resume his previous life. His reputation was enhanced when Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote an account of his adventures entitled "Highland Rogue" and Sir Walter Scott wrote the novel “Rob Roy”. Rob’s life became comfortable and peaceful in his old age. He converted to Catholicism and died on 28 December 1734 after a short illness.
Rob Roy MacGregor was buried on New Year's Day, 1735 at Balquhidder. His wife and two of his sons were later buried in the same grave, the gravestone of which has a sword carved into its surface.