Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734):
"Heaven gave Rob Roy a dauntless heart,
And wondrous length and strength of era,
Nor craved he more to quell his foes,
Or keep his friends from harm."
~ William Wordsworth [Rob Roy's Grave]
The infamous real-life Scottish "Robin Hood," Rob Roy MacGregor, was born at the head of Loch Katrine in the Trossarchs area of Stirlingshire. His father was clan chief Donald Glas MacGregor of Glengyle, and his mother Mary was a Campbell; from her side he inherited his famous red hair, earning him the nickname "Ruadh", Gaelic for red (which was later anglicized into Roy).
Rob Roy's world was markedly different from contemporary society, and he is best understood in the context of the history of his Highland clansmen. The Clan Gregor traced its lineage back to Gregorious, third son of Pictish Kenneth MacAlpin who reigned in the mid eighth century. The clan was at one time quite powerful, earning its lands in Argyll and Perthshire by "the right of the sword". Their fortune lasted for centuries until King Robert I gifted his close friend and supporter Neil Campbell, chief of the Clan Campbell, the barony of Loch Awe, which included substantial Clan Gregor lands. The Campbells ejected their new tenants, restricting them eventually to Glenstrae. When the MacGregors challenged the Campbells with force, the royal court saw it as resistance to the law, and gave the Campbells power to enforce the law as they saw fit. Thus began a savage civil war between the two clans, characterized by plundering and pillaging from which no one was safe. The battle continued for decades; eventually the MacGregors were dispossessed of all their lands and titles. The Campbells reduced the MacGregors to outlaws - they banned the name, forbade them to carry any weapons or to assemble together, and applied similar restrictions to the future generations. Without any other means of survival, the MacGregors were forced into cattle rustling and deer poaching, most often finding targets in the wealthier adjacent Central Lowlands. They became so proficient at these endeavors that clans would pay them to refrain from stealing their cattle, having exhausted all other means of stopping them.
The clan was at last defeated in 1603 when the king's forester, John Drummond, was murdered in retaliation for hanging some clansmen for poaching. The Privy Council of Edinburgh tried and condemned Clan Gregor chief Alistair MacGregor of Glen Strae, and hanged him and eleven of his chieftains at Mercat Cross. King James VI issued an edict that abolished the name MacGregor, forcing all those who bore it to renounce it or face the penalty of death. The clan scattered, taking such names as Murray, King, or Grant. The MacGregors, however, proved loyal to the House of Stuart when the English Civil War broke out, fighting for the crown under the command of the Earl of Glencairn; a grateful King Charles II reversed the attainder against the clan after the 1660 Restoration.
It was after this time that Rob Roy MacGregor was born. He received a solid Highland education of reading, writing, and swordsmanship, and spoke English as well as his native Gaelic. Rob Roy put his swordsmanship skills to use as a young man of eighteen when he and his father took part in the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie, Viscount Dundee's first Jacobite Rising in support of King James VII of Scotland against Mary and William of Orange. Although Donald Glas and his son survived defeat, Donald was arrested on a cattle raid the following winter and imprisoned.
After the battle, Rob Roy returned to his home, having obtained some land on the east side of Loch Lomond near Inversnaid. To augment his small income, he and some other men began protecting cattle. He found considerable success with this work, on one occasion restoring cattle that had been stolen by the MacRaes to their rightful owner, the Campbell Earl of Breadalbane. After that, a number of impressed landlords hired his services.
With the Jacobite cause that Rob Roy and his father had supported going nowhere, the clan chiefs agreed to sign an oath of allegiance to the Hanoverian court. Donald Glas received amnesty for the signing, but the Privy Council demanded that he pay the cost of his imprisonment. In order to finance his father's release, Rob raided some cattle in the village of Kippin.
From then on, Rob Roy prospered as a cattle rustler and dealer, enjoying income from chieftains who paid him to protect their herds from potential lifters - himself included! He married in 1693, collected a large herd of cattle, and saw five sons mature. He was, however, forced to assume his mother's name (Campbell) when the MacGregor proscription was reinstated.
Rob Roy's troubles and adventures began in 1712, when his chief cattle driver made off with a thousand-pound loan Rob had borrowed from the Duke of Montrose to increase his flock. Before Montrose could take Rob to court for defaulting on the loan (or stealing it), the accused fled north to safety. Montrose, in response, evicted Rob's wife and children from their Inversnaid home, seized the property, and burned it down. Rob Roy remained at large in the Highlands, and his family sought refuge under the Campbell Duke of Argyll, a distant relative of Rob's and a rival of Montrose. Rob was eventually given some land in Glen Dochart, and he returned to his cattle protecting/raiding business - particularly targeting Montrose's herds. As the years went on, he earned a Robin Hood-esque reputation for assisting those who were having financial difficulties with Montrose, whom he enjoyed provoking as their feud continued.
Rob Roy's daunting series of escapes made him a legend in his own time. One story speaks of the time he was captured in the Tossarchs and was to be taken to Stirling Castle. While the party was crossing the Ford of Frew on the River Forth, Rob leapt from his horse and swam away in the dusk under a hail of musket fire. Another tells how he escaped from prison in Logierait, Perthshire, in 1717 after being captured for Montrose by the Duke of Atholl. His great success in a series of duels also fuelled imagination - it was said that his unusually long arms gave him the advantage. Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), who was in Scotland at the time, embellished and romanticized these and other local legends in his 1723 best-seller, Highland Rogue, which chronicled the daring, passionate, and charitable adventures of Rob Roy MacGregor, and spread his reputation through all of Great Britain.
Rob Roy was finally arrested some time in the mid-1720s on treason charges for his role in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. He had played some part in raising the MacGregors under the Stuart banner in Aberdeenshire, and acted as a guide to the Jacobite army as it marched through Perth towards Stirling. His allegiance was torn, however, at the Battle of Sheriffmuir when he saw that the commander of the government army was none other than his benefactor, the Hanoverian-supporting Duke of Argyll. He ultimately sat the battle out, and, at Argyll's intercession, received a royal pardon in 1726 before his sentence (deportation to Barbados) was carried out. Rob Roy then returned to his home in Inverlochlarig Beg, and lived out his remaining years in peace. He died at the end of 1734 following a short illness, and was buried in the Balquhidder Kirkyard on New Year's Day 1735.
The legend of Rob Roy MacGregor, however, did not pass away with the man. The spark lit by Daniel Defoe was further flamed by Sir Walter Scott's 1817 best-selling novel, Rob Roy. William Wordsworth kept Victorian society interested in the Scottish rogue with his poem, "Rob Roy's Grave," and the twentieth century paid no less attention. In 1953, Disney released Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue, starring Richard Todd; Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones brought the character to contemporary audiences with Rob Roy in 1995. Liam Neeson played the title character and Tim Roth was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the villainous Archibald Cunningham. Rob Roy's fame continues to linger into the twenty-first century with a musical theatre production bearing his name that opened March 2009 in Toronto's Elgin Theatre.
Rob Roy also loaned his name to a cocktail made with one and a half ounces of Scotch whisky stirred with half an ounce of vermouth and a dash of bitters poured over rocks.
A stone carved with the words, "MacGregor Despite Them," was added to his gravesite in 1981.Read William Wordsworth's "Rob Roy's Grave"
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