The Massacre of Glencoe
While this year marks the 700th anniversary of The Battle of Bannockburn, Feb 13th each year marks the anniversary of event in 1692 called The Massacre of Glencoe.
For everything in history, there is a history and the question is often how far back does one go to start to trace the events that led up to a specific point in time? In addition, cause and motive are often tightly tied together, but what motivates one person is not always clear to another and just whose version is told is significant. There are facts and there are explanations. Keeping the two distinct is critical. What is clear at Glen Coe is that there is an event in which 38 MacDonells were killed outright and another 40 women and children died from exposure after their homes were burned. It is also clear that the taking of an oath by January 1, 1692 is a precursor to the massacre, but even the requirement to take an oath itself has a history.
There had been a Jacobite revolution (the first of several that would occur in Scotland). Revolutions are always precipitated by something, so what precipitated this uprising? Well, Scotland was divided between a Catholic and Episcopalian, mostly Gaelic speaking north and a largely Presbyterian English speaking lowland. (Something else to worry about – how did that situation ever come about? But let’s not go there!)
Scotland had been under the rule of the Stuarts basically since the time Robert II took the throne in 1371. Robert II was the son of Walter Stewart and Marjorie Bruce who was the daughter of Robert the Bruce. You may wonder why the line from Robert the Bruce to Robert II goes through Marjorie and not Robert’s brother Edward.
Robert the Bruce ===== Isabella of Mar | Marjorie=====Walter Stewart | Robert II
Well Edward, who had fought with Robert, went off to Ireland and had children, but there is some question about their legitimacy. Although there are records of a proposed marriage between Edward and a woman named Isabel, no evidence for the marriage exists. Edward died in 1318, eleven years before his brother Robert. So, when Robert died, and Marjorie died, parliament declared Robert heir presumptive. Even without worrying about Edward and potential (il)legitimate children, primogeniture would still have made the choice of Robert II correct. The line of descent continues down through several Roberts and a good number of kings named James, and distinguished by number. James VII (known as James the II and VII because he was the second Ling of England and Scotland named James and the seventh king of Scotland named James. Hence the current Queen should technically be known and Elizabeth the I and II – the first of both England and Scotland, but the second queen of that name of England).
Now, back to the Jacobite uprising – remember that??
Well by 1688, the English and the Scots were under a single King, James the II and VII) Many of the English leading figures were unhappy having James, who had converted to Catholicism as a king. William of Orange, the son in law of James II and VII by virtue of having married James’ daughter Mary was not Catholic and so these leading English figures decided to invite him to be king (so much easier than elections). So William of Orange invaded England and James fled the country. The Parliament decreed that his fleeing was tantamount to abdication and William of Orange was installed by the English Parliament.
The Scottish parliament did not embrace the idea with the same celerity that the English had and they wrote to James and William. They were not happy with James’ answers and so they accepted William as king. Not all were happy with this and so began the first Jacobite uprising to return the throne to the Catholic monarch, James. The leader of this revolution, John Graham, Viscount of Dundee was killed at the Battle of Killiecrankie but it was a victory for the Jacobites . Another battle a month later at Dunkeld went somewhat the other way. Among the clans going home after the battle were the Maclains of Glencoe (a sept of the clan Donald) and their related sept, the Maclains of Glengarry. En route, they looted the livestock of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, who was already struggling with gambling debts. This looting worsened his situation and forced him to take a military commission to support his family.
Now with the Jacobites clearly beaten (after yet another battle at the Houghs of Cromdale, the Highlanders accepted William as king, but William wanted an oath of allegiance taken by the clan chiefs by Jan 1 1691. In taking the oath, the clans would be pardoned for their part in the uprising.
Now the chiefs, still feeling some loyalty to both James and their own clansmen were willing to take the oath, but wanted James’ permission, so they wrote to him and asked him for it. James was trying to make up his mind whether he should make another stab at the throne, and delayed in his response. When it finally came saying it was all right to take the oath, it was the middle of a very severe December. Some took the oath as required in front of an appropriate official, but Alistair Maclain waited until Dec. 31st and then headed to Ft. William to have the governor take the oath. What follow is a complex set of problems involving who is authorized to take the oath and who is not, and where the proper person is over the new year. The result was that although Maclain had been given a letter of protection saying that he had indeed attempted to comply on time, but given extenuating circumstances (and some ruses to delay him) he would be slightly late in taking the oath. In effect he was complying with the spirit if not the letter of the law.Now the chiefs, still feeling some loyalty to both James and their own clansmen were willing to take the oath, but wanted James’ permission, so they wrote to him and asked him for it. James was trying to make up his mind whether he should make another stab at the throne, and delayed in his response. When it finally came saying it was all right to take the oath, it was the middle of a very severe December. Some took the oath as required in front of an appropriate official, but Alistair Maclain waited until Dec. 31st and then headed to Ft. William to have the governor take the oath. What follow is a complex set of problems involving who is authorized to take the oath and who is not, and where the proper person is over the new year. The result was that although Maclain had been given a letter of protection saying that he had indeed attempted to comply on time, but given extenuating circumstances (and some ruses to delay him) he would be slightly late in taking the oath. In effect he was complying with the spirit if not the letter of the law.
Once again a split between lowlanders and highlanders raises its ugly head and John Dalrymple, Secretary of State over Scotland disliked Highlanders and saw them as standing in the way of progress, and favored a union with England. Some government officials were unhappy that the clan chiefs had taken the oaths since they were hoping to break up the clan system. They decided to use Maclain’s late signing as grounds to further their plans. As a result 120 men under the leadership of Capt. Robert Campbell of Glenlyon arrived in Glen Coe (remember him? This is the person who took up a military commission after the Maclains’ ostensibly damaged his by looting his livestock)! Few of the 120 were actually Campbells.
The soldiers are billeted in the houses of the Maclains - MacDonells of Glencoe. Maclains youngest son, Alexander MacDonell, was visited by Capt. Campbell. MacDonell was married to Campell’s niece, the sister of Rob Boy MacGregor). Because of the marital ties, Campbell himself was billeted with the clan chief.
After staying with their hosts as guests for about two weeks, the soldiers under Campbell attacked their hosts killing 38 men, including the clan chief Alasdair as he was getting out of bed. Forty women and children are reported as having died from exposure.
It does not appear that all those in Campbell’s force supported the action taken. Some of the soldiers found ways to warn their hosts while two of the lieutenants, Lt Francis Farquhar and Lt Gilbert Kennedy broke their swords rather than carry out their orders.
While there have certainly been more people killed in battles between groups of Scots, Glencoe goes in infamy because of the violation of the codes of hospitality so cherished by highlanders. “Murder under trust” is seen is Scots law as especially horrific and vicious.
While the two lieutenants mentioned above were arrested, both were vindicated and gave evidence against their superior officers.
As usual, inquiries went nowhere. Guilt was established, but ultimately the king himself had signed the order (apparently having been convinced they were going after thieves) Dalrymple was blamed for the affair. There was a report to the king that said the killings were in fact murder and punishment and reparations to the MacDonells were to be meted out. Other than the indications that one John Campbell Earl of Breadalbane was locked up in Edinburgh Castle for a few days for “high treason” (secret talks with Jacobite chiefs), none of the recommendations were carried out.
So here comes another February 13th, 322 years later. History sure keeps getting longer. 322 years ago, Glencoe would have been current events.