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Amelia Volume 1 Chapter 14

Continuation of the Historical Notices of Professor Donald Gregory

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CONTINUATION of the “Historical Notices” of Professor Donald Gregory, from Chapter III., page 35 :-

“The ClanGregor had during the reign of James V. become very numerous in Balquhidder, and in the adjacent district of Strathearn, and as may well be supposed were proportionally annoying to the Lowlands next to that great natural boundary by which the Highlands are so strikingly defined. This appears from several passages in the Justiciary Records, and likewise from a deposition made before the Lords of Council on 22nd Dec. 1530, by John Drummond of Innerpeffray, and William Murray of Tullibardine, to the following effect : That Sir John Campbell of Calder, Knight, be authorite, supple and help of the Erle of Ergyle, may cause the ClanGregour to keep gude rewle within thair boundis, siclik as uther pacifeit landis adjacent to them; and that the Kingis liegis may lief in rest and pece for onie skaith to be done be the said ClanGregour, the said Sir John bindand him thairfor with support of the said Erle as said is.

[1]   This proceeding was two days after followed by a respite to the ClanGregor from all criminal actions for the space of ten days, with licence to them to appear before the King and Council within that time ‘to wirk and mene for thaim of all attemptatts bigane, an to geif plegeis and sufficient securitie for gud rewle in tyme to cum.’ [2]  

“In making such incursions, the MacGregors did nothing which others of the Highland Clans were not more or less in the habit of doing. But as their depredations were generally committed in the neighbourhood of Perth or Stirling, where the Secret Council often met, and the Sovereign frequently resided, so they became peculiarly the terror of the government, and subject consequently to the operation of measures which from their extreme severity, as well as from the conflicting interests of the great barons employed in putting them into execution, failed in producing the desired effect, and only succeeded in forcing this devoted Clan to further acts of desperation. By this time indeed, many of the MacGregors were under one pretext or another denuded of every lawful means of supporting themselves and their families. Is it therefore to be wondered at that they should have perpetrated frequent spoilations, impelled as they were by the most necessity?

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Such results however deplorable, flowed naturally and necessarily from the system, alike impolitic and inhuman, pursued with lands alleged to belong to the Crown; and by which, as we have seen, a numerous tribe was driven from degree of privation to another, to struggle for existence against those who had law, no doubt, as well as power, but hardly justice, on their side.

“About the year 1560 arose a deadly feud between the MacGregors on one side and Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurchy on the other. From the representations on the subject to the Secret Council, a Commission of fire and sword was in 1563 issued to sundry noblemen and barons, against the ClanGregor. [3]   Of this most anomalous production, the precursor of many such in later times, and which, in the preambles, indulge like this in the most unqualified abuse of the unfortunate race against whom they were directed, a prominent feature is the strict manner in which it is directed that the Clan be expelled from all the districts in which they dwelt, or to which they were in the habit of resorting, without specifying, or so much as hinting at, any other district into which they might be received. The impolitic and remorseless severity of this measure, which could only have bee carried into effect by a universal massacre, naturally rendered it abortive. Another commission was accordingly next year (1564 ) issued to two only of the nine former commissioners, [4]   from which we may infer that the former had not answered it’s purpose.

“Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurchy had, about the date of the first of these commissions, been individually armed with a separate and additional commission of fire and sword against the Harbourers of the ClanGregor, in whatever part of the kingdom [5]   - a proof that the Secret Council not only neglected to provide a place to which the ClanGregor might, when ejected from their homes, retire but absolutely attempted to exclude them from every spot on which they might, on retiring, seek shelter, or even existence. Sir Colin, under colour of his individual commission, perpetrated on the lieges, as appears, atrocities not inferior to those alleged against the ClanGregor; and in consequence of a regular complaint by the barons and landlords of Strathearn, was, in the following year, threatened with loss of his commission, and in 1565, having been deaf to remonstrance, and persevering in the most intolerable outrages, actually deprived of it.

“As Glenurchy had been thus pre-eminent in severity against all whom he chose to suspect of tenderness towards the persecuted ClanGregor, we may fairly presume that his conduct to the latter was not remarkable for moderation. In the manuscript history, indeed, of the Campbell of Glenurchy, and in a passage written by order of his son and successor, it is expressly asserted of him that ‘he wes ane greit Justiciar all his time, throch the quhilk he sustenit that deidly feid of the Clangregour ane lang space; and, besides that he causit execut to death mony notabill lymmaris, he beheidit the Laird of Makgregour himselff, at Kenmor, in presence of the Erle of Athole, [page 151} and the Lord Justice Clerk, and sindry other nobill men.’ With the assistance as appears of Macdonald of Keppoch he invaded Rannoch, the ClanGregor’s stronghold. His proceedings, however, on this occasion were formally complained of by the Laird of Weyme; whence we may infer that, in this, as in other instances, Glenurchy had overleaped the limits of his double and but too ample commission.

“There occurs in the history of the Clan at this time a singular instance of the weakness of the Government, and of the difficulty of administering the laws in the then state of the Highlands. A number of the best disposed of the MacGregors had, on being charged to that effect, given hostages and found security for their good behaviour. While under this obligation one of them lost his life in a private feud with some neighbouring Highlanders. His kinsmen eager for revenge, but at the same time deterred by the penalty in the bond for taking it on the spot, applied to the Sovereign (Queen Mary), and obtained not the trial of the alleged culprits, but a warrant to relieve themselves from their obligations to keep the peace, seeing, as the warrant expresses it, ‘that nane ar mair mete for persequution of the tressonabill murthouraris of the said umqle Gregor nor the foirnamit persones hauing thair neir kinsman slane quhilkis dar nocht put on armes and persew the said murthouraris be ressoun of thair soureteis standand undischargeit.’ [6]  

“It cannot be surprising that the disorders of the ClanGregor, far from being suppressed, should under such a government, have increased with each succeeding year. We find accordingly, that in the year 1566, the tenants and feuars of Menteith presented to the Government a supplication praying to be relieved from payment of their rents and duties, the whole Lordship having, as stated in the complaint, been laid waste by the ClanGregor. [7]  

“That the ClanGregor were in many instances the tools of their more powerful neighbours is highly probable. The celebrated George Buchanan, in a political pamphlet, printed and circulated in 1571, alluding to the Hamilton Faction, introduces, as illustrative of this theme, a passage descriptive of the then known state of society in Scotland. ‘Howbeit’ says he ‘the bullerant blude of a King and a Regent about their hartis quhairof the lust in thair appetite gevis thame little rest dayly and hourly making neu provocatioun; yit the small space of rest quhilk thay haue beside the executioun of thair crewaltie thay spend in devising of generall unquyetness thro’ the haill countrie; for, nocht content of it that thay thameselffis may steal, bribe, and reave, thay set out ratches on euerie side to gnaw the pepillis banes, after that thau haue consumit the flesch, and houndis out, any of thame the Clan Gregour, another the Grantis and Clanquhattane, another Balcleugh and Fairnyhirst, another the Johnstounis and Armstrangis.’ [8]   The peculiar circumstances, doubtless, in which the ClanGregor [page 152} had been so long placed in relation to their ancient possessions, must have disposed them to enter with alacrity into every plan, however violent and rapacious, by which they might have the slightest chance to better their condition; and more particularly as, in any event, they had nothing to lose.

“In 1581 an act of the Legislature, reprehensible for it’s glaring iniquity, was passed under the title of ‘Ane additioun to the Actis maid aganis notorious Theiffis and Sornaris of Clannis.’ By this it was made lawful for any individual who might happen to sustain damage from a notorious thief, or from a ruffian insisting to be an intimate of a family, living at its expense, and on the best it could produce, provided the actual delinquent could not be laid hold of, to apprehend and slay the bodies, and arrest the goods of any of the Clan to which the culprit belonged, until satisfaction was made to the injured party by the rest of the said Clan. This act must have been severly felt by the ClanGregor, whose feud with the family of Glenurchy still continued to rage with unabated animosity. About this time accordingly Gregor MacGregor of Glenstray, Laird of MacGregor, was executed by Duncan Campbell, younger of Glenurchy.

“As there is something singular in the history of the MacGregors of Glenstray, the noticing of a few particulars concerning them may not be irrelevant. Soon after the extinction, whether real or apparent, of the very ancient family of Glenurchy, we find a branch of the ClanGregor holding a small estate near Glenstray, 20 merks old extent, as vassals of the Earl of Argyle. The MacGregors of Glenstray were allied matrimonially to most of the principal families of the name of Campbell; and so long as they continued to hold their lands of the Argyle family, they appear to have flourished, so as to become, in process of time, the most consequential house of their Clan. On the other hands, when the Earl of Argyle had conveyed the superiority of Glenstray to Campbell of Glenurchy, which he did in 1554, these MacGregors shared the wretched fate of the rest of the Clan, as it was obviously the great aim of the Glenurchy family to get rid of every vassal of the name of MacGregor. They refused to enter Gregor MacGregor of Glenstray as heir to his father, on the ground possibly of his being rebel in the eye of the law; and after the death of Gregor, who was formerly mentioned was executed by Campbell, younger of Glenurchy, they denied the proper feudal investiture to his son Allaster, who in 1590 was legally ejected from the lands of Glenstray, on the assertion that he was merely a tenant of these lands against the will of the proprietor as Sir Duncan was pleased to style himself. We see then that this time the leading family of the name of MacGregor was in no better situation than others of his landless Clan.

“In January 1584-85 the Secret Council summoned several of the Highland Chiefs and Barons connected with Perthshire and Argyleshire, and amongst the rest Ewin MacGregor, Tutor of Glenstray, to appear personally before the King and Council, [page 153} to answer to such things as should be inquired at them touching the suppression of the Lymmars and broken men of the Highlands, by whom the counties of Lennox, Menteith, Stirlingshire and Strathearn had, as alleged, been cruelly harassed. What proceedings, if any, were adopted by the Council, does not appear. It is probable that they now, however, commenced the draft of the a long act of parliament vulgarly called ‘the General Band,’ and which was passed in 1587. By one of the many sections of this voluminous act, it was declared that theft committed by landed men should be reckoned treason, and punished as such. It was farther ordained, that the Captains, Chiefs, and Chieftains of the Clans, both Border and Highland, be noted in a roll, and obliged under pain of fire and sword, to surrender to the King and Council certain pledges or hostages, liable to suffer death if redress of injuries were not made by the persons for whom they lay. We shall presently have occasion to see the attempts made, under the operation of this act, to reduce the ClanGregor to obedience.

“The slaughter of Drummondernoch, Under King’s Forrester of Glenartney, said to have been committed in 1589 or 1590, by some of the ClanGregor, induced the Secret Council to grant in 1590 a commission of fire and sword to various noblemen and gentlemen, for pursuit of the whole Clan, of whom nearly 200 are mentioned nominatim in the commission and which is said to have been executed with extreme severity in the district of Balquhidder especially, and around Lochearn.

“In July 1591 Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenurchy had a commission of fire and sword against the Clangregor, who are described as being for the most part rebels, and at the horn for divers horrible crimes and offences committed by them; and also against their harbourers; with power to convocate the lieges of Breadalbane and the adjacent districts to aid in the execution. The various noblemen and barons of these counties are enjoined under severe penalties to aid Sir Duncan with all power. The King as stated in the commission had been informed of certain bonds of maintenance subsisting between Sir Duncan on the one part, and some of the more leading individuals of the ClanGregor on the other, and between the last mentioned and sundry others of the noblemen, barons and gentlemen; and if which suffered to remain in force might, as was thought, hinder the execution of the commission. All such bonds were therefore declared void and null, and Glenurchy strictly prohibited from entering into any engagements of this nature. Six months however, had scarce elapsed when Sir Duncan obtained his Majesty’s licence to enter into bonds of friendship with the MacGregors, including an oblivion of all past animosities and authorising him to liberate such of the Clan as were then in his custody, in consequence as may be presumed, of his fidelity in the discharge of his late commission against them. In virtue of the royal licence, a contract was entered into by the principal barons of the Highlands of Perthshire, among others Sir Duncan Campbell on the one part, and Allaster Roy MacGregor of Glenstray, having 26 of the leading persons of the [page 154} ClanGregor as his sureties, on the other. The parties became bound to abstain from mutual slaughters and depredations; and in any disputes that might arise, to renounce their own jurisdictions, and submit to the commissariat of Dunblane. The youthful Laird of MacGregor soon found to his confusion that he had undertaken a task beyond his strength; nor was it long ere he incurred the usual penalties of the law for non-fulfilment,

“On 1st Feb. 1592-3, Archibald seventh Earl of Argyle, whilst yet in his nonage, had from the King and Council a commission ‘aganis all and sindrie of the wicked ClanGregour and the Stewartis of Balquhidder’; with power to charge them by his precept to appear before him, to find surety, or to enter pledges for the preservation of peace and order, as the Earl should think most expedient. Recusants were given over to the discipline of fire and sword; and Argyle empowered to convocate the lieges within the sheriffdoms of Bute, of Tarbet, and of so much of those of Perth and Stirling as lay within 21 parishes specified, for pursuit of the persons of the ClanGregor and the Balquhidder Stewarts. A proclamation accordingly was issued to all the barons and landed gentlemen within the districts above mentioned, to assist with their whole force; whilst 15 principal householders of the name of MacGregor were ordained to be charged to appear before Argyll as his Majesty’s Justice General and Lieutenant in those parts, on a certain and early day, to answer to such things as should be laid to their charge touching their obedience to the laws, under pain of being held ‘part-takers’ with the ‘broken men’ of the Clan in all their wicked deeds and punished accordingly. About this time, those barons and gentlemen who had the ClanGregor as tenants, and who in the records are forensically styled ‘landlords of the ClanGregor’ forced by the severe enactments of the General Band, which made every landlord answerable for the misdemeanors of his tenants, began to take measures for an universal ejection of the Clan from their possessions; and as far as the forms of law could go, numerous ejectments did in consequence take place - to such an amount indeed, that when, in July 1596, the Laird of MacGregor appeared personally before the King and Council at Dunfermline, and bound himself for the good behaviour of his Clan, there was as may confidently be affirmed, scarce a single farm occupied by a MacGregor, unless by force, and in defiance of the proprietor. On this occasion the Chief after acknowledging his past offence and expressing his contrition, promised to remain in attendance on the King, as a hostage for the obedience of his tribe. He seems however, to have soon become tired of this unwonted thraldom, where he found himself out of his natural element and to have made his escape to the mountains.

“Situate as this unfortunate Gentleman, and his no less unfortunate Clan, now were, they appeared to Argyle (who although only a youth, had already begun to distinguish himself by that crafty policy which marked the whole of his long and crooked career) [page 155} fit instruments for extending his power and influence in the Highlands and for avenging his private quarrels, as will be illustrated in the sequel; and it will scarcely be believed that distant tribes under the order of this nobleman plundered and laid waste the lands occupied by the ClanGregor, in order no doubt, that the measures of retaliation which the latter were expected to adopt, might still farther widen the breach between them and the constituted authorities, and make them more ready to follow the perfidious councils of this arch-dissimulator. The Laird of MacGregor, however, took the uncommon step of resorting to a Court of law for redress, being induced to this probably, by the persuasions of his real friends or by the heavy penalties under which he lay. He succeeded in obtaining a sentence of the Court for a large sum of damages; but as may be supposed, it was easier to obtain the sentence than to put it in execution in a state of society of which some notion may be formed from the terms of protest taken by MacGregor’s Counsel in this suit. ‘that the Laird of Macgregor and his kyn, wer the first sen King James 1st his tyme that cam and sought justice.’ This assertion cannot be taken literally but there must evidently have existed good grounds for making it.

“In May 1599, the Barons on whose lands any of the Clan resided were charged to produce before the King and Council on 3rd July, each of them the persons of the name of MacGregor for whom he was bound to answer; and the Chief and his whole Clan were charged to appear on the same day, ‘to underlye such order as should be taken with them touching the weal and quietness of the country.’ On 25th July ‘Offeris for Allaster Makgregour of Glenstray’ were in his name presented to the King by Sir John Murray of Tullibardine, Knight, Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenurchy, Knight, and John Grant of Freuchy (known as the Laird of Grant). [9]  

“In pursuance of these offers various proceedings took place, in which the anxiety of the Council to reduce the ClanGregor to obedience without undue severity is very manifest. All their good intentions were secretly frustrated by Argyle, who undid in the Highlands, what had been done at Court whilst the whole blame meanwhile rested upon the unfortunate Laird of MacGregor, who was charged by the Council with having dishonourably violated his most solemn engagements. For proof of this assertion reference is made to the dying declaration of MacGregor . . . . . . . . . . and likewise to a statement made by the gentlemen who had become his sureties, that the ‘default of the not entrie of the said Allaster with his said pledge, at the peremptour day appointit to that effect, wes not in thame (the sureties) bot proceidit upoun sum occasionis quhilk intervenit and fell oute befoir the day of his entrie, quhilkis discourageit and terrifiet him to keip the first dyet.’

“At last the King And Council in dispair of reducing the Clan to the obedience of [page 156} the laws by the existing plan, constituted the Earl of Argyle his Majesty’s Lieutenant and Justice in the whole bounds inhabited by the ClanGregor, and invested him with the most ample powers, extending over as well the harbourers of the MacGregors as the MacGregors themselves; and it was provided that the former should be responsible for the crimes of those of the latter to whom they might give shelter and protection. The commission was to continue in force for a year, and longer if not specially discharged; and the King promised not to show favour or to grant to any of the MacGregors during the continuance of the commission, but to remit them and their suits to the Earl’s disposal.

“Under Argyle’s administration, the Clan, as might be expected from the policy pursued by that nobleman, became daily more troublesome to the Lowlands, and to such of the proprietors more particularly who had the misfortune to be at feud with Argyle. The Lairds of Buchanan and Luss suffered severaly from the incursions of the ClanGregor; and those of Ardkinglass and Ardincaple escaped only by the Laird of MacGregor’s refusal to execute in their cases the revolting fiats of the King’s Lieutenant. Finally in the spring of 1603 at the instigation of Argyle couched probably in most imperious terms, MacGregor with his men of Rannoch invaded the Lennox, and fought the celebrated conflict of Glenfrune, opposed by the Colquhouns and their friends and dependants; and having routed these with great carnage, ravaged the whole district, and carried off an immense booty.

“The King and Council, horrified by the intelligence of this hostile inroad, proceeded to take the most severe measures for bringing the offenders to justice. A series of sanguinary enactments against the unhappy ClanGregor was crowned by that of the proscription of the names of Gregor and MacGregor under pain of death, which bears date 3d April 1603. [10]   Argyll was the first to turn upon the unfortunate Chief, whom, and several gentlemen of his Clan, he betrayed in circumstances peculiarly infamous, and all inquiry into the origin of the raid was studiously stifled to save the Earl. The Declaration however of his victim produced on the trial, and preserved in the original, distinctly charges Argyll with having caused MacGregor not only to violate engagements under which he had come to the King and Council in 1599, as above detailed, but to commit many of the crimes for which he was about to suffer death. [11]  

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“I have thus, in the preceding pages, endeavoured to show that the causes of the proscription of the ClanGregor were closely connected with the impolitic system on which the ancient crown lands were managed; and that this Clan suffered more severly under that system than others from having lost their early freehold possessions, or at least the greater part of these by forfeiture, as early as the reign of King Robert Bruce, and being thus deprived of that weight in the Councils of a rude nation which uniformly accompanies the possession of extensive land property. This view is farther confirmed by a fact that I have lately discovered, that King James V. actually proscribed the Clan Chattan by acts equally severe with those directed by his grandson against the ClanGregor. Wherein consisted the difference between the two Clans? The answer is obvious. The Captain of the Clan Chattan and several of the chief gentlemen of his tribe, held extensive possessions under the Crown, and were thus in a manner independent of the great families in the neighbourhood. How different the case was with the ClanGregor we have already seen; and the fate of the Macdonalds of Glencoe (who were in other respects more favourably situated) is nearly parallel to that of the MacGregors and may be traced to the same causes.”

[1] Acta Dominorum Concilii.

[2] Ibid., 4th Dec. 1530.

[3] Record of Secret Council, ad annum 1563.

[4] The Earls of Argyle and Athol.

[5] Record of Secret Council, ad annum 1563, and ibid.1564.

[6] Warrant preserved in the Books of Adjournal, dated in June 1565. - See next Chapter.

[7] Record of Secret Council, ad annum 1566

[8] Admonitoun direct to the trew Lordis. - Book of Taymouth.

[9] These “Offeris” are given in full, - Chapter XXV. volume 1 chapter 25

[10] See Excerpts of Record of Secret Council in the Earl of Haddington’s Collection, preserved in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh. The volume of volumes, whence these Excerpts for the years 1603-4-5 were taken, are unfortunately missing. - D. Gregory.

[11] This is evident from there being a packed jury on the trial of the Laird of MacGregor, notwithstanding the notoriety of the crimes charged, and from the indecent haste which mark the whole of the proceedings in Edinburgh; not to mention from Calderwood’s History, and other sources, that seven gentlemen of the name of MacGregor were executed along with the Laird of MacGregor without a trial, although, as asserted by the candid historian, “reputed honest for their own parts.” - D. Gregory.