Glen Discovery in GlenLyon
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Cailean Liath (1550-1583) and Donnchadh dubh (1583-1631),

By Peter Lawrie

I am grateful to Professor Jane Dawson of the University of Edinburgh for much of the narrative and interpretation on this page, and for her work in publishing the letters of Grey Colin Campbell (Cailean Liath) of Glenorchy in the Breadalbane papers (GD112 at the National Archives of Scotland).

Grey Colin Campbell, or Cailean Liath By 1550, when the MacGregor lineages were probably the most powerful military force in the Central zone, Cailean Liath or Grey Colin Campbell became the laird of Glen Orchy.

The Earl of Argyll granted the service of Clan Gregor to Grey Colin and a new period of Campbell expansion began.

Grey Colin died in 1583 and was succeeded by his son Donnchadh Dubh a Curraic (Black Duncan of the Cowl) who died in 1631.

Black Duncan Campbell, or Donnchadh Dubh
During this period the two men played a significant part in national politics. They were absolutists and utterly intolerant of opposition. After 1550 the Glen Orchy lineage appeared to have significantly greater financial resources than before and this wealth allowed them to exploit the financial failures of their neighbours. The MacGregor settlers in the central zone continued to give their calp to MacGregor of Glen Strae as head of their kindred. He in turn was a vassal of Campbell of Glen Orchy. Hence the lands that the MacGregor settlers occupied could become Glenorchy’s once he had a suitable opportunity to obtain charters from the King or his regents. To provide an income for the crown, the royal lands in the central zone were usually leased, not feued. However inflation in the 15th and 16th centuries meant a reduction in the real income of the crown. Although James IV attempted to increase rentals, there was a decline in real value of rental and a corresponding increase in the value of the product of the land. This gave the Glen Orchy lairds the capital with which they could buy heritable feudal charters of the lands they claimed to possess.

By 1600 Black Duncan had gained control through feudal charter and manrent of much of the central zone. He granted lands to each of nine sons and tocher-gude to his eight daughters. Inevitably there were casualties in this process, ranging from reduced status, through displacement to total oblivion. Earlier generations of the Campbell lineage were either bought out or granted lesser tacks. Kindreds that depended on the Campbells before 1550, including the MacGregors, were even further reduced and the exactions and duties demanded of them increased substantially.

Prior to 1550, the servants and followers of the Glen Orchy chiefs appeared to be overwhelmingly Gaelic. After the accession of Grey Colin, increasing numbers of non-Gaelic names including their notaries, reformed ministers and stewards appear in the records. Grey Colin and Black Duncan also embarked on a building programme of castles, bridges, inns and churches as well as forestry. Grey Colin was an enthusiastic supporter of the Reformation and succeeded in obtaining most of the lands of the Carthusian Charterhouse and the Priory of Strath Fillan.

Clan Gregor and other kin-based lineages of Breadalbane all experienced reduction in status under the Campbell hegemony after 1550. This pattern was typical of the dynamic of kin-based societies. Unusually, however the Clan Gregor lineages responded with a sustained and violent resistance. There was an exceptionally violent and bitter feud with Grey Colin between 1562 and 1570 that left a permanent legacy. There was also a 70-year struggle over the MacGregor lands in Glen Strae. Glen Strae was important to Clan Gregor because in legal terms it was the only territory held by the chiefs on a heritable basis. There was an emotional attachment since the chiefs had held Glen Strae since the inception of the lineage in the early 14th century and the fertility of the lower strath made the land economically important as well. They held Glen Strae as vassals of Argyll until 1554, when during the minority of Gregor Roy, Grey Colin purchased the superiority. When Grey Colin acquired the superiority of the MacNab lands in Glen Dochart he allowed the MacNabs to remain as vassals in the bulk of their lands. However, Grey Colin granted Glen Strae not to Gregor Roy MacGregor but to his own son. Between 1562 and 1570 Gregor Roy and his kindred fought a guerrilla war against Grey Colin. Later they continued to hold the glen without legal title. It took until 1624 before Black Duncan gained actual possession.

Due to the way that the Campbells had used the MacGregors to colonise Breadalbane it was inevitable that during the consolidation phase they were affected most. When the Earl of Argyll attempted to mediate in 1565, suggesting the MacGregors be allowed to re-occupy their kindly possessions, Grey Colin answered, “I cannot meet your Lordship’s request by reason that the Clan Gregor allege that most of the lands I have should be theirs”.

Alasdair of Glen Strae died in the late 1540s, ‘of the hurt of an arrow’, leaving a minor, Gregor Roy as heir. Duncan Ladasach in Glen Lochay became his tutor or guardian. It is difficult to determine whether Duncan’s violent acts after 1550 were committed as acting head of Clan Gregor or as part of his personal feud with Grey Colin. In 1550 Alasdair Odhar signed a bond with Grey Colin resigning the important MacGregor holding of Wester Morenish to him. In late 1551, Duncan Ladasach killed Alasdair Odhar for this act. By March 1552 Grey Colin had contracted James Stewart of Baldoran and Andrew Drummond to pursue Duncan, as the task must have been beyond his own resources. In May 1552, Grey Colin and Duncan Ladasach were apparently reconciled and signed a bond whereby Colin forgave their crimes and gave Duncan his protection. However by 16th June the Chronicle of Fortingall reported the execution of Duncan and two of his sons. Thereafter Gregor Roy was fostered by his mother’s family, that of Campbell of Ardkinglas.

With the death of the Dean of Lismore and minority of Gregor Roy the MacGregors were now leaderless. A profoundly unstable situation around Loch Tay, the Appin of Dull and Rannoch enabled Grey Colin to draw others into feudal dependency and manrent on him. In a divide and rule strategy, Colin’s bonds with five MacGregors in 1552 specifically renounced their loyalty to the MacGregor chief. However between 1555 and 1561 there seems to have been a thaw in relations, while Colin consolidated his power in other directions. He obtained the superiority of most of Balquhidder in 1558 and brought the MacGregors of Glen Lednock and Clann Dùghaill Chèire as well as the MacLaren kindred and the Macintyres under his control.

In 1562 Gregor Roy reached his majority. A Rannoch MacGregor who had given his manrent to Grey Colin was killed. Grey Colin agreed to grant Gregor his lands of Glen Strae in return for surrendering the murderers and other conditions that severely compromised Gregor’s authority as chief. The defiant MacGregor response was the ambush and killing of a number of Campbells of Glen Lyon. Gregor Roy’s supporters included several that renounced their earlier bonds with Grey Colin. The ensuing feud was exceptionally bitter. Violence and destruction prevailed over much of Western Perthshire. Its development was conditioned not just by the politics of the Campbell and MacGregor kindreds but also by the national dimension of the difficulties of Mary Queen of Scots. Argyll was hereditary Justice General of Scotland and he appointed Grey Colin as his Justice Depute. In the early part of 1563 commissions were issued guaranteeing immunity for any violent acts against MacGregors. Grey Colin gave bonds to MacDonald of Keppoch and MacIain of Glencoe for their service in the pursuit of Clan Gregor. Argyll also issued immunities to MacGregors who had not been actively involved in an attempt to isolate Gregor Roy. In September 1563 further commissions against the clan were issued to the Earls of Moray, Atholl and Errol, the Lords Ogilvie, Ruthven and Drummond as well as Argyll and Grey Colin. On 1st October 1563, Argyll wrote to Gregor Roy suggesting that he came to terms, but Grey Colin remained uncompromising. Indeed Argyll and Grey Colin became divided from each other. Letters indicate that the hunters were being denied shelter and food while the hunted were being covertly supported and maintained. In January 1564 the Privy Council passed Acts forbidding reset of Clan Gregor. Minutes of the Council in March indicate concern about the excesses committed by Grey Colin. As a result only Argyll and Atholl were given new commissions to pursue Clan Gregor while Grey Colin was restricted to pursuit of the resetters and he was made liable, for the first time, for crimes committed by him and his servants. At this time Argyll was assisting MacDonald of Dunivaig against the O’Neils in Ireland and it appears that Gregor Roy and his men were in Antrim between March and June possibly as part of Argyll’s military force. Mary issued instructions that Gregor Roy and his men should not be permitted passage back to Scotland, but by October reports to Cecil in London showed that they had returned by way of Carrick. Mary severely reprimanded Grey Colin in August for excesses and abuse of his powers but did nothing more against him and by the end of the year the feud had resumed as before.

In a November letter, Gregor Roy offers peace if Grey Colin would permit him and his kinsmen to possess their ‘awin kynd natife rummis’. He also offered to make amends by “service and geir” for damages, so long as this involved no concessions concerning his heritage or the lives of his kinsmen. This last was a reference to Grey Colin’s demand that Gregor surrender the murderers of 1562. Grey Colin would not compromise and the stalemate dragged on.

In the summer of 1565 Argyll and Grey Colin supported the Earl of Moray against Mary in the rebellion known as the ‘Chaseabout raid’. Atholl and Lennox were among Mary’s main supporters. Now Argyll and Grey Colin needed the MacGregor military strength as servants of the Campbell power, but Mary and Atholl also courted Gregor Roy. In July Argyll offered a settlement on the basis of Gregor’s offer. By August the Campbells were in open war against Mary and Atholl. Moray and Argyll continued to urge a settlement with Clan Gregor on Grey Colin, while Mary and Atholl tried to foment the quarrel. In September, most of Clan Gregor, excluding those on Atholl’s lands, came to a settlement, with their lands restored as before, and mutual forgiveness on both sides. Thereafter, the MacGregors did give military service to the rebels but by November the rebellion had collapsed. Following the murder of Riccio in March 1566, Argyll was rehabilitated and the crimes of Clan Gregor were included in the remission granted to the Campbells.

In the abeyance of the feud between late 1565 and mid 1567, Gregor Roy married Marion, daughter of Duncan Campbell of Glen Lyon. Despite the settlement, it seems that there was no forgiveness of damage, Gregor Roy was not infeft in Glen Strae and there was no general restoration of MacGregors to their ‘kindly rooms’. Indeed Grey Colin’s expansionist activities resumed in Strathearn, Balquhidder and Glen Lednock. The MacGregor lands of Achallader and Wester Morenish were granted to Campbells. It was Mary’s influence that prevented further open hostility, but in July 1567 Mary was imprisoned and forced to abdicate. Within a day of James VI’s coronation Argyll gave permission for some of his followers to assist Grey Colin against Clan Gregor. In May 1568 Atholl and Grey Colin, along with Menzies of Weem and Stewart of Grandtully allied themselves against Clan Gregor, although Argyll was not involved.

By late 1568 general hostilities had broken out once more and, in mid 1569, pursuit of Gregor Roy’s men was exceptionally intense. In August Gregor Roy was captured. The Regent Moray demanded that Grey Colin surrender Gregor for trial by him, but Colin refused although he was politically unable to execute him. Moray was assassinated in January 1570 and a new Regent was not appointed until June. Argyll came to a new agreement with Atholl in late March and gave Grey Colin a license to execute Gregor Roy, in return for which he promised to grant Glen Strae to Gregor Roy’s baby son Alasdair. Grey Colin personally, beheaded Gregor Roy at Kenmore. Marion composed the well-known lament, Griogal Cridhe in his memory.

Clan Gregor’s revenge during the next six months saw the worst violence of the conflict. Despite his promises, Grey Colin granted Glen Strae to his own son, Black Duncan. The MacGregors found refuge in the Lennox, particularly among the MacFarlanes. The national government, in the person of the Regent Lennox used the feud as a weapon against his bitter rival, Argyll. The submission of the Campbells to the Regent’s authority led to the final settlement in October 1570. In the treaty, Grey Colin accepted Ewin, as tutor to the two sons of Gregor Roy; he promised the wardship of Glenstrae; to restore kindly rooms in Rannoch; and that crimes and damages on both sides would be forgiven. The brothers of Gregor Roy and sons of Duncan Ladasach came to an agreement with Atholl in the following August. However, covert agreements between Atholl and Grey Colin on the same day showed a degree of duplicity that did not augur well for the future.

It was Campbell expansionism and Grey Colin’s inflexible greed that had begun the conflict. In the words of the prayer, “From the greed of the Campbells, good Lord deliver us”. During the course of the conflict, Glenorchy’s men had committed serious violence against suspected resetters and others whose lands he desired. However, following the violence of the 1560s, it was the MacGregors, not the Campbells, who came to be perceived as the most violent and lawless of the clans.

By 1573 the Douglas Earl of Morton had destroyed or cowed all of his rivals. Morton ruled as Regent until his fall in 1580. Thereafter James VI began his personal rule.

In 1581 Ewin, the tutor of Glenstrae signed a bond with the powerful Sir John Campbell of Cawdor. Grey Colin died in 1583 to be succeeded by Black Duncan who continued his father’s policy of repression and acquisition. When Argyll died in 1584, Cawdor was appointed the principal tutor or guardian to the young Earl. Despite a raid in 1586 after which Alasdair and 104 other MacGregors were temporarily put to the horn, times were relatively quiet for Clan Gregor. In 1588 Alasdair Roy came of age and applied to be enfeoffed in his lands of Glen Strae. Black Duncan refused. In the same year Drummond-Eireannach, the King’s keeper of the Royal forest of Glenartney, hanged several MacGregors whom he had caught poaching. Next year Drummond-Eireannach was killed in revenge. The killers took his head to the house of Stewart of Ardvorlich where his sister was married to the Laird. The sight of her brother’s head drove Lady Ardvorlich to wander the hills half-mad. Later in Balquhidder, Alasdair Roy and most of the assembled clan swore to protect them. The Privy Council issued commissions to apprehend Alasdair and 138 others who were to be tried and executed immediately on capture. The Drummonds and Stewarts were hearty enough in the pursuit but Black Duncan was the most active. The MacGregors defended themselves stubbornly. Atholl and Cawdor gave the outlaws refuge. In December 1590 Cawdor caused the Chancellor to command Black Duncan to forgive Clan Gregor. The two sides pledged to end the violence in mid 1591 and soon after Glenstrae and his followers were pardoned.

Cawdor was closely allied to the Earl of Moray in the Presbyterian party. The Catholic party led by the Earl of Huntly was arrayed against them. Cawdor effectively controlled the Earldom of Argyll. Black Duncan resented his exclusion. He plotted with Ardkinglas and Lochnell to destroy Cawdor and the young Earl. Lochnell was to get the title while Black Duncan took most of the Argyll lands. Black Duncan moved closer to the Huntly interest and became involved in a wider conspiracy that was intended to procure the death of Moray as well. In February 1592 one Gillipatrick MacEllar shot Cawdor dead using a gun supplied by Ardkinglas. Soon afterwards, Huntly and others killed Moray at his house of Donibristle.

“Ye Hielands and ye Lawlands, oh where hae ye been? They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and hae laid him on the green.

In reaction to these killings the Presbyterian party succeeded in forcing the King to accede to an extreme Presbyterian form of Church government. The plot had left the plotters with no reward and Argyll still lived. In 1593 Argyll, now old enough to act on his own behalf discovered the plot. As hereditary Justiciar-general, he had MacEllar tortured to reveal Ardkinglas’s name. Ardkinglas, in turn revealed the rest. The Catholic Earls were found to be in league with Spain and forfeited. By 1596, Huntly had been ruined and Lochnell was dead, though Ardkinglas was in hiding from the Earl’s revenge. Black Duncan contrived his reconciliation with Argyll.

The new Earl, Gilleasbuig Greumach or Archibald the Grim had all the Campbell passion for land grabbing. There was neither truth nor pity in him. He made mischief on all sides, stirred his neighbours against one another and then, armed with legal commissions, quenched in blood the flames he had kindled. Thus he acquired Kintyre, Islay and Ardnamurchan and the undying hatred of Clan Donald for the Campbells.

Bereft of Cawdor’s protection and in spite of the 1591 pardon, the Drummonds and Stewarts continued their feud with the Balquhidder MacGregors and in 1593 the government issued new letters of fire and sword to the Buchanans among others. Aulay MacAulay of Ardincaple in the Lennox, a kinsman who had secretly given his bond to Glenstrae in 1591 complained to the Privy Council about the actions of the Buchanans and the letters were cancelled.

Parliament passed the General Band in 1587 making landlords personally liable for the actions of their followers and dependants. Broken men were enacted to be the responsibility of the proprietor on whose lands they lived. Clan Gregor appeared at the head of a list of clans that have chiefs on whom they depend, oft-times against the will of their landlords. King James began to enforce this act in 1594 and Black Duncan found himself summoned for the actions of his bitter enemies. Proprietors once more tried to evict their MacGregor tenants. Life was becoming even harder for Clan Gregor. In desperation, Alasdair Roy turned to Argyll, the one magnate who might be willing to protect the clan. Argyll, in return for his support wanted a band of thugs to prosecute the private feuds that, as Justiciar-General, he did not care to be seen openly involved in. Alasdair found the price too high; Argyll wanted him to attack both Ardkinglas and Aulay MacAulay. Ardkinglas was Alasdair’s kinsman and friend while MacAulay had aided Alasdair when he had been outlawed in 1593.

In July 1596, Alasdair presented himself before the King at Dunfermline. A blanket pardon was issued acquitting the whole clan of the murder of Drummond-Eireannach and all other crimes. This was made conditional on Alasdair remaining at court, but it did not last, for by 1597 he was back in Rannoch and had to find caution of 20,000 merks and give hostages for the behaviour of the clan. He could do neither and soon found himself outlawed again. In fact the record of Clan Gregor in the period 1592 to 1602 was relatively good, in comparison to the feuds and depredations elsewhere. Argyll did not forgive Alasdair for his appeal to the King and in 1598 set a raiding band of MacLeans on Alasdair’s lands in Rannoch. Rather than retaliate, Alasdair took his case to the High Court in Edinburgh. Although he won his case and was awarded damages, MacLean, secretly backed by Argyll, ignored it.

In March 1601, the Privy Council once more denounced Clan Gregor, although there is no record of any fresh offences. Argyll was given an extensive commission to take sureties from the Clan for all complaints against Clan Gregor since 1596. By Argyll’s subsequent actions it is clear that he had now got Clan Gregor entirely in his power. Black Duncan burned the house of Stronmilchan and finally drove the MacGregors out of Glen Strae. He received a prompt remission from Argyll for this violent act. Argyll gave Clan Gregor carte blanche to raid his enemies and took no action on the resulting complaints against them. Alasdair still refused to attack Ardkinglas or Aulay MacAulay, but Argyll had other enemies who were not kinsmen or friends of Clan Gregor. One of these was Colquhoun of Luss.

Alasdair Roy took 120 cattle from Colquhoun’s lands of Glen Mallochan in June 1602. Argyll ensured that no action was taken. In December Duncan MacEwin stripped Colquhoun’s lands of Glen Finlas of every beast and all moveable gear. Two of Colquhoun’s tenants were killed. The booty was reset by Argyll’s order among the Campbells of Strachur, Appin and Lochgoilhead. Colquhoun appealed to the king and organised a procession before Stirling Castle with women carrying shirts daubed in ox-blood at spear-point. Despite the blanket commission he had already issued to Argyll, the King issued a new commission of fire and sword to Colquhoun against Clan Gregor. Colquhoun, aided by the Buchanans raised 300 horse and 400 foot from their estates and the town of Dumbarton. Alasdair was warned about the expedition, giving him time to raise 300 men and march them down the side of Loch Long. Alasdair chose to fight at Auchengaich in Glen Fruin. He was out-numbered and in Colquhoun’s own country. In the battle 140 of Colquhoun’s men were killed for just two MacGregors. Alasdair then harried the Lennox. He took a large booty of livestock, much moveable gear and burnt every house on the lands of Luss.

James was about to depart for London when he received the news. Argyll had no further use for Glenstrae as he had served his purpose. The Privy Council ordained that the name of MacGregor should be altogether abolished and that persons of that clan should take themselves some other name on pain of death. Any one was given liberty to kill a MacGregor, whether or not they had been involved in the raid, and to take all his possessions as a reward. Any outlaw who did so was to be pardoned his crimes as well. Bounties were paid for the heads of MacGregor men. Children were to be forcibly adopted and reared as servants. Women were to be branded on the face and transported.

At first, there were those who helped and sheltered the clan. But the new law was enforced with a thoroughness and vindictiveness not seen before. The clan did not meekly submit. They maintained themselves in bands in wild places and harried the lands of their persecutors. Alasdair was betrayed by Ardkinglas, the Campbell he most trusted, when at his house on Loch Fyne. Somehow, while being transported to Inverary by boat, Alasdair escaped and swam ashore. In January 1604, he surrendered on a written promise from Argyll that he would be permitted to travel safely to England, in order to put his case to the King. His escort took him over the border at Berwick. There he found the Edinburgh town guard waiting to take him back. There was a trial, but Alasdair’s bitterest foes sat on the jury and he was hanged the next day with a number of kinsmen. Argyll was rewarded with £20000 and lands in Kintyre.

As late as 1611 the Privy Council continued to pay the bounty on MacGregor heads. Heavy fines were levied on resetters. Argyll made so much money out of it that the King demanded a share. As the years passed the persecution became less bitter. The survivors took aliases and settled down where they could find shelter. Some few, such as Gilderoy remained as outlaws in the waste lands. In 1624 the Earl of Moray took 300 MacGregors from Menteith to confront the Macintoshes. Many settled in Aberdeenshire and Moray including the famous academic family of Gregory.

In 1633 on the accession of Charles I it was re-enacted that none could bear the name; No minister could baptise the child of a MacGregor; No agreement with a MacGregor was legally enforceable; Killing a MacGregor was not punishable in law. In the period 1570 to 1630 there were more than 360 blood-feuds in Scotland, most outwith the Highlands. Some of these exceeded in violence and destruction anything in which Clan Gregor had been involved. Only Clan Gregor was subject to the vicious and sustained punishments that have been described. Having contributed greatly to the creation of Campbell hegemony in Breadalbane Clan Gregor had become the greatest threat to that power. Therefore it lost Campbell patronage and protection. The remarkable aspect of the Clan Gregor story was not the experience of Campbell and State violence, but the survival of the clan through that period.

For service in the Stewart cause in the civil wars, Montrose promised the restitution of Clan Gregor lands and an end to proscription. At the restoration of Charles II in 1660, although the Earl of Argyll was executed, the Campbell interest was too important to offend. In 1661 the act of 1633 was repealed but none of the other promises were honoured. Another Earl of Argyll was executed in 1685 for treason. In 1689 Donald Glas of Glengyle, the father of Rob Roy, led a substantial Clan Gregor contingent in support of the deposed James VII. As a result, in 1693 the resurgent Campbell interest after the Revolution settlement saw the proscription re-imposed though without the earlier virulence. By 1774 the idea of clanship had become an anachronism. Only then was the name MacGregor made legal for use in Scotland. After using their aliases for generations many continued to use them. By the very nature of the proscription we have only tradition rather than documentary evidence that some of these are truly MacGregor aliases.