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Rob Roy and the 1719 Rising

Many of the prisoners who had been taken at Preston in November 1715 were tried and shot in December, particularly those who had been officers previously in the service of the Government. Lord Charles Murray received a pardon through the interest of his friends. Other noblemen were impeached for high treason in the spring and were thereafter executed, George I. proving most implacable. In 1717 an Act of Pardon was passed, with certain exceptions, for those who had passed beyond the seas and who attempted to return without a licence. "All persons of the name and Clan of MacGregor mentioned in the act of the first parliament of Charles I. were also excepted." [1]  

The landing of Spanish troops on Sicily in July 1718, led to the formation of the Quadruple Alliance on 2 August 1718, comprising Britain, France, Emperor Charles VI and the Dutch Republic. The war was primarily conducted in Italy, with minor engagements in the Americas and Northern Europe; It was ended by the Treaty of The Hague in 1720.

The opportunity of this war revived the dynastic hopes of the Jacobites. The Duke of Ormonde planned a diversionary invasion of Britain. The Chevalier, James Stuart, went to Madrid where he was cordially received and treated as King of Great Britain.

During the winter of 1718/19 Lord George Murray, younger brother of the Marquis of Tullibardine, was in Balquhidder attempting to raise support. When Murray departed, he had Rob Roy's pledge of support. While Rob Roy, still an outlaw, may have considered that he had little to lose, most Clan chiefs had recent memories of the debacle of the '15 and proved reluctant to become involved. Even within Clan Gregor, which raised over 200 men in both the '15 and the '45, Rob Roy would take only 40 followers North with him and neither Glengyle nor Balhaldies became involved.

On the 10th of March 1719 a fleet, with some 5000 men on board, set sail to make a descent upon Britain and Ireland under command of the Duke of Ormonde, the King of Spain sending declarations that, for many good reasons, he had sent forces into England and Scotland to act as auxiliaries to King James. However, a violent storm dispersed the fleet and disabled many ships off Cape Finisterre, forcing most of them to return to port.

18th century Spanish frigate (courtesy of Alamy stock photo)   Only two Spanish frigates docked at Stornoway on 24th March. On board were the Earls Marischal and Seaforth; the Marquis of Tullibardine; 307 Spanish soldiers, including their officers; and arms for 2000 men. The Earl Marischal insisted that their force was sufficient to land on the mainland and capture Inverness, raising Highlanders on the way.

A letter, without address, from the Marquis of Tullibardine, dated on board the frigate "Fidele", at Gairloch, April 6th 1719, stated that they arrived in those parts on the 25th March. [2]

[Old Style - The above dates (departure on 10th and arrival on 24th March) are on the Julian calendar. The use of the Gregorian calendar became law in Catholic lands from 1582, but it was not recognised by Northern Protestant states. It did not come into use in Britain until 1752. Hence as the Julian calendar was 11 days behind the Gregorian, 25th March in Britain was 5th April on the Spanish vessels].

The Fidela was a 30-gun 3-masted ship-rigged vessel with a single gun-deck similar to this Alamy stock photo.. Tullibardine named her, but the name of her companion, which was presumably a similar sized frigate, is not known.The two ships, during two weeks at sea, had each carried more than 150 supernumeraries plus cargo. In addition to a crew of 200-300 on each to sail her and man the guns. The conditions on board, especially as they had encountered a severe storm, can only be imagined.

On the 23rd April McPhersone of Killyhuntly wrote to the Duke of Atholl the following letter.
“…………..For ought I can understand those whom yr Grace writes of are landed at Pollow in Kintail, and most part of these went abroad. Their favourites give out that the number of forces along with them is 5000. I have had ane other account, somewhat more particular, reckoning them 1500, and they expect their whole Fleet's landing in the West of Scotland. All the boats on the water of Ness and Murray Firth are brought to Inverness, in order to hinder their passage, and it is said the town are hovering to brake down ane arch of the Bridge."

Captain Campbell of Fonab wrote to the Duke from Edinample a letter undated "I doe not hear that the landing in the north has occasion the least disturbance in the West Highlands; 'tis easie judging yt them landed in the north cannot be numerous by ther not attacking Inverness upon ther first landing. I doe not hear yt 'Rob Roy' who went north some days agoe is returned yit." [3]  

A full account of the expedition in 1719 in Lord Mar's handwriting, but believed to have been communicated by Lord Tullibardine, was forwarded at the time to Lord Nairne, brother of the Duke of Atholl, and is now preserved at Gask, a contemporary copy of it, is printed in the appendix to the “Jacobite Lairds of Gask." It contains a memorandum of every occurrence and the following abstract is taken from it: - [4]  

The Marquis of Tullibardine held a commission as Lt. General which occasioned some friction with Lord Marischal. They sailed from Honfleur on the 20th March 1719 and landed in the "Louis" (Lewis), 2nd April. They sailed to the Mainland but could only fetch Gairloch.

On the 13th they anchored off Eilean Donan but could not get the arms on shore before the 28th. On May 4th a messenger brought news of the disaster to the fleet and advice from Edinburgh to re-embark their men and get off as quietly as possible. But as the ships had gone, there was no retreating and they had to wait for the arrival of Locheil and Clan Ronald, to whom Campbell of Glenderuell had been sent, and to consult with them what was best to be done for the King's service. The chief stores of ammunition were put into the vaults of Eilean-donan under a small guard.

On the 10th of May, three Royal Navy warships arrived. In the evening of the 11th May, under the cover of an intense cannonade, a landing party went ashore. They surrounded the castle on all sides and after scaling the walls, captured the place. The captured included an Irishman, a Scots rebel, three Spanish officers and and thirty-nine soldiers.

The naval force spent the next two days demolishing the castle. It would remain a ruin, until restored to its present condition in the 20th century. Some of the ammunition and supplies which had already been landed in Strath Croe was saved.
  Eilean Donan Castle (restored)
On the 8th June, the Jacobite army comprised of 200 Spanish troops; 150 of 'Lidcoats' (seemingly 'Lidcoat' was Glengarry); 200 Mackenzies under the Earl of Seaforth but led by Mackenzie of Coul; 150 Camerons led by Lochiel; 150 led by Lord George Murray; 50 Mackinnons; 20 'volunteers'; .and Rob Roy with about 40 MacGregors. [5]  

Lord Tullibardine marched his army from the Crow to Little Glensheal, to defend it against the Government troops who, under General Wightman, were marching from Inverness. The Government army comprised about 850 foot and 120 dragoons from the Inverness garrison under General Wightman. Along with some regulars and Dutch mercenaries, they included 80 Munros under Culcairn and 56 of Clan Mackay led by an Ensign.

The Jacobite army, numbering, as above, around 1000, had advanced about 12 miles from Eilean Donan, as far as the narrows of Glen Shiel where a mountain spur almost blocks the valley. The great natural strength of the Jacobite position had been increased by hasty fortifications. A barricade had been constructed across the road, and along the face of the hill on the north side of the river entrenchments had been thrown up. [6]  

Site of the battle of Glen Shiel today

The engagement began between about five and six o'clock when the left wing of the Government army advanced against Lord George Murray's position on the south side of the river. The position was first shelled by mortars and then attacked by four platoons of Clayton's regiment and Munro's Highlanders. After some initial stubborn resistance, Lord George Murray's men were driven from their position and forced to retreat. Once the Jacobite right wing had been dislodged, Wightman then ordered his own right wing to attack the Jacobite left wing, where the detachment commanded by Lord Seaforth, was strongly positioned behind a group of rocks on the hillside. It was against them that Harrison's and Montagu's regiments were directed. Seaforth had been reinforced by men under Sir John MacKenzie of Coul, but, finding himself hard pressed, Seaforth called for further reinforcements. Rob Roy's MacGregors were sent to his aid, but before they could reach him, Seaforth's men gave way, and Seaforth himself was badly wounded. [7]  

Tullibardine's clumsy grammar quoted by WK Dickson in the introduction to "The Jacobite Attempt of 1719" has led to the frequent assertion that Rob Roy was injured at Glenshiel. In fact, a more careful reading of the letter by the Marquis of Tullibardine to the Earl of Mar makes it apparent that Seaforth, not Rob Roy, was injured. I have inserted brackets [ ] in the following quotation to make it clearer: - "... My Lord Seaforth sent down for a reinforcement .... Rob Roy with the McGrigors and McKinnin ... seeing them [Seaforth's men] give way, he [Rob Roy] made all the despatch he could to join them. But before he could get up, so as to be fairly in hands with the enemy, his [Lord Seaforth's] people were mostly gone off, and himself [Seaforth] left wounded in the arm ... Rob Roy's detachment, finding them going off, began to retyre." [8]  

Having defeated the flanks, Wightman now concentrated his troops, as the mortars battered and pinned the Spaniards in their positions. Wightman's whole force was now directed toward the Jacobite centre. The Spanish regulars initially stood their ground well but as their allies deserted them, they too were forced to retreat up the hill. The remaining clansmen followed. Culcairn's Munro company helped in the defeat of the Jacobites under the Earl Marischall. [9]  

At 9 o'clock in the evening three hours after the start of the combat, the Spanish surrendered. The remaining native Jacobites fled over the hills, to avoid capture and the risk of execution as traitors.

Rob Roy was reported to have fought an important rearguard action to cover the retreat of the Jacobites over the mountain on the North side of Glen Shiel, before descending into and proceeding down Gleann Lichd where, early on the 11th, he blew up the magazine in Strath Croe with the remainder of the stores so that nothing fell into the enemy's hands. Thereafter Rob Roy and his men set off for home, apparently unscathed.

Following this defeat, the Rising was abandoned and the Jacobites dispersed. 274 Spanish prisoners were taken by Wightman to Inverness and on the 27th they were marched to Edinburgh. In October the Spanish prisoners were repatriated. [10]  

Professor Miller's account of this affair is carefully given, and he appends a plan of the Battle of Glenshiel drawn on the spot by Lt John Bastide and published in Miller's book with the permission of the Duke of Marlborough. Mr Miller states that the plot for the expedition in 1719 was communicated to Rob Roy by Lord Tullibardine and Campbell of Glenderuell. He remarks that at this time Ld. Tullibardine engaged his younger brother Lord George Murray in the Jacobite cause, but does not allude to Lord George having been already "out" in the ‘15. Miller remarks that Lord George by his brother's direction met Rob Roy and arranged that he was to bring "as many MacGregors as he could muster" to Kintail.

The contemporary document only mentions forty of them as present at Glenshiel, and it is remarkable that no MacGregors are mentioned in a return of "The names and numbers of those who were in the Rebellion and engagement of Glenshiel the 10th of June 1719," sent to Lord Carpenter by "Mr Wightman," July 1719. The only named prisoner taken at Glenshiel apart from the Spaniards had been a Dr. Arnott. In another letter it was regretted that there were "so few prisoners". [11]  

According to a letter to the Earl of Mar, from the Marquis of Tullibardine giving his account of the battle: on the 8th of May, "Rob Roy's son brought a company of men, who with some volunteers made up nearly 80." This son could have been James Mor, born 1695, or Coll who had been born around 1698, making him 21 in 1719. Rob Roy's other sons would have been too young. Later in the same letter, Tullibardine states that Rob Roy (not his son) had 40 men and the volunteers numbered 20. [12]  

In a letter to General Lord Carpenter, the Government commander in Scotland, from Gordon of Glenbucket, dated 29th August 1719, it was mentioned that two Jacobite Gentlemen prisoners had been freed by MacGregor of Downan within six miles of the Government garrison at Ruthven in Badenoch. These two prisoners had seemingly been captured in Knodard [Knoydart?] at the end of July with letters for the rebel leaders, including Seaforth, Tullibardine and a few others who had obviously not, by that time, escaped to the continent. [13]  

Who was MacGregor of Downan? A letter from the Earl of Mar on 3rd December 1715 had been addressed to Duncan MacGregor of Dunan in Rannoch and Gregor MacGregor of Rora in Glenlyon. -- "... requiring you forthwith to raise all the fencible men of the name of MacGregor you can with their best arms and accoutrements ..."

While there is no direct evidence that Duncan MacGregor of Dunan in Rannoch so summoned in December 1715 was the same "MacGregor of Downan" mentioned in August 1719, it would be a fair assumption to conclude he was. So who were these unnamed Jacobite Gentlemen prisoners for whom MacGregor of Downan was prepared to risk an attack on Government troops? There is nothing more recorded, but It is suggestive that they may have been MacGregors. [14]  

A peace treaty with Spain in 1720 precluded further Jacobite attempts. Their fright did, however, stimulate the Hanoverian regime to take actions intended to impose greater control on suspect Highland clans. Following the 1715 Rising, four purpose built but small barracks had been constructed (at Glenelg, Inversnaid, Kilchuimen and Ruthven). In 1724 General George Wade was sent with a commission to strengthen these and build new barracks, especially those along the Great Glen - at Invergarry (Fort William), Kilchuimen (Fort Augustus) and Inverness (Fort George). Over 240 miles of roads including 30 significant bridges were eventually constructed in order to improve military communications from the Lowlands to these barracks.

In a letter dated 15th September 1725, Rob Roy signed a petition, which had possibly been written for him on the instructions of the Duke of Argyll, to General Wade. The petition was accepted and a pardon from King George duly followed. After thirteen long and trying years, Rob Roy was once again a free man.

The Black Watch
Wade was also responsible for forming the 43rd Regiment of Foot (later renumbered the 42nd). Six companies were recruited in 1725 from “loyalist clans”. Three companies were raised from Clan Campbell and one each from Clans Fraser, Grant and Munro. These were intended to be "employed in disarming the Highlanders, preventing depredations, bringing criminals to justice, and hindering rebels and attainted persons from inhabiting that part of the kingdom." The force was known as Am Freiceadan Dubh, "the dark or black watch”.

In 1739 King George II authorised the raising of four additional companies and these all to be formed into a Regiment of the Line of the regular army with the Earl of Crawford as the Colonel. The men were to be “natives of that country and none other to be taken".

In 1743 the new regiment was ordered to march to London for an inspection by the King. However the rumour spread that the Regiment was to be shipped to the unhealthy climate of the West Indies, a rumour which was reinforced when it was discovered that the King was not to inspect them. Many of the men genuinely believed they had been enlisted only for service in Scotland and decided to return home. Leaving London and marching by night over a hundred of them reached Northamptonshire before they were eventually surrounded and brought back to London. They were tried by court martial and three of the leaders, including Farquhar Shaw on the right, were condemned to be shot in the Tower.

The remainder were sent to Flanders for service against the French. The Regiment was first in action at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Although this was a British defeat, The Black Watch gained great distinction by its conduct being described by a French officer as "Highland Furies who rushed in on us with more violence than ever did the sea driven by tempest".

It must remain a question for speculation whether the 1745 Rebellion could ever have taken place had The Black Watch been left to fulfill its role in policing the Highlands rather than being posted to the Continent. During the '45, the regiment was kept in the South of England, for fear that some of them might join the Jacobites. Indeed, some deserters, including Robin Oig, youngest son of Rob Roy, who had fought at Fontenoy, did join the Jacobites.

The Black Watch name still exists as Third Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
  Farquhar Shaw, a leader of the Mutiny of the 43rd in 1743

[1] MacGregor, A.M.M. History of the Clan Gregor, vol ii, ch 23, p 321
online here

[2] The original is among the Gask Papers and is printed in the Appendix to "the Jacobite Lairds of Gask,” 1871.

[3] Atholl and Tullibardine Chronicles

[4] MacGregor, A.M.M. History of the Clan Gregor, vol ii, ch 23, p 323
online here

[5] Dickson, WK, SHS, Edinburgh 1895. The Jacobite Attempt of 1719, introduction page l

[6] Dickson, WK, SHS, Edinburgh 1895. The Jacobite Attempt of 1719, introduction pages li - lii

[7] Coull, Sam (2000). Nothing But My Sword: The Life of Field Marshal James Francis Edward Keith. Birlinn. p. 76. ISBN 9781841580241.

[8] Dickson, WK, SHS, Edinburgh 1895. The Jacobite Attempt of 1719, page 269-273

[9] Simpson, Peter. (1996). The Independent Highland Companies, 1603–1760. p. 155. ISBN 0-85976-432-X.

[10] Dickson, WK, SHS, Edinburgh 1895. The Jacobite Attempt of 1719, introduction page liv

[11] MacGregor, A.M.M. History of the Clan Gregor, vol ii, ch 23, p 324
online here

[12] Dickson, WK, SHS, Edinburgh 1895. The Jacobite Attempt of 1719, page 270

[13] Dickson, WK, SHS, Edinburgh 1895. The Jacobite Attempt of 1719, page 289

[14] MacGregor, A.M.M. History of the Clan Gregor, vol ii, ch 17, p 229
online here