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Rob Roy's last duel

Popular “History”, dreamed up by Sir Walter Scott, narrates a confrontation in 1734 in Balquhidder between the local MacGregors led by Rob Roy against the MacLarens. Rob Roy had apparently summoned a number of armed MacGregors from the glen in order to overawe a few MacLarens. However, the local MacLarens summoned two hundred Appin Stewarts to their aid. Realising that his supporters were outnumbered, Rob Roy proposed a single combat to resolve the dispute between himself and a champion chosen from among the Stewarts. Stewart of Invernahyle, a noted swordsman who was half Rob's age was chosen. The duel ended when Rob received a cut to his arm. Subsequently Rob sickened and died at the end of the year.

General David Stewart of Garth wrote that this was a fiction, dreamed up by Walter Scott in 1817. Even Amelia wrote “the incident was not strictly historical”.

According to Scott the cause of the dispute was the disposition of Wester Invernenty in Balquhidder to a MacLaren by the Duke of Atholl. Rob Roy wanted the tenancy to go to a MacGregor. However, this disposition by the Duke took place in May 1736, two years after Rob's death at the end of 1734.

Rob’s youngest son, Robin oig, later murdered MacLaren of Invernenty on March 14th 1737 [1]   and joined the Black Watch regiment to avoid retribution. The murder was a real event and not a figment of Scott's imagination.

According to the Dewar MSS, [2]   the truth was that Charles Stewart of Ardshiel had journeyed through Balquhidder in 1734 and stayed overnight at the inn where he met with Rob Roy. After a presumably friendly drinking session, they then quarrelled over events in 1715 and agreed to settle their argument with a duel. Ardshiel drew blood from a small cut to Rob’s chin, ending the duel. Thus, there was no “clan battle settled by a single combat with Stewart of Invernahyle”. Rob did, however, subsequently sicken and died at the end of the year. It is not clear whether this may have been a consequence of the duel. Rob was 63 years old in 1734, perhaps a little too old for duelling with younger men.

with thanks to Hilton McLaurin

[1] The murder was recorded to have occurred on March 14 1736, which suggests that MacLaren was murdered BEFORE the disposition of Invernenty to him in May 1736! However, until 1752, the new year began on April 5th, hence the murder took place in March 1737 and thus not before the disposition of the tenancy in the previous May.

[2] Dewar MSS Vol I, pp 162-164
H.L. McLaurinn has pointed out to me that the account in the Dewar MSS was reprinted The Celtic Monthly, A magazine for Highlanders edited by John Mackay, Glasgow Number 5 Vol. XIII February, 1905 page 82

TRADITIONS OF THE STEWARTS OF APPIN. THE STEWARTS OF ARDSHIEL, --- the true account of the meeting, which took place at the Clachan of Balquhidder, is as follows :
— Charles Stewart of Ardshiel, who commanded the Stewarts and M'Colls of Appin in 1745, was, previously to that period, desperately in love with one of the three daughters of Haldane of Landrick. There being at that time no made road to the Highlands, the shortest and most direct way from Appin to Landrick Castle was by the Clachan of Balquhidder. Ardshiel paid several visits to Miss Haldane, but was not successful.
In his last and almost despairing visit, he fell in on his way with Rob Roy, who happened to be at his brother's, at the Clachan of Balquhidder. During the course of their conversation a quarrel took place ; and each being provided with an Andrea Ferrara, they immediately encountered in a kail-yard. Ardshiel was the conqueror ; and Rob Roy, on his way up the glen, was not only heard in the greatest fury exclaiming that ' Ardshiel was the first that ever drew blood of him,' but it is said, moreover, that he threw his broadsword into Lochvoil, nearly opposite to Stronvaar House, where there is reason to believe it still remains.
But Ardshiel not only conquered Rob Roy — he also won the fair lady; for, on the report of the rencontre reaching Landrick Castle, Miss Haldane was so flattered with it, that she favoured his addresses. '1 his account of the matter is well known to several of the inhabitants in the parish of Balquhidder; and there is no doubt of its being Ike correct one.
This encounter is also mentioned by General Stewart of Garth.* " As the laird of Invernahyle was brother to Stewart of Ardshiel, it is probable," says our correspondent, "that, in the many conversations which Sir Walter Scott held with his friend (Stewart of Invernahyle, nephew of aforesaid), adventures were related of the chief which were afterwards set down to the name of the narrator.
* Sketches of the Highlanders of Scotland, to Vol. II. Append, p. xx.