Saturday, February 13, 2010

Glenco Massacre

I apologize that I didn't get the chance to write another thing about Rob Roy this week. I just found I didn't have the time, so you can expect that sometime next week. However, today is the date of the infamous Massacre of Glenco, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit about that. 

The Highlands were in turmoil after the Jacobite Rising of 1689 and King William built a new garrison fortress at Fort William to keep the Highlanders in line. William was fighting a war in Flanders at the time, though and he needed all the men he could get so he came up with an idea to settle the problem.

John Campbell of Breadalbane had called a meeting of the clan chiefs in June 1691. These were the men who had fought against King William in the Uprising and Campbell brought them together to discuss the proposal of bringing peace to the Highlands. In return, the chiefs were supposed to swear loyalty to the king before a proper magistrate by the first of January 1692. William bribed the chiefs with huge offers of money so they could buy the free title of their lands.

The king's secretary of state, Sir John Dalrymple, saw the Highlands as a constant threat and didn't think that any of the chiefs would submit on their own. However, by the end of the year, most of the clans were ready to swear their allegiance to the king. Unfortunately, an accident accrued in the listing of the names of those who had submitted. Alasdair MacIain, the twelfth chief of the Glenco MacDonalds, somehow got excluded from the list. The Glenco MacDonalds were not a really prominent clan and had made themselves unpopular with the Campbells for being noted cattle thieves. 

Alasdair was one of the many chiefs who had waited for permission of submission for the "king over the water" (James II). He didn't get it until the 28th of December. MacDonald set off at once and reached Fort William on the 31 of December. Unfortunately, when he got there he was told that the military commander could not accept the oath and that he would have to go to the sheriff at Inveraray. MacDonald once again set off into the freezing snow with a letter of explanation from the commander at Fort William. On the way there, he was stopped by a party of grenadiers who didn't accept the letter and held him for the next twenty-four hours. 

When he finally reached Inveraray on the 3rd of January, he was past the deadline and the sheriff, Colin Campbell of Ardkinglass was not there. Finally, by the 6th of January, he was able to make his submission. His oath of allegiance went to Edinburgh but since it came five days late, the lawyers refused to accept it and MacDonalds' name was left off the list.

Other clans, like the MacDonalds of Glengarry had not accepted, but Glengarry lived in a fortified house and would not be easy to attack. The government decided that they needed to reek punishment on someone as an example and the MacDonalds of Glenco fit the bill, being only housed in small huts at the foot of the glen.

King William agreed to the fate of the MacDonalds and sighed the orders given to the commander-in-chief in Scotland, Sir Thomas Livingstone. This was the sentence:

"If M'Kean (MacIain MacDonald) of Glenco and that tribe can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the publick justice to extirpate that sept of thieves."

The man chosen to execute the orders was Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon. His orders from Dalrymple were that he was to be secret and sudden.

Two companies of about seventy men from the Argyle regiment were sent with him on his mission. They had with them a warrant for quartering their men in the homes of the MacDonalds living in Glenco. They stayed there almost a fortnight while they waited for more orders, enjoying the famous Highland hospitality the MacDonald's gave them.

The orders came from Ballachulish on 12th of February, sighed my Major Robert Duncanson. It read:

"You are hereby ordered to fall upon the Rebells, the MacDonalds of Glenco, and putt all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox (Alasdair MacIain MacDonald) and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues thatt no man escape. This you are to putt in execution at fyve of the clock precisely."

The operation didn't actually work out the way it had been planned. It was snowing hard that night and the additional men from Fort William who were supposed to block off the escape routs didn't get there in time. At five in the morning, two of Glenlyon's officers burst into Alasdair MacDonald's house and shot him as he got out of bed. The sound of the gunfire, woke the rest of the MacDonalds and they ran out into the freezing weather to the hills where they could hide. Both of Alasdair's sons escaped, but about thirty-eight of the clansmen were killed.

Dalrymple thought that the Massacre was a failure because it didn't work out the way it was supposed to, but it made the Jacobites even madder and blackened the name of Campbell in Highland memory. What made it worse, was that it had happened under the hospitality of the MacDonalds. In the Highlands it was a great insult to refuse hospitality or use it in a bad way. The Marquis of Montrose, the brave hero James Graham, had been captured under false pretenses of hospitality not too long before this. The massacre really struck a hard blow to the minds of the Highlanders.

This was one of the saddest days in Scotland's history. No one has lived in Glenco since, even today. It still rests hard on the minds of Scotsmen.

Here is a link to a song sung by The Corries about the Glenco Massacre:

I'll talk to you again monday hopefully!
Slainte, Hazel

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