The Glencoe massacre

   'Glencoe. A gloomy, eerie place, a valley of sorrow hewn out of mountains of guilt'.    

A convention is being organised of which the theme is Scotland. This has given me the pretext of finally ordering a kilt and sporran from the Highlands. 'Finally', because the idea has always appealed to me. Naturally the kilt would have to be the tartan of my mother's clan, and the motto stamped on the seal that embellishes the sporran is "Aonaibh ri chéile" which basically means "Unite".
Traditionally the clan Cameron defended King Robert the Bruce. They fought the 'lowlanders' at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. As they were also engaged in numerous clan battles during the 14th, 15th and 16 centuries it could be assumed that they were a fairly bellicose bunch.

During the civil war, the Battle of Inverlochy in 1645, the Camerons allied with the Macdonalds defeating the Covenanters of the clan Campbell, but one year later the Campbells had a serious conflict over land with the clan Lamont. The Lamont castles were taken (Toward and Ascog) and although Sir James Lamont surrendered accepting 'just terms' for the sake of his people, the Campbells subsequently massacred more than 200 of Lamont's followers including women and children. It is said that from a particular tree, 35 victims hung from its branches, and 36 men were buried alive near its roots. This was known as the Dunoon Massacre.

But the most notorious massacre, despite there being less victims, was of Glencoe which took place forty four years later.

With Viscount Dundee, the Camerons had formed a confederation loyal to James VII to counter the venue of William of Orange, then king of England. They were known as 'Jacobites'. A force of about 2,400 (among them 18 year old Rob Roy McGregor) positioned themselves on the heights of the Pass of Killicrankie waiting to attack the government army sent to contend with them. After firing off a few rounds from what muskets the Scots possessed, they charged, engaged in close quarter combat, and completed routed their adversaries- "swept away by the furious onset of the Camerons". This last but memorable Scottish victory is known as the 'Battle of Killiecrankie' (27th July, 1689).

Consequently the Scottish clan chiefs were each promised £12,000 to be administrated by the Earl of Breadalbane, on condition that they swear allegiance to King William. It was decreed that they must sign the oath before the 1st January, 1692. Those who failed to do so, preferring to continue the fight, would be ruthlessly hunted down. The chiefs all signed but they were never paid. The last of the clan chiefs to sign, five days late, was Alastair Maclain of Glencoe. This delay was allegedly due to his waiting for the approval of the disposed King James.

In view of the outcome of the Battle of Killiecrankie, the fact that John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane had a grudge against the Macdonalds, and that Sir John Dalrymple of Stair, joint Secretary of State, wanted to make a exemplary show of government muscle, they conspired a plot.

Although they knew that the Macdonalds had signed the oath, they pretended that this was not the case in order to procure the king's signature to punish the clan.
The Campbells were sent to Glencoe in February 1692 and, according to the usual custom, were graciously received by the Macdonalds. During the night of the 13th however, the Campbells arose and attacked their hosts killing 38 in their homes or as they tried to escape. Alastair Maclain was killed in his bedroom. Those who survived fled to the snow covered hills, where a further forty women and children died from exposure, their homes having been burnt down.

Two of the Campbell lieutenants refused to carry out the orders and even broke their swords to emphasise their revolt.

It was a despicable breach of the ancient law of Scottish hospitality, and as it was also authorised by a government claiming to be dedicated to justice, it has never ceased to be regarded as one of the most shameful episodes in Scottish history. The scandal was all the more accentuated by the fact that those responsible remained 'Scot free'. Thus an irreconcilable state of affairs continued to reign in Scotland.

 Fascimili of Dalrymple's order to the Campbell forces.

'You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the M'Donalds, of Glencoe and putt all to the sword under seventy. You are to have special care that the old fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues, that no man may escape.... This is by the King's special command, for the good of the country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be treated as not true to the king's government, nor a man fitt to carry a commission in the king's service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand. att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692.'  

For their Majesties service                                                 
To Capt. Robert Campbell 
of Glenlyon                                                            (signed)  R. Duncanson                  
Text and transposed image (Glencoe) © Mirino (PW). Sources- Scotland History of a Nation. Further information from Wikipedia. Phrase below image attributed to Geddes MacGregor. Facsimili with grateful thanks to Wikipedia. November, 2009


S. R. Piccoli said...

Honor to the two lieutenants of the Campbells who broke their swords to emphasise their refusal to carry out the orders!

Mirino said...

They were two lieutenants, Francis Farquhar and Gilbert Kennedy. Although they were arrested and incarcerated, they were later released and gave evidence against their commanding officers.

There were also two detachments numbering 800 men who were ordered to block all the escape routes. Both detachments took up their positions later than they should have. It's possible that they were delayed by snow. It's equally possible that they preferred not to participate in such a diabolical crime.