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The background tartan for this chapter is faded MacGregor of Glenstrae
The ROUT of Glen Fruin
Editor's note: The background sound programmed into this chapter is "The Chase of Glen Fruin" (written by Forbes MacGregor). As soon as you entered into this chapter, the song began to download. If you have a high speed internet service, you will hear the song quickly. For slow speed viewers, you must wait several minutes. Please be patient.
James VI, psychopath and Scottish patriot
The son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Lord Darnley became King of Scotland upon his mother’s forced abdication in 1567.
He was thirteen months old at his coronation and brought up by extremely manipulative individuals. He successfully stopped the draw of power away from his position by the Calvinists, he enjoyed torturing witches and Negroes, considered his Highlanders ‘barbarians’ and ordered their extinction so that English-speaking Lowlanders could be installed to replace them.
This seventeenth century ethnic-cleansing, which James called ‘kingcraft’, was eventually executed by him not in the Highlands but in Northern Ireland. Had Roman Catholicism still been in place across Britain then Henry VIII’s children from his various marriages would not have been recognized as heirs to the throne.
The crown of England would then have gone to Mary, Queen of Scots, whose grandmother was Margaret Tudor, Henry’s sister. With Protestantism however, the crown went to Elizabeth.
After she had executed Queen Mary in 1587, and died herself in 1603 without issue, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. This became known as the Union of the Crowns. He moved to England and settled into his greater domain easily, never returning to Scotland.
Archibald Campbell, The 7th Earl of Argyle
The MacGregors React
Alasdair was a rare man, who took the advantage before his opponent had the wit to seize it, and he prepared to hit the Laird of Luss before he was himself harried. He gathered four hundred men fully armed. Among them were Camerons, Campbells, and an eager detachment of MacDonalds. The MacDonalds of Glencoe had also been used by the Campbell GlenOrchy Lairds in the past. Cutting MacGregor throats for Campbell paymasters did not prevent Glencoe men from becoming MacGregor allies in the next generation.
The fiery cross was dispatched throughout
Clan Gregor lands resulting in two hundred of the best selected to accompany
Alasdair on an excursion into Colquhoun territory. Alasdair was
successful in gaining the participation of two other Clan Gregor chiefs along
with their best men,
Robert Aberach MacGregor of Lochaber and Callum of Glen Gyle .
They left the braes (fields) of Balquhidder on a bitter February morning of 1603, crossed Loch Lomond from Glen Arklet to the Pass of Arrochar, and swung down the eastern shore of Loch Long and took up his quarters on the confines of Luss's territory, where he expected by mediation to bring matters to an amicable adjustment.
As the Laird of Luss was suspicious of Alasdair's intentions, with an army an army of 500 foot and 300 mounted soldiers formed from his own clan, with Buchanans, Grahams, and from towns-people of Lennox. The meeting broke up with no agreement and Alasdair with his detachment started for home.
The Laird of Luss, in pursuance of his plan,
followed MacGregor with great haste through GlenFruin, in expectation of
coming upon him unawares, and defeating him. However, Alasdair was on
the alert and observed the approach of his pursuers. He divided his
forces into two parts, the largest of which he kept under his own
command. He placed the other under his brother John, whom he dispatched
by a circuitous route, for the purpose of attacking Luss's party from the
In open country, the Colquhoun cavalry could have run down the Highlanders with ease, but Alasdair placed his foot soldiers across the marshy ground of Glen Fruin at a narrow pass, where horses were useless. The Lowland infantry broke and ran at once when the Highlanders charged, their horses were hamstrung and slaughtered in the bogs. It was over in a few minutes. MacGregors, MacIntoshes, Camerons, Campbells, and MacDonalds ran over the dead to set fire to every house and stack in the lands of Luss. They drove off 2000 head of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. The Battle of GlenFruin was perhaps the most brilliant battle that Clan Gregor ever fought but it proved to be its undoing before the court of a psychotic James VI..
The Preacher and his Students
Forty young schoolboys and their Preacher professor from Lennox came out to watch the fray and were taken prisoner and put inn the custody of a MacIntosh man called, 'Allan Og MacIntuach' and he saw no profit in this work when others were enjoying themselves so he cut 40 young Colquhoun throats and rejoined his kinsmen. When Alasdair later asked him where the prisoners were, he replied by holding out his bloody knife and saying "Ask that, and God help me!" (It took the law six years before they could catch up with MacIntuach and hang him.)
The Laird of Luss and his friends promptly sent notice of this disaster to the King, and they succeeded so effectually by misrepresenting the whole affair to him, and exhibiting to his majesty eleven score bloody shirts belonging to those of their party who were slain, that the king grew exceedingly incensed at the Clan Gregor, who had no representation about the king to plead their cause, proclaiming them rebels and interdicted all lieges from harboring or having any communication with them.
The Earl of Argyle Hunts Down The
Argyle and his Campbell henchmen were given the task of hunting down the MacGregors. About sixty of the clan made a brave stand at Bentoik against a party of two-hundred chosen men belonging to the Clan Cameron, Clan Nab, and Clan Ronald, under command of Robert Campbell, son of the Laird of Glen Orchy. In this battle, Duncan Aberach, one of the Chieftains of the Clan Gregor, his son Duncan, and seven other MacGregors were killed. But although they made a brave resistance, and killed many of their pursuers, the MacGregors, after many skirmishes and great losses, were at last overcome.
Commissions were thereafter sent throughout the kingdom, for fining those who had harbored any of the Clan, and for punishing all persons who had kept up any communication with them, and the fines so levied where given by the king to Argyle as recompense for his services against the MacGregors.
Clan Gregor's rebuttal of a Royal
decree could not have come at a worse time. James was all packed up to
go to London and was in no humour to leave a large area of central Scotland
under his antagonists' control. He applied all the force and fury at his
disposal against the MacGregors to destroy them and wipe them off the face of
the earth: his target was Alasdair, who was an honest man and accepted
Argyle kept his word, fulfilling it to the letter, but broke it in the spirit. Alasdair and eleven sub-chiefs were taken to the English border, then immediately escorted to Edinburgh to face trial. He was hanged along with his eleven followers after a quick trial. For his work in suppressing disorder in the Highlands (which was to include the near extermination of the MacGregors) the Crown gave Argyle all the lands in Kintyre.
RetributionUpon learning of their chief’s betrayal, the Clan Gregor planned retribution. They attacked Sir Duncan Campbell, whom they believed to be involved in Alastair's murder: “The records of the Glenlyon Campbells declare that when the storm broke, ‘Even Sir Duncan quailed. The MacGregors laid waste Culdares and Duneaves in Fortingall, Crannuich in Breadalbane, Glenfalloch, and Bochastel in Menteith, and burnt his castle at Achallader.’ His loss in money was 66,666 pounds. The loss in men was not collated.”
For many years afterwards, MacGregors and their allies were hunted down and summarily executed merely on allegations that they were at the Battle of Glen Fruin.
The Colquhoun Version
Try as I could I could not find any trace of a Colquhoun account of this important battle. I can only assume that they would just as well forget it. I did find that the Colquhoun Clan claims Walker, King, and Leckie as Septs. That is rather odd because we do also.
However, their allies, the MacClintocks, recorded their own version of this conflict which follows:
The "Colquhoun" Version by Clan MacClintock (in the service of the Laird of Luss)
THE BATTLE OF GLEN FRUIN (Grammar
corrected by H. MacGregor, and the parentheses are mine)
He expressed great sympathy for them and took
instant and severe measures against the unfortunate MacGregors. He decreed
that the dreaded name of MacGregor was proscribed from this time forward.
All MacGregors will henceforth assume other names upon the penalty of death.
No person shall use the name of MacGregor in the realms of Scotland. A price
was put upon the heads of 70-80 of the MacGregors by name and their
confederates from other clans. All who took part in the battle, now known as
the "Slaughter of Lennox" were prohibited from carrying any weapon
other than a knife to eat their meat. Between May 20, 1603 and March 4, 1604
thirty five of the clan were taken prisoner and executed after trial. Among
them was (Alasdair) MacGregor the chief of the clan.
This battle occurred because the MacGregors were an outlaw clan, who were in constant conflict with their neighbors and the King. They committed violent acts of murder and thievery upon the more prosperous low country, especially around Dumbartonshire, the territory of the Colquhouns. They constantly raided their neighbors and stole their cattle, horses and other property, murdered the tenant farmers and burned their houses. The Clan Colquhoun supported the Scottish Crown and had taken part in the" Letters of Fire and Sword" issued by the crown against the MacGregors some years earlier. This added fuel to the feud between the two clans. The "Letters of Fire and Sword" was a proclamation of the King because of the violent and criminal acts committed by the MacGregors upon other clans. As the King’s sheriffs and military were unable to protect the law abiding clans from ravages by the MacGregors. The "Letters of Fire and Sword" permitted other clans to aid the King in punishment of the MacGregors for their criminal acts by putting them to the sword and burning their dwellings without fear of punishment by the Crown.
Conflict between the two clans had existed for years prior to 1603, because the Colquhouns had taken part in carrying out this commission from the King. Atrocities were committed on both sides as the MacGregors would raid the Colquhouns and the injured clan would retaliate. In December 1602 the MacGregors made a regular raid on the Colquhoun lands at Glen Finlas and carried off a number of sheep and cattle and slew several of the tenants. Alexander Colquhoun, who had complained to the Privy Council against the Earl of Argyle for not repressing the MacGregors went to Stirling Castle to appear before his majesty James VI, accompanied by a number of female relatives of his clansmen who had been killed or wounded at Glen Finlas, each one riding a white horse and carrying a bloody shirt of her relative, to implore the king to avenge the wrongs done them by the McGregors. It is suspected that some of the blood was sheep’s blood as well as human blood. This ruse had a profound effect upon the King who was known to be very sensitive to the sight of blood and descriptions of a bloody battle scene.
The King immediately granted a commission of lieutenancy to Alexander Colquhoun, granting him power to hunt down and apprehend (actually, to burn, kill and pillage) the MacGregors and repress similar crimes. This commission from the King infuriated the MacGregors, who arose in a lawless rage to defy the Colquhouns with the attack at Glen Fruin as the ultimate consequence. (In truth the MacGregor party left the meeting place in peace, and were ambushed by a prior arranged ploy by the Colquhouns)
The Colquhoun family or" Clan Colquhoun " has the distinction of claiming the oldest unbroken inherited lairdship in Scotland. The family has held their property for 840 years. The other clan territories around Loch Lomond (were) all purchased by other landowners. (?)
Sir Ivar Colquhoun is the 31st owner of the original family lands and the 33rd Laird of the Lands of Luss. He continues to maintain his home at Camstraddan near the Georgian Mansion, Ross dhu, on the land of his ancestors. Rossdhu means "Black Headland" in Gaelic. It is located on a wooded peninsula surrounded on three sides by Lock Lomond and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan Colquhoun since it was built in 1772 by Sir James Colquhoun 23rd of Colquhoun and 22nd of Luss.
Compiled by J. W. McClintock
Clan Colquhoun genealogists claim that their line began when Conoch came to Scotland from Ireland during the rule of Gregory the Great, during 875-891, and that they obtained their lands from that monarch. It is said that the name Conoch evolved to Conochon, and later Colquhoun. The Colquhoun family name, however, comes from the lands bearing the same name west of Loch Lomond. During the reign of Alexander II, King of Scotland from 1214 - 1249, Humphrey Kilpatrick, whom some genealogists claim was the younger brother of the Kirkpatrick Lord of Closeburn, was granted these lands by Malcom, the Earl of Lennox.
Author's note: There was no mention here of the part played by considerable contingents from the Buchanans, the Grahams, and the local militia of Dumbarton. Also, no mention of the integral part played by the Duke of Argyll, the hereditary High Sheriff of Scotland and his longstanding feud with the Laird of Luss.
"This battle occurred because the MacGregors were an outlaw clan, who were in constant conflict with their neighbors and the King" is an oversimplification of a situation forced on the Clan Gregor by the seizure of their ancestral lands by the Campbells, and the ensuing scurrying by adjacent clans to grab whatever Clan Gregor territories they could.
I have never heard of any other source claiming there were women killed by Clan Gregor in this conflict.
THE TROUBLES BEGIN
Amelia Georgiana Murray MacGregor, writing in 1898 in the "History of the Clan Gregor," states that MacGregor of Ardinconnell, one of the oldest offshoots of the clan, was the branch most involved in the disputes with Colquhoun of Luss. The earliest record of any dispute is a Deed of Resignation dated February 7th, 1429, transferring Gleane Mackerne (Glen Mackurn) to John Colquhoun of Luss. Documents signed throughout the 1400s and 1500s indicate that the Colquhouns, like the Campbells, wanted MacGregor lands and were successful in their efforts, by the encouragement of the Campbells and the Crown.
However, due to their perseverence, cohesiveness, and their fighting abilities, the Clan Gregor managed to remain one of the most powerful highland clans until 1519, when the expansion of the Campbells created a problem of a different type.
When a young MacGregor boy of the House of Dughaill Ciar ravaged" a Campbell heiress, the girl's family used the incident to their advantage. The boy was forced to marry the Campbell heiress, and the Campbells forced him on to the Clan Gregor as Chief. However, his actions were under the full control of the Campbells, who used the puppet-chief to take over more MacGregor lands. Eventually, this branch of the MacGregors became extremely hostile to the Campbells, and were disowned by them.
Meanwhile, the true chiefly heirs, the house of GlenStrae, continued their struggles as guerrilla fighters in the mountains of Argyle and Perthshire, where they became known as the "Children of the Mist." With their lands now in the hands of the Campbells, the MacGregors had no other option than stealing cattle or poaching.
According to the "History of The Clan Gregor," serious trouble began in 1527, when Patrick MacGregor of Laggarie, "despoiled the father of the then Laird of Luss of a considerable number of oxen and cows." To obtain redress for the theft of his father's property, John Colquhoun summoned MacGregor on December 27, 1540 to appear before the Lords of the Privy Council who commanded MacGregor to restore to Colquhouns "eight oxen, twelve milk cows, or the price of them with profits of them since the year 1527."
MacGregor, however, did not comply, and on May 30, 1541, was prohibited from selling any "heritable properties" until the bill was paid. Unable to sell anything of value, this prohibition would have caused an impasse. How could MacGregor pay his bill if he could not engage in commerce?!
In 1602 the MacGregors attacked the Colquhouns in Glen Luss, killing two clansmen, injuring others, and stealing livestock.
Rather than respond with violence, the Colquhouns traveled to King James VI seeking redress. Instead of merely presenting a petition, the Colquhouns staged a visual production. About fifty women, each displaying men's torn and bloodied clothing on poles, rode white ponies through the narrow streets that led to the castle. While the effect was compelling, most historians agree that pigs' blood and old garments were used to amplify the effect. The stunt, however, served its purpose and the king, who was well known as being queasy at the sight of blood (of any type), responded by granting the Colquhouns permission to pursue the MacGregors with "fire and sword." This commission gave the holders the right to kill any MacGregors they could (men, women and children), take their property, and destroy what they could not carry off.
The MacGregors were not slow to react. According to one account, Alasdair, the chief of the Glenstrae MacGregors, went to Luss in 1602 to negotiate on behalf of his clan. The meeting went smoothly and Glenstrae and his men returned home towards Rannach. The Colquhoun chief, however, did not trust the MacGregors and quickly gathered a group of his own followers, which included Buchanans and Grahams, and totaled about 500 horsemen and another 300 on foot. The group pursued the MacGregors, who traveled home by way of Glen Fruin. There being no road, the MacGregors were traveling through the floor of the valley when the Colquhoun forces attacked without provocation.
The MacGregors, however, were reputed to possess "the sight," and are said to have been able to foretell the future. Whether "the sight" played a role in the events that afternoon is anyone's guess. However, Alasdair MacGregor most certainly had a premonition of impending trouble and, prior to the attack, divided his men into two groups. The party traveling through the valley floor was not alone. Concealed along the ridge above, the second group watched the mayhem below.
While Alasdair maintained combat with his own group on the valley floor, his brother's men made the circuit of the hill and attacked the unsuspecting assailants from the rear. It is said that no fewer than 200 Colquhouns were slain. But although many of the MacGregors were wounded, the only persons killed were the brother of the chief and one other.
The MacGregors, however, were far from being "the winners." When the king learned of the massacre he ordered the entire MacGregor clan outlawed and condemned to extermination.
Glen Fruin (The Valley of Sorrow)
The MacGregors had raided the Colquhoun lands twice in 1602 - on the
instructions of Argyll who was at feud with the Earl of Lennox and wanted his
lands. Two young MacGregor men traveling from Dumbarton in January 1603 were
hanged by Colquhoun of Luss for killing a sheep - as no-one would offer them food
or shelter them so they helped themselves.
Alasdair of Glenstrae consulted the Earl of Argyll and then agreed to meet with Colquhoun of Luss to discuss compensation to the boys widowed mother. This was part of the Scottish legal tradition of arbitration by local lords. In view of the tense situation it was agreed that each side could bring no more than 100 men for security.
Reliable records prove that it was actually Robert Aberach MacGregor of Lochaber who planned the Glen Fruin affray, and it was Callum of Glen Gyle (grandfather of Rob Roy) who actually led the combined force. Each of the four tribes was led by their respective Chief although Alasdair was the most prestigious, and was willing to take the responsibility for the battle on his own shoulders.
The MacGregors brought 200 - 100 were left 3 1/2 miles away outside Colquhoun's boundary. Colquhoun brought 400 and hid 300 of them in ambush close to the meeting point plus a further 100 mounted militia a mile of so away.
The Colquhoun's Luss's men consisted of Lindsays, Buchanans MacLintocks and other townspeople from Lennox. The meeting broke up and the MacGregors withdrew but not by the route where Colquhoun had set his ambush. 400 of Luss's men then pursued the 100 MacGregors out of Glenfruin to a stream which marked his boundary. The MacGregors stopped and mounted a defence at this point - killing Lindsay of Bonhill and several sons of Colquhoun of Camstraddan among others.
Once Luss's men were committed to a frontal assault over this stream the remaining MacGregors came out of hiding and began to pick Luss's men off with arrows. Luss's men then retreated part way back to Auchengaich at the top of Glen Fruin. They made a further stand but were driven off again by the MacGregors with more losses. At the level ground of Auchengaich Luss put his men into line of battle - they still outnumbered the MacGregors by two to one. That stage of the battle lasted a few minutes by which time Luss's men were put to flight with more losses. Many more were killed in the rout. Altogether two MacGregors were killed (including Iain dubh - who was brother of the chief and father of the next chief after the execution of Alasdair roy) - and at least 120 of Luss's men.
Alasdair of Glen Strae, 11th Chief of the Glenstrae Branch of the Clan Gregor, (who claimed direct descent from Fergus, King of the Scots as did James) was found guilty by a contrived court and was executed along with his relatives beneath him, which was meant as a deterrent to his clan. This shows how little the Scots rulers understood the nature of the Clan Gregor people, for they existed as a number of bodies that, like beads of mercury, coalesced at the slightest disturbance of their equilibrium. With some clans, the obliteration of a single leader and still more, of a whole line, would have made it easier to exterminate them. But, as events proved, Alasdair's death made little difference to the cohesiveness of his followers.
An personal Analysis of the battle and its consequences:
The MacGregors were declared fair game to any landowner who possessed the strength and fortitude to take them on. They were scattered largely due to the greed of the Campbells but later, became pawns in the Campbell agenda of expansion.
The Laird of Luss was also a greedy and avaricious Laird, who became a nuisance to the Campbells. The most powerful of the Campbell Lairds was the Duke of Argyll. He tacitly set the MacGregors on to Luss to curtail his expansion northwards into Campbell territory.
Being hereditary High Sheriff of Scotland, Argyll held all cards in this struggle. If any blame were to go around, Argyll would come down on the perpetrator, be it MacGregor or Luss. With his influence and prestige at court, Argyll kept a close watch on the proceedings.
Luss wildly underestimated the abilities and fierceness of the MacGregors. He contrived a plan to ambush them with only twice their number. Being a lowlander, he had little idea of the mentality and toughness of the typical MacGregor clansmen.
Especially in winter, the MacGregors were a formidable opponent. Every MacGregor boy was raised with two cold water baths a day. This prepared them to withstand relentless winter winds in the frigid highlands. Time and again, throughout their history, MacGregor units outdid others in winter battles.
Argyll and others had often purchased the services of the second most fierce clan, the Camerons, to come south and bring down MacGregor "bandits". This tactic did not work out well, as the Gregarach knew the country side like no others. They knew how to use it to their advantage, and gradually became the toughest guerrilla force in all of Scotland, so that they also were hired out to quell encroaching clansmen in scattered skirmishes throughout Scotland, including the Camerons of the north.
The English used to swear that they could shoot dead a charging Highlander, and still feel the brunt of his sword as he fell upon them. No such compliment was forthcoming regarding the fighting abilities of the Lowlanders, who were of an entirely different ethnic stock.
Luss carelessly enrolled the services of the Lennox town militia in his quest to put down the Gregarach. One must question his motives, as they were lightly armed and no catch whatsoever for the more heavily armed berserk MacGregors.
One can close his eyes and envision the sight that befell the young militia recruits, as they saw a wildly retreating motley crew of Colquhouns, Grahams and Buchanans running weaponless, as fast as they could to flee their wild pursuers, with giant claymores in hand, slashing and screaming their war cries.
They were not merely MacGregors of Glenstrae, (the grieved party), but also MacGregors of Glengyle, Lochaber, Glen Orchy, and Glen Lyon, plus many from smaller mountain communities, all summoned by the fiery cross.
There were also others, the most dangerous of the (giant red-haired) MacDonalds, the (wild and uncontrollable) MacIntoshes of the powerful Clan Chattan Confederacy, Campbells (who had been given permission to join up from the Earl of Argyll, (High Sheriff of all Scotland), even some of the vicious Camerons of the far north, and other wild men of the Highlands, who were only too willing to teach the lowlanders a lesson in fighting and to get their fair share of the expected booty.
This battle was not merely a family feud between the MacGregors and the Colquhouns, but a racial showdown between Highlanders and Lowlanders, with one proviso; the blame or consequences of the proceedings would rest with the MacGregor Chiefs.
Given that these assembled highland warriors were a most formidable force, given the later use of Highland regiments in the regular British Army as shock troops around the globe. One must question Luss's mentality and his motives for enrolling the local militia. I believe his motive was to use them as cannon fodder to influence the King post battle against the MacGregors.
As it turned out, the battle was so lop-sided that Luss never admitted his total casualty figures. History records there were at least 200 Luss men killed. (Luss did not have to press the King for vengeance.) The truth was no doubt much higher. We do know that only two MacGregors were killed in that action. Many more died later under the executioner's hand for merely being there.
In retrospect, even if Luss's trickery had worked, and the main MacGregor party had been ambushed, it seems doubtless, the entire MacGregor band would have fallen on their antagonists in a much more vengeful mood. As it was, both sides probably got off with as light a casualty load as was possible under the circumstances.
The Battle of Glen Fruin was a watershed event to the Clan Gregor. As a result of the slaughter of the Colquhouns, the MacGregors were proscribed and condemned to extinction by James. The MacGregor victory was a direct affront to the King, and James would have none of it especially as he was about to become combined King of Scotland and England.
He would not allow an uncontrollable Clan to make him appear
weak and indecisive. Therefore he vented his anger on this one clan and
used them as an example to others who might be plotting to flout his
authority. Indeed, for a lesser clan, this extremity would have been
fatal, but Clan Gregor actually increased in numbers after Glen Fruin albeit as
a scattered clan with no land and few friends.