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Although most Highland Clans have a history of bloodshed and struggle for survival, only the MacGregors have experienced a systematic effort by the Scottish and British Governments to exterminate their race, as well as the outlawing of their very name. Letters of Fire and Sword were granted against the Clan Gregor in 1563, again in 1588, 1590, 1597, and were renewed at intervals over 130 years. Their policy was Genocide. Never before or since had such an ugly persecution been applied so persistently to any race of people in Britain. Since several generations were forbidden to call themselves MacGregor, many unrecognized descendents of the clan flourish today, dispersed at home and abroad under inherited pseudonyms..
The Campbell Dragon arises in the west
A clan known as MacDiarmaid, held land on either side of Glen Orchy. Through a carefully orchestrated strategy, they managed to gain positions of influence at the Scottish court. Their name was changed to "Campbell", wry (or crooked) mouth in Gaelic). The name stuck, as they proved again and again that their word meant nothing. The Campbell's basic principle in their empire building was the exploitation of their victims' weaknesses, pride and pugnacity. They used marriage, rape, assassination, murder, misrepresentation, and any illicit means they could devise to rob their victims of land. Their policy was one of unlimited land expansion.
Clan Alpin Becomes the Campbell's Prime Target
True Celts held true top their word. There were no charters to land until the first century AD, merely ancient traditional holdings based on Coir a' cleadhaimh (power of the sword). Every father ensured his sons learned well the history of their clan.
According to legend, one of King Alpin's sons was ancestor to Hugh of Glen Orchy who lived about the middle of the twelfth century. From his son, Giolla Fhaolain, descended two brothers, Iain of GlenOrchy and Duncan.
Clan Alpin's earliest land was in Lorne, along the Perth/Argyll border, where they consolidated into several valleys (or Glens), Orchy, Lochy, and Strae, all running south-west into Loch Awe. Iain died without male issue and when a daughter married into the Campbell family, they laid claim to the three Clan Alpin glens. This claim was void under ancient Celtic law and custom that clan land belonged to the entire clan, not to a person. The chief merely held a superiority of it, but only in the name of the clan. The Campbell's impudent claim was rightly rejected by MacAlpin clansmen, who elected as chief, Iain's nephew, Gregor. They renamed themselves Clan Gregor to emphasize that repudiation. The absurd Campbell claim continued even though Glen Orchy legally reverted to Clan Gregor control when the Glen Orchy Campbell line ended without an heir.
They continued to hold their glens until Campbell married Bruce's sister. Thereafter, the expansion of Campbell territory began to take on its sinister character.
Grants the Barony of Awe to the Campbells
Many Gaelic Highland clans fought for Bruce for Scottish
independence as he was a strong rallying point against the cursed English, but
they could not forgive Bruce for his prior betrayal of Wallace. Bruce bore numerous grudges against
these Highland clans who fought so valiantly for Wallace but now
considered him a usurper. He retaliated by decreeing certain lands of
his enemies to his supporters. Among these, the Barony of Loch Awe, site
of the largest MacGregor fort, Kilchurn, was decreed to the Campbells by Bruce
as retribution against MacGregor of Glen Orchy's intransigence. It was
left to the Campbells to enforce this edict. What they could not grab by
force, they secured through subterfuge. The victims had no recourse to
the courts as the office of Lord Justice General had been made hereditary to
the Campbell Earls of Argyll since 1528.
Many Gaelic Highland clans fought for Bruce for Scottish independence as he was a strong rallying point against the cursed English, but they could not forgive Bruce for his prior betrayal of Wallace.
Bruce bore numerous grudges against these Highland clans who fought so valiantly for Wallace but now considered him a usurper. He retaliated by decreeing certain lands of his enemies to his supporters. Among these, the Barony of Loch Awe, site of the largest MacGregor fort, Kilchurn, was decreed to the Campbells by Bruce as retribution against MacGregor of Glen Orchy's intransigence.
It was left to the Campbells to enforce this edict. What they could not grab by force, they secured through subterfuge. The victims had no recourse to the courts as the office of Lord Justice General had been made hereditary to the Campbell Earls of Argyll since 1528.
Lose Glen Orchy
Clan Gregor was recognized as the senior branch of the
Clan Gregor was recognized as the senior branch of theSiol Alpin, all the clans who claimed descent from the Alpin dynasty.) The third Clan Gregor Chief, Iain Dubh, reigned for 25 years and died in 1415. During the tenure of his son Malcolm, the clan finally lost its patrimony of Glen Orchy. In 1432, Sir Duncan Campbell gave GlenOrchy to his third son, Colin. To secure this overlordship, the Campbells strengthened Kilchurn Castle at the head of Loch Awe, thereby blocking access to the three Clan Gregor glens from the sea. By 1440, the MacGregors had lost control of all their Argylshire lands.
Campbells Usurp the MacGregor Succession
So Malcolm MacGregor, his son Patrick, and grandson Iain Dubh II had to retire to Glen Strae where, from their remaining fortress at Stronmelochan, they ruled over a reduced and land-hungry clan.
When Iain Dubh II of Glen Strae died in 1519, he left no heir. Passing over the senior houses of Brackly and Roro, the MacGregors' superiors (landlords), the Campbells of Glen Orchy, enforced the succession of Iain, chieftain of the line known as Clan Dugall Ciar, as 7th Chief of MacGregor. This was because Iain had married to the daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of GlenOrchy, who hoped to control the Gregarach through his son-in-law.
The Campbells miscalculated, however, for the Clan Dugall Ciar, which included the notorious MacGregors of Glen Gyle, quickly became the most unruly branch of the family. Iain was succeeded in 1528 by his son Alasdair, 8th of Glen Strae, who fought at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547 and died shortly afterwards.
MacGregors Disperse Eastwards
As a result of their loss of land, the MacGregors began to spill out of their Glen Orchy territories, settling where they could and showing as little sensitivity to other men's rights as the Campbells had shown them. They moved eastward into Perthshire, first to Glen Lyon where a cadet house, descended from a nephew of the first Iain Dubh, was established in Roro. MacGregors also settled in Glen Dochart, where they had ancestral connections with the old abbey, and further east at Fortingall. A branch of the Gregarach had held a lease of the church lands of Fortingall since the early 15th century; one of them compiled the Book of the Dean of Linsmore, which contains much of the clan's history. Still further afield, MacGregors penetrated as far north as Rannoch and south-east to Balquhidder.
Clan Gregor Becomes a National Problem
Faced with the extermination of the
ruling families of Glen Orchy, Glen Lyon, Glen Lochy, and Glen Strae, and
evicted from their ancient lands by the Campbells and their cronies, the
Gregarach overran Balquhidder and spread over the districts of Rannoch,
Breadalbane at Strathfillan, Glen Dochart, Glen Lyon, and in the Trossachs
country. Denied their own land, and often preyed upon by Campbells and
their cronies, they had no recourse but to starve or to plunder the farms
taken from them.
By the late 16th century, the MacGregors, though
nominally settled as tenants to other Chiefs, recognized only MacGregor titles
and thus led an outlaw existence.
By the late 16th century, the MacGregors, though
nominally settled as tenants to other Chiefs, recognized only MacGregor titles
and thus led an outlaw existence.
Throughout the 1560s, Gregor MacGregor, 10th Chief, waged war against Campbell of GlenOrchy, who had now also purchased the title of Glen Strae from the Earl of Argyll and refused to recognize Gregor's Chieftainship. Argyll hunted Gregor mercilessly with bounty hunters and hounds for many years until, in 1570, he captured and beheaded him.
Queen Mary visited Inverary in 1563 and began to put into practice her Machiavellian principles, or rather, the lack of them. Shortly after her return, she ordered Campbell to stop evicting MacGregors and substituting them with Campbells.
However, she allowed the Campbells free quarters in the Royal castles and hunting lodges when they were pursuing MacGregors. Many MacGregor men fled to Ireland to escape the intense Campbell scouring. They swore openly "When the nights grew lang" they would return and ravage the coasts of Argyll.
Other clan Chiefs followed Campbell's lead, among them Menzies, who had included a part of Clan Gregor territory in one of his title-deeds, but dared not enter it. Queen Mary ordered Menzies to grant "taks" of land to landless MacGregors.
The following year, Mary signed Acts passed by the Privy Council imposing penalties on those who assisted MacGregors. The Earl of Argyll was told to "raise the shout against Clan gregor and pursue them with fire and sword".
In 1565, the unmitigated murder of three MacGregors by a MacGestalcar and friends, spurred Mary to release Patrick MacGregor and about a dozen other clansmen from prison so they could "bring the murderers to book." How swiftly this was done may be read in the Chronicles of Fortingal for 27th July, 1565: "James MacGestalcar killed with his accomplices by Gregor MacGregor of Stronemelchan".
Mary also ordered Campbell to stop building a fort on the isle of Rannoch, and to assign titles to MacGregors living there. Eilan nam Faoileag. Campbell was so afraid of the MacGregors he dared not build it on shore but hoped to menace Gregor clansmen in the Black Wood. He halted, but, after Mary's flight in 1568, he completed his fort and imprisoned and executed MacGregors in it.
Argyll Wins Free Hand To Slaughter MacGregors
Under James I's blood lust, The Campbell Duke of Argyle was given a free hand to imprison MacLean of Duarte and MacDonald of Sleat, in 1578, and continued to harass the Clan Gregor under exclusive edicts that even excluded the King from interfering in Campbell's persecutions. He now discovered a new way of securing auxiliaries, at no cost, to slaughter MacGregors. It was really a very ancient technique brought up to date - Bounty Hunting.
The Campbells incited some unprincipled Highland Scots to start a crusade against the "Albigensian heretics of Languedoc." One such "MacTarlich's" band read:
"Understanding the clangregor to be manifest malefactors and his Majesties declarit rebellis for sundry slauchteris ewill turnis and oppressions done be thay .... we bind us to enter into deidly feud wt the clangregoure .... and in making of slauchter upion thame ... both privilie and openly ... until the time that the said duncane campbell of glenurquhay find himself satisfiet and contentit wt ye slauchter we sall do..."
The reward for this "slauchter" was to have the "tak", or rent, of three small parcels" of land , no doubt filched from "clangregoure". It was doubtful if the MacTarlich's were ever able to enjoy their ill-gotten gains as the Clan Gregor was well-known to avenge injustices to its members, come what may.
The persecutions continued with ever increasing rigor and were bound to come to another crisis.
Worse was to come. In 1589, the displaced Glen Strae branch of the clan known as the "Children of the Mist" murdered John Drummond, the King's Forester, who had summarily hanged some Gregarach for poaching a deer.
Another "crusade" was launched which went on for three years and led among many other executions to the death of a MacGregor Chieftain whose wife composed one of the most intense love-songs in Gaelic literature and music, "Griogal Cridhe", over his headless corpse. The pipe lament "Cumha Mhic Griogair Ruadh-shruth" is on this theme.
In 1602, Gregor's son, Alasdair, 11th of Glen Strae, along with several other Clan Gregor Chiefs, ambushed a three-mile column of mounted Colquhouns, Grahams, Buchanans, and townsmen from Dumbarton who had received a King's commission to punish the MacGregors for previous raids on their settlements.. Although vastly outnumbered, the MacGregors routed the Colquhouns and slaughtered them all at Glen Fruin, the "Glen of Sorrow".
King James VI, in a fit of rage, proscribed the entire Clan Gregor and banned the use of the name MacGregor. For the next half-century the MacGregors lived mostly as outlaws or relied on the protection of friendly Chiefs notably the wealthy and influential Laird of Grant. The men were hunted down (many by specially trained Campbell hounds) and slaughtered, the women had their faces branded. Women who consorted with MacGregor men were tarred and feathered and driven out of towns.
MacGregors Flee to Ireland and Overseas
Many clansmen migrated from Scotland to Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries. They were granted lands of native Catholic Irish who, in another tragic struggle, were dispossessed by the British as treasonous rebels. Sixteen MacGregor families settled in Derry.
However, to many, life in Ireland became a disillusionment. Conditions
were little better than in their homeland. Poverty prevailed, and religious
conflicts remained, except that now they were in a strange land and without the
support and kinship of the clan. The New World beckoned to the adventurous.
Clansmen sailed aboard the small sailing ships known as the "White
Sails" which plied the stormy Atlantic, ships such as the Hector, the
Rambler and the Dove, indenturing themselves for as long as ten years to pay
their passage. These ships were originally designed for 100 passengers, but
frequently sailed with 400 to 500 people on board. Many ships arrived with only
60 to 70% of their overcrowded passenger list alive, the rest dying at sea.
Clansmen sailed aboard the small sailing ships known as the "White Sails" which plied the stormy Atlantic, ships such as the Hector, the Rambler and the Dove, indenturing themselves for as long as ten years to pay their passage. These ships were originally designed for 100 passengers, but frequently sailed with 400 to 500 people on board. Many ships arrived with only 60 to 70% of their overcrowded passenger list alive, the rest dying at sea.
In North America, the Highlanders settled Virginia, the Carolinas, Nova Scotia and the Ottawa Valley of Canada. Some of the first migrants which could be considered as kinsman of the name MacGregor, or of that same Clan or family, were Duncan McGregor, who settled in South Carolina in 1716, along with Mall; Gregor McGregor settled in Virginia along with John in 1716; Greggie and Jane MacGregor settled in Georgia in 1737. John McGregor settled in Boston in 1766; Duncan, John, Joseph, Peter, Robert and William McGregor all arrived in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860;
The American War of Independence found many who were loyal to their new cause, while others remaining loyal to their oaths to the Crown, fought against the American rebel and subsequently trekked north to Canada and became known as United Empire Loyalists.
MacGregors Coalesced When Threatened
Alasdair of Glen Strae, (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.
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.
Time and time again, MacGregors from far and wide came together to defend the common interests of the Clan. Such a fray was set to prose by Sir Walter Scott in his epic poem "Lady of the Lake" where he explained in detail how "Clan Alpin" brought together its men for battle with the ancient use of the "Fiery Cross".
MacGregors Thrived In the Face of Despair
By 1633, James was dead, and the MacGregors had proved to be so viable that they had broken out again in the counties of Perth, Sterling, Clackmannan, Monteith, Lennox, Angus and Mearns.... so commissions were again granted for enforcing the laws against the "rebellious race".
Many proprietors were unaware that parties of Gregor clansmen and their families were sheltering in the pathless thickets and rocky labyrinths of their domains; more no doubt, would let sleeping dogs lie, knowing the positive lust of the outlaws for repaying debts with compound interest; but some kindred clans, Grants and MacAulays, felt it incumbent on them to aid their blood-brothers.
Common humanity prevailed, and many Highlanders were loath to join in the head-hunting which was encouraged by the Privy Council.
In the face of continual slaughter and deprivation, their numbers increased, not in a small area, but over a large part of central Scotland. Many MacGregor men left no successors, others left families of nearly twenty. Rob Roy's sons may be taken as a fair sample of 18th century patterns. Coll had 14 children, James had 13, Ranald had 3, and Robin Og, (having been executed after abducting a widow who had written him love letters) left none.
In 1638, when the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was held in Glasgow, the representatives were in such fear of the MacGregors that they were escorted by companies of armed retainers, who turned the godly Assembly into an unseemly brawl. Glasgow at that time though having had a cathedral for centuries, was no more than a large village of 7000 people, and unable to raise a force equal to the rampant Clan Gregor, even in numbers, let alone arms.
There are many descendents of branches of Clan Gregor in all parts of the world whether of the Glen Orchy, or Glen Strae, or Balhaldie, or Glen Gyle, or Roro, or Glen Lyon, (who suffered so severely from the savagery of the Stewarts) or of the many who formed new communities throughout Scotland.
Many MacGregors were imprisoned and shipped overseas as slaves to Ireland or the New World, where many died of abuse and/or disease.
In their excruciating persecution the MacGregors suffered similar atrocities to those that were described in the starkest passages of the Iliad.
Let none escape from your clutches,
Not even the mother whose belly is heavy with foetus.
May fleet from the horror of the slaughter.
Two Chiefs With The Same Agenda
During the Wars of the Covenant, despite their cruel treatment at the hands of the Stuart Kings, the MacGregors took the royalist side. In reward for this, the laws against them were repealed by Charles II in 1661. At the revolution, therefore, the clan rallied to James VII, but this loyalty rebounded against them in 1693 when the victorious William of Orange reintroduced the legislation suppressing Clan Gregor. Then, early in the 18th century, Archibald, 16th Chief of MacGregor, died and the house of Glen Strae became extinct.
In this emergency, a dozen gentlemen of the clan held a meeting in July 1714, and recognized Alexander MacGregor, alias Drummond, of Balhaldie as Chief of the name. This arbitrary decision, however, ignored the superior claim of John MacGregor, alias Murray of Glen Carnoch, Chieftain of the "Children of the Mist."
Both the defacto and dejure chiefly lines were Jacobite. Alexander of Balhaldie supported the Stuart cause in 1715 and was created a baronet by the exiled James VIII in 1740. Glen Carnoch's successor, Robert MacGregor, commanded a force of Gregarach in Prince Charlie's Army and was subsequently imprisoned for three years.
A MacGregor was one of the Seven men of Glen Moriston who guarded the fugitive Prince Charlie, and Clan Gregor was specifically excluded from the "Act of Grace" of 1752. Yet one member of the clan eclipsed all others in fame during the first half of the 18th century: Robert Roy MacGregor of Glen Gyle, alias Campbell, better known as Rob Roy.
MacGregors are Vindicated
Through no small effort by Sir Walter Scott, the laws against Clan Gregor were repealed in 1774 and a few years later a gathering of more than 800 clansmen declared John MacGregor, alias Murray, of Lanrick of the Glen Carnaig, line to be 18th Chief of Clan Gregor. It took 10 years for the beaurocracy to catch up with the law and in 1784 the law was enacted. In 1795, John MacGregor of MacGregor was created a Baron and the Chieftainship has since then continued in his name. MacGregor's present seat is in Edinchip, near Loch Earnhead, in Perthshire, where the Clan Gregor began its epoch over sixteen hundred years ago.
The MacGregors raise a Regiment for the British Army
In December of 1798, Colonel Alexander MacGregor received instructions to raise a regiment of highland Fencibles, of which he was appointed the Colonel. He accordingly raised a body of 765 men from the ranks of the MacGregors, whose service was to extend to any part of Europe,- and he named it the "Clan-Alpine Fencibles Regiment".
In May of 1799, the men were assembled at Stirling, and were inspected by Lieutenant-General Abercomby. In consequence of an arrangement similar to that made with other fencible corps, of this description by which one of the field-officers was to have permanent and progressive army rank, Captain Alexander MacGregor of the 90th regiment, son of Colonel MacGregor, was appointed Major. In the event of any of the men entering the regular army, their services in the Clan-Alpine regiment were to be reckoned as if they had served from the first in the line.
In 1800, after the regiment had been relocated to Ireland, orders were issued to augment it to 1,050 men. This increase was effected, notwithstanding the great and recent drains from the population, particularly from the Highlands. Shortly after this augmentation, two detachments entered the regular army, and it therefore became necessary to recruit again.
Of the 1,230 men who entered the regiment from first to last, about 780 were Highlanders, thirty English and Irish, and the remainder Scottish Lowlanders. The regiment returned from Ireland, and was disbanded on the 24 July 1802.
MacGregors Flourish in Perth-shire
In his "History of the
Highlands", published in 1838, James Browne stated -
"The MacGregors were once numerous in Balquhidder and Monteith, also in Glenorchy, - and they are still in great numbers in the district of Fearnon, on the north side of Loch Tay - on the south side of Glenlyon, - in Fortingal, and on the north side of Loch Rannoch."
What recent dna tests have proven about our Ancestors.
There are two haplo groups, one a large Celtic/Gaelic and the other a minor Norwegian/Viking group. This illustrates an assimilation of outside bloodlines into our clan through male lines, which is consistent with the historical accounts of Clan Gregor assimilating resident populations in their expansion into Argyle from Perthshire. Argyle was part of the Nordic/Scottic empire until eventually reconquered by Scottish Kings - with substantial Clan Gregor assistance.
And what about our Pictic heritage?
It must be remembered the Pictic culture gave more weight to female lines (rulers were selected from a sister's children. In only that method, were people certain of the parentage). With frequent long absences of male spouses, it is not surprising that more weight would have been placed on female lines.
It stands to reason; with almost all male Picts becoming childless monks, casualties of conflicts, or driven into servitude and/or exile, Pictic women would have become the sole carriers of their ancient bloodlines. It is often related in Scottish history that Scottish/Pictic marriages were very common. Grig, himself, was listed as King Kenneth MacAlpin's nephew of his sister's line, in spite of some revisionist accounts of him being a direct son.
Remember, our forebears decided that we should be known as Clan Gregor not Clan MacGregor, emphasizing an understanding we were all descendents of Grig, (and his adherents) in either female or male lines. This decision in itself highlighted our Pictic traditions.
The jury is still out re. whether the Picts were actually an earlier type of Celtic people or another unknown race from northern Europe (Norwegian/Viking?). To date, no surviving dna group has been identified as being Pictic.