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|Massacre of Glencoe|
Mort Ghlinne Comhann (Scottish Gaelic)
|Part of aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1689|
Argyll's Regiment of Foot|
Hill's Regiment of Foot
|MacDonald of Glencoe and associates|
|Commanders and leaders|
Major Robert Duncanson |
Campbell of Glenlyon
|Casualties and losses|
|None||Estimated up to 38 dead, unknown number subsequently|
The Massacre of Glencoe (Scottish Gaelic: Mort Ghlinne Comhann) took place in Glen Coe in the Highlands of Scotland on 13 February 1692, following the Jacobite uprising of 1689-92. An estimated thirty-eight [a] members and associates of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by government forces billeted with them, with others later alleged to have died of exposure, on the grounds they had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William III of England and II of Scotland and Mary II.[b]
In March 1689, James II of England and VII of Scotland[c] landed in Ireland in an attempt to regain his throne and John Graham, Viscount Dundee recruited a small force of Highlanders for a similar campaign in Scotland. Despite victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie on 27 July, Dundee was killed and organised Jacobite military resistance ended with defeats at the Battle of Dunkeld in August 1689 and Cromdale in May 1690.
The continuing need to police the Highlands used resources William needed for the Nine Years' War. A peaceful Scotland was important since links between Irish and Scottish branches of the MacDonalds, as well as Scottish and Ulster Presbyterians, meant unrest in one country often spilled into the other.
The Glencoe MacDonalds were one of three Lochaber clans with a reputation for lawlessness, the others being the MacGregors and the Keppoch MacDonalds. Levies from these clans served in the Independent Companies used to suppress the Conventicles in 1678–80, and took part in the devastating Atholl raid that followed Argyll's rising in 1685. They also combined against their Maclean landlords in the August 1688 battle of Maol Ruadh, putting them in the unusual position of being considered outlaws by both the previous Jacobite administration and the new Williamite one.
After Killiecrankie, the Scottish government held a series of meetings with the Jacobite chiefs, offering terms that varied based on events in Ireland and Scotland. In March 1690, the Secretary of State, Lord Stair, offered a total of £12,000 for swearing allegiance to William. They agreed to do so in the June 1691 Declaration of Achallader, the Earl of Breadalbane signing for the government; in July, the Battle of Aughrim ended the War in Ireland and immediate prospects of a Restoration.
On 26 August, a Royal Proclamation offered a pardon to anyone taking the Oath prior to 1 January 1692, with severe reprisals for those who did not. Two days later, secret articles appeared, supposedly added to the Declaration and signed by all the attendees, including Breadalbane, which cancelled it in the event of a Jacobite invasion. Breadalbane claimed these were manufactured by Glengarry, the MacDonald chief; but Stair's letters reflect his belief that forged or not, none of the signatories intended to keep their word. Enforcement became a key concern.
In early October, the chiefs asked James for permission to take the Oath unless he could mount an invasion before the deadline, a condition they knew to be impossible. His approval was sent on 12 December and was received by Glengarry on the 23rd, but was not shared until the 28th. One suggestion is these delays were caused by intrigue between Glengarry's faction of Catholic Non-Compounders, who opposed James making any concessions to regain his throne, and Protestant Compounders, for whom concessions were essential; until 1692, Non-Compounders dominated the Jacobite agenda.
As a result, MacIain of Glencoe only left for Fort William on 30 December to take the Oath from the governor, Lieutenant Colonel John Hill. Since he was not authorised to accept it, Hill sent MacIain to Inverary with a letter for the local magistrate, Sir Colin Campbell confirming his arrival before the deadline. Sir Colin administered the Oath on 6 January, after which MacIain returned home. Glengarry did not swear until 4 February, with others doing so by proxy, but only MacIain was excluded from the indemnity issued by the Scottish Privy Council.
Stair's letter of 2 December to Breadalbane shows the intention of making an example was taken well before the deadline for the Oath but as a much bigger operation; ...the clan Donell must be rooted out and Lochiel. Leave the McLeans to Argyll... In January, he wrote three letters in quick succession to Sir Thomas Livingstone, military commander in Scotland; on 7th, the intention was to ....destroy entirely the country of Lochaber, Locheal's lands, Kippochs, Glengarrie and Glenco...; on 9th ...their chieftains all being papists, it is well the vengeance falls there; for my part, I regret the MacDonalds had not divided and...Kippoch and Glenco are safe. The last on 11 January states; ...my lord Argile tells me Glenco hath not taken the oaths at which I rejoice....
Parliament passed a Decree of Forfeiture in 1690, depriving Glengarry of his lands, but he continued to hold Invergarry Castle, whose garrison included the senior Jacobite officers Alexander Cannon and Thomas Buchan. MacIain's son John MacDonald told the 1695 Commission the soldiers came to Glencoe from the north '...Glengarry's house being reduced.' This suggests the Episcopalian Glencoe MacDonalds only replaced the Catholic Glengarry as the target on 11 January, and explains the large number of troops (over 900) available for a minor operation.
Motives varied. After two years of negotiations, Stair was under pressure to ensure the deal stuck, while Argyll was competing for political influence with his kinsman Breadalbane, who also found it expedient to concur with the plan. One possible motive was a quarrel with MacIain over compensation for damage to his property of Achallader; on 15 February, his steward offered to help MacIain's sons in return for swearing he was not involved. Glengarry was pardoned and his lands returned, while maintaining his reputation at the Jacobite court by being the last to swear and ensuring Cannon and Buchan received safe conduct to France in March 1692. In summary, the Glencoe MacDonalds were a small clan with few friends and powerful enemies.
In late January 1692, two companies or approximately 120 men from the Earl of Argyll's Regiment of Foot arrived in Glencoe from Invergarry. Their commander was Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, a local landowner whose niece was married to one of MacIain's sons;[d] he carried orders for 'free quarter', an established alternative to paying taxes in what was a largely non-cash society. The Glencoe MacDonalds themselves were similarly billeted on the Campbells when serving with the Highland levies used to police Argyll in 1678.
Highland regiments were formed by first appointing Captains, each responsible for recruiting sixty men from his own estates. Muster rolls for the regiment from October 1691 show the vast majority came from Argyll, including Cowal and Kintyre, areas settled by Lowlander migrants and badly hit by the Atholl raids of 1685 and 1686. There is no evidence the Massacre was related to a clan feud, but the men involved were not outsiders.[e]
In his letters of 30 January to Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton and Colonel Hill, Stair expresses concern the MacDonalds would escape if warned, and emphasises the need for secrecy. This correlates with evidence from James Campbell, one of Glenlyon's company, stating they had no knowledge of the plan until the morning of 13 February. On 12 February, Hill issued orders instructing Hamilton to take 400 men and block the northern exits from Glencoe at Kinlochleven. Another 400 men from Argyll's Regiment under Major Duncanson would join Glenlyon's detachment in the south and sweep northwards up the glen, killing anyone they found, removing property and burning houses.
On the evening of 12 February, Glenlyon received written orders from Duncanson carried by another Argyll officer, Captan Thomas Drummond; their tone shows doubts as to his ability or willingness to carry them out. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. As Captain of the Argylls' Grenadier company, Drummond was senior to Glenlyon; his presence appears to have been to ensure the orders were enforced, since witnesses gave evidence he shot two people who asked Glenlyon for mercy.
The first to die was Duncan Rankin, shot down as he tried to escape by crossing the River Coe near the chief's house. MacIain was killed, while nine others were shot after first being tied up but the 1695 Commission heard different figures for the total killed. The MacDonalds claimed 'the number they knew to be slaine were about 25,' but there were no witnesses from Glenlyon's company, the figure of 38 being based on hearsay evidence from Hamilton's men. Another 40-100 are alleged to have died of exposure but the origin of these is unclear; recent estimates put total deaths resulting from the Massacre as 'around 30.'
Casualties would have been higher, but, whether by accident or design, Hamilton and Duncanson arrived after the killings had finished. Duncanson was two hours late, only joining Glenlyon at the southern end at 7:00 am, after which they advanced up the glen burning houses and removing livestock. Hamilton was not in position at Kinlochleven until 11:00; his detachment included two lieutenants, Francis Farquhar and Gilbert Kennedy who often appear in anecdotes claiming they 'broke their swords rather than carry out their orders.' This differs from their testimony to the Commission and is unlikely, since they arrived hours after the killings, which were carried out at the opposite end of the glen.
In May 1692, fears of a French invasion resulted in the Argylls being first posted first to Brentford in England, then to Flanders, where they remained until the Nine Years' War ended in 1697 and the regiment was disbanded. No further action was taken against the officers involved; Glenlyon died in Bruges in August 1696; Duncanson became a Colonel and was killed in May 1705 in Spain; while Drummond would feature in another famous Scottish disaster, the Darien Scheme.
The killings first came to public attention when a copy of Glenlyon's orders allegedly 'left' in an Edinburgh coffee house was smuggled to France and published in the Paris Gazette of 12 April 1692. While it led to criticism of the Scottish government, there was little sympathy for the MacDonalds. In a letter to Lord Hamilton, Sir Thomas Livingstone, later Viscount Teviot commented; 'it's not that anyone thinks the thieving tribe did not deserve to be destroyed but that it should have been done by those quartered amongst them makes a great noise.' The primary driver was political; Stair had been a senior member of James VII's administration, and was unpopular with Jacobite loyalists and supporters of the Williamite regime.
A number of observers argued events at Glencoe and elsewhere showed the Highlands could not be controlled purely by force; this included Colonel Hill, who despite his role in the Massacre was generally sympathetic towards Highlanders, arguing they were strongly inclined to live peaceably.[g] He viewed the posturing of clan leaders like Glengarry as the problem, while ‘the midle sort of Gentrey and Commons....never got anything but hurt’ from it. The 1693 Highland Judicial Commission created four divisions within the Highlands, each with its own court, making it easier to use the law to resolve issues like cattle-theft. Unfortunately, this was significantly undermined by the clan chiefs themselves, since it diminished their control over their tenants and clansmen.
In 1695, the massacre was referenced in a pamphlet written by Charles Leslie, a nonjuring Church of Ireland Episcopalian priest who moved to London in 1690 and produced pro-Jacobite articles until his death in 1721. The focus of this tract was William's alleged complicity in the 1672 death of Dutch Republican leader Johan de Witt, but it included Glencoe and a number of other crimes.
A Parliamentary Commission was set up to determine whether there was a case to answer under the charge of 'Slaughter under trust.' This 1587 law was intended to reduce endemic feuding by requiring opponents to use the Crown to settle disputes and applied to murder committed in 'cold-blood', i.e., once articles of surrender had been agreed or hospitality accepted. It was subject to interpretation; in 1597, James MacDonald was charged under the law for assembling 200 men outside his parents' house, locking them inside and setting fire to it but this was later judged 'hot-blooded' and excluded.
As both a capital offence and treason, it was an awkward weapon with which to attack Stair, as William himself signed the orders and the intent was widely known in government circles. The Commission therefore focused on whether participants exceeded their orders, not their legality; it concluded Stair and Hamilton had a case to answer but left the decision to William.[h] While Stair was dismissed as Secretary of State, he remained an influential politician; he returned to government in 1700, and was made an earl by William III's successor, Anne. An application by the surviving Glencoe MacDonalds for compensation was ignored; they rebuilt their houses and participated in both the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite risings.
Despite what is often suggested, Glencoe was a savage crime but not particularly unusual; other examples involving MacDonalds include the 1578 Battle of the Spoiling Dyke and the 1647 Dunaverty Massacre. Breach of hospitality was less common, but the existence of the charge 'Slaughter under trust' shows not unknown. It was first used in 1588 to prosecute Lachlan Maclean, whose objections to his new stepfather, John MacDonald, resulted in the murder of 18 members of the MacDonald wedding party. The Dunaverty killings would also have been in this category, for they allegedly took place after the garrison of 200 surrendered on terms.
The Jacobites used the Massacre as a symbol of post-1688 oppression; in 1745, Charles Stuart ordered Leslie's pamphlet and the 1695 Parliamentary minutes to be reprinted in the Edinburgh Caledonian Mercury. The Massacre faded from public view until 1859, when it re-appeared in Macaulay's History; Macaulay exonerated William of every charge made by Leslie, including the Massacre and is the origin of the claim it was part of a Campbell-MacDonald feud. The timing was important; Queen Victoria's liking for Balmoral popularised Scottish traditions, while Victorian Scotland developed values that were pro-Union and pro-Empire but uniquely Scottish.
Historical divisions within Scottish society meant this was largely expressed through a shared cultural identity, while the study of Scottish history itself virtually disappeared from universities. Glencoe became part of a focus on the emotional trappings of the Scottish past...bonnie Scotland of the bens and glens and misty shieling, the Jacobites, Mary, Queen of Scots, tartan mania and the raising of historical statuary. The change can be seen by comparing Horatio McCulloch's 1864 work, where Glencoe is a wild landscape, empty of people or buildings, with Peter Graham's 1889 After the Massacre that focuses on the survivors.
When the study of Scottish history re-emerged in the 1950s, Leslie's perspectives continued to shape views of William's reign as particularly disastrous for Scotland, with Glencoe part of a series of incidents like the Darien scheme, the famine of the late 1690s, and ultimately Union in 1707. Advances in modern Scottish historiography means this is less true, but the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement still holds an annual event portraying Glencoe as a colonialist action of the London government. The SRSM is a tiny group, but sectarian divides within modern Scottish politics mean that view is not uncommon.[i]
The Massacre is the centre of an annual ceremony initiated in 1930 by Mary Rankin from Taigh a’ phuirt, Glencoe, and continued by her family. On 13 February each year the Clan Donald Society holds a wreath-laying ceremony attended by members from around the world at the Upper Carnoch memorial; this is a tapering Celtic cross designed in 1883 by MacDonald of Aberdeen and located at the eastern end of Glencoe village, formerly known as Carnoch.
In 1998, the so-called Henderson Stone was set up at Glencoe; this purports to mark the location used by associates of the MacDonalds to warn of impending raids. These were allegedly members of Clan Henderson, who acted as pipers for the MacIain.
Glencoe was a popular topic with 19th century poets, the best-known work being Sir Walter Scott's "Massacre of Glencoe". It was used as a subject by Thomas Campbell and George Gilfillan, whose main claim to modern literary fame is his sponsorship of William McGonagall, allegedly the worst poet in British history. Other poetic references include Letitia Elizabeth Landon's "Glencoe" (1823), T. S. Eliot's "Rannoch, by Glencoe" and "Two Poems from Glencoe" by Douglas Stewart. The Glencoe Massacre is also referred to in George MacDonald's novel, Malcolm (though most of the plot occurs in the early 19th century).
Examples of its appearance in literature include "The Masks of Purpose" by Eric Linklater, and the novels Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies, Corrag by Susan Fletcher and Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson. William Croft Dickinson references Glencoe in his 1963 short story "The Return of the Native".
The Glencoe massacre and murder of the Douglasses at the Black Dinner of 1440 allegedly inspired the event known as 'The Red Wedding' in George R. R. Martin's novel A Storm of Swords and the HBO series Game of Thrones.
The song The Massacre of Glencoe was written in 1963, by Jim Mclean, and is a folk favourite with the haunting introductory words O cruel was the snow, that swept Glencoe, and covers the graves o' Donald .