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The Lairds of Glenlyon: Historical Sketches
Chapter 12


BEFORE returning to the Campbells, I may be allowed, because of their place in local story, to devote a short space to Robertson of Struan and the M'Gregors of Roro. Their wild tragic story makes the M'Gregors stand out the conspicuous heroes of romance and song. Besides, the history of this branch, not the least remarkable of the "three houses" into which persecution had broken the clan, is, I believe, far less familiarly known than that of the others. As for Struan, the erring, chivalrous, poetic chief of Clan-Donnachie, of all the old lairds he was the popular favourite, and the supposed prototype of the "Baron of Bradwardine" must be an object of interest to the admirers—and who are not ?—of the tale of Waverley.

"Duncan the Fat," if the traditions of the Robertsons are to be believed, was a descendant of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles. He was the contemporary and fellow-in-arms of Robert Bruce. From him, as their founder, the clan assumed the name of Clan-Donnachie or Duncansons. Antiquaries deny the traditional genealogy from the MacDonalds, and prove, indeed, from ancient charters and the term "de Atholia," "of Athole"—uniformly ascribed in old writings to the heads of the family—that they were the male representatives of the ancient Earls of Athole—a genealogy which would carry them back to Crinan Abbot of Dunkeld, and the stem from which branched so many kings and princes. The clan took the name of Robertson from Robert, great-grandson of Duncan the Fat, who helped to capture and bring to justice Graham and the Master of Athole, both participators in the murder of James I. The property of the Struans, of large extent under Duncan the Fat, gradually decreased ; but the influence of the family remained fixed; for the antiquity of the race, and the readiness with which the successive chiefs of Clan-Donnachie emulated the deeds of their ancestors—be it for good or evil—recommended them to the love and allegiance of the lawless Highlanders. In 1715 the chief of Struan could raise 800 men.

During the wars of Montrose, the Robertsons had performed the part of brave, dutiful, and devoted subjects, for which they were formally thanked by Charles II. in a letter under his own hands, dated Chantilly, 1655.

On the breaking out of the Revolution of 1688, our hero Alexander Robertson, then a young man, was at the head of the clan. He had lately succeeded his father, who also bore the name of Alexander, in the leadership. Nurtured in the highest ideas of loyalty, and inflamed with the renown his uncle and father acquired in the service of Charles, he joined Dundee at once, and is said to have been a principal instigator in making Stewart of Ballechin seize the Castle of Blair, and fortify it for King James. Lord Murray, who espoused the side of King William, attempted in vain to get possession of his father's castle, and was equally unsuccessful in restraining the Atholemen from following Dundee. Struan fought under Dundee at Killiecrankie, and shared in every attempt of the Jacobites until the Battle of Dunkeld. The Highlanders then, as is well known, infuriated at the .incapacity of Cannan, and despairing of being able longer to keep the field, resolved to disperse. They first, however, entered into a bond of association for supporting King James and protecting one another. Struan, with characteristic impetuosity, was the first to sign this document, which is in the following terms:—

We, Lord James Murray, Patrick Stewart of Ballechan, Sir John M'Lean, Sir Donald M'Donald, Sir Ewen Cameron, Glengarie, Benbecula, Sir Alexander M'Lean, Appin, Enveray, Keppoch, Glencoe, Strowan, Calochele, Lieut-Col. M'Gregor, Bara, Large, M'Naughton, do hereby bind and oblige ourselves, for his Majesty's service and our safeties, to meet at------, the------day of September next, and bring along with us------fencible men. That is to say, Lord James Murray and Ballechan,------; Sir John M'Lean, 200; Sir Donald M'Donald, 200; Sir Ewen Cameron, 200; Glengarie, 200; Benbecula, 200; Sir Alexander M'Lean, 100; Appin, 100; Enveray, 100; Keppoch, 100; Lieut-Col. M'Gregor, 100; Calochele, 50. Strowan, 60; Bara, 50; M'Naughtan, 50; Large, 50. But in case any of the rebels shall assault or attack any of the above-named persons betwixt the date hereof and the said day of rendezvous, we do all solemnly promise to assist one another to the utmost of our power. As witness these presents signed by us at the Castle of Blair the 24th of August, 1689 years. (Signed) Al. Robertson; D. M'Neil; Alex. M'Donald; do. M'Gregor; Alex. M'Donel; D. M'Donald; D. M'D. of Benbecula; Al. M'Donald; Tho. Farqrson; Jo. M'Leane ; E. Cameron of Lochiel; Al. Stuart.

They never met again. Mackay came, soon after this, to Blair. Struan was taken prisoner by him, or by the garrison he left there, and sent to Edinburgh. Fortunately for him, Struan found a true and powerful friend in the Earl of Argyle, who stood by him in this emergency. When the unfortunate expedition of Argyle and Monmouth took place in 1685, all the adjacent clans, with the exception of the Robertsons, obeyed the orders of the Privy-Council in taking arms against the Campbells. Struan's father asked and obtained leave to stay at home, and preserve the country from thefts and depredations. From some old kindnesses he was unwilling to join in crushing Argyle; and when the bubble burst, he is said to have afforded refuge and means of escape to some members of Argyle's family. No sooner, therefore, was Struan imprisoned than the heir of the unfortunate Earl stood forth as his protector. He procured his being set at liberty out of the Tolbooth of Edinburgh on parole, and afterwards got him exchanged as a prisoner of war for Sir Robert Pollock, who was taken by Dundee at the commencement of hostilities, and afterwards retained a prisoner in Mull. Struan had full liberty to join his unfortunate Master wherever he could find him, and he accordingly went to France, and remained at St. Germains, as it would appear, until the death of James. Peculiarly accessible to every generous emotion, he commemorates his escape in a short poem, which he styles

GRATITUDE: AN EPIGRAM.

"Sure we remember how* in days of yore,
When fawning chiefs oppressed Macaillein-Voir,
And fraudfully brought on his hasty fall
Clan-Donnoch's fairer chief forsook them all:
He nobly waved to lend his helping hand
To what he thought too rigid a command,
And ventured rather to displease the King
Than meanly bend to an unmanly thing.
This deed of worth remained not long unpaid,
But the foundation of strong friendship laid.
Clan-Donnoch's heir, while yet in early bloom,
Moved by some dictates of too subtle Rome,
By Argethalian power was kindly freed-
From hostile bondage and forbad to bleed.
Thus generous actions and a grateful mind,
By mutual impulse mutually inclined,
Alternately beget each others' kind.
O! may this plighted ardour still remain
Fixed without change, and fair without a stain."

The estate was forfeited, but Argyle obtained a grant of it for the family, in trust, as it was understood, for Struan.

The Government watched the Robertsons, they were so unruly as to need it, and for some years after, Struan's step-mother required to get security for the good behaviour of his younger brother, as the following paper shows :—

Be it knowne to all men be thir present Letters, me, Alexander Robertsone, Baillie in Perth, fforasmeikleas John Campbell of Glenlyon has, at my earnest desyre and requeist, become catione and security for Labarrowes, acted in the books of Counsell and Session, for Duncan Robertsone, second Iawfull son to the deceist Alexander Robertsone of Strowan, Donald Robertsone his servitor, Donald More M'Keissock in Cary, and John Caanoch, servitor to the said Duncan Robertsone: that Marion Baillie, relict of the said deceist Alexander Robertsone, her tennents, cottars, servants, and oyrs, shall be harmless and skaithless in yer bodies, lands, heritadges, and others, from each of the fornamed persons, under the pain of four hundred merks Scots moy. Therefor witt ye me to be bund and obleidged, as I, be thir presents, bind and obleidge me, my airs, successors, & executors, to warrand, freily releive, & skaithless keep the said John Campbell of his cationrie abovewritten, and of all coast, skaith, damadge, interest, or expenses, he shall happen to sustain or incur through his being securitie for the forenamed persons, or oyr of them, any manner of way, or in any sort. And I consent that this be insert and regrate in the books of Counsel and Session, &c. In witness yiof, I have subscribed thir presents at Edinr. the eight day of March, ane thousand seven hundred years, before thir witnesses—James Drummond, wryter in Edinburgh, and John Hodge, his servitor.

A. ROBERTSONE.

Jas. Drummond, witness.
Jo. Hodge, witness.

It appears the step-mother of Struan was unworthy of the trust reposed in her by the deceased chief. Some years after Struan went into exile, she made a degrading marriage with her former husband's harper. This harper was also a Robertson, and I believe his race are still called "clann-a-chlarschair." The clan took this step in deep dudgeon, and young Duncan,' with a few headstrong followers, entered into very illegal plans for depriving her of all means and authority—wherefore the above. As for Struan, when he heard it in France, he vowed he would never marry, and kept the vow religiously to the end of his life. His poems afford abundant evidence that he had but a very low opinion of the sex in general—a result which, however, the licentious morals of France under Louis XIV. and the Regent Orleans, and the gay reckless characters with whom he associated in that country, may have had as much contributed to bring about as the defection of his step-mother.

Struan amused himself in exile by satirising the deeds and characters of William and his ministers. The staunch believer in the divine right of kings considered the use of the most scurrilous epithets justifiable, if not meritorious, towards the "usurper" William. However amusing and agreeable to the Court of St. Germains his poetic efforts in this line might have been, his gems of rough and ready wit lie too often deeply bedded in terms and sentiments abhorred by an age of greater propriety for being acceptable now. The following, written a few years after his arrival in France, will bear being quoted :—

REVOLUTION ADVANTAGES.

"I love to rehearse,
In dutiful verse,
The joys our deliverer gave us,
When he wafted ashore
Three thousand and more
Of Papists from Popery to save us.

Such prudence he had,
Or of good or of bad,
To cherish the party prevailing;
And for thought of the throne
Declared he had none,
As was honestly seen by his dealings.

Yet he set off the King,
That impertinent thing
That is called the Almighty's Anointed,
Whose begetting a son
Was unmannerly done,
Since Orange's nose it disjointed.

His love to the Dutch,
His country, was such
That he thought us too happily stated;
So our ills to restrain,
Crossed over the main
Our commerce and lion he translated.

Our Church cannot fear
His fatherly care—
We see how his prelates have voted,
That in they may foist
The Apostates of Christ,
And divines like themselves be promoted.

His sanctified rage
Reforms the lewd age
In spite of the wicked's aspersion;
For with hand and with tongue
He's reclaiming the young
From ways that are virtue's aversion.

His conscience inclines
To caress the divines
Who degrade his dear
Son from his station;
For except his dear self,
Since we're drained of our pelf,
They have left ne'er a God in the nation.

Such tenets as these
Must certainly please,
To abolish religion and goodness;
For if faith comes about
Then murder will out,
And adieu usurpation and lewdness."

Never had an unfortunate Prince been so deserted in his utmost need by all who were bound by oath, gratitude, and natural affection, to support him, as James II. on the landing of the Prince of Orange. Nobles, churchmen, soldiers, fled from him as if he had the plague. Lord Churchill (afterwards the celebrated Duke of Marlborough), who had been raised by James from the rank of a page to a high command in the army and a place in the peerage, not only deserted his benefactor, but, by means of his lady—the notorious Sarah—induced the Princess Anne, and her husband George of Denmark, to go also over to the rebel camp. Struan ridicules the universal fickleness with much smartness and jovial humour in a song which he calls

THE WHEEL OF LIFE.

"The wheel of life turns whimsically round,
And nothing in this world of constancy is found;
No principle, no tie, in either Church or State,
But interest overrules : such is the will of fate.

The churchman, who in faith should be refined.
The weather-cock does blame, that wheels with every wind:
Yet touch him with your coin, and you shall quickly see
The needle to the pole wheels not so fast as he!

The lawyer swears he is sure your cause is just,
And bids you, with a smile, on him repose your trust;
But if a greater fee into his hand they slide,
He straight begins to doubt, and wheels to t'other side.

The soldier who with honour is replete,
By solemn oath is bound to serve the King and State;
But if contending, two pretenders come in play,
He wheels about to him that gives the greater pay.

The courtier turns, to gain his private ends,
Till he so giddy grown, he quite forgets his friends:
Prosperity of time deceives the proud and vain,
It wheels them in so fast, it wheels them out again.

Thus all mankind on fortune's wheel do go,
And as some mount on high, some others tumble low;
From whence we all agree, tho' many think it strange,
No sublunary thing can live without a change.

Then fill about a bumper to the brim,
Till all repeat it round, and every noddle swim!
How pleasing is the charm that makes our table reel,
And all around it laugh at Fortune at her wheel!"


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