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The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 16


DOWN to the reign of James IV. the M'Gregors, broken as they lately were into contending sections, and without a chief, had still been able to hold their own safely. The Campbells of Glenorchy, from 1452 downwards, had been gradually acquiring heritable and leasehold titles to large tracts in the Breadalbane district; but the royal and Charter-house possessions there were yet extensive, and upon these the M'Gregors held their settlements unquestioned, The Campbells, upon the lands they actually acquired, were not yet in a position to exercise coercive measures with a high hand. In 1473, John Stewart of Fortingall, and Neil his son, had a nineteen years' lease from James III. of the royal lands and lordships of Apnadull, Glenquaich, Glenlyon, Strathbrawin, and Rannoch. They held the important office of bailairy of the same lands for the period of their lease. The house of Roro, and the off-shoot branches in Rannoch, Fortingall, &c, flourished and robbed under the sway of Neil—for his father died soon after the lease was obtained. The M'Gregors amply repaid the kindness, and exhibited for Neil a degree of fidelity which was no less honourable than fatal for both parties. Neil, at the head of his own men and the faithful M'Gregors, fought fiercely for his unfortunate monarch, and relative, James III., through the last sad troubles of his melancholy reign. After the death of the king, Neil appears to have kept up for some time a predatory band, and to have set the M'Gregors loose upon some of the neighbouring barons who had espoused the side of the prince in the late war. Whatever compunctions James IV. might have felt for the death of his father, he did not always show friendly feelings for those who had manfully espoused his side. Neil's lease expired in 1492, and was not renewed. James IV. visited Kinloch-Rannoch and the rest of the district, and saw fit, in his royal wisdom, to confer the power which he had taken from the hands of Neil upon the Lairds of Glenorchy and Weem. In 1502, Glenorchy had a charter of the Barony of Glenlyon. A similar charter, of the same" date, was granted to Sir Robert Menzies of Weem, of the north side of Loch Rannoch, at that time and long afterwards the very stronghold of the M'Gregors. Neil Stewart died at Garth, 31st January, 1499, and was succeeded by his son, also called Neil. This impetuous young man, maddened by the slight put on his house, hurled immediately, with all the relentless vigour of his forefather, the redoubtable "Wolf of Badenoch," the fiery torrent of his Highland vengeance upon Sir Robert Menzies. The M'Gregors of Rannoch, and indeed of the whole house of Roro, were his willing associates. The charter of the lands of Rannoch is dated 1st September, 1502; and in the same month, Niall Gointe of Garth, and his wild followers surprised, pillaged and burned Weem Castle, took Sir Robert Menzies prisoner, and laid all his property waste. They took with them all they could carry or drive, and what they could not take with them they burned.

The Clan Gregor cannot be traced or identified by means of existing records beyond 1400. But when first met with they are a numerous and widely scattered tribe, devoted to warlike pursuits and cattle lifting. Their whole attitude towards law and authority is that of people who have suffered wrong and who perpetually resent it. The surname itself is not to be found in records before the beginning of the fifteenth, or near the end of the fourteenth, century. As already mentioned, Mr. Gregory's supposition that the John of Glenorchy, who lived in 1296 was, in his day, chief of the Gregorian tribe will not hold water, that John of Glenorchy was clearly a Macdougall, and a feudal baron, like his distant kinsman, the John of Lome, who about 1370 introduced M'Gregors into Glenlyon, and probably got a M'Gregor vicar appointed to the Church of Fortingall. Still there was evidently a strong connection of some kind between those feudal barons and the Clan Gregor. The latter, I believe, were the soldiers or Feinne of the former, and as such possessed lands and privileges. But what were they before the Crown Thanages were granted out? Toisich and kindly tenants of the Crown no doubt. Feudalism at first did not oppress them much, because for a time they held the same relation towards the feudal baron which they had formerly held towards the King. But that state of things could not last long, and when the Clan Gregor realised the fact that feudalism would gradually displace and extinguish them they began war with authority and with society. Glenorchy was the cradle of their race, and to Glenorchy they stuck with wonderful tenacity for two centuries after John of Lome's death. The oldest of the Clan Gregor song in the Dean of Lismore's Gaelic collection must, as internal evidence proves, have been composed about 1480. It claims for the then head of the house of Glenstrae, descent from Toisich or Thanes, and asserts an equality of rank between the old captains of districts and feudal lords. We learn from these old songs that, from 1400 to 1500, the Clan Gregor made a great deal of peculiar history, although as yet their separate clan history had scarcely commenced. We are told that the dwellings and folds of the chieftains were full of spoils and "lifted" cattle, but on looking below the surface we can see that, as yet, the clan waged their wars as hired soldiers under the banners of contending feudal potentates. In the next century they carried on forays and wars on their own hand and under their own banner. The moan which the Monks of Scone put into one of their charters, leaves little room to doubt that the M'Gregors had squatted by force on the Charter-house lands in Bread-albane long before the end of the fifteenth century, and carried on systematic robberies. They would seem to have been much earlier than that troublers of Strathearn. To Glenlyon they were introduced as soldiers of John of Lome, and the Stewarts of Garth planted seemingly a colony of Glenlyon M'Gregors as their soldiers, on the north side of Loch Rannoch, who being reinforced from Glenorchy and entering into brotherhood with the lawless men of Lochaber and Badenoch, gave the Government and country much trouble for two hundred years afterwards. Rannoch, if we can rely upon the silence of records, was as peaceful and orderly as any place in Perthshire, until, in an evil hour, the Stewarts of Garth placed M'Gregor Feinne in Dunan and Slismin. They were not long there before they realised the advantages of the position. They developed the "creach" system accordingly, and defied authority. But the Fourth James was a strong ruler, and as soon as he saw the nature and extent of the evil, he took prompt measures to remedy it.

After a struggle, in which he exhibited the hereditary obstinacy of his family to the utmost, Neil Stewart finally succumbed, and about 1507 resigned his Barony of Fortingall into the hands of the Earl of Huntly.

The feudal Baron was ruined; not so the landless Clan Gregor. Menzies, by giving his daughter in marriage to M'Gregor of Roro, attached the latter to his interest—who acknowledged Sir Robert as over-lord, and at the same time deprived the Rannoch M'Gregors of their legitimate head. For the next twenty years, the Rannoch M'Gregors are designated "brokin men of the Clan Gregour." A leader, however, appeared in the person of the redoubtable Duncan Ladosach M'Gregor, related both to the houses of Roro and Glenstrae. Before this hero came upon the stage, Menzies attempted to obtain a real footing in his nominal Barony of Rannoch, by putting in effect that plan—so often tried for pacifying the rebellious districts of Scotland—of colonising the unsettled lands with new inhabitants. Being unable to effect his purpose unaided, he entered into a contract with Huntly in 1505, wherein it was stipulated, "Sir Robert's heir would marry Lady Jean Gordon, daughter of the Earl; the lands of Rannoch would be let to Huntly for five years, during which time the latter bound himself to stock them with the best and most obedient tenants that could be found."

Huntly's efforts proved unavailing; for in 1523, on being charged by the Countess of Athole to expel the M'Gregor chief from Rannoch, Sir Robert stated to the Lords of Council he could not do it, "seeing that the said M'Gregour on force enterit the said Robertis landis of Rannoche, and withaldis the samyn fra him maisterfullie, and is of far greater powar than the said Robert, and will nocht be put out be him of the saidis landis." His successors downwards obtained from the governments of the day exemption from answering for the peace of their lands of Rannoch, as the M'Gregors continued to act the part of masters therein. This was the case down at least to 1684, in which year "Sir .Alexander Menzies of Weyme" obtained an exemption of the kind, and in fact their feudal investiture little availed the Lairds of Weem until the untameable race were broken to the yoke, along with the other rebellious septs, by the Dutch and Hanoverian garrisons established throughout the country after the Revolution of 1688.

When the battle of Flodden deprived Scotland of its king and leading nobility, feuds and agressions, in all parts of the country, broke out with unusual ferocity, and threatened the unfortunate realm with evils more fatal than those of the stricken field. The Laird of Struan, William Robertson, was the most conspicuous of the Perthshire chiefs who entered without check or remorse upon this course. In the Rannoch M'Gregors he found willing coadjutors, who, joined to his own men, gave Struan a "following" of upwards of 800 warlike and unscrupulous freebooters. For three years the band held together ; and though we have no detailed account of their exploits, the havoc committed must have been something unprecedented, to have drawn Buchanan's attention from the intrigues of courtiers and ecclesiastics, and to have justified the following strong expressions of the learned historian:—"Ante ejus adventum (that is, Albany's arrival from France) cum nemo unns auctoritate praecipua poller et, passim caedes et rapinae fiebant: et, dum potentiores privatas opes et factiones contrahunt, vulgus inopum,desertum, omnigenere miseriarum affligebatur. Inter prcedones illius temporis, fuit Macrobertus Struamcs, qui per Atholiam et vicina loca, octingentisplerumque latronibus, ae interim pluribus comitatus omnia pro arbitrio populabatiir." Struan was caught at last by guile, when sojourning with his uncle, John Crichton, and expiated his crimes at Tully-met, 7th April, 1516, which was the year after the Regent Albany's arrival in Scotland.

In these, and several raids which followed, the chief men of the clan appear studiously to have kept their hands clean; but the caution was unavailing, and they soon found to their dismay, that the desperate deeds of the "brokin men" brought the whole clan face to face with destruction.

On the fall of Struan, Duncan Ladosach rallied round him the M'Gregors of Rannoch, and all the other desperadoes of the clan who wished to defy the law, or had done so already. The name of this remarkable man became a byword; but time had so much obliterated traditions regarding him, that, beyond the name of horror with which the mother stilled her child, little else was known about him in my boyhood. The publication of the Black Book of Tay-mouth has now, however, thrown floods of light upon the life of the daring freebooter. Among the other interesting documents included in that volume, we find, though not published for the first time, "Duncan Laideus alias Makgregouris Testament" It is a poem of considerable length, treating, in the first person, of the life of our hero. Duncan, of course, never wrote a line of it, nor is the author known. It was written, evidently, by a foeman of the clan Gregor, probably by a Campbell; but it has great merit notwithstanding, and, except that Duncan's good qualities, if he had any, are passed over in silence, the principal passages of his exciting life seem faithfully enough preserved. Like a real will, the poem is divided into two parts, narrative and testamentary. Like most poems of that age, the Testament opens with allegorical personifications of the virtues and vices, and a relation of how the latter prevailed, till finally

"Falsehood said, he made my house right strong,
And furnished weill with meikill wrangous geir,
And bad me neither God nor man to feir."

And then, under the influence of this precious household, Duncan tells us how

"First in my youthead I began to deal
With small oppressions and tender lambis,
Syne with Lawtie I brak baith band and seill,
Cleikit couplit kiddis with their damis;
After, fangit beafe with great hammis;
Then could I nocht stand content with ane cow,
Without I got the best stirk of the bow."

Duncan continuing in his evil courses, and to theft adding manslaughter, his misdeeds were related in the Court of that "royal prince," King James IV., who gave orders for his capture.

"The loud corrinoch then did me exile,
Through Lome, Argyle, Menteith and Braidalbane
But like ane fox with mony wrink and wyle,
Frae the hunds eschapis oft onslane,
Sae did I then, syne schupe me to remain,
In Lochaber with gude Ewin Alesoun,
Where that we wan mony ane malesoun."

Being chased from Lochaber by Archibald, Earl of Argyle, he returned to his old haunts, but the toils were everywhere set against him, and so he was made prisoner by Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy. Cast into " ane dungeoun deep," and expecting merited doom, the Battle of Flodden, in which Sir Duncan fell, gave him hopes of liberty, which he soon realised by bribing his keepers :—

"Deliverit, then, of danger and of deid,
Lettin again unto my libertie,
By help of friends, keparis of that steid,
To whom I promissed ane pension yeirlie;
But in gude faith my intent was trewlie
Never worde to keep of that promiss than
Nor yet sensyne made to nae uther man."

The meeting with his companions is so graphically described that I give it without curtailment:

"Then be the way me haistilie their meetis
My companions swift as ony swallows;
For great blythness sittis doun and greetis,
Sayand, ' Maister, welcome, be Alhallows.
May we be hangit heich upon ane gallows
Gif we be not blyther of you alane.
Nor that we had baith God and Sanct Phillans.

'What tidings, sir,' quod I, ' frae the host? '
Quod they, ' In gude faith we bide not for to lane;
The King, with mony worthy man, is lost,
Baith Earl Archibald and Sir Duncan slain.'
'Off thae tidings,' quod I, ' I am richt fain,
For had the King lived, or yet the Lord,
They had me worrit stark dead in ane cord.

Now, gude fallows, hearken what I say to you,
This country think I for to rule my self;
Be true to me all, theirfor, I pray you,
And we among us ay shall pairt the pelf,
And ripe, in faith, mony poor widow's skelf;
For she shall say that Duncan and his men
Have not her left the valoure of ane hen.'

Then answerit they, all with ane voice attanis,
But gif we do, as thou bidst us, ay,
The devil tak us, saule, body, and banis,
Quick unto hell, withouten more delay.'
I hearing them thir wordis, gladlie say,
Sik courage could into my mind incress,
And soon began the commons to oppress.

Like ane wolf, greedy and insatiabill,
Devouring sheep with mony bludie box,
To the people I was als terribill,
Reiffand frae them mony ane cow and ox.
Were the grey mare in the fetter lox
At John Upalande's door knit fast eneuch,
Upon the morn he mist her to the pleuch."

The weak and troubled Regency of Albany allowed Duncan full scope to "rule the land himself," and everything went smooth with him in all his attempts as long as

"James mewed in Stirling's tower,
A stranger to respect and power."

But a storm arose when that vigorous monarch took the reins in his own hands. In 1530, James raised an army of ten thousand men, with which he swept the borders. During this expedition, "Johnnie Armstrong" and thirty-six of his men were hanged at Carlenrig. James, unwearied in punishing malefactors, and in adding terror to the administration of justice, established the Court of Session in 1532, visited the Isles in 1540, and altogether showed such determination to put down oppression and disorder in all parts of his dominions, as gave his kingdom a degree of peace scarcely known before, and fairly earned for the chivalrous monarch the endearing title of "King of all the Commons." Duncan Ladosach found, to his cost, his hand was now in the lion's mouth. In 1531, we find the following "Memorandum" made by the Curate of Fortingall:—

"Rannoch was hareyed the morne efter Sanct Tennenis day in harist, be John Erlle of Awthoell, and be Clan-Donoquhy (Robertsons), the yer of God ane M.vc.xxxi., and at the next Belten (May) after that, the quhylk was xxxii. yer, the bra of Rannoch was hareyd be them abown wryttyn, and Alexander Dow Albrych war heddyth at Kenloch-trannoch : the quhylk Belten and yer I coun till the cwyr of Fortyr-gill fyrst, and Alexander M'Gregor of Glenstra our scheyff (chief) was bot ane barne of xvii. yer that tyme."

John, Earl of Athole, and the Robertsons, succeeded in taking the castle in the Isle of Loch Rannoch, and in expelling thence the "brokin men of the Clan Gregour," of whom Duncan Ladosach was by this time the acknowledged leader. The Earl, however, complained next year that the expenses of the expedition, and the charge of garrisoning and keeping the castle, had not been paid him, as promised by the King, and solemnly protested that any inconvenience which might arise from the Council refusing or delaying to receive the castle from him should not be laid to his charge. This protest perhaps arose more from the Earl's fears of Duncan recovering his prize before he had been able to deliver it up to Government, and so fulfil the commission with which he was charged, than from any doubt his expenses should not be reimbursed. The same year, 1532, Athole strengthened his hand against Duncan and his "broken men" by a Bond of Mutual Help, between John Stewart, Earl of Athole, on the one part, and Duncan Campbell of Glenurchay, and William Murray of Tullibardine,on the other, irvwhich the said parties bound themselves, "to be gude friendis in pece and weir," the which Bond was "ackit in the officialis buikis of Dunkell, under the panis of curssing and uther censuris of Haly Kirk." Next year, 1533, James V. made a summer tour to Athole, and shortly after Duncan was outlawed and put to the horn, and as a fugitive from sharp justice was reduced to great misery. But when the King died, he was again abroad at his old work.

The Curate of Fortingall has an entry, of which the following is a translation:

"The House of Trochare in Strathbraan was burned by Alexander M'Gregor of Glenstrae, 25th August, 1545; on which day Robert Robertson of Strowan was captured by the same Alexander, and four of the said Robert's servants slain. 'God the Just Judge, render to every one according to Ms work?''

From the last sentence the curate gives us to understand, in his usual equivocal way, that Strowan, in his opinion at least, received only what he deserved. By this time the chief of the clan had been fairly drawn into Duncan's schemes, the cause of the "broken men" had become the cause of the clan, and thus the enormities originally committed by a few, led to the legal contamination of the whole, and by degrees subjected the entire race to extirpating vengeance. The house of Glenorchy had shown special severity to the landless tribe, and upon their heads Duncan now resolved that a full measure of wrath should fall. The Chief of Glenstrae died, and Duncan was chosen tutor by the clan. This office enabled him fully to consummate his former attempts to lead the whole clan into his own evil courses. There can be little doubt the murder of Alexander Ower M'Gregor of Morinch, was committed by Duncan, in revenge of the former having forsworn his allegiance to the Tutor, and having become the vassal of Campbell of Glenurchay. The M'Gregors of Roro would appear, as we shall hereafter notice, to have in a manner refused to bear Duncan's yoke, and as much as possible to have kept clear of aiding him in his misdeeds. Alexander Ower was a cadet of this unfriendly house. Should his example be followed—and the Tutor's tyrannical measures might make it contagious among the powerful sept to which Ower belonged—then farewell to Duncan's power; let the M'Gregors learn to give the calp of "Ceann-Cinne " to any other than the Laird of Glenstrae, and Duncan's authority, and the superiority of his pupil would at once become a dream; the ligatures of clanship being cut, as a race the M'Gregors would become extinct. Duncan saw the magnitude of the evil, and met it by a prompt and bloody remedy. It brought Duncan to the block, but contributed not a little to the preservation of the Clan Gregor. Allaster Ower signed the Bond of Vassalage to Colin of Glenurchay upon the 10th July, 1550, and was slain by Duncan and his son Gregor upon Sunday, the 22nd November, 1551. The slaughter of Allaster made the Campbells' cup of wrath against Duncan overflow. The Laird of Glenorchy associated the neighbouring barons, and all who had suffered from Duncan and his band, against the desperate freebooter. The issue is related by the Curate of Fortingall:— "Slaughter and beheading of Duncan M'Gregor and his sons, namely, Gregor and Malcom Roy, by Colin Campbell of Glenurchay, Duncan Roy of Glenlyon, and Alexander Menzies of Rannoch, and their accomplices; on which day John Gorm M'Duncan Vc Allexander Kayr, was slain by Allexander Menzies, at ... . 16th June, 1552."

The public documents concerning Duncan's doings are reserved for another time. He it was undoubtedly that set the mark of outlawry and destruction upon the clan first, and therefore it is meet we should know as much as possible about him.


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