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Significant Scots
Alexander Robertson


ROBERTSON, ALEXANDER, of Strowan, a distinguished Highland chief and poet, was the second son of the preceding laird of Strowan, who bore the same name, by Marion, daughter of general Baillie of Letham, and was born about the year 1670. He was educated, with the design of his becoming a clergyman, under John Menzies, regent in the university of St Andrews, who aided the influence of hereditary associations in inspiring him with a zealous attachment to the persons and principles of the Stuarts. His father died in 1688, after having enjoined upon him, with his latest breath, that he should never forget the loyal example of his ancestors; and as his elder brother only survived his father a few months, he fell into the family inheritance at a very early age, immediately before the Revolution. When Dundee raised the clans in the ensuing year, on behalf of the exiled King James, young Strowan joined him with his men, but does not appear to have been present at the battle of Killicranky. He was taken prisoner in September, and put under honourable confinement at Perth; but was soon after liberated, in exchange for the laird of Pollock.

Being now attainted and deprived of his estate, he joined the court of the expatriated monarch at St Germain’s where he lived for several years, chiefly supported by remittances from his friends in Scotland. In 1703, queen Anne having promised him a remission of his attainder and forfeiture, he returned to Scotland; and though, from some unexplained cause, the remission never passed the seals, he does not appear to have found any difficulty in obtaining possession of his estates, or any danger to his person in a residence within the seas of Britain. Unwarned by the misfortunes which had flowed from his first military enterprise, he joined the earl of Mar in 1715, with between four and five hundred men, and took a very active part in the whole enterprise. He seized the castle of Weem, belonging to a whig gentleman, Menzies of Weem; was present at the battle of Sheriffmuir, where he was taken prisoner, but rescued; and with great reluctance yielded to the order for the dispersion of his clan, which was issued to him, in common with the other chiefs, at the departure of the unfortunate character and his generalissimo from the country. Strowan was soon after taken prisoner in the Highlands, but making his escape from a party of soldiers who were escorting him to Edinburgh castle, again proceeded to France, to spend another period of poverty and exile. Long ere this time, he had gained the esteem of his party both at home and abroad, by his poetical effusions, which were chiefly of the class of political pasquils, and also by his pleasing and facetious manners. Having received an excellent education, and seen much of the world, he exhibits in his writings no trace of the rudeness which prevailed in his native land. He shows nothing of even that kind of homeliness which then existed in Lowland Scotland. His language is pure English; and his ideas, though abundantly licentious in some instances, bear a general resemblance to those of the Drydens, and Roscommons, and the Priors, of the southern part of the island. Ker of Kersland, who saw him at Rotterdam in 1716, speaks of him "as a considerable man among the Highlanders, a man of excellent sense, and every way a complete gentleman." He seems to have also been held in great esteem by both James II. and his unfortunate son, whom he had served in succession. By the intercessions of his sister with the reigning sovereign, he was permitted to return home in 1726, and in 1731, had his attainder reversed. The estates had in the mean time been restored to the sister in life-rent, and to his own heirs male in fee, but passing over himself. He, nevertheless, entered upon possession; and hence, in 1745, was able, a third time, to lend his territorial and hereditary influence to the aid of a Stuart. He met prince Charles on his way through Perthshire; and, on being presented, said, "Sir, I devoted my youth to the service of your grandfather, and my manhood to that of your father; and now I am come to devote my old age to your royal highness." Charles, well acquainted with his history, folded the old man in his arms, and wept. The ancient chief was unable, on this occasion, to take a personal concern in the enterprise, and, as his clan was led by other gentlemen, he escaped the vengeance of the government. He died in peace, at his house of Carie, in Rannoch, April 18, 1749, in the eighty-first year of his age.

A volume of poems, by Strowan, was subsequently published surreptiously, by means of a menial servant, who had possessed himself of his papers. It contains many pieces, characterized by the licentious levity which then prevailed in the discourse of gentlemen, and only designed by their author as another kind of conversation with his friends. While he is chargeable, then, in common with his contemporaries, with having given expression to impure ideas, he stands clear of the fault of having disseminated them by means of the press.


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