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A History of Rannoch
THE MENZIES


It is not easy to find out exactly when the Menzies first came into Rannoch history.  It is said that Malcolm III (Canmore) divided the country up in 1061 and gave the Rannoch portion to de Meyneis family.  Whether this is so or not cannot be said but it is a fact that the Menzies of Weem (Aberfeldy) have held considerable landed possessions in Rannoch until quite recent times.

In the 15th century life in Rannoch was vastly different from life elsewhere, particularly in the Lowlands.  Instead of growing crops, cattle which the people killed and ate were reared on the hillsides, and they got their food also by hunting and fishing.  But as they had plenty of time to spare, and food was often scarce with them they frequently took to robbing their neighbours, and especially the Lowlanders who never knew when some of the caterans, as they were called, would pay one of their visits and so it was difficult to put a stop to these creach, as Highlanders called them.  They went on for more than three hundred years after the time about which we are speaking.

In addition to the normal inhabitants, ‘broken men’ driven out of other parts of the Highlands took refuge in Rannoch, an ideal spot in which to avoid capture.  Here where there were no roads or bridges and, protected by high mountains, these lawless men were safe.  These were the times when the renowned Wolf of Badenoch terrorised the Highlands, and there were plenty of willing recruits for his cateran band in Rannoch.

On the Slios Min (the North slopes of Loch Rannoch’s shore) his family seems to have acquired possession of the land from the Menzies but at the time we are speaking of the Menzies had got it back.  The Wolf’s interests took him elsewhere for his plunder.  But his grandson, Neil Stewart, had his eyes on the Rannoch land.  He lived nearby in the castle his grandfather had built at Garth and he was a frequent visitor to Rannoch.  The Young Wolf rounded up all the robbers and thieves and with them formed the most terrifying band that ever existed they terrorised the country for miles around.  In particular did the Menzies suffer from his spreaghs.  Their black cattle were a great attraction as also their land.  Neil Stewart felt he had a claim to it and his Mother’s side.  Eventually he took it and held it by force from Sir Robert Menzies.

Sir Robert replied by bringing his own forces to bear against the Young Wolf and he captured some of his caterans and held them against repeated attacks until he got them safely into Weem Castle.  From there he dispatched a messenger to the government of James IV who sent officials to bring them in .  On the 5th November 1487 two batches of prisoners were taken to Edinburgh for trial.  In those days thieves were hanged, or other punishments for such offences were to be farmed out as ‘slaves’ or to have a iron collar fixed round the neck.

As a result of his action Sir Robert had the lands of Slios Min restored to him.  But a year or two later there was further trouble from Neil as he renewed the claim to his land on the death of his father.  And the Young Wolf’s claims were usually reaffirmed with the sword.  This was serious enough to bring James IV himself to Rannoch to review the situation.  On his return to Weem he confirmed that the land was definitely Menzies’ as ‘the oldest and truest’ clan and he had a new charter drawn up which gave Robert Menzies and his heirs the lands of Rannoch, viz., Dunan, Kenaclacher, the two Camuserichts, Ardlarach, Killiechonan, Learan, Ardlair, Leargan, island of Loch Rannoch and the lochs of Rannoch and Ericht (modern spelling used).

This infuriated the Young Wolf who determined on revenge.  He gathered toge6ther his band of cutthroats and under cover of darkness he attacked the castle of Weem, plundering and burning it to the ground.  He dragged Sir Robert off to Garth where he chained him up in the dungeons.  Very few prisoners had been released from this dreaded castle but with James IV on his way to avenge this indignity to one of his loyal nobles Neil released his captive.  The menace of James IV in the district seems to have curbed the Young Wolf’s activities and it was fairly clear that the powerful Duke of Atholl was told it was his duty to keep a firmer grip on his son-in-law. 

Sir Robert set about building a new castle, called Castle Menzies which survives to this day but it was his son who had to finish the building of it in 1528.  Although he did not have the Young Wolf to worry him (for he was long dead) he had troubles equally trying….he had the MacGregors.

The Menzies as we have seen were now in undisputed possession of the lands of Slio Min in Rannoch but they had great difficulty in maintaining rights against the turbulent Clan of MacGregor built a stockade on the artificial island (a crannog) from which they could defend themselves from the law or any attackers.  They would swoop down on their raids and retire with their spoils to the fastnesses of Rannoch; to their Island, or to the Blackwood, or to the corries, and be safe from pursuit.  The chief sufferers were the Menzies, for not only were their lands so near and vulnerable but their black cattle were a tempting target for the marauders.

So serious did the situation become that Menzies appealed to the sovereign, and James V (1530) sent soldiers to Rannoch to subdue the MacGregors.  This they did and they demolished the fortification but as soon as the left the caterans came down from the hills, rebuilt their fortification and resumed their civilities with impunity.

Many hundreds of MacGregors now lived on Menzies land in Rannoch and the majority of them were law-abiding tenants but the outlaws amongst them continued their violence, their destruction and their thieving ways.  This continued over the next thirty years until in 1563 after many complaints the sovereign (now Queen Mary) brought forth a mandate proscribing the MacGregors and authorizing various nobles to drive the clan out of Rannoch and put them to the sword.

Under cover of this authority Sir Colin Campbell whose family had been responsible for causing the plight of the MacGregors by driving them from their traditional homes took a large force into Rannoch to exterminate.  He took possession of the Isle and put his own tenants on it.  They were mainly Camerons and MacDonald who had helped him against the MacGregors.  The MacGregors took refuge in the hills while he started to appropriate the land on the shore.  The Campbells had a reputation for adding to their properties and this James Menzies was well aware of.  He would rather have the MacGregors back than have the Campbells taking over his land.  So he sent off another complaint.  Queen Mary, no doubt found the request a strange one, a request speaking in favour of the MacGregors after the previous one.  However, she did as he requested.  She took firm action and sent a summons to Sir Colin Campbell to appear before the privy council to answer charges for exceeding his authority in the case of Rannoch and the Menzies properties.

Sir Colin was strong enough to ignore the summons and the next few years were troublesome for the MacGregors and Menzies alike.  The MacGregors had the Campbell hounds for ever pursuing them and the Menzies had the Campbell land-grabbing to worry them.

Eventually in 1591 Sir Alexander Menzies obtained a new charter from James VI, a much more formidable figure than Queen Mary.  This confirmed the Menzies in their possession of the Rannoch lands and the Campbells could do nothing but accept it.  Once the Campbells and their tenants were dispossessed the MacGregors resumed their former activities with renewed vigor.  In fact they appear to have been more violent than before.  Their mayhem and murder (1675) had reached such proportions that Menzies was driven to despair.  He resolved to collect a force large enough to expel this cursed race for ever from Rannoch.  When his neighbours were sought for help they reacted with horror.  They could see themselves with hundreds of wild uncontrolled MacGregors flooding into their lands and forced to maintain themselves by violence. ’No thank you’, they said.  The danger of the Menzies action was even considered as a national threat, for General Monk wrote from the government desiring him to forego his purpose.  This had the desired effect on Menzies for he did not take the drastic action he planned.

In June 1671 a party of MacDonalds and MacGregors ran wild in Rannoch and drove out all the peace Menzies tenants and in addition attacked and plundered an unfortunate band of traveling merchants passing through the country.  The complain to Menzies was passed on to Edinburgh and the Lords of the Council sent orders for the leaders of the bandits to appear before their Lords in Edinburgh on 27th July.  Of course they failed to appear and no one felt strong enough to extract them from their fortress.  However, they were well-known ringleaders and the ultimate step was taken against them.  On 1st August Charles II issued a Commission of Fire and Sword empower Sir Alexander Menzies of Weem (and three neighbouring  Campbells) to apprehend and put to the sword Ronald, Alexander, Archibald, and Donald MacDonalds, Angus and Donald MacOlrig and the Laird of MacGregors and Duncan M’Osham.

There is  no record of whether the commission was successful or no but it is well known that the MacGregors and other freebooters continued to carry on their spreaghs in much the same way for the next hundred years.  Even in 1747 long after the Redcoats had been stationed at Georgetown, the Menzies lairds still had trouble, for we read in the ‘Scroll Clause in the Tacks of Rannoch’ that Menzies obliges his tenants to bring cows and horses on two occasions each year to give account of whatever cows or horses he received in his possession, stating how he came by them--on oath if required.  Also the instructions ordered them not to give quarters for two successive nights to a known thief, to hinder cattle stealing and to assist the other tenants to recover their stolen cattle.

The times when such restrictions were necessary in Rannoch have long since passed, and so have the Menzies.  They did their best! Many of their MacGregor tenants were law-abiding and hardworking and endeavoured to live a life of peace while their lawless clansmen were terrorising the country from Stirling to Coupar of Angus, obliging the inhabitants to pay them Black Mail as the price for their security, and returning to Rannoch to swaggar about with their plunder.  However, the Menzies are still remembered with affection by the local people, for they held land here until 1914 and their stones are still to be seen with ’M’ engraved on them marking the wide limits of their territory.


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