Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XX. John Roy Stewart

JOHN ROY (Ruadh, red), as he was commonly called, was one of the men who came to the front in the rising of the "Forty-five." Scott, in "Tales of a Grandfather," calls him "a most excellent partisan officer." Chambers, in his "History of the Rebellion," says "he was the beau-ideal of a clever Highland officer." His courage and resource, his devotion and trustworthiness, his gift of song, and the culture and military skill which he had acquired from service at home and in France, made him a great favourite with Prince Charlie. He used to call him "The Body," and loved to consult him. Besides, there was the tie of blood, and the subtle force of sympathy. Both were exiles, and disinherited. Both were fighting in the same cause, and animated by the same hope. When the Prince came to his kingdom, then John Roy and others would get their rights. The "auld Stewarts back," Scotland would be Scotland again. In "The Lyon in Mourning" a touching account is given of one of the last meetings of the Prince and John Roy. The Prince, after his many wanderings, had reached Badenoch, and was in hiding in "The Cage." He sent for John Roy, and, when he heard that he was at hand, "he wrapped himself up in a plaid, and lay down, in order to surprise John Roy the more when he should enter the hut. In the door there was a pool, or puddle, and when John Roy was entering the Prince peeped out of the plaid, which so surprised John Roy that he cried out, ‘Oh, Lord! my master,’ and fell down in a faint." This simple incident brings out vividly the relation in which they stood to each other, the kindly humour and cheerfulness of the Prince after all his trials, and the unfailing love and loyalty of his follower.

John Roy was the son of Donald, grandson of John, the last of the Barons of Kincardine. His father was twice married. His second wife was Barbara Shaw, daughter of John Shaw of Guislich, a descendant of the Shaws of Rothiemurchus. It is said she was fifty-three years old when she married, and John was her only child. Motherhood at such an age is rare, but not incredible. Constance, daughter of Ruggiere, King of Sicily, was more than fifty years when she was "married to Emperor Henry VI. and by him was mother to Frederick II." (See notes, Dante’s Paradise). John Roy was born at Knock, Kincardine, in 1700. He received a good education, and his position in society and residence in France and Portugal gave him a higher culture than was common in his native strath. He was for some time Lieutenant and Quarter-master in the Scots Greys. In his songs he refers to this regiment, and in one addressed to his comrade and friend, Nathaniel Grant of Delrachny (Duthil), he speaks of the service they had seen, and of their hopes of preferment in the "Black Watch," which was being raised in 1730. But these hopes were dashed. John Roy applied for a commission, and was refused. Irritated by this rebuff, he soon after retired from the King’s service. An interesting glimpse is got of him at this time in a letter from Lord Lovat to the Laird of Grant, dated, Drumsheugh, near Edinburgh, 25th October, 1733—"Your son, Kathron, dined with us yesterday, with poor John Roy Stewart and Lachlan Grant, and we drank heartily to old Castle Grant, and to all the fast friends of Craigelachy, and the downfall of their enemies." Another still more significant incident occurred some time later. In the trial of Lord Lovat, Sir John Strange put this question to Chevis, one of the witnesses—"I desire you will please inform their Lordships whether you remember the time when Roy Stewart broke out of Inverness gaol." The answer was—"In 1736." He was then asked "Who was Sheriff at that time?" and the reply was "My Lord Lovat." The inference evidently being that Lovat had connived at the escape. According to the same witness, John Roy had gone straight to Lovat’s house, after the feat of breaking the gaol, and had stopped there about six weeks. Then comes the following amusing but, for the old Lord, rather damaging revelation —" I desire the witness may inform your Lordships, whether during the time that the noble Lord at the bar, and Roy Stuart were together, they diverted themselves with composing anything and what." Chevis answered "They did, in composing burlesque verses, that when young Charles came over, there would be blood and blows." Q.—"You have not mentioned it in a poetical manner; pray can you recollect the lines?" A..—"When young Charlie does come o’er, there will be blows and blood good store." Q.—"I beg that you will acquaint their Lordships whether the verse that you mention is a translation or whether this is the original language in which it was composed?" A.—"It was framed in Erse, and this is the substance of one verse." It appears that John Roy went shortly after this to France, which was a kind of Cave of Adullam for discontented Scots. One Charles Stuart, another witness in the Lovat Trial, said that he met him at Boulogne, and that he was going to Rome, and expected through my Lord Lovat’s influence to get the post that Colonel Allan Cameron had (State Trials XVIII. 588-9). Another witness still, John Gray of Rogart, may be cited. He was asked, "Did you know John Stewart, commonly called Roy?" His answer was, "I have been acquainted with him when he was Quartermaster in some of the Dragoons." He was further asked, "Did you see him among the Rebels?" and replied, "I saw him at Stirling." What cloathes had he on?" "He goes always very gay. Sometimes he had Highland cloathes, and at other times long cloathes." John Roy, having cast in his lot with the Jacobites, took an active part in the fighting in Flanders. He was in the battle of Fontenoy, 11th May, 1745. The night before, he, with another Scot, made a visit to the English camp, and spent a happy hour with Lewis Grant of Achterblair and other friends. Next day they met in bloody strife. It was on the 19th August, 1745, that the "Bratach Bŕn," "the White Banner," was unfurled at Glenfinnan. The news of the rising soon reached France, and many a brave soldier, whose heart was in the Highlands, came hurrying home to take part in the struggle. Among these was John Roy. He joined Prince Charlie at Blair in Athole, and brought with him letters with offers of service from several men of note, but they proved of little value. As is common in times of excitement, the promise was better than the performance. At Edinburgh, where John Roy had been formerly stationed with the Scots Greys, he had no difficulty in raising a regiment. It was called "the Edinburgh Regiment," and though mainly made up of recruits from the mixed crowd that thronged the grey Metropolis of the North, it contained not a few men from Perthshire and Speyside, who added much to its strength and mettle. John Roy did good service at Prestonpans, where his friend Colquhoun Grant of Burnside also distinguished himself. Grant had brought down an English officer, and taken possession of his horse. When the Dragoons broke and fled, he and others followed hard in pursuit. Mile after mile was passed. At last the strange sight was seen of a party of Dragoons galloping up the High Street, pursued by a solitary cavalier. The Castle gave them shelter, and Grant, when he was stopped, stuck his dirk in the gate in defiance, and withdrew unscathed. He afterwards settled down as a respectable W.S. (Writer to the Signet) in Edinburgh. John Roy also took part in the skirmish at Clifton, when the cry "Claymore," "Claymore," struck terror into Cumberland’s men. The next notice we have of him is at Falkirk. Some of his old Dragoons were there under Colonel Whitney. Whitney recognised his friend, and cried out "Ha are you there? We shall soon be up with you." Stewart shouted in reply, "You shall be welcome. You shall have a warm reception." The words were hardly spoken when the gallant Colonel was struck by a chance shot, and fell dead from the saddle. The battle of Falkirk was indecisive. Both sides claimed the victory,

"Says brave Lochiel, ‘Pray have we won?
I see no troop. I hear no gun.’
Says Drummond, ‘Faith the battle’s done,
I know not how or why, man.’"

In the retreat northwards, John Roy was of great service, not only from his skill and resource, but from his intimate knowledge of the country. His Regiment is noticed in almost every Order, as specially singled out for patrol and scouting. "The guard of Roy Stewart’s men are desired to make frequent patronils out of the town on the roads that go to Cullen and Keith. One of the officers are desired to be always with the patronil, who will strictly examine every one they meet either going or coming, and if they stop any suspected person will send him to my Lord John Drummond." When stationed in Strathbogie, an attempt was made to surprise John Roy, but he was too old a soldier to be taken unawares. He retired to Fochabers, and from there with Parthian cunning he made a sudden back stroke by night, cutting off a party of Campbells, and some thirty dragoons, and carrying terror into the town of Keith. John Roy commanded the Edinburgh Regiment at Culloden, which formed part of the first line that bore the brunt of the battle. It was said of him afterwards by one of Cumberland’s captains that "if all the Highlanders had fought as well as the officer with the red head and the little hand, the issue might have been different." He himself poured forth his grief in a "Lament for the Brave who had fallen on Drummossie Muir," in which he attributes the defeat to the absence of the Macphersons and many of the best men, and the fierce blinding storm that blew in the faces of the Prince’s soldiers. He also not obscurely hints at treachery. His faith in Lord George Murray had been shaken, and he knew that others of the Highland Chiefs shared this feeling. Long afterwards his son, referring to a reverse in America, expressed the old sentiment, "From April battles and Murray generals good Lord deliver us." John Roy seems to have gone at first to Gorthleg. He also attended the gathering at Ruthven Castle.

Then when the scattering came, he sought refuge in his own country. The pursuers were soon on his track. He was outlawed and large rewards offered for his apprehension; but like his Prince, though often in peril, he was never betrayed. One of his hiding-places was a cave in the face of Craig-odhrie, which still bears his name. From the loophole of this retreat he could look far and wide. Doubtless he often spied the red-coats in search of him, but he never lost heart. In his own vigorous, though somewhat rude verses he could say—

"The Lord’s my targe, I will be stout,
With dirk and trusty blade,
Though Campbells come in flocks about
I will not be afraid.

"The Lord’s the same as heretofore,
He’s always good to me;
Though red-coats come a thousand more,
Afraid I will not be.

"Though they the woods do cut and burn,
And drain the lochs all dry;
Though they the rocks do overturn
And change the course of Spey;

"Though they mow down both corn and grass,
Nay, seek me underground;
Though hundreds guard each road and pass—
John Roy will not be found."

In one of his songs he speaks of himself as seated under a waterfall, Slugan-an-Eas, with his badly-sprained foot held in the flood. He was weary and sad, but he cheers himself with the thought that still there was hope. Another time he was in hiding in Glenmore, where he had friends. A party of soldiers having got a hint from an Irish informer, were on his track. They had sat down to rest, with their drum on the path, when by came a fair-haired boy carrying a cog of milk. "What is your name?" they asked. He said "Peter Bell." "Where are you going?" "To my father, who is working in the wood." As he stood talking to them he began to look at and handle the drum, as if curious about it. One of the soldiers said—"That’s a pretty cog" (it was rimmed with silver). "What will you take for it?" "I will give it for this bonnie thing," he answered. They feigned to agree; but he had no sooner got hold of the drum than he made the woods ring with the notes of a well-known Gaelic air—

"Buaidh thap leat Ian Ruaidh,
‘S tric a bhuail thu campaid."

And then with the quickness of lightning he turned to another tune that meant warning—

"Bith falbh, ‘s na fuirich,
Bith falbh, bith falbh!
Na tig a nochd tuillidh,
Tha ‘n toir a tighinn thugad;
Na tig a nochd tuillidh,
Bith falbh, bith falbh!"

"Be off, and stay not,
Away, away!
Come not again to-night,
The pursuers are near;
Come not again to-night,
Away, away!

John Roy heard the sounds, and cried out—"Whatever drum that is, the beat is Peter Bell’s," for he had taught Peter himself.

After this narrow escape, John Roy fled to Nethyside. He passed a night at Balnagown, where there was a wedding. Eighty-four years after, an Abernethy lady, Marjory Stewart, died at Grantown in her 101st year, who used to tell how she had been present at the marriage, and had danced with John Roy. There are some alive still who remember her. From Balnagown John Roy went to Bad-an-Aodinn. There one day, resting in bed, and making merry with a child to whom he was singing and telling stories, a girl, Mary Grant, Achernack, rushed in crying that the red coats were coming. With ready wit the gude wife cast an old ragged plaid about John Roy, and gave him a staff; and so in the guise of a beggar, cripple and bent, he crept along the hillside till he got within the shelter of the forest. His next place of refuge was at Connage, on the other side of the hill from Bad-an-Aodinn. In a wild, lone gorge at the foot of the cliff, shaded by birches and hazel, there still lies a smooth slab, under which he used to shelter. There, wrapped in his plaid, with his broad-sword by his side, he would lie, with the bracken for his bed and the music of the brook for his lullaby. A little girl fetched him food, and when a good report was brought he would climb the hill to Connage, and spend a happy hour with his friend John Stewart. But this could not last long. Tidings were brought to him that the Prince was in Badenoch, and that he was wanted. He gave his sporran as a keepsake to John Stewart, and set out. Kincardine, Glenmore, the lolaraig, and the haunts he loved so well were passed, with the sad foreboding that he should see them no more. He joined Prince Charles, as already mentioned, at Ben Alder, and from there the party, on the 14th September, moved to Corvoy, then to Aitnacarrie, Glencanger, and Borrodale. On the 20th September they embarked on board a frigate that had been waiting for them, and sailed for France. John Roy never returned. The Rev. John Grant, in the old Statistical Account of Abernethy (1792) says that he died in 1752, and adds in his shrewd, pithy way—"By this means his talents were lost to himself and to his country. He had education without being educated; his address and his figure showed his talents to great advantage. He was a good poet, in Gaelic and in English."

  Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus