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The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 18

THE youthful Gregor, when he reached manhood in 1560, found the clan prostrate at the feet of Glenorchy, who laid the cope-stone upon all other injuries by refusing to enfeoff the young chief in his little patrimony of Stronmelochan and Glenstrae, the superiority of which Glenorchy had bought from the house of Argyle in 1554. Breaking the bonds by which not a few of them were fettered, the clan instinctively rose to revenge the culminating affront to their chief; and in the hour of vengeance following years of oppression, perpetrated enormities scarcely inferior to the cruelties practised by American Indians upon vanquished foes.

The man they had to deal with was more than their match. Colin of Glenorchy was not the coward to shrink effeminately before the storm of savageness, by his firm, far-seeing policy provoked. On both sides it was professedly a war of extermination, and at first the M'Gregors had the advantage, but soon the foe, as 'twere by magic art, "summoned spirits from the vasty deep," and unexpected actors came upon the stage. In 1563 the ravages of the M'Gregors having, apparently, extended over the whole central and western Highlands and adjacent parts of the Lowlands, induced the Secret Council to issue against them a commission of fire and sword. The following were the commissioners:—The Earl of Moray in Braemar, Badenoch, Lochaber, Strathnairn, and Strath-dearn; the Earl of Argyle in Argyle, Lorn, Lennox, and Menteith; the Earl of Athole in Athole, Strathardle, Glenshee, and Dunkeld; the Earl of Errol in Logiealmond; Lord Ogilvy in the Brae of Angus; Lord Ruthven in Strath-braan; Lord Drummond in Strathearn; Colin Campbell of Glenorchy in Breadalbane and Balquhidder; and John Grant of Freuchy in Strathspey, Strathavon, and Brae of Strathbogie. Colin of Glenorchy, at the same time, was armed with a separate and additional commission of fire and sword against the harbourers of the Clan Gregor in whatever part of the kingdom they were found—"a proof," as Mr. Gregory truly observes, "that the Secret Council not only neglected to provide a place to which the Clan Gregor might when ejected from their homes retire, but absolutely attempted to exclude them from every spot on which they might on retiring seek shelter or even existence." The separate commission was cancelled within two years on a remonstrance presented by the barons of Strathearn. The general commission was likewise recalled, or superseded by a new one issued in 1564 to only two of the former commissioners, the Earls of Argyle and Athole ; these being allowed to grant subordinate ones to their friends and dependents.

Colin of Glenorchy, in putting down the clan, acted freely upon the old proverb, "set a thief against a thief," or rather anticipated by fully two centuries the fundamental maxim of homeopathy—"Similia similibus curaniur." To catch the thieves of Rannoch and Breadalbane he used the thieves of Keppoch and Glencoe; for curing the body politic of the M'Gregor-fever, he skilfully prescribed a dose of M'Donnell-bark.

We have already seen the Laird of Weem, immediately upon a charter of the lands of Rannoch being signed in his favour, constituting Huntly special constable to bring his newly-acquired domain into a condition compatible with the brooking of his rights as lord and master. Enough has also been told of Duncan Ladosach and the "brokin men" to show how ill Huntly had succeeded. Menzies, unable to cope with the M'Gregors, granted again a tack of the most rebellious part of the Barony to Campbell of Glenorchy, who, if not so powerful as the "Cock of the North," was at least a nearer auxiliary and a more determined foe to the clan. It was uphill work, but by-and-bye Duncan Ladosach slept quietly in his bloody grave in the kirkyard of Fortingall; one M'Gregor submitted after another, and all appeared to go on in Rannoch as elsewhere, "merry as a marriage bell," when lo ! one morning in 1560, the Laird of Glenorchy saw the clan like the Phcenix rising from its funeral pyre, and the laborious scheming of years "dissolving like the baseless fabric of a vision." The perplexed baron seized upon the first help which offered itself, and here is the curious result:—

"Contract between Glenurchay & Cappycht,'' {i.e., Keppoch). "At Ballocht the xxv day of Aprile, M. vc. lxiii yeris. It is agreit betwix Colyne Campbell of Glenurquhay on that ane part, and Rannald M'Rannald M'Couilglas off Cappycht on that uther part, in manner following: The said Colyne havand of our Souerane Lady the gift of escheit of the Clangregour now being our Souerane Ladies rebellis of their tackis rowmis stedings guids and geir: and als havand of the Lard of Weyme in lifrent, the twelf merkland of Rannocht, on the west syde of the water of Erachtie—to haif set in assedation to the said Rannald his airis maill and subtenentis of nay hiear degre nor hymself the tuenty pound of Rannocht, auld extent, with their pertinentis, with the Loch, lie &-» fishingis of the samyn for all the days that the said Colyne or his airis hes entres to the forsaidis sandis, with cornis, crop, plennesinge upoun the saidis landis, except the gudis and geir within Glenco, and my Lord of Ergile's bundis, fertening to the said Colyne be escheit {? ? f) : witht power to set the saidis landis to subtenentis of lawer degre nor hymself, of ony surname —(the Clangregour alanerlie except)—payand yeirlie for the forsaid twelf merkland of Rannocht, tene poundis maill to the said Colyne during his lyvrent; and als for the landis on the est syde of Erachtie» during the gift of the tackis of the said Colyne escheit malis and deweteis usit and wont conforme to the payment that M'Gregour suld haif maid to the Lard of Weyme." [Colin then binds himself and heirs to do all in their power towards getting a renewal of tacks, &c, in favour of Rannald.] "And the said Rannald sail labour and manure the forsaidis landis of Rannocht, and mak his principal residens thairupon, ay and quhill he may bring the samyn to quietnes for the common weill of the cuntre; and sail nocht suffer ony of the Clangregour to haif entres and intromission of the forsaid landis and als sail keip the forist and woddis, and the inhabitants sail serve the said Colyne and airis. Atour the said Rannald and his airis forsaidis, oblisses thame to persew at thair utmost power samony of the Clangregour as ar now our Souerane Ladies rebellis, and apprehend and bring thame to the said Colyne and his airis to be punesit according to the lawis: And in cace thay may nocht be tane, to be slane according to our Souerane Ladies commission gevin thairupon for stanching of sik malefactouris," &c. A fortnight after, 6th May, 1563, was signed a "Contract of protection and manrent, between Collyne Campbell of Glenurquhay and John Oyg M'Ane Abrycht of Glencho; the said Collyne being bound to defend the said John Oyg M'Ane Abrycht in his possessions, and specially in his landis of Glencho: and the said John Oyg M'Ane Abrycht being bound to serve the said Collyne Campbell against all persons, excepting the authority and my Lord of Argyle, providing, that if he will not instantly serve against the Clangregour his contract shall be void."

Cameron, tutor of Glennevis, also offered help from the same quarter. Argyle and the principal men of his house signed a bond to Glenorchy, against the Clangregour, at " Inneraray, 9th July, 1564, by which the west was sealed up to the hapless race. In the south, the Clanlaurane of Balquhidder—mortal enemies of the name of M'Gregor, ever since, as Duncan Ladosach confesses in his "Testament" of them,

"In the passioun oulk into Balquhidder Seven and twenty we slew into the place Be fyre and sworde : thai gat na uther grace"—had chosen Colin Campbell their chief by a bond dated nth March, 1559, and now did yeomanly service in the war with the old foe. A "Contract against the Clangregour signed at Ballocht 6th May, 1569, be Johne Earl of Athole, James Menzies of that Ilk, William Stewart of Grantullie, and their kin and friends," closed the circle on the north and east, so that from his central position in the Isle of Lochtay, Glenorchy watched the vibrations of the network securing the victims as they were successively and successfully enmeshed.

A fierce enemy of the clan employed at this time by Glenorchy was James Mac an Stalkair or Robertson, several stories of whose prowess are yet extant, and regarding whom these curt notices occur in the Chronicles of Fortingall:—

"Necatus fuit Patrtcius APAyn vc. Cowill vc. Ayn per yacobum M'Gesfalcar dpttd Ardewynnek, septimo die Decembris (1564), et sepultus octauo die eiusdem apud Inchadin in tumulo patrueli." "Patrick M'Ayn Vc. Cowill Vc. Ayn, slain by James M'Gestalcar at Aideonaig, on the 7th December (1564), and buried at Inchadin on the 8th of the same month, in his uncle's grave."

There is no need of cumbering ourselves with the original of the next entries, a version shall suffice :—

"Gregor, son of the Dean of Lismore, alias M'Gregor, and Robert MacConil Vc. Gregor, were slain on the nth June, viz., on the day of Pentecost, after midnight, and their house was burned by James M'Gestalcar and his accomplices year of our Lord 1565 : they were buried in the same grave in the choir of Inchadin. God is the just judge, knowing what is hidden, and punishing according to His will, even to the third and fourth generation."

Gregor was one of the revolted bond-granters: and therefore was early visited with a full vial of Glenorchy's wrath; the chief of Glenstrae, for the very opposite reason, had every motive to protect, and when that was impossible, to revenge him. Accordingly the next entry in the curate's book is the following :—

"James M'Gestalcar Vc. Phatrik and his accomplices put to death by Gregor M'Gregor of Stronmelecan and his followers at Ardeonaig, 24th July, 1565: He was a very wicked wretch, and an oppressor of the poor; whence it is said, thou shalt not suffer evil-doers to live upon the earth."

In a short note in the vernacular the curate finally sums up the troubles of the same year, 1565:

"Gret hayrschyppis in mdny pairts of Scotland, in Stratherne, in Lennox, in Glenalmond, in Braydalbin, baytht slattyr and oppessyon beand mayd in syndry udyr partis be the Erll of Ergill and M'Gregor and ther complesis. Siclyk in Strathardil mony men slayn be the men of Atholl and the Stuarts of Lorn."

M'Gregor from the commencement of the feud, was fighting in a desperate cause; and when, as described, the bands of coalition were tightened and secured in 1569, his doom could easily be foretold without any illumination from the second sight. M'Gregor, when a ward of the Campbells, had been consigned to the care of the Laird of Glenlyon, who honourably and kindly discharged the duties of a guardian. At this early period a mutual attatchment, destined to have a lasting influence on the fates of both, and in its ultimate results comprising materials for a bloody tragedy, sprung up between the young chief and the daughter of the Laird. It does not appear that Glenlyon frowned upon the youthful lovers ; nor, perhaps, had the policy of his clan, and chiefly that of the Glenorchy branch, with which he was most nearly allied, left him a free agent, would he have sought a better son-in-law than the heir of Glenstrae. The Laird's name occurs in the combination against Duncan Ladosach; nay, he was present subsequently at the death of Gregor himself, for which he earned the curse of his daughter; but in these matters he could not help himself, and his true sentiments towards the persecuted clan are much better learned from the fact, that it was in the heat of the feud with Glenurchay "Gregour Roy marriet the Laird of Glenlyoun's dochter." True enough, tradition confidently affirms M'Gregor had been with purposed treachery entangled by the Campbells into a matrimonial net; but as this is coupled with another assertion equally unhesitating, that it was "Black Duncan with the cowl" who had given his daughter to the M'Gregor—a fact which the "Black Book" and every other contemporary authority prove to be utterly groundless—the known incorrectness of the latter assertion leaves nothing of credit to the former. Still, with all its confusion of dates and persons, there is clearly in the story some infusion of truth.

The Clan Gregor, after the first flush, languished in their efforts, while the exterminating energy of their foes daily gathered strength. Unable to keep the field openly, they gradually sank into that state denoted by the old Proverb, of being "men with their heads under the wood," and carried on a skulking predatory warfare of creachs and spulzies by small bands operating in different places at the same time, thus obliging their enemies to divide for the sake of self-protection; and so rather risked being cut off in-detail than hazarded any general engagement in which the warriors of the clan might all be cut down. "Duncan with the Cowl" the son and heir of Glenorchy, was in the latter years of the feud at the head of his father's men, and tasked all his cunning to capture M'Gregor, knowing if deprived of their chief the clan might resume the yoke of servitude to the family of Glenorchy which they now so indignantly spurned. Ascertaining that Gregor frequently visited his spouse, and that in spite of his bond to the contrary the Laird of Glenlyon connived at the stolen interviews, and if not actually assisting, always allowed the rebel to escape; "Black Duncan" laid his plans so as to astonish all parties, and having secretly dogged his steps, captured at last the unfortunate chief in Glenlyon, when enjoying a fancied security in the embraces of his wife.

Gregor was taken in August, 1569, and it was probably owing to the efforts made by the Glenlyon family that his life was spared until the following spring. In the interval great events for Scotland occurred. Regent Murray was assassinated on the 23rd January, 1570. The Queen's party prepared to raise the standard of revolt. The state of the nation probably hastened M'Gregor's fate. Glenorchy and the barons associated with him had injured the M'Gregors too deeply for reconciliation; and, therefore, unless crushed, they knew the desperate clan, in the civil commotion which appeared then inevitable, would strike right and left, independent of political factions, blows of sweet revenge upon all enemies. The execution of Gregor was skilfully surrounded with all the pomp and circumstance of justice. It is simply entered by the Curate of Fortingall —"The vij. da of Apryill, Gregor M'Gregor of Glensra heddyt at BeWoch anno sexte and tenyeris." The compiler of the Black Book, in recording the life and deeds of "Colene Sext Laird of Glenurquhay," ushers it in with a flourish of trumpets:—

"He (Colin) was ane great justiciar all his tyme, throch the quhilk he sustenit the deidlie feid of the Clangregour ane lang space. And besydes that he caused executt to the death mony notable lymmaris he beheiddit the Laird of M'Gregour himself at Kandmoir in presence of the Erie of Atholl, the Justice-Clerk, and sundrie uthir nobillmen."

To this worshipful company the daughter of Glenlyon— who clung with affectionate tenacity to the husband hunted and hated by her powerful kinsmen, and now condemned to undergo a rebel's doom—came to implore forgiveness and mercy. It was too late; the deed was done, the victim immolated. "Black Duncan," yet a mere youth, but cruel and cunning from the cradle, when she broke out into wailing lamentation, sneeringly comforted his hapless cousin with an assurance that she would soon be married to the Baron of Dall (a MacOmie, or "Son of Thomas") and as his wife forget the rebel M'Gregor !

With this lady, M'Gregor had two sons—viz., Allaster Roy M'Gregor who was shamefully betrayed by Argyle, and executed and hanged at the Market Cross of Edinburgh, 1604; and "John Dow," who fell at the battle of Glenfruin, fighting against the Laird of Luss, in the year 1603, "John Dow," or Black John, was, it would seem, born after his father's execution; and it was in the form of a lullaby for her posthumous child that the grief-blighted mother couched the tale of sorrow, so pathetic, although deeply tinged with the barbarous madness of misfortune. The song referred to is the following :—

"On Lammas morn I rejoiced with my love: ere noon my heart was pressed with sorrow.

"Ochain, ochain, ochain uiridh,
Sad my heart my child:
Ochain, ochain, ochain, uiridh,
Thy father hears not our moan!

"Under ban be the nobles and friends who pained me so: who unawares came on my love, and overmastered him by guile. Ochain. &c,

"Had there been twelve of his race, and my Gregor at their head, my eye would not be dim with tears, nor my child without father. Ochain, &c.

"They laid his head upon an oaken block: they poured his blood on the ground: oh! had I there a cup I would drink of it my fill I Ochain, &c.

"Oh! that my father* had been sick, and Colint in the plague, and all the Campbells in Balloch wearing manacles. Ochain.

"I would have put 'Gray Colin' under lock, and 'Black Duncan' in a dungeon, though Ruthven's daughter^ would be wringing her hands. Ochain, &c.

"I went to the plains of Balloch, but rest found not there: I tore the hair from my head, the skin from my hands. Ochain, &c.

"Had I the wings of the lark, the strength of Gregor in my arm, the highest stone in the castle would have been the one next the ground. Ochain, &c.

"Oh ! that Finlairg were wrapt in flames, proud Taymouth lying in ashes, and fair-haired Gregor of the white hands in my embrace ! Ochain, &c.

"All others have apples ; I have none : my sweet lovely apple has the back of his head to the ground. Ochain, &c.

"Other men's wives sleep soft in their homes : I stand by the bedside wringing my hands. Ochain, &c.

"Better follow Gregor through heath and wold, than be with the mean little Baron of Dall in a house of stone and lime. Ochain, &c.

"Better be with Gregor putting the cattle to the glen, than with the mean little Baron drinking wine and beer. Ochain, &c.

"Better be with Gregor under sackcloth of hair, than wear silken sheen as the mean Baron's bride. Ochain, &c.

"Though it snowed and drifted, and was a day of sevenfold storm, Gregor would find me a rock, in whose shelter we might lie secure.

"Ba hu, ba hu, my orphan young,
For still a tender plant art thou,
And much I fear the day won't come
When thou shalt earn thy father's fame."

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