Rob Roy – the most famous of the Clan Gregor
The Macgregors are said to have descended from Griogar, a son of Kenneth MacAlpine, the 9th-century King of Scots – hence the clan motto ‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream’ - royal is my race. Their once extensive land holdings were taken from them by the powerful Clan Campbell with their fortunes at their lowest ebb during a period when they were outlawed by the Scottish Crown. Consequently, many changed their names or found protection from other clans. Though associated with several locations around the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area, the ancestral burial ground of the clan is on Inchcailloch, Loch Lomond.
The best-known of all the historical figures in the clan is, naturally, Rob Roy Macgregor – thanks not just to the Hollywood treatment, but quite a range of literature, starting with material attributed to Daniel Defoe as early as 1723. Truly, Rob Roy became a ‘legend in his own lifetime’.
He was born in 1671 in Glen Gyle at the west end of Loch Katrine, on what was then a cattle-drovers route from Loch Lomondside. He grew up the cattle business. As well as dealing and droving, he helped operate a ‘watch’ – offering protection to cattle owners, as long as they paid for the team’s protection. (An old word for rent is ‘male’ in Middle English, Anglo-Saxon ‘mal’. ‘Black’ still has a sense meaning hidden or covert – hence ‘blackmail’ or 'hidden rent'– exactly how Rob’s protection business operated! )
After many adventures recovering stolen cattle – or helping his family ‘lift’ some for themselves – he became an expert in hill-craft as well as a formidable swordsman. In 1693, he married Mary of Comar - Helen Mary MacGregor, from a farm, still marked on OS maps today, between Ben Lomond and Loch Arklet. The 1690s were notorious for their bad winters. Highlanders along the edge of the Highlands increased their raids on Lowland farms, lifting cattle for survival.
Politically, Rob was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause – the attempt by the exiled House of Stuart to re-establish a Catholic monarchy. It is said Rob had a preference for raiding the land-holdings of those who took the opposite political view. However, his reputation as a cattle dealer soon increased to the extent that the Duke of Montrose arranged for Rob to select cattle on his behalf (for fattening and resale). As much as £1000 changed hands but the deal went badly wrong. Mysteriously, Rob’s head drover disappeared with the money. In equally murky circumstances, the Duke had Rob declared an outlaw before giving him a chance to repay the money. He seized Rob’s lands at Craigrostan on the east side of Loch Lomond, and burned down Rob’s house.
Historians have for long debated the motive of the Duke of Montrose. Simple greed for more land? A political move because he was against the Jacobites and suspected Rob of Jacobite plotting? Whatever the reason for Montrose’s actions, from 1713 to 1720 Rob lived beyond the law. It is from this period that many of the tales of Rob as a kind of Highland Robin Hood originate.
Rob swore revenge on the Grahams, the family and kinsfolk of the Duke. He organised bands of sympathisers, raided Montrose’s cattle and collected rent from Montrose’s tenants, usually just ahead of Montrose’s factor (manager), Grahame of Killearn, who often seems to have been a victim of Rob’s activities. (Factor’s Island by Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine recalls one incident when he was held hostage there by Rob.)
Rob took part in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and had many narrow escapes. He was actually captured three times but by guile and skill escaped every time. He also took part in the 1719 rebellion but by 1725 seems to have made peace with the authorities, eventually receiving a pardon from General Wade, the famous Highland road-builder.