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Timeline of Scottish History

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Robert Campbell of Glencoe Massacre

  • Name  : Campbell
  • Born  : 1632
  • Died  : 1696
  • Category  : Military
  • Finest Moment : None

Robert Campbell was the 5th Laird of Glenlyon, a Captain of the Earl of Argyll's Regiment. He was also a bankrupt and a drunkard. His lands had been raided by the Glencoe and Keppoch MacDonalds. His disastrous financial affairs had driven him to the profession of arms. He was almost 60, and as a captain of Foot earned eight shillings a day. These factors, and some unfortunate other events lead tragically to the bloody incident known for ever as the 'Massacre of Glencoe'.

Following the Revolution, the government of William and Mary had still to calm the Jacobite clans of the Western Highlands. They decided to require that all clan chiefs should sign an oath of loyalty, and settled on a final date of January 1, 1692. Most chiefs decided to fall in line.

The aged MacIan of Glencoe also agreed to sign, but left it too late, setting out to the wrong man. He finally reached Campbell of Ardkinglas, who accepted his oath, but news of the late arrival reached Edinburgh it was to become a pretext for some ruthless government intervention. The Glencoe MacDonalds, it has to be clearly stated here, were a right bunch of petty criminals, and had consistently made themselves disliked to their neighbours by their constant lawlessness.

The final part of the key was the Secretary of State for Scotland, John Dalrymple. His other title was the Master of Stair, and he was one of the most powerful men in Scotland. He was also one of the most hated. He was competent but unscrupulous, and negotiations with the clans having proved to be long and frustrating, he decided to make an example of the MacDonalds. Accordingly, he set in motion the order which would eventually reach Campbell.

'You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and to put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox and his sons do upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to put in execution at five of the clock precisely'

This was five in the morning, it was winter, with snow on the hills. The troops were regular soldiers of the British army following orders. Campbell himself was in no position as the officer to question the order, and though it was not a personal vendetta, he would have no reason to love the MacDonalds.

On the morning of 6 February 1692 the massacre started. Some 38 clan members were killed, along with MacIan, his wife, and two sons. The remainder of the troops who were to arrive soon after were late, perhaps deliberately, so that some of the clan escaped over and through the hills. Some died trying to flee. Men were bayoneted, some were shot while helplessly bound, children of five were killed.

It was a shameful act of government sponsored murder, which immediately provoked much criticism. Dalrymple received much of the blame and was forced to resign. He would hold other offices, but his name would remain stained.

Robert Campbell of Glenlyon died at Bruges on 2 August 1696. He was still a pauper and a debtor.

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