MacGregor-Campbell Feud Manuscripts set for Auction

The 1611 manuscript detailing the extent of the feud.

The 1611 manuscript detailing the extent of the feud.

Two manuscripts dealing with one of the most infamous feuds in clan history are set to go under the hammer this week in Edinburgh. The Persecution of the Clan Gregor manuscripts, dated between 1611 and 1619, highlight the extent to which the MacGregors were punished by the Campbells after loosing a bitter and long power struggle over land in Argyll.

Set to fetch up to £3000 at auction, the first document was issued in 1611 by the Privy Council of Scotland under the auspices of one of the most notorious members of the Campbell clan, Sir Duncan Campbell of Glen Orchy, who went by the sinister nickname of “Black Duncan of the Cowl.” The manuscript instructs the holding of regional courts to try those suspected of ‘resetting’, or protecting the interests of, members of the Clan MacGregor. The second manuscript from 1619 was granted to Duncan Campbell, giving him permission to ‘intercommune’ with certain members of Clan MacGregor. At this time the persecution of Clan MacGregor was so severe that it was even forbidden to communicate with members of the clan.

The history of Clan MacGregor’s persecution began in April 1603, when King James VI issued an edict proclaiming the name MacGregor to be ‘abolished’. This came in the wake of years of the Clan Gregor having been restricted in their lands to Glenstrae by the Campbells, and subsequent inter-clan battles and killings. As of 1603, Clan MacGregor would be persecuted by law, and anyone bearing this name and refusing to renounce it would be put to death. Until the edict against the clan was repealed in 1774, it was illegal to be a MacGregor, or to protect or support the cause of those who held onto the name. The persecution continued for over 200 years.

The first manuscript makes it clear that some people in the Highlands had indeed been resetting (protecting or supporting the interests of) members of the clan, and the Privy Council were not happy with this. The commission resolves to make examples of those resetting the clan members and lists regional noblemen and dignitaries who are given the power to call courts to try the resetters and ensure that the sentences are carried out. The commission not only underlines how vilified Clan MacGregor was by the state, but also shows that by 1611 the suppression had not been as effective as hoped.

Auctioneers Lyon and Turnbull have described the sale as a rare chance to snap up a piece of Scottish history. The manuscripts form part of the Breadalbane Collection, a gathering of documents relating to the Campbells of Glen Orchy, which is largely held by Edinburgh University.

Cathy Marsden, book specialist at Lyon & Turnbull said translations of the document from “Old Scots” highlighted the frustration of the Privy Council that some people had been protecting and supporting the interests of the clan.

She said: “As of 1603, the clan would be persecuted by law, and anyone bearing this name and refusing to renounce it would be put to death.

“Until the edict against the clan was repealed in 1774, it was illegal to be a MacGregor, or to protect or support the cause of those who held onto the name.

“It is very rare for something of this nature to come up for auction. We often get old title deeds and things like that, which are not particularly valuable, but documents like this, which relate to a really important part of Scottish history, don’t come up for auction that often.

“We’re expecting a lot of interest in it, perhaps from private buyers who are very interested in Scottish history and documents, or institutions like museums and archives who are interested in buying it on behalf of the nation.”

The auction will be held at 11 am on Wednesday 15th January 2014. You can view Lot 181 here, and Lot 182 here.

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