The Massacre of Glencoe

Today marks the 321st anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe, in which 38 MacDonald of Glencoe clansmen were murdered on direct orders from the crown. The death warrant signed by King William III provided flames to fuel the Jacobite’s cause and subsequent rebellions, and contributed to generations of unease between the MacDonald and Campbell Clans.

A memorial stands at the site today, with the Scottish Socialist Republican Movement marching through the streets of the village of Glencoe to the memorial annually on the anniversary. This year, a copy of the proclamation instructing troops to massacre the MacDonalds (below) was set alight. In recent commemorations the group have filmed themselves burning a Union flag.

Following a series of Jacobite risings in 1689 (including the Battle of Killcrankie), newly crowned King William III sought to subdue rebellious Highlanders by offering them a pardon. An order was received that all clan chiefs must swear allegiance to the King by 1 January 1692 or be punished with the “utmost extremity of the law”. John Dalrymple, Master of Stair and Scottish Secretary of State, used the deadline to his own political advantage and set about hindering clans from signing their allegiance. He had a deep dislike for highlanders (particularly the MacDonalds of Glencoe) and felt their way of life was a step backwards for Scotland.

MacIain, chief of the MacDonalds, was still bound by oath to James Stuart, the deposed King in France. It was December 12 before James had released the clans from their oath and December 28 before a messenger arrived in the Highlands with the news. MacIain rushed to sign the oath but was delayed and detained by Campbell soldiers along the way. He eventually signed the oath late, but it was rejected by John Dalrymple in Edinburgh, providing a way for him to get rid of the MacDonalds once and for all.

A Campbell-dominated Argyll regiment arrived in Glencoe twelve days before the massacre, claiming the nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds, honouring the Highland hospitality code, duly gave the soldiers quarter in their own houses, with neither clan nor soldiers aware of what lay ahead. On the night of February 13, a blizzard howled through Glencoe, and the soldiers received orders that they were to kill all MacDonald clansmen. In the morning, 38 lay dead including the chief MacIain, with another 40 women and children dead as a result of exposure after their houses had been burned.

Many were able to escape the massacre with some historians claiming that some Campbell men, disgusted at their orders, alerted the families who had been their hosts, giving them time to wrap up for the terrible wintery conditions outside. News of the massacre provoked outrage around Scotland resulting in an inquiry conducted by the Scottish Parliament. Even though the orders had been signed by the King himself, the inquiry sought to exonerate the King and place the blame on John Dalrymple, who had resigned from his post. The whole matter was forgotten in a matter of months, even though it was suggested that the government should pay compensation to the surviving members of the MacDonald Clan.

You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution att fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execu- tion without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the full- filling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692 (signed) R. Duncanson For their Majesties service To Capt. Robert Campbell of Glenlyon

You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution att fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execu- tion without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the full- filling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692 (signed) R. Duncanson For their Majesties service To Capt. Robert Campbell of Glenlyon

Tagged

Related Posts

2 thoughts on “The Massacre of Glencoe

  1. Julian Macdonald

    Anyone inerested should read John Buchan’s book, the Massacre at Glencoe. It is excellent. If you havenot had the opportunity to read and of Buchan’s work, please do so. They take place in Scotland. Read “Midwinter” and “Witch Wood”, two of his best novels. And of course the four novels with Richard Hanny as the main charater. Hitcook made of film of 39 Steps…the first of the four Hanny novels.
    I am sure that you too will find Buchan excellent reaading.

    Julian Macdonal
    Westlake Village, California

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *