While the other MacDonald clans suffered through the 1500s, the MacDonalds of Glencoe survived notably well. Perhaps their greatest protection was their home environment acting like a natural fortress. They certainly never found the need to build one. Also only the strongest of people could develop in such a landscape. The men were described as “large-bodied, stout, subtle, active, patient of cold and hunger”.
The revolution of 1688 gave the throne to William of Orange and the Campbells of Glenorchy were his supporters. They were also the neighbours of the MacDonalds and there was a generation of bad terms between them.
The Clan Chiefs were ordered, under pain of the full weight of the law, to present themselves before the nearest civil authority and submit themselves before the 1st of January 1692. Elderly MacIain, Chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe, did not leave for Fort William until the day before the deadline.
When he arrived the garrison commander there was not authorised to accept his submission. So MacIain had to ride to Invarary, a seven day fight through snow storms. Although he was past the deadline his submission was accepted.
The MacDonalds, therefore, were not suspicious when troops of Argyll’s regiment, under the command of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, arrived to billet themselves in their homes. If only they had known of the genocide in the mind of Dalrymple who had written, ‘If MacIain of Glencoe and that tribe can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the public justice to extirpate that sect of thieves.’
For two weeks his soldiers enjoyed the MacDonalds’ hospitality.
Then, in the cold darkness, a massacre began. Old MacIain was shot trying to get out of his bed. His wife had her fingers bitten off for their rings and she froze to death stripped naked in the snow the following day.
Thirty eight died but one hundred and fifty managed to escape thanks to the late arrival of more troops who were supposed to block the bottom of the glen. Dalrymple was incensed that some had escaped as it was his intention to swiftly erase all the Camerons and MacDonalds of Glengarry next.
The Campbells were allowed to take the blame but very few of the troops involved were Campbells. It was William of Orange who signed and counter-signed the order for the slaughter.
Dalrymple took the blame from the Scottish Parliament so King William made him Earl of Stair and gave him free reign to destroy Scotland’s parliament in the Union of 1707, when the rights of the Scots were sold to England by the ‘Parcel of Rogues’.