The new concept of feudal landlords was not well received anywhere in the Highlands. Most responded to this “takeover” by ignoring the rent and taxes of the imposed lords. Instead of the feudal lords living off the toil of their crofters, as other lords were doing, the MacIains of Glencoe lived off their feudal lords. They were skillful cattlemen. They could navigate cattle over the moors and crags by moonlight better than the Lowlanders could in daylight. But the cattle they drove were not their own. Cattle raids were a major Celtic pastime for over a thousand years. Now theft became a way of declaring their independence from “the Kings Lairds”. The MacIains mountain raiding abilities were so respected that when Campbell of Persie had a quarrel with the Ogilvies he commissioned the MacIains to work his vengeance by “fire and sword”. The MacIains’ Celtic point of view made it more acceptable to go into battle for their Campbell lords than to pay them rent. They raided the Drummonds, Moray, Lennox, the Stewarts and others on assignment of their Campbell Lord.
Laws Intended to Punish Clan Chiefs
In 1587 King James VI had two acts passed to deal with the problem of clan feuds in the Highlands as well as the Lowlands. The first act held the Clan Chief accountable for the actions of his clansmen. This was true whether the crown acknowledged the Clan Chief as a land owner or not! The second act was termed “Slaughter Under Trust” and punishment was greater than capital punishment. Under the Slaughter Under Trust act if a Clan Chief was convicted of massacre of an opponent, under a feigned agreement to settle a dispute, it was punishable not just as treason by death, but the forfeiture of all land and rights of his heirs!
Highland Victory at Killecrankie
As the religious civil war gripped all Briton, the Episcopalian MacIains were called upon to guide Montrose’s Highlanders over the mountains they knew so well to attack their Covenanter Campbell lords.MacIain guides knew how to feed an army from Campbell cattle and contributed greatly to Montrose’s 1645 campaign. The Campbell lords suffered loss of many clansmen and property in that campaign and MacIain’s part was well known. “The Braes O’ Killiecrankie” is a favorite song, especially in the Highlands. It tells of the decisive victory of Dundie over the government troops from the point of view of one of the government troops who ran from the devil & Dundee.
John Campbell had found great favor with King William being granted the title of Earl of Breadalbane (Gaelic Braghad Alban meaning Highlands of Scotland). His commission was to “bring peace to the Highlands” by bringing the lawless chiefs into submission.Breadalbanepetitioned the government for 20,000 pound sterling to bribe the lawless chiefs. The National treasurer, Archibald Campbell, gave him 12,000 pound for that purpose. He called the chiefs together including Alasdair MacIain, Locheil,Glengarry, and the others. Instead of offering them the money Breadalbane announced he would keep it as compensation for the damages he suffered afterKilliecrankie. He threatened the chiefs with extinction if they failed to acknowledge William as their King. He knew they considered it a matter of honor they had pledged their support of the exiled King James. The meeting ended abruptly and upon hearing of Breadalbane’s “failure” Sir John Dalrymple wrote “The Macdonalds will fall into the net. That’s the only Popish clan in the kingdom and it will be popular to take severe course with them. Let me hear from you whether this is the season to maul them in the long cold nights.” The labeling of the mostly Episcopalian MacIains of Glencoe as a “Popish clan” was likely a calculated misstatement of fact on Dalrymple’s part to justify the planned slaughter of the MacIains in the minds of the Argyll troops.
Colonel John Hill petitioned the government several times to allow the MacIains to re-settle Glencoe. They were given permission to return to their burned out cottages six months later. The government laid the blame on several individuals named Campbell because they literally held every government office in the Highlands. The King was acquitted of any wrong doing and promptly acquitted his Secretary of State Dalrymple of any wrong doing because of “excesses of those who executed his orders”. For 300 years Clan Campbell has been treated as if the entire clan were guilty of this despicable act. There is no justification for what happened on February 13th, 1692. Nor is there any justification blaming an entire clan for the acts of a few men who lived over 300 years ago and who acted on government orders. Many orders of “Fire & Sword” gave government sanction for one clan to do battle with another. What made the Glencoe Massacre such a despicable act was that it was accomplished through betraying trust. Trust MacIain had that the government would protect his clan after he signed the oath even though it was days past the deadline.
Cuimhnich (Gaelic = remember) has been on every wreath laid at the Glencoe memorial since the massacre. It is fitting to remember Glencoe that such injustice not occur again. It is not fitting to foster inter-clan rivalry, feuds, or bigotry.
big•ot•ry (ˈbɪg ə tri) n. 1. extreme intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.