Cuimhnich – (Gaelic meaning remember) is prominently located on the wreath laid at the Glencoe Memorial Cross each year. Each February 13th for over 300 years Clan Donald has remembered the 1692 Glencoe Massacre. There are appropriate ways to remember Glencoe and inappropriate ways. What happened at Glencoe in 1692 was deplorable. It was the result of a country deeply divided by religious & political bigotry. Only after continued public outcry did King William order a Commission to “investigate” the matter. The number of people who lost their lives wasn’t what made this such a deplorable act, but the way in which it occurred. The Commission ruled it was “Murder Under Trust” , but their determination of who was responsible has continued to divide Scotland for 300 years. To the Commission’s credit, they sorted through and eliminated many wild accusations such as “the MacDonalds slaughtered their Glencoe kinsmen to bring discredit upon the crown and further the Jacobite cause”. Just as ridiculous was an accusation that it was just another brutal act of an ongoing clan feud between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. That accusation, aledged by John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, Lord Advocate to King William, has survived despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The commission was given the charge to determine “by what pretended authority “the Glencoe Massacre was perpetrated. Given that charge, it is not surprising the Commission exonerated King William of Orange despite his signature and initials being clearly affixed to the order “to root out the rebellious clans”. The King’s Lord Advocate, John Dalrymple issued several additional orders that revealed the government’s intent. Dalrymple’s orders referred to the “Glenco McDonalds” (as it was spelled in the original documents) as Papists, rebels, and thieves who he rejoiced to hear were late in responding to the required oath. After interviewing witnesses and examining documents the Edinburgh Commission concluded John Dalrymple was the most culpable, but included blame of the officers on site for “exceeding the King’s orders”. Dalrymple claimed the orders were carried out with “greater zeal” than intended and blamed the old clan feud.
But Glenlyon was wise enough to have saved the written order Captain Drummond delivered on Feb 12th, 1692. The date on the order from Thomas Livingston, Commander of Scottish Forces demonstrates Glenlyon did not accept MacIain’s Highland hospitality with intent to commit “Murder Under Trust”. Livingston’s orders to Glenlyon were almost word for word the orders Livingston had received from Dalrymple a month before. The orders clearly proved Glenlyon was threatened with a charge of treason if he failed to “fall upon the rebells the McDonalds of Glenco and putt all to the sword under seventy.” It is difficult to imagine how anyone could believe such orders could be misinterpreted or exceeded. In fact, Glenlyon’s actions fell far short of the order. Rather than quietly putting hundreds of victims “to sword” in their sleep, Glenlyon ordered MacIain be shot with muskets. The shots awakened everyone as they echoed the alarm through the glen. If Glenlyon had executed the order as written the result would have been between four and six hundred dead rather than 38. Some counts add another forty or so souls who perished as a result of their being forced to flee into mountain glens in the midst of a blizzard of sufficient force that it delayed Hamilton’s troops arriving to prevent the victims escape.
John Dalrymple was removed from office as King William’s Lord Advocate. The position was then offered initially to Sir John Lauder and then to Sir George MacKenzie on condition they not prosecute anyone named by the Commission. To their credit, both these statesmen refused to accept the highest position in Scotland under those conditions.
Despite the findings of the Commission King William exonerated John Dalrymple, Master of Stair. And for over 300 years the government exonerated itself by blaming Clan Campbell for this “Murder Under Trust” . It was the government that ordered the slaughter of an entire clan in their sleep and they intentionally gave those orders to John Campbell of Glenlyon and his Argyle regiment in order to disguise their deplorable act as a clan rivalry. The murderous plan only failed because the Campbell officers didn’t slaughter the entire clan in their sleep as ordered. It was Murder Under Trust. Trust that was violated by the government. Glenlyon, his Argyle regiment, and even Breadalbane were government scapegoats. Clan Campbell has both suffered & benefitted from the loyalty shown their government over the last 300 years. The same type of bigotry that caused the Glencoe Massacre should not be a Scottish, “clannish” thing. Some “traditions” are better forgotten.
Cuimhnich, remember what happened when inter-clan rivalry and religious bigotry became more important than the existence of a nation.