The Battle of Glencoe 1692

August 31, 2009

This event is perhaps one of the best know events in Scottish history.
The Campbell of Glenurchy, Earl of Breadalbane, had a helper in the person of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon who had his own reasons for seeking revenge on the MacDonalds. It was no longer safe for a Highland chief like Bradalbane to raise his clan openly for attack on his neighbour. He was clever enough to contrive the situation so as in the attack on the MacDonalds he would be acting with the authority of the Government
King William II. and III. and Sir John Dalrymple first Earl of Stair, were little more than pawnsin the hands of the cunning old fox of Loch Tayside Breadalbane was the intermediary after the dispersal of Dundee’s forces.
He took advantage of the situation and managed matters very shrewdly to his own advantage. Following the fall of King James’s general at Killiecrankie, it was suggested to King William’s Government that the chiefs of clans should be required to swear allegiance to the new Government. It was arranged that if they laid down their arms and took the oath before 1st January, 1692, they would receive an indemnity for all previous offenses.

Earlier in July an individual had been given the authority of arranging matters with the Jacobite Highland Chiefs. When they met him at his castle of Achalader, Glencoe, whose courage and level-headedness gave him much influence with his neighboring chieftains, is said to have approached Breadalbane with the idea of keeping some of the money for his own use Money which the Government had placed in his hands for obtaining the good will of the chiefs.The Earl had replied by charging Glencoe with the theft of cattle from his lands. Old feuds were rekindled. Maclain was repeatedly heard to say that he greatly feared trouble Breadalbane And well he should. For it seems that Breadalbane took great pains to direct the attention of the Master of Stair, as Secretary of State, to the MacDonalds of Glencoe. He thought the MacDonalds were the most suitable clan of whom to make a terrifying example to the Highlands. In a letter dated December 3rd, the Secretary intimated the intention of Government to destroy utterly some of the clans in order to terrify the others, and expressed the hope that the MacDonalds of Glencoe would pay by refusing to take the oath. Unfortunately Maclain waited until the days of grace were almost up before going to Fort William to take the oath. When he arrived he found only the Governor, Colonel Hill there. Since Colonel Hill was not a civil officer, he could not accept MacLean’s oath. MacLean had to go Inveraray and take the oath there before the Sheriff of Argyll. The roads were almost impassable with snowdrifts, and, though the chieftain did his best, the first of January was past before he reached Inveraray.

The Sheriff, Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinglas, listened to NacLeans’s story. He thought since Glencoe had really tendered the oath in time, though to the wrong officer,he again administered the oath and informed the Privy Council of the circumstances. Maclain returned home believing everything was in order. However, that was not a face. MacLean’s fate was sealed. A warrant had been secure in advance from King William for military execution against him. The Sheriff’s letter was never produced before the Privy Council. The certificate showing Maclain’s had taken the oath was removed from the record.
Before the end of January a detachment of Argyll’s regiment under Campbell of Glenlyon entered Glencoe. One of Maclain’s sons with a body of clansmen met the Glenlyon who explained that they came as friends to take quarters in the glen in order to relieve the overcrowded garrison at Fort William.
For fifteen day the unsuspecting Chief and his people showed hospitality to Argyll’s regiment. The fed them and entertained them.
On 12th December the order came to put to the sword every MacDonald in the glen under 70 years of age, to close all avenues of escape, and to take a special care that “the old fox and his cubs” should be put to death.
Even after the order was received Glenlyon continued to enjoy the hospitality of the unsuspecting clansmen. One of the chief’s sons, Alistair MacDonald was married to Glenlyon’s niece. He took his usual morning draught that day at their home. He and two of his officers accepted an invitation to dine the next day with Maclain himself.The chief’s sons had come to him because they were troubled at finding the sentries doubled and the soldiers preparing their arms. He sat late into the night playing cards and reassuring them by telling them he was about to set out against some of Glengarry’s men, and he ended “If anything evil had been intended would I not have told Alastair and my niece.”
At four o’clock in the morning a single shot rang out, and the bloody work began. Lindsay, one of the officers who had promised to dine with the chief, came with a party to Maclain’s door. As Glencoe was getting out of bed and giving orders for refreshments to be provided for his visitors, they shot him dead. His aged wife was then stripped and wronged. The soldiers even tore the gold rings from her fingers with their teeth. She died the next day.
While this was being done the chief’s two sons were roused from bed by an old domestic, who told them to flee for their lives. “Is it a time to sleep,” he said, “when your father is murdered on his own hearth?” However, the battle noises confirmed what the old lady had told them. The young men knew the Glen well and were able to escape by the southern exit. Most of the other inhabitants of the glen fled the same way. Lucky for them Major Duncanson, Glenlyon’s superior officer, had been hindered by the snows from closing the outlets of Glencoe.

Many scenes of blood, however, were brutally enacted. A certain Captain Drummond in particular distinguished himself by his brutality, ordering a young lad of twenty who had been spared by the soldiers to be instantly shot, and himself with his dirk stabbing a boy of six as he clung to Glenlyon’s knees, begging for mercy. At one house a party of soldiers fired on a group of nine MacDonalds sitting round their morning fire and killed four of them. The owner of the house, who was unhurt, asked to be allowed to die in the open air. The sergeant in command answered, “For your bread which I have eaten I will grant the request,” and MacDonald was allowed to come out. He was, however, an active man, and as the soldiers were taking aim he threw his plaid over their faces and vanished.

The clan then numbered about two hundred fighting men. Of these more than 160 escaped, and, with their wives and children, made their way through the deep snows for twelve miles to a place of safety. But their homes were burned, and their means of subsistence, some twelve hundred head of cattle and horses, and a large number of sheep and goats, were driven off to Fort William for the use of the garrison.
It took three years before the Government looked into the matter.The report of the Royal Commission placed the whole blame upon the Master of Stair. His only punishment was to be driven from public life for a short time. He died in 1707. Some say he died by his own hand.
In the tradition of the Highlands the massacre was thought to have entailed a curse upon the house of Glenlyon. In a later campaign the head of that house was in command of a firing party appointed to carry out the execution of a soldier. It was arranged that the proceedings should be carried out up to the firing point, and only then the man should be reprieved.

The signal for the soldiers to fire was to be the waving of a white handkerchief by Glenlyon. When the moment arrived the officer put his hand into his pocket to produce the reprieve, but unluckily brought the handkerchief with it. This was taken for the concerted signal, the soldiers fired and the man fell dead. At that Glenlyon is said to have struck his brow with his hand, exclaiming, “The curse of God and Glenlyon is here. I am an unfortunate ruined man !” and he retired from the service.
In 1772, John MacDonald, laird of Glendale, brought 250 followers to Prince Edward Island, N.S., Canada.


3 Responses to “The Battle of Glencoe 1692”

  1. Carl Strickland on February 11th, 2010 1:12 pm

    Did the Glencoe McDonald chief Maclain have a child born in 1645 in Ireland named Bryan McDonald who died in Delaware in 1757? My genealogy claims that I descend from such a person. I am anxious to know if I actually have a claim to being the chief of today’s McDonald clan.

  2. Thalia Sanders on February 6th, 2013 12:29 pm

    Probably so, I know that the Irish MacDonalds have a total different culture, and the Sons of John separated from the Glencoe MacDonald. I being of GlenGarry.

  3. Bruce Edward Thompson on March 25th, 2013 12:44 pm

    I have an Ancestor named Mary Wharton McDonald, is there any chance that she came from the McDonald’s of Glencoe?

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