Scottish History Online - Rob Roy Macgregor, Scotland

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Raibert Rubah - Rob Roy

Robert the Red ( Rob Roy)
Rob Roy the true story behind the man 'Outlaw or Hero' make your own mind up!

by John A. Duncan, KCN, FSA Scot.

Rob Roy

At Loch Katrine on the 7th of March 1671, the 3rd son of Chieftain Donald (Glas) Gregor of Glengyle and Margaret Campbell, cousin to John Iain (Glas) Campbell 11th Laird of Glenorchy, later in 1681 The Earl of Breadalbane, was born and baptised at Buchcanan Parish as Robert MacGregor. This was to see the start of one of the remarkable stories of the Highlands -  that of Raibert Rudah (Robert the Red) as he was nicknamed because of his wild red hair. For most others though he would be known by his anglicised name of ‘Rob Roy’.

Loch Katrine Scotland

Loch Katrine           

Although a Protestant, he was a Jacobite sympathiser (follower of James Stuart the ‘Old Pretender’) and the next we hear of Rubah (Rob Roy) is at the age of 18 as he rallied the Gregors to join Jacobite leader Viscount Dundee, John Graham of Claverhouse. Dundee, known by his supporters as ‘Bonnie Dundee’, was to meet the Hanoverian army of William of Orange led by General Hugh MacKay at Killiekrankie on the 17th of July 1689. It was a bloody battle and although the Jacobites were victorious, Dundee was killed and sometime later Rob’s father, Donald (Glas), was captured and imprisoned for two years on doubtful treason charges. On Donald’s release from prison his wife Margaret was dead (1691) and Donald was never to return to his former spirit and health and died in 1702. 

Although now in his early twenties, Rob concentrated on the family business with his brother - cattle rearing with a wee bit of reiving (stealing) thrown in which was fairly normal practice in the Highlands. During this time his business aptitude was growing, as was his political knowledge and he became fairly respected as a businessman, well known throughout Scotland with  respectable holdings in Inversnaid and Graigrostan. Some say he also ran cattle as a protection racket. Now 22 Rob was to marry Helen MacGregor of Comar, born at Leny Farm, Strathyre on January 1693 at Glenarklet. They were to have 4 sons - James (Mor) the tall, Ranald, Coll, and Robert known as Robin (Oig) or young Rob. They also adopted a cousin – Duncan.

In 1711, wanting to expand his cattle trade, Rob borrowed the sum of £1000 from James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose with whom he had been doing business for some 10 years. Montrose (known for his greed) had made a lot of money through his investments in MacGregor's trade but when one of Rob’s trusted associates disappeared with the money, a fortune at the time even for a wealthy cattle and land owner, Montrose showed no mercy to Rob who was unable to repay the sum and pressed home the advantage hoping to claim Rob’s land and cattle. Rob was branded ‘Outlaw’ by Montrose and he confiscated his lands and cattle.

Highland Cattle
Highland Cattle, in Rob's Day most were Black

Rob then rented land in Glen Dochart from his mother’s cousin John Campbell, the Earl of Breadalbane, (who earlier in 1703 had been made the 2nd Duke of Argyle’) a political enemy of Montrose. Argyle, who we assume knew that Rob was a Jacobite sympathiser, was prepared to turn a blind eye as Rob wreaked his revenge on Montrose by raiding his lands. Montrose however did manage to capture Rob but he escaped and by now his escapades were attaining folk hero status in the glens.

 The Battle of Sherifmuir in 1715 saw Rob with mixed allegiances as the Duke of Argyle took the government side against the Jacobites and he was forced to miss the battle. Even so he became a marked man with High Treason charges over his head and spent the next 10 years a hunted man. Although he was involved in various skirmishes like the one in Glen Sheil in 1719, he managed to escape capture on various occasions until in 1725 he was captured by General Wade and imprisoned in the famous Newgate Prison in London. Rob was sentenced to transportation to Barbados but before he was due to be deported he received a pardon from King George 1st and returned home to his family in 1727.

Rod Roys Grave
Rob Roys Grave with Helen, Coll & James

Rob was to live out his life with his family in relative tranquillity, changing his religion from Protestant to Catholicism. He died at Inverlochie on the 28th of December 1734 at the age of 63 and was laid to rest at Balquhidder Kirkyard. His death was reported a week later in the Caledonian Mercury in Edinburgh. He had left his wife twenty three English pounds. His grave can still be seen today alongside that of Helen his wife and two of his sons Coll and James. 

‘Rob Roy Macgregor Hero or Outlaw’

Further Information

 Coll married Margaret MacGregor at Coilletir in 1721 at age 23. At 24 Ranald and James were following a career of black mail and violence. In 1732 Ranald was courting Jean, the 16 year old daughter of his chieftain Gregor of Glengyle. Rob, worried for his son, thought that Ranald would settle down if given a chance. He obtained a tract of land from young Drummond for him, where Ranald settled for the next 54 years. Coll and Robin, are buried. 

Robin, became the black sheep of the family. He murdered John MacLaren of Invernenty in 1736. In 1745 he fought under the duke of Cumberland at Fontenoy. After his discharge he married a sister of Graham of Drunkie, who died 3 years later. In 1750 he kidnapped Jean Key, a 20 year old, and married her by force. Robin was caught and hanged for the crime four years later at 38. James, the eldest, was a major in the rising of 1745 when he helped burn the barracks of Inversaid. He brought honour to his name at Prestonpans, where Prince Charles Edward Stuart (The Young Pretender), or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' defeated Sir John Cope. 

He fought at Culloden and escaped with the MacGregors. He was imprisoned in Edinburgh castle for aiding his brother Robin Og, but escaped with help from his daughter. He died in poverty in Paris at age 59. Coll died at Kerkton in 1745. His grandson and great grandson were both major-generals. Duncan lived in Strathyre under the name of Drummond. He was tried in Edinburgh for helping Rogin Og, and found not guilty. He left no family, and died in 1786 at age 80. Little is known of his life. 

© John A. Duncan of Sketraw, FSA Scot. 2002   


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