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Massacre of Glencoe

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Massacre of Glencoe

Glencoe, Argyll The 13th of February 1692 AD

While the rest of Scotland aligned itself with King William III’s political reform, the Highland clans were fermenting a rebellion to restore the Stuart kings to the throne. When the Glorious Revolution of 1688 ousted James II (VII of Scotland), it was no surprise that they were reluctant to accept William III as their king. The Highlanders were primarily Catholic; post-Reformation their interests were marginalised.
Jacobitism erupted; sporadic and impassioned insurrections would be launched between 1689 and 1745, before the movement died on the blood-soaked moors of Culloden . The Glencoe Massacre was the most barbaric atrocity to inflame Jacobite passions – 38 Macdonald men slaughtered in cold blood; Achacon, Invercoe, and Inverrigan were razed to the ground. Woman, children and the elderly perished on the mountains.
On the face of it, the Massacre Of Glencoe was an act sired by clan rivalry – Macdonalds massacred by old foes, the Campbells. But in truth, the affair is more complex – William III would be complicit in ordering the slaughter. The Highlanders not only failed to swear fealty to him, they were taking up arms against him. In a bid to bring stability to the realm, the Highland chiefs were offered a truce. The Jacobite rising would be par-doned if they would denounce their rising, and swear allegiance to the king by the 1st January, 1692.
But when Alastair MacIain, 12th Chief of Glencoe, missed the new year deadline, the Macdonalds of Glencoe would face the storm of the king’s vengeance. It mattered not that Maclain’s oath had been accepted in good faith by Colin Campbell, sheriff Of Argyll – after all, MacIain had made great efforts to meet the deadline, travelling from Inverness to Inveraray in the depths of the Scottish winter. The Glencoe Macdonalds were the smallest branch of all the Macdonald clans; they were an easy target.
The massacre was engineered at the highest level. John Dalrymple , Master of Stair and Lord Advocate, and Sir Thomas Livingstone, the king’s commander in Scotland, would be involved in the planning of the massacre. The Campbells of Argyll and the Macdonalds were traditionally enemies – blaming each other for theft of livestock and land – Dalrymple and Livingstone would leave the smoking gun in the possession of the Campbells. Dalrymple didn’t want to stop at Glencoe; Keppoch, Appin , Glengarry, and Locheil were all potential targets.
It was meticulously planned; the forces of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenloyn would visit the Macdonalds on the pretense of tax collecting. They were afforded hospitality – Campbell was family after all, his niece was married to Alexander Macdonald, son of Alastair MacIain. Chief Thomas Drummond, a senior officer in the government army, would arrive, carrying orders from: all men under the age of 70 would be killed.
On February, 13 at five o’ clock in the morning, the killings began. The massacre was cold, ruthless and treacherous. Some soldiers would disobey their orders, allowing their hosts the chance to escape. As this was ‘murder under trust’, Scots law would view the crime more gravely than murder – soldiers would not exempt them from trial just because they were following orders. This was a brutal sacking; those who survived would have no homes, family, or livestock to return to.
A government inquiry was held, and though Dalrymple, among others, would be found culpable, there were no punishments, no official censure. To this day the Campbell name is tainted in association with the outrage. The Massacre Of Glencoe was one of Scotland’s darkest hours – the nadir in the relationship between lowlander and Highlander, exploited most cynically by the country’s rulers.

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