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GREAT HEROES OF GREAT BRITAIN: ROB ROY MacGREGOR

Travel is people. You may go abroad to see the famous sites, but what you remember best are the people you meet. Among them, like unexpected treasure, are a few memorable contacts that will make your travels unique, special, and delightful. "People" is devoted to some of those you may come in contact with during your Home At First travels.

PATRIOT? SCOUNDREL? CENTRAL SCOTLAND'S FAVORITE BAD-BOY SON.

This article first appeared in 2000.                                                               Last update: 2014.

 

CENTRAL SCOTLAND’S

Rob Roy

MacGregor

HIGHLAND HERO or VILLAIN?

          "MACGREGOR DESPITE THEM". The three-
word epitaph at the ancient grave in the churchyard of the little Balquhidder kirk speaks for a nation.

          Few individuals can claim to represent the spirit of a nation or culture. Scotland’s Rob Roy MacGregor easily carries the weighty honor of being Scotland’s cultural hero. The combination of Rob Roy’s assigned Highlander traits fierce independence, cleverness, roguery, strength, loyalty, pride, and bravery may be defined as the idealized

Rob Roy MacGregor.

character of the Scots. The traits were assigned by no less than Sir Walter Scott, Hollywood, and the Scottish legend himself.

          Rob Roy MacGregor was born 1671 along pretty Loch Katrine in Glen Gyle, the valley between Balquhidder and Loch Lomond. Third son of a military officer, Rob Roy fought for Scottish independence on the side of the Scottish royalty the Stewarts against the forces of William and Mary at Killiecrankie in 1689.
          During this time his fame as a warrior began to spread. When the Jacobites —the Stewart supporters lost their struggle to regain the British throne, many Highland clans were forced give up their names, and many Highlanders changed their names to those of the pro-English clans. When the MacGregor name was outlawed in 1694, Rob Roy occasionally took on his mother’s clan’s name, Campbell, the name of a Highland clan that had long supported English domination of the Highlands.

          Rob Roy exchanged his political concerns for those of hearth and home, building up his father’s "cattle business", which often included rustling cattle from neighbors and surrounding territories. Rob Roy probably practiced the venerable and widely accepted Highland techniques of blackmail and bribery to achieve his goals. So normal was the practice that so glorious a military unit as Scotland’s Highland Black Watch, which had been formed in 1725 to guard against cattle thieving, were known accept pay to look the other way.
          Hard times and lean years forced Rob Roy to raid Scotland’s southern Lowlands for cattle. He became so successful at rustling even entire herds without getting caught that his reputation impressed the region’s most powerful landowner, the Duke of Montrose. In 1711, Montrose offered Rob Roy a business opportunity to buy and fatten up a herd of sturdy cattle, to be resold for profit. But when Rob Roy sent one of his trusted men to collect 1,000 from Montrose to purchase the cattle, the man ran off with the money, leaving MacGregor holding the bag. An angry Montrose declared MacGregor an outlaw, seized his land and burned down his house.
          For eight years Rob Roy lived the outlaw life, avoiding capture — sometimes by the slimmest of margins and gaining legendary status in the Highlands. A vengeful Rob Roy along with as many as 500 supporters performed many successful raids against Montrose, and once more took up the Stewart cause by participating in several Jacobite battles.

          By 1720 Rob Roy had earned considerable notoriety for his open defiance of the British and was growing weary of life on the lam. He returned home to his family farm in Balquhidder Glen and attempted to live again in peace. The memories of his enemies were not short, however, and in 1725 Rob Roy turned himself in to English General Wade. He was charged with high treason against the Crown and put in London’s infamous Newgate prison. Like many anti-English Highlanders who were exiled to other parts of the Empire often Canada, and Ireland Rob Roy was to become an indentured servant in the Barbados. However, MacGregor received a King’s pardon in 1727 before deportation, and returned to finish his life in Balquhidder, where he died of natural causes in 1734.
          Ironically, Rob Roy owes his continued legend more to one Lowland Scot (Sir Walter Scott), two English writers (Daniel Defoe and William Wordsworth), and Hollywood movies than he does his Highland neighbors.


 

The Home At First Connection:
          Rob Roy married Mary Helen MacGregor, born at Leny Farm, Strathyre. They raised four sons. Rob Roy died in his house at
Inverlochlarig, at the west end of Balquhidder Glen. He is buried in Balquhidder churchyard, but his age on the grave’s ornamental railing incorrectly states his age at death to be 70. He was 63.
          Traditional MacGregor territory extended through western Perthshire and across to Loch Awe in the Trossachs, to have been interspersed with the lands of the Campbells, with the MacGregors getting the poorer land. Rob Roy often used the surname Campbell. His wife was a Campbell and he enjoyed, to some extent, the protection of that clan. Rob Roy finished his years in Balquhidder using his real name. Forty years after his death, the outlawed status of the MacGregor name was officially withdrawn. Rob Roy hadn’t waited. His independence and self-assurance meant he could remain "MacGregor, despite them."
         
Home At First’s Scotland Central Highlands travel program brings visitors into the heart of Rob Roy country. Home At First offers

Rob Roy's Grave, Balquhidder. Photo  Home At First.
'MACGREGOR DESPITE THEM':
ROB ROY'S GRAVE AT BALQUHIDDER

Photo Home At First

cottage accommodations throughout this region, including several in Balquhidder village, where Rob Roy is buried. Fortunately, this beautiful part of Scotland remains largely unheralded despite its dramatic scenery, central location, and status as Scotland's first national park. Rob Roy would recognize it easily today as the glen he knew so intimately as his home.

 

Learn more about Home At First's travel program to: CENTRAL SCOTLAND.

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