HIGHLAND HERO or
"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. Scotlands
Rob Roy MacGregor easily carries the weighty honor of being Scotlands cultural hero.
The combination of Rob Roys assigned Highlander traits
cleverness, roguery, strength, loyalty, pride, and bravery
may be defined as the
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 mothers clans name,
Campbell, the name of a Highland clan that had long supported English domination of the
Rob Roy exchanged his political concerns for
those of hearth and home, building up his fathers "cattle business", which
rustling cattle from neighbors and surrounding
territories. Rob Roy probably practiced the venerable
accepted Highland techniques of blackmail and bribery to achieve his goals. So normal
was the practice that so glorious a military unit as Scotlands 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 Scotlands southern Lowlands for cattle. He became so successful at rustling
even entire herds without getting caught that his reputation impressed the regions
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 Londons 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
Kings 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.