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Life & Events > The Glencoe Massacre

The Glencoe Massacre

1692 - Order for the Massacre of Glencoe

This is the original order sent to Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, instructing him to kill the MacDonalds of Glencoe. He was to spare none below the age of seventy. The resulting massacre is remembered not just for its premeditated brutality but for its violation of an unwritten code of conduct: the perpetrators of the deed had enjoyed the hospitality of their victims for twelve days before turning on them.

In 1688 the removal of James II and VII in favour of William of Orange had led to the first ever Jacobite uprising. Its leader, Viscount Dundee, died at the battle of Killiecrankie and the rebellion broke up. All that remained was to pacify the Highland chiefs who had joined the enterprise. To this end a proclamation was issued in August 1691 requiring clan chiefs to take the Oath of Allegiance to King William by Hogmanay that year. By the accident of reporting to the wrong official at the last possible moment, Clan MacDonald of Glencoe missed the vital deadline. Secretary of State James Dalymple, Master of Stair, was no friend to the MacDonalds. This was the excuse he had been waiting for. The order for the massacre went ahead.

Presented in 1925 by the Rt Hon James Ramsay MacDonald. Adv. MS. 23.6.24

 On 27 August 1691 King William offered the Highland clans a pardon for their part in the Jacobite rising - if they agreed to pledge allegiance to him before New Year’s Day. 
The oath had to be made before a magistrate.
Many Highland Chiefs waited for word to come from the exiled King James before they took the oath.
Alasdair MacIain, the Chief of Glencoe, arrived at Fort Willliam on 31 December 1691 to take the oath but was told that he would have to travel some 70 miles to the sheriff at Inveraray.
 Because of the bad weather conditions, MacIain finally took the oath
on 6 January 1692.
 He was given assurances that his allegiance would be accepted and that he and his people - the McDonalds of Glencoe - were safe.
John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, was the Secretary of State. He was hoping for an excuse to make an example of one of the Highland Clans. When he heard that Alasdair MacIain had not sworn allegiance by 31 December he was delighted:

“My Lord Argyle tells me that Glencoe has not taken the oath, at which I rejoice. It is a great work of charity to be exact in the rooting out of that damnable sect, the worst in all the Highlands.”
On 2 February about 120 troops arrived at Glencoe under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.
 They were given hospitality by the MacDonalds of Glencoe as was customary in the Highlands. For the next 10 days and nights the troops were given food, drink and lodgings, living among the families as ‘friends’ would.
On 12 February Glenlyon received written orders from his superior, Major Duncanson:

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds of Glencoe, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old Fox and his sons do upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape”.
At 5 am on the morning of 12 February 1692 the killing began.
Alasdair MacIain of Glencoe was shot dead as he rose from his bed, his wife was dragged away from her fallen husband and stripped naked. She died the next day.
 Houses were set alight. The troops bound some captives hand and foot before killing them.
 Gunfire woke the people of Glencoe.
 They ran from their homes and fled into the mountains.
Thirty eight men, women and children were killed in the massacre.
 Many more died of exposure as they tried to escape across the mountains in the dead of winter.
The MacDonalds, had been victims of ‘murder under trust’, considered even worse than normal acts of murder under Scots law.
The Massacre of Glencoe was also an act of terror by the state against its own people.
The MacDonalds were killed to scare the other Highland Clans into submission.
John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, had planned the murders.
The orders to kill the MacDonalds of Glencoe had been signed by King William.
As word of the massacre spread, the Government tried to cover up what had happened.
Eventually, in 1695, King William had to launch an enquiry.
The Master of Stair, resigned his offices and was given a Government pension.
Robert Campbell of Glenlyon died in poverty a year later. No-one was ever brought to trial.

posted on Dec 8, 2010 4:26 PM ()


One more comment:
The Scots in my ancestry were forced to emigrate during the 'clearances,' when English overlords replaced the highland clans with sheep. My folk, several families and all but one group were Gordon clansmen and Gordon septs (the other was a Clan Gregor sept family), all settled in Appalachia and immediately brought their distilling skills to fruition in the mountains. My dad's father was born and raised in eastern Kentucky. Since then, the family has shrunk to a few Adams names and Bartons. At least one descendant still approves of highland brewing tastes.
comment by jondude on Dec 16, 2010 1:26 PM ()
How difficult and how bloody and how cold history can be!!!
comment by elderjane on Dec 10, 2010 10:55 AM ()
All of our history as a whole, is 'grusome', to say the least, but from the Norman Conquest - Edward the First specifically, Scotland & Wales (not too sure about Ireland) suffered the most under his rule. Scotland has had it the worst, even up to the 1970's to be honest! When they received 'home rule' a few years ago, it was the best news for them
(wish 'Wales' had it)!
reply by febreze on Dec 16, 2010 10:49 AM ()
When we visited Ely, at night I peed on the outside wall of Cromwell's house. That's what I think of him!
comment by jondude on Dec 10, 2010 4:03 AM ()
A very discerning gesture
I was saying to Joan, I know very little about Ireland, but, when I think of it's history, the first thing that comes to my mind, are the horrors which Cromwell imposed upon them - 'barbaric' doesn't even come close! He was a horrible man.
reply by febreze on Dec 16, 2010 10:59 AM ()
Same here.jonjude is the man.
comment by fredo on Dec 9, 2010 9:42 AM ()
That he is Fredo, that he is
reply by febreze on Dec 9, 2010 5:05 PM ()
I can't top Jon's response!
comment by solitaire on Dec 9, 2010 6:32 AM ()
I have never seen you lost for words
reply by febreze on Dec 9, 2010 5:04 PM ()
This is why to this day, nobody in my clan ever buys Campbell soup. The Campbells were rats who did the deed for the English overlords. They also fought with Cumberland against the Highland clans at Culloden. So did Clan Sutherland, Clan Sinclair, Clan Campbell, Clan MacKay, Clan Munro, Clan Ross, Clan Gunn, Clan MacLeod, Clan Grant. My ancestors were Clan Gordon and I'm proud of it. "Up with a wee dram for Bonnie Prince Charlie over the water!"
comment by jondude on Dec 8, 2010 7:42 PM ()
I only buy Heinz Tomatoe for me and Heinz Oxtail, Mushroom and Chicken for Bedrock
Over the centuries, Scotland has suffered badlly. I have been watching a documentary series from the 'birth' of Pictland, up to the present day. So interesting! I have mentioned before, that I knew very little about the country.
It is a complex country. I knw you are of the Clan Gordon (we spoke about it yonks ago). Oh, there is another thing that I found out. Did you know, that the only time that Scotland had been completely 'conqueured' (for want of anoter word), was by that very courtly (not) gentleman, Olive Cromwell? That came as a surprise.
I will raise a a dram with you Jon - Clink - May your kilt be worn with pride
reply by febreze on Dec 9, 2010 4:59 PM ()

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