Group: Celtic Nation
Realm: The desert of Arizona
Roy MacGregor 1671-1734
The character and exploits of Robert MacGregor (the 'Roy' meaning 'red' referred to his hair colour) have been more than usually obscured by later legends, stories and films. The real Rob Roy was essentially a cattle dealer and freebooter inhabiting the southern edge of the Highland Line, but his strong personality and picturesque life of banditry, capture and escape caught the imagination of the public even during his lifetime.
The MacGregors had a centuries-old reputation for wrong-doing, and in 1603, the entire clan had been outlawed. Rob himself, born in 1671 at Glengyle at the head of Loch Katrine, won a reputation for himself as an expert and reasonably legitimate cattle dealer, though this was supported by a kind of protection racket common enough in that business at that time and place. Thus - for a price - he would guarantee the safety of the cattle belonging to his 'clients', and was at least as good as his word, for he gained still more of a reputation by his skill in tracking down and retrieving cattle stolen by others.
The glens of the Southern Highlands were much more populous than they are today, and where now there are only scant traces of cottage foundations or vast conifer plantations, sizeable communities lived a reasonably stable existence. Far from being a kind of Highland savage, Rob Roy was a man of some substance and education, responsible for the well-being of the extended family around him.
His cattle droving business prospered to the extent that his landlord, the Marquess of Montrose invested in it and reaped his share of the profits, and in 1712 advanced the then enormous sum of £1,000. This was when events took a downward turn, for the money was stolen by an associate who then disappeared and Rob Roy himself was inevitably accused of the crime. When he decided it would not be prudent to appear in response to a court summons, he was officially declared outlaw, and Montrose swiftly dispatched troops to Rob's Loch Lomondside home of Craigrostan, where his wife and children were evicted and the house set alight.
Having been thus named an outlaw, and outraged at the ensuing consequences, Rob decided that he would react by accepting the role in earnest, and commenced the audacious banditry that would make him famous. Leading his followers, all of whom were adept at the guerrilla-like tactics of the cattle reiver, he chose the lands and property of Montrose as his prime targets. The political situation aided him now, for the powerful Campbell Duke of Argyll, a rival of Montrose, provided habitation for Rob and his family on his own estates.
Argyll was a staunch supporter of the new Hanoverian dynasty, and it was perhaps for this reason that Rob Roy and his followers, although Jacobites themselves, played no active part in the 1715 uprising or the Battle of Sheriffmuir which ended the rebellion in the Hanoverians' favour.
While these national events were happening, the private war between Rob Roy and Montrose continued. Rob and his men kidnapped Graham of Killearn, the Marquess's factor and imprisoned him on a small island on Loch Katrine for ransom. Contrary to the myth of being bloodthirsty barbarians, which had been promoted by Montrose, Roy allowed the factor to go unharmed when the ransom demand was refused.
However, things seemed to be going the way of the Marquess when Rob was captured in the Trossachs and taken towards Stirling Castle. While crossing the Ford of Frew on the River Forth, Rob made a dramatic leap from his captor's horse, and swam to safety in the gathering dusk, pursued by a fusillade of musket shots. This story would lose nothing in the retelling and added to Rob Roy's growing heroic stature; more immediately, it caused the disheartened Montrose to give up his pursuit.
However, another noble adversary soon emerged in shape of the Duke of Atholl. This time, there was nothing personal involved, simply the chance of gaining reputation and advancement by bringing such a notorious outlaw to justice, while at the same time, discrediting his old adversary, Argyll. Captured again, apparently by some treachery on the part of Atholl, Rob Roy made yet another audacious escape, this time from the prison at Logierait in Perthshire, and continued his harassment of both Montrose and Atholl.
There was no melodramatic finale to these events, and Rob was able to make his peace with the authorities after the death of Atholl in 1724. Contrary to all expectations, the demise of Rob Roy was not by sword, gun or gallows; he died peacefully at his home in Balquhidder, having lived well into his sixties.
Even during his own lifetime the dramatic possibilities of Rob Roy's story had been recognised by no less a writer than Daniel Defoe. But he was really 'discovered' by Sir Walter Scott, visiting the area only some sixty years after Rob Roy's death. In the novel Rob Roy which Scott subsequently wrote, Rob is in fact a secondary figure in a fictional tale of romance and Jacobite plotting. Due to public interest, Scott added more factual anecdotes as addenda to later editions of the best-selling novel. The growing legend was aided by its picturesque locations in the relatively accessible areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs which were then finding their tourist potential (also thanks in large part to Scott).
Numerous theatrical presentations and film versions followed; the most recent and by far the most successful was the exaggerated but convincingly staged 1995 film, Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson.
Places to visit: Rob Roy Visitor Centre, Callander; Rob Roy's Grave, Balquhidder
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courtesy of Scotland.com