Massacre of Glencoe

Glencoe, Scotland
Glencoe, Scotland

The Massacre of Glencoe, as it became known as, is possibly the most infamous incident in a bloody and violent Scottish history. It took place in Glencoe early one snowy morning on the 13th of February 1692.

The MacIan’s, a small sect of the mighty clan MacDonald, had offered hospitality to a group of 120 soldiers under the command of a Captain Robert Campbell, who had asked for board and lodgings for his men during the worst of the Scottish winter weather, claiming the Fort William barracks were full up.

Campbell’s army was made up of many ordinary Argyllshire men who were not members of the Clan Campbell. Campbell himself was a waster and analcoholic, who had lost his estates and property to the MacDonalds in an earlier raid. He had had to join the army to pay off some of his debts, despite being 60 years old. His niece was married to a son of MacIan and he was possibly trusted and offered hospitality because of this.

copy of the original order to carry out the massacre, signed by William of Orange
copy of the original order to carry out the massacre, signed by William of Orange

After being entertained, fed, and watered for 10 days, Campbell received a written order from his superior officer, Major Robert Duncanson, signed by the King, to slay all of the MacIan’s at 5am in the morn of that fateful day, with the promise of another battalion of the King’s army arriving shortly after to seal off all possible escape routes.

Thirty eight men, women and children were slaughtered, with hundreds more fleeing for their lives in the dark and freezing cold of an early winter’s morning, during a raging blizzard. It is estimated up to a hundred died of exposure in the nearby mountains and hills.

Alistair MacIan’s (elderly) wife was reportedly stripped naked and had her rings forcibly removed by soldiers biting her fingers off. She died less than a day later of her injuries.

Amazingly two sons and a grandchild of Alistair MacIan survived.

The promised troops never arrived, or arrived late, leaving the exit routes clear.

It is quite probable that most of the troops refused to kill their hosts, and helped them escape. In fact the first killings of that fateful morn were by gunshot. What better way to arouse the sleeping MacDonalds and give them precious moments to escape?

Map of scotland, showing the mountainous and flatter areas
Map of scotland, showing the mountainous and flatter areas

The History Behind the Massacre of Glencoe

Geographically, Scotland is divided into two parts by the Highland Boundary Fault which cuts a swathe from Helensburgh in the South West to Stonehaven the North East. To the north of the Fault Line lies rocky mountainous areas, and to the South more flat and fertile land.

Politically and religiously the divide was as great, with Catholic Jacobites to the North and Calvinistic Protestants to the South.

The English-speaking Lowlanders in the South fought with the English against many of the Gaelic-speaking northerners, known as Highlanders.

The Highlanders supported the Catholic Jacobites, the last of whom, King James VII of Scotland and James II of England, had been forced to flee after King William of Orange, a Dutchman, took over the English throne at the invite of the English Parliament. King James II had passed a Law stating that entering a Protestant Presbyterian Church would be punishable by death, and the Lowlanders with the help of the English overthrew him.

Scotland had a separate monarchy up until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

Just for comparison purposes, the current English Queen, Elizabeth II, is also Elizabeth I of Scotland.

A markerGlencoe Scotland -
Glencoe, Ballachulish, Argyll PH49 4, UK
[get directions]

memorial stone
memorial stone

William of Orange then demanded that all Highland Clans sign a decree of loyalty to him. He made this demand at the end of August 1691, and said all had to be signed by the 1st of January, 1692. However, many clans who had previously signed allegiance to King James VII, waited until written word came from him in exile to release them of their contract. This paper finally arrived on the 16th Of December.

On the 31st December, Alistair MacIan set out for Fort William to sign this decree as he had been instructed, only to find out when he arrived there that he had instead to go to Inverary, 70 miles away in the opposite direction from whence he had come. There is some suggestion that he was deliberately fed the wrong instruction to delay him.

On his way to Inverary, he was further delayed by Campbell troops who held him under house arrest for a day or two. By the time he reached Inverary he was already two days late, and it was to find that the sheriff wasn’t there and it was a further 3 days before he returned to accept the signature and stamp it. However, he was assured his clan would be safe despite the lateness in signing.

King William’s personal advisor, John Dalrymple, had different ideas, as he had a personal grudge against MacIan, partly because his clan was the most verocious of the cattle-thievery that went on, and partly because of his past allegiance to the Catholic King James VII, and it was he who dreamt up the plan to put the Campbell army there to befriend the MacIans, and he who persuaded King William to sign the warrant that would lead to the execution of the MacDonalds of Glencoe.

It must be remembered in those days that the Highlanders were wild men, who lived by the land, and fought each other and stole cattle from each other on a regular basis, and this had been their way of life for centuries.

The Lowlanders, on the other hand, were more industrious and peaceful.

History tells us of many times when the Kings troops ventured into the Highland territory and wiped out complete clans, missing nobody, quite openly, with their advanced weaponry. The Highlanders were just like the men in the film Braveheart, utterly fearless even in the face of overwhelming odds, and a force to be reckoned with, with their claymores (two-handed long swords).

The Glencoe Massacre was different.

There was murder, and there was murder under trust. To accept hospitality, and then turn and kill your hosts without prior warning was expressly forbidden under Scots Law, and a later Scottish enquiry found the massacre to be completely illegal, although no-one ever faced trial for their part in it. Dalrymple was forced to resign from the government, with a healthy pension, but was later re-instated and eventually awarded an Earldom (the Earl of Stair). He was instrumental in bringing about theAct of Union in 1707 which united the people of Scotland and England under the one government and one flag.

The whole affair was swept under the carpet as if it never happened. But the people of Scotland, Highlander and Lowlander alike, never forgot, and never forgave those who should have been held responsible.

Words of the song "Glencoe"

{ CHORUS }

Oh cruel as the snow that sweeps Glencoe,

and covers the graves o' Donald (Donnell),

Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,

and murdered the house of MacDonald.

They came in a blizzard, we offered them heat,

a roof for their heads, dry shoes for their feet,

we wined them and dined them, they ate all our meat,

and they slept in the house of MacDonald.

Repeat Chorus ----

They came from fort William, with murder in mind,

the Campbell had orders, King William had signed,

put all to the sword, these words underlined,

leave no one alive called MacDonald.

Repeat Chorus ----

They came in the night, while our men were asleep,

this band of Argylls, through snow soft and deep,

like murdering foxes, among helpless sheep,

they slaughtered the house of MacDonald.

Repeat Chorus ----

Some died in their beds, at the hands of the foe,

some fled in the night, and were lost in the snow,

some lived to accuse him, who struck the first blow,

but gone was the house of MacDonald.

Oh cruel as the snow that sweeps Glencoe,

and covers the graves o' Donald,

Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,

and murdered the house of MacDonald,

and murdered the house of MacDonald.

Words: J. McLean

More by this Author


Comments 61 comments

ralwus 6 years ago

Girl you did this quick, Gee thanks. I have read about this many times and from what I learned is many of the men with Campbell were Irish, and Robert did kill his in-laws. He suffered for it all his life. He was under orders by the King and I really don't know what would have happened if he would have disobeyed and Dalrymple was a real rat. I enjoyed the video immensely. Thanks for fulfilling my request. this is a wonderful surprise. Your new friend Charlie.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

You're welcome Charlie:)

I also think the research out there shows that the Campbells were unfairly blamed for this atrocity. The Campbells had aligned themselves with the English government in Scotland for years and it would have been extremely detrimental to them to disobey this order. Those were violent days! Also, Robert Campbell was I think, especially chosen for this job as he had more to lose than anyone if he disobeyed. That and the fact he was a drunken oaf who actually later was instrumental in letting the public know what had happened by gettng drunk and leaving vital papers relating to the massacre in an Edinburgh Bar!

I hope I have got my facts straight above. I had to do a lot of reading to learn all the pertinent facts.

Oh and I had to put the Corries video in. That's my favourite Scottish Band singing my favourite Scottish ballad!


ralwus 6 years ago

Well, you did a fantastic job of it. I have found electricscotland dot com to have many important things for me. A lot of history written by many historians along with other fine bits. A Scots man who now lives in Canada started it, Alistair I think is his name. My dream is to someday go 'home' for a visit, I just don't like to fly any more. Thanks again for a great hub. Charlie


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

Great hub Izzym Glencoe has its own natural beauty, but the eerie atmosphere is there always, to remind us of the slaughter that occurred there.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks, D.A.L.:)

Yes it is really creepy all round that area, no matter the weather. What an awful time to live in. I'm just glad I wasn't there!


selrach 6 years ago

Great well researched hub Izzym.I have visited glencoe and the visitor centre a few times,as I live on the west coast. A must see for any tourists.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks selrach:)

If you don't mind me asking, whereabouts on the west coast are you?


Happyontheinside profile image

Happyontheinside 6 years ago from Scotland

Another west coaster and (i'm ashamed to say after reading the above) a Campbell. Sorry :( Nice hub; it's good to see other folk taking an interest in our culture and history on here.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

No another of ye's!

Hehehe!

Thanks for reading and for your comment. At least you can stop feeling guilty now. It wasn't your fault! Yer man wuz forced intae it!


Make  Money profile image

Make Money 6 years ago from Ontario

Good topic for a hub Izzy. Actually Lord Tarbet proposed it while John Campbell the Lord Breadalbane offered to carry out the massacre. Dalrymple appears later to have been at the bottom of the scheme. No Campbell's men were not Irish, they were Campbells. The MacDonalds of Glencoe still considered the lands and property of the Campbells as their own thus they took some cattle. But cattle stealing in those days predominantly took place in the border regions in the Lowlands as the show Rob Roy and many historical pages show.

There has been a lot of speculation as to what happened with the remaining members of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. Some say they escaped to Ireland, others say eventually to the US or Canada. Another story that I read was that they settled in with the Nes Pers indians before they were massacred by the US army.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Mike, I'll do some more research tomorrow - too tired tonight (its after midnight here) - but I'm pretty sure I read on several websites that the Campbell army were not Campbells. I believe there were some yes but predominantly not.


Make  Money profile image

Make Money 6 years ago from Ontario

Yeah you are right Izzy, this page says "Most of the regiment was recruited from the Argyll estates but only a minority actually bore the Campbell name, others, including many of the officers, came from the Lowlands." Not Irish though, as ralwus previously mentioned. :-)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Glencoe


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

You must remember that Argyll, at that time, was full of Irish immigrants, so he could be right too.

I need to go look up Breadalbane's part in all this. I know he was thrown in the cells for a few days after the scandal broke, but I understood his role to be minor compared to Dalrymple, the then Secretary of State for Scotland and personal adviser to William of Orange.

The unfortunate part of writing a hub on a subject such as this, is that there simply isn't enough room to input all the history of the time so I had to choose what I thought to be the most revelant points to condense into so few words.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

What a painful story. I cringed as I read this hub. Wonderfully written though IzzyM. I could see the events in my mind. In behalf of the Hubnuggets Team, I wish thee "CONGRATULATIONS!" for being a hubnugget wannabe. Yipppeeee... enjoy the hubnuggets over here - http://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/im-dreaming-o...


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Wow! Thankyou ripplemaker! You have soooo cheered me up on a freezing winter's night when the heating has broken down!


Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

IzzyM. I so enjoyed reading this history. It sounds like you have done a great deal of reading! I personally shall be voting for your hub in the HubNugget Wannabe nomination process. What a great job! Loved it


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thank you so much Duchess:) Your comment is appreciated.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

uh-oh has the heating been restored? :(


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

no, but I've got a little halogen heater on the floor at my legs so it's not so bad. The temp in the room is at 11C now. Almost a heatwave;)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for this slice of Scotish history. As a McGregor the Campbell name is always rather suspect to me! I kid, of course.

My Highland forebears came fom Golspie in Sutherland which was also, later, the scene of much brutality in the so-called clearances which I touched on in my Hub on Golspie: http://hubpages.com/travel/Vintage-postcards-of-Go...

Love and peace

Tony


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Never been to Golspie, looks a nice place! You're in South Africa? Us Scots get everywhere LOL


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Great Hub, Izzy - Glencoe is a very mournful place and the land remembers the tragedy. They didn't just ignore the laws of Scotland, but also an extremely ancient custom - guilty or not, it is no surprise that the Campbells were shunned for many, many generations.

As an aside, one of my friends was a MacGregor and used to physically wince when she heard the name Campbell - the Scottish have long memories! :)


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Being a MacDonald myself, the name Campbell doesn't bother me in the slightest, but as a child we used to feign indignation towards the Campbells, a few of whom attended the same school. It may be different in other parts of the world but in Scotland, it's all ancient history. There is just a deep sadness from all sides that such a terrible thing happened at all.


the rope 6 years ago

Great hub! Ralwus had told me you had done this one and I'm thrilled to know it has been nominated for a hubnugget. Congrats on great work.


avangend profile image

avangend 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Very interesting, and excellent reading. I am a bit of a history buff, but I apparently do not know much about Scotland's past (though a bit has now been revealed to me). Thanks for a great hub.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks for both your comments. It is lovely to be appreciated:)


Mortgagestar1 profile image

Mortgagestar1 6 years ago from Weirton,West Virginia

Love this post! My Scottish American heritage is stired!

Mark James Thompson.

From The Campbell Clan decendent.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Glad you liked it:)

Man,you Campbells get everywhere! lol


ralwus 6 years ago

Well look at you, a hubnugget nominee. Gee, you deserve it also for a great hub. You got a lot of attention with this, I love it! Merry Christmas now, Charlie m,m good Campbell LOL


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Merry Christmas to you Charlie:)

And thanks x


Tammy Lochmann profile image

Tammy Lochmann 6 years ago

Great Story! Congrats on the Hubnugget nomination.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Tammy, and congrats on your own nomination too!


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 6 years ago from Ohio

Wonderfully written hub. My wife ,Tammy will love reading this. She is a distant relative of Charlie's. Thanks.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

LOL...more Campbells! Thanks for your comment:)


GeneralHowitzer profile image

GeneralHowitzer 6 years ago from Land of Salt, Philippines

Wow Izzy you rock!!!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Glad you liked it:)


hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

Very interesting. I love Scotland since I went to Edinburgh when I was 18. I'm not really good at Scot's history though so I find these kind of hubs great. I think that they had such a hard past due mainly for their inability to cooperate, and also because they were much honorable. Great hub.


Albert 6 years ago

It's very important not to forget history. Thanks for the hub.


Albert 6 years ago

Excellent.


johnwindbell profile image

johnwindbell 6 years ago from - the land of beards and buggies

Oh, thank you so much, your hub took me back. 'Stepping Back'

Actualy I haven't finished it yet, but wanted

to leave word first before I get back to it ...into it.

I'll be on the look-out for you, young lady.


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Excellent article and history. My great grandmother was a Campbell :)


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

LOL, I'm beginning to think half of Canada are Campbells!

Thanks for commenting. It is praise indeed coming from you:)

Thanks also to Johnwindbell though I didn't understand a word you wrote, and of course also to Albert for his kind contribution:)


cathinfrance 6 years ago

Great summary. I lived in Scotland for 20 years and Glencoe sent a shiver down my spine every time I drove through or walked in it. It's one of those places that's more than imposing - you'd have to describe as - what? - majestic.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Majestic, yes suits it very well, I think. It's hard to imagine that once upon a time, this area was over-populated! Well, maybe not Glencoe but the whole of the Highlands.

Thanks for commenting:)


Just Claude 6 years ago

Thanks for the great read.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

You're welcome:) and thanks..


johnwindbell profile image

johnwindbell 6 years ago from - the land of beards and buggies

Wonderful, you took me back to Scotland.

'Stepping Back' is the name of my hub on Scotland.

I really never left.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Another expat Scot, eh? Thanks for dropping by..


Dale Mazurek profile image

Dale Mazurek 6 years ago from Canada

What a great hub. I love it because it is so interesting and the effort put in is obvious.

I am loving the hubs I am doing about events and cities. They require work but are rewarding.

Great work and this hub now has a place up on my blog.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thankyou Dale :)

I must admit the hubs I like doing best are the ones I have to work at too. It's keeping the old brain active, and of course I am learning new stuff too!


WriteAngled profile image

WriteAngled 6 years ago from Treorci, Cymru

When I visited Glencoe, I noticed it was definitely colder in the valley than elsewhere. Thank you for summarising the full history of the matter.


Maria Arkenbosch 6 years ago

I am Dutch born, but my Heart Belongs to Scotland and the most Dearest Friends, ever since 1944 the War We met some British soldiers and we welcomed them to our home it was so sad to know that they where so far from their own home home,one was a Scottish Soldier. I was then 16 years of age now I am 82 years of age, I have been invited to Scotland so many times and from friendship, we are since a very long time ago more like a real Family. I am just back home after wonderful two months in God`s own Countrey with all the members of my Scottish Family !!!

I love all of your Beautiful pictures and yes although so sad also your music.

Members of my Family Friends took me to Glencoe and to so many more breathtaking beautiful places!!

keep up this wonderful site

God Bless

Regards from

Maria.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Bless you Maria.

I am so happy you finally got to visit Scotland and of course Glencoe in particular x


bonny2010 profile image

bonny2010 6 years ago from outback queensland

Great hub-you really put a lot of thought into this and its easy to see you love your homeland - but who wouldn't love Scotland (I haven'tbeen there, but my Grandma used to sing about it a lot and she always did the sword dance for us at Christmas - If it is of any interest to you my favourite author is Nigel Tranter I am getting close to havingall of his books - have you read him (is that a silly question). Yeap I really enjoyed this.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Was your grandma Scottish? wow! Heard of Nigel Tranter but don't think I've read any of his.

I never learned how to do a sword dance but I can do Scottish country dancing :)


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

I was trying to find that piece of yours on Spain (cannot find it) and I stubled on this. Wonderful stuff!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Glad you enjoyed it :)

Oh and here's the one you were looking for - http://hubpages.com/travel/The-Reality-of-Living-i...


imatellmuva profile image

imatellmuva 5 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

Wow...what an intersting yet sad story. So many people, slain, victimized and left in turmoil. Forgive me IzzyM, but I don't understand the reason why the massacre was ordered. Was it simply to eliminate the Maclan's stronghold of that region?

I almost feel guilty for enjoying this story! But I do enjoy history!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Yes the powers that be wanted the clan destroyed because they supported the Catholic James VII of Scotland, but the English (and all the powerful overlords in Scotland)wanted them to turn Protestant. Remember this was a tumultuous time in the whole of Europe when the people in general were turning against the Catholic church and the power of Rome. It was also true that the English heirarchy and the Scottish overlords wanted to become united, but the Scottish people didn't want anything to do with it. After many wars with the English over the centuries the Scots, especially the Highland Scots, hated the English.

By bringing down the huge MacDonald clan, the English got their way. The Act of Union which signified the joining of England with Scotland took place just 15 years later in 1707.

Errr..hope that helps :)


imatellmuva profile image

imatellmuva 5 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

Sorry...I went back, and I missed that it was John Dalyrmple, who obviously advised the King because of his own personal grudges.

Again what an amazing tale! Thanks for the follow-up to my question IzzyM! I'm going to read more of your hubs! I'm sure I will enjoy them, just as much as I did this story!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks :)

I haven't written many historical tales because they are really not highly searched. If they were, I'd write a lot more as I love doing them :)

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working