Memoirs of the Jacobites of 1715 and 1745 - Volume II.
by Mrs. Thomson
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From this time Rob Roy kept no measures with his enemies, and his incursions were so frequent and so dreaded, that in 1713 a garrison was established at Inversnaid to check the irruptions of his party. But Rob Roy was too subtle and too powerful for his enemies. He bribed an old woman of his clan, who lived within the garrison, to distribute whiskey to the soldiers. Whilst they were in a state of intoxication, he set fire to the fort. He was suspected of this outrage, but still it passed with impunity, for no one dared to attack him; the affair was passed over in silence, and the Government re-established the fort of Inversnaid.

Numbers of the desperate and vagrant part of his clansmen now crowded around Rob Roy at Craig Royston, and swore obedience to him as their chieftain. The country was kept in continual awe by these marauders, who broke into houses and carried off the inmates to Craig Royston, there to remain until heavy ransoms were paid. Their chieftain, meantime, laughed at justice, and defied even the great Montrose. He had spies in every direction, who brought him intelligence of all that was going on. No person could travel near the abode of this mountain bandit without risk of being captured and carried to Craig Royston. In many instances the treatment of the prisoners is said to have been harsh; in some it was tempered by the relentings of Rob Roy. On one occasion, having seized upon a gentleman whose means had been reduced by great losses, he not only set him at liberty, but gave him money to pay his travelling expenses, and sent him in one of his own boats as far as he could travel by water.

The incursions of this Scottish Robin Hood were contrived with the utmost caution and secrecy, and executed with almost incredible rapidity. No one knew when he would appear, nor in what direction he would turn his dreaded attention. He is even said to have threatened the Duke of Montrose in his own residence at Buchanan. His enterprises were, however, not always contrived for a serious end, but sometimes partook of the love of a practical joke, which is a feature in the Scottish character.

"The Highland Rogue" gives the following account of one of his exploits:—[111]

"Rob Roy's creditors now grew almost past hopes of recovering their money. They offered a large reward to any that should attempt it successfully; but not an officer could be found who was willing to run such a hazard of his life; till at length a bailiff, who had no small opinion of his own courage and conduct, undertook the affair.

"Having provided a good horse and equipt himself for the journey, he set out without any attendance, and in a few hours arrived at Craigroiston, where, meeting with some of Rob Roy's men, he told them he had business of great importance to deliver to their master in private. Rob Roy having notice of it, ordered them to give him admittance. As soon as he came in, the Captain demanded his business. 'Sir,' (says the other) 'tho' you have had misfortunes in the world, yet knowing you to be in your nature an honourable gentleman, I made bold to visit you upon account of a small debt, which I don't doubt but you will discharge if it lies in your power.' 'Honest friend,' (says M'Gregor) 'I am sorry that at present I cannot answer your demand; but if your affairs will permit you to lodge at my house to-night, I hope by to-morrow I shall be better provided.' The bailiff complied, and was overjoyed at the success he had met with. He was entertained with abundance of civility, and went to bed at a seasonable time.

"Rob Roy then ordered an old suit of clothes to be stuffed full of straw, not wholly unlike one of the Taffies that the mob dress up and expose upon the 1st of March, in ridicule of the Welshmen; only, instead of a hat with a leek in it, they bound his head with a napkin. The ghastly figure being completely formed, they hung it upon the arm of a tree directly opposite to the window where the officer lay: he rising in the morning and finding his door locked, steps back to the window and opens the casement, in expectation of finding some of the servants, when, to his great astonishment, he cast his eye upon the dreary object before him: he knew not what to make of it; he began to curse his enterprise, and wished himself safe in his own house again. In the midst of his consternation, he spied one of the servants, and calling to him, desired him to open the door. The fellow seemed surprised at finding it locked, begged his pardon, and protested it was done by mistake. As soon as the bailiff got out, 'Prithee friend,' (says he) 'what is it that hangs upon yonder tree?' 'O sir,' (says the other) ''tis a bailiff, a cursed rogue that has the impudence to come hither to my master, and dun him for an old debt; and therefore he ordered him to be hanged there for a warning to all his fraternity. I think the impudent dog deserved it, and in troth, we have been commended by all his neighbours for so doing.' The catchpole was strangely terrified at this account, but hoping that the servant did not know him to be one of the same profession, he walked away with a seeming carelessness, till he thought himself out of sight, and then looking round and finding the way clear, he threw off his coat and ran for his life, not resting, nor so much as looking behind him, till he came to a village about three or four miles off; where, when he had recovered breath, he told the story of his danger and escape, just as he apprehended it to be. Rob Roy was so pleased with the success of his frolic, that the next day he sent home the bailiff's coat and horse, and withal let his neighbours know that it was only a contrivance to frighten him away; by which means the poor rogue became the common subject of the people's diversion."

This adventure was immediately recounted to the Governor of Stirling Castle by the messenger, who hastened to that fortress. A party of soldiers was ordered out to seize Rob Roy; but the chieftain gained intelligence of their approach, and Rob Roy retreated to the hills; whilst the country of the Macgregors was roused, and put into a state of defence. The soldiers, meantime, worn out with their search among the hills, took possession of an empty house and filled it with heath for beds. The Macgregors, always active and watchful, set fire to the house, and drove their enemies from their post. Thus Rob Roy escaped the pursuit of justice, the troopers being obliged to return to Stirling Castle. He was not always so fortunate as to avoid imminent danger; yet he had a faithful friend who watched over his safety, and who would have willingly sacrificed his life for that of Macgregor. This was the chieftain's lieutenant, Fletcher, or Macanaleister, "the Little John of his band," and an excellent marksman. "It happened," writes Sir W. Scott, "that MacGregor and his party had been surprised and dispersed by a superior force of horse and foot, and the word was given to 'split and squander.' Jack shifted for himself; but a bold dragoon attached himself to pursuit of Rob Roy, and overtaking him, struck at him with his broadsword. A plate of iron in his bonnet saved Mac Gregor from being cut down to the teeth; but the blow was heavy enough to bear him to the ground, crying as he fell, 'O Macanaleister, there is naething in her,' (i.e. in the gun:) the trooper at the same time exclaiming, 'D—n ye, your mother never brought your nightcap;' had his arm raised for a second blow, when Macanaleister fired, and the ball pierced the dragoon."

His feats had, however, in most instances, the character of an unwarrantable oppression, notwithstanding that they were sometimes accompanied by traits of a generous and chivalric spirit. Very few of those who lived in his neighbourhood could depend upon an hour's security, without paying the tax of black mail, which he audaciously demanded; and the licentiousness of his reckless troop was the theme of just reprobation, and the cause of terror to many innocent and peaceable inhabitants in the west of Perth and Stirlingshire. On one occasion Campbell, of Abernchile, who had found it convenient to submit to the assessment of the black mail, neglected the regular payment of the tax. Rob Roy, angry at his disobedience, rode up to his house, knocked at the door, and demanded admittance. A party of friends was at dinner with the host, and the door was closed against Macgregor. Rob Roy sounded his horn; instantly his followers appeared in view. Rob Roy ordered them to drive off the cattle from the estate: Abernchile was forced to make an humble apology in order to avert his wrath, and to pay the exaction.

Another enterprise of Rob Roy's was directed to the welfare of his ward and relative, Macgregor of Glengyle. The estates of Glengyle were pledged, or, as it is called in Scotland, "under a contract of wadset." The creditor was a man of influence and fortune; but, like most other Scottish proprietors who were enabled to take advantage of the wadset rights, he was grasping and merciless. It was not uncommon, in those times, for men to whom estates had been pledged, to take the most unfair advantages of small and needy proprietors; and from the great superiority which a superior claimed over his vassals, it became almost impossible for his inferiors to resist his rapacity, or to defeat his cunning.

Some months before the period of redemption had expired, Rob Roy, aware of the danger to which his ward was exposed, raised a sum of money in order to redeem the pledge. It was pretended by the creditor, that the bond securing the power of redemption was lost; and since a few months only of the period remained, a plan was formed by him for protracting the settlement of the affair. Rob Roy, unhappily, was elsewhere occupied: the period expired; the young Macgregor ceased, therefore, to be the proprietor of his estate; he was ordered to leave it, and to remove his attendants, cattle, and tenants within eight days. "But law," as Dr. Johnson observes, "is nothing without power." Before those eight days had elapsed, Rob Roy had assembled his gillies, had followed his creditor into Argyleshire, had met him, nevertheless, in Strathfillan, and had carried him prisoner to an inn. There the unjust creditor was desired to give up the bond, and told to send for it from his castle. The affrighted man promised all that could be required of him; Rob Roy would not trust him, but sent two of his followers for the bond, which was brought at the end of two days. When it was delivered to Macgregor, he refused to pay the sum of redemption, telling the creditor that the money was too small a fine for the wrong which he had inflicted; and that he might be thankful to escape as well as he might.

Against all acts of oppression, except those which he thought proper to commit himself, Rob Roy waged war. He was the avenger of the injured, and the protector of the humble; and lest his own resources should prove insufficient for these purposes, a contract was entered into with several neighbouring proprietors to combine, for the purposes of defence, and protection to others.

The Duke of Montrose and his agent, Graham of Killearn, were still the especial objects of Macgregor's hatred. When a widow was persecuted by the merciless factor, and distrained for rent, Rob Roy intercepted the officers who went out against her, and gave them a severe chastisement; and a similar excursion was made in favour of any poor man who was obliged to pay a sum of money for rent. The collectors of the rent were disarmed, and obliged to refund what they had received. Upon the same principle of might against right, Rob Roy supported his family and retainers upon the contents of a meal-store which Montrose kept at a place called Moulin; and when any poor family in the neighbourhood were in want of meat, Rob Roy went to the store-keeper, ordered the quantity which he wanted, and directed the tenants to carry it away. There was no power either of resistance or complaint. If the parks of Montrose were cleared of their cattle, the Duke was obliged to bear the loss in silence. At length, harassed by constant depredations, Montrose applied to the Privy Council for redress, and obtained the power of pursuing and repressing robbers, and of recovering the goods stolen by them. But, in this act, such was the dread of Rob Roy's power, that his name was intentionally omitted in the order in Council.

The retreat into which Rob Roy retired, in times of danger, was a cave at the base of Ben Lomond, and on the borders of the Loch. The entrance to this celebrated recess is extremely difficult from the precipitous heights which surround it. Mighty fragments of rock, partially overgrown with brushwood and heather, guard the approach. Here Robert de Bruce sheltered himself from his enemies; and here Rob Roy, who had an enthusiastic veneration for that monarch, believed that he was securing to himself an appropriate retirement. It was, indeed, inaccessible to all but those who knew the rugged entrance; and here, had it not been for the projects which brought the Chevalier St. George to England, Rob Roy might have defied, during his whole lifetime, the vengeance of Montrose. From this spot Macgregor could almost command the whole country around Loch Lomond; a passionate affection to the spot became the feeling, not only of his mind, but of that of his wife, who, upon being compelled to quit the banks of Loch Lomond, gave way to her grief in a strain which obtained the name of "Rob Roy's Lament."

Of the exquisite beauty, and of the grandeur and interest of the scene of Rob Roy's seclusion, thousands can now form an estimate. Dr. Johnson was no enthusiast when he thus coldly and briefly adverted to the characteristics of Loch Lomond. "Had Loch Lomond been in a happier climate, it would have been the boast of wealth and vanity to own one of the little spots which it incloses, and to have employed upon it all the arts of embellishment. But as it is, the islets which court the gazer at a distance, disgust him at his approach, when he finds instead of soft lawns and shady thickets, nothing more than uncultivated ruggedness."[112]

From this retreat Rob Roy frequently emerged upon some mission of destruction, or some errand of redress. His name was a terror to all who had ever incurred his wrath; his depredations were soon extended to the Lowlands. One night a report prevailed in Dumbarton, that Rob Roy intended to surprise the militia and to fire the town. It was resolved to anticipate this attack, and accordingly the militia made their way to Craig Royston; and having secured the boats on Loch Lomond, which belonged to the Macgregors, they proceeded to seek for Rob Roy. But the chieftain had collected his followers, and, retreating into his cave, he laughed at his enemies, who were forced to retire without encountering him, the object of their search.

It is indeed remarkable, that outrages so audacious, and a power so imperative as that of Rob Roy, should have defied all control within forty miles of the city of Glasgow, an important and commercial city. "Thus," as Sir Walter Scott observes, "a character like his, blending the wild virtues, the subtle policy, and unconstrained licence of an American Indian, was flourishing in Scotland during the Augustan age of Queen Anne and George the First. Addison, it is probable, and Pope, would have been considerably surprised if they had known that there existed, in the same island with them, a personage of Rob Roy's peculiar habits and profession."

To the various other traits in the character of Rob Roy, there was added that tenacity of purpose, that obstinate and indefatigable hatred, which were common to the Highlanders. Their feuds were, it is true, hereditary, and were implanted in their minds before the reason could calm the passions. The fierce, implacable temper of the Macgregors had been aggravated by long-standing injuries and insults; among those who might be considered the chief foes of their race were the heads of the house of Athole. An uncontrolled, vehement spirit of revenge against that family burned in the breast of Rob Roy Macgregor; nor did he lose any opportunity of proving the sincerity of his professions of hatred.

Hitherto the wild feats of the marauder had met with continual success; no reverse had lessened his control over his followers, nor lowered his individual pride. But at length his enemy, the Earl of Athole, had a brief, but signal triumph over the dreaded chief. The circumstances under which it occurred are the following:—

Emboldened by his continued success, Rob Roy had descended into the plains, and headed an enterprise which was attended with the direst consequences: so desolating were its effects, that it is known by the name of the "Herriship of Kilrane." The outrage was severely taken up by Government, and a reward was offered for the head of the freebooter. It was even resolved to explore his cave. One day, when on the banks of Lochearn, attended by two of his followers, Rob Roy encountered seven men, who required him to surrender; but the freebooter darted from their view, and climbed a neighbouring hill, whence he shot three of the troopers, and dispersed the rest. This occurrence drove him, for some time, from his stronghold on Loch Lomond.

The Earl of Athole had deeply felt the insults of Rob Roy, and he now took advantage of this temporary change of fortune to ensnare him. On a former occasion he had made an ineffectual attempt to overcome Macgregor. The scene had taken place on the day of the funeral of Rob Roy's mother. This was at Balquhidder: when Rob Roy had beheld the party of the Earl's friends approaching, he grasped his sword, yet met the Earl with a smile, and affected to thank him for the honour of his company. The Earl replied, that his was not a visit of compliment: and that Rob Roy must accompany him to Perth. Remonstrance was vain, and Rob Roy pretended compliance; but, whilst his friends looked on indignant and amazed, Macgregor drew his sword; the Earl instantly discharged a pistol at him: it missed its mark, and, during a momentary pause, the sister of Rob Roy, and the wife of Glenfalloch, grasped Athole by the throat and brought him to the ground. The clan meantime assembled in numbers, and the Earl was thankful to be released from the fierce amazon who held him, and to retire from the country of the Macgregors.

The Earl of Athole now judged force to be unavailing, and he resolved to try stratagem. After wandering, in consequence of the proclamation of Government, from place to place, Rob Roy was greeted by a friendly message from the Earl of Athole, inviting him to Blair Athole. Macgregor had not forgotten the day of his mother's funeral. He acted, on this occasion, with the frankness of an honest and unsuspecting nature. He doubted the Earl's sincerity; and he wrote to him, freely stating that he did so. He was answered by the most solemn assurances of protection, notwithstanding that all this time Athole was employed by Government to bring Rob Roy to justice. Macgregor was, however, deceived: he rode to Blair, attended only by one servant, and was received with the utmost professions of regard, but was requested to lay aside his dirk and sword, as the Countess of Athole would not suffer any armed man to enter the castle. Rob Roy complied with Lord Athole's entreaty. What was his surprise when the first remark made by Lady Athole was her surprise at his appearing unarmed; Rob Roy then felt that he was betrayed. Angry words, followed by a scuffle, ensued: the freebooter was overpowered; for sixty men, armed, entered before he could strike a blow.

Rob Roy was carried towards Edinburgh. He had proceeded as far as Logierait, under a strong guard, when he contrived, with his usual address and good luck, to make his escape. But the dangers which attended his eventful career were not at an end. He was surprised as he retired to the farm of Portnellan, near the head of Loch Katrine, by his old enemy, the factor of Montrose, with a party of men, who surrounded the house in which Rob Roy slept before he was out of bed; yet, the moment that he appeared, sword in hand, they fled in dismay. These, and many other incidents, rest so much upon tradition, and are so little supported by authority, that they belong rather to romance than to history. It is with the part which Rob Roy took in the actual concerns of his country that his biographer has most concern.

This brave but reckless individual was exactly the man to adopt a dangerous cause, and to play a desperate game. Proscribed, hunted, surrounded by enemies, burning under the consciousness of wrong, and unable to retrace his path to a peaceable mode of life, Rob Roy was a ready partisan of the Jacobite cause.

In 1713, he had transactions with two emissaries of the house of Stuart, and was called to account for that negotiation before the commander-in-chief in Edinburgh. He escaped punishment; and prepared, in 1715, to lead his clans to the field, headed by Macgregor of Glengyle, his nephew.[113] Upon Michaelmas day, having made themselves masters of the boats in Loch Lomond, seventy of the Macgregors possessed themselves of Inch-murrain, a large island on the lake. About midnight they went ashore at Bonhill, about three miles above Dumbarton. Meantime the alarm was spread over the country; bells were rung, and cannon fired from Dumbarton Castle. The Macgregors, therefore, thought fit to scamper away to their boats, and to return to the island. Here they indulged themselves in their usual marauding practices, "carrying off deer, slaughtering cows, and other depredations." Soon afterwards they all hurried away to the Earl of Mar's encampment at Perth; here they did not long remain, but returned to Loch Lomond on the tenth of October.[114]

They now mustered their forces. Such was the terror of their name, that both parties appear to have been afraid of the Macgregors, and to think "it would be their wisdom to part peaceably with them, because, if they should make any resistance, and shed the blood of so much as one Macgregiour, they would set no bounds to their fury, but burn and slay without mercy." This was the opinion held by some; by others resistance was thought the more discreet as well as the more honourable part. A body of volunteers was brought from Paisley, and it was resolved, if possible, to retake the boats captured by the Macgregors, who could now make a descent wherever they pleased. A singular spectacle was beheld on the bosom of Loch Lomond: four pinnaces and seven boats, which had been drawn by the strength of horses up the river Levin, which, next to the Spey, is the most rapid stream in Scotland, were beheld, their sails spread, cleaving the dark waters which reflected in their mirror a sight of armed men, who were marching along the side of the loch, in order to scour the coast. Never had anything been seen of the kind on Loch Lomond before. "The men on the shore," writes an eyewitness, "marched with the greatest ardour and alacrity. The pinnaces on the water discharging their patararoes, and the men their small arms, made so very dreadful a noise thro' the multiply'd rebounding echoes of the vast mountains on both sides the loch, that perhaps there never was a more lively resemblance of thunder." This little fleet was joined in the evening by the enemy of the Macgregors, Sir Humphrey Colquhoun of Luss, followed by "fourty or fifty stately fellows, in their short hose and belted plaids, armed each of 'em with a well-fixed gun on his shoulder." At Luss a report prevailed that the Macgregors were reinforced by Macdonald of Glengarry, and had amounted to fifteen hundred strong: but this proved to be an idle rumour; their numbers were only four hundred.

This falsehood did not dishearten the men of Paisley. "They knew," says the chronicler of their feats, "that the Macgregiours and the devil are to be dealt with after the same way; and that if they be resisted, they will flee."

On the following morning the party from Paisley went on their expedition, and arrived at Inversnaid. Here, in order to "arouse those thieves and rebels from their dens," they fired a gun through the roof of a house on the declivity of a mountain; upon which an old woman or two came crawling out, and scrambled up the hill; but no other persons appeared. "Whereupon," adds the narrator,[115] "the Paisley men, under the command of Captain Finlason, assisted by Captain Scot, a half-pay officer, of late a lieutenant of Colonel Kerr's regiment of dragoons, who is indeed an officer, wise, stout, and honest; the Dumbarton men, under the command of David Colquhoun and James Duncanson, of Garshark, magistrates of the burgh, with several of the other companies, to the number of an hundred men in all, with the greatest intrepidity leapt on shore, got up to the top of the mountain, and drew up in order, and stood about an hour, their drums beating all the while: but no enemie appearing, they thereupon went in quest of the boats which the rebels had seized; and having casually lighted on some ropes, anchors, and oars hid among the shrubs, at length they found the boats drawn up a good way on the land, which they hurled down to the loch. Such of them as were not damaged, they carried off with them; and such as were, they sunk or hewed in pieces. And that same night they return'd to Luss, and thence next day, without the loss or hurt of so much as one man, to Dumbarton, whence they had first set out altogether, bringing along with them the whole boats they found in their way on either side the loch, and in creeks of the isles, and moored them under the cannon of the castle. And thus in a short time, and with little expense, the M'Greigours were towed, and a way pointed how the Government might easily keep them in awe."

The historian remarks, as a good augury, that a violent storm had raged for three days before. In the morning, notwithstanding this much magnified triumph on the part of his enemies, neither Rob Roy nor his followers were in the least daunted, but went about "proclaiming the Pretender," and carrying off plunder. "Yesternight,[116] about seven," writes the same historian, "we had ane accountt from one of our townsmen, who had been five miles in the country, in the paroch of Baldernock, that three or four hundred of the clans, forerunners of the body coming, had at Drummen, near Dunkeld, proclaimed the Pretender; but no accountt to us from these places, nor from Sterling. Our magistrates sent fitt men at eight yesternight for information, and can hardly return till afternoon, if they have access to the three garrisons, of which they are I hear ordered to goe to to-day. I hear by report, without sufficient authority, that it's the M'Grigors come with a party, proclaimed the Pretender, tore the exciseman's book, and went away.

H. E."

* * * * *

In a letter from Leslie, dated the twentieth of January, 1716, it is stated that the country did not oppose the incursions of Rob Roy, being mostly in his interest, or indifferent. Emboldened by this passive conduct, Rob Roy marched to Falkland on the fourth of January, 1716, and took possession of the palace for a garrison. He afterwards joined the Earl of Mar's forces at Perth, yet, whether from indolence or caution, took but little share in the signal events of the day. He hovered sometimes in the Lowlands, uncertain whether to proclaim peace, or to embark with his Macgregors in the war: some said he declined fighting under Lord Mar, from the fear of offending the Duke of Argyle; at all events he had the wiliness to make the belligerent powers each conceive him as of their respective parties.

At the battle of Sherriff Muir, Macgregor had the address to make both the Jacobites and Hanoverians conceive, that, had he joined them, the glory of the day would have been secured.

The inhabitants of Leslie, who had heard, with dismay, the news of the burning of Auchterarder and Blackford, were now affrighted by a rumour that Rob Roy had a commission to burn Leslie, and all between that place and Perth. But, whilst the burgesses of Leslie were daily looking for this dreaded event, Rob Roy was forced to retreat to Dundee, by the approach of the King's troops. He left behind him a character of reckless rapacity, and of a determined will, notwithstanding some generous and humane actions. He was, nevertheless, esteemed to be among the fairest and discreetest of the party to whom he was attached, notwithstanding his favourite speech, "that he desired no better breakfast than to see a Whig's house burning." The people could not, indeed, trust any man's assurances after the recent and cruel devastation at Auchterarder.

When the fortune of the battle was decided, he was heard to say, in answer to demands that he should send his forces to the attack, "If they cannot do it without me, they cannot do it with me," and he immediately left the field. Such is the popular account of his conduct on that occasion.

The partizans of Rob Roy have, however, given a very different version of his conduct. The Duke of Argyle was the patron and friend of Macgregor; and he could neither, therefore, openly adopt a course which the Duke disapproved, nor would he altogether retire from a cause to which he was disposed to be favourable. With the true Gaelic caution Rob Roy waited to see which side prevailed, and then hastened to avail himself of an opportunity of that which had become the darling pursuit of his existence—plunder.

He retired from Sherriff Muir to Falkland, carrying terror wherever he passed.

* * * * *

The following letter, descriptive of his progress affords a curious picture of the state of that harassed and wretched country:—

"D. B.

"I received yours this evening, but I find you have been quit mistaken about our condition. You datt our freedom and libertie from the rebels long befor its commencement, and for profe take the folowing accompt of what past heir these last ten days. Upon the fourth instant Rob Roey, with one hundred and fifty men, com to Falkland, and took possession of the place for a garrison, from which they came through the countrey side and robs and plunder, taking cloaths and victuals, and every thing that maks for them, nor to oposs them till this day eight days. The sixth instant there coms thirty-two Highland men (I had almost said devils) to Leslie; we saw them at Formand Hills and resolved to resist, and so man, wife, and child drew out.

"The men went to the east end of the town, and met them in the green with drawn swords in the hands, and we askt them what they were for; they said they wanted cloaths and money; we answeared they should get neither of them heir, at which they stormed and swore terribly, and we told them if they were come for mischeif they should have thee fill of it; at which ther were some blows. But they seeing us so bold, they began to feear that we should fall upon them, and so they askt libertie to march through the town, which we granted, but withall told them if they went upon the least house in the town, ther should never a man go back to Fackland to tell the news, though we should die on the spot, and so they marsht through the town and got not so much as the rise of a cap. And they were so afraid that they did not return, but went down over the Hank Hill, and east to the minister's land; and their they faced about and fired twenty shots in upon the peple that were looking at them, but, glory to God, without doing the least hurt. And so they went off to the Formand Hils, and plundred all the could carry or drive, and threatned dreadfully they should be avenged on Leslie and burn it."

The pursuit of plunder was considered by Rob Roy as a far more venial offence than if he had fought against Lord Mar, or offended Argyle, with whom he continued on such convenient terms, that he did not leave Perth until after the arrival of that General. He then retired with the spoils he had acquired, and continued for some years in the practice of the same marauding incursions which had already proved so troublesome and distressing to his neighbours.

In the subsequent indemnity, or free pardon, the tribe of Macgregor was specially excepted; and their leader, Robert Campbell, alias Macgregor, commonly called Robert Roy, was attainted.

The severities which followed the Rebellion of 1715, drove Rob Roy to a remote retreat in the Highlands, where he lived in a solitary hut, half covered with copsewood, and seated under the brow of a barren mountain. Here he resided in poverty, and what was worse to his restless spirit, in idleness. Here he was in frequent dread of pursuit from the agents of the law; and several anecdotes are told with what veracity it is difficult to judge, of his dexterity in evading justice. Attainted, disappointed, aged, and poor, he had one grievous addition to his sorrows, which it required a cheerful and energetic mind to sustain,—that of a family devoid of principle.

Among the five sons of Macgregor, Coll, James, Robert, Duncan, and Ronald, four were known to be but too worthy of the name given by the enemies of the Macgregors to the individuals of that tribe—"devils." Of Coll, the eldest, little is ascertained. Robert, or Robbiq, or the younger, as the Gaelic word signifies, inherited all the fierceness, without the generosity, of his race. At sixteen years of age, he deliberately shot at a man of the name of Maclaren, and wounded him so severely that he died. His brothers were implicated in this murder. On their trials, they were charged with being not only murderers, but notorious thieves and receivers of stolen goods. Robert was proved to have boasted of having drawn the first blood of the Maclarens; and the brothers were all accused of having followed this murder by houghing and killing forty head of young cattle belonging to a kinsman of the deceased.

Robert Roy, the principal party in the crime, did not appear before the High Court of Justiciary, to which he was summoned: he was therefore outlawed. The other brothers were tried, and the prosecution was conducted by the celebrated Duncan Forbes, of Culloden. The prisoners were acquitted of being accessory to the murder of Maclaren; but the jury were unanimous in thinking that the charge of being reputed thieves was made out, and they were ordered to find caution for their good behaviour.

Robert Roy was advised to retire to France: his brother James remained in Scotland, and took an active part in the Rebellion of 1745; when, with the assistance of his cousin Glengyle, he surprised the fort of Inversnaid; he afterwards led to the battle of Preston Pans six companies of his clan. His thigh-bone was broken in that battle; yet he appeared again at Culloden, and was subsequently attainted.

The life of James Macgregor was spared only to present a tissue of guilty schemes, and to end in infamy and exile. That of Rob Roy was dyed yet deeper in crimes, of which a second trial and an ignominious death were the dreadful result. He was hung in the Grass Market in Edinburgh, in the year 1754. James, his brother, being reduced to the most humiliating condition, died in France, after exhibiting in his conduct, whilst in Scotland, if possible, almost a deeper shade of depravity than that displayed by his brother.

Their father was, however, released from his existence before these desperate men had sullied the name which he transmitted to them by their transgressions.

As he declined in strength, Rob Roy became more peaceable in disposition; and his nephew, the head of the clan, renounced the enmity which had subsisted between the Macgregors and the Duke of Montrose. The time of this celebrated freebooter's death is uncertain, but is generally supposed to have occurred after the year 1738. "When he found himself approaching his final change," says Sir Walter Scott, "he expressed some contrition for particular parts of his life. His wife laughed at these scruples of conscience, and exhorted him to die like a man, as he had lived. In reply, he rebuked her for her violent passions and the counsels she had given him. "You have put strife," he said, "betwixt me and the best men of my country, and now you would place enmity between me and my God.""

Although he had been educated in the Protestant faith, Rob Roy had become a Catholic long before his death. "It was a convenient religion," he used to say, "which for a little money could put asleep the conscience, and clear the soul from sin." The time and causes of his conversion are only surmised; but when he had resolved on this important step, the freebooter left his lovely residence in the Highlands, and repairing to Drummond Castle, in Perthshire, sought an old Catholic priest, by name Alexander Drummond. His confessions were stated by himself to have been received by groans from the aged man to whom he unburthened his heart, and who frequently crossed himself whilst listening to the recital.

Even after this manifestation of penitence, Rob Roy returned to his old practices, and accompanying his nephew to the Northern Highlands, he is stated to have so greatly enriched himself, that he returned to the Braes of Balquhidder, and began farming.

He is said in the decline of life to have visited London, and to have been pointed out to George the Second by the Duke of Argyle, whilst walking in the front of St. James's Palace. He still had an imposing and youthful appearance, and the King is said to have declared that he had never seen a handsomer man in the Highland garb.[117] But this, and other anecdotes, rest on no better authority than tradition. His strength, always prodigious, continued until a very late period; but at last it was extinguished even before the spirit which had stimulated it had died away. He is acknowledged, even by his partial biographer, to have declined one duel, and to have been worsted in another; but impaired eyesight, and decayed faculties are pleaded in defence of a weakness which cast dishonour on Macgregor.

His deathbed was in character with his life: when confined to bed, a person with whom he was at enmity proposed to visit him. "Raise me up," said Rob Roy to his attendants, "dress me in my best clothes, tie on my arms, place me in my chair. It shall never be said that Rob Roy Macgregor was seen defenceless and unarmed by an enemy." His wishes were executed; and he received his guest with haughty courtesy. When he had departed, the dying chief exclaimed: "It is all over now—put me to bed—call in the piper; let him play 'Ha til mi tulidh' (we return no more) as long as I breathe." He was obeyed,—he died, it is said, before the dirge was finished. His tempestuous life was closed at the farm of Inverlochlarigbeg, (the scene, afterwards, of his son's frightful crimes,) in the Braes of Balquhidder. He died in 1735, and his remains repose in the parish churchyard, beneath a stone upon which some admirer of this extraordinary man has carved a sword. His funeral is said to have been attended by all ranks of people, and a deep regret was expressed for one whose character had much to recommend it to the regard of Highlanders.

He left behind him the memory of a character by nature singularly noble, humane, and honourable, but corrupted by the indulgence of predatory habits. That he had ever very deep religious impressions is doubted; and his conversion to popery has been conjectured to have succeeded a wavering and unsettled faith. When dying, he showed that he entertained a sense of the practical part of Christianity, very consistent with his Highland notions. He was exhorted by the clergyman who attended him to forgive his enemies; and that clause in the Lord's prayer which enjoins such a state of mind was quoted. Rob Roy replied: "Ay, now ye hae gien me baith law and gospel for it. It's a hard law, but I ken it's gospel." "Rob," he said, turning to his son, "my sword and dirk lie there: never draw them without reason, nor put them up without honour. I forgive my enemies; but see you to them,—or may"—the words died away, and he expired.

Reason may disapprove of such a character as that of Rob Roy, but the imagination and the feelings are carried away by so much generosity, such dauntless exertion in behalf of the friendless, as were displayed by the outlawed and attainted freebooter. He was true to his word, faithful to his friends, and honourable in the fulfilment of his pecuniary obligations. How many are there, who abide in the sunshine of the world's good opinion, who have little claim to similar virtues!


[99] From the Wodrow MS. in the Advocate's Library.

[100] Macleay's History of the Macgregors, p. 110.

[101] Historical Memoir of the Clan Macgregor, by Dr. Macleay, p. 109.

[102] Preface to Rob Roy. Waverley Novels.

[103] Sir W. Scott.

[104] Macleay.

[105] Id.

[106] Macleay.

[107] Stewart's Sketches, vol. i. p. 224.

[108] Macleay, p. 188.

[109] Trials of the Macgregors, xxiv.

[110] Macleay, p. 181.

[111] See Trials, &c. p. 76.

[112] Tour to the Hebrides.

[113] Macleay.

[114] This account of what is called in history the "Loch Lomond Expedition," is taken from the Wodrow MSS. in the Advocate's Library in Edinburgh. Extracts from these MSS. have been printed by James Dennistoun, Esq., to whose work I am indebted for this narrative of Rob Roy's martial career.

[115] The Loch Lomond Expedition, p. 9.

[116] Loch Lomond Expedition. Wodrow Correspondence, p. 30. Also Reay's History of the Rebellion, p. 286.

[117] Macleay, p. 279.


The memoirs of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, have been written in various forms, and with a great diversity of opinions. Some have composed accounts of this singular, depraved, and unfortunate man, with the evident determination to give to every action the darkest possible tinge; others have waived all discussion on his demerits by insisting largely upon the fame and antiquity of his family. He has himself bequeathed to posterity an apology for his life, and from his word we are bound to take so much, but only so much, as may accord with the statements of others in mitigation of the heinous facts which blast his memory with eternal opprobrium.

As far as the researches into the remote antiquity of Scotland may be relied upon, it appears that the name of Fraser was amongst the first of those which Scotland derived from Normandy, and the origin of this name has been referred to the remote age of Charles the Simple. A nobleman of Bourbon—such is the fable,—presented that monarch with a dish of strawberries. The loyal subject, who bore the name of Julius De Berry, was knighted on the spot, and the sirname of Fraize was given him in lieu of that which he had borne. Hence the ancient armorial bearing of the Frasers, a field azure, seme with strawberries: and hence the widely-spreading connection of the Frasers with the noble family of Frezeau, or Frezel, in France, a race connected with many of the royal families in Europe. For a considerable period after the elevation of Julius de Berry, the name was written Frezeau, or Frisil.

The period at which the Frasers left Normandy for Scotland has been assigned to the days of Malcolm Canmore, where John, the eldest of three brothers of the house, founded the fortunes of the Frasers of Oliver Castle in Tweedale, by marrying Eupheme Sloan, heiress of Tweedale: whilst another brother settled beyond the Forth, and became possessed of the lands of Inverkeithing. Eventually those members of this Norman race who had at first settled in Tweedale, branched off to Aberdeenshire, and to Inverness-shire;[118] and it was in this latter county, at Beaufort, a property which had been long held by his family, that the famous Lord Lovat was born.

Such is the account generally received. According to others, the family of Fraser is of Scandinavian origin. When the Scandinavians invaded the eastern coast of Britain, and the northern coast of France, one branch of the family of Frizell, or Fryzell, settled in Scotland; another in Normandy, where the name has retained its original pronunciation.[119]

The castle of Beaufort, anciently a royal fortress, had been bestowed upon the Frasers, in the year 1367. It is situated in the beautiful neighbourhood of Inverness, in the district of the Aird; it was besieged by the army of Edward the First during the invasion of Scotland by the usual method of throwing stones from catapultae, at a distance of seven hundred yards. A subsidiary fortress, Lovat, heretofore inhabited by one of the constables of the Crown, whom the lawlessness of the wild inhabitants and the turbulence of their chieftains had rendered it necessary to establish in the west of Scotland, also fell into the possession of the Frasers.

The present seat of the family of Lovat, still called Beaufort, is built on a part of the ground originally occupied by a fortress. It lies on a beautiful eminence near the Beauly, and is surrounded by extensive plantations.

The race, thus engrafted upon a Scottish stock, continued to acquire from time to time fresh honours. It was distinguished by bravery and fidelity. When Edward the First determined to subdue Scotland, he found three Powers refuse to acknowledge his pretensions. These were, Sir William Wallace, Sir Simon Fraser, commonly called the Patriot, and the garrison of Stirling. When Bruce, with an inconsiderable force fought the English army at Methven, near Perth, and was thrice dismounted, Sir Simon Fraser thrice replaced him on his saddle; he was himself taken prisoner and ordered to be executed. And then might be witnessed one of those romantic instances of Highland devotion, which appear almost incredible to the calmer notions of a modern era. A rumour went abroad that the stay of the country, the gallant Fraser, was to suffer for his fidelity to his country's interests. Herbert de Norham, one of his followers, and Thomas de Boys, his armour-bearer, swore, that if the report were true, they would not survive their master. They died voluntarily on the day of his execution.

In 1431, the Frasers were ennobled; the head of the house was created a Lord of Parliament by James the First, and the title was preserved in regular succession, until, by the death of Hugh, the eleventh Lord Lovat, it reverted, together with all the family estates, now of considerable value and extent, to Thomas Fraser, of Beaufort, great uncle of the last nobleman. This destination of the property and honours was settled by a deed, executed by Hugh, Lord Lovat, in order to preserve the male succession in the family. It was the cause of endless heart-burnings and feuds. Hugh had married the Lady Emelia Murray, daughter of John, Marquis of Athole, and had daughters by that marriage. He had, in the first instance, settled upon the eldest of them the succession, on condition of her marrying a gentleman of the name of Fraser. But this arrangement agreed ill with the Highland pride; and upon a plea of his having been prevailed on to give this bond, contrary to the old rights and investments of the family, he being of an easy temper, having been imposed on to grant this bond, he set it aside by a subsequent will in favour of his great uncle, dated March 26th, 1696.[120]

The families of Murray and Fraser were, at the time that the title of Lovat descended upon Thomas Fraser, united in what outwardly appeared to be an alliance of friendship. Their politics, indeed, at times differed. The late Lord Lovat had persisted in his adherence to James the Second of England after his abdication, and had marshalled his own troops under the banners of the brave Dundee. The Marquis of Athole, then Lord Tullibardine, on the other hand, had adopted the principles of the Revolution, and had received a commission of Colonel from William the Third, to raise a regiment of infantry for the reigning monarch.[121] Thus were the seeds of estrangement between these families, so nearly united in blood, sown; and they were aggravated by private and jarring interests, and by manoeuvres and intrigues, of which Lord Lovat, who has left a recital of them, was, from his own innate taste for cabals, and aptitude to dissimulation, calculated to be an incomparable judge.

Of the character of Thomas of Beaufort, the father of Simon, little idea can be formed, except that he seems to have been chiefly guided by the subtle spirit of his son Simon. The loss of an elder son, Alexander, after whose death Simon was considered as the acknowledged heir of the Frasers, may have increased the influence which a young, ardent temper naturally exercises over a parent advanced in years. Of his father, Simon, in his various memoirs and letters, always speaks with respect; and he refers with pride and pleasure to his mother's lineage.

"His mother," he remarks, writing in the third person, "was Dame Sybilla Macleod, daughter of the chief of the clan of the Macleods, so famous for its inviolable loyalty to its princes."[122]

During his life-time his great nephew, Thomas Fraser of Beaufort, had borne the title of Laird of Beaufort. "He now took possession," says his biographer, "without opposition, of the honours and titles which had descended to him, and enjoyed them until his death." According to other authorities, however, Thomas Fraser never assumed the rank of a nobleman, but retired to the Isle of Sky, where he died in 1699, three years after his accession to the disputed honours and estates.

The family of Thomas of Beaufort was numerous. Of fourteen children, six died in infancy; of the eight who survived, Simon Fraser only mentions two,—his elder brother, Alexander, and his younger, John. Alexander, who died in 1692, was of a violent and daring temper. A determined adherent of James the Second, he joined Viscount Dundee in 1689, when the standard was raised in favour of the abdicated monarch. During a funeral which had assembled at Beauly, near Inverness, Alexander received some affront, which, in a fit of passion, he avenged. He killed his antagonist, and instantly fled to Wales, in order to escape the effects of his crime. He died in Wales, without issue. John became a brigadier in the Dutch service, and was known by the name of Le Chevalier Fraser. He died in 1716, "when," says his brother, Lord Lovat, in his Memoirs, "I lost my only brother, a fine young fellow."[123]

Simon Fraser, afterwards Lord Lovat, was born at Inverness,—according to some accounts in 1668, to others in 1670: he fixes the date himself at 1676. He was educated at the University of Aberdeen, where he distinguished himself, and took the degree of Master of Arts. During his boyhood he shewed his hereditary affection to the Stuarts,—an affection which was probably sincere at that early age: and he was even imprisoned for his open avowal of that cause, at the time when his elder brother repaired to the standard of Dundee. Deserting the study of the civil law, to which he had been originally destined, Simon Fraser entered a company in the regiment of Lord Tullibardine, his relation; nevertheless, he twice attempted to benefit the Jacobite cause,—once, by joining the insurrection promoted by General Buchan, and a second time by forming a plan, which was rendered abortive by the famous victory at La Hogue, for surprising the Castle of Edinburgh, and proclaiming King James in that capital.

This plot escaped detection; and the young soldier pursued his military duties, until the death of Hugh Lord Lovat drew him from the routine of his daily life into intrigues which better suited his restless and dauntless character.

Although his father, it is clearly understood, never bore the title of Lord Lovat, Simon, immediately upon the death of Lord Hugh, took upon himself the dignity and the offices of Master of Lovat. He seems, indeed, to have assumed all the importance, and to have exercised all the authority, which properly belonged to Lord Lovat. He was at this time nearly thirty years of age, and he had passed his life, not in mere amusement, but in acquiring a knowledge of the world in prosecuting his own interests. It is true, his leisure hours might have been more innocently bestowed even in the most desultory pursuits, than in the debasing schemes and scandalous society in which his existence was passed: it is true, that in studying his own interests, he forgot his true interest, and failed lamentably; still, he had not been idle in his vocation.

He is said, on tradition, to have been one of the most frightful men ever seen; and the portrait which Hogarth took of him, corroborates that report. He inherited the courage natural to his family, and his character, in that single respect, shone out at the last with a radiancy that one almost regrets, since it seemed so inconsistent that a career of the blackest vice and perfidy should close with something little less than dignity of virtue. He seems to have been endowed with a capacity worthy of a better employment than waiting upon a noble and wealthy relative, or inflaming discords between Highland clans. If we may adduce the Latin quotations which Lovat parades in his Memoirs, and which he uttered during his last hours, we must allow him to have cultivated the classics. His letters are skilful, even masterly, cajoling, yet characteristic. It is affirmed that in spite of a physiognomy vulgar in feature, and coarse and malignant in expression, he could, like Richard of Gloucester, obliterate the impression produced by his countenance, and charm those whom it was his interest to please. His effrontery was unconquerable: whilst conscious of the most venal motives, and even after he had displayed to the world a shameless tergiversation, he had the assurance always to claim for himself the merit of patriotism. "For my part," he said on one occasion, in conversation with his friends, "I die a martyr to my country."[124]

In after life, Lovat is described by a contemporary writer, "to have had a fine comely head to grace Temple Bar." He was a man of lofty stature, and large proportion; and in the later portion of his life, he grew so corpulent, that "I imagined," says the same writer, "the doors of the Tower must be altered to get him in."[125]

"Lord Lovat," says another writer, "makes an odd figure, being generally more loaded with clothes than a Dutchman: he is tall, walks very upright, considering his great age, and is tolerably well shaped; he has a large mouth and short nose, with eyes very much contracted and down-looking; a very small forehead, covered with a large periwig,—this gives him a grim aspect, but on addressing any one, he puts on a smiling countenance: he is near-sighted, and affects to be much more so than he really is."

"His natural abilities," remarks the editor of the Culloden Papers, "were excellent, and his address, accomplishments, and learning far above the usual lot of his countrymen, even of equal rank. With the civilized, he was the modern perfect fine gentleman; and in the North, among his people, the feudal baron of the tenth century."[126]

It seems absurd to talk of the religious principles of a man who violated every principle which religion inculcates; yet the mind is naturally curious to know whether any bonds of faith, or suggestion of conscience ever checked, even for an instant, the career of this base, unprincipled man. After much deception, much shuffling, and perhaps much self-delusion, Lord Lovat was, by his own declaration, a Roman Catholic: his sincerity, even in this avowal, has been questioned. In politics, he was in heart (if he had a heart) a Jacobite; and yet, on his trial, he insisted strongly upon his affection for the reigning family.

Such were the characteristics of Simon Fraser, when, by the death of Hugh Lord Lovat, his father and himself were raised from the subservience of clansmen to the dignity of chieftains. To these traits may be added a virtue rare in those days, and, until a long time afterwards, rare in Highland districts;—he was temperate: when others lost themselves by excesses, he preserved the superiority of sobriety; and perhaps his crafty character, his never-ending designs, his remorseless selfishness, were rendered more fatal and potent by this singular feature in his deportment. There was another circumstance, less rare in his country, the advantage of an admirable constitution. It was this, coupled with his original want of feeling, which sustained him in the imprisonment in the Tower, and enabled him to display, at eighty, the elasticity of youth. Lord Lovat was never known to have had the headache, and to the hour of his death he read without spectacles. A very short time after the death of Hugh Lord Lovat elapsed, before those relatives to whom he had bequeathed his estates were involved in the deadliest quarrel with the family of Lord Tullibardine.

The family of Lord Tullibardine, at that time called Lord Murray, furnish one of those numerous instances which occur in the reign of William the Third, of an open avowal of Whig principles, joined to a secret inclination to favour the Jacobite party. The Marquis of Athole, the father of Lord Tullibardine, had been a powerful Royalist in the time of Charles the First; but had, nevertheless, promoted the Revolution, and had hastened, in 1689, to court the favour of the Prince of Orange, with whom his lady claimed kindred.

Disappointed in his hopes of distinction, the Marquis returned to his former views upon the subject of legitimacy; and finally retired into private life, leaving the pursuit of fortune to his son, Lord John, afterwards Earl Tullibardine, and Marquis of Athole. The disgust of the old Marquis towards the government of William the Third, and the evident determination which his son soon manifested to ingratiate himself with that monarch, had, at the time when the death of Hugh Lord Lovat took place, completely alienated the Marquis from his son, and produced an entire separation of their interests.[127]

In his zeal for the King's service, Lord Tullibardine had endeavoured to raise a regiment of infantry; and it happened, that at this time Simon Fraser, as he expresses it, "by a most extraordinary stroke of Providence, held a commission in that regiment." This commission had been procured for him by his cousin, Lord Lovat, who looked upon it as the best means of "bringing him out in the world," as he expressed himself. The mode in which Simon was induced by Lord Murray to accept of this commission, and the manner in which he was, according to his own statement, induced to support a scheme which was adverse to the interests of King James, is narrated in his own Memoirs. If we may believe his account, he opposed the formation of this regiment by every exertion in his power: he aided the Stewarts and Robinsons of Athole, devoted Jacobites, and determined opposers of Lord Murray, whose claims on them as their chieftain they refused to admit; and when Lord Murray, on being appointed one of the Secretaries of State, resolved to give up the colonelcy of the troop, he tried every means in his power to dissuade his cousin, Hugh Lord Lovat, to whom it was offered, from accepting the honour which it was inconsistent with his principles to bear. This conduct, according to the hero of the tale, was highly applauded by the old Marquis of Athole, who even engaged his young relative, Simon, to pass the winter in the city of Perth with the younger son of the Marquis, Lord Mungo Murray, in order that they might there prosecute together the study of mathematics.

Simon accepted the invitation; and whilst he was at Perth, he was, according to his own statement, cajoled by Lord Murray into accepting the commission, which "he held by a stroke of Providence;" and which was represented by Lord Murray, as Simon affirms, to be actually a regiment intended for the service of King James, who, it was expected, would make a descent into Scotland in the following summer. And it was observed that since the Laird of Beaufort was so zealous in his service, he could not do his Majesty a greater benefit than in accepting this commission.

Influenced by these declarations, Simon had not only accepted the commission, but had used his influence to make up a complete company from his own clan: nevertheless, the command of the company was long delayed. His pride as a Highlander and a soldier was aggrieved by being obliged to sit down content, for some time, as a lieutenant of grenadiers; and, at last, the company was only given upon the payment of a sum of money to the captain, who made room for the Laird of Beaufort. Nor was this all; for upon the Lord Murray being made one of the Secretaries of State, he insisted upon the regiment taking oath of abjuration, which had never before been tendered to the Scottish army.[128]

Such had been the state of affairs when Hugh Lord Lovat was taken ill, and died at Perth. The manner in which Simon Fraser represents this event, is far more characteristic of his own malignant temper, than derogating to the family upon whom he wreaks all the luxury of vengeance that words could give. Simon, it appears, had persuaded Lord Lovat to go to Dunkeld, to meet his wife, the daughter of the Marquis of Athole, in order to conduct her to Lovat. Lord Lovat, disgusted by the treachery of the Earl of Tullibardine in respect to the regiment, had refused to have anything more to do with "this savage family of Athole," as he called them, "who would certainly kill him."[129] According to an account more to be relied on than that of the scheming and perfidious Simon, the aversion which Lord Lovat imbibed during his latter days to his wife's kindred, was implanted in his mind by Simon Fraser, in order to gain his weak-minded relative over to that plot which he had formed in order to secure the estates of Lovat to his own branch of the house.[130] This, however, is the account given by Fraser of his kinsman's last illness:—

"In reality he had been only two days at Dunkeld, when he fell sick, and the Atholes, not willing to be troubled with the care of an invalid, or for some other reasons, sent him to an inn in the city of Perth, hard by the house of Dr. James Murray, a physician, the relation or creature of the Marquis of Athole, upon whom the care of Lord Lovat's person was devolved.

"The moment the Laird of Beaufort heard the news that Lord Lovat had been conducted, very ill, to the town of Perth, he set out to his assistance. But before his arrival, in consequence of the violent remedies that had been administered to him, he lost the use of his reason, and lay in his bed in a manner incapable of motion,—abandoned by his wife and the whole family of Athole, who waited for his dissolution in great tranquillity, at the house of Dr. Murray, their relation."

Lord Lovat, however, recollected his cousin, and embracing him said, "Did not I tell you, my dear Simon, that these devils would certainly kill me? See in what a condition I am!" Simon could not refrain from tears at this melancholy spectacle. He threw himself on the bed beside Lord Lovat, and did not quit him till he died the next morning in his arms. Meanwhile, not an individual of the Athole family entered his apartment after having once seen him in the desperate condition in which he had been found by the Laird of Beaufort.

Such was the state of family discord when Lord Lovat died; and it was discovered, to the consternation of the Marquis of Athole and his sons, that he had made a will in favour of his relation Thomas of Beaufort, and to the exclusion of his own daughter.

The right of Thomas of Beaufort was deemed incontestable; and not a man, it was presumed, dreamed of disputing it. Yet it was soon obvious that the Earl of Tullibardine, who had now acquired the title of Viceroy of Scotland, was determined to support a claim in behalf of the daughter of Lord Lovat, and to have her declared heiress to her father. This scheme was coupled with a design of marrying the young lady also to one of Lord Tullibardine's own sons,[131] of whom he had five, and, according to Simon Fraser, without fortune to bestow on any of his children.

The Master of Lovat, Simon Fraser, as he rightfully was now, communicated this scheme to his father, and entreated him to resist this claim. Recourse was had to several of the most able lawyers of the kingdom, and their opinion unanimously was, that Lord Tullibardine had no more right to make his "niece heiress of Lovat than to put her in possession of the throne of Scotland: that the right of Thomas of Beaufort to those honours and estates was incontrovertible, and that the King himself would not deprive him of them, except for high treason." It appears that Lord Tullibardine was satisfied of the justice of the opinion as far as the title was concerned, but he still considered that the property of the last Lord Lovat ought to descend to his daughter and heiress. The point was warmly viewed between the Earl and the Master of Lovat; but the conference ended with no farther satisfaction to either of the gentlemen than that of having each a full opportunity of reviling the other: such, at least, is the account given by one of the parties; no reasonable person will venture wholly to vouch for its accuracy, yet the dialogue does not appear improbable. This firmness and spirit threw the Lord Commissioner into a violent passion; he exclaimed in a furious tone, "I have always known you for an obstinate, insolent rascal; I don't know what should hinder me from cutting off your ears, or from throwing you into a dungeon, and bringing you to the gallows, as your treasons against the Government so richly deserve." Simon, having never before been accustomed to such language, immediately stuck his hat on his head, and laying his hand upon the hilt of his sword, was upon the point of drawing it, when he observed that Lord Tullibardine had no sword: upon this he addressed him in the following manner.

"I do not know what hinders me, knave and coward as you are, from running my sword through your body. You are well known for a poltroon, and if you had one grain of courage, you would never have chosen your ground in the midst of your guards, to insult a gentleman of a better house, and of a more honourable birth than your own; but I shall one day have my revenge. As for the paltry company that I hold in your regiment, and which I have bought dearer than ever any company was bought before,—it is the greatest disgrace to which I was ever subject, to be a moment under your command; and now, if you please, you may give it to your footman."[132]

Such was the beginning of a long course of hostilities which were thenceforth carried on between the Murrays and the clan of Fraser, and which was productive of the deepest crimes on the part of the Master of Lovat. That he was fully prepared to enter into any schemes, however desperate, to ensure the succession of the estates of Lovat, cannot be doubted. He prosecuted his designs without remorse or shame. The matter of surprise must be, that he found partisans and followers willing to aid him in crime, and that he possessed an influence over his followers little short, on their part, of infatuation.

The first suggestion that occurred to the mind of this bold and reckless man was, perhaps, a natural and certainly an innocent method of securing tranquillity to the enjoyment of his inheritance. He resolved to engage the affections of the young daughter of the late Lord Lovat, and, by an union with that lady, to satisfy himself that no doubt could arise as to his title to the estates, nor with regard to any children whom he might have in that marriage; nor was the hand of the Master of Lovat, if we put aside the important point of character, a proffer to be despised. The estate of Beaufort had long been in the possession of his father, as an appanage of a younger son; and had only been lent as a residence to Hugh Lord Lovat, on account of the ruinous state of the castle of Lovat. Downie Castle, another important fortress, also accrued to the father of Simon Lovat; and the estate of Lovat itself was one of the finest and best situated in Scotland.[133] In addition to these, the family owned the large domain of Sthratheric, which stretches along the western banks of the Ness, and comprises almost the whole circumference of that extensive and beautiful lake. The pretensions of the Master were, therefore, by no means contemptible; and as he was young, although, according to dates, ten years older than he states himself to be, in his Memoir of his life, he had every reason to augur success.

For a time, this scheme seemed to prosper. The young lady, Amelia Fraser, was not averse to receive the Master of Lovat as her suitor; and the intermediate party, Fraser, of Tenechiel, who acted as interpreter to the wishes of the Master, actually succeeded in persuading the young creature to elope with him, and to fix the very day of her marriage with the Master, to whom Fraser promised to conduct her. But either she repented of this clandestine step, or Fraser of Tenechiel, dreading the power of the Athole family, drew back; for he reconducted her back to her mother at Castle Downie, even after her assurance had been given that she would marry her cousin.[134]

The circumstances of this elopement are obscurely stated by Lord Lovat in his account of the affair; and he does not refer to the treachery or remorse of his emissary Fraser of Tenechiel, nor does he dwell upon a disappointment which must have gratified his mortal enemies of the house of Athole. Yet it appears, from the long and early intimacy to which he alludes as having subsisted between himself and the Dowager Lady Lovat, that he may have had many opportunities of gaining the regard of the young daughter of that lady,—an idea which accounts, in some measure, for her readiness to engage in the scheme of the elopement. At all events, he expresses his rage and contempt, and makes no secret of his determined revenge on those who had, as he conceived, frustrated his project.

The young lady was at first placed under the protection of her mother at Castle Downie, the chief residence of the clan Fraser; but there it was not thought prudent to allow her to abide, and she was therefore carried, under an escort, to Dunkeld, the house of her uncle, the Marquis of Athole. And here another match was very soon provided for her, and again her consent was gained, and again the preliminaries of marriage were arranged for this passive individual. The nobleman whom her relations now proposed to her was William, afterwards eleventh Lord Salton, also a Fraser, whose father was a man of great wealth and influence, although referred to by the Master of Lovat as the "representative of an unconsiderable branch of the Frasers who had settled in the lowlands of the county of Aberdeen."[135] This match was suggested to the Athole family by one Robert Fraser "an apostate wretch," as the Master of Lovat calls him, a kinsman, and an advocate; and he advised the Marquis of Athole, not only to marry the young lady to the heir of Lord Salton, but also, by various schemes and manoeuvres, to get Lord Salton declared head of the clan of Frasers. This plot was soon divulged; disappointment, rage, revenge were raised to the height in the breast of the Master of Lovat. His pride was as prominent a feature in this bold and vindictive man, as his duplicity. Throughout life, he could, it is true, bend for a purpose, as low as his designs required him to bend; but the fierce exclusiveness of a Highland chieftain never died away, but rankled in his heart to the last.

It must be admitted that he had just cause of irritation against the Murrays, first for disputing the claim of his father to the Lovat title and estates, a claim indisputably just; nor was their project for constituting Lord Salton the head of the clan Fraser, either a wise or an equitable scheme. It was heard with loud indignation in that part of the country where the original stock of this time-honoured race were, until their name was stained by the crimes of Simon Fraser, held in love and reverence. It was heard by the Master of Lovat perhaps with less expression of his feelings than by his followers; but the meditated affront was avenged, and avenged by a scheme which none but a demon could have devised. It was avenged; but it brought ruin on the head of the avenger.

Perhaps in no other country, at the same period, could the wrongs of an individual have been visited upon an aggressor with the same dispatch and ruthless determination as in the Highlands. Until the year 1748, when the spirit of clanship was broken, never to be restored, those "hereditary monarchies founded on custom, and allowed by general consent rather than established by laws,"[136] existed in their full vigour. The military ranks of the clans was fixed and continual during the rare intervals of local quiet, and every head of a family was captain of his own tribe.[137] The spirit of rivalry between the clans kept up a taste for hostility, and converted rapine into a service of honour. Revenge was considered as a duty, and superstition aided the dictates of a fiery and impetuous spirit. A people naturally humane, naturally forbearing, had thus, by the habits of ages immemorial, become remorseless plunderers and resolute avengers. When any affront was offered to a chieftain, the clan was instantly summoned. They came from their straths and their secluded valleys, wherein there was little intercourse with society in general to tame their native pride, or to weaken the predominant emotion of their hearts,—their pride in their chieftain. They came fearlessly, trusting, not only in the barriers which Nature had given them in their rocks and fastnesses, but in the unanimity of their purpose. Each clan had its stated place of meeting, and when it was summoned upon any emergency, the fiery cross, one end burning, the other wrapt in a piece of linen stained with blood, was sent among the aroused clansmen, traversing those wild moors, and penetrating into the secluded glens of those sublime regions. It was sent, by two messengers, throughout the country, and passed from hand to hand, these messengers shouting, as they went, the war-cry of the clan, which was echoed from rock to rock. And then arose the cry of the coronach, that wail, appropriate to the dead, but uttered also by women, as the fiery cross roused them from their peaceful occupations, and hurried from them their sons and their husbands.

Never was the fiery cross borne throughout the beautiful country of Invernessshire, never was the wail of the coronach heard on a more ignoble occasion, than on the summons of the Master of Lovat, in the September of the year 1698. After some fruitless negotiation, it is true, with Lord Salton, and after availing himself of the power of his father, as chieftain, to imprison Robert Fraser, and several other disaffected clansmen whom that person had seduced from their allegiance, the Master of Lovat prepared for action. The traitors to his cause had escaped death by flight, but the clan were otherwise perfectly faithful to their chieftain. Fear, as well as love, had a part in their allegiance; yet it has been conjectured that the hereditary devotion of the Highlanders must, originally, have had its origin in gratitude for services and for bounty, which it was the interest of every chieftain to bestow.

The Master of Lovat, or, as he was called by his people, the chieftain, first assembled his people at their accustomed place, to the number of sixty and seventy, and bade them be in readiness when called upon. He thanked them for their prompt attendance, and then dismissed them. During the next month, however, he was met, coming from Inverness, by Lord Salton and Lord Mungo Murray, who were returning from Castle Downie. Such was the preparation for the disgraceful scenes which quickly followed. As soon as the Master of Lovat and his father were informed of the flight of their treacherous clansmen, they wrote a letter to Lord Salton, and conjured him, in the name of the clan, to remain at home, and not to disturb their repose nor to interfere with the interests of their chief; and they assured him, that though a Fraser, he should, if he entered their country, pay for that act of audacity by his head. Such is Lord Lovat's account: it is not borne out by the statements of others; yet since the affair must have been generally discussed among the clan, it is probable, that he would not have given this version of it without foundation. Lord Salton, according to the same statement, at first received this letter in good part; and wrote to Lord Lovat and to the Master, giving his word that he would only interfere to make peace; and that, for this reason, he would proceed to the seat of the Dowager Lady Lovat, at Beaufort.[138] Upon afterwards discovering that this courtesy was a mere feint, and that this new claimant to the honours of chief was in close correspondence with the Murrays, who were with him and the Dowager at Beaufort, the Master of Lovat wrote to his father, who was at Sthratheric, to meet him at Lovat, which was only three miles' distance from Beaufort, whilst he should himself proceed to the same place by way of Inverness, where he trusted that Lord Salton would grant him an interview for the purpose of explaining their mutual differences.[139]

No sooner had the Master arrived at Inverness, than he found, as he declares, so much reason to distrust the assurances of Lord Salton, that he wrote him a letter, sent, as he says, "with all diligence by a gentleman of his train, to adhere to his word passed to his father and himself, and to meet him the next day at two in the afternoon, three miles from Beaufort, either like a friend, or with sword and pistol, as he pleased."[140]

Such is the account transmitted by Lord Lovat, and intended to give the air of an "affair of honour" to a desperate and lawless attack upon Fraser of Salton, and on those friends who supported his pretensions to the hand of the heiress of Lovat.

The real facts of the case were, that Fraser of Salton was to pass through Inverness on his way to Dunkeld, where the espousals between him and the heiress of Lovat were to be celebrated. Whether Simon Fraser purposed merely to prevent the accomplishment of this marriage, or whether he had fully matured another scheme:—whether he was incited by disappointment to rush into unpremeditated deeds of violence, or whether his design had been fostered in the recesses of his own dark mind, cannot be fully ascertained. In some measure his revenge was gratified. He was enabled, by the events which followed, to delay the marriage of Fraser of Salton, and to retard the nuptials,—which, indeed, never took place. "This wild enterprise," observes Arnot, in his Collection of Criminal Trials in Scotland, "was to be accomplished by such deeds, that the stern contriver of the principal action is less shocking than the abject submission of his accomplices."[141]

Lord Salton dispatched an answer, saying, that he would meet the Master of Lovat at the appointed time, as his "good friend and servant." But the bearer of that message distrusted the reply, and informed the Master that he believed it was Fraser of Salton's intention to set out and to pass through Inverness early in the morning, in order to escape the interview. Measures were taken accordingly, by the Master of Lovat. At a very early hour he was seen passing over the bridge of Inverness, attended by six gentlemen, as he himself relates, and two servants, completely armed. This is the Master's statement; but on his subsequent trial, it appeared that the fiery cross and the coronach had been sent throughout all the country; that a body of four or five hundred men in arms were in attendance, and that they had met in the house of one of the clansmen, Fraser of Strichen, where the Master took their oaths of fidelity, and where they swore on their dirks to be faithful to him in his enterprise.[142] "The inhabitants of Inverness," says Lord Lovat, "observing their alert and spirited appearance, lifted up their hands to heaven, and prayed God to prosper their enterprise." These simple and deluded people, doubtless, but partially understood the nature of that undertaking which they thus called on Heaven to bless.

The Master of Lovat and his party had not proceeded more than four or five miles from Inverness, than they observed a large party of "runners issuing out of the wood of Bonshrive, which is crossed by the high road." "It is a custom," adds Lord Lovat, "in the north of Scotland, for almost every gentleman to have a servant in livery, who runs before his horse, and who is always at his stirrup when he wishes to mount or to alight; and however swift any horse may be, a good runner is always able to match him."

The gentlemen who attended the Master of Lovat, were soon able to perceive that Lord Salton was one of the leaders of the party who was quitting the Wood of Bonshrive, and emerging into the high road; and that his Lordship was accompanied by Lord Mungo Murray, a younger son of the Marquis of Athole, and, as the Master of Lovat intimates, an early friend of his own. The account which Lord Lovat's narrative henceforth presents, of that which ensued, is so totally at variance with the evidence on his trial, that it must be disregarded and rejected as unworthy of credit, as well as the boast with which he concludes it, of having generously saved the lives of Lord Salton, and of his own kinsman, Lord Mungo. It appeared afterwards, that his followers had orders to seize them, dead or alive.

These two young noblemen were, it seems, almost instantly overpowered by numbers, notwithstanding the attendance of the "runners," on whom Lord Lovat so much insists. Lord Mungo was taken prisoner by the Master himself. They were then deprived of their horses, and being mounted on poneys, were conducted to Fanellan, guards surrounding them, with their muskets loaded, and dirks drawn, to a house belonging to Lord Lovat, where they were kept in close confinement, guarded by a hundred clansmen. Gibbets were erected under the windows of the house, to intimidate the prisoners; and at the end of a week they were marched off to Castle Downie,—the Master of Lovat going there in warlike array, with a pair of colours and a body of five hundred men. From Castle Downie, Lord Salton and Lord Mungo were led away into the islands and mountains, and were treated with great indignity.

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