Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1692, took place the Massacre of Glencoe.

The Massacre of Glencoe is the name given to the treacherous slaughter of the Clan McDonald of Glencoe by the soldiers of Robert Campbell, of Argyll.  

In 1698, James II (James VII of Scots) was deposed and William III and Mary II were placed on the throne. Many clans remained loyal to James and rose in armed revolt but were eventually defeated at the battle of Killiecrankie. King William offered a general amnesty to all who rebelled, provided that they took a solemn oath of allegiance on or before 31st December 1691. Any who did not take up William’s generous offer would have their lives and land forfeit to the Crown. 

The government proved that they were in earnest by issuing Letters of Fire and Sword, that is, death warrants against recalcitrants who refused to take the oath. The defeated clansmen had no choice but to swear allegiance to the new king, but many of them grumpily left matters to the last minute before submitting.  The last to concede was Alexander MacDonald of Glencoe who presented himself before the authorities at the nearest government post, Fort William, on the afternoon of December 31st 1691.  

The governor of Fort William apologetically had to admit that he was not one of those magistrates authorised to take submissions, and that to set matters right, MacDonald must proceed without delay to appear before Sir Colin Campbell of Inverary, who was duly appointed for that purpose. MacDonald and his entourage duly set out and after delays for foul weather, and after being stopped en route on suspicion of being an outlaw and after arriving at Inverary and finding that Sir Colin was not there and after waiting patiently for three days for Sir Colin to return, MacDonald was finally able to present himself for the official oath.  

After MacDonald had finished grumbling about government red tape and received a lecture from Sir Colin Campbell regarding the necessity for planning one’s diary ahead of schedule and not leaving things until the last minute, the oath was duly administered and MacDonald began the long tramp home.  

But MacDonald had many enemies, particularly Robert Campbell, whose lands had been looted by the clan McDonald, during the uprising. A plot was laid involving John Dalrymple, one of the king’s ministers, John Campbell, the Lord Advocate and Sir Thomas Livingstone, army commander. Orders were issued for the death of MacDonald and his clan on the grounds that MacDonald had technically broken the law by not taking the oath by the due date. 

In February 1692, Captain Robert Campbell and 120 of his men were billeted on MacDonald and his clan in Glencoe, and were received as guests under the standards of Highland hospitality. The men were guests in the MacDonald houses and Captain Campbell resided in the house of the chief of the clan MacDonald. On the morning of 13th February, after receiving written orders, Campbell and his men fell upon their hosts and slaughtered them. Thirty-eight people were killed either in their homes or trying to flee the glen and a further forty women and children died of exposure after their houses were burnt.  

The government investigated the case and laid the blame on Dalrymple and some senior officers but no action was taken. The massacre became a propaganda triumph for the Jacobites, who were to rebel in 1715 and again in 1745. Interest in the matter revived in the Nineteenth Century, after the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s The Highland Widow, a sentimental and romanticised account of the event.  The massacre was never forgotten by the MacDonalds, who ever since, have held the Campbells to be bitter enemies of their clan. The Clachaig Inn in Glencoe has a sign on the door saying ‘No hawkers or Campbells’. [The Clachaig Inn, Clachaig, Glencoe, Argyll, PH49 4HX]

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