On this day in history : 28th December 1734 – The death of Robert MacGregor – a Scottish outlaw and folk hero of the early 1700s – better known as ‘Rob Roy’….

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Engraving of Rob Roy by W.H.Worthington – Public domain

Born in February 1671, in Glengyle, Trossachs, on the southern edge of the Highlands, Rob Roy was the son of Colonel Donald MacGregor – one of the MacGregor clan – and who won his commission through loyalty to King Charles II….

Robert MacGregor acquired his name ‘Rob Roy’ at an early age – on account of his mop of curly red hair – which he inherited from his mother’s side…. At the age of 18 he joined the Jacobite rising of 1689, along with his father – whom he fought alongside with the aim of restoring King James VII, the last Catholic King, to the Scottish throne…. Rob’s father was caught and imprisoned for treason for two years….during that time his mother suffered ill health and subsequently died…. Rob moved to Glen Shira, living under the protection of the Duke of Argyll – and was permitted to build a house upon land granted to him….

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The Duke of Argyll – Public domain

In January 1693 Rob Roy married Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar – his cousin – and they had four sons…. He became a cattle drover, buying and selling Highland cattle…. The MacGregors were a wild clan – cattle rustling and running what was effectively a protection racket…. By the early 1700s Rob Roy had established his own flourishing protection racket….charging landowners around 5% of their annual rent to ensure their cattle remained safe…. Those who didn’t pay could expect to lose everything…. Nowadays this would be seen as criminal – but in those times it was actually considered a respectable way of making a living….img_4923

In 1711 Rob Roy borrowed £1,000 from the Duke of Montrose, a land owner at Murdock Castle, north of Glasgow – he planned to purchase cattle for the following year’s market – and had taken investments from various local chieftains…. In early 1712 he gave his head drover the task of purchasing the cattle on his behalf…which he did…. But the drover then sold the cattle on….and disappeared with the proceeds….

Rob Roy returned home to find he had been made bankrupt and outlawed by the Duke of Montrose…. His land had been seized – and his wife and young family evicted from their home – thrown out into the depths of the savage Highland winter – their home burned to ashes…. The Duke of Montrose was also settling an old score with the Duke of Argyll – who was his sworn enemy….

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What remains today of Rob Roy’s home at Upper Glen Shira – CC BY SA 3.0

Rob Roy set out to seek revenge – he had never even been given the chance to repay the original loan….he felt he had been unfairly treated…. He set out on a campaign of ‘cattle lifting’, targeting Montrose’s stock…. He became an expert – he excelled in theft and banditry…. He even kidnapped Montrose’s rent-collector, who happened to have £3,000 of rent money upon him at the time…. He was a thorn in the side for the Duke of Montrose – and all the time he had a powerful ally in the Duke of Argyll…. Gradually his attentions began to turn to other landowners in the area and he started to target them too…. Those not willing to pay him protection money would find themselves relieved of their stock…. Now a fully fledged outlaw the ‘law’ were out to find him….but he roamed the hills of Loch Lomond, always in hiding – rather like a Scottish Robin Hood….

Kneller, Godfrey, 1646-1723; James, 1st Duke of Montrose (1682-1742), Secretary of State for Scotland (1714-1716)
The Duke of Montrose – After Godfrey Kneller – Public domain

During the November 1715 Jacobite Uprising Rob Roy was used as a guide for the Jacobite army – as it marched from Perth to Stirling….resulting in the Battle of Sheriffmuir – with the Jacobites against the government army, led under the Duke of Argyll…. Eventually the government army prevented the Jacobites from reaching the Lowlands…. Rob Roy was torn between his Jacobite beliefs and his loyalty to the Duke of Argyll….

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The Battle of Sherriffmuir – John Wootton – Public domain

At the end of this escapade he emerged with a price on his head – both for his earlier banditry and now for treason for his part in the uprising…. He was captured several times – but always managed to escape…. Tales of his exploits began to circulate….

In 1722 he was finally caught and imprisoned for five years…. But his tale had spread to those with influence…. In 1723 Daniel Defoe published ‘Highland Rogue‘ – based upon his story….and so his popularity rose…. Just before he was due to be transported to Australia Rob Roy was granted a Royal pardon…. After which he settled down, gradually returning to live a normal life among his own people in Balquhidder, north of Trossachs….

Rob Roy died on the 28th of December 1734, in Balquhidder Glen – and was buried in the Kirkyard – later to be joined by his wife and two of his sons – who were buried beside him….

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Since then, in 1818 Sir Walter Scott wrote the novel ‘Rob Roy’ – and he has been the subject of two Hollywood films….

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