Today is the 325th anniversary of the massacre of Glencoe. I remember the 300th (I was not blogging then) and will probably not be around for the 350th so we will commemorate year 325 instead. The Ballad of Glencoe is not so well known outside Scotland as Loch Lomond and Over the Sea to Skye but it usually makes a big impression when I play it, usually the Alastair MacDonald version from The Songs of Scotland.
It was MacDonalds who were the victims of the massacre, killed by Campbells who had come to stay with them, apparently in peace and taking advantage of the highland tradition of hospitality before they turned on their hosts and began slaughtering them in the early hours of the morning on 13th February 1692. Thirty eight men were killed and about forty women and children died from exposure after they fled. This was not a particularly high body count for the highlands but it was thought by many to be the beginning of the end for a way of life, ancient codes ignored by a Dutch king in England who neither understood nor cared for the area. Fifty four years later the at Culloden the destruction of the clans was completed.
A few of the Campbells refused to take part in the killings and broke their swords instead. Others claim that they dropped as many hints as possible that something bad was going to happen and, if you could go and visit your cousins in the next valley, that would be a good idea. Nevertheless, in Hollywood terms, they became the bad guys. Some years ago we diverted off the main road to see the Clachaig Inn with its famous sign ‘No Hawkers, No Campbells’ (http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/dicey-detours).
What caused the massacre in the first place? James the Second, whose family was Scottish and who was a Roman Catholic, had been replaced in 1689 by William of Orange who was married to Mary, the daughter of James’s first marriage. When James’s second Catholic wife Mary of Modena gave birth to a son who would take priority over the other Mary, William was invited to take over from James who was forced into exile ((keep up at the back). A pesky Catholic was eased off the throne and a relatively tame Protestant replaced him in the Glorious (and bloodless) Revolution of 1689 a century before the far bloodier version in France.
One of the first killed was the clan chief, Alastair Maclain. He had been told to take an oath of loyalty to William of Orange but insisted on being released from a previous oath to James, a leader to whom he felt far more loyal. A combination of bad roads, bad luck and bloody-minded bureaucracy held him up and he was a few days late in taking the oath. Sir John Dalrymple, William’s representative in Scotland, decided to make an example of the MacDonalds and turned to their old enemy the Campbells. A minor misdemeanour is punished with a major crime and history condemns the punisher rather than the victim. Sounds familiar? At least we got a good song out of it.
Read John Prebble’s book Glencoe for a detailed account of the massacre and its aftermath.
(Apologies that this is slightly late on the website: busy on a course at Windsor Castle this week.)
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