On this day 1692: The Massacre of Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Mor, at the southern end of Glencoe. Picture: TSPL

Buachaille Etive Mor, at the southern end of Glencoe. Picture: TSPL

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ON THIS day - the 13th February - in 1692, an event occurred that was to become one of the most bloodiest and shocking in Scotland’s history.

In what came to be known as the Massacre of Glencoe - or in Scottish Gaelic Mort Ghlinne Comhann (murder of Glen Coe) - 34 men, two women and two children of the clan MacDonald were murdered in cold blood.

The order for the Massacre of Glencoe, one of the most iconic documents in Scottish history. Picture: Jane Barlow

The order for the Massacre of Glencoe, one of the most iconic documents in Scottish history. Picture: Jane Barlow

The attack was carried out simultaneously in three places along the glen - Invercoe, Inverrigan, and Achnacon - however, most of the killing took place as the MacDonalds tried to flee from their attackers.

Perhaps more shocking was the fact that attackers had been welcomed guests of the clan, guests received in the hospitable tradition of the Highlands.

The attackers, the first and second companies of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, under the command of Captain Robert Campbell, had stayed amongst the MacDonalds for several days before the eventual massacre.

Clan MacDonald gather to remember Glencoe Massacre

The day before the betrayal, a captain named Drummond arrived bearing instructions for Robert Campbell, from his superior officer, Major Duncanson. Drummond spent the evening playing cards with his unsuspecting victims and upon retiring, wished them good night and accepted an invitation to dine with MacIain, the chief, the following day.

The following morning the murder began, as the soldiers, led by the Campbells ambushed the clan chief and several of his kinsmen.

As the murderous act unfolded, various members of the two companies found ways of warning their hosts. Two lieutenants, Lt Francis Farquhar and Lt Gilbert Kennedy even broke their swords rather than carry out their orders. They were arrested and imprisoned, but were exonerated, released and later gave evidence for the prosecution against their superior officers.

Chilling words that triggered the bloody massacre of clan MacDonald at Glencoe to go on display as a national ‘treasure’

It was later discovered that the massacre had been a plot by the Secretary of State over Scotland, John Dalrymple, Master of Stair. Dalrymple was a Lowlander who disliked the Highlanders and thought their way of life was a hindrance to Scotland, which he thought would be better served in union with England. Under Scots law, there is a special category of murder, known as “murder under trust”, an act considered to be even more heinous than ordinary murder. This was the charge aimed at Dalrymple who lost his position, however, he soon returned to favour thanks to the King.

No action was taken against William either, who it was discovered had authorised the massacre.

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