The clan battle that led to a ban on MacGregors

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Fought near Loch Lomond on this day in 1603, the Battle of Glen Fruin left at least 140 men dead and led to an unparalleled campaign of punishment against the MacGregors with the name banned in Scotland for a total of 150 years.

The battle was supposedly fought on a large flat piece of ground near Auchingaich with the members of the poorer Clan Gregor pitched against their wealthy and influential Colquhoun neighbours.

Glen Fruin, near Loch Lomond. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/John Johnstone

Glen Fruin, near Loch Lomond. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/John Johnstone

READ MORE: 6 of Scotland’s bloodiest clan battles

The two clans had history. Clan Gregor, which was stripped of much of its land by Robert the Bruce , frequently raided their neighbour’s property.

Tradition dictates that the battle was sparked after two MacGregor men were refused shelter on Colquhoun land and resorted to sleeping in an outhouse and slaughtering a sheep.

READ MORE: The battle cries of the Highland clans

A memorial stone to the Battle of Glen Fruin which was fought on February 7, 1603. PIC:

A memorial stone to the Battle of Glen Fruin which was fought on February 7, 1603. PIC:

After being discovered by the Laird of Luss, they were sentenced to death with their kinsmen mobilising in furious response.

However, some believe this version of events has been fancified over the years with no evidence that the executions occurred.

Others have argued that the Battle of Glen Fruin began with just another MacGregor raid.

Similar plundering expeditions were launched in the weeks before with two Colquhoun men allegedly killed at Glenfinlas a couple of months before.

The difference was that on February 7, 1603, the Colquhouns were ready to protect themselves with permission granted by James VI to pursue their foes.

The Colquhoun ranks were swelled by men from Dumbarton and Cardross, with the clan marching into the glen with as many as 500 men on foot and 300 on horseback.

Clan Gregor had around 350 men ready to fights and showed no mercy for their foes.

Stewart Noble, of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust, said in an essay for the society: “The MacGregors launched a downhill surprise attack on the Colquhouns, which drove them back in the direction whence they had come, namely the Auchengeich Glen.

“Unfortunately for the Colquhouns the second part of the MacGregor force was lying in wait for them there.

“Just as there are doubts over the numbers in the two opposing forces, so there are also doubts as to how many were killed.

“A fairly commonly accepted figure is that 140 of the Colquhouns and their allies were killed, although some accounts have put the number as high as 200.”

Eighty horses, 600 hundred cows and 800 hundred sheep were taken in the aftermath of the battle with houses and corn-yards burned.

Following the bloodshed, James VI, in a bid to dismantle the clan, forced MacGregors - and Gregors - to drop their name or risk punishment by death.

“The severity of the laws under which the MacGregors were at this time suffering, is unparalleled,” wrote R.R McIan in The Clans of the Scottish Highlands.

A royal warrant was signed by James VI on February 24, 1603, accusing the MacGregors of attacking members of Clan Colquhoun at Glen Fruin “without pitie or compassion” or regard for young or old.

Their deeds were “barbarous and horrible” with this “wicked and unhappy” race to be “exterminat and ruttit out”.

Less than two months later, around April 3, James VI ruled the name MacGregor should be “altogether abolished” and that all people of the clan should renounce their name and take another, under the pain of death.

Aliases, including Grant, Stewart and Ramsay were used.

Around a year later, Alastair of Glenstrae and 11 leading clan figures were hung at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh, with the leader hoisted above his men before being drawn and quartered

The MacGregor name was restored in 1661 by Charles II but disallowed once more in 1693 by William of Orange.

It was not till 1784 that the MacGregors were allowed to resume their own name, and were restored to all the rights and privileges of British citizens.

A memorial stone stands in Glen Fruin to mark the Culquhouns that died,

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