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

THEY were the words that launched one of the darkest episodes in Scottish history, remembered and resented to this day.

• Clan Campbell murdered Clan MacDonald in Glencoe in 1692

Now the original handwritten order for the massacre at Glencoe "to fall upon the rebels ... and put all to the sword under seventy" goes on show in Edinburgh this week.

Sent to Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, in 1692, the simple 20-line letter triggered the murder of 38 members of the MacDonald clan and is the centrepiece of an exhibition of cultural "treasures" at the National Library of Scotland.

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It is on display alongside other literary and historical landmarks, from a handwritten Robert Burns poem recently reclaimed from the US, to a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The library's chief executive, Martyn Wade, said the exhibition for the year of Homecoming was a rare chance "to see this collection of priceless Scottish treasures."

The Glencoe letter will be exhibited until early January, in low light conditions and with flash photography banned, staff said.

The order, signed by Major Robert Duncanson, came after a proclamation requiring the chiefs of the Scottish clans to take an oath of allegiance to William III before the end of the 1691.

Alasdair MacDonald of Glencoe missed the deadline, providing the authorities with an opportunity to crush his clan. Forty women and children were said to have died after the killings from exposure, after their homes were burned.

The massacre – with the Campbells ordered to attack their hosts after enjoying their hospitality – became a rallying cry for the Jacobite cause, and inspired writers and artists from Sir Walter Scott to The Corries.

Other highlights of the show include On the Battle of Sheriff-Muir, a poem written by Burns in 1790 commemorating a clash between Hanoverian troops and the Jacobites 75 years before. It is the first time the manuscript has been seen since it was bought by the library in the US for 30,000.

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Also on show is the Forlani Map, thought to be the first printed map solely of Scotland, along with a copperplate map of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island produced for the 1895 memorial "Edinburgh edition" of his works.

Other items on display range from "The Lyon in Mourning" – Bishop Robert Forbes's collection of Jacobite papers, various early designs for the Union flag, the 1814 Waverley manuscript by Walter Scott and The Adventure of the Illustrious Client by Conan Doyle.

Two months ago, the library showed the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots in its new exhibition space, part of a 2.24 million overhaul to make the national collection more accessible to the general public.

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