Roy was born in March 1671, at the head of Loch Katrine in
the Trossachs, that beautiful area of wooded lochs and steep-sided,
craggy hills to the east of Ben Lomond. His parents were Donald
MacGregor and Margaret Campbell. He would later sign his name
as a Campbell, when his real name was proscribed as an outlaw.
He was named Roy after his red hair, from the Gaelic Ruadh,
or red. Growing up in an age when self-defence was a requirement
and not a choice, he became skilled in the use of the broadsword,
his long arms and great strength making him a formidable opponent.
The clan MacGregor followed the Protestant faith, though he
was to convert to Catholicism late in life.
He fought with the Jacobite side under
Viscount Dundee at the Battle of Killicrankie Pass in 1689,
where General Hugh MacKay was defeated. It was a Pyrrhic
victory however, and Dundee died having been hit in the
eye with a musket ball. It was also, interestingly, the
last battle at which the double-handed broadsword was used,
to great effect.
Rob Roy later joined the Lennox Watch,
effectively a paid band of Highlanders who protected the
Lowlands. The payment was termed 'blackmail'. In 1693 he
married Mary Campbell, who was from Comer, on the east side
of Ben Lomond.
For a time his fortunes increased,
gaining lands and becoming a cattle dealer. But in 1711
his chief drover, a MacDonald, absconded with letters of
credit, and MacGregor was wrongly accused of embezzlement.
A warrant for his arrest was issued, under the instigation
of the Duke of Montrose, a main creditor, and on failing
to answer the summons, MacGregor was outlawed.
For some time, he was forced to survive
by the time-honoured pastimes of lifting sheep and cattle,
particularly from Montrose's land. By now his wife and family
had been evicted from Craigroyston by Montrose's factor,
Graham of Killearn. MacGregor rented a property in Glen
Dochart, Auchinchisallen, from the Earl of Breadalbane,
who was a political opponent of Montrose. In 1715, he raised
the clan MacGregor for the Jacobite cause. In the Callendar
area he seized 22 government guns. He was at the dying moments
of the Battle of Sheriffmuir, when inept leadership by Mar
lost the day. An earlier decision not to be led into suicidal
situations by incompetent Jacobite generals obliged him
to make a tactical withdrawal with his men, but he had to
suffer the burning of his home at Auchinchisallen by Swiss
mercenaries. He had set up an ambush, but with barely a
dozen clansmen against 60 Swiss troops he could not afford
By 1717, The Duke of Montrose was enraged
and frustrated. He obtained a Commission to arrest MacGregor,
and was fortunate in learning of his presence in a house
at Balquhidder. At dawn he caught Rob Roy asleep in his
plaid, and binding his hands took him on horseback towards
At the Fords of Frew, over the Forth,
the river that April was swollen and cold. His hands were
released for his safety, but a leather cord attached him
to the man in front, a James Stewart, one of Montrose's
tenants. There are two versions as to what happened next.
Either Rob Roy had a concealed armpit knife, and cut the
thong himself, or Stewart, who had received some benefit
from MacGregor in the past, released him on a whisper from
Rob Roy jumped into the river, releasing
his plaid, and swam away underwater. The plaid received
much attention, including musket balls, and Rob Roy was
able to gain the north bank in the gathering twilight. Once
again he had escaped. It is fairly safe to say that from
about now onwards, the Scots saw in MacGregor an heroic
figure. There were many other stirring and true stories
of his continuing struggle to find a peaceful and just life
before he finally submitted to General Wade in 1725, gaining
the King's pardon. He continued to work with his cattle
business, offering protection to the Lowlands.
At the end of 1734, Rob Roy MacGregor
was in his home at Inverlochlarig, at the head of the Glen
of Balquhidder. All accounts are in agreement on his last
words. 'It is all over. Put me to bed. Call the piper. Let
him play Cha till me tuille.' While the piper played the
lament I shall return no more, Rob Roy died.
He had, as was befitting, a great
funeral in Balquhidder. All ranks, and most of the clans,
were there. He was buried, Catholic or not, in the graveyard
of the auld kirk at Balquhidder, under an ancient Celtic
slab carved nearly 400 years earlier. It lies there still,
its carvings almost faded, but showing a two-handed claymore
and a warrior.