Coe is one of the most magnificent areas of natural wilderness in
the whole of Britain and home to one of the worst atrocities. From
Loch Leven at its northern end to vast empty spaces of Rannoch Moor
further south, the Glen Coe pass is skirted on either by huge imposing
mountains. The rugged beauty of the area and the often arctic weather
make the area a hotspot for climbers and skiers today. However,
the temperamental weather on February 13, 1692, was the death knell
of the Clan MacDonald.
Glen Coe Factsheet
- Clan Donald
was a huge force within the Highland clan system, of which,
the MacDonalds of Glen Coe (or MacIains as they were more specifically
known) were only a small part. Glen
Coe had been home to the MacDonalds since at least the early
14th century when they supported King Robert the Bruce. The
chief of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe was Alasdair MacDonald,
known as MacIain. He was a huge man with flowing white hair,
beard and moustache. He was well respected by own clan and feared
by others - very much an old-school highland chief.
were constantly involved in trouble with the law and with
neighbouring clans for their consistent raiding, pillaging
and cattle rustling. The clan had particular trouble with
neighbouring Campbell clans.
were many Highland clans at the time who were a possible threat
to the new regime in London under King William of Orange,
and many who openly swore their allegiance to the deposed
Stuart King - James VII. King William himself was more concerned
with his war against the French King, Louis XIV. Problems
in the Highlands were little more than a nuisance to him.
came through that the chiefs were to sign an oath of allegiance
to King William by January 1, 1692. Although this oath was
originally packaged with the promise of money and land for
the clans, by the time it was circulated publicly the terms
were much more threatening - the clans would sign the agreement
or be punished with the "utmost extremity of the law".
man who used this deadline to his own political ends was the
Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, who was
a Lowlander and a Protestant. He disliked the Highlanders
and viewed their whole way of life as a hindrance to Scotland,
which would be better served, he thought, in union with England.
He had a particular
dislike for the MacDonalds of Glen Coe.
problem for the clans at the time was the fact that many of
them were bound by an oath to James Stuart, the deposed King
in France. It was December 12 before James had released the
clans from their oath and December 28 before a messenger arrived
in the Highlands with the news - leaving only three days until
worst of winter swept through Glen Coe on December 31, MacIain,
fearful for the safety of his clan, left for Fort William
to sign the oath. From here he was turned back by Colonel
John Hill, who explained that the oath had to be taken before
a sheriff. This involved a 60 mile trek to Inveraray: the
principle town of his enemies, the Campbells. Still MacIain
could have met the deadline had he not been captured by Campbell
soldiers serving in Argylls regiment. They detained
him for a day, whilst he was detained for several more days
in Inveraray due to the absence of the Sheriff, Sir Colin
Campbell. Even then, MacIain had to plead with the Sheriff
to accept the late oath.
the Master of Stair with his legal team declined the late-delivered
oath. Everything was ready for the fall which Stair had engineered
for the clan. The orders were explicit: the MacDonalds were
to be slaughtered - "cut off root and branch". Three
commanders were to be involved - two from the Campbell-dominated
Argyll regiment and one from Fort William. In the end, two
of those never arrived in time, claiming delay through bad
weather. It was Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, a desperate
man who lost his all through gambling, who carried out Stairs
final order: "to put all to the sword under seventy".
arrived at Glen Coe 12 days before the massacre, as friends,
seeking shelter due to the fact that the fort was full. The
MacDonalds, honouring the Highland hospitality code, duly
gave the soldiers quarter in their own houses. For 12 days
they lived together with neither the clan nor the common Argyll
soldiers knowing what lay ahead.
night of February 13 a blizzard howled through Glen Coe, giving
whiteout conditions. As the clan slept the house guests gathered,
received their orders, and set about systematically killing
everyone they could. 38 lay dead the next morning, including
the chief, MacIain. Many more escaped into the hills, some
finding shelter before the elements could kill them, some,
including MacIains elderly
wife, dying on the mountainside.
certain that some of the Campbell soldiers, disgusted with
their orders, alerted the families who had been their hosts,
giving them time to escape and at least wrap up against blizzard.
Many historians also claim that the lateness of the other
two companies of soldiers who were to help in the slaughter
was deliberate - a ploy not to be involved in such an atrocity.
of Scotland, although used to war and murder in its many forms,
was outraged by the callousness of the massacre of Glen Coe.
For the Jacobites in Edinburgh it was a powerful piece of
anti-government propaganda. An inquiry was held and Scottish
Parliament declared the whole affair an act of murder. John
Dalrymple, the Master of Stair, resigned and the matter was
forgotten by the government. In Scotland it passed into legend.
The Campbells were accursed in much of the Highlands and even
to this day the old Clachaig Inn at Glen Coe carries the sign
on its door, 'No Campbells'.