Massacre of Glencoe

The Massacre of Glencoe was an incident in Scotland in 1692, during the era of the Glorious Revolution and the Jacobite Rebellion. Hundreds of Scottish people were killed by the army for not properly pledging allegiance to the new king, William of Orange.

In 1688, William took the throne of England and Scotland from James VII (II of England). In 1689, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, led Scottish Highlanders in the Jacobite uprisings in an attempt to return the throne to King James. However, James was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In 1691, King William offered an amnesty to the Highlanders who had participated in the Jacobite Uprising on the condition that they swore allegiance to him by January 1, 1692. Nearly all did, but Alastair MacIain, 12th Chief of Glencoe, waited until the last day before setting out to take the oath. The MacIains of Glencoe were a sept of clan MacDonald.

On December 31, 1691, he travelled to Fort William and asked Colonel Hill, the governor, to administer the required oath. Colonel Hill, however, demurred on the grounds that he was not authorized to receive the necessary oath. He instructed MacIain to proceed quickly to Inverary to make his oath before Sir Colin Campbell, sheriff of Argyleshire. Colonel Hill gave MacIain a letter of protection and a letter to Sir Colin asking that he receive MacIain's oath since MacIain had come to Colonel Hill within the allotted time. Colonel Hill also reassured MacIain that no action would be taken against him without his having the opportunity to make his case before the king or the king's privy council.

It took MacIain three days to reach Inverary through the winter snow and then he had to wait another three days for the arrival of Sir Colin who was absent. Upon his return, Sir Colin reluctantly accepted MacIain's oath.

While MacIain was satisfied that he had satisfied the spirit of the required oath, and therefore did not anticipate any action against himself or his people, some elements within the government saw an opportunity to use his failure to fulfill the letter of the requirement (by missing the deadline) to at one stroke make an example of the MacDonalds and simultaneously eliminate some enemies.

A plot was set in motion which apparently involved Secretary John Dalrymple, Lord Advocate, John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane, Sir Thomas Livingstone, commander of the forces in Scotland, the Master of Stair, and even King William, who signed and countersigned the orders.

In late January or early February, 1692, Captain Robert Campbell entered Glencoe at the head of 120 men with the ostensible purpose of collecting taxes instituted by the Scottish Parliament in 1690. About one tenth of the force were Campbells. The planning was meticulous enough that they were able to produce legitimate orders to this effect from the very Colonel Hill who had tried to help MacIain complete his oath in the first place, thus dispelling any suspicion the MacDonalds might have felt, although it was also Colonel Hill who issued the orders to begin the massacre two weeks later.

The people of Glencoe welcomed the soldiers into their homes and entertained them according to the traditions of Highland hospitality. Each morning for about two weeks, Captain Campbell visited in the home of Alexander MacDonald, MacIain's youngest son, who was married to Campbell's niece, the sister of Rob Roy.

On February 12, Captain Campbell received instructions to begin the massacre at five o'clock the following morning. He spent the evening play cards with his unsuspecting victims and upon retiring, wished them goodnight and accepted an invitation to dine with MacIain, the chief, the following day.

Another force of 400 men was to arrive early the morning of the 13th and block the entrance of the glen to ensure that no MacDonald would escape, but this force was delayed by bad weather so that some 200 MacDonald men, including John and Alexander, MacIain's two sons, were able to fly to the hills. In all, 38 men including MacIain himself were murdered and another 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

By 1695, disgust and alarm over the tale of this massacre had grown throughout the nation to the extent that King William deemed it prudent to dismiss the Master of Stair from his councils and institute a commission of inquiry to investigate the matter. The conclusion of the commission was to exonerate the King and to place the blame for the massacre upon Secretary Dalrymple. The Scottish Parliament, after reviewing the commission report, declared the execution of the MacDonald men to have been murder and delegated the "committee for the security of the kingdom" to prepare an address to the king which included recommendations for the punishment of the perpetrators of the plot and compensation to be paid to the surviving MacDonalds. As far as is known, these recommendations were never acted upon except for the imprisonment of Lord Breadalbane for a few days in Edinburgh castle because he had opened himself to a charge of high treason.

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