Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: The Massacre of Glencoe

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Glencoe

As we approach the 328th anniversary of one of Scotland’s most vile acts, although not linked to Carruthers, it was felt important enough to educate and inform our readers on what occurred that bleak winter’s night in Scotland, many years ago.

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John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair

What was to become the Massacre of Glencoe happened on February 13th, 1692. This is a date that has gone down in Scottish history as one of the most heinous crimes ever committed on Scottish soil. The massacre was an attack in the night by the Campbells of Argyll on the Macdonalds of Glencoe. The Macdonalds were part of the larger clan Donald, whose chief fought alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.

Who lit the touch paper

So, who was the orchestrator of this vile act? According to the records, it was the soldiers of Archibald Campbell, 10th Earl and 1st Duke of Argyll who were ordered to carry out the deed but the orders came from Scotland’s Secretary of State at the time, John Dalrymple 1st Earl of Stair. Dalrymple, (1648-1707), who lived at the time of our chief, John Carruthers 9th of Holmains, 5th Baron, who registered the Chiefly Arms of Carruthers, was forced to resign over his involvement in the Massacre of Glancoe, but was restored to favour in the reign of Queen Anne in 1702.

Archibald Campbell, 10th Earl and 1st Duke of Argyll

1200px-Portrait_of_Archibald_Campbell,_9th_Earl_of_ArgyllCampbell was born around 1651 and died on the 25th of September 25 in 1703 at Cherton House, near to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in Northumberland, England, and was both the head of Clan Campbell at the time and thus the regiment. He had been one of the Scottish leaders of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

In British history, the events of 1688–89  were those which resulted in the deposition of King James II of England, VII of Scotland. James was a devout Catholic and was replaced by a protestant King and Queen, the latter being his daughter Mary. The process was initiated in part, by the concern raised after the birth of a son and heir, that a catholic dynasty would be put in place. This, and the actions of James II himself, rang alarm bells with the majority English Protestant elite, and James’s daughter Mary II and her husband, William III, Prince of Orange (from the United Provinces of the Nederlands) were invited to ascend to the English throne. This process is described, some say tongue in cheek, as the ‘Glorious Revolution’.

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Argyll

Archibald Campbell was the eldest son of the 9th Earl, who had been part of an uprising to depose James II. He  was captured and beheaded for the act in 1685.  Archibald tried to get his father’s ‘attainder’ reversed by seeking to gain the favour of King James II. (An attainder caused the extinction of civil and political rights resulting from a sentence of death or outlawry after a conviction of treason or a felony). It therefore disqualified the individual concerned from inheriting or transmitting property and his descendants were forever barred from any inheritance of his rights to title.

Unfortunately for future developments, he was unsuccessful. However, he went over to the Hague, in the Nederlands and joined William of Orange as an active promoter of the Glorious Revolution. In spite of the attainder, he was admitted in 1689 to the convention of the Scottish estates as Earl of Argyll, and he was deputed, with Sir James Montgomery and Sir John Dalrymple, to present the crown to William III in its name and to tender him the coronation oath. In 1690, after the revolution was over and Mary and William sat on the throne, an act was passed restoring Archibald’s title and estates. Although not personally involved in the massacre, as colonel-in-chief of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, he gave the order to carry out Dalrymple’s command.

The 1689 Jacobite Rising

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John Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee)

Most of those Highland and Western Isle clans were both Jacobites and Catholics and being led by John Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee)  they rebelled against the removal of James II.

According to Undiscovered Scotland: ‘In 1689 a Scottish convention decided to follow England in awarding the crown of Scotland to William and Mary on the grounds that James VII could be deemed to have abdicated. Viscount Dundee (Bonnie Dundee) tried to have the decision overturned and when this failed, fled Edinburgh to gather an army at Blair Castle in support of James VII.

‘Dundee’s largely Highland army met the official Williamite Army at the Battle of Killiecrankie on 27 July 1689. The Jacobites won the day, but at the cost of the death of Dundee, mortally wounded as he led a charge. He is said to have died while sitting against a standing stone in a field near Killiecrankie, which has since become known as Claverhouse’s Stone. Dundee was buried in a vault underneath St Bride’s Kirk in the grounds of Blair Castle. The 1689 Jacobite uprising stuttered on for a little longer, but without Dundee at the helm it went nowhere’.

It was after this that the fateful Battle of Dunkeld took place in August 1689, which turned the tide against the Jacobites, who were finally defeated at the ‘Haughs o’ Cromdale’ in 1690.

En route from the ‘Battle of Dunkeld’, the Macdonalds (Maclains) from Glencoe and their Cousins ​​from Glengarry, septs of Clan Macdonald, sacked the lands of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, a minor noble in the Clan of Campbell, and stole his livestock. This left the Campbell’s of Glenlyon in a very troubled financial situation, although records suggest that he was also a bad gambler. In order to continue providing for his family, he was forced at the age of fifty-nine to join the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot as a Captain. From this point on circumstances and fate caused wheels to be set in motion that could not be stopped.

The Macdonalds 

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Clan Donald

In their day, Clan Donald (Mac being ‘son of’), were a huge presence in the Highland clan system and thus a force to be reckoned with. The MacDonalds of Glencoe, or the MacIains as they were known locally, were only a small group within Clan Donald itself, but renowned for breaking the law by raiding, pillaging and cattle rustling neighbouring clans – sound familiar?

The Glencoes were led by Alasdair MacDonald of Glencoe, known as MacIain (McIan – son of Ian). MacIain is described in the records as being a large man, well respected and feared and very much an ‘Old School’ Highland clan chief. He is further described as having sported white flowing hair, moustache and beard and maintained a reputation of being considered formidable by his neighbours, but honourable in his hospitality.

The Delayed Submission

The reason the Macdonalds were hesitant to join in with the submission, as with many other Scottish Highland clans who were Jacobites, was that they still remained loyal by oath to the Stuart cause and to King James II. In fact, they rebelled against James’s replacement on the English and Scottish thrones in 1689.

In August 1691 the Scottish government, recognising the possible resurgence of the Jacobite cause,  offered ‘an indemnity’ to all chiefs. They were told that they should take an oath of allegiance to the Crown before January 1, 1692.

“Letters of fire and sword,” authorising savage attacks upon those who remained blatantly defiant, were circulated. The papers were drawn up in anticipation of widespread refusals; the chiefs, however, took the oath.

James, having fled to France and not sure of his return, finally gave his permission for his followers to sign the  required oath of allegiance to William and Mary. However, it wasn’t until December 12th, 1691 that James released the clans and permitted them to sign the submission. The messenger did not arrive in the highlands until the 28th December and sadly this time-delay mattered.

Due to severe winter weather, Alasdair MacDonald of Glencoe postponed his submission until December 31, 1691, and was then unable to take his oath until January 6. This was partly because there was no magistrate at Fort William to receive it and he then had to travel to Inveraray to sign in terrible weather.

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The letter initiating the Massacre of Glencoe

According to ‘Scotlandinfo’: ‘Alasdair (MacIain), MacDonald of Glencoe received the news on the 30th, and he immediately saddled his horse and made his way to Fort William. He was taken in to see the Governor of the Fort, Colonel Hill. Sympathetic to the situation, Hill told Glencoe that he couldn’t take the oath as it had to be signed before the Sherriff of Argyll in Inveraray, over sixty miles away. However, he did provide the chief with a covering letter to explain the mistake. Despite being 70 years old, the MacDonald got back on his horse and rode for Inveraray but he arrived too late. The Sheriff, Campbell of Ardkinglas was gone for the New Year holiday and wouldn’t be back until the 5th of January. MacIain had no choice but to wait, and so bunked down in the town.

After much pleading Glencoe was able to persuade Ardkinglas to have him administer the oath on his return. The Sheriff, like Hill, was aware of the awkward position the chief was in, and along with the oath he also included a letter to explain why it had been taken late. Ardkinglas wished Glencoe well, and told him not to worry, everything would be alright. In fact, it would be very far from alright.

The oath and letters arrived at the desk of the Sheriff substitute for the Duke of Argyll in Edinburgh, Colin Campbell of Dressalach. Unfortunately for the people of Glencoe, Dressalach, who had cattle stolen by the MacDonalds on several occasions, hated them. He threw the papers in the fire and reported to Scotland’s Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, Master of Stair that MacDonald of Glencoe had not signed the oath in time. Dalrymple, as a lowlander and Protestant was overjoyed: he spotted an opportunity and as MacDonald of Glencoe was a small clan, they would make the perfect example to the others. An order to ‘put all to the sword under seventy’ and ‘cut off root and branch’ was issued.

The Massacre

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Glenlyon
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Glenlyon

MacIain returned to Glencoe believing his signature was accepted and the oath served. It was however not the case, and on the 1st of February, 1962, the 1st and 2nd Company of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment, a total of 128 men under the Command of one Robert Campbell of Glenlyon was ordered to be billeted at the Clan of the MacDonalds in Glencoe. On their arrival they were greeted with standard Highland hospitality, with warm clothes, food and shelter as friends.

They stayed with the MacDonalds for some 12 days, and then without warning turned on their hosts in the early morning of 13th February 1692. Up and down the glen shots rang out in the darkness; some were killed in their beds, others while fleeing from the carnage, while others still would be lost among the mountains and die of exposure. It was sudden, unexpected and swift. In the morning 38 men, women and children, all unarmed lay dead in the snow; among them the chief of the clan, Alasdair MacIain and his wife.

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Artist: Peter Jackson

The infamy of the massacre is “murder under trust”, murder of those who had offered them hospitality and to this day it is considered an act of despicable violence, against an unarmed and hospitable highland clan.  The massacre bore all the hallmarks of a clan vendetta, being seen as part of the long-standing and ongoing feud between the MacDonalds and the Campbells.

According to ‘Discover Glencoe’ ‘it is generally believed that most of the men of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment who carried out the massacre of the Macdonalds of Glencoe on that fateful day, did not know what they had been sent to do until the last minute. However, various stories are told that indicate that some of the Argyll men did know, or had some suspicion, about what was going to happen, and tried to warn the Macdonalds about it.

‘Even though many of them were Campbells whose lands had been raided by the Glencoe Macdonalds in 1689, they were still Highlanders with that breeding and honour in their blood and the stories told suggest that they were horrified at what was planned and so tried to let the intended victims know.’

  • One story concerns the Henderson Stone, after the MacEanruig or Henderson clan that also lived in Glencoe with the Macdonalds. The day before the massacre happened, one of the Hendersons was standing by the stone with an Argyll soldier, watching a game of shinty, when the soldier suddenly struck the stone and said, ‘Great stone of the glen, great is your right to be here! But if you knew what will happen this night you would be up and away’.
  • Another story tells of a soldier billeted on a family of Macdonalds who, sitting with the family around the fire on the evening of the 12th of February, patted a dog on the floor and said to it, ‘grey dog, if I were you I would make my bed in the heather tonight’. The soldier then pretended to fall asleep, and the family, taking the warning, left the cottage and escaped to the hills, saving their lives.
  • 3779897591.jpgA third story has a Campbell soldier, again sitting with the family with whom he had been billeted, admiring his host’s plaid, and saying to him, ‘were this good plaid mine, I would put it on and go and look after my cattle, I would put it on my shoulders and I would take my family and my cattle to a safe place’.  Again, it is said that the family took the hint and saved themselves.

Hugh Mackenzie, piper to Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, is also said to have tried to let the Glencoe people know what was about to happen; on the evening of the 12th, he stood on the Henderson Stone and played a lament called ‘Women of the Glen’ on his bagpipes, knowing that the Macdonalds could take this as a warning of something terrible about to happen.

The authenticity of these stories cannot be known, but the number of them suggests that there is some truth in them. It is possible that, without being forewarned, many more Macdonalds might have been killed than the 38 who were slaughtered on the 13th.


The massacre was not the bloodiest nor most treacherous in Scotland’s history, but the fact that it remains seen to this day as a ‘Murder under Trust’ cannot be forgiven by some.

Archeologists are still digging the sites around Glencoe itself, as historical research into the massacre continues.

So, as we sit cosily in our warm abodes, let’s spare a thought for those who felt safe in their homes, who were hospitable in their welcome, but were slaughtered in their beds in the most cowardly fashion on that bleak midwinter night 328 years ago.


In Song: The Corries

This horrific event is recorded in song by the famous Scottish folk duo, The Corries (Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne). It still plucks at the heart strings of anyone of Scots blood and beyond who listens to it. Enjoy!

Lyrics Massacre of Glencoe: The Corries

Chorus

Cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald 

Verse 1

They came through the blizzard, we offered them heat
A roof ower their heads, dry shoes for their feet
We wined them and dined them, they ate o’ our meat
And slept in the house O’ MacDonald

Chorus

Oh, cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald 

Verse2

They came from Fort William with murder mind
The Campbell had orders, King William had signed
Pit all tae the sword, these words underlined
And leave none alive called MacDonald

Chorus

Oh, cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald 

Verse 3

They came in the night when the men were asleep
That band of Argyles, through snow soft and deep
Like murdering foxes, among helpless sheep
They slaughtered the house o’ MacDonald

Chorus

Oh, cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald 

Verse 4

They came from Fort William with murder mind
The Campbell had orders, King William had signed
Pit all tae the sword, these words underlined
And leave none alive called MacDonald

Chorus

Oh, cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald 

Verse 5

Some died in their beds at the hands of the foe
Some fled in the night, were lost in the snow.
Some lived to accuse him, what struck the first blow
But gone was the house of MacDonald

Chorus

Oh, cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald


As young Scots, many of us were stimulated to look into our own history and that of our clans and families by both members of our own immediate family and through songs such as this, and for that we thank them all. To be Scots by birth or ancestry, is holding membership of a very exclusive international club, and should be borne with pride. If you never turn your back on Scotland, she will never turn her back on you.

Sadly, Roy died in 1990 and Ronnie stopped performing, but The Corries’ music is still readily available and is a history lesson for any of Scottish blood (beside being an exceptionally enjoyable musical experience).


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