Clan Gregor or Clan MacGregor is a Highland Scottish clan dating back to the early 800s. The clan’s most famous member is the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Clan is also known to have been among the first families of Scotland to begin playing the bagpipes in the early 17th century.

Origins of the clan

At its height, the Clan Gregor had held a great deal of land in Glen Orchy, Glenlochy, Glengyle, Glenlyon, and Glenstrae. According to Iain Moncreiffe, the MacGregors were descended from an ancient Celtic royal family, through the Abbots of Glendochart. This is alluded to in the clan’s motto: “Royal is my race”. A testimony to the MacGregor’s claim of lineage can be highlighted with their close interactions with other clans of the Siol Ailpin. There is also a tradition that Gregor was the son of Kenneth MacAlpin, which is supported by the Scottish historian, William Forbes Skene. But there is little evidence to support this tradition. It is possible that he might have been Griogair, son of Dungal, who was allegedly co-ruler of Alba.

Most modern historians have agreed that the first chief of Clan Gregor was Gregor of the Golden Bridles. His son was Iain Camm One Eye, who succeeded as the second chief sometime before 1390.

Sometime following the Wars of Scottish Independence, the barony of Loch Awe, which included much of the MacGregor lands, was later granted to the chief of Clan Campbell by Robert the Bruce. Despite the MacGregors having accounted for themselves at a number of battles, including the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce and a portion of clansmen from Clan Campbell had already solidified a strong relationship, and the fate of the ownership of the lands was thus sealed. The Campbells had already built Kilchurn Castle (a castle maintained by the MacGregors), which controlled the gateway to the western Highlands, and thereafter harried the MacGregors, who were forced to retire deeper into their lands until they were restricted to Glenstrae.

16th century and clan conflicts

Iain of Glenstrae died in 1519 with no direct heirs. He was the second of his house to be called the Black. The succession of Eian was supported by the Campbells, and he married a daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy. In 1547 Eian’s son, Alistair, fought against the English at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh but died shortly after.

Colin Campbell refused to recognize the claim of Gregor Roy MacGregor to the estates, and for ten years Gregor waged a war against the Campbells. He was an outlaw who raided cattle and sheltered in the high glens. However, in 1570, he was captured and killed by the Campbells. The chiefship was claimed by his son, Alistair, but he was unable to stem the Campbell’s persecution of his kinsmen, who over time became known as the Children of the Mist, a name associated with the MacGregors due to the extent of their losses.

Additionally, John Drummond, of Clan Drummond was the king’s forester and was subsequently murdered after hanging a number of MacGregors for poaching. The chief took responsibility for the murder and it was condemned by the Privy Council.

17th century, clan conflicts and civil war

In response to the execution of two MacGregor clansmen in the year 1603, Alasdair MacGregor marched into Colquhoun territory with a force of over four hundred men. The chief of Clan Colquhoun, in response, had been granted a royal commission to suppress the MacGregors. Colquhoun assembled a force of five hundred foot and three hundred horse and advanced to Glen Fruin to repel the Highland raiders. MacGregor split his force in two and while the main MacGregor force and the Colquhouns engaged in combat, the second MacGregor force attacked the Colquhouns from the rear. The Colquhouns were driven into the Moss of Auchingaich where their cavalry was useless and over two hundred Colquhouns were killed. A gruesome battle, but a decisive one for the MacGregors nonetheless. At the end of the eighteenth century, in an act of good will, the chiefs of the two clans met and shook hands on the very site of the former slaughter.

Proceeding the Clan Campbell’s defeat at Glen Fruin, James VI of Scotland issued an edict in April 1603 that proclaimed the name of MacGregor as altogidder abolished. This meant that anyone who bore the name must renounce it or suffer death. In 1604, MacGregor and eleven of his chieftains were hanged at Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. As a result, the Clan Gregor was scattered, with many taking other names such as Murray or Grant. They were hunted like animals and flushed out of the heather by bloodhounds.

An Edinburgh burgess, Robert Birrel, who kept a diary of events at the time, described the episode thus,

[MacGregor] wes convoyit to Berwick be the Gaird to conforme to the Earl’s promese: for he promesit to put him out of Scottis grund. Swa [so] he keipit ane Hieland-manis promes; in respect he sent the Gaird to convoy him out of Scottis grund: But thai were not directit to pairt with him, but to fetche him bak agane! The 18 Januar, at evine [evening], he come agane to Edinburghe; and upone the 20-day he wes hangit at the Croce, and xj [eleven] of his freindis and name, upon ane gallous: Himself being Chieff, he wes hangit his awin hicht aboune the rest of hes freindis.”

An Act of the Scottish Parliament from 1617 stated (translated into modern English):

It was ordained that the name of MacGregor should be abolished and that the whole persons of that name should renounce their name and take some other name and that they nor none of their name and that they nor none of their posterity should call themselves Gregor or MacGregor under pain of death …. that any person or persons of the said clan who has already renounced their names or hereafter shall renounce their names or if any of their children or posterity shall at any time hereafter assume or take to themselves the name of Gregor or MacGregor …. that every such person or persons assuming or taking to themselves the said name …. shall incurr the pain of death which pain shall be executed upon them without favour.

Despite the savage treatment of the MacGregors, they had nevertheless fought for the king during the Scottish Civil War. Two hundred men of the Clan Gregor fought for the Earl of Glencairn in what was known as Glencairn’s rising, against the Commonwealth. In recognition of this, Charles II of England repealed the proscription of the name, but William of Orange reimposed it when Charles’s brother James VII was deposed.

18th century and Jacobite risings

Rob Roy MacGregor was born in 1671, a younger son of MacGregor of Glengyle. (However, given the circumstances, he had been forced to assume his mother’s surname of Campbell). The adventures of Rob Roy MacGregor have been immortalized and romanticized by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Rob Roy. Rob Roy was undoubtedly a thorn in the flesh of the government until he died in 1734. He supported the Jacobite cause in 1715 and after the Battle of Sheriffmuir he set out plundering at will. In one such raid on Dumbarton, the town was put into panic and Dunbarton Castle was forced to open fire with its cannon. He also led the Clan Gregor at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719. He is buried in Balquhidder churchyard.

During the 1745 to 1746 uprising, some of the Clan Gregor who were under the Duke of Perth fought as Jacobites at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. Some of the Clan Gregor were among the Jacobite force that was defeated at the Battle of Littleferry in 1746 in Sutherland, and therefore missed the Battle of Culloden that took place the next day. After the rising of 1745 – 1746, when the MacGregors were returning home, no-one ventured to interfere with them when they strode across Atholl, with their flying colours they strode passed Finlairg Castle where according to one source the Clan Campbell militia “durst not move more than pussies”, and the MacGregors defying in broad day light the out posts which Lord Campbell of Glenorchy had established in the passes. The MacGregors flaunted their weapons and returned to their old cattle-stealing ways, only being tamed over the course of time by the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates from 1755.

Persecution of the MacGregors did not end until 1774, when the laws against them were repealed.