IF one were desired to point out upon the map, on no surer ground than the mere physical character of the country, that spot which must have been the main battle-field between the Celtic races living among the mountains, and the people of Saxon origin who tilled the plain, he would naturally point to the mass of broken mountains, clustering about Loch Lomond and Loch Catrine, which strike from the great mountain ranges of the north right into the most fertile plains and valleys of the south. In the more northern districts of Perthshire and the wilds of Inverness, the fastnesses of the Highland tribes were separated by dreary districts of undulating moors and low hills from the fields of their natural enemies, while the inhabitants of the isles and the far west were still more distant both from the field of plunder and the arm of the avenger. But the country of the Macgregors rises so abruptly from the rich plains of the Lenox and Menteith, that the untamed freebooter could look down from his mountain fastness into the bosom of that thriving industry in which he was to find his prey – could count the cattle which were destined for his spit, and watch the yellowing of the grain, from which he some day hoped to distribute bread among his hungry children, and cheer the idle winter with liberal cups of usquebah. In a country where the transition from soft, alluvial, fertile fields to rocky inaccessible mountains is so sudden, the industrious Saxon would keep to the one and the predatory Celt to the other, as naturally as the buffalo keeps to the prairie and the tiger to the jungle. To this day the contrast between the people of the plain and those of the mountain is scarcely less distinct than it was of old, though its colours have varied. The ancient spirit of predatory ferocity – the thirst for vengeance – the inextinguishable hatred and scorn of the civilised man and his ways, have long departed. But they have left – whether from political causes or peculiarity of race we need not here inquire – the inanimate body of their old barbarism still unillumined by the lights of advancing civilisation. Pressed on by social progress in its most active and aggressive forms – frequented annually by swarms of tourists – studded with the villas of affluent lovers of mountain scenery – the dwellers in these regions preserve the sloth and listlessness of the tropical savage. The tourist on the top of a coach, crossing the Highland line near Doune or the Leven, feels as if some phantasmagoric change had taken place in human as well as inanimate nature. Up to the very entrance of the pass he has driven through high farming, manufacturing activity, cleanness, independence, and affluence. From these he is at once introduced to a new language and a new people – to indolence, servility, and squalid filth.
To their predatory occupants the mountain fastnesses of Balquhidder and the Trossachs were all the more valuable from their vicinity to a rich industrious country – an advantage similar to that enjoyed by the German freebooters on their great navigable rivers, or by the highwayman who had his place of safety near a well-frequented road. The same circumstance would make the Lowlanders all the more resolute in their efforts to rid themselves of neighbours so unpleasant. As long, however, as there existed throughout the vast mountain districts of Scotland a race, half-independent, with arms in their hands, predatory habits, and a traditional hatred of the governing race, – so long was it in the nature of things that the southern frontier of the Highlands would be occupied by them. The twofold character of the country, its inaccessible ruggedness, and its close vicinity to tracts affluent in booty, made this a physical and moral necessity. Until the Highlanders were altogether subdued, the most dangerous and ferocious among them would be found precisely in this district. Hence came the ever deepening and ever vain ferocity of the war of extermination carried on for two centuries between the government and the Clan Gregor. The strange incidents by which it was traditionally surrounded have been spun into many a romantic tale and work of genius. But even from the authentic official documents in which the struggle is recorded, one may find a history as striking as it is solemn and instructive.
It is unnecessary on this occasion to inquire into the truth of the traditionary histories which claim for the Macgregors a royal descent. They belonged to those tribes chiefly of Celtic, but partly of Norse origin, who carried on a long struggle with the monarchs of Lowland Scotland for the establishment of a separate nationality. The history of this struggle has yet to be written, in the spirit of those who can discharge from history conventionalisms about “establishing the authority of the law and the strength of the executive,” and the like, which have a meaning in constructed and consolidated governments, but have no more reference to the early chaotic elements from which nations have been gradually developed, than the orders of architecture have to the stratification of rocks. We need go no further into the question here, than to notice that the feelings of the Highlander and Lowlander towards each other were embittered by traditions of national conflict, ending in the subjugation of the one race by the other. If this feeling doubtless lingered, and that with considerable strength and vitality, down to the time when the Clan Gregor became so conspicuous in the statute-book and the criminal records, it became gradually aided and strengthened by another and even more powerful cause of animosity. It came to be the Lowlander’s way of enjoying existence and the benefits which the material world afford, to labour and grow rich. The Highlander, on the other hand, found it more conducive to his taste and circumstances to watch his Lowland neighbour’s accumulating wealth, and take possession of it for his own purposes when a suitable opportunity occurred. Between people whose views in life were so incompatible, there could be no more harmony and co-operation than between the shepherd’s dog and the wolf. The utilitarian objects of the attackers and defenders were, in reality, the main inspiration of the conflicts with the Macgregors; and thus, however picturesque they may seem in their bloody results, a certain air of nutritive homeliness – a hungry hankering after bread and beef – is ever at the root of the conflict; and recals Waverley’s regret, that his romantic mission to a Highland outlaw should have had no more heroic impulse than the recovery of the baron’s stolen cattle.
The earliest notice which we find of this predominating propensity is in 1533, when Patrick MacCoule-Kere Macgregor, with his two brothers, “in company with sundry rebels of the Clan Gregor,” are charged with stealing forty cows from the Earl of Menteith.1 For some length of time the charges of such acts of “stouthrief,” “spulzie,” &c., became tiresomely uniform – the special heads of cattle thus “lifted” being enumerated and classified with the precision of the more recent species of agricultural prize lists.
But while the origin and main source of the fierce conflict with the law, recorded in the following pages, was unquestionably this vulgar, but all-powerful one – the desire of food and other useful plunder – it was accompanied by many incidents of pure savageness, one of which, however well it may be already known to the reader, must be briefly mentioned. Some rievers having been caught and punished by Drummond, the king’s deer-keeper, resolved on vengeance; and having waylaid Drummond, when occupied in providing venison for the festivals in honour of the reception of the Queen, Anne of Denmark, they cut off his head. Proceeding homeward with their trophy, they sought the hospitality of Stewart of Ardvoirlich, whose wife was the murdered keeper’s sister. Stewart being absent, his wife could offer them, as the legend proceeds, no better hospitality than bread and cheese. Offended by so sordid a feast – though in the Highlands it would seem, that at a much later date cheese was in the category of luxuries – the murderers, in savage sport, placed the keeper’s head on the table, with a morsel of the bread and cheese in its mouth. The poor woman fled from the house distracted, and the murderers, conveying the head to the church of Balquhidder, the Macgregors there laid their hands on it, and solemnly swore to support the deed that had been done. If there had been any doubt of the truth of this legend, it would have been dispelled by Sir Walter Scott, who publishes in his notes to “The Children of the Mist,” an act of the privy council in the year 1589, where it is narrated in full; and the Clan Gregor are said to have “laid their hands upon the pow (poll or head), and in heathenish and barbarous manner swore to defend the authors of the said murder, in most proud contempt of our sovereign lord and his authority, and in evil example to other wicked limmers to do the like, if this shall be suffered to remain unpunished.”
The remedy sought by the government against these depredations and outrages, consisted in strengthening the hands of the injured parties, and of all who hated the Macgregors, and hounding them on to vengeance.
In a royal letter to the privy council, presented in November, 1611, the economy of the system which had then been in operation for nearly a century, is thus laid down on the highest authority. “We send you now home the Earl of Argyle, to make an end according to his promise of that service which he hath already begun… As to the service itself, we are thus resolved, that as the connivance at those and the like malefactors might justly be accounted a great iniquity, so the utter extirpation of them all, and every one in particular, would be a work too troublesome. And therefore we have thought good on some to execute justice, and the rest to take to mercy; and as we will not have our justice satisfied with the meanest and basest persons, so we would have special choice made of the most notorious malefactors, to be an example thereof in this present business. For which effect we would have you to crave the advice, as well of the said Earl of Argyle, as of the gentlemen and others next inhabiting unto them, and who have been most endamaged by them, by whose information you may likewise learn what particular persons are most fit to be taken to mercy, and which not.” In more than one of the proclamations there are reproachful complaints about the tardiness of those enemies of the Macgregors, who had “promised to go to the fields and enter in action and blood with them;” inciting them to exertion, and requiring “that they shall do some notable service against the Clan Gregor before his majesty be burdened with any charges in this service.”
This seemed a cheap and simple remedy, and a doubly efficacious one, since it not only set at work effective and powerful instruments for the extirpation of the obnoxious tribe, but it kept in congenial occupation restless spirits who might otherwise be flinging against the government, and sometimes ended successfully in the mutual extermination of two troublesome clans. Thus the house of Argyle, and several minor families, whose Lowland property suffered from the ravages of the mountaineers, obtained commissions, or warrants, to attack, imprison, and slaughter them. The earliest of this series of warrants appears to occur in 1563. There is a quaint, foul-mouthedness about these documents. Our legislative and official phraseology was never complimentary to the Celts. In Ireland they were cosherers, sorners, tories, robbers, and rapparees. In Scotland they were limmers and Hieland thieves, or loons and sorners. One legislative expression had become common to the two countries – “his majesty’s Irish rebels,” or “his majesty’s Hieland rebels,” as the case might be. Against the persons thus stigmatised, the warrants, or licenses of civil war as they might perhaps be more justly called, gave those authorised to enforce them irresponsible powers – the right to pursue the people in all places and with all weapons – to seize them alive or dead, meaning to ensnare or slay them – to attack and destroy their houses, a privilege inferring the siege of places of strength, and the reckless destruction of the turf-houses of the ordinary people. The holder of such a warrant was not only entitled to hound out his own followers against the devoted clan, but he might call on every neighbour to aid him, and raise the whole district in which he lived to revenge their injuries, and fight out their hereditary feuds, as an acceptable service to the government.
Afterwards there may be more to say about the express terms of these warrants, when it will be found that they failed in accomplishing their object; in fact, it was an object that could not be accomplished. So long as the Celts bore arms, and preferred plunder to industry, they would occupy those rocky fastnesses, so conveniently close to the choice fruits of Lowland industry. Nothing but the extinction of the whole race, or their subjugation to the peaceful pursuit of the sheep-farmer, could prevent the most advantageous post for cattle stealing throughout all the Highlands from being occupied by cattle-stealers, whether they called themselves Macgregor, or any other ortus regibus name. And hence came that system of persecution, ever increasing in ingenious cruelty, as every sanguinary effort failed, in such a fashion as ought to have taught thinking men that success in the main object of their efforts was hopeless.
The government did not even profess to select the instruments of its vengeance. Whoever desired to join in hunting the Macgregors had but to pay the usual fees for obtaining a commission of justiciary to that end, when it was cheerfully handed over to him. The official expression came to be, that such a one had “purchased a commission of justiciary for pursuit of the Clan Gregor,” just as a person is said to purchase a license for pursuit of game. This practical phraseology was curiously brought out in an accusation against one of the purchasers, of having obtained his commission not for the legitimate end of pursuing the Macgregors, but to afford him the means of executing his own peculiar vengeance against another family with which he was at feud. On the 3rd of May, 1593, it is set forth that Robert Galbraith, of Culchreuch, had purchased a commission of justiciary for pursuit of the Macgregors, their resetters, and assisters, with fire and sword, with power to convene the lieges to assist him in this work. “Which commission,” the record proceeds to say, “the said Robert has not purchased upon an intention to attempt anything against the Clan Gregor, but under colour thereof to extend his hatred and malice against Alexander Colquhoun, of Luss, and Allan Macaulay of Ardincaple, their kin, and friends, with all extremity, and under colour of searching and seeking for the Clan Gregor, to assiege their houses and raise fire therein.” Macaulay states for himself, that he is quite as ready to hunt the Clan Gregor as Galbraith can possibly be. But that Galbraith had assembled the whole tribe of Buchanan, between whom and Macaulay there lay a deadly and inextinguishable feud, arising from the slaughter of a follower. Between Galbraith and Macaulay there was a still fiercer family feud, deepened by Macaulay having married the widowed mother of Galbraith. It was clear that such hounds could not hunt in couples, and it was considered reasonable by the court to exempt the Colquhouns and the Macaulays from co-operating with Galbraith.
The reasons for this exemption, when put in the form of a solemn judicial conclusion, seem so odd and quaint an adjustment of professional formality to the ferocious habits of the age, that the passage expressing the source of the so greatly-respected family feud, is here offered for the reader’s perusal, with no greater alteration than the modernising of the spelling.
“In respect of the deadly feud standing betwixt the said Alexander Colquhoun, of Luss, and the said Robert, through the slaughter of umwhile Donald McNeill McFarlane, household servant to the said Robert, committed by the said Alexander’s umwhile brother, which feud yet stands betwixt their houses unreconciled, and the said Laird of Culcreuch, daily awaits all occasions to revenge the same; and in respect of the feud lately renewed betwixt the said Laird of Ardincaple and the Buchanans, with whose power and force the said Robert is assisted in execution of the said commission, using their advice and direction in all things there-anent: as also in respect of the great grudge and hatred standing likewise betwixt the said Laird of Ardincaple and the said Robert, who having bereft his own mother, whom the said Laird of Ardincaple has now married of her whole living, he has by order of law recovered the same furth of his hands: for the which cause the said Robert seeks to have his advantage of him, has given up kindness, and denounced his evil will to him with solemn vows of revenge.”2
The ravages of the Macgregors came at length to a climax, in an event which figures in Scottish history as the battle of Glenfruin or the Raid of the Lennox. It makes its appearance on the criminal records in the trial of Alaster Macgregor of Glenstray, Duncan Pudrache Macgregor, and the owners of a varied list of similar names, arraigned before the court of justiciary on the 20th of January, 1604, for treason, stouthrief, and fire-raising. It was set forth that, “having concluded the destruction of Alexander Colquhoun, of Luss, his kin, friends, and alia, and the haill surname of the Buchanans, and to harrie their lands, they convened the Clan Chameron, the Clan Vourich, and divers other broken men and sorners,3 to the number of four hundred men, or thereby, all bodin in feir of weir (i.e., set out in warlike array) with hakbuts, pistollettes, morions, mail-coats, poll-axes, two-handed swords, bows, darlochs, and other weapons.” They were charged with putting to death seven score or 140 persons, in a partial list of whom there occurs the familiar name of Tobias Smollett, who was, it appears, bailie or civic magistrate of the town of Dumbarton.
It is said by the annalists partial to the Macgregors, that they had no intention to commit any outrage – that they proceeded to Luss for the purpose of having an amicable and satisfactory arrangement of difficulties, and that they were treacherously and unexpectedly attacked by the Colquhouns. But Highland rievers did not generally march into the low country, four hundred strong, peaceably to adjust differences, any more than the highwaymen of later times presented pistols with the like object. Nor could the differences be very easily adjusted, since they consisted in the one party desiring the cattle, horses, and miscellaneous property belonging to the other. On the other hand, the Macgregors were charged with atrocities, of which one would fain believe, in the absence of good evidence, that they were not guilty. “It is reported,” says Sir Walter Scott, “that the Macgregors murdered a number of youths, whom report of the intended battle had brought to be spectators, and whom the Colquhouns, anxious for their safety, had shut up in a barn to be out of danger. One account of the Macgregors denies this circumstance altogether; another ascribes it to the savage and bloodthirsty disposition of a single individual, the bastard brother of the Laird of Macgregor, who amused himself with this second massacre of the innocents, in express disobedience to the chief, by whom he was left their guardian during the pursuit of the Colquhouns.”4 But had such an episode occurred, we may rest sure that it would not have been passed over in the indictment, where there is no allusion to it. This document contains a sufficient number of atrocities. It states, that the greater part of the slaughter was among prisoners who had been “tane captives by the said Macgregors before they put violent hands on them, and cruelly slew them,” and concludes with denouncing the whole as a series of “cruel, horrible, and treasonable crimes, the like whereof was never committed within this realm.”
It was of course difficult then, as for a century and a half afterwards, to apprehend the Macgregors, either by penetrating to their wilds, or inducing them to trust themselves in the low country. One chronicler says, that Argyle, by fair promises, induced the chief to visit him during a festival, where he was seized and bound. The castle where this took place stood on an island – probably it was Kilchurn Castle, in Loch Awe. As a boat was conveying the captive chief to the shore, he escaped, much after the same fashion as his representative Rob Roy in the novel, by tossing overboard the nearest of his keepers, and taking to the water.5 If the accounts of his final recapture are to be credited, they would say more for the cunning than the candour of Argyle. The earl told the chief that if he surrendered himself he would be seen safe to England, or, as other authorities say, safe out of Scotland. Emissaries were sent to accompany him southward, ostensibly that they might protect him, a denounced criminal, from any king’s messenger who might recognise in the fugitive the chief of a band of Highland ruffians, who had slain in one raid a hundred and forty Lowlanders. Highlanders were not at that time the object of pleasant interest which Sir Walter Scott’s novels and the performance of “Rob Roy” on the London stage have since made them. Near the borders of their mountain strongholds they were regarded with intense terror; further off, in the Lothians and in Fifeshire, they were looked upon as the Romans looked upon the captive Gauls. They were a people who had elsewhere a ferocity productive of bloody events, who had been tamed and stripped of all their danger ere they reached these distant spots, yet imparted a thrill of interest from association with their latent ferocity, as the tiger is interesting in his cage. Thus the Macgregor could not have well passed through the Lothians without annoyance. He accepted, therefore, in all kindness and faith, a convoy from Argyle, to see him into English ground. This convoy crossed the Tweed with the exiled chief, and having seen him into English ground, according to the compact with Argyle, were so complaisant as to see him back again into Scottish ground, seizing him and dragging him to the northern side of the Tweed, where certain coadjutors were ready to receive the betrayed chief. Some historians comment on this event as an instance of gross treachery. The present writer, not driven to the alternative of justifying or excusing Argyle, has only to say that he does not believe in the narrative of the incident. Lest he may be charged with mistelling the story to make it be discredited, it shall be told in the words of the best and briefest of the narrators of it, Sir James Balfour [for 1603], the Lord Lyon:
“The 2nd of October, this year, the notorious thief and rebel, Alaster Macgregor, Laird of Glenstrae, who had escaped the Laird of Ardkinglase’s hands, was taken by Archibald Earl of Argyle, who, before he would yield, had promised to him to convey him safe out of Scottish ground; to perform which promise, he caused some servants to convey him to Berwic, and besouth it some miles, and bring him back again to Edinburgh, where he was hanged with many of his kindred the 20th day of January.”6
The chief, by way of distinction, was executed a “pin” or peg above the others. He left a confession or declaration which found its way into the national archives. It consists mainly of a recrimination against Argyle, whom he charges with being his Mephistophiles. This paper is, of course, worth no more as evidence than the other recriminations of malefactors; but it is, at all events, curious. It commences thus:
“I, Alaster Macgregor, of Glenstrae, confess here, before God, that I have been persuaded, moved, and enticed, as I am now presently accused and troubled for. Also, if I had used counsel or command of the man that has enticed me, I would have done and committed sundry high murders more. For, truly, since I was first his majesty’s man,7 I could never be at an ease by my Lord of Argyle’s falsity and inventions. For he caused Maclaine and Clanchameron to commit hership and slaughter in my roum (realm or domain) of Renochie, the whilk caused my poor men thereafter to beg and steal. Also, thereafter, he moved my brother and some of my friends to commit both hership and slaughter upon the Laird of Luss. Also, he persuaded myself with message to war against the Laird of Buchanan, whilk I did refuse; for the whilk I was continually boasted that he would be my unfriend. And when I did refuse his desire on that point, then he enticed me with other messengers, as by the Laird of Macnachtane, and others of my friends, to war and trouble the Laird of Luss, which I behoved to do for his false boutgattis.” This last word may be interpreted by circumventions. Thus, nothing but the insinuations of the subtle tempter Argyle, would have led his innocent, unsuspecting mind to authorise a raid to obtain 600 oxen and 800 sheep and goats. The “confession,” as it is termed, proceeds in the same strain, and becomes perplexed and tedious. In one part it would appear that he charges Argyle with a promise to spare himself, and only sacrifice part of the clan, and compel the rest to resign their name. “He did entice me with oft and sundry messages, that he would make my peace, and save my life and lands, only to punish certain defaulters of my kin – and my innocent friends to renounce their surname and live peaceably. Upon the which conditions he was sworn by an oath to his friends; and they swore to me – and, also, I have his hand-writing and warrant thereupon.” The confession winds up thus:
“And now, seeing God and man sees it is greedyness of worldly gear which causes him to putt at me and my kin, and not the weal of the realm, nor to pacify the same, nor to his majesty’s honour – but to put down innocent men – to cause poor bairns and infants to beg – and poor women to perish for hunger when they are bereft of their gear. The which, I pray God that these faults light not upon his majesty hereafter, nor upon his succession. Wherefore, I would beseech God that his majesty knew the verity – that at this hour I would be content to take banishment with all my kin that was at the Laird of Luss’s slaughter, and all others of them that any fault can be laid to their charge – and his majesty of his mercy to let poor innocent men and young bairns pass to liberty, and learn to live as innocent men. The whilk I would fulfil but any kind of fail; whilk would be more to the will of God and his majesty’s honour, nor the greedy, cruel form that is devised, only for the love of gear, having neither respect to God or honesty.”8
Those who have been engaged in Indian war or diplomacy know with what almost miraculous skill the oriental semi-savage, exposed and detected in his wiles, can assume the aspect of the simple, dejected victim of other men’s craft and ambition. The criminal of civilised life is less successful, because he is less self-supported – his conscience misgives him, or he, at all events, feels himself too clearly seen through to believe that there is anything worth struggling for in great efforts of hypocrisy. But among some half-civilised races, it is but a hopeful exertion in a part of the discipline to which they are trained, to fawn and flatter, and plead injured innocence in the hour of adversity. Two other great Highland chiefs – Lovat, and the old Lord Breadalbane whose name is associated with Glencoe, were adepts in this mystery; and Macgregor of Glenstrae appears to have been no despicable performer. The belief in the thorough perfidy of his confession does not render it necessary to infer that either the government or Argyle held perfect faith with him. They would have thought it as preposterous as to offer a fair field to a hunted wolf.
The extreme difficulty of bringing the wild freebooters face to face with justice, is often shown in the number of years elapsing between the time of the offence and the day of trial. For twenty years after it occurred, there is a dropping series of trials relating to the field of Glenfruin. In one strange instance, an ally of the clan is indicted for “the cruel murder and burning of eighteen householders of the Clan Laren, their wives and bairns, committed forty-six years since, or thereby. Item, for art and part of the slaughter of umwhile Hugh Stewart, servant to my Lord of Atholl, committed thirty years past, or thereby.”9 From the same cause – the extreme difficulty of apprehending any of the perpetrators, the criminal records contain but faint and indistinct allusions to the invasions of the outlaws, only sufficient to show that they must have been a frightful scourge to the surrounding districts. On the 28th of July, 1612, a considerable band of them was brought up for trial. The measures for suppressing the name of Macgregor, to be afterwards noticed, had then been passed, and their futility is oddly enough illustrated by the first name on the list, which is “Gregor Beg Macgregor.” The crimes with which they were charged are a strange mixture of the sordid and the sanguinary, as the following specimens, stripped of the lists of unpronounceable names with which they are entwined, may show. The chief matters of accusation are – “the treasonable raising of fire, burning and destroying the whole houses and buildings of Glenlocha and Achaleder; the slaughter of Maccallean, bowman to the Laird of Glenurquhy, with divers other persons, to the number of eight persons; stealing of six score kine and oxen furth of Glenlyon, committed in April, 1604; burning and destroying of the whole houses and biggings upon the forty merk land of Aberurchil, pertaining to Colin Campbell; burning of three young bairns, daughters of John Mackessock; stealing and away-taking of eighteen score cows, six score piece (or head) of horses, eight score sheep and goats, pertaining to the said Colin, and likewise for burning of the mill of Bolquhaster, with the whole houses and biggings upon the ground and lands, &c.; the stealing and away-taking furth of Glenfinlas of a great hership (plunderage) of kine and oxen, pertaining to the Laird of Luss and his tenants; the slaughter of umwhile John Reid, weaver, and Patric Lang, servant to the Lord of Luss; for stealing and away-taking of a great number of goods, pertaining to my Lord Ogelvie, furth of Glenisla; and such like for taking and keeping of the island called the Island of Varnoch, against his majesty’s commissioner; and harrying and oppressing of the whole tenants and inhabitants of the country about, taking and in-bringing of their whole goods and bestial, to the number of eight score kine and oxen, eighteen score sheep and goats, whilk were eaten and slain by them within the said island.”10 In a subsequent indictment, a parcel of the same band are charged with art and part of the stealing of certain kine and horses belonging to Walter Stirling of Ballagan; “art and part of the slaughter of John Macgilliss, a fiddler, under my Lord of Tullibardine; the stealing of two horses from Macinnerich of Cregan, and breaking of ane poor man’s house in Kinaldie; taking of the said poor man and binding up his eyes, and stealing and away-taking of the whole plenishing of the said house; stealing of a cow from Donald Macconnell; being in company with Duncan Macewan Macgregor, called the Tutor, at the burning of Aberurchel, where seven men were slain, three bairns were burnt, twenty kine and oxen were stolen, reft, and away-taken; assisting and taking part with the rebels and fugitives that took to the isle called Island Varnoch, and taking into the said isle of eight score kine and oxen, eighteen score sheep and goats, stolen, reft, and away-taken from the inhabitants of the country about.” Finally, they are charged with “common theft, sorning, and oppression.” The “said island,” where so much stolen beef and mutton was consumed, is no other than “the Lonely Isle” of the “Lady of the Lake,” where
“The wild rose, eglantine, and broom,
Wasted around their rich perfume;
The birch trees waved in fragrant balm,
The aspens slept beneath the calm.”
The use made of the island as a safety retreat by the Macgregors, or Clan Alpine, in their hour of need, is indeed the legend round which the beautiful fictions of the poem are twined; and the critic of Scott’s poetry will be glad to obtain this little insight to the habits of those who frequented so interesting a spot. We hear more of Island Varnoch in the desperate attempts by the privy council to surround and exterminate the “sorners and limmers.” A proclamation, issued against them within three months after the battle of Glenfruin, required them to renounce their name, “and take to them some other name, and that they and none of their posterity should call themselves Gregor or Macgregor thereafter under pain of death;” and this was confirmed on the ground that “the simple name of Macgregor did encourage that whole clan to presume of their power, force, and strength, and did encourage them, without reverence of the law or fear of punishment, to go forward in their iniquities.”
A whole series of denunciatory acts, intended to hem the clan closer and closer in with enemies, began in 1610. On the 6th of September, the council announce that the extermination of the barbarous thieves and limmers is in such excellent hands, “that some good and happy mean is expected in that errand.” But a fear is expressed lest they may have recourse to their old tricks, when thus hemmed in, and may make their escape by the lochs. All those who have boats on Loch Lomond, Loch Goyle, and Loch Long, are therefore prohibited from assisting in the flight of the Macgregors, their wives, or children. Those who allow them a passage on any pretence whatever, are to be counted abettors in their wicked deeds, and punished with the utmost rigour. The efforts to cut off their flight seem to have been effectual, for we find that they stood at bay in the safety retreat on the island in Loch Catrine. “They have now,” says the next proclamation, “amassed themselves together, in the isle of the loch of Loch Catrine, which they have fortified with men, victual, powder, bullets, and other warlike furniture, intending to keep the same as a place of war and defence, for withstanding and resisting of his majesty’s forces appointed to pursue them. And seeing there is now some solid and substantious course and order set down how these wolves and thieves may be pursued within their own den and hole by the force and power of some of his majesty’s faithful and well-affected subjects, who freely have undertaken the service, and will prosecute the same without any private respect or consideration, – necessary it is for the execution of this service that the whole boats and birlings being upon Loch Lomond be transported from the said loch to the loch foresaid of Loch Catrine, whereby the forces appointed for the pursuit of the said wolves and thieves may be transported into the said isle, which cannot goodly be done but by the assistance of a great number of people.” The whole inhabitants of the neighbouring counties between sixteen and sixty are required to assemble for this strange labour. The Norwegians, in ravaging the west coast, dragged their galleys across the narrow low isthmus of Tarbet, that they might more easily plunder the shores of Loch Lomond; but here it was proposed to drag the vessels over a mountain tract of five miles! But all was in vain. The next proclamation announces their escape, and heartily abuses those who had undertaken to exterminate them, since there is “not so much as ane mint or show of pursuit intended against them, but the undertakers, every one in their several discourses, doing what in them lies to vindicate themselves from all imputation of sloth, negligence, or neglect of duty in that point, highly to his majesty’s offence, and fostering of the limmers in their rebellion and wicked deeds.”
One of the acts of council passed in 1611 prohibited those living in the countries near the Highlands from selling arms to Highlanders without special authority, “to the effect, it may be clearly understood, that the said armour is not for the use or behoof of the Clan Gregor.” A further effort was made to take edge tools out of these mischievous hands by a proclamation of 1613, “That no person or persons whatsoever who are called Macgregors, and keep that name, and profess and avow themselves to be of that name, shall at no time hereafter bear nor wear any armour but a pontless knife to cut their meat, under the pain of death.” In the same year, another proclamation required that none of the Clan Gregor, even though they had renounced their name, should convene and meet together in any part of the kingdom in greater number than four persons. These acts or proclamations were afterwards ratified by the estates of parliament, – they “remembering how that his sacred majesty being very justly moved with a hatred and detestation of the barbarous murders and insolencies committed by the Clan Gregor upon his majesty’s peaceful and good subjects.”
Along with these exterminating measures, there are, as it were, tracks of blood through the council minutes, showing that they sometimes met with a horrible success. In the disposal of captives, Argyle is allowed for his services “three or four of their lives,” if he desire to spare so many, but “for the rest of those that come in will (that is, have surrendered), if any of them have killed a Macgregor as good as himself – two, three, or four of them which in comparison may be equal to him – and assuredly known to be his deed, his majesty is pleased he have a remission, with the other three or four which his majesty has granted to the Earl of Argyle, providing also that they find sufficient security for keeping of good order in time coming, and such sureties as shall content the council. And for such as are come in will, and done no service by killing of the Macgregors, nor cannot find sufficient surety – that then the law to have his due course, and no favour at all to be shown.
“For such as are yet rebels and outlaws, after the council has considered of the roll presented unto them by my Lord Argyle, that there be no pardon granted unto any nor taken in will, unless he present a better head – at least one as good as his own – or such two, three, or more as shall be enjoined to him by the council. And for Robert Arroch, who is now chief of those who are presently out, that he be not pardoned unless he bring in at least half a dozen of their heads.”
In the same spirit are the arrangements for the women and children. The wives were to be branded on the face with a red-hot key. They and their young were to be put at the disposal of the council, and any one harbouring them was to be treated as a Macgregor. The council intended “thereafter to dispose of them so as they shall think best for repressing such a generation, that they never come to such a head of insolency again.” The partisans of the clan, who were spared, were required to live within the county of Fife, that being the district of Scotland deemed furthest from any temptation to resume their old freebooter habits. In 1612 the council congratulated itself that the Macgregors still remaining at large, were “but unworthy, poor, miserable bodies.” Yet within ten years, – in 1621, the council are as deeply perplexed as ever, and find that “whereas there is now a new brood and generation of this clan risen up, which daily increases in number and force, and are begun to have their meetings, and goes in troops athwart the country armed with all offensive weapons, and some of the leaders of them, who once gave their obedience and found caution, are broken loose, and have committed sundry disorders in the country;” and then, getting more eloquent and indignant, the council denounce them thus: “Preferring the beastly trade of blood, theft, reiff, and oppression, wherein unhappily they were brought up, to law and justice, they have broken loose, and have associated to them a number of the young brood of that clan who are now risen up, and with them they go in troops and companies athwart the country, armed with bows, darlochs, hacbuts, pistolets, and other armour, committing a number of insolencies upon his majesty’s good subjects in all parts where they may be masters, and they do what in them lies to stir up the whole clan to a new rebellion, highly to his majesty’s offence, and the contempt and hurt of his good subjects.”
His majesty, in fact, as represented by his own council, appears to have been both perplexed and infuriated into a fit of impotent railing, since, in the midst of some laudations on his own great clemency, we find him thus crying out in the minutes of the council: “Forasmuch as the king’s majesty having tane great pains and travails, and bestowed great charges and expenses for suppressing of the insolencies of the lawless limmers of the clan, whilk formerly was called Clan Gregor, and for reducing of them to obedience; and his majesty, in his just wrath and indignation against the whole race, having abolished the name thereof as most infamous, and not worthy to be heard of in a country subject to a prince, with majesty, power, and force to execute vengeance upon such wretched and miserable caitiffs as dare presume to lift their heads and offend against his majesty and his laws,” &c.
In the year 1630 the records of the council show that they have come back to the same subject – as far as ever from their proposed end, but not less indignant and vituperative. After a long head-roll of the chief offenders, who are as usual denominated lawless limmers, it is stated, that they have united themselves with other broken clans to renew their accustomed and wicked trade of theft and stouthrief, wherein they are tauntingly informed that numbers of their wicked and miserable predecessors ended their lives. They go, as of old, in troops athwart the heads of Menteith and Stratherne, where they not only commit private depredations but open ravages, threatening with fire and sword such of his majesty’s good subjects against whom they have quarrel, and who profess to oppose and resist their thievish and lawless doings. “Wherethrough,” continue the bewildered privy council, “the peace of the country is far disturbed, and his majesty’s good subjects distressed in their persons and goods, to the great contempt of law and justice, and disgrace of his majesty’s authority and government. And whereas it is a great discredit to the country that such an infamous bike (or hive) of lawless limmers shall be suffered to break loose, as if his majesty’s arm of justice were not able to overtake; therefore,” &c. And so follow new authorities to the enemies of the clan “to besiege their strengths with fire and all kinds of warlike engines, that justice may be ministrate unto them.” The besiegers and pursuers are affectionately desired to set themselves steadily to the work before them, without heeding collateral consequences; and whatever mutilation, slaughter, “or other inconvenience,” to any of the king’s lieges may occur in the conflict, the inflicter is to suffer no pain or penalty for it, but to be held as having done good service. And so the denunciation proceeds in terms seeking to be new, but bearing so tedious a uniformity of character to those previously adopted, that the council had evidently exhausted every form of wrath and vengeance in its previous efforts, and was all vainly grasping at something new.11
The council having exhausted all its efforts in vain, it was probably considered a happy thought to try what parliament could do, as the rector’s authority is resorted to when the birches of the ushers have failed to infuse a salutary awe. In 1633 was passed an “act anent the Clan Gregor.” This act does little more than ratify the denunciations of the council in the same indignant phraseology; and we need not dwell on its contents, as they can be seen at length in the Scottish statute-book. It imposed penalties on clergymen christening infants with the name of Gregor, and on notaries employing the surname of the clan in legal documents.
A provision was made for the clan coming one by one to the privy council, and finding security for their good behaviour. But the sorners and limmers believed in a punic faith which they had no Roman virtue to sacrifice themselves to; and they prudently declined to go below the passes. Next year we find the privy council at work again as hopelessly as ever. An excellent and reasonable act has, they assure the country, been passed in his majesty’s last parliament, permitting the limmers to make their appearance before the lords of his majesty’s privy council, and there find security for their good behaviour; “and though it was expected,” continue my lords, with much simplicity, “that those of the Clan Gregor should have embraced his majesty’s favour shown unto them, and should have given their compearance before his majesty’s council to the effect foresaid, yet few or none of them has compeared, but has neglected their duty and obedience in that point.” The council profess themselves “loath to take that advantage of the said clan which their contempt and disobedience deserves;” and so they give the limmers another opportunity of coming to Edinburgh and finding security, before relaunching against them those efforts of vengeance which previous experience had shown to be so hopeless.
At this time the clan possessed a brigand leader, who obtained more contemporary fame than even his celebrated successor, Rob Roy. His name was Patrick Macgregor; but he was known to fame by the descriptive epithet of Gilroy, or Gilderoy, the Red Gilly or youth. He has been celebrated both in prose and rhyme. A well-known and long popular ballad, which laments the untimely fate of so many virtues and accomplishments, commences thus:
“Gilderoy was a bonny boy,
Had roses till his shoon;
His stockings were of silken soy,
Wi’ garters hanging down.
It was, I ween, a comely sight
To see sae trim a boy;
He was my joy and heart’s delight,
My handsome Gilderoy.
“O sic twa charming een he had,
Breath sweet as any rose;
He never wore a Hieland plaid,
But costly, silken clothes.
He gained the love of ladies gay,
Nane e’er to him was coy.
Ah! wae is me, I mourn the day
For my dear Gilderoy.”
This is a somewhat Arcadian sketch of the red-haired Highland riever; but truth glimmers through the poetry of the widow’s lament as it proceeds, and develops that propensity to convert tuum into meum, which was at the root of all the woes of the Macgregors:
“My Gilderoy, baith far and near,
Was feared in every town,
And bauldly bore away the gear
Of many a Lowland loon.
For man to man durst meet him nane,
He was so brave a boy;
At length wi’ numbers he was tane,
My winsome Gilderoy.
“Wae worth the louns that made the laws,
To hang a man for gear,
To reave of life for sic a cause
As stealing horse or mare!
Had not their laws been made sae strick,
I ne’er had lost my joy;
Wi’ sorrow ne’er had wat my cheek
For my dear Gilderoy.”
We shall now turn to a portrait of this hero in harsher, but rather more truthful colours. The reader may, or may not, be acquainted with a folio volume, illustrated with a few grotesque engravings imitated from Hogarth, and called, “History of the most famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Robbers, and Pirates, with their Trials.” The fundamental element of the book is the history of contemporary crimes and criminals while highway robbery was at its climax; and many a time have these coarse but truthfully-impressive narratives of crime, prolonged the lingering of the absorbed group around the winter hearth, and disturbed their sleep by fashioning the casual midnight sounds into the creaking of timber beneath a furtive tread, or the stifled groan of some victim of the knife. But he who desires to consult this emporium of crime, must find the earliest and rarest edition,12 since, in those of later date, many of the most grotesque and strange narratives have been, for some purpose or other, suppressed. Among these there are a few which, like the memoir of Gilderoy, relate to a time and country which were not those of the author, and to social conditions which he neither knew nor could accurately imagine. Though in these the falsehood largely predominates over the truth, yet the very grotesqueness of their anachronisms, like pictures of Garrick acting Macbeth in a laced waistcoat and powdered wig, make them curious and amusing. Some of these grotesque sketches relate to Scotsmen, and among them is a memoir of the illustrious Gilderoy.13
The mountain freebooter is converted into an English highwayman. Tradition marked him as a man of family, and therefore Johnson makes him pass into his career of vice through the same process which might bring a well-connected young miscreant of Yorkshire or Cheshire to the highway. Thus – “His father died just as he was of age, when, leaving him an estate of 80 marks a year, he thought himself fully capable to the management of it without the advice of his friends, by which means he, in short, managed it all away, and ran through it in about a year and a half; upon which he soon became very needy, and a fit subject to be moulded into any shape which had an appearance of profit. Having thus, by his irregularities, reduced himself to a very poor condition, he was very burdensome to his mother, who often supplied him with money out of her jointure, which he always quickly consumed; but she, perceiving that no good admonitions would reclaim his extravagancy, withheld her hand, and would not answer his expectation; whereupon, lying at her house one night, he arose, entered his mother’s bed-chamber, cut her throat with a razor, and then plundered and burnt the house to the ground.”
His next adventure is of a totally different character, and has probably been borrowed from some French novel or adventures of Cartouche. We are to suppose him dressed like a courtier, and attending in the royal church of St. Denis, while Richelieu performs high mass in presence of the king. Gilderoy, having a design on the cardinal’s purse, winks to his majesty to secure his connivance at a good joke, while the purse is abstracted. The king witnesses the operation with great satisfaction, and does his part by stepping up to the cardinal, and desiring to be accommodated with a trifling sum of money, when the loss is, of course discovered. “The king, knowing which way it went, was more than ordinarily merry; until, being tired with laughter, he was willing that the cardinal might have again what was taken from him. The king thought that he who took the money was an honest gentleman, and of some account, as he kept his countenance so well; but Gilderoy had more wit than to come near them, for he acted not in jest, but in good earnest. Then the cardinal turned all the laughter against the king, who, using his common oath, swore, by the faith of a gentleman, it was the first time that ever a thief had made him his companion.”
The feats attributed by this authority to Gilderoy in his own country are not less remarkable and eccentric. He seems to have anticipated, in a highly tragic form, the idea of that constable who, according to Scott, placed his boy in the unoccupied stocks at the gate of Glammis Castle for the sake of uniformity, because there was a vagrant stocked on the other side of the gate. Three of his followers had been condemned, executed, and hung in chains. According to a common practice, the scaffold from which the rotting bodies were suspended was circular and wheel-shaped, and was fixed on the top of a strong beam, passing into the central socket like an axle. In Captain Johnson’s words, it “was made like a turnstile, only the beams on each end of which is nailed a strong iron hook to which the rope is fastened, has no motion.” Now the gallows was adapted for four; but there were only three hanging on it, and the general effect of the tragic exhibition was unsymmetrical. The judge who had condemned the three to death being on his way towards Aberdeen, where he was to hold a circuit court of justiciary, was attacked and taken captive by the outlaw leader. Deliberating on the proper destination of so precious a spoil, a savage impulse of practical sarcasm prompted him to complete the quadrangular uniformity of the gallows by there hanging the judge, and he did so accordingly. The mangled use of Scottish language, phraseology, and names, shows that Johnson’s history is by no means entirely imaginary. It must have been founded on native authority, and is probably a decoration of the narrative contained in some contemporary chap book. He concludes thus his account of the comic tragedy: – “ ‘Now,’ said Gilderoy to the judge, ‘by my soul, mon, as this unlucky structure, erected to break people’s craigs, is not uniform without a fourth person taking his lodging here too, I must e’en hang you upon the vacant beam.’ Accordingly he was as good as his word; and for fear the government should not know who was the hangman, he sent a letter to the ministers of state to acquaint them with his proceedings. This insolence caused the legislature to contrive ways and means to suppress the audaciousness of Gilderoy and his companions, who were dreaded far and near; and among them, one Jennet, a lawyer, promoted the law for hanging a highwayman first and judging him afterwards; which law being approved of, it received the sanction of the government without any contradiction, and was often put in force against gentlemen of the road.”
The invention of “one Jennet, a lawyer,” is a ridiculous enough gloss on the term Jeddert justice, or the practice of the citizens of Jedburgh, who had the reputation of rigorously and impartially investigating the charges against an enemy from the English border after they had put him to death.
But some passages in Captain Johnson’s history are more veritable and life-like. Thus – “In a little time his name became so dreaded through the whole country, that travellers were afraid to pass the roads without a great many in company. And when money was short with him, he would enter into Atholl, Lochaber, Angus, Mar, Buquhan, Murray, Sutherland, and other shires in the north of Scotland, and drive away the people’s cattle, unless they paid him contribution, which they did quarterly, and had his protection.”
One feat attributed by the captain to his hero is so remarkable, that it must be conveyed in his own words:
“When Oliver Cromwell embarked at Donnachadee, in the north of Ireland, and landed at Portpatrick in Scotland, the news thereof came to Gilderoy, who was then lurking in the shire of Galloway; accordingly, he met him on the road towards Glasgow. Cromwell having only two servants with him, he commanded him to stand and deliver; but the former, thinking three to one was odds, refused to obey. They then came to an engagement, and several pistols were discharged on both sides for nearly a quarter of an hour, when the bold robber pretended to yield his antagonists the day, by running as fast as he could from them. They pursued him very closely for near half an hour; and then, suddenly turning upon them, the first mischief he did was shooting Oliver’s horse, which, falling on its side as soon as wounded, broke the Protector’s leg. As for his servants, he shot one of them through the head, and the other begging quarter, it was granted. But Oliver being disabled, he had the civility to put him on an ass, and, tying his legs under his belly, sent them both to seek their fortunes.”
The captain proves nothing by this narrative but his acquaintance with the legend of the Horatii and his Royalist predilections, which had induced him to place old Noll in a ludicrous position. If the story could command a moment’s credit, it would immediately be contradicted by dates, since, in the succinct words of old Spalding’s Chronicle, “Gilderoy, with five other limmers, were taken, and all hanged to the death,” on the 29th of July, 1638 – a time when Cromwell, an embarrassed young country gentleman, was more likely to be found attempting to emigrate to America, than returning with bloody laurels from Ireland.
Gilderoy commanded a large and formidable band. Their operations were not confined to the Lenox and other cultivated straths immediately adjoining the country of the Macgregors, but had a range of some hundreds of miles along the country which had the misfortune to border on the Grampian mountains. Wherever there was negligent watching of the cattle, or disputes and disturbances, the freebooter would pounce on the devoted spot and relieve it of its animal inhabitants. Several of his gang were taken and executed before he could be caught. “Thir loons,” says Spalding, “were taken by the Stewarts of Atholl, by persuasion and advice of the Lairds of Craigievar and Corse, whereof there were seven hanged altogether at the Cross of Edinburgh, and their heads set up in exemplary places. The eighth man got his life, because it was confessed he was drawn to this service against his will. Gilderoy seeing this – his men taken and hanged – went and burnt up some of the Stewarts’ houses in Atholl, in recompense of this injury.”14
The fortune of apprehending the leader fell to the old enemy of his tribe, Argyle. On the 7th of June, 1636, the privy council find that he, “out of zeal and affection for his majesty’s service and peace of the country, has carefully bestirred himself, and now in end successively taken the arch-rebel Patrick Macgregor, alias Gilroy, with some of his accomplices, by whom his majesty’s good subjects in the Highlands and north parts of this kingdom has been this long time bygone heavily infested in their persons and goods.” It is found that he “has behaved himself as a generous and loyal subject, and that he has done good, real, and acceptable service to his majesty and the state.”
The charge against Gilderoy very much resembles those which we have already seen against his predecessors. Plunder is at the root of all, and bloodshed follows as an accidental condition of the accomplishment of the main object. After so much royal and official exultation at the capture of the rebel and traitor, the indictment, commencing with the charge of “usurpation of our sovereign lord’s power and authority,” sets forth particulars which might be held to fall short both of the solemnity and the atrocity of the general charge. Thus one of the specific accusations in the indictment is – “Item, for art and part of the theftuous stealing of four hens, about Lambmass, 1635, pertaining to the goodman of Colquharnie.” It was probably difficult to find evidence of the specific acts of outrage, and necessary not to lose sight of any that could be proved, however insignificant. After an enumeration of depredations, rather more important in their character, and embracing a tedious list of cows, oxen, horses, furniture, goods and gear, insight plenishing, rents and evidents, &c., with casual acts of kidnapping and slaughter, there is a general charge “for sorning with your accomplices these three years bygone through the whole bounds of Strathspey, Braemar, Cromar, and countries thereabout, oppressing the whole common and poor people, violently taking and riveing from them of their meat, drink, and all provision, with their whole goods, &c., and for common theft and reset of theft.” The record bears that Gilderoy and his band were convicted on their own confession, which, as they could not speak in any language intelligible to the court, was interpreted by Stewart of Ardvoirlich. Confession is a strange and unaccountable act for such men spontaneously to commit in the full assurance of the gallows, and one cannot help suspecting that there must have been foul play in this matter. Along with a coadjutor named Forbes, Gilderoy enjoyed the honour of the gibbet on which they were hanged being raised “one great degree higher nor the gibbet whereon the rest shall suffer.” His head and hand were affixed on the east or nether-bow port of Edinburgh.
Thirty years now elapse ere another distinguished leader of the clan gives work to the hangman. On the 25th of March, 1667, Patrick Roy Macgregor was brought to trial for theft, sorning, wilful fire-raising, robbery, and murder. He was at the head of a band of desperate banditti, numbering about forty. His latest exploit was an attack almost of the nature of a siege, made on the small town of Keith, in Banffshire, at which he was wounded and made prisoner. The deed for which he was tried was a midnight attack on the house of Bellkirrie, and the murder of its inmates, Lion of Muiress and his son. The elder victim appears to have secured the vengeance of the banditti, by having brought some of them to punishment for sorning on his lands. His own house was perhaps not so accessible as Bellkirrie; for the news of his visit to his son there, seems to have put the band of freebooters in immediate motion. The indictment charges the murderers with having accepted a capitulation from the victims, with a condition that their lives were to be spared. Patrick Roy did not confess the deed, like his predecessor of greater notoriety; and the records therefore contain the substance of the evidence against him.
James Urquhart, of Camishuin, the principal witness, stated that, while Muiress was with his son, hearing that the freebooters were in the neighbourhood, they took care to house the horses and cattle. The whole household had gone to bed when Roy commenced his attack. The building was low, and thatched; and when the besiegers had collected a quantity of straw from the barn-yard, and “built it,” as the witness describes, round the house, the inmates were first awakened to a sense of their danger by a circle of stifling flames, from which there was no escape, save into the hands of their enemies, surrounding the house to the number of eighteen or twenty. This witness spoke distinctly to the stipulation on which the inmates yielded. “And after Muiress and those that were with him had come out of the house, they (the freebooters) did seize upon and take away the horses to the number of five or six, and their arms – and that Roy took and did wear Muiress’s own buff coat and his carbine – that they did carry away with them Muiress and his son, and those that were with him, on Muiress’s own horses – and that Roy, and Drummond, and others, his accomplices, did ride before and behind them upon the said horses.” The witness further said, that he and his companions were removed as prisoners, but “were dismissed the same day, being, before they were dismissed, made to swear upon their dirks that they should not tell where Muiress was, or what should become of him.” The next witness, Cruikshank, confirmed this statement; and in continuation, narrated, “That Muiress and his son were carried up and down, from place to place, through the mountains, from Sunday morning, that they were taken – being the 8th – until Wednesday before night that they were murdered, without giving them meat or drink. That they and Drummond did, about twelve o’clock the day they were taken, leave the prisoners with their complices, and did go away to Ardkingeline on Muiress’s horses upon the said day, being Sunday, and did not return until Wednesday thereafter – the day that Muiress and his son were murdered – and that after they had returned, which was about two o’clock, Muiress, having desired Thomas Gordon, who, having been sent to Muiress with a letter from Baldovine, and spoke Erse, to see what they intended to do with them, he heard the same Thomas answer him by order of Roy, in English, that he should make him, before his God, very quickly – or such like words.” The witness said that they threw a dirk at himself, and threatened him with death. He was removed at the time of the committing of the murder, and the person in charge of him professed, that he had received instructions to put him to death also, but was induced to spare him. His testimony, like that of the other witnesses, terminated with the statement that the prisoners enjoyed in the country the character of being “broken men, thieves, and sorners.” None of the witnesses saw the actual perpetration of the murder; but the bodies were found pierced with dirk wounds. The Macgregors were found guilty. Their sentence was, that they were to be hanged, “the right hand being previously cut off, and their bodies to be hung in chains on the gallow-lee.”15
Robert Macgregor, from the epithet Roy, must have been red-haired – a prevailing characteristic of the chief men of the Clan Gregor – whence some ethnologists would infer for them a Scandinavian origin. One of the judges of the court before which he was tried, Lord Pitmedden, has left this brief notice of the appearance and demeanour of the Highland brigand. “He was of a low stature, but strong made; had a fierce countenance – a brisk, hawke-like eye. He bore the torture of the boots with great constancy; and was undaunted at his execution, though mangled by the executioner in cutting off his hand; for which the executioner was turned out.”16
The political revolutions of the country had, in the mean time, curiously affected the nominal position of the clan. Their turbulence, under the rule of the Presbyterians and of Cromwell, interpreted as loyalty to the house of Stewart, and, in the year after the Restoration, the acts against them were repealed. In 1691 they were reimposed by the revolution parliament. The change but little affected the position of the Highland freebooters, against whom there was always a vital enmity, which required no orders in council or acts of parliament to keep it alive. But it seriously affected those who, in the interval, had established themselves in peaceful pursuits among the Lowland towns. Thus, in 1695, a certain Evan Macgregor, describing himself as a merchant, residing in Leith, and master of a manufactory in Edinburgh, applied to parliament, stating that he had borne the name during the interval of toleration in the pursuit of his business, and representing that – “It is evident, on the one hand, his continuing the said name can be no prejudice to any design, ever was, or now may be, for the general peace, and in order to the greater quiet of the Highlands; and, on the other hand, that his discontinuing of the same cannot but bring a great confusion upon his trade and all his affairs, which may in effect tend to his utter ruin.” He states that the act has affected him in mercantile transactions, by affording an excuse to those who were indisposed to honour their bills or pay their accounts, “which he humbly supposes was never thereby intended.” Parliament solemnly adjudged that the act “shall not be extended to the petitioner residing in Leith, and living in the Lowlands; and hereby allows him to use the name of Macgregor, but refuses that privilege or exemption to his children or posterity; and ordains the petitioner to give in a condescendence this night of what surname he will give his children, to the effect the same may be marked in the minutes of parliament.”
We now come, in chronological order, to a name which might be expected richly to continue our record of iniquities – that of Rob Roy, the hero of Scott’s magnificent romance; but, singularly enough, little can be legitimately said of him in a narrative drawing its materials from criminal trials. But for the fortuitous illumination of fictitious literature, he would, indeed, have been just now no more distinguishable in a list of the half-freebooter, half-drover scamps with whom he was associated, than Macbeth, but for a similar illumination, would have been distinguished from a dreary catalogue of half-mythical monarchs with uncertain names. Rob Roy, in fact, was not so much a criminal as a scamp; and his misdeeds, instead of the burnings, sieges, and murders which blacken the memory of his predecessors, are associated with dishonoured bills, fraudulent bankruptcy, and swindled cattle-dealers. Scott himself, in fact, had not discovered the true character of his hero until after he had written the romance; and his evident mortification, as, in the introduction to the later editions he brings out each act of petty rascality, is a little ludicrous. Yielding to the law which proscribed the name of Macgregor, Rob adopted that of Campbell, in which he figures in some “leading cases,” which show lawyers how to give check-mate to subtle debtors endeavouring to evade the pursuit of their creditors. Thus, of date the 16th of January, 1713, Sir Hew Dalrymple commences the report of a case with the following far from heroic narrative:
“Robert Campbell, alias Rob Roy, draws a bill upon Graham of Gorthie, payable to the drawer, which Gorthie accepted; and the drawer having indorsed that bill to Hamilton of Bardowie, about the same time the indorser broke and fled.” Gorthie thereupon raised certain legal proceedings, in which there was the following history of facts: – “That the cause of the bill was a contract of the same date, whereby Rob Roy was obliged to deliver to Gorthie a certain number of Highland cattle: that he had made the like bargains with a great many gentlemen who had trusted him with money, in contemplation of receiving the value in cattle; and having thus amassed a great sum of money in his hands, he did most fraudulently withdraw, and fled without performing anything on his part, and thereby became unquestionably a notour and fraudulent bankrupt.”17
It is probable that bankruptcy, so dreadful to the members of our artificial system, as it is termed, brought very little change to Rob’s condition; “for in the principles of things he sought his moral creed,” and it is then that we can best picture him saying, according to Wordsworth,
– “What need of books?
Burn all the statutes and their shelves;
They stir us up against our kind,
And worse – against ourselves.
The creatures see of flood and field,
And those that travel in the wind.
With them no strife can last – they live
In peace – and peace of mind.
For why? – because the good old rule
Sufficeth them – the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.”
Rob was ostensibly a dealer in cattle, and he cared not very particularly how he came by them. He often exacted that celebrated tribute called black mail, for the protection of the fruits of Lowland industry; and as often, by the suspicions raised against him, rendered it prudent to pay tribute to other protectors. The arrangements for the payment of black mail for some years after his death, show that the staple occupation of the Clan Gregor – cattle-lifting, as it was called – had not become obsolete; and, at the same time, they indicate that the determined and systematic efforts of the sufferers were drawing close to the accomplishment of its suppression. In the old statistical account of Scotland is printed perhaps the latest bond for payment of black mail known to be extant. It is dated in 1741, and relates to the lands immediately adjoining the Macgregor country. It is a systematic contract, in which Graham of Glengyle, the nephew of Rob Roy, agrees, for a mail of four per cent. on the valued rent, to protect the “gentlemen, heritors, and tenants within the shires of Perth, Stirling, and Dumbarton,” who subscribe it. He engages to hold those who agree to pay tribute to him “skaithless of any loss by the away-taking of their cattle, horses, or sheep;” and the obligation on both sides is so arranged, that the payment of the tribute to Graham, and his compensation for any cattle proved to be stolen, could be made good in the courts of law. Such remedies, however, were only partial. The thieves having behind them virtually infinite resources, in the vast mountain region to the north and west, established a judicious system of exchanges. If Glengyle, with a posse comitatus from the Lenox or the Carse of Stirling, penetrated into the fastnesses of the Macgregor country, they might see cattle, and might know them to have been “lifted,” as surely as the detective policeman knows the gold-capped and jewelled watch found in the tramp-house to have been stolen; but no man could identify his own cattle. Those swept from the Lowlands of Lanark or Stirling were far off among the mountains beyond the Muir of Rannoch; those lifted in Aberdeen or Moray were transferred to the Macgregor country. The “sorners and limmers” had often great gatherings for the exchange of stolen cattle. They met armed, and, amid libations of whisky, sometimes transacted a little political business for the exiled house of Stewart, or rather against the existing government, for their interest lay more in pulling down than setting up.
In the year 1744, Evan Macpherson of Cluny, a chief of great influence, undertook what was called “a watch,” “for the security of several counties in the north of Scotland from thefts and depredations.” The function was pressed upon him at a meeting of the landowners most sorely pillaged; and, though they agreed to pay him a certain tribute, it was not the accomplice’s bribe, like the old black mail, but a contribution towards the heavy expense of supporting a Highland police. So completely had a large portion of the Highlanders been accustomed to live on the fruit of other people’s industry, that the strict operation of Cluny’s watch is said to have involved them in dreadful misery.18
Still all these remedies were partial and ineffective, and the practice did not come to an end until the constitutional reformation following the rebellion of 1745 swept before it the predatory propensities, as well as the warlike habits of the Highlanders.
But, returning to the Clan Gregor and their achievements, as recorded in the proceedings of the penal tribunals. If all that can be said of Rob Roy himself may be called an unexpected blank, we shall find the ancient spirit reviving in his sons, who aimed at nobler predatory game than cattle. One of these sons is named in the record “James Macgregor, alias Drummond, alias More,” and to make his identification more complete, he is described as an outlaw, for taking to flight when charged with the murder of John Maclaren of Wester Inernenty. The indictment, which is the only statement we possess of the nature of this crime, attributes the motive to a belief among the Macgregors that Maclaren was about to take a lease of a farm called Kirktoun, occupied by the mother of the young Macgregor, Rob Roy’s widow – the heroine of the novel. The assassination, as described in the same document, was performed in the simplest of manners. “When the said John Maclaren was holding his own plough, with which he was labouring the ground, you, with a loaded gun in your hand, came behind his back, and cruelly and barbarously discharged the gun upon him, whereby he was wounded in the thigh, or some other part of his body, of which wound or wounds so given he died in a few hours thereafter that same day.”
In the proceedings on which we shall enter more at length, this James Drummond was associated with a brother, called Robert Macgregor, alias Campbell, alias Drummond.
In the old mansion-house of Edinbellie, within a few miles of the pass of Aberfoyle, there lived in the winter of 1750 a young heiress named Jane Key. Though not nineteen years old she had been nearly two months a widow, and had returned on her husband’s death to the shelter of her mother’s roof. On the night of the 8th of December, when the family circle were assembled, they were alarmed by such sounds as used of old to announce the forays which the law had recently been strong enough to put down. The doors were burst open, and several armed Highlanders, with Rob Roy’s sons at their head, broke in upon the household. The young widow was naturally the first to flee for safety, and had time to hide herself in one of the many recesses of the old mansion ere the ruffians reached the sitting-room. Finding her gone, they seized her mother, and, by threatening “to murder every person in the family, or to burn the house and every person in it alive, unless the said Jane Key should be produced,” discovered the poor girl’s hiding-place. She was told that an ardent affection for her person had prompted this outrage, and that Robert Macgregor had adopted these unusual means for overcoming the difficulties he might meet in aspiring to her hand; and she was told this in a manner to show that she was the spoil of the conqueror’s sword, and must comply. “And upon her desiring,” says the indictment, in its technical language, “to be allowed till next morning, or for some few hours, to deliberate on the answer she was to give to so unexpected and sudden a proposal as a marriage betwixt her, then not two months a widow, and a man with whom she had no manner of acquaintance. After some further discourse, or expostulation, you, the said James Macgregor, or one or other of your accomplices, laid violent hands upon the said Jane Key, within her own dwelling-house as aforesaid, and in a most barbarous, cruel, and most unbecoming and indecent manner, dragged her to the door, while she was making all the resistance in her power, and crying out for help and assistance, and uttering many bitter lamentations; and after she was thus dragged to the door, you and one or other of your accomplices did, with force and violence, most barbarously and inhumanly lay the said Jane Key upon a horse, placing her body across the horse, upon the torr or forepart of the saddle, after having tied her arms with ropes. And during all the time these barbarous and horrid outrages were acting, you and your accomplices, or one or other of you, did threaten, with execrable oaths, immediately to murder every person who should offer to give the said Jane Key the least assistance.”19
She was thus conveyed to Rowerdennan on Loch Lomond. The tourist who sojourns for a short time at this lovely spot, before crossing the lake, or attempting the ascent of Ben Lomond, will scarcely, in the midst of so much tranquillity and beauty, be able to realise the horrible position of poor Jane Key in the hands of the hereditary enemies of her house and of her race; the ruthless, lawless tribe, whose savage ferocity had been the theme of all household horrors, from the nursery-tale inflicted on the rebellious infant, to the sanguinary legend which roused the interest of the sleepy circle round the smouldering turf. It was among the families and communities, who were nearest to their mountain homes, that the Highland outlaws had established the greatest dread and horror; and by the heiress’s family their neighbours above the pass had, for generation after generation, been viewed in the same light as the Red Indian was by the Canadian settler. And it was among these men that she now found herself, as helpless and as far removed from succour as if the law had not recently professed to assert its supremacy. But it was not their object to do her any further injury than what was necessary to give them the command over her estate. To this end it was essential that the possession of her person should be sanctified by the rites of matrimony – the more solemnly performed the better. Warrants were issued against the marauders, and a body of troops was sent to aid the civil power; but the ruffians conveyed their prize from place to place among the hereditary fastnesses of the Macgregor country, and before they could be interrupted, a clergyman, acting under their orders, had celebrated her marriage with Robert Macgregor in due form.
Thus baffled, the relations of the heiress resolved to take up their position in the final object of attack – the citadel as it were – and took measures for placing her property under trust. The ruffians, no doubt, believed that they would persuade her, for the sake of worldly appearances, or of many of those multitudinous influences which guide the female heart to gentleness and self-sacrifice, silently to justify this rough wooing; and, giving the chosen brother, in the eye of the world, the place of her lord and husband, thus enable him to obtain her property. The court of session, on the application of her relations, placed her property under trust, with a view of applying the proceeds in relieving the heiress from captivity and bringing the kidnappers to justice. The result of this showed how accurately the Macgregors’ views had been solved. It was now necessary that everything should be braved to acquire for Robert the position of the accepted husband of his victim, and the removal of the property from their grasp drew one of them out of that den from which the law and the sword were alike unable to drive him.
Now occurred a circumstance which, in a remarkable shape, shows the feebleness of the law a century ago even in the capital of Scotland. Jane Key – or as she was now called, Mrs. Drummond – paid a visit to the metropolis. Her husband did not accompany her; he might be seriously occupied with his extensive transactions in sheep and cattle. The brother James, however, having less to do, kindly attended his sister-in-law. While they were thus apparently under the eye of the world, an application was made to the court of session in proper official form in the name of Jane Key, desiring that her property might be restored, declaring that she was the willing and affectionate wife of Robert Macgregor, or Drummond, and that the forced abduction was a little farce got up by herself, to save appearances and avoid the impertinent ridicule that might have persecuted her for yielding to a passion matured within two months after her husband’s death. The court looked with supreme suspicion on this document, as well they might. Nor did it clear the case, that a letter was produced, signed, but not written by Jane Key, and dated twenty days before the abduction, in which she invited Macgregor to come and seize her. It was considered necessary to examine Jane Key as a witness for the crown in the proceedings preliminary to a prosecution; and the record bears that “She acknowledged that she had been with the persons against whom the warrants had been granted on her account; and that she was, upon the Monday after she was taken away, married to the said Robert Macgregor, alias Drummond, by one who signed his name Smith, and that she inclined to adhere to the marriage.”
Among the deep narrow winds, and mountainous edifices of the Old Town of Edinburgh, a Scotsman’s house was much more of a castle than an Englishman’s. The scanty police were allof an external, street-parading character; and men backed by followers could isolate themselves both from authority and observation, and conduct schemes of domestic tyranny with impunity. Conscious of such facilities, the court of session “sequestrated” the heiress, and removing her from her alleged husband, appointed for her a place of abode in the house of an acquaintance, whose character and social position might secure her from foul play. The magistrates of Edinburgh were enjoined to have a charge over her. Sentinels were placed round the house; and it was an instruction to them, that, without interrupting social intercourse with friendly visitors, they were not to permit any large number of persons to enter the house. Such were the precautions deemed necessary for asserting the authority of the law close to its very fountain-head. After she had been for some time thus protected, she was again examined, and she then bore testimony to the whole tissue of violence and fraud of which she had been the victim.
James Drummond was brought to trial. A long legal dispute arose on the question whether the verdict of the jury was or was not a conviction; and in the mean time the criminal escaped, and the poor victim died. Robert Macgregor, who acted the part of the husband – but who is supposed to have been the less guilty of the two brothers – was afterwards caught, tried, convicted, and hanged. James lived in France with the Jacobite refugees, and other gentlemen who had found it convenient to quit their native shore. A small job in the way of his business was put in his hands soon after his retreat; but he failed satisfactorily to accomplish it. Allan Brec Stewart, of whom an account will be given further on, had made his escape under suspicions very close to assurance that he had murdered Campbell of Glenure. It was of great moment to the government to get hold of Allan Brec – indeed, in his absence, they found it necessary, as we shall afterwards find, to hang another person, who probably might have been spared had Allan Brec been apprehended. Drummond was employed to kidnap him; but Allan Brec, having heard of the plot, vowed that he would slay Drummond, if the rascal came within his reach; and he was a man likely to be as good as his word. Drummond, who lived afterwards in abject poverty in France, stated that he was offered by Lord Holderness a lucrative appointment under government, but that he refused it on principle. And there are not wanting Celtic fanatics who, discarding all the rest of his vile history, hold him, upon this little morsel of his own evidence in his own favour, to have been a noble-hearted man of sensitive honour.
It is impossible to pass away from these sad annals of fraud and violence without a brief glance at the political moral taught by more than two hundred years of hereditary war with the law. It may join, with many other dark chapters in British history, in teaching the true functions of a governing people, towards races behind them in enlightenment, and in the hereditary subjugation of the bad passions. Nor are the lessons so taught absolutely useless at this day for practical purposes. If we be now beyond the time when instruction of so tragic a character is necessary to teach statesmen their duty towards any portion of the United Kingdom, yet this empire is daily coming more and more in contact with wild tribes in distant lands, and is daily requiring further instruction in the difficult art of properly ruling them. In the history of the Macgregors we see, on the one hand, a ferocious race, in whom the predatory and sanguinary passions are nourished from generation to generation, acting after their kind; on the other, a government which uses nothing but the sword, and, unless it can carry that to the extent of extermination, ever uses it in vain. The law is the avenger alone; it is never the parent, the instructor, or the protector; and its vengeance ever reprovoked is never satiated.
To judge in any comparative way of the merits of the two parties, is a difficult ethical problem. To maintain that the conduct of the government was just, is out of the question. It is difficult to find out the best means of punishing crime, but it is easy to decide that there cannot be a worse than the handing over of the offender to the irresponsible vengeance of his enemy. On the other hand, it would be somewhat more preposterous to follow some Celtic apologists in the view that the Macgregors were a pure and persecuted race, whose outrages were but the recalcitrations of high-minded men against calculating oppression. They had plundered their neighbours, and defied the government. Governments commonly consist of men with human passions, liable to be directed by the opinions and prejudices of the time. If they are pricked, they will bleed; if they are tickled, they will laugh; and if they are wronged, will they not revenge? But the short, sharp remedy of the sword has ever been too readily resorted to to cut the knot, and sever the entanglements which men find in dealings with tribes less civilised than themselves. Thus the barbarian has seen civilisation only in its terrors, and has recoiled from it instead of courting it. To be superior to angry impulses; and treat with abstract justice, and a view to their enlightenment and improvement, tribes who themselves are full of injustice and cruelty; is one of the latest and most precious acquisitions of a high civilisation.20
While the name of Macgregor remained under legal proscription, those members of the clan who desired to enjoy the privileges of peaceful civilisation adopted the names of their maternal relations, or changed the forbidden shape into Gregorson, Macgregory, or Gregory. This last name recals singular and interesting associations, realised in a well-known anecdote, which represents the unpleasant surprise of the Aberdeen professor on having to receive Rob Roy in his study as a distinguished and influential kinsman. During a great part of the tissue of hereditary crimes which we have just been recording, this sapling of the family produced an hereditary succession of genius, worth, and learning, such, in the steadiness and continuity of its growth, as the world has not perhaps exemplified in any other family; nor has its lustre yet departed.
It was not until the year 1775 that the opprobrium thrown on the name of Macgregor was removed by an act of the British parliament. Since that day, the once dreaded name has been sounded with respect at drawing-room doors, in levees, in bank parlours, and on the hustings. It has fallen to the lot of many eminent and worthy men. And singularly enough, the only Highland clan which strives to keep its ancient ties, and assemble together in a body, is that same Clan Gregor, to whom it was prohibited to convene in numbers exceeding four at a time.
1 Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, i., 164.
2 Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, i., 290.
3 “Broken men” was an expression applied generally to all the Border and Highland depredators; but in its limited sense it applied to those who had no chief or other person to stand surety for them. Sorners or sojourners were those who had a general partiality for living at the expense of their neighbours. They are denounced in several acts of parliament, and one of the year 1455 provides that, “wherever sorners be found in existence in time to come, that they be delivered to the king’s sheriffs, and that forthwith the king’s justices do law upon them as upon a thief or riever.” This, it may be noticed, is an entire statue, and a favourable specimen of what Bacon called “the excellent brevity” of the old Scottish acts.
4 Notes to the “Lady of the Lake.”
5 MS. quoted, Pitcairn, ii., 435.
6 Annals of Scotland, edited by J. Haig, i., 415.
Original quote reads;
“The 2d of October, this zeire, the notorious theiffe and rebell, Allaster Mack-gregor, Laird of Glenstrae, quho had escaped the Laird of Arkindlesse handes, was taken by Archbald, Earle of Argyle, quho (befor he wold zeild) had promissed to him to conwoy him saue out of Scotts ground; to performe wich promisse, he caused some seruants conwey him to Berwicke, and be southe it some mylles, and bring him backe againe to Edinbrughe, quher he was hangit, with maney of his kinred, the 20 day of Januarij, in the following zeire, 1604.”
7 Alluding to his having taken the oath, in 1596, to be “his majesty’s household man.”
8 Pitcairn, ii., 435.
9 Pitcairn, ii., 440.
10 Pitcairn, iii., 232.
11 Records of the Privy Council of Scotland, MS., General Register House.
12 London, 1734.
13 Among Captain Johnson’s Scottish ruffians, there is a certain Sawney Beane, an anthropophagist, the patriarch of an extensive clan or progeny – for they were all descended from himself – who lived in a vast cavern, and fed on human flesh. The memoir is accompanied with an appropriate plate, representing Sawney at the mouth of his cavern, looking abroad for victims, while a female descendant conveys two human legs within the cavern to be put in pickle. The gang, it appears, were not discovered until the extent of their appetites produced a sensible effect on the national census.
14 Memorials of the Troubles in Scotland, i., 69.
15 Records of the High Court of Justiciary, MS. General Register House.
16 Abstract from the Books of Adjournal, MS. Ad. Lib. p. 504.
17 In the Introduction to “Rob Roy,” there is a copy of an advertisement in the Edinburgh Courant as to these transactions.
18 Watch undertaken by Macpherson of Cluny, Miscellany of Spalding Club.
19 Justiciary Papers, Advocates’ Library.
20 How much of the spirit which animated the proceedings against the Macgregors yet lingers in minds reared under the shelter of British institutions, may be gathered from the following remarks by an Australian author, incorporating a still more expressive quotation from a writer on America. They are made in reference to the indignant feelings expressed by the bushmen on the occasion of some of their number having been hanged for killing natives:
“The gun is the only law the black fears; the only power that deters him from murder and plunder; and the only available administrator of punishment for his offences.”
“Those who denounce the squatter as a murderer and land-robber, it has been well said in Kennedy’s account of Texas, ‘take no thought of the spirit that has impelled him onwards, of the qualities he is constrained to display, and the social ameliorations of which he is the pioneer. He loves the wilderness for the independence it confers – for the sovereignty which it enables him to wield by dint of his personal energies. The forest is subject to his axe – its inhabitants to his gun.’ By daily toil, and at the risk of his life, he earns his bread, and leads a life of conscious independence, where the grand old forests have stood for ages, and where the foot of the white man never trod before. His life is one of continued labour, solitude, and, too often, warfare. He has an enemy untiring, and often waiting long for his time – cunning, wary, and expert – frequently displaying great courage, and, if he has wrongs to avenge, heedless on whom he wreaks his vengeance, so long as a white man is the victim. Surely, then, the man who is the pioneer of civilisation – who, going out into the wilderness, spends his days in toil and danger, and his nights in dreariness and solitude – who must send out his shepherd with a musket on his shoulder, and sling his rifle at his side, when he rides among his herds – who, making a lodgement in the bush, causes ‘the desert to rejoice, and blossom as the rose,’ and opens the way for the smiling villages, the good old British institutions, and the happy population which follow: surely this man has not laboured in vain, but has deserved, at least, leniency at our hands.” – (Excursions and Adventures in New South Wales, by John Henderson, i., 145.) The author, in explanation of his plea for leniency, says, that he does not mean to justify “the causeless and indiscriminate slaughter which has often taken place.”