Rob Roy Macgregor: Scottish Outlaw And Hero

Rob Roy MacGregor was a Highland outlaw and Scottish hero who played a part in the Jacobite Rebellions.

Scotland has a rich historical tapestry that spans thousands of years. It's also a country that has nurtured its fair share of heroes like the real MacBeth, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Rob Roy MacGregor, or "Red Rob" as he was sometimes known, was another Scottish hero who acquired legend status despite various discrepancies in the telling and re-telling of his many exploits and adventures.

Robert MacGregor was born in 1671 in Glen Gyle, Scotland, the son of Donald MacGregor, a soldier who fought in the armies of King Charles II. After leaving the employ of the King, Donald went into the cattle business. In those days going into the cattle business sometimes meant stealing the shaggy black beasts from neighbors and surrounding territories. Glen Gyle also happened to be a main cattle droving route so the pickings were often good.

Young MacGregor eventually took over the business, soon proving more adept at his chosen livelihood than his father. Sometimes Rob traded legitimately, other times his dealings were more unofficial. It's said he didn't shy away from using blackmail, bribery and "pay-offs" to achieve his goals. A Highlander of the old school, MacGregor believed that bribery and blackmail were an age-old and honourable practice. Even the Black Watch, a Scottish regiment specifically created in 1725 to guard against cattle thieving, looked the other way if paid adequate protection money.

MacGregor was also a known sympathiser to the Jacobite cause which extended over a period of around 50 years, from 1688 to 1745. Jacobites were supporters of the royal Stuart line, most notably King James II and his descendants. There were a total of five Jacobite rebellions, or wars, as they were sometimes known. The movement was particularly strong in Scotland and Wales. The culmination of the last rebellion occurred at the battle of Culloden in 1746 where the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, most of them loyal Scottish clansmen, were killed or forced into exile.

Despite numerous royal intrigues and machinations initiated by Jacobite sympathisers, Rob Roy MacGregor stayed shy of any serious dealings with the movement during his early years. Instead he married, started a family and kept his full attention on his cattle business. When a few hard winters brought his family and kinsmen close to starvation, MacGregor was forced to raid the Lowlands for cattle. Because he was such an expert at secreting entire herds away under the noses of his neighbors, he was never caught and by 1711, his cattle business was once more thriving. Impressed with the MacGregor's business acumen, the Duke of Montrose, a rich landowner under whose protection the MacGregor clan lived, offered Rob a business deal -- to buy a herd of sturdy cattle, which would be fattened and then resold for considerable profit. MacGregor accepted and sent an assistant to collect the money from Montrose. Unfortunately the man made off with the Duke's 1000 pounds.

Montrose was furious and branded MacGregor an outlaw and brigand. The Duke seized MacGregor's lands and burned down his home without allowing him to explain what had happened or to re-pay the stolen funds. Naturally MacGregor swore revenge.

From 1713-1720 Rob Roy MacGregor lived the life of an outlaw and soon gained folk hero status among his fellow Highlanders. Not only did he initiate many successful raids against the Duke of Montrose, he also took part in various Jacobite battles and skirmishes. The most

notable was the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. Some historians have differing opinions on the extent of MacGregor's involvement in this battle. One theory suggests that he returned from a special mission too late to take part in the fighting. Another theory says that he and

his clan merely watched the battle from a safe distance, their only interest in whatever plunder might result after the dust settled. MacGregor also played a part in some lesser skirmishes like the one at Glen Shiel in 1719.

By 1720 Rob Roy MacGregor had not only gained considerable notoriety for his open defiance against the British, he'd also escaped their prisons on numerous occasions. But after a few years of living the life of a brigand and outlaw, he decided to return home to his family and clansman in Balquhidder. He was eventually recaptured in 1726 and escorted to the infamous Newgate prison in London, a goal from which he could not escape. MacGregor was sentenced to transportation away from his homeland to live the rest of his life as an bonded servant in Barbados. He was pardon before the order was carried out and in 1727 returned home to his family and kinsmen. They labelled him their Scottish "Robin Hood" and Rob Roy MacGregor lived out the rest of his life tending his family and his cattle and died in 1764 at the age of 63.

After MacGregor's death his legendary status lived on. Sir Walter Scott, Daniel Defoe and English poet, William Wordsworth, wrote novels, stories and epic poems about Rob Roy MacGregor that are still read and enjoyed today. And in the Highlands of Scotland, around a lake called Loch Lomond, there are statues and historical markers that also tell the colorful tales of Rob Roy MacGregor, Scottish outlaw and hero.

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