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Massacre of Glencoe: Last act of the Highland War

The Massacre of Glencoe was part of a wider campaign by the Scottish government against the Jacobite clans of the west and was designed to set an example to the recalcitrant chiefs

In the early hours of 13 February 1692, Scottish government soldiers under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon fell upon their hosts, the Macdonalds of Glencoe. In a cold-blooded breach of highland hospitality, 38 Macdonalds were killed in what became known as the Massacre of Glencoe.

James VII of Scotland and II of England

The Revolution of 1688 and the Highland War

In the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Catholic King James VII of Scotland and II of England was deposed by his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange and his wife Mary (James’s Protestant daughter). William, the stadtholder of the Netherlands, had landed with a Dutch army at Torbay in the English West Country on 5 November 1688. He had been invited to England by a group of lords fearful of a Catholic absolute monarchy and the spectre of a succession of popish monarchs following the birth of James’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, on 10 June 1688.

William was also keen to detach England from a possible alliance with France under Louis XIV — whom the Dutch were at war with — and bring English troops, ships and money to bear against the French. With his support melting away rapidly in the face of William’s advance on London, James fled to France on 23 December. The English Parliament declared that in fleeing the country James had abdicated the throne and offered the crown to William and Mary. On 4 April 1689, the Scottish Parliament ruled that James had forfeited the crown. William and Mary were invested as monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Scotland was a divided country on the issue of the crown. After the persecutions of the Covenanters in southern Scotland by the Stuarts, many Presbyterians were glad to see the back of James. James had also alienated many Episcopalians. However, the House of Stuart had ruled Scotland for over three centuries and despite his failings, there was still support for James and the senior line of the Stuarts. In 1689 most of this support came from the western highlands where ancient loyalties and tradition ran deep, although the Gàidhealtachd had suffered at the hands of the Stuarts in the past.

William of Orange

Supporters of King James became known as Jacobites (from Jacobus, the Latin for James) and in April 1689, shortly after the Scottish Parliament’s ruling, the Jacobites rose in support of King James. With men drawn predominately from the Catholic and Episcopalian western clans, the rising of 1689 was led by John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, a relation of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose who had led the highlanders to a string of victories for the royalist cause of James’s father Charles I during the civil war of the 1640s.

On 27 July 1689, Claverhouse’s highland army routed a Scottish government force led by William and Mary’s commander in Scotland, Major-General Hugh Mackay, at the battle of Killiecrankie. In a major blow to the Jacobite cause, Claverhouse was killed in the fighting. On 21 August the Highlanders, commanded by Brigadier-General Alexander Cannon, suffered a setback when they were defeated at the battle of Dunkeld by a government regiment holding the town. In May 1690 at the battle of Cromdale, the Jacobites led by Major-General Thomas Buchan were defeated by government forces under Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Livingstone, effectively bringing to an end the Jacobite rising of 1689.

As part of the wider European war that was taking place at the time (War of the Grand Alliance 1688-97), the French landed James in Ireland in March 1689 with 4,000 French troops, opening a new front against William. The army was bolstered by large numbers of Irish Catholics but could not seize the northern Protestant stronghold of Londonderry. In 1690, William landed in Ireland and defeated James at the battle of the Boyne on 1 July. After his defeat, James returned to France.

Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair and Secretary of State in Scotland

Prelude to Massacre

In the wake of the Jacobite Rising of 1689, the Scottish government pursued a strategy of coercion and bribery to bring stability to the highlands and end the threat posed by the Jacobite clans. Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair and Secretary of State in Scotland was particularly concerned with the Lochaber clans and in July 1690, Major-General Hugh Mackay was sent to begin construction of a new earth and timber fort on the site of the old Cromwellian fort at Inverlochy, to be named Fort William after the new king.

Mackay appointed the old Cromwellian Colonel John Hill as governor. The Englishman had served in the area during the Cromwellian occupation and had developed an understanding and fondness of the highlanders and their way of life. To serve as a garrison of the new fort, Colonel Hill established a regiment comprised by the amalgamation of three understrength regiments: Earl of Glencairn’s Regiment, Lord Kenmure’s Regiment and the Laird of Grant’s Regiment, along with Weem’s Independent Highland Company.1

In the hope of enticing the Jacobite chiefs a sum of £12,000 sterling was entrusted to John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane for distribution among the Jacobite clans that would renounce their loyalty to James and swear an of oath allegiance to William and Mary. In June 1691, Breadalbane on behalf of the government arranged a meeting with the Jacobite chiefs at the Campbell stronghold of Achallader Castle on the edge of the Rannoch Moor, near the northern end of Loch Tulla. The castle had been badly damaged by Royalist Highlanders in 1646 during the Civil War. It was further damaged by the Macdonalds of Glencoe and Keppoch returning home after the battle of Dunkeld.

At Achallader, Breadalbane met with Major-General Thomas Buchan and a number of the Jacobite clan chiefs including Sir Ewan Cameron of Lochiel, Sir John Maclean of Duart, Alastair Macdonell of Glengarry, Coll Macdonald of Keppoch, John Stewart of Appin, and the 72-year-old Alasdair Ruadh MacIain MacDonald of Glencoe, better known as MacIain. Early into the meeting, MacIain got into a heated quarrel with Breadalbane over cattle that the Macdonalds of Glencoe had stolen from him after which MacIain left the meeting and returned home.

All the chiefs, apart from MacIain who had stormed out, agreed to a cessation of hostilities with a deadline of 1 October for a final settlement. There appears to have been no rush to swear the oath and Glengarry openly stated he would not sign. Breadablane warned them all that the king’s troops were ready to march against them if they did not. The treaty agreed at Achallader was alleged to contain private articles between Breadalbane and the chiefs, in which Breadalbane agreed to raise his own clan and join with the Jacobites should James land with an army.2

The ceasefire was breached in mid-July when a party of soldiers bringing provisions to Fort William got into a scuffle with some of Stewart of Appin’s men in which a number were injured.3 On hearing of the incident, Appin with two birlinns full of armed clansmen sailed up Loch Linnhe in pursuit and sized the soldiers before they reached the fort. Appin wrote to Colonel Hill that he would only release the men after he had got satisfaction. In response, Colonel Hill sent a detachment under Major John Forbes to free the captured men and detain Appin and all those involved. Among those detained by Major Forbes was Alasdair Macdonald, younger son of MacIain of Glencoe. Colonel Hill had them imprisoned at Fort William before they were sent by ship to Glasgow. Shortly after they were released on the instructions of Queen Mary.4

There was still some hope that James might land at the head of an army but this was becoming less likely as time went on and after his forces suffered a heavy defeat in Ireland at the battle of Aughrim on 12 July 1691, the Scottish government hardened its position. In August, King William issued a proclamation requiring the Jacobite chiefs to take the oath of allegiance before their local sheriff or sheriff-depute before 1 January 1692, and threatened that all those who did not comply would “be ansuerable at their highest perill.”

The chiefs agreed to send a messenger to the court of King James at St Germain to request his permission to take the oath unless he could promise to lead an invasion to recover his crowns. This he could not do and so permitted them to submit to William and Mary. James only wrote to the clan chiefs on 12 December, and his messenger did not arrive in the highlands until at least the 25th. There was now a panicked rush to take the oath and most of the chiefs did so except for Glengarry and a few others. It was the 31st before the message reached MacIain, just a day before the deadline.

Perhaps realising that he would not reach the sheriff-depute of Argyllshire at Inveraray in time, MacIain set off for Fort William to submit to Colonel Hill. Upon arrival, a horrified Colonel Hill explained that he could not administer the oath and that only the appointed magistrate in Inveraray, Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinglas, had the authority to do so. Hill wrote a letter for MacIain to give to Ardkinglas, explaining that he had come in time, only to the wrong place.

Blizzard conditions were sweeping Lochaber as MacIain set off from Fort William to make the arduous journey to Inveraray. After crossing Loch Leven at Ballachulish Ferry he sent a ghillie to his home in Glencoe five miles away to leave word of his journey and continued into Appin. As he travelled through Appin, MacIain was detained by soldiers from the grenadier company of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment who were marching to Fort William. Their commanding officer Captain Thomas Drummond held MacIain at Barcaldine Castle for twenty-four hours.

After his release, MacIain continued to Inveraray on the banks of Loch Fyne arriving there on 3 January. He was informed that Ardkinglas had crossed the loch to his home for the new year and that bad weather had delayed his return. Ardkinglas finally arrived back on the 6th but despite the letter from Colonel Hill he refused to give the oath. MacIain broke down in tears and pleaded with him, promising that if any of his clansmen refused it he would ship them off to the war in Flanders as recruits. Ardkinglas relented and administered the oath and then sent the certificate to his sheriff-clerk in Edinburgh. MacIain headed home in the belief that he and his people were safe. Ardkinglas wrote to Colonel Hill:

When the certificate arrived in Edinburgh, the sheriff-clerk presented it to the Clerks of Council who immediately refused it since it was dated after the deadline. The Privy Council had MacIain’s name scored off the indemnity list and now he and his people were in great danger.

Scottish government operations, October 1691 – February 1692

Following the Achallader meeting, Scottish government troops were prepared for operations in the western highlands and islands. Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Livingstone, who had taken over as commander in Scotland from Mackay, was instructed to draw together and encamp substantial forces towards the borders of the highlands and hold them in readiness until further orders came. Reinforcements of regular troops were sent to Inverness and Fort William, while men of the Independent Highland Companies were stationed at the castles of Blair, Ruthven, Balendalloch, Abergaldie and Finlarig. King William was eager for the highland issue to be resolved once and for all, as it would free up Scottish regiments and resources needed for the war against France.

With the clan chiefs rejecting favourable terms and the belief that they would break any agreement they signed, Dalrymple began pushing for a more ruthless approach and a military solution. Ideally, a move against the Jacobite clans would have taken place in the summer of 1691, however with negotiations dragging on until the autumn a winter campaign would have to be conducted. It was supposed that one benefit of operating in winter would be that the clans would not expect an attack until spring at the earliest.

On 1 December, Dalrymple wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel James Hamilton at Fort William stating that “It may be shortly wee may have use of yor garrison, for the winter is the only season in which wee are sure the Highlanders canot escape us, nor carry their wives, bairnes, and cattle to the mountains.” Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton had been appointed as Colonel Hill’s lieutenant-colonel and deputy governor in the summer of 1691, however, he did not share his superiors’ admiration of the highlanders, very much the opposite.

Dalrymple wrote again to Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton on 3 December seeking his advice on a campaign against Glengarry and outlining his position regarding the Macdonalds. He also instructed Hamilton to keep quiet about the matter:

The Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot: Best remembered for its role in the Massacre of Glencoe, the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot was raised by Archibald Campbell, 10th Earl of Argyll in April 1689 to support the revolution of William and Mary and oppose the supporters of King James. Regarded as the first regular highland regiment it could trace its roots back to the Marquis of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot which was raised in April 1639 for service during the First Bishops’ War. Argyll had been in exile in the Netherlands following the execution of his father who had rebelled against King James in 1685 and he accompanied William to England in November 1688. To support the new regime Argyll offered to raise a regiment of 600 men from his estates. The offer was accepted and authorised by Act of the Scottish Parliament. Soldiers of the regiment were clad in the standard-issue redcoat and wore a blue bonnet (fur cap for the grenadiers) and grey breeks. The bulk of the regiment was armed with flintlock muskets with a small number carrying pikes.

On 25 December, 400 men of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment under the command of Major Robert Duncanson received orders to march from Stirling to Dunstaffnage Castle in Argyllshire. From here they were to sail up Loch Linnhe to Fort William and reinforce Colonel Hill. On arrival at Dunstaffnage, they found no boats and were forced to continue their journey overland. They crossed Loch Etive at Connel Ferry and headed up into Appin. On the 31st, while the regiment’s grenadier company was billeted at Barcaldine Castle, its commanding officer Captain Thomas Drummond detained MacIain, who was passing by on his way to Inveraray and held him for twenty-four hours before letting him continue his journey.

Major Duncanson and his regiment continued through Appin and arrived at Ballachulish Ferry on 2 January. Bad weather prevented their crossing and Duncanson was forced to billet his men in the local area until the weather cleared. Part of the regiment was sent into Glencoe to be quartered there, and while MacIain was still away, the soldiers were “were ceiville and kyndlie entertained”. A few days later when the weather was better the regiment crossed Loch Leven and continued on to Fort William. With little room at the fort, most of the regiment was quartered throughout Keppoch.

On 7 January, Dalrymple wrote to Brigadier-General Livingstone informing him that the troops posted at Inverness and Fort William “will be ordered to take in the house of Invergarry, and to destroy intirely the countrey of Lochaber, Locheill’s lands, Keppoch’s, Glengaries, Appine and Glencoe… and I hope the souldiers will not trouble the Government with prisoners.”6

Glengarry’s stronghold of Invergarry Castle was to be the main objective for the coming campaign. Brigadier-General Livingstone described it as “ane extraordinary strong house. It is fortified and cannot be taken without strong cannon.”7 Seizing it therefore would require siege guns which were to be shipped up to Inverness and then transported down the roadless Great Glen. In the midst of winter, this would be extremely difficult and the campaign risked getting bogged down especially if the weather turned nasty.

Dalrymple wrote to Brigadier-General Livingstone on 9 January expressing regret that the “Macdonalds had not divided” and that “Keppoch and McKean of Glencoe are safe” after he learned that they had taken the oath. He told Livingstone: “The troops are to goe first towards Invergarry, and to destroy all that countrey that hath not taken the benefite of the indemnity.” Then on the 11th orders drawn up by Dalrymple and signed by King William were dispatched to Livingstone:

Along with the orders Dalrymple sent a letter to Livingstone writing: “I have no great kindness to Keppoch or Glencoe, and it’s well that their people are in mercy”. Then before he had finished the letter: “Just now my Lord Argile tells me that Glenco hath not taken the oathes, at which I rejoice, it’s a great work of charity to be exact in rooting out that damnable sect, the worst in all the Highlands.” The Macdonalds of Glencoe were a small and unpopular clan notorious for raiding and stealing cattle from their neighbours and presented the perfected target for Dalrymple. He hoped that making an example of them would set an example to other chiefs.

On 16 January additional instructions were dispatched to Brigadier-General Livingstone, again drawn up by Dalrymple and signed by King William, with a copy also sent to Colonel Hill. Glengarry would be allowed to submit if he took the oath and surrendered Invergarry Castle. Failing this Invergarry was to be taken by force. As for the Macdonalds of Glencoe Dalrymple was determined to eradicate them: “If McKean of Glencoe, and that tribe, can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the publick justice to extirpate that sect of thieves.” On the same day, Dalrymple sent a message to Colonel Hill: “I shall entreat you, that for a just vengeance and publick example, the theeving tribe of Glencoe may be rooted out to purpose” and that Argyll’s regiment was to be used to “cutt them off”.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton was informed by Brigadier-General Livingstone on 18 January that although Colonel Hill had orders to fall upon the rebel clans he “must be the principall actor in it”.9 Whether due to his old age and infirmity that hindered active service or because of his kindheartedness towards the highlanders, Livingstone had reservations about Colonel Hill executing such orders and was now effectively bypassing him, ensuring that Hamilton would take the lead and begin preparations. On the 23rd, Livingstone sent Hamilton orders that would lead directly to the Massacre of Glencoe:

Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton in concert with Major Duncanson began to plan the attack on the Macdonalds of Glencoe. Firstly a detachment from Argyll’s regiment would march south from Fort William and billet among the Macdonalds for some time. The day before the attack was to commence Hamilton with Hill’s regiment and Duncanson with Argyll’s regiment would march south to Ballachulish Ferry. Here Duncanson would cross and wait at Ballachulish while Hamilton marched along the northern shore of Loch Leven to Kinlochleven. The detachment in Glencoe would then be ordered to begin the killing before Duncanson moved in from the west and Hamilton from the east trapping the Macdonalds in a pincer, the high mountains on either side of the glen hindering any escape.

Major Duncanson picked 62-year-old Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon to command the Glencoe detachment. A heavy drinker, Glenlyon had been financially ruined in part by raids on his lands by the Macdonalds of Keppoch and Glencoe and had been forced to take a commission in Argyll’s regiment to supplement his meagre income. His niece was married to MacIain’s younger son Alasdair and this Duncanson hoped would disarm any suspicion that the soldiers were there to cause harm. Glenlyon was kept in the dark about the plans for the massacre and would know nothing about them until the time came.

The Massacre of Glencoe

On 1 February, Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, commanding his own company and Captain Drummond’s grenadier company numbering 120 in total, marched from their quarters in Keppoch to Ballachulish Ferry, crossed Loch Leven and continued on towards Glencoe. As they approached the glen they were met by MacIain’s eldest son Iain Macdonald and 20 armed clansmen inquiring what their purpose was. Glenlyon sent Lieutenant Lindsay forward with the copy of Colonel Hill’s orders for quartering and gave his word that they intended no harm and only required quarters before they marched against Glengarry.

Glenlyon and his men were welcomed and the soldiers were quartered in the settlements throughout the glen. MacIain, his sons Iain and Alasdair, and other prominent men housed up to a dozen soldiers in their homes while the smaller dwellings accommodated three to five soldiers each. Glenlyon and the two lowland officers, Lieutenant Lindsay and Ensign Lundie, quartered at Inverrigan a short distance from MacIain’s home at Polveig.

With the arrival of so many soldiers in the glen, MacIain thought it wise to have all the unmarried girls sent to his summerhouse in Glean Leac na Muidhe, he also had all of the clan’s weapons sent there for safekeeping just in case Glenlyon and his soldiers attempted to disarm the clan.

For nearly two weeks, the Macdonalds fed and entertained Glenlyon and his men. Each morning Glenlyon would visit his niece’s house and at night would play cards and drink with MacIain and his two sons into the early hours. As Glenlyon’s men were predominantly highlanders they would have conversed with their hosts in Gaelic in surroundings identical to their own homes and glens. During the day the soldiers would drill and in the evenings by the fireside, they would eat and drink in friendly surroundings unaware of what had been planned nor what they would soon be ordered to do.

Unable to delay the inevitable any longer a greatly grieved Colonel Hill gave Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton his orders for Glencoe on 12 February:

Later that day Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton and Major Duncanson drew their regiments together and marched south to Ballachullish Ferry “in the most hidious Storme of wind and snow”. Before Duncanson shipped his soldiers across Loch Leven, Hamilton issued him his orders:

Major Duncanon billeted his men in Ballachulish and the surrounding area while Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton with his regiment remained on the northern side of Loch Leven ready to march to Kinlochleven. That evening as a snowstorm began to sweep across the region Duncanson wrote his orders for Glenlyon and stated what would happen if he failed to carry them out:

Captain Thomas Drummond, whose company of grenadiers was with Glenlyon, was sent into Glencoe with the orders. As captain of the grenadiers, he was senior captain in the regiment and was sent to Glencoe not only because his company was there but also to ensure that the orders were carried out. Drummond arrived after midnight at Inverrigan and handed them over to Glenlyon. The orders would have come as a terrible shock to Glenlyon however he resolved to carry them out for fear that he would lose his commission.

Loch Achtriochtan in Glencoe | Image: Neil Ritchie, editor

In the blizzard conditions that were sweeping the glen getting the orders to the soldiers in the various settlements would have been difficult. Glenlyon had his men muster at Inverrigan just before 0500 but made no attempt to secure the southern passes to prevent escape. Some soldiers came to the home of Iain Macdonald and shouted a warning through his window. He immediately got out of bed and headed to Inverrigan where Glenlyon was quartered. Here he found Glenlyon and his men preparing their arms. Glenlyon was asked what the purpose was and he replied that orders had come through for him to march against Glengarry and not to worry, for if he had any ill intentions he would have warned his niece.14 Iain Macdonald headed home and went back to bed. At 0500 Glenlyon dispatched parties back to the settlements in the glen, the movement of which (perhaps intentionally) would have alerted many.

At the settlement of Polveig, the killing began. Lieutenant Lindsay and Ensign Lundie with their party called at MacIain’s home on the banks of the River Coe. They stated that they were heading off to Glengarry and wished to thank the chief for his hospitality. As MacIain got out of his bed to greet them he was met with a musket volley, falling dead instantly. Two of his servants were also killed and a third was wounded. MacIain’s wife was stripped naked and cast out into the snow before the soldiers set fire to the house.

Iain Macdonald was awoken by his servant and from his front door observed around twenty soldiers with their bayonets fixed approaching his house. He immediately fled to the hills. His brother Alsadair was also warned by his servant and was able to escape before the soldiers arrived. As the brothers fled the glen they could hear the musket fire coming from the settlements of Achnacone and Inverrigan.

At Achnacone, Sergent Barber and a party of soldiers arrived at the home of Macdonald of Achnacone where they found Achnacone, his brother Macdonald of Achtriochtan, and eight more men sitting around the fire. The soldiers discharged their muskets upon them killing Achtriochtan and four more while wounding Achnacone and another three. Sergent Barber went to Achnacone and asked him if he was still alive. He answered that he was and wished to die outside. Barber granted his request and had him taken outside to be shot. As he was led out Achnacone threw his plaid over the faces of the soldiers and made his escape. Three more men who were inside escaped by breaking through the back of the house. When Achtriochtan’s body was later searched they found that he had on him a letter of protection from Colonel Hill.

At Inveriggan nine men, including Glenlyon’s host Macdonald of Inveriggan, were bound hand and foot before being shot one by one by the side of a house. Glenlyon attempted to save the life of one young man, however, Captain Drummond came over and asked “how he came to be saved, in respect of the orders that were given” and then shot him dead. Another young boy ran to Glenlyon begging to be saved but he too was shot and killed by Drummond. Macdonald of Inveriggan, like Achtriochtan, was later found to have had a letter of protection from Colonel Hill.

Most of the able-bodied men were able to escape and the only targets left were the old and the infirm. The soldiers began setting fire to the houses and barns while the fleeing Macdonalds attempted to make their way to neighbouring Stewart and Campbell lands to seek refuge. 38 Macdonald men and boys were killed by Glenlyon’s soldiers but many more survivors who were able to flee would perish in the freezing conditions.

Major Duncanson’s force was late in arriving in the glen and found that most of the inhabitants had been able to escape. Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, delayed by the atrocious weather, didn’t arrive at Kinlochleven until around 1100. From here Hamilton sent out parties towards Glencoe with orders to “kill all the men that came in their way.” It’s unclear how Hamilton intended to cut off the eastern end of the glen. Some historians have suggested that he planned to cross into Glencoe between Stob Mhic Mhartuin and Beinn Bheag via what later became known as the ‘Devil’s Staircase’.15 This route would have been impracticable due to the distance, the terrain and the weather conditions. What is more likely is that Hamilton planned to move along the southern side of Loch Leven. Either way, he had failed to seal off the eastern escape routes.

The Glencoe massacre had been botched, partly due to the unwillingness of many of the soldiers under Glenlyon’s command to turn on their hosts and partly due to the weather conditions. Despite being ordered to secure escape routes, Glenlyon had not done so. And while MacIain had been killed his two sons were able to get away to safety.

The entire force then marched back to Fort William driving over 400 of the Macdonalds cattle along with sheep, goats and horses with them. They left behind the smouldering remains of homes they had been welcomed into and the lifeless bodies of men who had shared their meal and drink with them.


On 28 February, Colonel Hill reported that the men of Glencoe who had escaped the massacre “lie dormant in caves and remote places”.16 He advised that it would be best if they were allowed to submit to King William’s mercy since enough had been killed as an example and to vindicate public justice. He felt that it would be too troublesome to go after them all and believed that they would “join with other broken men, and be hurtful to the country.”

Colonel Hill also reported that the “winter campaign put the Highlanders under great consteriation, and they were very much affrighted, and are all very submissive and humble.” All of the clan chiefs who had not signed the oath of allegiance rushed to do so when news of the Glencoe massacre reached them.

News of the massacre was not long in reaching Edinburgh and by early March an unrepentant Dalrymple complained to Colonel Hill that in London, “There is much talk of it… that they are murdered in their beds after they had taken the alleagance… All I regret is, that any of the sect gote away and there is necessity to prosecute them to the utmost.”

In 1695 the Scottish parliament conducted an inquiry into the massacre. Its report denounced it as a “barbarous and inhumane” murder, and considered it as ‘murder under trust’ under Scots law since the soldiers had turned on their hosts. The report found that Dalrymple “had exceeded your majesty’s instructions towards the killing and destruction of the Glenco men.”17

While Brigadier-General Livingstone and Colonel Hill were cleared of any wrongdoing, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton was not cleared and was ordered “to be denounced and seiz’d” and that he should face prosecution. Major Duncanoson was also to be prosecuted along with Glenlyon, Captain Drummond, Lieutenant Lindsay, Ensign Lundie and Sergeant Barber. In the end, no one was prosecuted for their role in the Massacre of Glencoe.


  1. Glencairn’s, Kenmure’s and Grant’s regiments were raised in April 1689 to support the revolution. ↩︎
  2. Culloden Papers: Comprising an Extensive and Interesting Correspondence from the Year 1625 to 1748, p 18; Breadalbane was known for double-dealing and earned the nickname ‘Slippery John’. When the allegations of his secret negotiations with the Jacobite chiefs were discovered, he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle for a short time. ↩︎
  3. Letters and State Papers Chiefly Addressed to George, Earl of Melville, Secretary of State for Scotland, 1689-1691 (Edinburgh 1843), p 631. ↩︎
  4. Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William and Mary, 1691-2, (London 1898), p 490. ↩︎
  5. Highland Papers: Papers Illustrative of the Political Condition of the Highlands of Scotland, 1689-1696 (Maitland Club 1845), p 52. ↩︎
  6. Ibid, p 56. ↩︎
  7. Ibid, p 29. ↩︎
  8. Ibid, p 63. ↩︎
  9. ↩︎
  10. ↩︎
  11. ↩︎
  12. ↩︎
  13. ↩︎
  14. A Narrative of the Massace of Glenco, (London 1703), p 12. ↩︎
  15. The name ‘Devil’s Staircase’ was given to the steep hairpin bends by soldiers working on this stretch of Major William Caulfeild’s Stirling to Fort William military road constructed 1748-1753. ↩︎
  16. State Papers Domestic: SP 8/12 f.79, Colonel John Hill to Earl of Portland, 28 February 1692. ↩︎
  17. A Narrative of the Massace of Glenco, p 35. ↩︎

Cite this article: Ritchie, N. (17 February 2024). Massacre of Glencoe: Last act of the Highland War.

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of and is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. Neil has a keen interest in the military history of Scotland and in particular the military history of the Jacobite risings.

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