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Battle of Glen Fruin

The Colquhoun-Macgregor feud and of the outlawing of the Macgregor name

On 7 February 1603, Alasdair Macgregor of Glenstrae commanding a force of Macgregors, Camerons, Robertsons, Macdonalds, and Macleans defeat the forces of Clan Colquhoun and their allies, led by Alexander Colquhoun, at the Battle of Glen Fruin.

The feud that culminated in the bloody conflict in Glen Fruin is said to have originated (perhaps erroneously) in early winter 1602 when two Macgregor men returning to their home at the head of Loch Rannoch from Glasgow requested food and shelter at Luss. Their request was refused and they were forced to shelter in an empty hut, where they killed a lamb for food.

Alexander Colquhoun, 15th Lord of Colquhoun and 17th of Luss, had the two men apprehended and in his power as feudal baron ordered their execution. Word of their deaths reached their clan chief, Alasdair Macgregor of Glenstrae and on 7 December 1602, he led a raiding party of around eighty men and attacked the Colquhoun lands around Rossdhu Castle, killing two people and driving off three hundred cows, one hundred horses, four hundred sheep, and four hundred goats.

In response to the raid, King James VI granted Colquhoun Letters of Fire and Sword and commissioned him to move against the Macgregors. It is said that James was swayed to act against the Macgregors by shirts dipped in sheep blood carried by sham Colquhoun widows in a spectacle at Stirling Castle.

Angered by the commission against him and determined to enact revenge Alasdair MacGregor of Glenstrae at the head of 400 men from his own clan along with Camerons, Robertsons, MacDonalds and MacLeans moved into the lands of Alexander Colquhoun. The force was armed with “hagbuts, pistols, murrions, mailcoats, axes, two-handed swords and darlochs”.

On 7 February 1603, they entered at the head of Glen Fruin overlooking Colquhoun’s most arable farmland. On hearing of the threat approaching Alexander Colquhoun summoned his retainers and men from Dumbartonshire – a force of around 300 horse and 500 foot – and headed out to meet them, moving up Glen Luss then down Auchengeich Glen.

Macgregor split his force sending his brother John Dubh to Strone Farm to be in a position to cut off Colquhoun’s retreat down Glen Fruin while he took up position in a narrow defile in Auchengeich Glen ready to meet the expected attack.

As Colquhoun’s men moved on Macgregors position they found themselves struggling across a bog, with the horsemen at a severe disadvantage. Macgregor launched a charge downhill and in the bloody melee routed Colquhoun’s force, with over eighty Colquhouns slain. Alexander Colquhoun fled the battle and made for the refuge of Bannachra Castle at the foot of the glen.

On hearing of the battle, a furious James VI gave orders “That unhappie and detestable race” be ‘extirpat and ruttit out”. On 3 April 1603, an Act of the Scottish Privy Council proscribed the use of the name MacGregor, or Gregor, and also prohibited those who had borne the name from carrying arms. In 1604 Alasdair Macgregor of Glenstrae was apprehended and after a trial was executed at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.

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