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Battle of Glen Fruin

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

The Battle of Glen Fruin was a Scottish clan battle fought on 7 February 1603 between the Clan Gregor (or MacGregor) and its allies on one side, and the Clan Colquhoun and its allies on the other. The battle took place in Glen Fruin, a valley near Loch Lomond in Dunbartonshire, Scotland. The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the MacGregors, but also led to their persecution and outlawry by King James VI.

The Background of the Feud The feud between the MacGregors and the Colquhouns had its roots in the land disputes and cattle raids that were common among Scottish clans at that time. The MacGregors were a powerful clan that claimed descent from King Alpin of Dalriada, but they had lost much of their ancestral lands to other clans such as the Campbells, Buchanans, Drummonds and Colquhouns.

The MacGregors resorted to raiding their neighbours’ lands for cattle and other goods to survive. The Colquhouns were a wealthy clan that owned large estates around Loch Lomond and Dumbarton. They had royal connections and enjoyed legal protection from the crown. They also had a strong military force that included cavalry and musketeers. The Colquhouns were often at odds with the MacGregors over their raids and encroachments on their lands. The feud escalated in 1602 when two young MacGregors killed two Colquhoun foresters who had tried to stop them from hunting deer on Colquhoun’s land.

The Colquhouns retaliated by killing several MacGregors who were travelling through their territory. The MacGregors then sought revenge by raiding more Colquhoun lands and burning down houses.

In early 1603, Allaster MacGregor of Glenstra, the chief of Clan Gregor, decided to launch a major raid on Colquhoun’s lands with about 400 men. He was joined by some allies from Clan Cameron, Clan Grant and Clan MacFarlane.

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 of Luss, the chief of Clan Colquhoun, summoned his retainers and men from Dumbartonshire – a force of around 300 horsemen and 500 foot soldiers – and headed out to meet them, moving up Glen Luss then down Auchengeich Glen.

The two forces met near Auchengeich Burn at about noon. The battle began with an exchange of musket fire between some Colquhoun musketeers and some MacGregor archers. Then both sides charged at each other with swords and axes. The battle was fierce and bloody, with many casualties on both sides. However, the tide turned in favour of the MacGregors when they received reinforcements from another group of about 200 men led by Allaster’s brother John Dubh (Black John) who had taken a different route through Rossdhu Park.

The fresh MacGregor force attacked the rear flank of the Colquhouns who were already engaged with Allaster’s men at the front. This caused panic among the Colquhouns who began to retreat towards Auchengeich Burn. However, the burn was swollen by recent rains and many Colquhouns drowned or were killed while trying to cross it.

Some managed to escape through Rossdhu Park where they encountered another group of MacGregors who pursued them all the way back to Luss. The battle lasted for about two hours and ended with a complete rout of the Colquhouns. According to some sources, about 200-300 Colquhouns were killed while only two or three MacGregors died. Other sources suggest that both sides suffered heavy losses.

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.

Editorial
Editorial
Online publication covering Scottish history, heritage and archaeology. Featuring articles, reviews, historic attractions, places to visit, and events. mail@scottishhistory.org

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