The Massacre of Glencoe

On this day in Scottish History

massacre of glencoe
Winter in Glen Coe | Image credit: © Neil Ritchie, editor

In the early hours of the 13th February 1692, Scottish Government soldiers under the command of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon carry out the Massacre of Glencoe on their MacDonald hosts.

The action was ordered by Sir John Dalrymple, Secretary of State of Scotland, as punishment for the MacDonald’s chief, MacIain, not swearing the oath of loyalty to the new king, William of Orange, before the deadline of 31st December 1691.

Thirty-eight MacDonald men were killed by the troops and dozens of more MacDonalds, including women and children, would later perish in the freezing blizzard conditions sweeping the glen.

Often incorrectly labelled as a massacre committed by Clan Campbell, the Massacre of Glencoe was carried out by elements of the Scots Army acting under orders from the Secretary of State and the Scottish Government.

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sones doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution attfyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the full-filling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692.
For their Majesties service”

Further reading:

The Glencoe Massacre of 1692

The Battle of Killiecrankie: The First Jacobite Campaign, 1689-1691, (2018), Jonathan D. Oates, Helion and Company

Glencoe and the End of the Highland War, (1998), Paul Hopkins, John Donald Publishers Ltd

Managing the Early-Modern Periphery: Highland Policy and the Highland Judicial Commission, c.1692-c.1705, Allan Kennedy, The Scottish Historical Review, Volume XCVI, No. 242, April 2017, pages 32–60