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[Glencoe—the most magnificent glen of the Western Highlands of Scotland, the opening into which is herewith represented by an English artist—is held in melancholy remembrance from the execrable massacre of its inhabitants which took place towards the close of the 17th centnry. We extract the following account of this dreadful doing from Sir Walter Scott's Tales ol a Grandfather, as being the most intelligible which we hare seen.]
I Am now to call your attention to an action of the Scottish government, which leaves a stain on the memory of King William; although he probably was not aware of the full extent of the baseness, treachery, and cruelty, for which hiscommission was madea cover. I have formerly mentioned, that some disputes arose concerning the distribution of a large sum of money, with which the Earl of Breadalbane was intrusted, to procure, or rather to purchase, a peace in the Highlands. Lord Breadalbane and those with whom he negotiated disagreed, and the English government, becoming suspicious of the intentions of the Highland chiefs to play fast and loose on the occasion, sent forth a proclamation in the month of August 1691, requiring them, and each of them, to submit to government before the first day of January, 1692. After this period, it was announced that those who had not submitted themselves, should be subjected to the extremities of fire and sword.
This proclamation was framed by the Privy Council, under the influence of Sir John Dalrymple, (Master of Stair, as he was called,) whom I have already mentioned as holding the place of Lord Advocate, and who had in 1690 been raised to be Secretary^of State, in conjunction with Lord Melville. The Master of Stair was at this time an intimate friend of Breadalbane, and it seems that he shared with that nobleman the warm hope and expectation of carrying into execution a plan of retaining a Highland army in the pay of Government, and accomplishing a complete transference of the allegiance of the chiefs to the person of King William. This could not have failed to be a most acceptable piece of service, upon which, if it could be accomplished, the Secretary might justly reckon as a title to his master's further confidence and favour. But when Breadalbane commenced his treaty, he was mortified to find, that, though the Highland chiefs expressed no dislike to King William's money, yet they retained their secret fidelity to King James too strongly to make it safe to assemble them in a military body, as had been proposed. Many chiefs, especially those of the Macdonalds, stood out also for terms, which the Earl of Breadalbane and the Master of Stair considered as extravagant; and the result of the whole was, the.. breaking off the treaty, and the publishing of the severe proclamation already mentioned.
Breadalbane and Stair were greatly disappointed and irritated against those chiefs and tribes, who, being refractory on this occasion, had caused a breach of their favourite scheme. Their thoughts were now turned to revenge; and it appears from Stair's correspondence, that he nourished and dwelt upon the secret hope, that several of the most stubborn chiefs would hold out beyond the term appointed for submission, in which case it was determined that the punishment inflicted should be of the most severe and awful description. That all might be in readiness for the meditated operations, a considerable body of troops were kept in readiness at Inverlochy, and elsewhere. These were destined to act against the refractory clans, and the campaign was to take place in the midst of winter, when it was supposed that the season and weather would prevent the Highlanders from expecting an attack. , .,'.. .i. .: ,"i
But the chiefs received information of these hostile intentions, and one by one submitted to government within the appointed period, thus taking away all pretence of acting against them. It is said that they did so by secret orders from King James, who, having penetrated the designs of Stair, directed the chiefs to comply with the proclamation, rather than incur an attack which they had no means of resisting.
The indemnity, which protected so many victims, and excluded both lawyers and soldiers from a profitable job, seems to have created great disturbance in the mind of the Secretary of State. As chief after chief took the oath of allegiance to King William, and one by one put themselves out of danger, the greater became the anxiety of the Master of Stair to find some legal flaw for excluding some of the Lochaber clans from the benefit of the indemnity. Butno opportunity occurred for exercising these kind intentions, excepting in the memorable, but fortunately the solitary instance, of the clan of the Mac- donalds of Glencoe. This clan inhabited a valley formed by the river Coe, which falls into Lochleven not far from the head of LochEtive. It is distinguished even in that wild country by the sublimity of the mountains, rocks, and precipices, in which it lies buried. The minds of men are formed by their habitations. The Macdonalds of the Glen were not very numerous, seldom mustering above two hundred armed men; but they were bold and daring to a proverb, confident in the strength of their country, and in the protection and support of their kindred tribes, the Macdonalds of Clanranald, Glengarry, Keppoch, Ardnamurchan, and others of that powerful name. They also lay near the possessions of the Campbells, to whom, owing to the predatory habits to which they were especially addicted, they were very bad neighbours, so that blood had at different times been spilt between them.
Maclan of Glencoe (this was the patronymic title of the chief of his clan) was a man of a stately and venerable person and aspect. He possessed both courage and sagacity, and was accustomed to be listened to by the neighbouring chieftains, and to take a lead in their deliberations. Maclan had been deeply engaged both in the campaign of Killiecrankie, and in that which followed under General Buchan; and when the insurgent Highland chiefs held a meeting with the Earl of Breadalbane, at a place called Auchallader, in the month of July 1691, for the purpose of arranging an armistice, Maclan was present with the rest, and, it is said, taxed Breadalbane with the design of retaining a part of the money lodged in his hands for the pacification of the Highlands. The Earl retorted with vehemence, and charged Maclan with a theft of cattle, committed upon some of his lands by a party from Glencoe. Other causes of offence took place, in which old feuds were called to recollection; and Maclan was repeatedly heard to say, he dreaded mischief from no man so much as the Earl of Breadalbane. Yet this unhappy chief was rash enough to stand out to the last moment, and decline to take advantage of King William's indemnity, till the time appointed by the proclamation was well-nigh expired.
The displeasure of the Earl of Breadalbane seems speedily to have communicated itself to the Master of Stair, who, in his correspondence with Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, commanding in the Highlands, expresses the greatest resentment against Maclan of Glencoe, for having, by his interference, helped to mar the bargain between Breadalbane and the Highland chiefs. Accordingly, in a letter of 3d December, the Secretary intimated that government was determined to destroy utterly some of the clans, in order to terrify the others, and that he hoped that, by standing out and refusing to submit under the indemnity, the Macdonalds of Glencoe would fall into the net. This was a month before the time limited by the indemnity, so long did these bloody thoughts occupy the mind of this unprincipled statesman. Ere the term of mercy expired, however. Maclan's own apprehensions, or the advice of friends, dictated to him the necessity of submitting to the same conditions which others had embraced, and he went with his principal followers to take the oath of allegiance to King William. This was a very brief space before the 1st of January, when, by the terms of proclamation, the opportunity of claiming the indemnity was to expire. Maclan was, therefore, much alarmed to find that Colonel Hill, the governor of Fort William, to whom he tendered his oath of allegiance, had no power to receive it, being a military, and not a civil officer. Colonel Hill, however, had sympathy with the distress and even tears of the old chieftain, and gave him a letter to Sir Colin Campbell uf AidkinlfuS, sheriff of Argyleshire, requesting him to receive the " lost sheep," and administer the oath to him, that he might have the advantage of the indemnity, though so late in claiming it.
Maclan hastened from Fort William to Inverary, without evtn turning aside to his own house, though he passed within a mile of it. But the roads, always very bad, were now rendered almost impassable by a storm of snow; so that, with all the haste which the unfortunate chieftain could exert, the fatal 1st of January was past before he reached Inverary. The sheriff, however, seeing that Maclan had complied with the spirit of the statute, in tendering his submission within the given period, under the sincere, though mistaken belief, that he was applying to the person ordered to receive it; and considering also, that, but for the tempestuous weather, it would after all have been offered in presence of the proper law-officer, did not hesitate to administer the oath of allegiance, and sent off an express to the Privy Council, containing an attestation of Maclan's having taken the oaths, and a full explanation of the circumstances which had delayed his doing so until the lapse of the appointed period. The sheriff also wrote to Colonel Hill what he had done, and requested that he would take care that Glencoe should not be annoyed by any military parties until the pleasure of the Council should be known, which he could not doubt would be favourable. Maclan, therefore, returned to his own house, and resided there, as he supposed, in safety, under the protection of the government to which he had sworn allegiance. That he might merit this protection, he convoked his clan, acquainted them with his submission, and commanded them to live peaceably, and give no cause of offence, under pain of his displeasure.
In the meantime, the vindictive Secretary of State had procured orders from his Sovereign respecting the measures to be followed with such of the chiefs as should not have taken the oaths within the term prescribed. The first of these orders, dated IIth January, contained peremptory directions for military execution, by fire and sword, against all who should not have made their submission within the time appointed. It was, however, provided, in order to avoid driving them to desperation, that there was still to remain a power of granting mercy to those clans who, even after the time was past, should still come in and submit themselves. Such were the terms of the first royal warrant, in which Glencoe was not named.
It seems afterwards to have occurred to Stair, that Glencoe would be sheltered under this mitigation of the intended severities, since he had already come in and tendered his allegiance, without waiting for the menace of military force. A second set of instructions were therefore made out on the 16th January. These held out the same indulgence to other clans who should submit themselves at the very last hour, but they closed the gate of mercy against the devoted MacIan who had already done all that was required of others. The words are remarkable:—"As for Maclan of Glencoe, and that tribe, if they can be well distinguished from the rest of the Highlanders, it will be proper, for the vindication of public justice, to extirpate that set of thieves." You will remark the hypocritical clemency and real cruelty of these instructions, which profess a readiness to extend mercy to those who needed it not, (for all the other Highlanders had submitted within the limited time,) and deny it to Glencoe, the only man who had not been able literally to comply with the proclamation, though in all fair construction he had done what it required.
Under what pretence or colouring King William's authority was obtained for such cruel instructions, it would be in vain to inquire. The sheriff of Argyle's letter had never been produced before the Council; and the certificate of Maclan's having taken the oath, was blotted out, and, in the Scottish phrase, deleted. It seems probable that the fact of that chief's submission was altogether concealed from the King, and that he was held out in the light of a desperate and incorrigible leader of banditti, who was the main obstacle to the peace of the Highlands; but if we admit that William acted under such misrepresentations, deep blame will still attach to him for so rashly issuing orders of an import so dreadful. It is remarkable that these fatal instructions are both superscribed and subscribed by the King himself, whereas, in most state papers, the sovereign only superscribes, and they are countersigned by the Secretary of State, who is answerable for their tenor; a responsibility which Stair, on that occasion, was not probably ambitious of claiming.
The Secretary's letters to the military officers, directing the mode of executing the King's orders, betray the deep and savage interest which he personally took in their tenor,and his desire that the bloody execution should be as general as possible. He dwelt in these letters upon the proper time and season for cutting off the devoted tribe. "The winter,"he said, " is the only season in which the Highlanders cannot elude us, or carry their wives, children, and cattle to the mountains. They cannot escape you; for what human constitution can then endure to be long out of house? This is the proper season to maul them, in the long dark nights." He could not suppress his joy that Glencoe had not come in within the term prescribed; and expresses his hearty wishes that others had followed the same course. He assured the soldiers that their powers should be ample; and he exacted from them proportional exertions. He entreated that the thieving tribe of Glencoe be rooted out in earnest; and he was at pains to explain a phrase which is in itself terribly significant. He