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Glencoe Massacre: Truth or Spin?

Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 25th February 2015, last updated: 28th April 2020

The Glencoe Massacre

The story of the Glencoe Massacre is one every British person knows.

In primary schools children were taught that the MacDonalds of Glencoe were massacred by the Campbells, a neighbouring clan who had an ancient animosity towards the MacDonalds. But this is a tangled version of the truth based on circumstantial facts concocted for political expediency.

Government members knew how to divide and conquer, setting off one clan against another so blame could be deflected, and the real instigators never brought to justice. Clan rivalry shares some of the blame, but only indirectly.

When was the Glencoe Massacre?

The story began three years after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, with the massacre itself taking place on the 13 February 1692

What was the root cause of the Glencoe Massacre?

The emerging united kingdom of England, Ireland and Scotland didn’t want a Catholic king, but King James II of England & VII of Scotland was becoming increasingly Catholic. When he insisted his son and heir be raised as a Catholic that was the last straw for a country who had fought for generations to overcome Papal authority. William of Orange (Charles I’s grandson) invaded Britain, James fled, and Parliament took James’s flight for abdication. James’s protestant daughter Mary, who was married to William of Orange, was invited to be co-regent with her husband.

Glencoe Massacre

William of Orange

Because James was a Stuart and of Scottish descent, he had great support among the Highland clans. This support was a potential problem for William of Orange, now William III. It could have caused another civil war. Some of the clans could see how things were going politically and decided to get behind the winning team. Some branches of the Campbells were of this mind. Others were fiercely dedicated to James II, and believed he would re-gain the crown with the help of France.

John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane was an ambitious man. As a member of the Scottish Privy Council he could see that backing William III and the new regime was the sensible option. However, he hedged his bets, because the chances of James reclaiming the crown were not impossible either. You can see why they called him ‘slippery John’, one could never be sure which side he was on.

In order to prove his allegiance to the new regime, Breadalbane offered to bring the Highland clan chiefs together to sign an oath pledging allegiance to William and Mary. It was going to take bribery. So the British Government entrusted a large sum of money to Breadalbane so he could give £12,000 to each clan chief who agreed to sign the oath.

Glencoe Massacre

The Remains of Achallader Castle today

On 30th June 1691 John Campbell organised a meeting at Achallader castle. At this meeting he proposed the oath to the clan chiefs. Alistair MacIain, the chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe was also at the meeting. These MacDonalds were remants of an older clan who had fallen on hard times. In the past they were the Lords of the Isles and masters of a great deal of land and fortune. Now they were poor and had to resort to stealing cattle from their neighbours in order to survive. This irritated their neighbours, the Campbells. But they were not the only clan who resorted to looting more affluent neighbours.

More importantly perhaps, MacIain, the clan chief was related by marriage to the Campbells.  Breadalbane reminded MacIain that he owed him money for cattle. His share of £12,000 minus what he owed, left him so far out of pocket he would get nothing. This made him rather unhappy. Others were getting a raw deal out of it too. It is said that slippery John Campbell of Breadalbane never gave any of the money to the chiefs. They had another worry too: what if James II came back with an army to find his nobles had signed an oath with his enemy?

After some heated discussion Breadalbane proposed a second secret oath just between them: that if James II came back with the French army then the oath to William and Mary would be torn up and they would automatically back James again. This almost satisfied the chiefs, but they wanted permission to sign from the exiled James. William III had assured them there would be dire consequences for those who didn’t sign. They didn’t want any trouble from either side. So a letter was drafted and sent covertly to James in France, while the deadline for signing the oath marched towards them.

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James, the exiled King

The deadline was 31st December 1691. The clan chiefs held out until they had received James’s reply before they signed anything. In those days rich Catholic France, backed by the Vatican, was a European superpower. If James could persuade the French King to help him then his return to power was a real possibility. This is why they waited. There really was no question of real allegiance to William and Mary, not while this hope existed. Meanwhile James was trying to muster an army.

In September 1691 rumour came of an invasion from France. James, however, couldn’t get the support he needed from Louis XIV before the deadline, so he sent his permission to the clan chiefs to sign the oath. It was the 12th December when the letter was despatched from France. In those days letters took a long time to reach their destination. This hapless letter took even longer.

Enter John Dallrymple, the Secretary of State for Scotland. This career politician had worked for James II as Secretary of State. But when James was deposed he quickly switched allegiance to William and Mary. He was a lowlander, with a particular disliking of the Lochaber clans, including the MacDonalds of Glencoe. He found them savage and rebellious and in no way conducive to the modern British Union. He wanted to bring them to heel, and he was a ruthless man.

Glencoe Massacre

John Dallrymple, Master of Stair

James’s letter to the clan chiefs was intercepted and read by government spies in London. The secret deal was exposed, and a furious Dallrymple wanted to make an example of the clans. The letter was resealed, leisurely, and sent on to Edinburgh. Meanwhile Dallrymple despatched 400 soldiers to Fort William, a new fortress built to protect William’s interests in the Highlands. These soldiers were on stand-by to punish any clan who didn’t make the deadline.

James’s letter reached Edinburgh on 21st December, with 10 days to go til the deadline. But it still had to travel into the remote highlands in the middle of winter, and then the message had to be passed from valley to valley, clan to clan. As Dallrymple rubbed his hands in anticipation of bloodshed, the clan chiefs waited for their king’s permission.

Finally the letter reached Athol, from there messengers rode out to Glengarry. The clan chief at Glengarry detained the messengers, some say he wanted to embarrass the Cameron chief at Lochiel in the next valley by making him late for the signing. When it finally arrived at Lochiel and Keppoch, there were 24 hours left to get it to Rannoch Moor. From there word was passed on to Chief MacIain at Glencoe. But the deadline was upon him and there was no way he would make it to the signing at Inverary in the bad weather. So he lost no time in getting to Fort William instead.

Colonel John Hill was the governor at Fort William, and he received MacIain, but assured him he was not authorised to receive his oath of allegiance, and that he must at all speed get to Inveraray to Sir Colin Campbell, the man appointed to receive the signatures. However, he gave MacIain a letter of protection, saying he was satisfied MacIain had honoured the spirit of the oath, just not arrived at the right location. The letter urged Sir Colin to receive his oath in good faith.

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Looking south over Glencoe from The Devil’s Staircase. Attr. Colin & David Sousa, Wikimedia commons

MacIain trudged off again through the winter weather, taking 3 days to arrive in Inveraray. He and his men had to cross Campbell territory to get there. They were intercepted by Government soldiers who questioned him despite Colonel Hill’s letter of protection. Some historians believe they deliberately detained him to make him even later. When he got to Inveraray it was now the 2nd January, and Sir Colin had already left town for Hogmanay, and wouldn’t be back for 3 days.

MacIain and his men waited it out at a tavern. This was Campbell territory and they were surrounded by Campbells. When Sir Colin returned he accepted MacIain’s explanation, and the letter from Colonel Hill, and allowed MacIain to add his signature to the oath. There was now MacIain’s signature, the letter from Colonel Hill, and a further letter from Sir Colin recommending that MacIain’s oath be accepted, agreeing with Colonel Hill that the spirit of his oath and his effort to make it had been genuine.

Heaving a sigh of relief MacIain and his men returned to Glencoe, satisfied they had done what was required and their safety would be assured. The package with the oath signatures, the letters, and other business was sent by dispatch to Edinburgh Privy Council. Colonel John Hill sent a letter to MacIain in Glencoe, as was the protocol, stating that clan MacDonald was now under the protection of the garrison at Fort William.

When the package of oaths was presented before the Privy Council in Edinburgh, among them was another letter from the sheriff asking whether Chief MacIain’s signature should be accepted or not. The clerks of the Privy Council, among whom were powerful Campbell lawyers, would first have put all the information into a presentable order to come before the Privy Council. Historians suspect that some corruption of the information may have taken place here, but this can’t be proved.

Whatever was presented to the Privy Council caused them to declare that MacIain’s signature was unacceptable, an illegal late submission, and to order it be struck from the record.

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The days leading up to the Glencoe Massacre

Just five days after MacIain had signed the oath, Dallrymple received word that his name had been removed from the list due to a ‘technical fault’. Dallrymple was gleeful. He had found his example. He wrote: ‘just now my Lord Argyll tells me that Glencoe hath not taken the oath, at which I rejoice.’ Other clans had not taken the oath either, bad weather or refusal had prevented them. But Dallrymple singled out the MacDonald Clan. He went on to say ‘It’s an act of great charity to be exact in routing out that damnable sept, the worst in all the highlands.’

Quite why he hated the MacDonalds more than any other clan is not known. They may have been naturally rebellious and given to banditry, but they were certainly not the only clan with those qualities. Other rebellious clans, those who had engaged in the secret deal with Breadalbane, were more powerful, with better connections. The MacDonalds were insignificant enough to be made an example of without reprisals from other clans. Fate and circumstance had dealt an already unfortunate clan a nasty card.

Dallrymple urged the king to act, making particular reference to the MacDonald Clan. The commander-in-chief in London received the king’s final instructions which he sent back to Dallrymple in Edinburgh. Colonel Hill tried to postpone military action against the highlanders. He wanted to give them a chance to make their case. But he was overruled.

Two of his officers, Major Duncanson and Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton planned the attack, acting directly on specific orders from Dallrymple. Dallrymple knew that MacIain and the MacDonalds were under the illusion of safety, and he used that knowledge to plan a covert action. It was also an illegal action, a form of treason known as ‘slaughter under trust’.

Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon was given the command of two companies of about 120 men in total. On 1st February 1692, ten days before the massacre, they were ordered to march into Glencoe and await further instructions. It is unlikely that Glenlyon knew at this point what he would be ordered to do next.

Glencoe Massacre

Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon

At 60 years old Robert Campbell of Glenlyon had never made it higher than captain. He was not a successful man. He was a heavy drinker and an inveterate gambler, a black sheep of the Campbell family. Historians have speculated that this man was chosen especially for the job because of certain weaknesses in his character, and because no one would care if he took the fall. An even more cynical reason presents itself: Glenlyon was related to MacIain. The betrayal would be all the more acute.

When the MacDonalds of Glencoe saw the redcoats marching over their valley it must have been quite a shock, however they were under the protection of Fort William garrison and had no reason to fear these soldiers. Instead at the company’s request to be billeted, they welcomed them into their homes and gave them food and drink.

Glenlyon told the Chief they were collecting taxes from each clan, by order of Colonel Hill. He could even produce papers to that effect. This satisfied the MacDonalds. The captain, Glenlyon, was billeted in the Clan Chief’s own house. Glenlyon’s neice was married to MacIain’s youngest son, and Glenlyon also visited daily with his niece and her new family. The rest of the company were billeted in homes up and down the valley about 3 or 4 to a house. Unknown to Clan MacDonald fatal danger now lay within the heart of each home.

For ten days the soldiers stayed, ate and drank, played cards, gambled and sang songs. Some even shared female beds. They belonged to the same highland culture; in that culture it is understood if you invite a stranger into your home and break bread with them, they are no longer a stranger but a trusted friend. Mutual protection was assumed. This code was sacred to Highlanders. Ten days and nights, then, of friendship and community the hosts shared with these soldiers, and the soldiers shared with their hosts. It makes what happened next all the more appalling.

Glencoe massacre

Glencoe Memorial Cross

What happened on the day of the Glencoe Massacre?

On the night before the massacre Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, who was dining with his host, Alistair MacIain and his family, received a dispatch from Major Duncanson, who was stationed outside the glen. The letter is now an infamous one.

It said: by order of the king, at five o’clock the next morning every member of Clan MacDonald under seventy must be ‘put to the sword’, and on no account must the ‘old foxe and his sones’ escape the slaughter. If Glenlyon did not carry out this command he would be ‘dealt with as one not true to King nor government’ in other words he would be deemed guilty of treason.

It is hard to imagine with what misgiving Glenlyon relayed this message secretly to the other soldiers billeted along the valley that night. But that was the command and it had to be carried out.

Major Duncanson told Captain Campbell he would join him, but he ordered him to start the action 2 hours before he was due to arrive on the scene. In the end bad weather forced him to arrive 6 hours later. A Campbell was to be the main instigator. Very few of the soldiers bore the Campbell name. Most were lowlanders. But the name Campbell had to stick to this crime one way or another.

Next morning on the 13th February 1692, in the dark of early morning, the massacre began. MacIain was slaughtered in his bed, but MacIain’s two eldest sons both managed to escape into the mountains. In total around 38 people were killed. All along the valley crofts were set on fire. It is not known exactly how many of the women and children who escaped later died of exposure. Estimates range between 40 and 300.

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Glencoe Massacre by James Hamilton 1884

Some historians suggest the troops must have known before the orders came that they were there to commit an atrocity. Some historians suggest that although the soldiers carried out their orders, they deliberately did it badly, or simply couldn’t do it. According to one account some soldiers broke their swords rather than murder their kin. Of the 1000 or so people who lived in Glencoe, 38 ambushed is by no means a large number for a company of 120 armed men.

Before nightfall on the 13th February, some of the survivors ventured down from the mountains to bury their dead relatives. The clan chief and his close family were given their due burial in the MacDonald burial ground, the island of Eileen Munde on Loch Leven. Others were buried in and around the glen.

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Eileen Munde, on Loch Leven (largest island on right)

Dallrymple, when he heard the news that the massacre had not been complete, that two of the ‘old fox’s’ sons still lived, was furious. He wanted to prove to the king that he was the man to control the Highlanders. He ordered that the survivors be hunted down, sent to the plantations or killed. He wrote letters urging this, but it was never carried out. His vengeful, unrepentant attitude was not shared by others, who were horrified at what had happened.

The aftermath of the Glencoe Massacre

After the event Glenlyon was seen in Edinburgh getting drunk and lamenting what he had done. The soldiers too began to speak of it, of the terrible thing they had been ordered to do. Journalists picked up on the information with interest. Somehow Glenlyon lost the written order to attack. It was picked up and sent to Paris. There it was published in the Paris Gazette and news spread across a shocked Europe of the atrocity.  It was not going to just go away.

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The order to attack, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile Breadalbane, that slippery Campbell Earl, was horrified by the news. He saw very well that the Campbells were being framed for the massacre, that he himself may well be blamed, and he wrote to the MacDonalds urging them to absolve him and his clan of any responsibility. Whatever differences existed between them would never have deserved nor resulted in a clan massacre. He received no reply from Glencoe.

King William was fighting battles in France, and, to his shame, ignored what was happening in Scotland. Dallrymple was never disciplined for the disreputable order. Colonel Hill too seemed unconcerned, despite recognising MacIain’s desire to make the oath. He wrote to the Lord Chancellor of Scotland telling him in a military report that he had ‘ruined Glencoe’, among other business. If he had misgivings he didn’t share them.

At this point Charles Leslie, Jacobite barrister, tabloid pamphleteer and political propagandist decided to seek the whole truth. He was thorough and precise, collecting documentary evidence, talking to the soldiers and recording eye-witness accounts. Parliament tried to dismiss his findings as a Jacobite conspiracy theory. Queen Mary, however, started asking questions.

By 1693, with Charles Leslie stirring up the public and Queen Mary putting pressure on the government, King William was forced to hold an official enquiry. It was a cover-up, exonerating the King, and no one was satisfied with it. Questions continued to be raised in Parliament.

Glencoe Massacre

Queen Mary II

In 1695, the year following Queen Mary’s death, there was a second enquiry. This time the king was not allowed to look at the report before publication. The second enquiry went further. It concluded that an act of treason had been perpetrated on the people of Glencoe by their own government. But who would take the actual blame for this crime? In the first instance it decided a ‘mistake’ had been made not accepting MacIain’s oath.

The King was once again spared from blame. Dallrymple was deemed to have ‘wrongly interpreted’ the king’s wishes. He was dismissed from his post as secretary of State for Scotland. Later the 19th Century politican and historian, Thomas Macaulay, accused King William of a ‘great breach of duty’ in not disciplining Dallymple further. Not long after, through the revolving door of politics, Dallrymple was back in office. After William’s death in 1702, he played a key role in forming the single state of Great Britain.

Breadalbane, because of that secret oath with James, was charged with treason, though it was recognised he had been set up as a scapegoat. He was later released from prison, but his political career was damaged. He got involved in the Jacobite uprisings of 1715, but some accuse him of syphoning money from that cause into his own pocket.

The axe fell heaviest on Robert Campbell of Glenlyon and the other officers involved that day. They were found guilty of ‘slaughter under trust’, despite the fact they were following the orders of their superiors. Parliament recommended they stand trial. In the end no one did. Robert Campbell of Glenlyon died of alcoholism. He never recovered from the burden of following those orders. It was recommended to the king that Major Duncanson and Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton should also be made to answer questions. The king declined to act.

As for the MacDonalds, they returned to their glen, they re-built their houses and re-settled their families. John MacIain, eldest son of Alistair, became the 13th Clan Chief, building his home on the site of his father’s house. Three hundred years later opinion is still sharply divided on whether Clan Campbell should be held accountable for the murders. The truth is too complicated to unravel.

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Inscription on cross at Glencoe


For all you need to know about Glencoe, visit this page.

About the author

Written by: Stewart Borland

Comments on this post

  • Gerold Reimondo-Jandrok
    05/03/15 - 12:26

    Thank you for an excellent article. The massacre is infamous for its blatant violation of Highland hospitality, but the political maneuverings behind it are not as well known.

  • Peter Allan Russell
    09/03/15 - 14:57

    Very sobering to be reminded of this massacre of my mother’s family members. I remember well when my Scottish uncles would tell me the tale of their hatred of the campbell’s.

  • Robert Evans
    09/03/15 - 15:05

    It just goes to show it makes no difference if you are poor Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English the powerful will do everything they can to better themselves and this is a typical example of the Scottish gentry plotting against other Scots. this has gone on so much throughout the British history there are plenty of similar examples in England, Wales and Ireland. Thugs, bullies and murdering thief’s are still doing this in the name of IS… but thanks for the story it was a great read.

  • Karen Massjuk
    10/03/15 - 05:21

    This is a really thought provoking article! I was brought up in Scotland, and did all my education in Ayr, where we lived. History has always been a favourite subject, but I cannot recall ever having the massacres explained like this, it was just drummed in the hatred for each other, and not about Royal intervention and turning a blind eye to the truth. Thank you for a wonderful explanation x

  • Harry Vossberg – Lord of Glencoe supporting Highland Titles Charitable Trust for Scotland
    17/03/15 - 14:48

    The circumstances that lead to the massacre of Glencoe, are a lesson in political intrigue, neighbourly hatred and selfishness, which will stop at nothing. A bloody trap was set up with deceit and malice. It is essential to deepen the events in detail and kept for future generations. I see this as a worthwhile task for the many Lords and Ladies of Glencoe who have joined the great goal of maintaining the landscape in Glencoe and to promote, and do so out of enthusiasm – as myself also.

    • Thursa Wilde
      17/03/15 - 14:57

      Thanks for your comment, Harry. Just to clarify, our nature reserve is not in Glencoe itself, but in an area nearby. The wood where the reserve is situated is called Glencoe Wood.

  • Antoinette Kesha (NZ) – Lady of Glencoe
    17/03/15 - 16:08

    Fascinating and tragic. Thank you for sharing. It clearly explained a very complicated and ‘hidden’ slice of history. The injustice.. a terrible tragedy. The clan principles and re-build.. inspiring.

    Just quietly – it would make a really interesting book and film. Certainly worth considering sharing the true story wider.

  • Ron Douglas
    17/03/15 - 23:46

    Most informative – gives an insight into the political intrigue that continues to this day.
    An appauling act by appauling people.

  • Jack L. (Aus)
    18/03/15 - 03:23

    This story is eerily similar to what the English conspired against my maternal line the Armstrongs centuries before the slaughter at Glencoe. The numbers of dead Armstrongs were similar in number though seem at least to have been restricted to men of fighting age.

    What treachery.

  • Thursa Wilde
    18/03/15 - 15:28

    Hi Jack – you have piqued my interest! I will research Clan Armstrong and post an article here soon. Watch this space…! Perhaps it can be the start of a series on Clan histories. Some of them make fascinating reading 🙂

  • Sandra Zaninovich
    19/03/15 - 21:35

    I wrote this earlier but see that it hasn’t posted so here I go again, since I found this very interesting vis a vis this article and I’m sure others would too.

    I work at a clothing store in LA, CA, where about a year ago a lady came in with a Scots accent. When she went to pay, her credit card had the last name, Campbell. I asked if she was a genuine Campbell from Scotland, to which she replied that she was. I then half-jokingly said to her that she must not be a big fan of the MacDonalds then. At that her face darkened and she said that she’d grown up very near the “incident,” as she termed it, and that the people there had “made her life hell,” and that she hadn’t been able to wait until the moment that she could leave and never go back.

    It was yet another testament to the power of this “incident,” whose memory is still so potent to this day. When I go to Glencoe, I stay at the Clachaig Inn, where they have a plaque at the front desk on which is written, “No Solicitors or Campbells,” and although I know it’s not meant to be taken seriously, it’s still a reflection on the “incident,” as are many other things in and around Glencoe. In any case, I’m so proud to be a “Lady of Glencoe,” after so many years of loving it so much.

  • Sandra Spence
    22/03/15 - 07:16

    Great Pictures! I really enjoyed seeing them again. and remembering our time there. Many thanks for showing and sharing them!

  • Kerryn Douglas (Australia)
    30/04/15 - 00:06

    These circumstances that lead to the massacre of Glencoe, are not unlike what goes on today but all for what.
    great photos and wonderful to see that the landscape in Glencoe is being maintained.

  • Louise Levy
    02/09/15 - 08:41

    Thank you so much for this article – we were brought up on Clan Donald history sad as it is!
    When my ancestors left the highlands for Australia they made their home in the hills around Cooma – on the Monaro – there the chieftain continued to be head of the clan as they thrived in their new land.
    My mother is a MacDonald of Glencoe and as such I am a descendant of this mighty Clan – thankfully not all were murdered on that terrible night or I would not be who I am!

  • katie mcdonald
    25/09/15 - 14:14


  • Diana Campbell
    17/02/16 - 16:08

    Being of the family name most hated;I knew the other side. The side where it was by royal order this be done. Grated the 2 clans did not care for each other but there are always two sides to a story.Think on this: If you were the clan that was ordered by the King to go and do this;what would you have done? Carried out the royal order or you and yours be struck down by refusing? In which case both clans would of been killed. The King would of gone to another clan or more and had Campbell and MacDonald clans wiped out. The way it was in those days and in many places still today (muslims still wipe each other out as they have for hundreds of years and we also have ISIS who wants to wipes us all out). I have not found any proof I was of the Campbell clan,I have only found 1 other named Campbell and she married into my family. As did my grandmother marry a Campbell. I only found out we came from the Dumfries area.

  • Colleen doggett
    17/02/16 - 16:14

    My sister and I are descendants of the MacDonald’s from Glencoe. We visited the Memorial in May of last year and toured the area. It was such an emotional visit. I’ve ordered a kilt made with the MacIain tartan (MacDonald of Glencoe). I will wear it with pride! Thank you for the wonderful article.

  • cocoservice
    01/03/16 - 13:12

    I think this is a real great blog article. Much thanks again. Really Cool.

  • Lady Gabi Hoffmann (Germany)
    17/07/16 - 09:19

    One of many awful stories of Scotland… during my visits in Scotland I have often walked by the Glencoe, just as it is a must to visit Culloden… The thoughts always wander from in the history… I sometimes ask myself, whether still the minds wander about there. I hope, was fought all the same on which side, that have found all her rest… Thanks for the interesting article.

  • dustin bynum
    18/08/16 - 16:05

    im a decendent of the mcdonalds who came to america rite after the massare.. the storie dont stop there.. after comeing here few yrs later our family was massared agin by indians in the state of texas.. which the place has a historic marker also.. ive been study the family tree. an would like to find the decendents whos still there around the place of glenco…

  • dustin bynum
    18/08/16 - 16:08

    more on the decendents who of glenco type in mcdonald massare in texas ..with photos of the family as well..

  • Harry Donald from Dundee
    27/01/18 - 13:04

    Bad times for Clan Donald Great reading may be time for a movie to be made

  • Graeme Campbell
    18/05/18 - 12:18

    How the Clan Campbell has been demonised by the forced actions of one Campbell, and the black sheep at that, is just is a sad reflection of the ignorance we Scots have of our own history. Dalrymple Duncanson and Hamilton were to blame. Not the entire families Just the ones who set it all in place. It is high time Clan Campbell was officially exonerated from this atrocity. As stated, very few of the British troops involved were Campbells.

  • Dana Campbell
    14/06/18 - 12:22

    Love reading about my Campbell Heritage. I just had a 23 and me done and it came back that I’m 65% from the United Kingdom and 100% European. This story has been verbal passed down through my family for generations I believe my Campbell ancestors left Scotland and migrated to the US I’m trying to find my immigrant ancestors.

  • John
    08/07/18 - 00:39

    I read that the descendants of some of those who did the killing, later immigrated to usa and in 1777 or so, became victims at the Cherry Valley, NY massacre. There was a family by the name of Campbell who got massacred at Cherry Valley.. I am trying to find that article again but I know I read something along those lines. I may have some of the names and facts wrong but the gist is the descendants of those who did the murdering at Glencoe were later themselves massacred at Cherry Valley in a sort of karma divine justice payback type of a thing. Of course the descendants are not responsible for the actions of their forefathers but it was bad karma thing when they murdered all of those people in Glencoe.

    Can anyone clarify this and perhaps cite a source of reference?

  • Frances Haragan
    16/10/18 - 15:31

    I am English and learnt a little Scottish history while at school. The Massacre of Glencoe fascinated me so much that not only did I read as many historical novels as I could at the time, but later took my three children to Glencoe. I have re-visited many times. Some people have suggested a film – and indeed a more modern version would be wonderful – but I did manage to purchase a Video (yes I know!) some years ago in the 1990s via Austin Campbell, Lettermay, Lochgoil, Argyll. This was entitled “The Massacre of Glencoe” by Austin Campbell. It stared James Robertson Justice. I don’t know if a DVD version was ever made or maybe you could try on-line.
    Worth a try!

    Frances Haragan, Sussex.

  • Frances Haragan
    16/10/18 - 15:45

    I am English but learnt a little Scottish history at school. The Massacre of Glencoe fascinated me so much that I read as many books on it as I could find. Also in the 1990s I took my three children there and often re-visit. Some people have mentioned a film. A modern version would be great, but I managed to purchase a video (yes I know!)called “The Massacre of Glencoe” starring James Robertson Justice. This was directed by Austin Campbell of Lettermay, Lochgoil, Argyll. I don’t know if a DVD version was ever made of it or an on-line version, but it is worth a try!

    Frances Haragan

  • MacScaussie
    01/06/19 - 23:14

    Heard a story once from a tourist who went into a Highland corner shop and asked innocently for a can of Campbell Soup and was met with a disgusted look and frosty reply of “we do not sell that soup here”.
    It may have happened long ago, but memories of an event like this don’t fade. The heilan family I married into has many McD in their tree and they are no longer as bitter or talk badly of the Campbells, but there is a deep down, well hidden vibe of distrust that you feel.
    There is really no talk of the retaliation of the revenge toward the Campbells and their kin in Campbelltown either, bad blood between those two.
    Personally, I don’t care if the Campbell of Glenryan was just a scapegoat, he played a part and the decent thing would have been to warn your host of the intent from above even to the detriment of his life. Atrocious and unforgivable what happened.

  • Greg Sullivan
    29/06/19 - 08:36

    I understand the massacre of Clan people also occurred in Eire at Dursey Island on the Beara Peninsular where some 300 women and children were murdered by order from all the way up the ladder to queen Elizabeth 1 when she wanted to make the O’Sullivan Clan an example. Oh, the English Soldiers here were also assisted by Irish Traitors.

  • MrSwan
    30/06/19 - 11:26

    Good article, but I’d challenge your opening statement that the story of the Glencoe Massacre is one every British person knows, and that this is taught in primary schools.

    It is one of the failings of the English educational system that next to nothing is taught about Scottish history, and the reality is that very few know anything of this tragedy. I play the bagpipes and learned about Glencoe when researching the background to the tune of the same name.

  • David H Brown
    10/09/19 - 17:10

    Thank you!!!for the story. I was born in Scotland when i was sixy found out I was adopted Birth name was Ian McGregor My g.grand father was Angus McDonald the last of the McDonald’s from Glencoe I so enjoyed the story. That makes me have a truce on the Campell’s. We left Bonnie Scotland 1954 But my heard still lives there. Thank you Again.

  • Elizabeth McCain
    19/09/19 - 20:47

    Thank you for this in depth account of the incident. I’m a descendant of the MacIain’s. Most written histories that I’ve found haven’t had this much detailed information. This was a great read.

  • Jessica Branton
    21/09/19 - 23:19

    My great great grandmother was Ellen Burns Macdonald who set up the monument at Glencoe. I grew up with the story through my grandfather who has left me photos of the interment of his mother by McIan’s grave on Eilean Munda. It seems strange with so many massacres and treachery through the ages that this particular incident has left such a deep impression in the British collective psyche. Perhaps it is the fact that the Campbell’s stayed as guests for 12 days – time enough to establish some kind of friendships and bonds that, as the author pointed out, meant that some of the Macdonald were warned in advance.
    Thank you for such an interesting, clear and well illustrated account of the whole tragic saga.

  • Iain Macdonald
    03/10/19 - 12:13

    @Jessica Hi Jessica, I normally visit the memorial on the anniversary when I can and am very aware of the link between yor GG Grandmother. I also kayak across to Eilean Munda often to pay respects. If you want and dont mind I would love to see the photos and possibly pay her grave a visit and leave something on on your behalf?

  • Daniel McDonald
    30/10/19 - 20:37

    I’ll be in Glencoe for Hogmanay 2019. How can i set foot on Eilean Munda to pay my respects? Can i hire a boat or rent a canoe?
    Quite enjoyed the article. The story was told to me when i was a lad and since then have read Prebbles book & other sources. The murder under trust scenario strikes a sense of revulsion in any decent person. Quite horrific.

  • Daniel MCDONALD
    01/11/19 - 20:18

    Great piece of writing, thanks for the detailed account of the dirty deeds done dirt cheap. My dad told me about the events when I was a lad.
    I’m in Glencoe for the end of the year and would like to visite Eilean Munda. Any small boats available for hire to motor or paddle across?

  • Struan Stevenson
    26/11/19 - 09:16

    I am writing about the infamous massacre, but cannot find the name of Alasdair MacIain MacDonald’s wife, who was also murdered. Can you help please?

  • rosalind beveridge
    13/02/20 - 18:55

    My mothers family were MacDonalds and she was very proud of it some of her family are buried in Ft William and where the railway station in Ft William is was some of her Grannys croft

  • Brian Howell
    15/02/21 - 02:52

    This is an evidenced account of a notorious event. My wife and daughter are Glencoe MacDonalds, descended from
    Alasdair Og Maclain MacDonald who tried to make the clan.s allegiance to William 111 known, all to no avail. Jenny visited last year and didn’t like the place, understandably.

  • Thomas Tyrone Beiron Tay
    18/02/21 - 10:19

    Excellent read, but I sense some bias with the anachronistic use of the term the ‘Vatican’ behind any meddling by the French, and the inaccurate portrayal that a Catholic monarch or ruler simply meant rule under the authority of the Pope. History elsewhere proves that sort of statement inaccurate as each monarch anywhere ruled by their own conscience and constitution.

  • J Campbell
    01/03/21 - 23:16

    I ran across your page when trying to research why there’s been no mention of the Campbell’s in the Outlander series on Netflix…I know the show is based on fictional characters and a couple loosely based on real people but, I digress. I found your article very enlightening, as I had heard the Clan Campbell had a bad reputation in Scotland but, I myself had never known why that was. After reading all of the details and the details of the attack on Inveraray in January 1645, I believe it was, I’m a little confused…maybe I’m missing something or not understanding how everything unfolded… Inveraray was attacked because they, these neighbors of the Campbell’s, were angry that they had basically been legally hoodwinked by the Campbell’s in a land grab scheme…this I understand…I don’t understand who was ‘put to the sword’ afterwards…I think the next thing that happened was that a group of some 3000 Campbell’s were going after the MacDonald’s because of the attack at Inveraray, the MacDonald’s found out, turned around and slayed 1200 of the Campbell troops in a surprise attack, loosing, I think it was, under 30 themselves… So, obviously there was bad blood on both sides after this… so then, we jump forward to 1692 and this tragedy that happened at Glencoe. I’m in 100% agreement that it was horrid…who turns against a host they have stayed with for over 10 days? But, I do see how Robert Campbell was the perfect pawn…such a weak man maybe though he’d make a name for himself, perhaps getting revenge for the 1200+ souls taken in 1645? What I don’t understand is how the MacDonald’s don’t put more of the blame for this on Dallrymple himself and the others, that delayed Maclain, seemingly purposefully, or on the English Monarchy and aristocrats, who obviously enjoyed pitting clan against clan.

    Scotland is a place I’ve always wanted to visit but, it’s not a place I’ll want to go if I’ll be hated because of my last name and this tragedy that happened over 300 years ago by those I descended from…Even knowing the history, I would never be hatful or unkind towards anyone so far removed from such a tragedy. It’s truly sad.

    God bless the MacDonald’s, the Campbell’s and Scotland

  • Benjamin Rayner
    04/03/21 - 08:55

    It’s is a disgrace Clan Campbell and Clan MacDonald were feuds 38 slaughtered by Robert Campbell of Glenlyon they are a disgrace
    I Benjamin of Clan Graham and Kelly hereby declare them feuds to Clan Campbell the Scottish and British Parliament’s should make a tv personal apology to the Clan MacDonald

  • Saige England
    28/03/21 - 05:33

    As a Campbell descendant indirect or direct to the middle man in this crime, I do feel thoroughly saddened by the fact that any ancestor of mine would side with the English aristocracy in harming and killing hospitable folk who gave them food, drink, shelter and company. The invasion of the highlands and lowlands seemed to lead to the exile of many Campbells and vice versa. I have Irish ancestors in Scotland and Scottish ancestors in Ireland.
    The past can become the future if we do not acknowledge the wrongs of the past. Alcohol and gambling have fueled many weak people into bad decision-making. In my family’s case we learned to change. We don’t drink to excess or gamble and we are hospitable. I wish we could roll back the terrible deeds done. I wish that the women, children and men who died could somehow know that many of us who are of the Campbell clan would act so very differently today.

  • Andrew William Brandie
    27/04/21 - 15:16

    Hi, This article has been a very interesting read for me, as I have been doing my family tree on my mother’s side. My mother’s maiden name is Cromar, and in our family tree, is a man called Peter ( McDonald of Glencoe ) Cromar. What I would like is if someone out there could come up with why this Peter Cromar would be called Peter(McDonald of Glencoe)Cromar. I would be delighted if anyone could enlighten me. Peter Cromar was born on the 8th of September 1690 and died on the 13th of October 1770.

  • Christina L campbell
    29/09/21 - 22:34

    I’ve done much research into the Campbell’s and the MacDonald’s. My grandmother-in-law was a MacDonald and to the day she died she did not acknowledge her son-in-law. So you could say I have had some interesting discussions. But it all comes down to politics. The greed, corruption, and dishonor is blatant. I’m glad that you have put it in the open and that people can decide for themselves just who was wronged. Thank you for you contribution to the history of the Campbells I had not found.

  • Margaret Been
    13/10/21 - 04:02

    Thank you for this well written and informative article. I found it while reading GLENCOE, by John Prebble.
    I am a descendant of Argyll Campbells. I live in Wisconsin, USA, and am researching this horrible part of my ancestors’ history—especially because my genealogy records (compiled by my Campbell grandmother in the mid 1900s) show that 3 Argyll Campbell brothers immigrated to Maine just after the Glencoe massacre.

    I would love to, but may never, know what they were like and what their sentiments were. All the info I have about these brothers is that they were against drinking liquer, and were very concerned about a 4th brother (presumably still in Scotland) who was a heavy drinker.

    My great-grandfather, Daniel Campbell, was a preacher who began what was literally The First Congregational Church in a small community, Pine River—in upstate Wisconsin.

    At least, despite a tragic history, I believe that not ALL the Argyll Campbells were murderous and evil! I want to think my ancestors immigrated to distance themselves from that understandably notorious reputation!

    Margaret Been (Mrs. Joe Been), Nashotah, WI.

  • Andrew William Brandie
    10/01/22 - 09:08

    I have been doing my family tree, and I have found out that one of my ancestors’ names is Peter ( MacDonald of Glencoe ) Cromar. My mother’s maiden name is Cromar, so I was wondering if anyone out there could give me any information on why he was called the name MacDonald of Glencoe Cromar.
    The article on the Massacre was very interesting, and what I can gather is it was the government who had ordered this Massacre.
    My email address is ( [email protected] ) Please send any information to my email address, please
    Regards Andrew.

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