Document of the Month - March
Rob Roy’s Cattle – Certificate of Ownership, 5th April 1716
Although he has become something of a legend, the famous or infamous Rob Roy MacGregor was a real person who lived around the Loch Katrine and Balquhidder area in the 18th century. Encouraged by his father to join the Jacobite cause from his teenage years in the 1680s, the young Rob fought his first battle under Viscount Dundee at Killiecrankie in July 1689 when he was just 18. Rob became famous as a respected cattleman but was also involved in extorting money for ‘looking after’ the cattle of lowlanders as part of a protection racket that thrived across Scotland at this time.Cattle were very important to the Scottish economy and cattle raiding was commonplace. Rob was not above involvement in that at times.
Rob Roy married Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar in 1693, became leader of the Clan MacGregor and, in 1701, acquired land on Loch Lomondside and at Balquhidder, where he prospered as a legitimate cattle dealer. However, a business arrangement with James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose, went very badly wrong when Rob’s chief herdsman absconded with money loaned to Rob by the Duke. Rob Roy was swiftly accused of embezzlement and an order was issued for his arrest. When he evaded capture, he was branded an outlaw and his house and land were seized by the Duke’s men. The Earl of Breadalbane, John Campbell, gave Rob land at Glen Dochart in 1713 which allowed him to continue his business interests in cattle and racketeering. He took a benevolent interest in the affairs of the smaller tenants in the neighbourhood, and was seen by some as a Scottish Robin Hood, helping the poor against the oppression of the rich.
He led the MacGregors during the Jacobite uprising of 1715, after which he was accused of high treason and government agents burned down his house and took his cattle. It is these cattle that are the subject of this certificate. John Oge Campbell has paid for the cattle and this document is to prove that they belong to him. It is interesting to note the second paragraph in which it is specifically stated that Rob’s creditors are not to have any legal claim on the animals.
As for Rob, he was eventually imprisoned for his crimes in 1725 but received a pardon in 1727 and died peacefully at home at Balquhidder in 1734.
This document is held at the Council Archives as part of the MacGregor of MacGregor family papers, a fascinating collection of letters and other items giving a wonderful insight into the varied history of that most turbulent of clans.