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Amelia Volume 1 Introduction


Introduction to the 1898/1901 Edition

THE following pages contain the eventful chronicles of a Highland Clan, not one of the most numerous or most powerful but remarkable as occupying a distinct place in the history of Scotland. The narrative may doubtless be considered a record of crime, sometimes tragical, sometimes trivial, yet a careful study of the Race, of the circumstances and of the times, must forcibly bring out many claims for a lenient judgment. Early and native inhabitants of the country, with pride of ancestry and an indomitable spirit, the MacGregors in the fourteenth century found themselves dispossessed of the lands whereon they dwelt, by reason of Charters, instruments inexplicable to them, bestowed upon others. From that time a sense of wrong and of injustice invaded their minds. Yet they might possibly have been content to maintain themselves on lands held by heritable tacks from the landlords in possession, but for two causes. First, the natural increase in the numbers of the Clan, hemmed up in glens and straths where the means of subsistence were necessarily limited. Secondly, the enmity of certain neighbours determined to dispossess them. In other countries the turmoils of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were equally as violent, but the art of war on a larger scale afforded an outlet to the belligerent qualities of their inhabitants, and tended also to decrease the population. The MacGregors without any other channel for their energy, cramped in the means of livelihood, totally ignorant, and goaded by those anxious to profit by their fall, lived by forays and raids. Many other Highland Clans and many Lowlanders did the same, but most of them had more power to make their struggles against each other effective in forcing support from the Government, whereas the ClanGregor, through the wiles of their adversaries, became the object of the strongest persecution and the most severe penal enactments. Had the opportunity occurred, the MacGregors, as proved later, would have fought for their Sovereign with devoted loyalty, but they could not easily understand that their personal enemies through misrepresentations, had become armed with the King’s authority. The conflict of Glenfruin, in which the ClanGregor gained a victory, eventually fatal to themselves, against vastly superior numbers, was punished by numerous executions : the Name was proscribed, the men were hunted down with bloodhounds, the women branded on the cheek with a red-hot iron, and yet the Clan clung to the only virtues they knew, courage, endurance and fidelity. Their unquenchable spirit was never broken, and when the time of persecution was over, they revived and brought their noble qualities to a better use. The British Army has numbered many heroes from this lion-hearted race.

The article on MacGregor in Sir Robert Douglas’s “Baronage,” published in 1798, was probably the first accessible history of the Clan, with the exception of the short notice in Buchannan of Auchmar’s “History of Scottish Surnames,” first published in 1723. Douglas’s “Memoir of the MacGregors and the MacAlpins” was written by the late Sir John MacGregor Murray, Bart., before he went to India in January 1770. [1]   He is styled by the editor “An ingenious gentleman who hath been at great pains in collecting the materials, and with much care and accuracy hath ranged the vouchers and put them into their proper order.” This tribute was well merited, and Sir John’s accuracy both in public and private life was afterwards well known; but modern researches, and facilities of access to public records, have thrown a different light on some parts of the narrative, whilst on the other hands many circumstances familiar to the writer of the account one hundred and twenty-five years ago have now slipped beyond recall. In the year 1822 the Rev. William MacGregor Stirling, at that time, minister of the Port of Monteith, undertook the compilation of a history of the ClanGregor, for the late Sir Evan Murray MacGregor, who himself revised the MSS. till he went to the West Indies as Governor of the Leeward Islands in 1832. The work, which had the able assistance and cooperation of the late Mr. Donald Gregory, was not finished or in a form ready for publication at the time of Mr. MacGregor Stirling’s death in 1833, but a great portion of it has been of infinite service to the present compilation. Mr. MacGregor Stirling had collected an elaborate series of Excerpts from the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, and other Records which were afterwards enlarged, carried forward and critically analysed by Mr. Gregory, and which embodied every known authentic passage regarding the Clan. These were comprised in three large folio volumes entitles “The Chartulary [2]   of the ClanGregor.” It was understood that this valuable collection was made with the view of assisting the history of the Clan, which Sir Evan wished to have published at his expense, and several letters from Mr. Gregory to Sir Evan allude to the intended publication, but the death of Mr. Gregory in 1836, and of Sir Evan in 1841, put a stop to the work.

On the death of Mr. Gregory the Iona Club, which had been founded by him in conjunction with Mr. W. F. Skene in 1833, to “investigate and illustrate the History, Antiquities and early literature of the Highlands,” made an arrangement with his executors by which the Club acquired his collections, and amongst them the three volumes of the so-called Chartulary, together with three companion volumes of pedigrees. When the Iona Club was dissolved Mr. Skene deposited these collections in the Library of the Antiquarian Society, with the stipulation that any papers claimed by the families to whom they were related were to be restored. [3]   Circumstances delayed the following up of a claim which seems to have been made nearly fifty years ago, but through the courtesy of the President and Council of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, with the consent and advice of the late Mr. Skene, the six MS. books relating to the ClanGregor were in March 1890 handed over to Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor, as representative of his great grandfather Sir Evan, on whose daughter the privilege of giving to the Clan the results of former zealous Clansmen’s labours now devolves.

In addition to these most important collections, and the materials which are to be found in the Dean of Lismore’s MS., the “Black Book of Taymouth,” and the published “Records of the Privy Council,” ( the first two volumes edited by Dr. Hill Burton, and the subsequent volumes by Dr. Masson ), etc., etc., the papers of many of the Clan have been placed in the hands of the compiler. The admirably preserved traditions of the Rannoch MacGregors, and their different branches, have been supplied by Mr. Alexander MacGregor, Crosshill, Glasgow, now in America, to whom thanks for most valuable assistance are due; also to Mr. Gregor MacGregor, S.S.C., Edinburgh, for much kind aid, including the revision of the Gaelic portions of the work; to Dr. W. D. Cameron and others, whose information will be acknowledged in the course of the work.

One of the objects of the ClanGregor Society, instituted in 1822, is - “To publish ancient or interesting documents or articles on interesting events connected with, and to compile an authentic history of, the Clan and of the different families belonging to it.” In furtherance of this object, the present work has been undertaken at the request of the Society, and with the hope that the facts and traditions here collected will prove of interest to the whole ClanGregor.
Dunkeld, January 1897.

Introduction to the 2002 Electronic Edition - further amended online in 2017

Original copies of the ‘History of The Clan Gregor’ are scarce and valuable and there has been a long-standing demand for a reprint. As the original ran to 965 pages in two quarto volumes, excluding the index, a reprint was likely to prove very costly and no publisher could be found to take on the venture. It has therefore been decided that the only viable method of making copies available to researchers was via the internet, a method of distribution which would have been just as inconceivable to Amelia as it would have been to Alasdair Roy of Glenstrae or Rob Roy.

An original copy has been electronically scanned and edited to produce this new edition. The scanning process is inevitably error-prone. Many hours have been spent in proof-reading but it is inevitable that some errors have been missed. It should be remembered that the great majority of the text is taken verbatim from 16th to the 18th century documents. As far as possible these documents have been rendered exactly as Amelia had them, which in turn, was exactly as she took them from her sources. Spelling, punctuation and grammar could be very variable in that period. This clearly makes proof-reading of the scanned documents difficult. As far as possible the original pagination has been retained, however, the index has not been included.

There has been debate within the Clan Gregor Society as to whether there should be significant editing of the original text. The consensus has been that the entire original publication should be made available but with a serious warning about the quality of the material within. It is necessary to warn readers that Amelia was not a historian and adopted a very partial standpoint to her material. Her principal sources were the manuscript ‘Chartulary of Clan Gregor’ (see below), and Douglas’s Baronage of Scotland. Extensive quotations are also included from the various histories of other families, such as Atholl, Breadalbane, Menzies and Colquhoun.

The line of the Glenstrae chiefs of Clan Gregor are thought to have died out at the start of the 18th century. With no documentary proof as to the seniority of the surviving families, it was only through disputed oral tradition that a new chiefly lineage could be found. Late in the 18th century, John Murray, representative of the Glencarnaig family returned from India with a considerable fortune. He was created first Baronet MacGregor and purchased land in the Balquhidder area. He was benevolent towards less fortunate clansmen and, in 1787 was elected chief. In 1822, his son, Sir Evan MacGregor was reaffirmed by election as the second chief of this line. The chiefship has continued in this family to the current chief, Sir Malcom MacGregor. There are no modern pretenders to the honour of clan chief and absolutely no suggestion by this editor that the election by a considerable number of MacGregors was in any way suspect or invalid. However, the right of descent of the Glencarnaig family is impossible to prove at this remove.

At the request and expense of Sir Evan Murray MacGregor, the Rev. William MacGregor Stirling and Professor Donald Gregory compiled, between 1820 and 1833, what has become known as the ‘Chartulary of Clan Gregor’. It comprises two large folio volumes of hand-written extracts from state and private papers referring to Clan Gregor. These become particularly detailed from the mid 16th century. The death of both researchers followed by Sir Evan’s put a stop on publication until the History, compiled by Amelia, the daughter of Sir Evan, in two volumes in 1898 and 1901.

Undoubtedly, Amelia’s History was primarily intended to prove the seniority of her family. The arguments are very partial and some decidedly thin logic has been asserted as obvious truth. On the other side, the claims of other lineages are presented with disparaging comments. It does not appear to the present editor (a possible descendant of Glengyle) that on the basis of the available evidence the Glengyle family had any better claim to the chiefship. However, Amelia consistently used language that denigrated members the Glengyle family. It does appear that considerable antipathy existed between these two families in the 18th century. In order to enhance the claim of the descendants of Duncan Ladasach, MacGregor Stirling argued that the Glenstrae line, favoured by the Campbells, had usurped the chiefship on the death of Eoin dubh in 1519. It is not at all clear at this distance in time whether Ladasach's line was senior or not. As DNA research has progressed (I am revising my words of 2002 in 2017) it is currently being claimed that descendants of Glenstrae may have survived to the present. This, of course, is an academic discussion as it does not in any way threaten the line of the present chiefs..

‘Chartulary’ represents an exceptionally valuable collection of references to the clan in the public records of Scotland. Amelia included the entire manuscript, more or less in date sequence. This material is of considerable historical value. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the “Baronage”, which has been described by historian, Martin MacGregor as a ‘piece of sustained fiction marred only by the occasional intrusion of fact’. The “Baronage” account was written by Duncan Murray of Glencarnaig, the uncle of Sir John Murray. My advice, as editor, is to treat anything attributed to the “Baronage” with extreme caution, particularly with regard to the early genealogy of the clan which cannot be corroborated with the evidence in extant early documents. It is hoped that one day, Martin MacGregor’s thesis, based on actual documentary evidence, on the history of the Clan up to 1571 will be published, but the present editor has made extensive use of the thesis in his own research into the affairs of the clan between 1586 and 1613.

Various genealogies are included in the work. The advice has to be: treat these with caution, especially with regard to the period before 1550. In particular, genealogical claims resting solely on the ‘Baronage account’ are highly suspect.

The Clan Gregor derive from its eponym Gregor or Griogar who lived roughly between 1300 and 1360. Before him, there was no ‘Clan Gregor’! The name ‘MacGregor’ appears on record for the first time with his grandson Eoin Dubh at the end of the 14th century. Martin MacGregor’s work on the genealogies in the ‘Book of the Dean of Lismore’ suggest that Gregor’s forebears were members of a Clann Ailpein in the Glenorchy/Lorn area of Argyll. Its eponym, Ailpen lived in the first half of the 13th century. Before him there is only oral tradition of royal descent. Confusion between the 13th century Ailpen and the 9th century dark age kings Alpin and Giric has led to some very fanciful writing over the years. Suffice it to say at the moment, that scientific DNA evidence points towards the Clan Gregor being definitely Dalriadic Scots centred on Argyll and it may be, as the test programme continues, that our male-line descent from the Dalriadic kings will be confirmed. Indeed, as more DNA evidence accumulates, it is now being suggested that the descent of 21 generations from King Kenneth MacAlpine to Eoin Cam is becoming more probable which is all that can said from DNA evidence. For the moment, the present editor considers that Martin MacGregor's conclusions in 1989 should be respected and irrespective of DNA probabilities, any named MacGregors prior to 1300 claimed in the Baronage should be treated as fiction.

[1] Douglas’s “Baronage” was not published till 1798, after the death of the author, Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie. A MS. Note on the margin of a copy in the possession of the late Sir John MacGregor Murray’s family fixes the period when the MacGregors notice was written, viz. in the lifetime of his father, Major Evan MacGregor Murray and his uncle Duncan MacGregor Murray, the Chief at that time (see subsequent history), who both supplied him with materials. For the correspondence between Sir John (then Mr) Murray and Sir Robert Douglas, see appendix.

[2] This title is adopted for reference throughout the present work, but MacGregor Stirling’s Collection cannot correctly be styled a chartulary.

[3] Letter from late Dr. W. F. Skene to Editor.