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Excerpts from A History of England from James II [Volumes 3 & 4]
by Thomas Babington Macaulay
circa 1851


A similar spirit animated the Camerons.  Their ruler, Sir Ewan Cameron, of Lochiel, surnamed the Black, was in personal qualities unrivalled among the Celtic princes.  He was a gracious master, a trusty ally, a terrible enemy.  His countenance and bearing were singularly noble.  Some persons who had been at Versailles, and among them the shrewd and observant Simon Lord Lovat, said that there was, in person and manner, a most striking resemblance between Lewis the Fourteenth and Lochiel; and whoever compares the portraits of the two will perceive that there really was some likeness.  In stature the difference was great.  Lewis, in spite of highheeled shoes and a towering wig, hardly reached the middle size.  Lochiel was tall and strongly built.  In agility and skill at his weapons he had few equals among the inhabitants of the hills.  He had repeatedly been victorious in single combat.  He was a hunter of great fame.  He made vigorous war on the wolves which, down to his time, preyed on the red deer of the Grampians; and by his hand perished the last of the ferocious breed which is known to have wandered at large in our island.  Nor was Lochiel less distinguished by intellectual than by bodily vigour.  He might indeed have seemed ignorant to educated and travelled Englishmen, who had studied the classics under Busby at Westminster and under Aldrich at Oxford, who had learned something about the sciences among Fellows of the Royal Society, and something about the fine arts in the galleries of Florence and Rome.  But though Lochiel had very little knowledge of books, he was eminently wise in council, eloquent in debate, ready in devising expedients, and skilful in managing the minds of men.  His understanding preserved him from those follies into which pride and anger frequently hurried his brother chieftains.  Many, therefore, who regarded his brother chieftains as mere barbarians, mentioned him with respect.  Even at the Dutch Embassy in St. James's Square he was spoken of as a man of such capacity and courage that it would not be easy to find his equal.  As a patron of literature he ranks with the magnificent Dorset.  If Dorset out of his own purse allowed Dryden a pension equal to the profits of the Laureateship, Lochiel is said to have bestowed on a celebrated bard, who had been plundered by marauders, and who implored alms in a pathetic Gaelic ode, three cows and the almost incredible sum of fifteen pounds sterling.  In truth, the character of this great chief was depicted two thousand five hundred years before his birth, and depicted,--such is the power of genius,--in colours which will be fresh as many years after his death.  He was the Ulysses of the Highlands.

He held a large territory peopled by a race which reverenced no lord, no king but himself.  For that territory, however, he owed homage to the House of Argyle.  He was bound to assist his feudal superiors in war, and was deeply in debt to them for rent.  This vassalage he had doubtless been early taught to consider as degrading and unjust.  In his minority he had been the ward in chivalry of the politic Marquess, and had been educated at the Castle of Inverary.  But at eighteen the boy broke loose from the authority of his guardian, and fought bravely both for Charles the First and for Charles the Second.  He was therefore considered by the English as a Cavalier, was well received at Whitehall after the Restoration, and was knighted by the hand of James.  The compliment, however, which was paid to him, on one of his appearances at the English Court, would not have seemed very flattering to a Saxon.  "Take care of your pockets, my lords," cried his Majesty; "here comes the king of the thieves."  The loyalty of Lochiel is almost proverbial: but it was very unlike what was called loyalty in England.  In the Records of the Scottish Parliament he was, in the days of Charles the Second, described as a lawless and rebellious man, who held lands masterfully and in high contempt of the royal authority.  On one occasion the Sheriff of Invernessshire was directed by King James to hold a court in Lochaber.  Lochiel, jealous of this interference with his own patriarchal despotism, came to the tribunal at the head of four hundred armed Camerons.  He affected great reverence for the royal commission, but he dropped three or four words which were perfectly understood by the pages and armourbearers, who watched every turn of his eye.  "Is none of my lads so clever as to send this judge packing?  I have seen them get up a quarrel when there was less need of one."  In a moment a brawl began in the crowd, none could say how or where.  Hundreds of dirks were out: cries of "Help" and "Murder" were raised on all sides: many wounds were inflicted: two men were killed: the sitting broke up in tumult; and the terrified Sheriff was forced to put himself under the protection of the chief, who, with a plausible bow of respect and concern, escorted him safe home.  It is amusing to think that the man who performed this feat is constantly extolled as the most faithful and dutiful of subjects by writers who blame Somers and Burnet as contemners of the legitimate authority of Sovereigns.  Lochiel would undoubtedly have laughed the doctrine of nonresistance to scorn.  But scarcely any chief in Invernessshire had gained more than he by the downfall of the House of Argyle, or had more reason than he to dread the restoration of that House.  Scarcely any chief in Invernessshire, therefore, was more alarmed and disgusted by the proceedings of the Convention.

Dundee made one attempt, soon after the gathering of the clans in Lochaber, to induce them to submit to the discipline of a regular army.  He called a council of war to consider this question.  His opinion was supported by all the officers who had joined him from the low country.  Distinguished among them were James Seton, Earl of Dunfermline, and James Galloway, Lord Dunkeld.  The Celtic chiefs took the other side.  Lochiel, the ablest among them, was their spokesman, and argued the point with much ingenuity and natural eloquence.  "Our system,"--such was the substance of his reasoning, "may not be the best: but we were bred to it from childhood: we understand it perfectly: it is suited to our peculiar institutions, feelings, and manners.  Making war after our own fashion, we have the expertness and coolness of veterans.  Making war in any other way, we shall be raw and awkward recruits.  To turn us into soldiers like those of Cromwell and Turenne would be the business of years: and we have not even weeks to spare.  We have time enough to unlearn our own discipline, but not time enough to learn yours."  Dundee, with high compliments to Lochiel, declared himself convinced, and perhaps was convinced: for the reasonings of the wise old chief were by no means without weight.

As the Grants were in arms for King William, their property was considered as fair prize.  Their territory was invaded by a party of Camerons: a skirmish took place: some blood was shed; and many cattle were carried off to Dundee's camp, where provisions were greatly needed.  This raid produced a quarrel, the history of which illustrates in the most striking manner the character of a Highland army.  Among those who were slain in resisting the Camerons was a Macdonald of the Glengarry branch, who had long resided among the Grants, had become in feelings and opinions a Grant, and had absented himself from the muster of his tribe.  Though he had been guilty of a high offence against the Gaelic code of honour and morality, his kinsmen remembered the sacred tie which he had forgotten.  Good or bad, he was bone of their bone: he was flesh of their flesh; and he should have been reserved for their justice.  The name which he bore, the blood of the Lords of the Isles, should have been his protection.  Glengarry in a rage went to Dundee and demanded vengeance on Lochiel and the whole race of Cameron.  Dundee replied that the unfortunate gentleman who had fallen was a traitor to the clan as well as to the King.  Was it ever heard of in war that the person of an enemy, a combatant in arms, was to be held inviolable on account of his name and descent?  And, even if wrong had been done, how was it to be redressed?  Half the army must slaughter the other half before a finger could be laid on Lochiel.  Glengarry went away raging like a madman.  Since his complaints were disregarded by those who ought to right him, he would right himself: he would draw out his men, and fall sword in hand on the murderers of his cousin.  During some time he would listen to no expostulation.  When he was reminded that Lochiel's followers were in number nearly double of the Glengarry men, "No matter," he cried, "one Macdonald is worth two Camerons."  Had Lochiel been equally irritable and boastful, it is probable that the Highland insurrection would have given little more trouble to the government, and that the rebels would have perished obscurely in the wilderness by one another's claymores.  But nature had bestowed on him in large measure the qualities of a statesman, though fortune had hidden those qualities in an obscure corner of the world.  He saw that this was not a time for brawling: his own character for courage had long been established; and his temper was under strict government.  The fury of Glengarry, not being inflamed by any fresh provocation, rapidly abated.  Indeed there were some who suspected that he had never been quite so pugnacious as he had affected to be, and that his bluster was meant only to keep up his own dignity in the eyes of his retainers.  However this might be, the quarrel was composed; and the two chiefs met, with the outward show of civility, at the general's table.

In the Highlands, as in all countries where war has not become a science, men thought it the most important duty of a commander to set an example of personal courage and of bodily exertion.  Lochiel was especially renowned for his physical prowess.  His clansmen looked big with pride when they related how he had himself broken hostile ranks and hewn down tall warriors.  He probably owed quite as much of his influence to these achievements as to the high qualities which, if fortune had placed him in the English Parliament or at the French court, would have made him one of the foremost men of his age.  He had the sense however to perceive how erroneous was the notion which his countrymen had formed.  He knew that to give and to take blows was not the business of a general.  He knew with how much difficulty Dundee had been able to keep together, during a few days, an army composed of several clans; and he knew that what Dundee had effected with difficulty Cannon would not be able to effect at all.  The life on which so much depended must not be sacrificed to a barbarous prejudice.  Lochiel therefore adjured Dundee not to run into any unnecessary danger. "Your Lordship's business," he said, "is to overlook every thing, and to issue your commands.  Our business is to execute those commands bravely and promptly."  Dundee answered with calm magnanimity that there was much weight in what his friend Sir Ewan had urged, but that no general could effect any thing great without possessing the confidence of his men.  "I must establish my character for courage.  Your people expect to see their leaders in the thickest of the battle; and to day they shall see me there.  I promise you, on my honour, that in future fights I will take more care of myself."

It was past seven o'clock. Dundee gave the word.  The Highlanders dropped their plaids.  The few who were so luxurious as to wear rude socks of untanned hide spurned them away.  It was long remembered in Lochaber that Lochiel took off what probably was the only pair of shoes in his clan, and charged barefoot at the head of his men.  The whole line advanced firing.  The enemy returned the fire and did much execution.  When only a small space was left between the armies, the Highlanders suddenly flung away their firelocks, drew their broadswords, and rushed forward with a fearful yell.  The Lowlanders prepared to receive the shock; but this was then a long and awkward process; and the soldiers were still fumbling with the muzzles of their guns and the handles of their bayonets when the whole flood of Macleans, Macdonalds, and Camerons came down.  In two minutes the battle was lost and won.  The ranks of Balfour's regiment broke.  He was cloven down while struggling in the press.  Ramsay's men turned their backs and dropped their arms.  Mackay's own foot were swept away by the furious onset of the Camerons.  His brother and nephew exerted themselves in vain to rally the men.  The former was laid dead on the ground by a stroke from a claymore.  The latter, with eight wounds on his body, made his way through the tumult and carnage to his uncle's side.  Even in that extremity Mackay retained all his selfpossession.  He had still one hope.  A charge of horse might recover the day; for of horse the bravest Highlanders were supposed to stand in awe.  But he called on the horse in vain.




But the government did not trust solely to Breadalbane's diplomatic skill.  The authorities at Edinburgh put forth a proclamation exhorting the clans to submit to King William and Queen Mary, and offering pardon to every rebel who, on or before the thirty-first of December 1691, should swear to live peaceably under the government of their Majesties.  It was announced that those who should hold out after that day would be treated as enemies and traitors.  Warlike preparations were made, which showed that the threat was meant in earnest.  The Highlanders were alarmed, and, though the pecuniary terms had not been satisfactorily settled, thought it prudent to give the pledge which was demanded of them.  No chief, indeed, was willing to set the example of submission.  Glengarry blustered, and pretended to fortify his house.  "I will not," said Lochiel, "break the ice.  That is a point of honour with me.  But my tacksmen and people may use their freedom."  His tacksmen and people understood him, and repaired by hundreds to the Sheriff to take the oaths.  The Macdonalds of Sleat, Clanronald, Keppoch, and even Glengarry, imitated the Camerons; and the chiefs, after trying to outstay each other as long as they durst, imitated their vassals.

The thirty-first of December arrived; and still the Macdonalds of Glencoe had not come in.  The punctilious pride of Mac Ian was doubtless gratified by the thought that he had continued to defy the government after the boastful Glengarry, the ferocious Keppoch, the magnanimous Lochiel had yielded: but he bought his gratification dear.

The Master of Stair seems to have proposed to himself a truly great and good end, the pacification and civilisation of the Highlands.  He was, by the acknowledgment of those who most hated him, a man of large views.  He justly thought it monstrous that a third part of Scotland should be in a state scarcely less savage than New Guinea, that letters of fire and sword should, through a third part of Scotland, be, century after century, a species of legal process, and that no attempt should be made to apply a radical remedy to such evils.  The independence affected by a crowd of petty sovereigns, the contumacious resistance which they were in the habit of offering to the authority of the Crown and of the Court of Session, their wars, their robberies, their fireraisings, their practice of exacting black mail from people more peaceable and more useful than themselves, naturally excited the disgust and indignation of an enlightened and politic gownsman, who was, both by the constitution of his mind and by the habits of his profession, a lover of law and order.  His object was no less than a complete dissolution and reconstruction of society in the Highlands, such a dissolution and reconstruction as, two generations later, followed the battle of Culloden.  In his view the clans, as they existed, were the plagues of the kingdom; and of all the clans, the worst was that which inhabited Glencoe.  He had, it is said, been particularly struck by a frightful instance of the lawlessness and ferocity of those marauders.  One of them, who had been concerned in some act of violence or rapine, had given information against his companions.  He had been bound to a tree and murdered.  The old chief had given the first stab; and scores of dirks had then been plunged into the wretch's body.  By the mountaineers such an act was probably regarded as a legitimate exercise of patriarchal jurisdiction.  To the Master of Stair it seemed that people among whom such things were done and were approved ought to be treated like a pack of wolves, snared by any device, and slaughtered without mercy.  He was well read in history, and doubtless knew how great rulers had, in his own and other countries, dealt with such banditti.  He doubtless knew with what energy and what severity James the Fifth had put down the mosstroopers of the border, how the chief of Henderland had been hung over the gate of the castle in which he had prepared a banquet for the King; how John Armstrong and his thirty-six horsemen, when they came forth to welcome their sovereign, had scarcely been allowed time to say a single prayer before they were all tied up and turned off.  Nor probably was the Secretary ignorant of the means by which Sixtus the Fifth had cleared the ecclesiastical state of outlaws.  The eulogists of that great pontiff tell us that there was one formidable gang which could not be dislodged from a stronghold among the Apennines.  Beasts of burden were therefore loaded with poisoned food and wine, and sent by a road which ran close to the fastness.  The robbers sallied forth, seized the prey, feasted and died; and the pious old Pope exulted greatly when he heard that the corpses of thirty ruffians, who had been the terror of many peaceful villages, had been found lying among the mules and packages.  The plans of the Master of Stair were conceived in the spirit of James and of Sixtus; and the rebellion of the mountaineers furnished what seemed to be an excellent opportunity for carrying those plans into effect.  Mere rebellion, indeed, he could have easily pardoned.  On Jacobites, as Jacobites, he never showed any inclination to bear hard.  He hated the Highlanders, not as enemies of this or that dynasty, but as enemies of law, of industry and of trade.  In his private correspondence he applied to them the short and terrible form of words in which the implacable Roman pronounced the doom of Carthage.  His project was no less than this, that the whole hill country from sea to sea, and the neighbouring islands, should be wasted with fire and sword, that the Camerons, the Macleans, and all the branches of the race of Macdonald, should be rooted out.  He therefore looked with no friendly eye on schemes of reconciliation, and, while others were hoping that a little money would set everything right, hinted very intelligibly his opinion that whatever money was to be laid out on the clans would be best laid out in the form of bullets and bayonets.  To the last moment he continued to flatter himself that the rebels would be obstinate, and would thus furnish him with a plea for accomplishing that great social revolution on which his heart was set.  The letter is still extant in which he directed the commander of the forces in Scotland how to act if the Jacobite chiefs should not come in before the end of December.  There is something strangely terrible in the calmness and conciseness with which the instructions are given.  "Your troops will destroy entirely the country of Lochaber, Lochiel's lands, Keppoch's, Glengarry's and Glencoe's.  Your power shall be large enough.  I hope the soldiers will not trouble the government with prisoners."  This despatch had scarcely been sent off when news arrived in London that the rebel chiefs, after holding out long, had at last appeared before the Sheriffs and taken the oaths.  Lochiel, the most eminent man among them, had not only declared that he would live and die a true subject to King William, but had announced his intention of visiting England, in the hope of being permitted to kiss His Majesty's hand.  In London it was announced exultingly that every clan, without exception, had submitted in time; and the announcement was generally thought most satisfactory.  But the Master of Stair was bitterly disappointed.  The Highlands were then to continue to be what they had been, the shame and curse of Scotland.  A golden opportunity of subjecting them to the law had been suffered to escape, and might never return.  If only the Macdonalds would have stood out, nay, if an example could but have been made of the two worst Macdonalds, Keppoch and Glencoe, it would have been something.  But it seemed that even Keppoch and Glencoe, marauders who in any well governed country would have been hanged thirty years before, were safe.  While the Master was brooding over thoughts like these, Argyle brought him some comfort.  The report that Mac Ian had taken the oaths within the prescribed time was erroneous.  The Secretary was consoled.  One clan, then, was at the mercy of the government, and that clan the most lawless of all.  One great act of justice, nay of charity, might be performed.  One terrible and memorable example might be given.

Editor's Note:  With the publication of his "History of England From James II" Macaulay mentions Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel as being a "Ulysses of the Highlands."  He is widely credited for coining this term.