Slaughter Under Trust

The Massacre of Glencoe was a failure. That is the verdict reached in Slaughter Under Trust – Glencoe 1692 by Donald J. Macdonald (Robert Hale, 25s).

The author, who is the recently elected President of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh, brings a wealth of historical knowledge to this scholarly account of the attempt to extirpate Clann Iain.

His conclusions are: The plan had been carried out “secretly and suddenly,” but not quite entirely as conceived. Several avenues of escape had been left unguarded after all, and the little clan was not annihilated. From the grandiose scheme of wiping out the Clans Cameron, Glengarry, Keppoch, Stewart, Maclean and Glencoe, the conspirators had been forced to descend to the destruction of the smallest of these, and even that had been bungled. They had incurred the ignominy, guilt and execration without achieving the object of the exercise.

The number of those who died that black February morning has in popular imagination become somewhat inflated over the centuries. Mr Macdonald states:

“When everything possible had been done and the corpses counted it was found that in all 38 persons had been killed. The rest, the great majority, had vanished.

“From the time that the first shot was fired at five o’clock the people began to scatter. It was a tactical error to use muskets as the noise advertised in no uncertain manner what was going on. The fugitives made off in all directions to the hills and rocks, wherever they could find temporary shelter from the murderers. In this flight many of the weaker fell never to rise again. Others, hidden in caves and crevices of the rocks, died miserably of exposure. The numbers who died thus have been variously estimated; but certainly they could have been no less than those who perished at the hands of the soldiers. It is impossible to be sure; but we do know that many survived, otherwise how could MacIain have led close on a hundred fighting men out to Sheriffmuir twenty-three years later?

“By 1715 the Clann Iain had recovered in a wonderful way, and Alasdair, grandson of the murdered Chief, the babe who had been carried to safety in his nurse’s arms, was able to raise nearly 100 fighting men, and a similar number in 1745, which shows how miserably the Massacre failed.”

Out of this tale of intrigue and cold-blooded murder comes an incident worthy of the finest traditions of the Highland clans:

“In 1745 the MacIains were able to show true greatness of spirit when the Prince’s army lay at Kirkliston prior to their occupation of Edinburgh.

‘The Prince, in his anxiety to save Lord Stair from molestation, proposed that the Glencoe men should be marched to a distance from his residence, lest memories of ancient wrongs might move them to deeds of vengeance. When the proposal was made to the Glencoe men, their reply was that, if they were considered so dishonourable as to take revenge upon an innocent man, they were not fit to remain with honourable men, nor to support an honourable cause. It was only by much persuasion that they were induced to overlook what they regarded as an insult, and prevented from taking their departure.’ (Clan Donald, Vol. 2).

“They stayed; but demanded that they should provide a guard to see that no harm came to the Dalrymple estate, lest they be blamed for it.”

This is a book to clear away many of the inaccuracies which have grown up around the Massacre. The events which led up to the military operation against the Glencoe Macdonalds are traced, the atrocities committed recorded, and the guilt of the perpetrators adjudged.