Excerpt for Welcome Home: Historic Romance of the Celtic Legends by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

To all those who love wild, beautiful places
with a little Celtic magic.


Celtic Romance

Rob Roy’s Grave

Highland Rogues

Beloved Gregor

Massacre of Glen Fruin

The Children of the Mist

Henry Needs a Divorce

Beyond the Pale

The Tragic Queen

The Determined Queen

Foreigners and Thieves

War of Three Kingdoms

The Killing Time

The Glorious Revolution

Devilish Bonnie Dundee

Treachery at Glencoe

The Loss of Scotland

Treasonous MacGregors

Long March to Culloden

Like a Bird on the Wing

The Prince of Beare

Captain of the Wild Geese

Island Fortress

Scottish Songs

Irish Songs

Romantic Celtic Recipes

Please Review


Romantic Fiction


About Martina Boone

Celtic Romance

Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,

For I would ride with you upon the wind,

Run on the top of the disheveled tide,

And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”



THE HISTORIC LANDSCAPES OF Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall are steeped in thousands of years of myth, tragedy, and heroism. The landscape is wild and beautiful, the people are kind, fierce, tenacious, loyal, and romantically tragic—the very stuff of which heroes are made. For a writer, this is gold, but it’s also food for the soul, renewal in a world where it’s sometimes hard to find a hero.

Legend, history, food, and music—almost as much as the settings themselves—are at the core of each of my books in the Celtic Legends Collection.

Although my fiction is all set in the present, there is a bit of historical backdrop to every book, as well as a legend or snippet of folklore that adds to an element of suspense. (And of course, there is romance, some of which comes from the fact that my heroes tend to be modern men in kilts.)

Lake of Destiny, set in the Scottish Highlands, features Rob Roy MacGregor, the Children of the Mist, and the feud between the MacGregors and MacLarens. There’s also the legendary tradition of “Sighting,” which occurs on Beltane morning when the veil between worlds is thin.

Bell of Eternity, set on a fictional version of St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, involves the escape of Charles II, the forces of Oliver Cromwell, and a lost abbey bell with mystical powers, along with the legendary romance of Tristan and Isolde and the lifesaving traditions on the island that go back all the way to the early saints.

Magic of Winter takes us to the Highlands and the “Sighting” again, but it’s focused more on the heroic women of the Highlands, those who managed to defend and feed their families and tend the livestock and farms when their men were off raiding and playing at war. Like Mary Queen of Scots, they were often used as pawns, and sometimes their stories ended tragically. But like Mary, so many showed dignity, defiance, and determination to survive.

Echo of Glory (2018) covers the consequences of imbalances of power, both in the modern world and in the past, touching on one of the many dark periods of Irish history with the Dursey Island massacre and the O’Sullivan death march. It also brings in the Irish Brigades. Oh, and Vikings.

Heart of Legend (2018) is set in Wales near the Devil’s Kitchen and Caernarfon, and it deals with the tragic history of Owen Glendower, the Defender, the last Welshman to hold the title “Prince of Wales,” whom Shakespeare described as a man ruled by emotion and magic.

Because readers often email me about the recipes or songs or legends I mention, or ask about the history that serves as a backdrop, I want to share some of what lies behind the scenes, the personalities and the complex, human motivations.

Mostly, what follows in this book provides an overview of the historic struggles between England, Scotland, and Ireland seen through the lens of the biggest personalities, the most beloved, hated, and tragic heroes and heroines, including Rob Roy MacGregor, Mary Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. But there are lesser known stories, too. People such as:

  • Alastair MacGregor, whose exploits led to the MacGregors becoming “the Children of the Mist,”

  • Flora MacDonald, who whisked Bonnie Prince Charlie away to Skye dressed as a maid,

  • Donal Cam O’Sullivan, the Prince of Beare, who led a guerrilla war against Queen Elizabeth’s army that helped the other Gaelic Irish lords nearly bankrupt the English treasury,

  • Morty Óg O’Sullivan, Captain of the Wild Geese, who fought a rear-guard action after the tragedy of the Battle of Culloden with his Irish Brigade so that Bonnie Prince Charlie could escape,

  • Viscount “Bonnie” Dundee, who gathered support for the first Jacobite resistance and fought so valiantly that it was said he had made a pact with the devil and couldn’t be killed with lead.

These are some of the longer stories, but along the way and woven in between are the backdrops and the events that shaped the nations—and the reasons why those events occurred. There are also smaller tidbits of personalities tucked in there, the tragic stories of what Henry VIII’s quest for new wives did to the daughters of the wives he discarded, and thereby to three different countries, for example. This includes Elizabeth’s sexual assault, Mary’s very public eleven-month-long false pregnancy, the tragedy of Lady Jane Grey, and more.

The stories are organized loosely in relationship to the settings of my books, but like the turns of the Celtic wheel that shift from light to darkness and back to light, each is a small piece in a larger story. They mirror and build upon each other, and even after tragedy, death carries a wistful whiff of hope. You can read them in any order by jumping around in the table of contents. Within the major stories, I’ve tried to embed enough information to make the history understandable, but important points are also covered in between in more chronological order.

There’s no such thing as pure history. That is especially true here. I’m presenting a mixture of personality, psychology, history, legend, and personal opinion. Again, it’s meant as an overview for those who love the tragic heroes and heroines of the Celtic nations and their struggles, and for those who find that the usual histories so often leave out the hopes, dreams, and vices of the players, thereby making the bare facts dull and incomprehensible.

In 55,000 words, the history I offer up can’t be comprehensive. And sometimes I have to tackle difficult issues in a relatively short space, which can’t possibly hit all the critical points. The struggle between Catholics and Protestants, and between different types of Protestants, is a huge backdrop to why so many of these wars and struggles took place. Discussing this can’t be avoided, but for the big players on the stage, those in power, nothing that happened was ever really about religion—or any one thing. Their motivations were always mixed and fluid.

The vast majority of both Catholics and Protestants involved in these struggles were just ordinary people trying to feed their families and live their lives in as godly a manner as they could. The same is true for the Gaelic Irish in Ireland, the Highland clans in Scotland, and virtually everyone else. They were defending their homes and families. On the English side, most were following orders and trying to save their livelihoods because they had families to support. So many of the problems, too, were caused by splits and conflicting motivations within different factions. You can’t ever accurately say “the Scots” or “the Irish,” or even “the English,” as though interests within those countries were all aligned. Partly this is because of natural differences that grew from territorial, political, cultural, and religious allegiances, but partly it’s because the English Crown had discovered early on that seeding their own supporters in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Cornwall made it easier to control those territories.

Even the idea of supporting one’s family often had a different meaning back then than the way we think of it today. Wealth and power were built over generations, and the higher one flew, the more dangerous it was to lose what one had. Enemies a family made along the way were always waiting in the wings to pick over the bones after a fall. Families therefore often hedged their bets, keeping a father on one side and a son on the other or placing sons on either side of a war or rebellion.

Wealth came with privilege—and also with the power of life and death over literally thousands of people. There was an additional price tag, one wherein many of the wealthy and powerful removed themselves emotionally from the people beneath them. People too easily became a commodity, pieces on a chess board, their lives and lands something to be moved aside as necessary to achieve a goal. This is still too often true.

Just as there are today, there were unscrupulous, self-serving people on both sides of every conflict I describe in the following pages. You’ll probably detect some tone in my descriptions of the leaders whose actions resulted in the suffering of hundreds, if not thousands or tens of thousands, of others. I’m not a fan, for example, of either Henry VIII or Oliver Cromwell, nor do I much love any king or queen. If I were writing a pure academic history, I would make a greater effort to keep you from seeing my own biases, but I know myself well enough to acknowledge that I have an affinity for the underdog and against those who behave cruelly and with self-serving interest. This can’t help coloring my opinions, and even by picking and choosing what facts and whose stories I include or leave out, I’m necessarily shaping how the history and personalities come through in these pages.

In short, while I’m being as accurate as I can, I’m also creating a story with selected historical events. I hope it will be a taking-off point for you to go and find out more, to form your own opinion.

History is opinion. That’s what we aren’t taught often enough these days. The common narrative is written by the winner, with dissenting opinions tainted by the bitterness of the losers. Without fresh facts, historians may restore a bit of color here, a new perspective there, but what really happened is lost somewhere in between the brushstrokes. To piece it together accurately, we’d need many more perspectives from across the spectrum of people who were affected, and far greater insight into the hundreds of additional decisions and motivations that took place in the white space between the handwriting that issued orders.

If there’s a pattern to be seen in any of this history, it’s that any imbalance of power—as my characters discover in Echo of Glory—is inherently dangerous. The individuals I’ve described have families and causes, and they found themselves teetering at the very small tip of political pyramids—doing their best not to topple off as the entire structure was constantly bombarded from England. All families had in their midst weak men and brave, cruel men and kind, stupid men and brilliant ones. Some of the deeds were dastardly—there’s no excusing that, and I’m not trying to do so. I do try to strike a balance where the facts support it.

The lessons of history are complicated. We all love the legends that have been passed down through the ages about the heroes whom history has not forgotten. If I’m trying to achieve one thing here, it’s to show the history behind those legends, to illustrate that history is not just about battles and documents. It’s about people—it’s a tapestry of lives, loves, fears, families, loyalties, personal advancement, personal failure, greed. Emotion. Human frailty. Humanity. And yes, all too often inhumanity is woven in there along with everything else.

Again, feel free to use the table of contents to jump around to what captures your imagination. In addition to the legends and historical overviews, I’ve included a selection of songs that were written about the history in these pages, as well as some recipes that I hope will provide more insight and enjoyment. I occasionally send out recipes, music, and snippets of history and story in my newsletters, too, while I’m researching a new novel or when a book has recently been published. Please do sign up on my website if you’re interested. The information for how to do that, along with a free offer for an upcoming book, is located after the end of the document.

Rob Roy’s Grave

Many miles away

there’s a shadow on the door

of a cottage on the shore

of a dark Scottish lake.”


YEARS AGO, ON A SPARKLING blue afternoon, I was driving in the Scottish Highlands when I passed a rusting black-and-white road sign pointing to Rob Roy MacGregor’s grave. Now, being a sucker for Scottish history, Sir Walter Scott, and Liam Neeson in a kilt (not necessarily in that order), I had to take the detour. And I fell utterly in love with the Balquhidder Glen.

The location itself was beautiful, of course, in that wild way of Scottish glens with steep-sided, heather-covered braes and lochs glittering silver beneath an endless sky, but it also had an aura of something magical. Something more.

Sometime in the eighth or ninth century, St. Angus reportedly came to the glen and described it as one of the places that the native Celts considered “thin,” where the demarcation between Heaven (or the Otherworld) and Earth was more permeable than elsewhere. He spent the rest of his life there and built a church near the spot where the Victorian church still stands, alongside the ruins of another stone church and the cemetery where Rob Roy MacGregor lies buried.

Rob Roy was a MacGregor chief, a hero to many, an outlaw to the English and many Scots. He was the subject of a novel written about him while he was still alive—one of the first instances of a literary celebrity in his own lifetime. He’s been written about ever since, with perhaps the best known examples from Sir Walter Scott and the film Rob Roy starring Liam Neeson. I’ll delve more deeply into Rob Roy in upcoming chapters, but while Rob’s history permeates the Balquhidder glen and still brings in many—if not most—of the tourists who visit the area, his burial in the graveyard there is lately somewhat controversial.

The first clan chiefs in the area were MacLarens, but they lost their chief in the sixteenth century and officially became “chiefless and landless.” It wasn’t until 1957 that a successful petition was put forth in the Court of Lyon to restore a rightful chief. That chief, the MacLaren, had a home in the glen of Balquhidder, and he wasn’t best pleased by all the attention still given to Robert Roy MacGregor.

The Gaels, the Celtic people of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall, are a passionate folk. Their memories are long, and their loves and hatreds both run deep. And historically, the MacLarens have no cause to be friends with the MacGregors.

The enmity between the clans goes back to a disagreement in 1558 when a MacGregor raid in the Balquhidder glen, perhaps instigated by the Campbells, saw the death of the MacLaren and many of his kinsmen. Chiefless, the MacLarens were pushed out of their ancestral lands, some of which have since been occupied by MacGregors. More on this later, too.

An inscription placed in the Balquhidder kirk in the nineteenth century read:

















A.D. 1558

As I said, memories are long. The new twentieth century MacLaren chief not only disliked the fact that the public sees Rob Roy as a hero, he also cast doubt on where Rob is buried.

A fictionalized aftermath of that feud between MacLarens and MacGregors features in both Lake of Destiny and Magic of Winter, where in my version of the glen both families coexist, along with Stewarts and many others, and where disagreements still collect loyalty along clan lines. Following these lines is complicated, given centuries of marriages, but also because the MacGregors weren’t always allowed to use their name. For nearly 200 years, the very name MacGregor (including Gregor) was banned by the Crown and Parliament.

The words “MacGregor Despite Them” are engraved on the tombstone at the head of the grave where Rob Roy lies buried beside his wife and two of his sons. More about this later, too. But it was these words, along with the scenery, that first fascinated me as I drove almost by accident into the Balquhidder glen all those years ago.

The grave is romantic enough, but to complete the picture, it lies—near the Victorian church alongside the beautiful ruin of an old stone church, which was likely built on top of the one from which St. Angus preached. It was here, at this second church, that a soberly Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Robert Kirk, preached in the seventeenth century. Since this was in the midst of the Protestant Reformation and the Bible was, for the first time, being made accessible to the common people, he raced to be one of the first to translate portions into Gaelic. He went to London to supervise the printing of Bishop Bedell’s Gaelic Bible, and was himself responsible for translating the Psalms of David in Metre.

But according to legend—and his own writings—in between his Sunday sermons and other duties, the Reverend Kirk would sometimes wander outside in his nightclothes and venture away into the faery world of wonder and magic. Years later, as the legend goes, he was taken back to that Otherworld to become the chaplain to the Fairy Queen, and he never returned.

He collected his own faery encounters, along with those from his neighbors, into a manuscript that he worked on until his death. A century later, Sir Walter Scott (who also made Rob Roy MacGregor a household name) published these stories in a book titled The Secret Commonwealth or an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the most part) Invisible People heretofore going under the names of Fauns, and Fairies, or the like, among the Low Country Scots as described by those who have second sight. Most scholars of folklore consider this to be one of the crucial and authoritative collections on faery folklore. Folklorist (and beloved author of all those rainbow colors of Fairy Tales) Andrew Lang published a second version of this in the late nineteenth century, called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. I spent hours and hours poring over Lang’s books as a teenager and young adult.

As if all this wouldn’t have been enough to fire my imagination, before leaving the Balquhidder glen, I also had an encounter with a flock of meandering sheep, a lonely horse bit the side mirror of my rental car when I tried to stop petting him, and a shaggy Highland bull charged over to lick my camera lens while I was trying to take his picture. (I still have the photo of his tongue.) Add to that a lovely meal and an hour-long conversation with a Scottish nationalist who passionately and patiently explained why Scotland never should have been—and still shouldn’t be—subservient to, or lumped together with, England, and it was a day I’ve never forgotten.

I knew I would write about the glen someday, but I also knew it would be a story about modern feuds with ancient roots. I needed a way to bring in that mystical aspect that both St. Angus and Robert Kirk found in the glen, that idea that there are things beyond our human sight and understanding, things about fate and destiny and magic we can’t always see with our eyes but must believe with our hearts.

To this end, I had to make some changes to the setting for Lake of Destiny. Because the place has changed some since the first time that I visited, and because the legend of the “Sighting” on Beltane morning is purely a figment of my imagination based on a range of ancient Celtic folklore, mythology, and traditions, I wanted to make it clear that my Balwhither isn’t exactly the one you’ll find when you wander off the highway. For this reason, I chose to use the name Balwhither for my fictional setting. It’s the phonetic spelling of Balquhidder, anyway, and it’s also one of the spellings Robert Louis Stephenson uses in his books. (Although, quite literally in the space of a few paragraphs in David Balfour, he spells Balquhidder in three different ways.)

Both in my fiction and in real life, the glen is near Loch Katrine, not far from the famous Loch Lomond. It lies a short distance into the Highlands beyond Callander and the Trossachs, partway between Stirling and Glasgow. Not far away, one can visit Stirling Castle and the battlefield at Bannockburn where, in 1314, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace—of Braveheart fame—along with a force of less than 10,000 Scots defeated King Edward II and his army of 20,000 English, leading ultimately to victory in the First War of Scottish Independence.

The Scots—and the Irish and Welsh, for that matter—have a habit of snatching victory from much larger foes. It’s one of the things that makes their history so fascinating and heartbreaking.

Entering the glen, you can follow the single-track road along first Loch Voile and then past the much smaller Loch Doine. Because of the legend of the “Sighting,” I renamed these Loch Fàil and Loch Daoine. Between them, there’s a narrow peninsula where the legend of the “Sighting” is engraved on a stone:









The “bright day” is Beltane, one of the four cusps of the year that hang between seasons, and in some places in the Gaelic countries there was a tradition of washing the face in the morning dew of Beltane to usher in spring and bring prosperity after a long, hard winter. On Beltane, there were also bonfires and various rites, including gifts given to the fae and wishes left on trees. All of this is woven into the “Sighting,” but it’s the effect of knowing who you are meant to love that caught at me when conceiving the book.

How do you live your life if you already know who you will end up loving? What if you don’t want to marry that person? To have that sort of life? How does such foreknowledge affect you when you meet the person whose face you already recognize?

In a place where feuds already ran deep, I could envision this leading to so many bad choices, problems, and secrets.

I do so love fictional secrets . . .

Beyond Loch Doine, the real Robert Roy MacGregor had a homestead. The road stops here, at Inverlochlarig, where my fictional Connal MacGregor now has a manor house. But continuing down the glen from here and crossing over the mountain, one would arrive at Loch Katrine.

Rob Roy was born across the mountain near this much larger lake. It was also along Loch Katrine where, at Brenachyle in 1753, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s friend and trusted aid, the Lieutenant Colonel Doctor Archibald Cameron, was captured in the last and final gasp of the Jacobite Risings.

The “Bonnie” Prince, the heir to the ousted Stuart line, was the son of King James, who had been deposed for being Catholic, and too much of an absolute monarch, and replaced with the Protestant William of Orange from Holland, who was married to James' daughter Mary. I’ll get to much more about the whys and wherefores of the Jacobite Risings later, but for now it’s only important to know that there were three major attempts to restore the Stuart kings. Rob Roy MacGregor’s father fought in the first, in 1688, and was imprisoned for treason afterward. Rob Roy himself fought in the Rising of 1715 at the age of 18, and he—in turn—was imprisoned for that. The Rising in 1745 ended in the tragedy of the Battle of Culloden, where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army was slaughtered and the prince escaped purely due to the bravery of the Highlanders and the men of the Irish Brigade who laid down their lives to provide him cover. The Skye Boat song records the journey in which Flora MacDonald snuck him away to Skye disguised as a maid so he could later return to France. A legend in Ireland claims he spent one night on Dursey Island in Cork, before the swashbuckling local O’Sullivan Beare chief, Irish patriot and smuggler, Morty Óg O’Sullivan, whisked him away in the ship he used to sneak deserters from the British army over to France to fight in the Irish Brigades. (More about Morty later and in Echo of Glory.)

But the Risings weren’t meant to end in 1745. There was a reason that Archibald Cameron came back to Loch Katrine in 1753, which was that he was back to retrieve the gold that had been earmarked to pay for the Jacobite Rising of ’45. The gold had been lost, and—some say—with it the hopes of the Jacobite cause. Legends claim the search for the gold continued, and in fact continues still. It is possible, though, that it was intercepted by the English at the time. It’s not a small sum—today it would be worth close to $14,000,000.

Archibald was also there to organize a new plot to assassinate George II and other members of the English royal family, paving the way for Prince Charles to return. Presumably, paying for this was why the gold was needed. That, however, is also a story for another time, one I haven’t written yet, so stay tuned for that.

The gold wasn’t found, and the assassination plot didn’t go anywhere, either. Cameron was betrayed by the notorious “Pickle the Spy” and taken to the Tower of London, where he was hanged, drawn, and quartered, the last Jacobite executed on Tower Hill. With him ended all hope of restoring the Stuart dynasty.

Balquhidder is a wonderful place for walking, settling in at a charming bed and breakfast, having a delicious tea in the afternoon, or just driving through on a windy afternoon when the sunlight and the honey scent of heather sink into your skin.

And when you turn your head just so, your imagination can play tricks. The fae vanish in the shadows of the trees, and blurred bits of tartan plaid disappear into the mists of the Highland braes, like the long-vanished and nameless men of the clan MacGregor.

Highland Rogues

My name is not spoken,” she replied

with a great deal of haughtiness.

More than a hundred years it has not gone

upon men’s tongues, save for a blink.

I am nameless like the Folk of Peace.”



CONNAL MACGREGOR, THE TROUBLED HERO of Lake of Destiny, is a descendent of Robert Roy MacGregor. And like Rob Roy, when he’s being hunted, he retreats to the glen of his ancestors for refuge. In Connal’s case, he’s doing all he can to shelter his disfigured daughter from the paparazzi following the death of her mother, a famous actress, in an alcohol-involved accident. But because Connal is himself a well-known actor, protecting Moira means that he has to change his name from the one he used on the screen. In Lake of Destiny, in other words, Connal is going back to the name MacGregor. I did that as an echo of history.

The MacGregors are arguably both the most maligned and most glorified of the Highland clans. Most probably, to paraphrase Jane Austen, they deserve neither such praise nor such censure. They had a fine advocate in Sir Walter Scott, but they also had great enemies, the MacLarens, the Colquhouns, and, most importantly, the Campbells among them. And with the enmity of the Campbells came the enmity of the Scottish—and eventually—the English Kings.

The MacGregors were outlawed for nearly 200 years, the men allowed to be hunted and massacred like animals, their lands confiscated, their very name prohibited on pain of death. That’s the reason the tombstone at the head of the grave where Rob Roy, his wife, and one of his sons, are buried, proclaims that he was a “MacGregor Despite Them.” Because the use of the MacGregor name was prohibited during his lifetime, he used his mother’s Campbell surname until he himself became an outlaw. At that point, already pursued by the authorities, he used MacGregor as a challenge and signal of defiance.

Rob Roy’s exploits became so famous that a book published about him in 1723 ultimately prompted King George I to send an emissary to Scotland to meet with him, leading to new adventures. Sir Walter Scott wrote Rob Roy based on that book in 1817, and the 1723 book is usually credited to the work of Daniel Defoe, but there is no official author on the early copies. The National Library of Scotland has it listed by an anonymous author under the title The Highland rogue: or, the memorable actions of the celebrated Robert Mac-gregor, commonly called Rob-Roy.

I’ll get to more about Rob Roy specifically in the next section, but the importance of Scott’s story is that it not only helped Rob Roy obtain a pardon and live out his latter days in the Balquhidder glen, it also helped shape the way the entire MacGregor clan is remembered. Given the history I’m about to tell, that becomes critical. It’s a great example of the pen being mightier than the sword.

And the truth is, applying common sense to the situation, they can’t have been as bad as they’ve been painted by many because, given the weight of the laws and the power of the punishments levied against them, they wouldn’t have survived without allies.

It comes down to this: while the Highland clans were bound by powerful ties of family and fealty, there were many different branches. The entire MacGregor clan was the subject of the laws meting out their persecution, but it was chiefly a single branch of one family that brought about their eventual downfall.

Just as James Graham, the Duke of Montrose, was the villain of Rob Roy’s story, the Campbells of Glen Orchy were the force that brought down the MacGregors before Rob Roy was ever born. It is this feud that led to the MacGregor clan becoming the “Children of the Mist.”

Beloved Gregor

Ba hu, ba hu, little orphan,

you are only young yet;

But I fear the day will never come that

you will avenge your father.”



THE MACGREGOR CLAN WASN’T large as far as clans went, but it was one of the oldest in the Highlands. Their very motto of “My Race is Royal” went back to the oldest of the Gaelic chiefships, and at one point they had owned nearly half of Scotland. In a bit of irony—given Rob Roy’s later use of the Campbell name—their problems started with a dispute with one particular branch of the Campbell clan that had a seat at Glen Orchy.

The Campbells, a powerful clan, and the MacGregors had long been uneasy allies. They fought together for Robert the Bruce, and bled together on the battlefields at Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge, but the Campbells came out ahead when it came to rewards. It was a Campbell who ended up married to the Bruce’s sister, and their son became the first Earl of Atholl. Well placed now, when the MacGregors supported the Lord of the Isles in a dispute a little later, Bruce’s son, David II, gave a fair bit of land that had once belonged to the MacGregors to the Campbells, including the barony of Loch Awe. Over the next centuries, the Campbell power grew even further, and they received a number of additional titles, becoming the Earls of Argyll as well as Atholl, although the Atholl title soon passed to the Murrays and it was the Earl of Argyll who became the Campbell chief.

With the dominion of their land given over to the Campbells, the MacGregors now went from being their equals to being their vassals, bound to serve them in military service, sometimes in the course of this waging war against neighboring clans in an odd mixture of English feudalism and Highland clan allegiances. But still, the MacGregors and Campbells remained on fairly good terms. They intermarried, fostered each other’s children, and stood surety for each other’s oaths.

Then, for a period, the fortunes of the Campbells of Glen Orchy waned. Their lands dwindled. The MacGregors were pressed into the service of Iain Campbell of Cawdor by the Campbell, the Earl of Argyll, and various legal means were taken to further reduce the lands and standing of the MacGregors.

By early in the sixteenth century, the Campbells of Glen Orchy and Strachur were both determined to rebuild and grow their holdings. Then Iain MacGregor of Glen Strae died without children in 1519, which left a power vacuum. This created a period of instability in which varying MacGregor factions squabbled. The Campbells stepped in, asserted some creative muscle, and came out much to their own advantage with a claim to the MacGregor lands at Glen Strae.

We now come to Colin Campbell, known as “Grey Colin,” who inherited the Campbell estates at Glen Orchy. And he, and later his son “Black Duncan of the Cowl,” went on a major offensive to rebuild the Campbell of Orchy fortunes using any means at their disposal, most of them—though not all—legal, if highly unscrupulous. Systematically, they pushed out or impoverished neighboring families and replenished their own estates.

The MacGregors, while generally known to be good businessmen, were, in contrast to this sort of quiet, patient Campbell scheming, of more forthright, stubborn, and fiercely independent natures. In some cases, this played right into the hands of the Campbells, because lands could—and often did—become forfeit as the result of disputes. Someone with connections could game the system, in other words, by pushing someone into armed conflict, having them commit an offense against you, and then petitioning for their lands as reparation. The Campbells had those connections, and they used them.

Over the course of some years of systematic pressure, Grey Colin managed to maneuver the MacGregors into a position more and more within his control. The feud, which had started relatively small in Grey Colin’s area, spread gradually into Lochaber, Atholl, Strathearn, Menteith, and the Lennox, involving almost all the great families in Argyll and Perthshire. It cut off trade and travel and became a great disruption overall.

Colin pressed the MacGregors tighter and tighter. Not only did they lose land to him directly, but he also squeezed the Earl of Argyll into returning them back into his own service as vassals. This time, however, it was not simply fealty that bound them. The Earl of Argyll gave Colin the legal overlordship of the remaining MacGregor homelands, with effective control of the main MacGregor Glen Strae seat. This left them powerless to stand against Colin, regardless of what he asked them to do. Otherwise, they would have risked losing their last remaining stronghold.

The middle part of the sixteenth century was a bit rocky in Scotland—as it was elsewhere, come to that. Henry VIII had decided he needed a new wife (more about this later) so he had dumped the Catholic Church, along with the power of the pope, and set himself up as the head of the Church of England. This coincided with Protestantism breaking out in Europe through the influence of Martin Luther and John Calvin, which for the first time gave common people—those who didn’t read Latin, though not the masses who couldn’t read at all—access to the Bible and separated religion from the corruption that had crept into the Catholic Church.

The people of Scotland, who had all been Catholic up until now, started to accept these Reformed doctrines—with quite a bit of help from Henry VIII, who wasn’t thrilled about having a Catholic country, with allegiances to the pope and to Catholic France, along his most vulnerable border. He’d only recently fought a fresh war with James V, the Scottish king, and he’d gotten a good reminder of how fiercely the Scots could fight.

To make matters even more complicated, right after that war with Henry, James V had died, leaving a six-day-old daughter as his only heir. Mary Queen of Scots obviously couldn’t rule herself, so her French (and Catholic) mother, together with a succession of powerful lords, were the ones actually in charge.

Henry had realized it would be a wonderful plan to get rid of a separate Scottish monarchy altogether, and what the English hadn’t managed to accomplish since before Robert the Bruce, he decided he could accomplish through marriage. To this end, he proposed a wedding between the new Queen of Scots and his own son Edward. Mary had only to allow herself (or rather to have her regents make her) to agree to be basically brought up as English, and Protestant, and to come and live in England when she was ten years old.

There were some Protestant and pro-English factions who thought this was a good idea, but a lot of other people didn’t agree, so Scotland plunged into civil war. Into this, Grey Colin and his son Black Duncan waded with skill and great political savvy.

The Campbells were Protestant. The MacGregors—most of them—were still Catholics. In essence, they were on opposite sides of a war for much of the next few years.

Mary had been whisked off to France and married to the heir to the French throne, and even managed to, very briefly, become queen of France before her husband died. For years, French soldiers had helped to stabilize things for her in Scotland.

This wasn’t entirely from the goodness of their hearts. Thanks to his very public matrimonial machinations with the your-mother-and-I-were-never-technically-married-at-all and the other your-mother-committed-treason-so-I-chopped-off-her-head thing, Henry had managed to make both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, technically illegitimate, and though he later jumped through some legal hoops to fix it, he left a loophole that made Mary Stuart a legitimate contender to be not only queen of Scotland, but also queen of England and Ireland in her own right.

Mary’s claim to the throne wasn’t lost on the king of France. He lost no time once Henry was gone in declaring Mary, along with his own son, as the rightful queen and king of England, Ireland, and Scotland. But Mary wasn’t old enough to rule yet, and by the time she was, her French husband had already died. With less at stake, and a religious uprising on their hands at home, the French couldn’t do much to help Mary at home.

In 1561, Mary came home to Scotland, just turned eighteen and a brand new widow, to finally claim her throne. England had seen a quick succession of monarchs since Henry VIII. Edward VI had lasted six years, and since he’d been a young boy when Henry died, he’d had self-serving regents governing for him most of the time. He’d been followed by Lady Jane Grey (more later about poor Jane), who was queen for only nine days, then by Bloody Mary, who was Catholic and did her best in her short time as queen to stamp out some of that pesky Protestantism by burning people at the stake. Now, finally, there was Elizabeth II, who was just coming into power when Mary arrived on Scottish soil.

Elizabeth was Protestant. Again. And seeing both Mary and Scotland as a threat to her crown, her country, and her faith, she began quietly stoking Protestant and pro-England, pro-Unification fires across the Scottish border.

War, always simmering in the background, erupted in full force. An alliance of pro-Catholic, pro-“Auld (French) Alliance,” and/or loyalist Stuart supporters fought against newly reformed pro-English Scottish Protestants, who had taken control during the time regents ruled in Mary’s stead while she lived in France. John Knox, a fiery preacher supported by Elizabeth, basically said Mary was the devil and did his best to swing the tide of public sentiment against Mary and her supporters.

But Grey Colin Campbell of Glen Orchy played politics very well.

The staunchly Protestant Campbells, and most especially the Earl of Argyll, had been fighting on the pro-Protestant, pro-English, pro-United-Britain side of the wars in Scotland, not to mention meddling deeply in Irish politics on behalf of England, and they now had to face a reckoning when Mary managed to ward off all challengers and settled herself firmly on the throne of Scotland. Grey Colin presented himself at court, penitent, swore fealty to her, made some fairly easy guarantees, and off he went home again with the queen’s good graces—and her ear for future MacGregor disputes.

An opportunity arose almost immediately. Two MacGregors killed some Campbells.

Gregor Roy MacGregor had just come of age and become the new chief of the Clan MacGregor. Now Grey Colin gave him a choice. He could hand over the two men who had killed the Campbells and agree to some “unspecified legal restrictions” or he would have to give up his lands at Glen Strae.

In effect, the choice was this: Gregor could become homeless, or he could be powerless.

Gregor Roy answered Colin’s ultimatum by attacking a Campbell convoy, setting off a period of intense fighting that lasted eight years. There was one hiatus in the hostilities between 1565 and 1567, and in that period, Gregor Roy married Colin’s niece—which made what happened next still more horrible even than it would otherwise have been.

In 1570, Colin Campbell swept in and took Gregor Roy captive, holding him prisoner for eight months before winning a judgment from a jury of mostly Campbell supporters, which gave him the right to execute Gregor Roy.

Gregor’s wife, Marion, heavily pregnant with the couple’s second child, was present at the execution. Afterward, she wrote one of the most beautiful laments in Scottish literature about her feelings. (There’s an English translation of Griogal Cridhe, “Dearest Gregor,” included in the songs section of this book.)

Now, into this environment was born Alastair MacGregor of Glen Strae, who grew up in the home of a stepfather chosen for his mother by her Campbell father, a woman who lamented his father’s death and hated and bitterly blamed her own Campbell relations for their treachery in bringing about his death. Grey Colin and his son Black Duncan controlled Alastair’s rightful family seat, and the power, dignity, and ability of the MacGregor family to live as free men was virtually broken.

By now, the quarrel had largely passed from Colin to Duncan, who would become the first Baronet of Glenorchy. Duncan was even smarter and more unscrupulous than his father. He pushed the MacGregors. Hard. And the harder they pushed him back, the more he used his connections to turn the law against all MacGregors.

Dispossessed of their lands, their livestock, their very identities, the MacGregors scraped out a living any way they could. This wasn’t always strictly peacefully or honestly. Their very reputation came to be steeped in “lawlessness,” and they became adept at vanishing “into the mist,” protected by the rugged terrain of the Highlands as well as, clearly, the loyalty of many people who could have turned them in. Their very reputation for lawlessness was fostered by the Campbells, though, and yet they were still Campbell vassals.

There began a long period where they balanced on the knife-edge, falling in and out of favor with the Campbells while navigating complicated business dealings, land issues, and political pressures. At various points, the Campbells would either leave them alone or hunt them and kill them with impunity. The MacGregors would periodically retaliate, or instigate.

To survive, under Alastair MacGregor, the MacGregors developed an even stronger reputation for raiding.

Now, many of the Highland clans were warlike and independent at the time, so raiding wasn’t unusual. Family fortunes, countries, and monarchies had always—up until then—been forged by taking something at sword’s point that belonged to someone else. Furthermore, under the Highland system, one didn’t always have a choice about whether or not to participate in a raid. If one owed loyalty to someone else, if the land you farmed was within their territory, or if you fell within their clan—or your clan was a vassal of some other lord—you might not have the option to refuse.

For whatever reason, survival, loyalty, opportunity—or a combination of the above—while other clans were also raiding, the MacGregors became so adept at stealing the cattle of their enemies that it has been suggested that the term “blackmail” or “black meal” is derived from the idea that if you befriended the MacGregors, or paid them enough, they would leave your cattle or property alone. (In truth, “black rent” and “black taxes” were known by many different terms and collected by many different families—in Scotland, Ireland, and elsewhere.)

Here, though, we come back to the MacGregor raid on the MacLarens of Balquhidder.

Indisputable facts concerning this story are very scant. It happened in 1558, and in the course of the raid, eighteen MacLaren men were killed. Their families were either killed or dispossessed, and MacGregors took control of their homes and land. Again, this was not unusual at the time—it had certainly happened to the MacGregors more than once. But the MacGregors had no political clout at this point, no protection—in theory. Yet, until nearly fifty years later, in 1603, no complaint was made against them for these murders, and by the time it was first mentioned, they were already being tried for other offenses. Even then, while they were pronounced guilty on other charges, they were cleared of crimes against the MacLarens.

The lack of complaint about the MacGregor raids prior to 1603 certainly wasn’t for lack of opportunity. In 1593, for example, after a MacGregor had killed a royal forester while poaching on royal land, the situation escalated to the point where Mary Queen of Scots herself gave the order for her soldiers to pursue the MacGregors by “fire and sword,” which meant that they could be killed with impunity and their homes and livestock burned. Again, there is no mention of the MacLaren massacre as justification for this order.

And the MacGregors somehow survived—which suggests they had more allies than is generally reported.

But then . . . along came a new problem. There was the matter of the Colquhouns and the massacre of Glen Fruin.

Massacre of Glen Fruin

But doom’d and devoted by vassal and lord,

MacGregor has still both his heart and his sword!”



OF THIS PARTICULAR STORY, there are multiple versions.

In the MacGregor-friendly version, two MacGregor men on a journey asked for food and shelter from the clan Colquhoun at Glen Fruin near modern Glasgow in 1603. The Colquhouns turned them away, and the MacGregor men, by now both cold and hungry, killed a sheep which, being a rare “black” sheep, led to its absence being almost immediately discovered by its owner. The two MacGregor men were summarily executed. And in retaliation—allegedly—the MacGregor chief mustered men and went to avenge his two lost clansmen and the lack of hospitality given to them.

That’s one version.

Another possible interpretation is that the MacGregors had come to collect the “black” sheep (which could be plural) that were the sixteenth century equivalent of a protection racket the MacGregors had gotten very skilled at running. Many of the transactions people made at the time involved the exchange of livestock, and this was especially true in terms of the “black rent” or “black tax” that families like the MacGregors charged to leave someone’s property and livestock unmolested.

A third version, one even less friendly to the MacGregors, is far more complicated.

The MacGregors had a history of raiding on Colquhoun land. They weren’t alone in raiding or causing trouble in the Highlands. As I’ve already pointed out, raiding your neighbors was a pretty popular pastime back then, for one thing, and for another, in many cases, such “trouble” was a question not just of fighting for survival, but of who was loyal to the person sitting on the throne, whether they were Catholic or Protestant—and which particular flavor of Protestant—and their general alliances and debts of duty owed to more powerful lords and clans who routinely stole land from each other. Due to the very complex system of clanship and allegiance, along with a slew of other reasons, in 1587, the Scottish Parliament had enacted the Act of General Ban, which held lords accountable for their vassals and the actions of the people living on their lands. In effect, this made the Earl of Argyll—despite his having given the Campbell of Glen Orchy control of the MacGregor family seat at Glen Strae—responsible for everything the MacGregors did.

Reportedly, he didn’t have much luck controlling them, either, and by now he may have been tired of the whole mess. Only a few years after the Act of General Ban was enacted, he went back to the Crown to get permission to suppress the “wicked” MacGregors and various other “broken” men of the Highlands. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, he was also starting to be in need of a little influx of cash at this particular point in time, given some things he’d been doing over in Ireland that were starting to become a little worrisome, messy, and expensive and would eventually tie his fortunes to the Nine Years’ War in Ireland.

But back to his MacGregor problems.

Years after the Act of General Ban, the Colquhouns were complaining bitterly about the MacGregors to anyone else who would listen, and they were not only complaining to Argyll, by now they were complaining a bit about Argyll for failing to comply with the Act and control the MacGregor “menace.”

Not coincidentally, in the aftermath of what happened after the Battle of Fruin, Argyll featured heavily.

There was also more than a hint of nefarious doings.

So. Now we need to return to the Colquhoun version of what happened to the two men who were killed over a sheep. In this version, the circumstances were vastly different.

According to the Colquhouns, it wasn’t about hospitality, and it wasn’t two MacGregor men who were killed.

Instead, it was two Colquhoun men who were murdered by MacGregors in yet another MacGregor raid. And in place of a single sheep, black or otherwise, the MacGregors reportedly rode away with 300 Colquhoun cows, 100 horses, 400 sheep, and 400 goats.

Perhaps if it involved a smaller number of animals, this version of the story might be more believable. Trying to herd that many animals—of vastly different sizes and temperaments—through the Highland passes to MacGregor land would have been very difficult, though, and would have required a lot of manpower at any time of year. In December, it would have been a formidable task requiring much preparation, and the Colquhoun men would have fought hard to prevent the loss of that many animals. Such a loss would have represented tremendous hardship in the coming winter.

So let’s take this with a grain of salt.

Meanwhile, long and—potentially dubious—story short, since the Earl of Argyll was now responsible for the behavior of the MacGregors, the Colquhouns went to him with their new complaint. Argyll counseled them to take the bloody shirts of the two murdered men straight to King James VI, the son of Mary Queen of Scots. Which they did.

King James duly gave the Colquhouns the right to bear arms against the MacGregors and pursue them with impunity. In other words, a hunting license and it was MacGregor season.

What happened next, though, isn’t entirely clear. Because the Colquhouns did not go hunting.

Either they sat back to wait for better weather, or maybe they somehow incited what happened next. Whichever the case, the subsequent round of action didn’t occur on MacGregor land with Colquhouns in pursuit.

It occurred when the MacGregors returned to Glen Fruin in force.

And after that, for a while, the stories all agree.

Having mustered clansmen and allies, fewer than 400 MacGregors marched to Glen Fruin in early February. But the Colquhouns had been warned, and they had already gathered at least twice as many fighters, including 300 horsemen and 500 additional men on foot.

The Colquhouns were so certain of their victory that they brought along some young students from the Collegiate School of Dumbarton to watch and learn how they were going to deal with those who troubled them.

Unfortunately for the students—and the Colquhouns—the battle didn’t go as expected. The MacGregors fought both intelligently and fiercely, and they left so many Colquhouns dead that the Colquhoun survivors—and the Earl of Argyll—reported the battle to King James as a massacre, laying the “murder” of 140 Colquhoun men squarely on the MacGregors.

Once again, King James was persuaded to take their side.

Interestingly, some accounts say that the MacGregors also killed the young men from the college, but oddly, this wasn’t in the official complaint made to James against them. Instead, it was the massacre of the eighteen MacLaren men in the Balquhidder glen way back in 1558 that was added to the charges of butchering Colquhoun men at the Battle of Glen Fruin. Yes, that’s forty-five years after the fact, in case you’re keeping track.

By this time, King James felt he’d had quite enough of the MacGregors, thank you very much. Not only were they still Catholics, which in the mind of many was bad enough, but according to the reports, they were primarily charged with just being awful people.

On February 24, 1603, James and his Privy Council passed the Proscriptive Acts of the Clan MacGregor, which ordered that the “unhappie and detestable” MacGregor “race” should be “extirpat and ruttit out, and never suffered to have rest or remaining within this countrey hierafter.” The Acts abolished even the use of the MacGregor name on pain of death, and made it legal to hunt MacGregors by any means.

Eventually, Alastair MacGregor of Glen Strae and his men, charged with the murder of the 140 Colquhoun men for the Battle of Fruin, were caught. Alastair negotiated safe passage out of the country to England with the Earl of Argyll—who was, remember, a close relative, since Alastair was the son of the Marion Campbell who had married Gregor MacGregor. But Argyll then promptly turned Alastair and eleven of his chieftains over to the Scottish authorities for execution.

The men were hanged on a single cross, and Alastair—after some judicious torture—was hanged a head’s height above them as their chief.

But there’s even a further whiff of Campbell treachery.

Alastair, in his last confession, blamed the Campbells for having instigated the raid on the Colquhouns in a bid to enrich themselves. And remembering the subordinate and over-a-barrel position in which Alastair had found himself with Black Duncan, this isn’t implausible from a practical perspective.

From a spiritual perspective, it makes still more sense. As a Catholic, it would have been pointless for Alastair to make a false confession, since anything but a full and truthful one would not have resulted in absolution. Either Alastair was telling the truth, or he was fully prepared to forgo salvation to implicate the Campbells falsely.

It’s an interesting question.

Once Alastair was gone, with no land of their own for sanctuary and even their name forbidden to them, the MacGregor clan retreated to remote places in the Highlands and came to be known as the Children of the Mist. MacGregor women were stripped, branded, and whipped through the streets, and MacGregor men, regardless of the name they used, could not carry so much as a pointed knife. They could be robbed or killed with impunity, and the killing of a MacGregor was not merely not a crime, it was to be encouraged. The killer sometimes even earned a reward.

Technically, no child could be baptized a MacGregor, and clerks and notaries were prohibited from subscribing bond or other securities to anyone who bore the MacGregor name, which made it impossible for them to transfer property or conduct business. What land they held, they had to hold by the sword, and—without property titles—this made them even more vulnerable to their powerful neighbors.

In 1661, Charles II briefly rewarded the clan by lifting the Proscription Acts in exchange for the loyalty of the MacGregors in fighting with James Graham, the Duke of Montrose, on the side of the Scottish Royalists in support of his father, Charles I. (The Campbells fought on the opposite, pro-Covenanter, side.) But William of Orange renewed the Acts again in 1693. The MacGregors then fought on the side of the Jacobites in the Risings of 1715 and 1745, and it wasn’t until 1774 that the Acts were permanently repealed.

The Children of the Mist

The moon’s on the lake, and the mist’s on the brae,

And the Clan has a name that is nameless by day.”



ROB ROY, OR ROBERT THE RED, was the third son of the MacGregor chief, Donald Gregor of Glengyle. His mother was Margaret Campbell, a cousin of John Iain Campbell, the eleventh Laird of Glenorchy (which the Campbells had taken from the MacGregors a few centuries earlier). John Iain later became the Earl of Breadalbane and eventually the second Duke of Argyll. All this is a bit ironic, considering the treacherous role the Campbells of Glenorchy and the Earl of Argyll had played earlier in getting the MacGregors outlawed and their name proscribed.

But outlawed or not, the MacGregors did still have allies. This was true all the way through the harsh history of Scotland—and it continued through the Jacobite Risings. Neighbors, friendships, family—these all suffered due to politics, but loyalties often supersede law and allegiance to a king or lord or government. Some of this had to do with the women, who managed to maintain contact and form the core of steel that bound everyone together.

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