Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thursday Legend Post #4 -- Rob Roy

First off I'd like to say that I've seen the 1995 movie "Rob Roy" starring Liam Neelson and I hated it. Rephrase: I still hate it. I hate it simply because it was over the top inappropriate. I don't care how heroic the hero is, how adventerous the story, or how amazing the swordfights; that one element, no matter how realistic, I don't care, ruins entire movies and poisons minds.

Just sayin'.

In spite of that, I do actually really like the legend of the Scottish outlaw Raibeart Ruadh MacGregor, also known as Red Robert, also known as Rob Roy. He's the Robin Hood of the Highlands.

Like with Robin Hood, Rob Roy was made into a legend. Since we don't have a time machine it's hard to say what kind of person he was in real life. Unlik Robin Hood, however, there's more historical fact to go on than just a mysterious headstone in an obscure graveyard as with the English outlaw. A book was written by Sir Walter Scott, titled simply "Rob Roy", during Rob's lifetime, and while it was undoubtedly romantisized to some degree, it's still based in more fact than Robin's legend simply because there was more material to go off of.

But who cares? I like legends as legends. I'm not one of those people who tries to pick each of them apart and prove the heroes were really scoundrels and dogs. The heroes in legends -- be they truth or the result of hunger for true heroism -- are valid, in my mind. Of course, one must look out for predjudices, but if nothing else, legends give insight to how the people of the time percieved life and what they desired to see in those they chose to exalt.

But back to Rob Roy, who I'm not going to refer to as Raibeart, because I think it's cool.

Born Glen Gyle, 1671, died Inverlochlarig, 1734

Robert MacGregor was born at Glen Gyle, at the western end of Loch Katrine, in the Trossachs region of Central Scotland. His popular moniker 'Rob Roy' comes from the Celtic for 'Red Robert', a reference to his red hair. His father was Donald MacGregor, and his mother was Margaret Campbell. At that time the MacGregor clan was 'proscribed', which meant that no one was allowed to use the name MacGregor, or wear the clan tartan.

In another article it mentioned that sometimes Raibeart used his mother's maiden name, Campbell, instead of MacGregor. At age 22, Raibeart married his cousin, Mary MacGregor, and they had four sons, James, Renal, Coll, and Robin. If you're like me you'll find it amusing that the Scottish outlaw had a son who shared the name of the famous English outlaw. But maybe I'm just weird.

Rob fought with his father Donald in support of the Catholic James Stewart in his struggle with the Protestant king of England, William of Orange. Donald was captured and imprisoned and Rob's mother died while Donald was captive.
After the cessation of struggles Rob turned his hand to cattle. In a nutshell, he stole cattle and ran a protection racket, offering to protect the herds of others for a fee. This makes him sound like a Chicago gangster, but it is important to remember that the customs of the time were quite different from our own; cattle were considered common property, so taking them was not a crime, and the protection racket, as I called it earlier, was a common and very respectable way of making a living.

It looks like the author of this article may be attempting to reconcile the cattle racket aspect, but in this case I'm not inclined to discredit it. Not just because I like it when heroes live up to their legends to a certain degree, but because I've learned that customs of various timeframes really do play a significant role in a given culture. Things people did back then that we would consider low nowadays were not considered low, and sometimes were even acceptable, by the people of the time. We have to remember to look at things through the context lense and not judge based solely on our perception, which is tainted by the rules of our own modern culture.

But anyway, Raibeart was a bit of a rogue right from the start, as one would expect from a red headed Scotsman. But as the legend goes, there were rogues far worse them him and with much more power...

Things began to unravel however, when Rob Roy borrowed money from the Duke of Montrose to expand his herd. Here is where the story gets murky. One version is that Rob Roy stole the money. Rob Roy's version was that his chief herdsman absconded with the coins. Whatever the truth, the money was gone, there were no cows to show for it, and Rob Roy was unable to repay the loan. As a result of this episode Rob Roy was declared an outlaw. He fled from his home at Inversnaid, leaving his wife, Mary, and their children. Montrose's men descended on Inversnaid, burned Rob Roy's house to the ground and forced his family to leave.

So now Raibeart's an outlaw. If I were to write my own version of this legend, I'd have him steal the money and turn the story into one of redemption. However, I believe the more commonly accepted theory is that Raibeart's chief herdsman betrayed, and that Raibeart was persecuted nonetheless. This would more easily reflect the Scottish ideals of freedom and the tyranny of Brittish rule.

Either way Montrose is a villain in my book because noone is allowed to mess with the family. Ever.

From this point on Rob Roy was a thorn in the side of the Duke of Montrose and the forces of the law sent to find him. He roamed the hills of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs like a sort of Scottish Robin Hood. On one occasion he abducted the Duke's factor and held him on an island in Loch Katrine. Finally, in 1722 he was captured and imprisoned for five years.

Loch Lomond!!

Yes, that's one of the places in Scotland I really want to visit. That short little paragraph there is where the majority of a legend would take place, after setting up the inciting incident of Roy being declared an outlaw. However, it's during Raibeart's imprisonment that the legends begin to grow. Daniel Defoe writes "Highland Rogue" in 1723, and Raibeart's fame grew. (As a side note I'd like to point out that this is a perfect example of how powerful stories are.) This could possibly have led to the issuing of Raibeart's pardon by King George I of England in 1727, just before Raibeart was due to be transported abroad.

He returned to the Trossachs and lived a Inverlochlarig, at the western end of Loch Doine. He died in 1734 and was buried in the churchyard at Balquhidder. Later, Mary and his sons Coll and Robin were laid beside him.

In some ways the story of Rob Roy MacGregor's life has come to represent the struggle of the Highland clans for recognition and fair treatment by a largely English aristocracy.

A very Scottish theme if ever I saw one. Overall, the legend carries traces of themes like justice against injustice, redemption (like I mentioned earlier), freedom, perseverence, loyalty, and even compassion, honor, and patriotic pride. All in all, the fiery red headed outlaw Raibeart Ruadh MacGregor is quickly becoming one of my favorite legendary characters.

Dia duit,

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