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Rob Roy Macgregor

Outlaw and adventurer

Known as ‘Roy’ because of his thick, dark red curly hair, Macgregor was a grazier who raided cattle and took protection money from neighbours to safeguard their herds. His lawlessness meant he had to live rough in caves and woods, and tales of his exploits, hair’s-breadth escapes and Robin Hood-style wealth redistribution are well worth reading. His luck seemed to have run out in 1727 when he was sentenced to transportation; instead, he received a pardon.

More About Rob Roy Macgregor. Ah. the lovable baddy. Every country needs one. The English have Robin Hood, the Americans Jesse James and Scotland has Rob Roy. Most of the tales about him are probably as inventive as all heroic legends. But if Robin Hood never existed, Rob Roy certainly did.

The name means Red Robert and he was, of course, a MacGregor, a member of a clan constantly hunted with fire and sword, so it seems reasonable to assume that he was a bit of a rebel. Even the use of the surname MacGregor was a crime for much of the 17th century. He was actually quite a peaceable chap, running cattle at Balquhidder until he got fed up with his herds being reived by rustlers from the north. He set up a gang to fight off these thieves, and from there it was a short step to realising that cattle-rustling could be a profitable line for himself.

He fell out with the duke of Montrose (many people did) because his grace had advanced some finance to Rob for a cattle deal that didn't come off, and promptly seized Rob's land in lieu of getting the money back. Montrose plundered Rob Roy's home and threw his wife and children out into the snow. Rob Roy warred against Montrose and the duke of Atholl. He became a legend in the neighbourhood of Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, the man who could never be caught, or, if caught, who would always escape. A man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor, and all that.

Amazingly, he lived into his 60s, and died peacefully at home in Balquhidder. Of his five sons, James Mohr ('Big James') followed his father's example as an outlaw, and died in  Paris, while son Robin was hanged for abduction in Edinburgh. A very energetic brood, very Scottish in their own way.