The Original Edict for the Extermination of the Clan Gregor

This article is taken from the appendix to volume I of The History of the Clan Gregor by Amelia Georgiana Murray MacGregor. It contains the original text of the Edict for the Extermination of the Clan Gregor, with offers of reward for the heads of Alexander MacGregor of Glenstrae and his principal followers. Dr Masson, in Vol xiv. of the published edition of the Register of the Privy Council, edited by him, gives from certain miscellaneous papers a copy “of the original Edict for the Extermination of the Clan Gregor, with offers of reward for the heads of Alexander MacGregor of Glenstrae and his principal followers,” two certified copies of which he has found.

The Edict for the Extermination of the Clan Gregor

1603. Feb.24. Letters under the Signet as follows: James be the grace of God, King of Scottis, to oure lovittis…Messengeris, our schireffis in that pairt, conjunctlie and severallie, speciallie constitute, gretting: Forsamekle as the wicked and unhappie race of Clangregour, quha sa lang hes continewit in bluid, thift, reiff, sorning, and oppressioun upoun the peciable and guid subjectis of the incuntrey, to the wraik, miserie, and undoing of mony honnest and substantious houshalderis, and laying waist of divers weleplenist boundis and possessiounis, they have now at last upoun the…day of Februar instant, in oppin hostilitie enterit within the Lennox, quhair in maist barbarous and horrible maner, without pitie or compassion, they have murdreist and slane sevin scoir of personis, without respect to young or auld, to the offence and displeasour of God, to the grete greif and displeasour of us, and to the perpetuell reprotche and sklander of the haill natioun, gif this wyld and abhominable fact be not sua exemplarly punist as the rememberance thairof sall remane to the posteriteis: And thairfore, we, with a grete nowmer of oure Nobilitie and Counsal, haveing convenit upoun this mater, it is found that God can not be appeasit, nor the cuntrey releivit of the sklander quhilk it sustenis be that barbaritie, unless that unhappie and destable race be extirpat and ruttit out, and nevir sufferit to have rest or remaning within this cuntrey heirefter; for quhilk purpois, ordour and discretioun is alreddy gevin how and in quhat maner they salbe prosequte, huntit, followit, and persewit with fyre and sword, ay and quhill they be exterminat and ruttit out; and we nawayse dout bot all guid and dewitfull subjectis will hald hand to this so godlie a work, and will refuise the resset of thame and of thair guidis, and the patronizeing of thame ony way to the hinder of this oure Service:

Our will is heirfore, and we chairge yow straitlie and commandis, that incontinent thir oure letters sene ye pas and in our name and auctoritie command, chairge and inhibite all and sindrie oure leigeis and subjectis quhatsumevir, be oppin proclamatioun at all mercat croceis and utheris placeis neidfull, that nane of thame presume or tak upoun hand to ressett, supplie, schaw favour or conforte to ony of the said Clangregour, thair wyffis, or bairnis, or to resett or hurde thair guidis or geir, or mak blokis or barganis with thame thairanent, undir whatsomevir cullour or pretence, nor git to entir in assuirance or freindschip with the saidis lymmairis, and gif ony assuirance or bondis of freindschip be amangis thame, that they gif up and dischairge the same, reputing and estemeing thame as traitouris and enemeis to God, thair prince, and cuntrey, undir the pane to be repute, haldin and extermit as air and pertakeris with the saidis lymmairis in all thair wickid and evill deidis, and to be persewit and punist with thame thairfore with all rigour and extremitie to the terrour of utheris, besydis the confiscatioun of all thair movable guidis to the use of the challengeair.-And to the effect the saidis thevis and lymmairis sall not eschaip thair deservit punischement, that ye command, chairge and inhibite all and sindrie ferriairis, marineris and awnairis of boitis or veschellis within our realme, that nane of thame presume or tak upoun hand to ressave ony of the said Clangregour, thair wyffis, bairnis, or servandis, within thair hoitis and veschellis, nor to transport thame to or fra ferreis towardis the Illis nor to Ireland, under the pane of deid, with certificatioun to thame that sail do in the contrair heirof they salbe taikin, apprehendit, and execute to the deid without favour. And siklyke that ye command and chairge all and sindrie noblemen, baronis, and gentilmen, within quhais boundis the saidis boittis or veschellis ar that they caus diligent attendance be givin that nane of the said Clan Gregour, thair wyffis, bairnis or servandis be transportit within the saidis boittis or veschellis.

And, we being surlie informit that Allaster McGregour of Glenstra, cheif and chiftane of that unhappie race and clan, wes not onlie the conductair and leidair of that unhappie and mischevious cumpany, bot thairwith he with his awin handis committit the maist horrible and barbarous crueltie that fell out that day, and culd nevir be satiat in bathing of him selff, with the bluid of grit nowmeris of innocentis, thairfore we promit that quhatsumevir persone or personis will tak and apprehend the said Allaster, and bring and present him quick to us, and failyeing thairof, present his heid, that not only sall they have a frie pardoun and remissioun for all thair bygane offenssis and attemptis, albeit thay be giltie of the said barbarous and mischant crueltie committit within the Lennox, bot with that thay sall have a thousand pundis money of guid and reddy payment deliverit unto thame. And siklyke quhatsumevir persoun or personis will tak, apprehend and present to us the personis undirwritten, and failyeing thairof thair heidis,-thay ar to say, Duncane McGregour VcEwne [1], Johnne Dow Gair Ewne [2], and Duncan Pirdrachis [3], Robert Abroch McGregour, Patrik Aldoch, and his twa sones, Patrik Mcconnoquhy in Glen [4], Gregour McGregour, sone to Duncane Glen [5], Charles McGregour VcEane [6], Callum McGregour Ruy [7], Johnne Dow [8], Duncan Bane McRobertis sone [9], Allaster McGregour VcEane Dullihaith [10], and Allaster McRobert, his brother, -that not onlie sall the said apprehendair and presentair have a free pardoun and remissioun for all thair bygaine offensis, except for the barbarous attempt laitlie committit within the Lennox, bot with that thay sail have twa hundreth merkis in present and reddy payment deliverit unto thame, as alswa quha evir will bring and present unto us ony utheris personis quhatsumevir culpable of the said barbarous crueltie committit within the Lennox, or ony utheris of the name of Clangregour quha salbe denuncet fugitives and rebellis for not compeirance, before us and oure Counsale, that the saidis apprehendairis and presentairis sall not onlie have a free pardoun and remissioun for all offences committit be thame (except and aIwyse the attempt of the Lennox), bot with that thay sall have ane hundreth merkis of present and reddy payrnent deliverit unto thame. The quhilk to do we commit to yow conjunctlie and severallie oure full power be thir oure letteris, delivering thame be yow dewlie execute and indorsat agane to the berar. Gevin under oure signet at Halyruidhouse the twenty foure day of Februair, and of oure regne the xxxvj yeir, 1603. (L.S.) Per Actum Secreti Consilii etc. Ja. Prymrois.”[11]

The introduction to Vol. xiv., from which the foregoing is quoted, gives the following comment:

“This Edict, the ruthless vengeance of the Government upon the MacGregors for their slaughter of the Colquhouns and other Lennox men in the Battle of Glenfruin, fought on the 7th of the same month, purports to have been the Act of the King with a number of his Nobility and Council ‘convenit upoun this mater.’ It is one of the very last Acts of King James, while he was King of Scotland only; for exactly one month afterwards by the death of Queen Elizabeth at Richmond on the 24th of March 1603, he was King also of England, and the news having come to Edinburgh on the 26th March, he took farewell of Scotland on the 5th of April and began his journey to London to assume his new dignity. The dating of the Edict would on this account alone be of some consequence. Yet one looks in vain for it in its proper place, in the Official Register of the Council. Several Acts are recorded there as having been passed by the King and Council at Holyrood House on the 24th of February 1603; but this is not one of them. How is the absence of so important a document from its proper place in the Register to be explained? It certainly was not because the King and Council retracted it or became ashamed of it.

Although there is no Record of the Edict itself on the 24th of February, there is incidental reference to it, of an almost exulting kind, in an Act of Council passed two days afterwards, i.e. on the 26th of February, for modifying a previous business arrangement of the King and Council. An armed muster having been ordered some time before to be in attendance on the King personally at Dundee on the 8th of March for the suppression of an intended rebellion within the bounds of Angus, this Act postpones the muster to the 1st of April, expressly on the ground that, in consequence of the late ‘monstrous and cruell barbaritie’ at Glenfruin, the King and Council have resolved on ‘persute of that wicked and unhappie race of the Clan Gregour quhill they be allutterlie extirpat and ruitit out,’ and that it will be convenient at the muster on the 1st of April to conjoin this new business of the pursuit of the Clan Gregor with the former business of the suppression of the rebellion in Angus. In further evidence that there was no retraction of the MacGregor Edict there are the certificates [12] on the backs of the preserved copies of it now under notice that it was duly published at the market cross of Stirling on the 5th of March, at the Kirk of Dunkeld on the 6th of March, and at the market cross of Dumbarton on the 8th of March.

Clearly the Edict was then running through the country and consideration for the methods for giving effect to it, must have continued to occupy the Council till those last days of March 1603 when the news of the accession of King James to the English throne drove everything else out of their heads. That we have not more distinct proofs of this, possibly even that the great Edict itself escaped due Registration in the Council Books about the time it was issued, may be owing to that long hiatus in the extant Official Register of the Council, extending exactly from the end of February 1603 to the 7th of August 1606, which we have so many other reasons to regret. It is not from the Register, for example, but from other sources that we learn that on the 3rd of April 1603, the very Sunday on which King James took leave of his Scottish subjects in an affectionate farewell speech to such of them as were present that day in the High Church of Edinburgh, there was passed by him and his Council an Act ‘whereby it was ordanit that the name of McGregoure sulde be altogedder abolisched, and that the haill personnes of thatt Clan suld renunce thair name and tak thame sum uther name, and that they nor nane of thair posteritie suld call thameselffis Gregor or McGregoure thairefter under the payne of deid.’

In a footnote (in a previous volume of the published Register of the Privy Council) where mention was made of this Act, it was assumed as identical with the original Edict for the Extermination of the McGregors. The assumption was natural when no copy of that original Edict was accessible or known to be extant; but it must now be corrected. We can see now the real connexion between the original Edict of the 24th of February 1603, and this Act of the 3rd of the following April. The 1st of April had been appointed for the further consideration of the Macgregor business in the muster to be held at Dundee for the business of the Angus rebellion; but when the 1st of April came the King was on the wing for London, and could not think of a journey to Dundee for any purpose whatever. In order, however, not to leave the Macgregor business exactly where it was in the Edict of the 24th of February, he and his Council had been meditating a supplement to that Edict explaining that the decreed extermination of the Macgregor Clan need not be in the form of an absolute killing out of every man, woman, or child of the Clan, but might be achieved more mercifully in part by the compulsion of every man, woman, or child of the Clan that desired still to be left alive, to abjure the name of MacGregor and assume other name.

By James’s departure into England, the actual execution both of the original Edict and of the supplementary or interpreting Act was devolved on the Privy Council he left behind him in Scotland, and a horrible legacy it was; but both the original Edict and the supplementary Act belong really to the last weeks of King James’s own residence in Scotland, and it has seemed the more worth while to explain this, because, though the original Edict of 24th February 1603 was the initiation of all the long series of subsequent Acts against the MacGregors, it has hitherto evaded search, and is now first made accessible.”

Notes:

1. Third son of the Tutor.
2. Second son of the Tutor, executed 1604.
3. Pudrach.
4. Son of Duncan na Glen.
5. Another son of Duncan na Glen.
6. Not found.
7. Uncertain.
8. John Dow McRab?
9. In Craigrostane.
10. Dougal Chaich.
11. The occasion of this act of extermination against the long-doomed MacGregors was their armed invasion of the Lennox, with consequent slaughter of so many of the Colquhouns, Buchanans, and others of that region in the Battle of Glenfruin, on the 7th February 1603. Within six weeks after the act, King James was on his journey southwards to take possession of the throne of England; and it is memorable that the present tremendous decree – the first of a series of similarly ruthless edicts against the MacGregors which run through all the rest of James’s reign – was among the last of his actions before leaving Scotland. – Dr Masson.
12. These certificates on the back have been here omitted after the Edict as less important. – ED.

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