Rob Roy M'Gregor (left basket) and Charles Stewart of Ardshiel (right basket) broadswords
Photo: courtesy Paul MacDonald, MacDonald Armouries
"On Saturday was se'nnight [Dec. 28, 1734], died at Balquidder, in Perthshire, the famous Highland partisan, Rob Roy." The Caledonian Mercury for January 9th, 1735.
The most well known version of Rob Roy’s last duel was created by Sir Walter Scott in “Rob Roy” an 1817 historical novel. (see below) According to Scott, Rob Roy's death occurred after dueling with Stewart of Invernayhle, at Kirkton, Balquhidder, to avoid a pitched Clan battle over the property rights of Invernenty, which would have caused much death and many wounded. It is hard to imagine a Clan battle, 40 years after the last recorded clan battle in 1688. There were only one or two clan battles after 1605. The vast majority were in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The last feudal battle between two Highland factions was fought near Keppoch, at a location called Mulray (Maol Ruadh). The participants were Ronald of Keppoch, and his overlord M'Intosh of M'Intosh, the former taking the day. This conflict took place immediately before the Rebellion of 1688.
This clan map with Stewart of Appin top left, Clan Lauren bottom right, clearly shows that the mountain passes are controlled by Clans that would not be sympathetic to a two-hundred men strong Stewarts of Appin march to Balquhidder in the fall of 1734.
The state of affairs in 1734 would prohibit 200 armed Jacobite sympathizers from Appin, crossing 70 km of rugged country, in addition crossing the MacGregor strongholds of Glenstrae and Glenogle to get to Balquhidder without notice from the British Army garrison at Inversnaid just west of Loch Katrine which is only two miles from the route they would have journeyed. Then have a Clan battle against the MacGregors who for some reason could not rally scores of MacGregors from Glenstrae and Glenogle which is much closer to Balquhidder than Appin.
by T. B. Johnston and Col. James A. Robertson 1899, Third Ed.
Sir Walter Scotts version could not have happened, there were government troops stationed at crossroads and billeted throughout the countryside, there was no way that 200 armed Jacobite Appin men would be allowed to just stroll through the country for two days with intent to do battle without meeting resistance first. “Robert Stewart of Appin had returned to Appin from exile after 1719, and lived quietly on his estate, which had been taken over not by the Crown but by the Duke of Argyll, the feudal superior of the Appin lands.” Dr. Lee Holcombe, Ancient Animosity Pg. 273
"Lands (Wester Invernenty) had been disponed to Duncan McLaren by John MacLaren (Baron Stobchoin) in a Disposition dated 14 May 1736, written by Thomas Ripas, notary public. This Disposition was also presented, although its contents weren't recorded in the Register. Duncan McLaren was to pay the Duke of Atholl L82/13/4d at Martinmas annually. He was then given sasine and the event was witnessed by John McLaren and Malcolm McLaren in Innernenty.” Bobby Brown of Prince Edward Isle
In 1736, Stewart of Invernayhle wrote to Atholl's factor:
'Rob Roy's youngest son. . . came with a gunn and pitle to the Town of Drumlich where John McLaren Baron Stobchoin and Wester Innernenty liv'd, and the said Baron with two of his neighbors being att th epleugh, this youngest son of Rob Roy's, called Robert, came to the pleugh, and without provocation, as the Bron was holding the pleugh, shott him behind his back, of which he dyed that night.' Chronicles of Families Atholl/Tullibardine II, Pg.415
Drumlich and Invernetie MacGregors' and McLarens'
The MacGregors and McLarens, as this Genealogy shows had a long history at both Drumlich and Invernetie, small 18th century townships.
MacGregor and McLaren Family Tree
According to The Caledonian Mercury for January 9th, 1735, Rob Roy died December 28, 1734, more than two years before the disputed Wester Invernenty was disponed to Duncan McLaren on May 14, 1736, by the Duke of Atholl, which resulted in Robert MacGregor murdering John McLaren Baron Stobchoin in 1736.
Sir Walter Scott's version could no be true, because Rob Roy was already deceased before the disputed property of Wester Invernenty was disponed to Duncan McLaren.
Traditions of the Stewarts of Appin
Black Watch Major General David Stewart of Garth relates a very different version below. In that it was Stewart of Ardshiel who dueled Rob Roy, not Stewart of Invernahyle. Sir Walter Scotts version is at the end.
"Invernahyle, on the opposite extremity of Lochcreran, will excite attention in the travel of the family of Invernahyle were ever so engaged; and the true account of the meeting, which took place at the Clachan of Balquhidder, is as follows :— Charles Stewart of Ardshiel, who commanded the Stewarts and M'Colls of Appin in 1745, was, previously to that period, desperately in love with one of the three daughters of Haldane of Landrick. There being at that time no made road to the Highlands, the shortest and most direct way from Appin to Landrick Castle was by Landgearn, and the Clachan of Balquhidder. Ardshiel paid several visits to Miss Haldane, but was not successful.
In his last and almost despairing visit, he fell in on his way with Rob Roy, who happened to be at his brother's, at the Clachan of Balquhidder. During the course of their conversation a quarrel took place; and each being provided with an Andrea Ferrara, they immediately encountered in a kail-yard (kale garden). Ardshiel was the conqueror; and Rob Roy, on his way up the glen, was not only heard in the greatest fury exclaiming that 'Ardshiel was the first that ever drew blood of him,' but it is said, moreover, that he threw his broadsword into Lochvail, nearly opposite to Stronvaar House, where there is reason to believe it still remains.
But Ardshiel not only conquered Rob Roy — he also won the fair lady; for, on the report of the encounter reaching Landrick Castle, Miss Haldane was so flattered with it, that she favoured his addresses.
This account of the matter is well known to several of the inhabitants in the parish of Balquhidder; and there is no doubt of its being the correct one. This encounter is also mentioned by General Stewart of Garth.* "As the laird of Invernahyle was brother to Stewart of Ardshiel, it is probable," says our correspondent, " that, in the many conversations which Sir Walter Scott held with his friend (Stewart of Invernahyle, nephew of aforesaid), adventures were related of the chief which were afterwards set down to the name of the narrator.” The Celtic Monthly, A magazine for Highlanders edited by John Mackay, Glasgow Number 5 Vol. XIII February, 1905 page 82
Dewar Manuscripts version of the duel
"Charles' (Stewart of Ardshiel) subsequent life seemed to confirm the faith that his father had ultimately reposed in him. He must have inherited the estate before he was thirty, for Dewar tells us that at his age he had both the means and the inclination to marry. The lady of his choice was isabel, a daughter of the Haldanes of Lanark, and though we do not know what particular meeting or circumstance had stimulated this desire for a Lowlander who had grown up so far from Highland pastures, we learn of him setting out from Ardshiel, some time in the early 1730's, intent on pursuing his suit. He had one companion, the fair-haired David Stewart of Glenbuckie, who was to be his "speaker" or advocate in making representations to the girl's father.
The journey from Appin would take the two hopefuls by Loch Creran and Connel, and perhaps across Loch Awe and down Glen Aray to Inverary, whence there were several well-trafficked routes by land and sea to the rich fruit-growing region southeast of Glasgow where the Haldanes had their fiefdom. There was only one recorded adventure on their southward pilgrimage. A landowner who resented them crossing his moor released a vicious bull which barred their progress and attacked them as they endeavored to pass it by. Charles promptly dispatched it with his sword.
The remainder of the journey to lanark was uneventful, they reached the home of the Haldanes, and spent one night under their roof, during which time young Glenbuckie would make his prepared speech of representation, asking that daughter Isabel be given to Charles of Ardsheil in marriage. We know little more of that initial meeting. save that Haldane must have been unimpressed by either the "speaker" or the suitor, since he answered firmly in the negative.
So the disappointed pair had no recourse but to set out again on their journey back to Appin. This time, Dewar tells us, they travelled by a different route, going through Kilsyth and Callander to Balquhidder, where they put up for the night at a local publich house. Now they were in the home territory of the notorious Rob Roy MacGregor, feared for his cattle-reiving, his swordsmanship and countless deeds of derring-do which were already turning into legend. Word got quickly round the district that Ardsheil was passing through, and Rob Roy went to the public house to join them.
There they began drinking whisky together, in a session that would last for most of the night. And as so often happens on such occasions, what had started with good nature and conviviality ended in spitefulness and rancor when, with the effects of the liquor upon them, they remembered grudges and enmities of times past.
Rob Roy, who was old enough to recall the events of the 1715 Jacobite uprising, mentioned the Battle of Sherrifmuir, at which, he said, the men of Appin had not acquitted them selves very bravely..
"The people of Appin did better than you did that day." retorted Charles. "They went to the battle; but it was to the sheepfold that you went to sort your wethers."
"But it was shameful how you fled, people of Appin." MacGregor persisted. "You fled in the beginning of the day without striking a blow."
"Some of us could strike as well as you any day." replied Ardsheil, stung as he was by the taunt, and flushed by the liquor he had consumed.
The old warrior eyed him up contemptuously "You're a big fellow." he conceded, "But if you're not a better soldier than your father, you're not worth much."
Stewart of Glenbuckie, listening to this exchange, and thinking not to find a proper response in his companion, said "Are you becoming afraid of him, Charles? If you will not try him, I will."
At this Rob Roy promptly repeated the insult. "Well, Charles, I say again that although you're a big lump of a man, if you're not a better soldier than your father, you're not worth much. I tried to meet your father once or twice, but he always shunned me."
"You have told that once already, and you needn't make a piper's story of it." responded Charles, (referring to a Piobreachd) who like many big men, was apparently not easily roused. "But if you say you're a good soldier yourself, I'm not afraid to try you."
"So you will try me, will you."
"On the spot."
Rob Roy took a glove out of his pocket. "Here cut that then," he directed.
Charles cut the glove, and the formalities of the challenge had been observed. They were to meet at sunrise in the garden behind the public house.
The manuscript relates that by this time young Ardsheil was very sleepy, but was nevertheless afraid to go to bed, lest he overslept in the morning. So he passed the remainder of the night resting on chairs, with an injunction to a servant to wake him early, for fear that Rob Roy would get into the garden before him.
Even so, such was his state of mind that he woke before the servant called him, and looking out, saw that the MacGregor had arrived already. Enlisting Glenbuckie as his second, and noting that the other side had also been accommodated, he ventured forth to follow up his challenge.
By now the sun had risen over the slopes of Ben Vorlich, and Rob Roy, exercising his ground advantage, had seen to it that the glare was in the face of his opponent. When the duel began, Charles was forced so far backwards that he was almost out of the garden.
"Take care of yourself, Ardsheil," shouted his second, "or you will be falling over the wall. You must draw up."
"Aye, stop near me," urged Rob Roy.
"Well, Large Hand, if you must, I will stop near you." cried Charles, closing in and cutting the MacGregor's ear. The latter then struck back and drew some blood from Charles' face.
Promptly the big man lunged for the throat and cut Rob Roy severely under the chin. At that this victor of innumerable duels, feeling himself bested at last, struck his sword in the ground and yielded.
"You have the maidenhead of my blood, laird of Ardsheil," he exclaimed.
"Well, it is no boast with me, old fellow," replied Charles as he helped a stricken adversary into the public house to have his wound attended.
But even while they were stemming the flow of blood from his throat. Rob Roy philosophized that it was a great pity they had not met before, since the Stuart of Ardsheil was the best swordsman he had ever encountered. And when one of his sons begged for an opportunity to avenge him. the old man warned against it.
"you had better not," he advised. "Whilst I was fighting him, I kept him facing the sun, and for the twenty minutes that we were engaged, he did not wink his eye once. You needn't go trying your chances with a man that doesn't wink his eye. Had he winked when I was testing him, I myself would have got in to do him damage. But that man doesn't wink his eye at all." West Highland Tales from The Dewar Manuscripts. Book II Charles Stuart of Ardsheil. Adapted by James Gibb Stuart
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