The MacGregors

’S Rioghal mo dhream

MacGregor family tree

Clan Gregor claims royal descent from Alpin Mac Achài’, King of the Scots from the year 787.

Alpin’s eldest son Kenneth become the first King of the Scots and the Picts in the year 844. His third son, Gríogar MacAlpine, is held to be the progenitor of the MacGregor clan.

The Clan Chief’s motto’S Rioghal mo dhream (My Race is Royal) records this tradition.

Clan Alpine were descendants of Scots marauders from Ulster, who settled in the Western Caledonian Highlands in the early centuries of the Christian era.

The Scots were a Gaelic-speaking people who lived in northern Ireland in pre-Christian times. They were farmers and fishermen, growing oats, barley and wheat, keeping cattle and sheep, and fishing from curraghs — the skin covered wooden-framed boats, still used by fishermen off the west coast of Ireland.

In those times, land was the only form of capital, while cattle were both an investment and the main source of income. Consequently, land and cattle were greatly coveted and a major cause of strife. Younger sons and other landless men raided neighbouring Caledonia or Roman Britain in search of land to occupy, or booty which they could trade for land or cattle nearer home. The name "Scots" became synonymous with "raiders" — as the word "vikings" did a thousand years later.

Northern Britain, or Caledonia, was inhabited by people the Romans called Picts, because they painted their faces and bodies before going into battle. Western Britain, as far north as the River Clyde, was inhabited by Welsh-speaking Britons, the Cymru, who gave their name to Cumbria, or Cumberland. After the withdrawal of the Roman garrison from Britain in the fifth century, the northern Welsh formed themselves into the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

About the dawn of the first Christian millenium, the Scots invaded the Western Isles — Lewis, Harris and Skye — and the Western Highlands in some force and eventually carved out a kingdom for themselves in the Western Highlands which they called Dalriada.

About the same time Norwegians and Danes were raiding Caledonia, Strathclyde and Ireland and establishing earldoms in the Western Isles and in Ireland. They founded the trading towns of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick.

Angles, from what today is known as Friesland, were settling in the north east of Britain, between the Tyne and the Forth. The northern form of their English language is now known as Scots, which is confusing, since the Scots of old spoke Gaelic.

In 844 Kenneth MacAlpine succeeded in uniting the monarchies of Dalriada and Caledonia, to become the first king of the Scots and the Picts. His heirs and successors extended their rule to include the Welsh of Strathclyde and the English-speaking Lowlanders. They established their suzerainty over the Norse Lordship of the Isles but they did not succeed in stopping the continuing struggle for land and power among the rival Gaelic-speaking clans.

According to tradition, Gríogar was the third son of Alpin Mac Achài’, and the younger brother of Kenneth MacAlpine. He succeeded his brother as king of the Picts and Scots in 882 and ruled until 897. It was his elder son Doungheal who gave the patronym Mac Gríogaire to his descendants. "The Records of the Family of Gregory", on which this history is based, lists Gregor (d.897), King of the Scots and Picts, as the founder of the clan.

At all events, the MacGregors, the McKinnons of Lewis and a number of other clans from the Western Highlands, all claim kinship with Clan Alpine.

The MacGregors held land on the eastern border of Argyll and the western border of Perthshire, including Glenorchy and Glenstrae. Glenorchy was granted to the MacGregors by King Alexander II for their support in his conquest of Argyll.

They held their lands by the right of the sword, making no effort to obtain legal title, and this led inevitably to conflict with their neighbours and to attempts to displace them. The MacGregors retaliated and the constant conflict earned them the reputation of being a turbulent clan.

The Campbells took advantage of the turmoil to obtain legal grants from the King in Edinburgh to the MacGregor lands at Glenorchy. The MacGregors, however, still asserted their ancient right to the land, beginning a long feud with the Campbells that lasted into the 18th century.

Robbed of their ancestral lands, the MacGregors moved eastward into Perthshire — Glenlyon, Rannoch and Balquhidder — settling as tenants of rival chiefs. The scattered MacGregor clansmen recognised no authority other than that of their own chief and showed little regard for the property of their neighbours.

Many of them went in for cattle rustling — a few took to outright banditry.

Gregor MacGregor, the tenth chief, waged a private war against Campbell of Glenorchy, who had acquired the MacGregor lands at Glenstrae. Throughout the 1560s, MacGregor harried and harassed Campbell, until, in 1570, Campbell captured him and had him beheaded.

In 1589 MacGregor clansmen murdered John Drummond, the King’s Forester of Glenartney, who had hanged some MacGregors for poaching deer. Atrocity followed atrocity, as the embittered MacGregors plundered their neighbours and were persecuted by them in return.

The Scottish government, manipulated by the powerful landowners, was not prepared to acknowledge that the MacGregors had a genuine grievance — one that had been created two hundred years before when the King granted Glenorchy to the Campbells instead of recognising the MacGregors’ unwritten title to their land by ancient occupation.

On April 3, 1603, King James VI of Scotland, shortly to become James I of England, held a council meeting "whereby it wes ordainit that the name of McGregoure suld be altogidder abolisched, and that the haill persounes of that Clan suld renunce thair name and tak thame sum uther name, and that they nor nane of their posteritie suld call thame selffis Gregour or McGregoure thair efter, under the payne of deade."

MacGregor eventually gave himself up and was hanged with eleven of his chieftains in Edinburgh on January 20, 1604, but for the next half century the MacGregors lived as outlaws — the men hunted down and slaughtered and the women branded on their faces.

During the religious conflicts of the seventeenth century, the MacGregors took the side of the Stuart kings against the fundamentalist Covenanters. They were rewarded by King Charles II with the repeal of the punitive laws against them.

In the Revolution of 1688 the clan rallied to the cause of the exiled King James II, but this turned to their disadvantage when the victorious William of Orange reintroduced the legislation suppressing Clan Gregor.

The laws against Clan Gregor were eventually repealed in 1774, but many of those who had adopted pseudonyms continued to use them, which is why Clan Gregor has such a extraordinary number of different surnames — Gregor, Gregorie, Gregorson, Gregory, Greig, Grieg, Grier, Grierson, Grigor, where the connection is obvious, and Comrie, Crowther, Fletcher, King, Leckie, MacAdam, MacNeish and many others, where the former MacGregors have attached themselves to other clans or families.

The Gregorie family is descended from Gregor Macgregor of Glenlyon, fourth son of Gregor McAnecham Macgregor of Glenurquhay, one of the MacGregors who settled in Glenlyon after their expulsion from Glenorchy by the Campbells, and one of the few who managed to acquire land of his own.

Gregor Macgregor had two sons, John Dhu Nan Lann and Duncan Beg.

Duncan Beg Macgregor (d. 1477) married Elizabeth Macnaughten. They had five sons — Gregor Duncanson and four others.

Gregor Duncanson Macgregor (d.1515) married a daughter of Sir Robert Menzies, Christian name unknown, and they had five sons — Duncan, Neil, James, John Cam and Malcolm.

James Macgregor married a daughter of Lord Ogilvie of Findlater, Christian name unknown, and they had eleven children — James, Thomas, Janet and eight other sons.

James MacGregor (d.1584) settled in the lowlands of Aberdeen, where the Gaelic was not spoken. He dropped the Gaelic "mac", meaning "son of", using the Lowland diminutive "ie" instead, and was known thereafter as James Gregorie.

Records from these early days are sparse and open to various interpretations. Births and deaths were not recorded, the only evidence of a man’s existence often being an oral tradition preserved by his family down the generations, or his mention in some legal document.

Tombstones are another source of evidence, the lines of descent being deduced from the patronym recorded as part of a man’s name and title. Some of the early church registers of baptisms and burials have survived, but these often list only names and dates, leaving family connections to guesswork or deduction.

The line of descent from Gregor, King of the Picts and Scots, to Gregor MacGregor of Glenlyon is open to considerable doubt, dependent as it is on tradition, guesswork and wishful thinking, but the line from Duncan Beg MacGregor (d.1477) and his wife Elizabeth Macnaughten to the present day Gregories is reasonably well attested.

Sometimes the information available is copious, sometimes sparse, depending on the perceived importance of the subject or on the chance survival of records. The story is exciting in some places, dull in others, but nothing of importance known to the authors has been left out.