| Liam Neeson
Rob Roy, one of Scotland’s most celebrated folk heroes, was really a confidence trickster who spied for the English army, according to the first academic investigation into his life.
The extent of Rob Roy MacGregor’s villainy has surprised the author of the study which will challenge the belief that Roy was a Robin Hood figure who stole from the rich to give to the poor.
Prof. David Stevenson, of St Andrews University, has written a book drawing on years of research including court proceedings and the estate records of the dukes of Montrose and Argyll. His findings, in Rob Roy: The Man and the Myth, have angered the Clan Gregor Society which regards Roy as one of the family’s most romantic ancestors.
Perhaps the most controversial claim concerns Roy’s behaviour during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 when he betrayed his clan by acting as a paid agent to help the English army. Previously, he had been regarded as a staunch supporter of the Jacobite cause and led his clan during the first uprising at the Battle of Killiecrankie.
But according to Stevenson, Roy’s close association with the Duke of Argyll, chief of the pro-Hanoverian Campbells, meant that Roy and his men took no part in the battle of Sheriffmuir where the Jacobites were finally defeated. It has been known that Roy had contacts with the Hanoverians, but Stevenson is the first historian to discover he traded Jacobite secrets for money.
“This is typical of Rob Roy. He sells himself as a Jacobite but at the same time was selling information to the government. He sold intelligence to the chief of the Hanoverian army in Scotland.” The popular impression of a heroic rogue, who stole cattle to help his impoverished clansmen, was most notably expressed in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy published in 1817.
In contrast to the version of Roy’s life that was made into a Hollywood film starring Liam Neeson, Stevenson’s book also reveals that Roy was not outlawed after being set up in a plot to steal money from the Duke of Montrose. The received wisdom was that one of Roy’s men absconded with the duke’s money, leaving Roy being unjustly accused of embezzlement.
But Stevenson said: “He was outlawed as the result of a carefully arranged swindle. Roy deliberately planned to go bankrupt at least six months in advance and hid his assets by passing them on to his family.” He added: “I did not intend to denigrate a national hero. In fact, I was surprised at the extent of his double-dealing and criminality.”
A spokesman for the Clan Gregor Society was “totally shocked” by Stevenson’s findings. “It is dreadful and completely untrue,” she said. “Rob Roy was the Scottish equivalent to Robin Hood, except he was actually real. He only swindled those who oppressed the poor. He may have robbed from the rich but he didn’t do it in his own interests.”
Lady Mary McGrigor of Dalmally, who has just published a book, Rob Roy Country, said: “Sir Walter Scott definitely romanticised him but I think he was really rather a rascal and certainly pinched 2,000 sheep from my ancestors. I don’t think he was the hero he was made out to be.”