Bandits and Brigands in 17th Century Stirlingshire
When & Where
Banditry was a major problem in 17th-century Scotland. Marauding groups of ‘broken men’ - individuals acknowledging no lord, permanent residence, or firm position within society - stalked the landscape, terrorising anybody travelling the countryside or in possession of anything worth stealing.
Gartmore sits right on the Highland Line, where lawlessness and banditry was very common; in particular that enacted by Rob Roy McGregor and his notorious sons. Cattle-theft, murder, abduction, depredations, kidnapping, murder, extortion, racketeering, blackmail, violence, psychological warfare and ‘sorning’ (forcible extraction of free board and quarter from members of the public), were their stock in trade, and high levels of mobility and working in large gangs were their hallmarks. Curbing their activities became a major preoccupation of all 17th-century governments, and particularly that of Charles II and James VII, which was enforced by government forces and, locally, by the Graham’s of Gartmore. What you probably won’t know is that Highland Brigands sometimes enjoyed the support of social elites and were used as hired muscle, serving as personal ‘dark operations’ specialists to help noblemen or clan elites protect their local interests. Bandits’ success had, therefore, more to do with elite patronage than we might think and, far from being scourges of social hierarchy, they were in fact very often dependent upon it.
But why did they do this? Was their deviation from the norm (which earned widespread hostility, and which deepened their outsider status) just a crisis of survival? Was banditry simply just their best chance to earn a living in what was, at the time, a highly decentralised Scottish society?
Come for a fabulous evening, have a drink (at the very best pub in Scotland), meet your friends, and find out the truth behind the oft repeated romantic myths.
Dr Allan Kennedy is Fellow of The Royal Historical Society, lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Dundee, and Consultant Editor of History Scotland magazine - with a particular focus on the Highlands, crime, and social marginality.
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