For context, see NS2690 : Memorial for the Battle of Glen Fruin
It is not possible to specify an exact site for what was a running battle, but this is as good a place as any for the memorial. For a closer look at the inscription, see another contributor's earlier photo: NS2690 : Monument in Glen Fruin marking site of clan battle
As noted there, the battle took place in February 1603, and it was fought primarily between Clan Gregor and Clan Colquhoun, the latter being associated with the area around Luss. A nearby cairn in a field was long thought to mark the burial place of the Colquhouns who had died in the battle, but it turned out instead to be of Bronze Age date: see NS2789 : Bronze Age cairn at Auchengaich
, which also provides some background to the erection of the memorial shown in the present photograph.
The causes of the conflict were complex; in the first volume of "The Book of Dumbartonshire" (1879), the Dumbarton historian Joseph Irving (NS4076 : The gravestone of Joseph Irving
) devotes more than thirty pages to the conflict at Glen Fruin, and to its causes and consequences (pages 198-229); his discussion is valuable on account of the many original documents cited.
[The author had earlier treated the same subject in the second edition of his "History of Dumbartonshire" (1860), but had not then distinguished between a raid on Glen Finlas and the Battle of Glen Fruin itself, resulting in much confusion. The author acknowledged these errors and set them right in his later "Book of Dumbartonshire" (1879). The same subject matter is also discussed at length by William Fraser in the first volume of his work "The Chiefs of Colquhoun and their Country" (1869).]
According to tradition, at least, matters escalated after an incident that is mentioned in the introduction to Sir Walter Scott's "Rob Roy" (note that, in the following, a "wedder" is a castrated male sheep): Scott writes that "two of the Macgregors being benighted, asked shelter in a house belonging to a dependent of the Colquhouns, and were refused. They then retired to an outhouse, took a wedder from the fold, killed it, and supped off the carcase, for which they offered payment to the owner. The Laird of Luss, however, unwilling to be propitiated by the offer made to his tenant, seized the offenders, and by the summary process which feudal barons had at their command, caused them to be condemned and executed. The Macgregors verify this account of the feud by appealing to the proverb current among them execrating the hour (mult dhu an earbail ghil), that the black wedder with the white tail was ever lambed".
The Seventh Earl of Argyll (Archibald Campbell), as the King's Lieutenant, became bound to answer for the good behaviour of the Macgregors, but the Earl seems to have viewed Colquhoun of Luss as an enemy. At any rate, the Laird of Luss complained that the Earl was allowing the Macgregors to commit outrages upon Colquhoun lands.
As a result of such raids, the King (James VI) set aside, for Alexander Colquhoun of Luss and his adherents, the normal prohibitions against bearing firearms. The King stated that he "grantis licence and libertie to the said Alexander Colquhoun of Lus, his houshald men, and servandis, and sic as sall accumpany him, ... to beir, weir, and schuitt [shoot] wyth hagbuittis [harquebuses] and pistolettis, in the following and persute of the saidis thevis and lymmeris [limmers, i.e., lawless robbers], etc."
These raids culminated in the great "Raid of Glenfinlas", led in December of 1602 by Duncan Macgregor (Glen Finlas is about two miles to the north of Glen Fruin). A great deal of plunder was taken, and two people were killed; records of the time refer to "the slauchter of umquhile [i.e., the late] Patrik Layng and of vmquhile John Reid, wobster [weaver], servandis to the Laird of Luss".
In that aftermath of this raid, Alexander Colquhoun was advised to seek redress from the King, who was then at Stirling, and to bring the bloodstained garments of the dead, and some of the widows of the fallen, for greater effect. The exhibition of the "bludie sarks" and the widows before the King had the desired effect, and Colquhoun was invested with a Commission to apprehend his enemies. There was a sense of impending danger (from the Macgregors) in the Burgh of Dumbarton, where the burgesses were, by an order issued in January of 1603, armed in preparation.
In the following month, the feuding parties encountered each other "at Glen Fruin, at a spot, according to tradition, situated upon the farm of Strone, or Auchengaich, near the source of the Fruin" [Fraser, volume 1, page 193].
The battle in Glen Fruin very quickly turned into a rout; the Macgregors, led by their clan chief Allaster Macgregor, were victorious, and almost all of the losses were on the Colquhoun side.
However, this victory would cost Clan Gregor dearly. As Irving writes: "by an Act of Privy Council, dated 3d April, 1603, it was made an offence punishable with death to bear the name of Macgregor, or to give any of the clan food or shelter. After this they were hunted like wild beasts, their dwellings were destroyed, they were loaded with every epithet of abhorrence, and every corner of the country was ransacked where there was the least possibility of them taking refuge".
At the Battle of Glen Fruin, the Burgh of Dumbarton had lost Tobias Smollett (a bailie of that burgh), as well as David Fallisdaill (who was a burgess there) and two of his sons. When Allaster Macgregor, who remained at large for almost a year, had been captured, tried, and executed (in January of 1604), his head was put on public display on Dumbarton's tolbooth; the burgh records for the 13th of February, 1604, state that the Baillies and Counsall of Dumbarton "concludit and ordanit that the Laird of Macgregor's heid with Patrick Auldochy his heid be put up in the tolbuith on the most convenient place the baillies and counsall thinkis guid".
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Another incident is often cited in connection with the battle of Glen Fruin. As Irving puts it [page 209], "in addition to the slaughter in the open field, the Macgregors are accused of massacring in cold blood a party of students, whose curiosity had led them from their studies in the Collegiate School of Dumbarton to the scene of the conflict in Glenfruin".
However, no such event is mentioned in the indictments against the Macgregors. It is true that in 1609 a certain Allan Oig McIntnach was accused of assisting the Clan Gregor of Glen Fruin and of having with his own hand "murdered without pity, the number of forty poor persons, who were naked and without armour"; some have taken this as evidence that the incident with the students really did take place. However, the wording is far more appropriate as a description of adult spectators; if the crime had been perpetrated against youths instead, the accusation against McIntnach would surely have said so.
In fact, the story about the massacre of the students has about it an air of propaganda rather than of genuine history (my own opinion on this is that the very harsh punishments imposed on the Macgregors were being justified, retrospectively, by the fabrication of an atrocity supposedly perpetrated by them).
Nevetheless, by the 1750s, over a century after the battle, there appears to have been a belief that such an event had taken place, since pupils of Dumbarton Academy were by that time annually observing certain customs commemorating it – see the footnote on page 209-210 of Irving's "Book of Dumbartonshire".