The struggle between the MacGregors of Glenstrae and the Campbells of Glenorchy was essentially a fight for control over the manpower, lands and other resources of Breadalbane and Lorn.
The feud was particularly intense because the two clan groups had previously been close allies who had successfully expanded together from their neighbouring glens in Lorn into Breadalbane and had settled side by side upon these new lands.
Marriage alliances had cemented the links between the MacGregors, the Campbells and other Argyll kindreds, such as the MacNaughtons. The feud cut across these ties leaving many with hard decisions over their conflicting loyalties. It directly involved the earl of Argyll who had also employed the MacGregors (GD112/39/2/1 & 8).
The feud began in 1562 as a consequence of the hard conditions Grey Colin imposed upon the young chief, Gregor MacGregor (Griogair Ruadh), when he was infefted in the lands of Glenstrae (24 Nov. 1562, GD112/1/122).
In that year the MacGregors seized lands on Loch Tay and murdered some Campbells and their allies (GD112/39/2/7-8; 3/21). The raiding and fighting were intense in the first six months of 1563, reducing when Gregor took his kinsmen to the north of Ireland to fight as redshanks (GD112/39/2/25; 3/6-8; 3/19; 3/29).
The MacGregors return restarted the feud though, in 1565 under the pressure of the 'Chase-about Raid', a settlement was negotiated.
'I have gottin ye skaytht without yat ane manifest mendis be maid to me.... ...ye Clangregor allegis yat mekle of ye rowmis yat I have suld be yairis.'
Grey Colin to 5th earl
9 July 1565 GD112/39/4/12
When the feud flared later it drew in more participants including Atholl. No letters survive from the activity in 1569 which resulted in Gregor's capture on 1 August.
On 7 April 1570 near Balloch Castle, Gregor was tried and sentenced to death and personally executed by Grey Colin (BBT 23).
Having witnessed the scene, Gregor's wife, Marion Campbell, composed a magnificent and bitter elegy in Gaelic, 'Griogal Cridhe'. (A complete Gaelic text and English translation can be found in 'Griogal Cridhe' in M. MacGregor, 'Surely one of the greatest poems ever made in Britain': The Lament for Griogair Ruadh MacGregor of Glen Strae and its Historical Background' in The Polar Twins eds. E.J.Cowan & D. Gifford (Edinburgh, 1999) 114-53.)
A settlement was finally reached with Grey Colin in the winter of 1570 and six months later between the MacGregors and the earl of Atholl (GD112/39/12/14; 14/1).
The MacGregor feud provides the backdrop to many of the letters. It was Grey Colin's main preoccupation for the 1560s and may have encouraged him to collect together some of his correspondence.
Its progress demonstrates how the society of the Western and Central Highlands operated and the ripple effect produced by a fierce regional struggle.
Though the feud's main impact lay within Breadalbane and Argyll, it spread rapidly to include Lochaber, Atholl, Strathearn, Menteith and the Lennox and nearly all the nobility in the Perthshire and Argyll regions became involved to a greater or lesser extent.
The court also took notice of this feud because it affected the borderlands between the Highlands and Lowlands and was disrupting many main routes.
Yet despite achieving national notoriety, the progress of the MacGregor feud was only marginally influenced by central government. It was essentially a Highland affair and all the main decisions were taken within the Highland political arena which remained throughout this period at one remove from national politics.
This article was published on Feb 4, 2010