The more I learn about the McGrouther/McGruther/McGruder family in Scotland the more outlandish it seems to imagine they were part of Clan Gregor or that Alexander ever identified himself as a MacGregor. The Drummond family, to whom the McGruders were connected for many generations, were closely allied with the Glenorchy Campbells, with whom the MacGregors feuded bitterly. And, more particularly, the Drummonds and McGruthers had their own powerful reason to feud with Clan Gregor.
(See pages under Alexander for Alexander the Immigrant’s family tree and origins, and related blog posts re: the Clan Gregor claims.)
The murder of John Drummond of Drummondearnoch, son of a Magruder woman
If you know Clan Gregor history, you probably have heard of the infamous 1589 killing and dismemberment of John Drummond of Drummondearnoch, a royal forester murdered in Glen Artney while supervising the hunting of venison for the marriage feast of King James VI. Some historians say now that the culprits were MacDonalds, the MacGregors only accomplices after the fact, though John Drummondearnoch and the MacGregors had been trading prosecutions and raids for at least three years by the time of the murder. Whatever the truth of it, Clan Gregor was indicted for the crime and “put to the horn” by the Privy Council–which meant they could be hunted down and killed, their property then to be shared between the killer and the crown.
What you may not know is that Drummondearnoch’s mother was a McGruder–possibly Alexander’s great-aunt–though her exact identity can’t be proven. If that surmise is correct, then the murdered man was a cousin of Alexander the Immigrant’s father, Alexander the elder.
Alexander’s family had a second, better documented, connection to the family of Drummondearnoch. His father (Alexander the elder) was chamberlain to James Drummond, younger brother of Patrick, the 3rd Lord Drummond. By Mary, Queen of Scots, James was awarded the title Lord Commendator of Inchaffray Abbey, and her son James VI created him first Lord Madderty. The man who served as his chamberlain before Alexander Magruder was Thomas Drummond of Drummondearnoch, grandfather of the murdered man. Alexander McGruder the elder witnessed Thomas Drummond’s will, indicating close connections between the two families.
The paper trail
If you want to read transcriptions of original sources, get hold of a 1986 publication, Kilchurn Heritage, a facsimile edition of an 1855 publication of The Black Book of Taymouth with Other Papers from the Breadalbane Charter Room. These are important primary sources for the history of the Glenorchy Campbells and, thus, of their neighbors. Some libraries have the 1986 edition; right now you can buy one through Amazon.com for under $40, though copies are not plentiful.
Among the “other papers” is The chronicle of Fortingall, written by a 16th c. MacGregor cleric in the Glenorchy demesne. The original is lost, so this published transcription is precious–but that’s a digression.
In the Book of Bands of Manrent (another of those “other papers”) you’ll find a series of documents pertaining to the close ties between the Drummond and Glenorchy families.
- On page 244 of the manrents, you’ll find A Mutual Bond of Friendship and Assistance between James [Drummond], Commendator of Inchaffray, and Duncane Campbell of Glenurquhay, promising to resist and pursue all malefactors troubling their lands. The date is 18 August 1589, during the period when Drummondearnoch and the MacGregors were feuding about hunting rights. In fact, it was just one month before Drummondearnoch was murdered.
- The next document, signed in October, 1589, gives an account of the murder, lays the blame on MacGregors, and binds the signers to have no transactions or relations with Clan Gregor. Within that document is the claim that at the time of his death Drummondearnoch was under the special protection of the Lord of Inchaffray (who was later given the title Lord Madderty). Signers were the Lord of Inchaffray, Duncan Campbell of Glenurquhay, and the Earl of Montrose.
- After that comes a band signed by Lord Drummond, the laird of Glenurquhay, and the Earl of Montrose stating how many men each will raise to avenge John Drummond of Drummondearnoch.
20 years Later: still feuding
This bloodfeud did not blow over quickly. In 1612–23 years after the murder and two years after Alexander the Immigrant’s birth–a group of noblemen and their retainers signed another band at Inchaffray Abbey (still Lord Madderty’s seat) to join together in hunting down outlawed MacGregors. The MacGregors had been accused of (and committed) many another crime in those 23 years, but the murder of John Drummondearnoch was the chief crime cited to justify the hunt. The massacre in Glen Fruin in 1603, the imediate cause of the Proscription, is not even mentioned.
Alexander the Immigrant’s father was not a signatory, but other McGruders were, including his uncle John, who had been chamberlain to Patrick, the 3rd Lord Drummond. And among the many Drummonds who signed was Alexander’s half-brother, James, heir to the farm at Belliclone where Alexander was born.
The Earl of Perth’s account of what happened in 1612
By this time, Patrick, Lord Drummond, was dead and his eldest son, who had inherited the titles, had also died, in 1611. So the second son was the current Lord Drummond and had been raised up to an earldom by King James VI. Thus, when you read that this MacGregor-hunting party was led personally by the Earl of Perth, bear in mind this is still a Drummond family affair.
Acting on a tip, they located a party of MacGregors holed up in some houses at Tomzarloch, killed six and captured five (or three, depending on whose account you are reading) by burning them out. According to an 1890 article in the Scottish Review, a letter written by the Earl of Perth himself describes the circumstances–
In March, 1612, I came from Edinburgh to Drummond Castle. In the meantime some dozen of the MacGregors came within the low country, Robin Abrach and Gregor Gair being chiefs. Abrach sent for my chamberlain, and alledging that his comrades were about to betray him, contrived to let them fall into the hands of justice. The plot was cunningly contrived, and six of that number were killed, three were taken, and one escaped, besides Robin and his man.
Setting aside the apparent falling out among the MacGregors themselves…note the role of the Earl’s chamberlain–within the full confidence of his employer and closely identified with all his employer’s interests. This chamberlain of 1612 was not a McGruder, but the McGruders were clearly part of the class of close servants who served the highest ranking Drummonds. As I’ve said, the elder Alexander McGruder was chamberlain to Lord Madderty, and in later years his son James McGruder (Alexander the Immigrant’s brother) became chamberlain to the next Earl of Perth.
With a father and a brother who had held this confidential post for the two highest ranking Drummonds, it is highly unlikely that our Alexander, the Immigrant, would have identified with the outlawed MacGregors.
What about MacGregors who changed their names?
Among its many harsh provisions, the Proscription outlawed the name MacGregor and required the assumption of a new surname. However, no MacGregor is known to have changed his name to McGruder, and there is no evidence that Alexander’s family was related to any MacGregors who changed their names to Drummond.
Confusion arose among later Clan Gregor historians because the record states that some men in the 1612 raiding party were MacGregors who, following the Proscription, had taken the name Drummond. As the record was copied and passed down to subsequent MacGregor researchers, more and more names from the 1612 raiding party acquired an X or a * beside them, indicating possible Clan Gregor origin.
The record is further muddied by the fact that one set of brothers (born MacGregor, now Drummond) had a mother named Christian Mhachrowdir (MacCrowder/McGrudir). In addition, some of their MacGregor cousins, who used the name Donaldson, had obtained protection from James Drummond, Lord Commendator of Inchaffray Abbey. These details may have provided fodder for those who wanted to prove that McGruders associated with Inchaffray were part of Clan Gregor. By 1898, when Amelia G. Murray MacGregor published her two-volume History of the Clan Gregor, asterisks had been added to all the “McCoruther” men on the list from 1612. (See Volume I, p.398, and the explanation of sources in the Introduction.)
- Note this date: it is before the founding of the American Clan Gregor Society, at which time American Magruders persuaded the Chief of Clan Gregor (in Scotland) to accept them as members of the clan, but coincides with early efforts by individual American Magruders to track down Alexander’s origins and confirm his Clan Gregor identity.
Those MacGregor brothers who became Drummonds were sons of a man who was murdered by Campbells from Glenorchy way back in 1584…which brings us…
Back to the Drummond/Campbell connection.
As I said, James Drummond, the 1st Lord Madderty–the man Alexander the elder worked–for was the younger brother of Patrick, the 3rd Lord Drummond. Their parents were David, the 2nd Lord Drummond, and Lilias Ruthven, eldest daughter of the 2nd Lord Ruthven. Lilias was one of ten children, most of whom married into (and helped to solidify) the network of Protestant noblemen known as Lords of the Congregation, an important force in the Reformation. Her sister Katherine (the second eldest) married Colin Campbell, known as Grey Colin, the 6th Laird of Glenorchy. Grey Colin and his son Black Duncan were Clan Gregor’s most vicious persecutors.
So, in a nutshell: Alexander the Immigrant’s father worked for the son of Grey Colin’s sister-in-law.
Katherine Ruthven, Grey Colin’s wife, was known to be less adamant than her husband in the persecution of Clan Gregor–but that isn’t saying much, considering that in 1562 Grey Colin himself beheaded Gregor MacGregor of Glenstrae, chief of Clan Gregor.
So where does that leave us?
We have no evidence that Alexander’s family had MacGregor connections, nor that Alexander himself ever claimed such. By the 19th c., his Maryland descendants believed they were descended from MacGregors who had been on the receiving end of events like the burning and killing at Tomzarloch.
There’s no reason for Alexander to have claimed such a thing. More likely, our Maryland ancestors got their ideas from Sir Walter Scott, America’s first best-selling author, who drew on Clan Gregor history for at least six of his published works. More on that some day…
I occasionally get mail from American Magruders who still believe in the MacGregor connection: all such messages are welcome. And please, if you have any counter evidence–whether from Scotland or Maryland–share it here.
Enough about men killing men. Here are two beautiful, if bittersweet, legacies of those bloody times.
Katherine Ruthven is famous for her role in the network of relations that brought about Reformation in Scotland….but also for her needlework, one of the few art forms sanctioned for gentlewomen of her day One set of bed hangings has survived, preserved in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, though to see the Glenorchy Valances, as they are known, you’ll probably have to wait for a special exhibition. They are not on permanent display. Here’s a reviewer’s description:
Biblical stories and tales from mythology were also fashionable. Soon the naive, fresh, unpretentious narratives of the sixteenth century, like the superb Glenorchy bed valances from 1550 depicting Adam and Eve with cupids, mermaids, lions and owls – plus an avenging angel with huge sword – gave way to sophisticated seventeenth century table-carpets illustrating Sarah, Abraham, Isaac and Rebecca or idyllic rural hunting scenes peopled by fashionably dressed folk against a background of castles and windmills. (The Herald Scotland, 28 Dec 1998.)
And perhaps you already know the Gaelic lament popularly known as “Griogal Cridhe” (“Beloved Gregor”), composed by Marion Campbell of Glen Lyon, wife of the Clan Gregor chief beheaded by Grey Colin–in which she curses a roster of her own relations for his death. Historians believe this Romeo-and-Juliet couple were married during one of the many short-lived truces between their families, and her two surviving poems attest that it was a love match. Their son, Alasdair MacGregor of Glen Strae, Clan Gregor’s last chief of the old line, was executed in Edinburgh 1604.
A long-out-of-print recording by Isabel Sutherland is my favorite “Griogal Cridhe”–utterly simple, deeply moving. Margaret Bennett on Glen Lyon, an album she made with her son Martyn Bennett, is my favorite available version, though it’s very differently produced. (Available from iTunes, and elsewhere.)
On Margaret’s website, read notes from her diary on recording this song–caught between her mother’s authority as a tradition bearer and her son’s passion for performance. Passing tradition down in the family is not always a simple matter…
Gaelic texts and translations of “Griogal Cridhe,” (more properly known as “Cumha Ghriogair MhicGhriogair Ghlinn Sreith” or “Lament for MacGregor of Glenstrae”) may be found on line, but I recommend the texts and notes in Duanaire na Sracaire / Song Book of the Pillagers: An Anthology of Medieval Gaelic Poetry, edited by Wilson McLeod and Meg Bateman (Edinburgh: Berlinn Ltd, 2007).
For a more complete background on the song and its contexts, see Martin MacGregor’s article: “‘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, ed. Edward J. Cowan and Douglas Gifford. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishing, 1999. (Or write me and I’ll send you a copy.)
Sources for this page:
Don McGruther: Wha’s Like Us: MacGrouthers in Scotland before 1855, pp. 11-12, 26-27, 55
Charles Kurz: McGruder Lineage in Scotland to Magruder Family in America.
Charles Kurz: Margaret Campbell of Keithick.
Gordon MacGregor: Red Book of Perthshire, Drummondearnoch entries.
(For full citations for all the above see my Sources page for Scotland)
- This site, which was created for a university course, has been taken down–which is a great pity, as it included graphics showing the web of Protestant relations that included the Ruthven women and their husbands. The site was created by Jane E.A. Dawson, author of several books on Scotland during the years of Reformation, including The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2007) and Campbell Letters 1559-1583 (Edinburgh: Scottish Historical Society, 1997), a selection from the large surviving archive of the Glenorchy Campbells. Dawson writes extensively about Katherine Ruthven in the introduction to Campbell Letters (starting on p 22) and details the marriage network of the Ruthven sisters in a section on Perthshire (pp 39-41). All surviving letters to Katherine Ruthven are included in the collection.
Amelia G. Murray MacGregor: History of the Clan Gregor, 2 vols. Edinburgh: William Brown, 1898. Available on line here and elsewhere, but holding the book in your hands is much more satisfying.
Joseph Anderson: Wicked Clan Gregor, Scottish Review, Vol 16 (1890) pp 275-311. Repr. on Electric Scotland. Anderson does not provide sources nor say where this letter from the Earl of Perth is preserved. Scottish Review, 1890, on Google Books.