Rob Roy MacGregor was by turn soldier, businessman, cattle-rustler and outlaw. But above all he was a folk hero, a latter day Robin Hood whose transformation into a larger-than-life figure began with Daniel Defoe's fictionalised biography "Highland Rogue". This was published while Rob Roy's was still alive and led to the Royal Pardon in 1726 that allowed him to live out his final years quietly, literally a legend in his own lifetime. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Rob MacGregor was born in February 1671 at Glengyle at the head of Loch Katrine in the Trossachs. He was the third son of clan chief Donald Glas MacGregor of Glengyle. His mother Mary was a Campbell, and it was from her that he inherited his red hair, leading to his nickname, Rob Ruadh (Gaelic for Red) which was later anglicised into Rob Roy.
The MacGregors supported the Jacobite cause in the first Jacobite uprising led by Viscount Dundee in July 1689. Both Rob Roy, aged 18, and his father took part in the Battle of Killiecrankie, which the Jacobites won despite the death of their leader. See out Historical Timeline for the wider background.
Rob Roy, who used his mother's name of Campbell (the MacGregor name had been proscribed since 1603 in reprisal for the clan's part in a bloody raid on Glenfruin), moved on to set up a business driving Highland cattle to market in Crieff. He was very successful and used his growing wealth to become the laird of Inversnaid, on the east side of Loch Lomond.
In January 1693 he married his cousin Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar and they subsequently had four sons: James Mor, Ranald, Coll, and Robin Oig who himself went on to achieve literary distinction in a cameo role in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped".
Late in 1711 Rob Roy borrowed £1,000 from the Duke of Montrose, a landowner based at Mugdock Castle near Milngavie to north of Glasgow, to purchase cattle for the following year's market. But in early 1712 Rob Roy's head drover, having purchased the cattle, then sold it on and disappeared with the funds. Rob Roy returned from an unsuccessful search for the drover to find he had been bankrupted and outlawed by the Duke of Montrose, his lands had been seized and his family evicted.
Rob Roy sought revenge on the Duke of Montrose through a sustained campaign of cattle-rustling, theft and banditry. This included kidnapping Montrose's factor, complete with over £3,000 of rent money he was carrying at the time. Gradually the targets for Rob Roy's banditry grew to include other landowners who were not prepared to pay him to "protect" their stock and property. Meanwhile, his vendetta against the Duke of Montrose gained him a powerful ally in the Duke of Argyll, a long-standing enemy of Montrose.
During the 1715 Jacobite uprising, Rob Roy was used to raise the MacGregors in Aberdeenshire, and he also acted as guide to the Jacobite army as it marched from Perth towards Stirling in November 1715. This culminated in the Battle of Sheriffmuir in which a much smaller Government army under the Duke of Argyll prevented the Jacobites from reaching the Lowlands. Rob Roy's loyalties were split between his Jacobite upbringing and his alliance with the Duke of Argyll and he seems to have been an onlooker at the battle itself, though claims he was secretly working for the Duke of Argyll have never been proved.
Nonetheless, for his part in the uprising Rob Roy emerged with a price on his head for treason in addition to the earlier charges of banditry. For safety he set up home close to the Duke of Argyll's base in Inveraray and went on to play a minor role in the 1719 Jacobite uprising culminating in the defeat of the Jacobites and Spanish troops at the Battle of Glen Shiel.
Tales of Rob Roy's exploits grew with the telling: he was captured more than once only to escape. Then in 1723 Daniel Defoe published "Highland Rogue", and in 1726 Rob Roy received his Royal Pardon by public acclaim.
Rob Roy MacGregor died on 28 December 1734 in Balquhidder Glen and was buried in Balquhidder Kirkyard. The original grave markers of Rob Roy, his wife and two of his four sons has been embellished by a later rail which carries a plaque incorrectly aging Rob Roy as 70 when he died (he was 63), and by gravestone erected in 1981 proclaiming "MacGregor Despite Them".
Rob Roy's story has grown further since his death. Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel, "Rob Roy" about him in 1818, and he was the subject of two Hollywood films in the 1900s. The Trossachs have become known as "Rob Roy Country". The main Tourist Information Centre in Callander is called the "Rob Roy and Trossachs Visitor Centre". And in 2002 a new unofficial long distance footpath called the Rob Roy Way was set up to link together many places that featured in Rob Roy's life.