This dark event in Scottish history took place in the early morning of February 13th, 1692. Dalrymple of Stair was the Lord Advocate of Scotland and the man held responsible. He obtained orders from King William which allowed him to use any means necessary to subjugate Highland rebels. He intended to make an example and hoped to damage support for the Jacobite cause but the massacre had the opposite effect.
Dalrymple chose the MacIains of Glencoe (part of the MacDonald Clanranald) as his victims because they were Catholic and probable Jacobite supporters. By a government order the clan chiefs had been ordered to take an oath of loyalty to the new regime by the 1st January 1692. The sad thing is the elderly chief, Alastair MacIain had set out to undertake the oath but the commander of Fort William refused to accept it and by the time he arrived in Inverary the deadline had passed.
The settlement at Glencoe was surrounded by mountains and it was the dead of winter. The troops failed to seal the passes and many escaped only to perish in the cold. 38 members of the clan were butchered and the settlement was torched. The leader of the troops was a member of the rival clan Campbell which added to the already bad blood between them.
Survivors told of the rape and murder of their people and the Jacobite cause was able to use this event as propaganda effectively increasing their support in the Highlands and beyond. In 1695 the Scottish parliament condemned the atrocity and the still unrepentant Dalrymple was forced to resign his office.
The most shocking element of the massacre and perhaps the reason it has stuck in the collective psyche was the fact that the victims invited their murderers in and showed them hospitality. They ate together and played cards and the killing began early the next morning while many still lay sleeping.
The massacre is commemorated every year on the 13th February.