Rob Roy MacGregor became famous through being hunted, and by his reactions to being hunted. For thirteen years, first as a fugitive debtor and then as a rebel attainted for high treason, his ability to evade all the efforts of dukes, the army and the government to capture him won him fame. Thus The Hunt for Rob Roy is an appropriate title for a biography of the man. But there is also another hunt for Rob Roy that is central to the book, and that is my hunt as a historian to disentangle the man who once actually lived and breathed from the vast haystack of legends and hero-worship that has hidden him for centuries. Rob has been an elusive figure for the historian as much as he was for his enemies.
The Rob Roy of the modern popular image was a man unjustly oppressed and persecuted by corrupt and vicious noblemen. But he fights back. He is the outlaw who defies the great, and in the end gets away with it, humiliating them in the process. A man of valour and set purpose who unswervingly held on to his honour and survived in an epic contest of heroic individual against the powers of darkness. He served his own cause, but was also loyal to a political one, that of the Jacobites.
This image cannot be sustained by the historical evidence. There will be many reluctant to accept the ‘real’ Rob Roy. Some readers may wish to continue to like the traditional stories, and find in them excitement and inspiration. Why shouldn’t they? But they may also be interested in the historical biography of the man who lies behind the legends.
In the past, academic historians have tended to ignore Rob Roy. There is some sense in this. He is, from the standpoint of national events and trends, insignificant. His life touches only occasionally and marginally on matters of public importance. Yet in a wider sense Rob is clearly a figure of great significance. In 1817 Walter Scott