CHIEFS, PENSIONS AND POLITICIANS
The previous chapter dealt with the years 1712 to 1714 in terms of Rob’s downfall, his unsuccessful efforts to sort out a deal with his creditors, and his survival under Breadalbane’s patronage. But there is another strand to Rob’s life in these years and those that follow, and it is now necessary to backtrack to look at political developments and how they affected the Highlands. Bankruptcy in 1712 had deprived Rob Roy of home and property. It may possibly also have deprived him of a chance to make a bid for the chieftaincy of his clan. The government might have outlawed the clan, but ironically it was government policy that drove home to the MacGregors the importance of having an effective, if technically illegal, chief.
A French landing in Scotland had been avoided by good fortune in 1708. Had it taken place there was little doubt that there would have been a major (if incoherent) Jacobite rising against the government, but after it failed those in power lapsed into complacency, content to regard good luck as a substitute for a defence policy. Nothing significant was done to strengthen the regime’s hold on the Highlands. It was evidently calculated that a successful outcome of the war with France (the War of the Spanish Succession, which had dragged on since 1702) would defuse the threat of Jacobite insurrection by destroying any hope of overseas support.
A change of ministry came in 1710, after a general election had produced a big swing from the Whigs to the Tories. A British ministry dominated by the Whig Junto and intent on pursuing the war, was replaced by a predominantly Tory one in which the leading figure was Robert Harley, who became lord treasurer and earl of Oxford in 1711. Harley’s ideal was a moderate, broadly-based ministry which would restore peace abroad and defuse political tensions at home. He strove to keep the extremes in politics out of power while conciliating in the middle ground. But the virtue of moderation can have associated