LIFE AFTER DEATH
Even before his dramatic downfall in 1712, the name ‘Rob Roy’ had been well enough known for letter writers – even men who did not known him personally – to know who he was by reference simply to his first name and sobriquet. His reputation was then that of businessman, one of the most influential men among the (in legal terms, non-existent) MacGregors, and a man well liked in the Highlands. His sensational bankruptcy in 1712 spread his fame much more widely than before, and then in 1715–16 notoriety as a rebel of dubious loyalties was added. There followed the few years in which he tormented Montrose and was hunted with zeal.
These were the years that brought him a long-lasting reputation as a little man who was unjustly oppressed by the great but who fought back valiantly and even wittily. He was a criminal, but a sympathetic one. His quarrel was with vicious and arrogant nobles, and when he humiliated them it was hard not to admire him. Growing interest in him was reflected in the 1720s, with the Edinburgh broadsheets mentioning him and the Highland Rogue being published. But even before his death interest was dwindling, to judge from written sources – manuscript and print. His most entertaining exploits lay in the past, his misdeeds were low-key and only had local impact. His death was worth a mention in magazines, but no more. In the decades that followed he was widely remembered in the Highlands in oral tradition, but there is no indication that he would ever achieve the national status that he was later to acquire. The trials of his sons in 1736 and 1752–54 brought his name back to public attention. A mutiny in the Black Watch in 1743 stirred up interest in Highland lawlessness, and this inspired a second edition of the Highland Rogue.1 A history of the regiment, also inspired by the mutiny, explained that Ά clan is pretty much the same thing with what the Tartars call a hord, and that is very nearly what we understand by the word