Rob Roy is a Scottish folklore hero whose legendary exploits have been celebrated in music, film and print. Rob Roy, The Musical premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2006. The Oscar-nominated 1995 film Rob Roy had a stellar cast including Liam Neeson, John Hurt, Jessica Lange and Tim Roth. The film draws on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, published in 1817, which tells the story of Rob Roy and the Jacobite uprising through the words of the book’s narrator Frank Osbaldistone.
Rob Roy was born in 1671 as Raibeart Ruadh, meaning Red Robert, due to the flame coloured hair he sported at birth. He was born at the head of Loch Katrine in Buchanan, Stirlingshire, between the highlands and lowlands of Scotland. As a young man he became involved in the Jacobite Risings, battles to return King James and his heirs to the thrones of Scotland and England.
Rob became a wealthy man for his time, building up his own estate and trading in cattle. Whilst his true surname was MacGregor the name fell out of political favour and he used the name Campbell in his business dealings. He was betrayed by one of his men who took off with money meant to increase his master’s cattle holdings. Rob Roy was left deeply indebted to many lenders, with no means to pay off what he owed – a story that has echoes, perhaps, in our current recession...
A respected landowner, Rob Roy found himself accused of thievery and one of his creditors, the Duke of Montrose called for Rob Roy’s arrest. When the accused failed to attend court, Montrose ensured that in his absence Rob Roy was outlawed. Montrose took over Rob Roy’s property, evicting his family, in what he saw as rightful payment for the debt. In current day Scotland, if creditors go through due legal process, they may still “attach” (ie take) earnings, possessions or property to pay off a debt which has not been honoured .
Rob Roy proceeded to raid Montrose’s money, cattle and lands. He offered protection to wealthy landowners – they could pay him money and nothing would happen to their lands and herds. He defied capture and built a reputation in continued raids around the Trossachs. Accused of high treason after the 1715 Rising, his nomadic lifestyle, avoiding the law, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, gave him cult status. Following a spell in prison Rob Roy was finally pardoned in 1727. At the time of his death in 1734 Rob Roy, a legend in his own time, could not have guessed that nearly three centuries later his name would be kept alive through film, story and song.