Some of my ancestors lived in the west of Scotland, around Fort William. The clan was badly damaged by its participation in the 1745 uprising of Bonnie Prince Charlie; indeed, Lochiel was warned by a kinsman not to let the Prince persuade him against his better judgment, but on an impulse he gave the Prince his support, and the clan followed him.
But the Camerons were not treated like the Macdonalds of Glencoe. The avowed intention of the attackers was to kill every man, woman and child in the glen; fortunately, they didn’t succeed. Nevertheless, the land near Buachaille Etive Mòr at the head of the glen is quiet and empty today, when you pass it on the West Highland Way.
Glencoe, however, is not the worst of the Scottish massacres. If you continue on the train from Fort William, you arrive at Mallaig, from which you can take a ferry to the islands, including Eigg. This island in recent times has faced nothing worse than legal battles with absentee landlords, but during its history it was completely depopulated twice by attackers in brutal circumstances.
Over on the east coast, our first outing after arriving in St Andrews was to the ruined castle at Dunnottar, near Stonehaven. Two of the most infamous incidents in its history were William Wallace’s burning of the chapel in which the English forces had taken refuge (a contemporary poem makes the unlikely claim that four thousand were killed); and the imprisonment of 167 men, women and children for more than two months in a fairly small dungeon with almost no water (and what there was, they were forced to pay for) or sanitation – their crime was holding a religion not completely in agreement with that of the king.
Often, the history of the rulers of a country is bloody and raw, but the common people are more-or-less allowed to get on with their lives. In Scotland, this seems not to have been the case. The history of kings and battles is bloody, partly because of tanistry, the succession rule that gave incentive to princes to murder their brothers and cousins; but ordinary people suffered too.
Some commentators believe that humanity has suffered less from wars in recent centuries than in the past. This is a bit hard to believe at first, but looking at Scotland convinces me that there may be some truth in it.