Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

William III. and Mary II.—The Story of a Sad Day in a Highland Glen

T HE friends of James were called Jacobites, from Jacobus  which is Latin for James. There were many Jacobites in the north of Scotland. They rose under Claverhouse, the man who had treated the Covenanters so badly, and a battle was fought at Killiecrankie Pass. The Jacobites won the day, but their leader was killed, so, although many of the clans continued to be discontented, they were without a leader and could do little.

The discontent and rebellion went on for a year or two, and at last William determined to put an end to it. He proclaimed that he would forgive all those who had rebelled, if they would take an oath, before 1st January 1692 A.D., acknowledging him as King, and promising to live quietly and peacefully under his rule. Those who did not take the oath would be punished.

All the Highland chieftains, except the chief of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, took the oath. This chief was very unwilling to own William as King, and he could not bring himself to do so until the very last day. Then he started off from his lonely glen and went to the nearest town, where he expected to find one of the King's officers to whom he could swear the oath. But to his dismay he found that he had come to the wrong town, and that there was no one there who could receive his oath.

He started off again, as quickly as he could, to go to the right town. But it was deep winter, and traveling was very slow in those days, and he was six days late when he arrived. However, his oath was accepted, and he went home feeling safe and happy.

But a man called the Master of Stair, who was governing Scotland for William and Mary, hated all Highlanders, and the Campbells, another clan, hated the Macdonalds. So the Campbells and the Master of Stair decided that, as the chief had been a few days late in swearing to obey William, they had a good excuse for killing all the Macdonalds.

William was not told that Macdonald had sworn. He was made to believe that he had not done so, and that the whole clan was a set of robbers, and he signed an order for them to be destroyed. Although it is said that William did not know what he was doing when he signed this order, he ought to have known, and the Massacre of Glencoe, as it is called, is the darkest spot on his reign.

The Master of Stair had the King's order, but he did not do his work openly. He sent Campbell and his men to live in Glencoe for nearly a fortnight, so that Macdonald should suspect nothing. The old chief received the men kindly, and treated as his guests those who were ready to betray and murder him.

At five o'clock one dark winter's morning, the Campbells crept silently out of the houses and along the snow-covered paths to the scattered cottages. A few minutes later the glen was awake with the sounds of shots and screams. Campbell and his soldiers were at their work. Without mercy men were killed almost in their sleep. Those, who were able, fled through the darkness and the snow with their wives and children, many of them only to die of cold and hunger among the lonely mountains and glens. The soldiers murdered all they could, then they set fire to the empty houses and marched away, driving before them the cattle and horses belonging to the Macdonalds. And when the sun rose high over the valley of Glencoe, it shone only on blood-stained snow and blackened, smoking ruins, where peaceful homes had been but a few hours before.

For some time Britain and France had been at war, for the French King hated William, and would not acknowledge him as King of Britain. William spent a part of every year abroad directing this war and ruling Holland. While he was gone, Mary ruled in England. She governed so well, and was so sweet and gentle, that the people loved her dearly. They loved her far more than they loved William, who was so quiet and stern as to seem almost sullen.

But in 1694 A.D., Mary became ill of a very dreadful disease called smallpox, and died in a few days. William had loved her very much, and he was very sad when she died. "I was the happiest man on earth," he said to one of his friends, "now I am the most miserable. She had no fault, none; you knew her well, but you could not know, nobody but myself could know, her goodness." And if the King sorrowed, the whole country sorrowed with him.

After the death of Mary, William ruled alone.

At last the King of France made peace with William, perhaps because he was tired of fighting, perhaps because he was a little tired of helping James, who was really very dull and stupid. By this peace the French King consented to acknowledge William as the rightful King of Britain, and to give back the lands he had wrongfully taken from Germany and the other countries he had been fighting against.

A few years later James died, and Louis XIV., the French King, forgot the promise he had made to William. He proclaimed the son of James to be King of Britain under the title of James III. This made the British very angry, although it really did not matter much. A French King might call James King of Britain, but that could not make him so truly. However, William wanted to go to war with France again for another reason, and this act of the French King decided the people to do so. This other reason was that the King of Spain had died, and Louis wanted to make his own grandson King of Spain, so that France and Spain should in time come to be one kingdom. But some of the Kings in Europe thought that it would be most dangerous to allow this, as then the King of France might become too powerful, and want more than ever to take lands which did not belong to him. So William and the other Kings of Europe formed what was called the Grand Alliance, and the war which now began was called the War of the Spanish Succession, because the quarrel was about who should succeed to the throne of Spain.

But before war was declared, William died. He had always been rather ill although, in spite of that, he had both thought and worked hard, and for some time now he had been very unwell. One day when he was out riding he was thrown from his horse, and broke his collar-bone. This might not have hurt a strong man, but William was not strong, and a few days later, 8th March 1702 A.D., he died.

William was a great and brave man. He did much for Britain, yet he was never loved by the people. They felt that he was a Dutchman, and that he cared more for Holland than for his kingdom of Britain, and that made it difficult for them to love him.

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