Execution of William Robertson

by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot

When the battle of Flodden in September, 1513 deprived Scotland of its King (James IV) and the flower of its nobility, feuds and aggressions of unusual ferocity broke out in all parts of Scotland and threatened the unfortunate realm with more evils than those resulting from the stricken field. The new King, James V, was just a baby and the Regency was initially held by his mother, Queen Margaret. The Queen, being sister of King Henry VIII of England, was suspected of having divided loyalties by the remaining Scottish leaders. In 1514, when the Queen married the Earl of Angus, she was forced to give up the Regency to her dead husband's brother, the Duke of Albany. Albany sailed from his exile in France and arrived in Scotland in 1515 to assume the reins of government.

Against this background of anarchy, opportunities for lawlessness abounded. William MacPatrick Robertson was one of the most conspicuous of the Perthshire chieftains who entered without check or remorse upon this aggressive course. He found willing supporters in the Rannoch MacGregors, to join his own clansmen and thus had a "following" of upwards of 800 warlike and unscrupulous freebooters to do his will. The band held together for three years and though we have no detailed account of their exploits, the havoc committed must have been something unprecedented to draw the attention of the new Regent.

William, the young 6th chief, was a nephew of John Stewart, the 2nd Earl of Atholl. Therefore, William MacPatrick had some degree of protection from being brought to trial for his many crimes, as long as these crimes were directed elsewhere. He lost that security when he chose to support his young chief's cause and oppose the financial interests of the Earl of Atholl.

The whole situation came about over a dispute between our young 6th chief William and the Earl's advisors over the ownership of some Clan Donnachaidh land. The Earl had inherited a "wadset" (mortgage) of 1,592 pounds on this property from the young chief's grandfather, Alexander, the 5th chief of our clan. The Earl's advisors tried to foreclose on the property in 1515.

William MacPatrick Robertson, then 28 years old, was one of the clan's leaders during the young chief's minority and was a cousin of the chief. While the Earl was absent one day, William MacPatrick gathered his band and attacked and burned down a large part of Blair Castle as retribution. Upon the Earl's return, his men were ordered "out" to find William. Unfortunately, William MacPatrick Robertson was surprised and captured by the Earl's men while sojourning with his maternal uncle, John Crichton, and some of his men at his uncle's home. Caught by guile, he was brought before the Earl's court. Even though his chief was related to the Earl, the Earl's home had been burned and he would protect him no longer. Since he was officially in arms against the crown (i.e. the Earl as the King's representative), he could legally be executed by the Earl on the orders and authority of the Regent. This approval was speedily received and on April 7, 1516, the sentence was carried out.

William MacPatrick Robertson was beheaded at Tulliemet along with his uncle John Crichton of Strathurd. Tulliemet, the moot-hill or "Hill of Judgement", was the original seat of the Regality Court for the Earls of Atholl. This Court was later moved to Logierait where the Tummel river flows into the Tay where it remained until these courts were abolished by the British parliament in 1747.

Postscript: A number of leading Scottish historians have confused William MacPatrick Robertson with young William, our 6th chief, and reported that he was beheaded at Tulliemet in 1516. This is incorrect. According to the genealogical record privately published by Sir Noel Paton in 1873, the executed William MacPatrick Robertson was the son of Patrick Robertson, a younger son of our 5th chief and thus was the 6th chief's cousin. James A. Robertson's book, "The Chiefs of Clan Donnachaidh, 1275-1749", published in 1929 confirms this wherein it states that the 6th chief was killed by the Earl's men in 1532.