The “Robin Hood” of Scotland who was tricked to his death

James Macpherson, Scotland's "Robin Hood". PIC Clan Macpherson Museum.
James Macpherson, Scotland's "Robin Hood". PIC Clan Macpherson Museum.
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He is described as Scotland’s answer to Robin Hood - an outlaw and freebooter who shared the spoils of his campaign against the gentry with the poor of the north.

James Macpherson, born 1675, was the illegitimate son of a Highland laird and a gypsy woman who was raised by his father at Invereshie House near Kincraig.

There are many legends about James Macpherson....the tales concerning his death are even stranger

Clan Macpherson Museum

Following his father’s death, Macpherson absorbed himself amongst his mother’s folk with his life story becoming richly peppered with myth and lore. Sir Walter Scott later wrote about his exploits.

He is remembered as a man of magnificent stature, strength and intellect who could handle a sword as expertly as he could play a fiddle.

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Some accounts record him as the leader of a band of caterans, or cow thieves, as well as a legitimate horse trader.

What is certainly known is that Macpherson was captured an hung from the clocktower at Banff in 1700 following foul play by his influential adversary with a lament he composed in the week before his execution later rewritten by Robert Burns.

The downfall of Macpherson was executed by his enemy-in-chief, Lord Duff of Braco, who had become increasingly incensed by the antics of the outlaw’s armed posse as they became increasingly brazen in their deeds, often marching into towns on market day behind a piper.

Macpherson was captured on two occasions, once in Inverness and another in Aberdeen, but managed to escape - once with the help of one of his most trusted allies.

Macpherson was finally seized in an operation executed by Lord Braco in the autumn of 1700 at the St Rufus Fair in Keith.

As battle broke out, one of Macpherson’s men was killed with the target captured after a woman threw a piece of rug over him from an upstairs window.

He was tried in Banff by Sheriff Nicholas Dunbar, a friend of Lord Braco, and was condemned to hang for the crimes of purse cutting, theft - and of being an Egyptian or gypsy.

According to the Clan Macpherson Museum at Newtommore there are many legends surrounding the outlaw - with the “tales concerning his death even stranger.”

Condemned “to be hanged by the neck betwixt the hours of two and three,” Lord Braco, on hearing that a lone rider was approaching from Turriff with a reprieve, had the town clock turned forward by 15 minutes to ensure the execution went ahead.

Before his death, Macpherson apparently mounted the scaffold at Banff to play the tune he had composed in his cell.

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When he was finished he offered the fiddle to the crowd which had gathered - but no one dared to accept.

He then smashed his instrument and dropped it at his feet, with the remnants on display at the museum.

The tune he is said to have composed is widely known as “Macpherson’s Rant” or “Macpherson’s Lament”.

Robert Burns later used it as the basis “Macpherson’s Farewell.”

Those involved in moving the clock forward were punished, and for many years afterwards the clock was kept fifteen minutes fast, as a reminder of Macpherson’s killing.

Some time after 1839, the faces of the clocktower were removed from Banff and rehoused in the newly built Dufftown tower.

It is known locally as “The clock which hung Macpherson.”

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