Rob Roy was born at Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine, as recorded in the baptismal register of Buchanan, Stirling. His parents were Donald Glas MacGregor and Margaret Campbell. He was also descended from the Macdonalds of Keppoch through his paternal grandmother.
In January 1693, at Corrie Arklet farm near Inversnaid, he married Mary MacGregor of Comar (1671–1745), who was born at Leny Farm, Strathyre. The couple had four sons: James Mor MacGregor (1695–1754), Ranald (1706–1786), Coll (died 1735) and Robert (1715–1754—known as Robin Oig or Young Rob). It has been argued that they also adopted a cousin named Duncan, but this is not certain.
Along with many Highland clansmen, at the age of eighteen Rob Roy together with his father joined the Jacobite rising of 1689 led by John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee, known as Bonnie Dundee, to support the Stuart King James II who had fled Britain during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Although victorious in initial battles, Dundee was killed in 1689, deflating the rebellion. Rob’s father was taken to jail, where he was held on treason charges for two years. Rob’s mother Margaret’s health failed during Donald’s time in prison. By the time Donald was finally released, his wife was dead. The Gregor chief never returned to his former spirit or health.
In 1716 Rob Roy moved to Glen Shira for a short time and lived under the protection of John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, also known as Red John of the Battles, “Iain Ruaidh nan Cath.” Argyll negotiated an amnesty and protection for Rob and granted him permission to build a house in the Glen for the surrendering up of weapons. “Traditionally the story goes that Argyll only received a large cache of rusty old weapons.” A sporran and dirk handle which belonged to Rob Roy can still be seen at Inveraray Castle. Rob Roy only used this house occasionally for the next three or four years.
In July 1717, Rob Roy and the whole of the Clan Gregor were specifically excluded from the benefits of the Indemnity Act 1717 which had the effect of pardoning all others who took part in the Jacobite rising of 1715.
Despite many claims to the contrary, Rob Roy was not wounded at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719, in which a British Government army with allied Highlanders defeated a force of Jacobite Scots supported by the Spanish. However, two of the Jacobite commanders, Lord George Murray and the 5th Earl of Seaforth, were badly wounded. Robert Roy MacGregor is claimed in many accounts to have been wounded, but the actual text of Ormonde’s account of the battle has the following: “Finding himself hard-pressed, Lord Seaforth sent for further support. A reinforcement under Rob Roy went to his aid, but before it reached him the greater part of his men had given way, and he himself had been severely wounded in the arm.” Note that this does not state that Rob Roy was wounded, but Seaforth. Sometime around 1720 and after the heat of Rob’s involvement at the Battle of Glen Shiel had died down, Rob moved to Monachyle Tuarach by Loch Doine and sometime before 1722 Rob finally moved to Inverlochlarig Beag on the Braes of Balquhidder.
Rob Roy became a respected cattleman—this was a time when cattle raiding and selling protection against theft were commonplace means of earning a living. Rob Roy borrowed a large sum to increase his own cattle herd, but owing to the disappearance of his chief herder, who was entrusted with the money to bring the cattle back, Rob Roy lost his money and cattle, and defaulted on his loan. As a result, he was branded an outlaw, and his wife and family were evicted from their house at Inversnaid, which was then burned down. After his principal creditor, James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose, seized his lands, Rob Roy waged a private blood feud against the Duke until 1722, when he was forced to surrender. Later imprisoned, he was finally pardoned in 1727. He died in his house at Inverlochlarig Beg, Balquhidder, on 28 December 1734, aged 63.
Another version of this series of events states that Rob Roy’s estates of Craigrostan and Ardess were forfeited for his part in the rebellion of 1715. The Duke of Montrose acquired the property in 1720 by open purchase from the Commissioners of Enquiry. K. Macleay, M.D., in Historical Memoirs of Rob Roy and the Clan MacGregor quotes, “but he had taken the resolution of becoming a Roman Catholic, and he accordingly left the lonely residence we have described, and returning to Perthshire, went to a Mr. Alexander Drummond, an old priest of that faith, who resided at Drummond Castle.” Macleay takes the view that Rob did this out of sorrow for his crimes.
Glengyle House, on the shore of Loch Katrine, dates back to the early 18th century, with a porch dated to 1707, and is built on the site of the 17th century stone cottage where Rob Roy is said to have been born. Since the 1930s, the Category B-listed building had been in the hands of successive water authorities, but was identified as surplus to requirements and put up for auction in November 2004, despite objections from the Scottish National Party.
Descendants of Rob Roy settled around McGregor, Iowa, United States, and in 1849 it was reported that the original MacGregor seal and signet was owned by Alex McGregor of Iowa. The Scots Gaelic clan seal was inscribed “S’ Rioghal Mo Dhream ” (“Royal is my race”). The signet was a bloodstone from Loch Lomond, and was sketched by William Williams.
In 1878, the football club Kirkintilloch Rob Roy was founded and named in his memory.
In popular culture
Rob Roy on the Rock, a statue located on the spot where Rob Roy leapt across the Culter Burn, Peterculter, Aberdeen, while on the run from Montrose’s men
In 1894, a bartender at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City created the Rob Roy cocktail in honour of the premiere of Rob Roy, an operetta by composer Reginald De Koven and lyricist Harry B. Smith loosely based upon Robert Roy MacGregor.
In 2017, a new statue of Rob Roy was commissioned to be installed in Peterculter, Aberdeen. The sculptor appointed was David J. Mitchell, a graduate of Grays School of Art in Aberdeen.