Robertson, Alexander (DNB00)
|←Robertson, Abraham||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48
ROBERTSON, ALEXANDER (1670?–1749), thirteenth baron of Struan or Strowan, and chief of the clan Robertson, son of Alexander Robertson, twelfth baron of Struan, by his second wife, Marion, daughter of General Baillie of Letham, was born about 1670. He was sent to the university of St. Andrews to be educated for the church; but his father and his brother, by a former marriage of his father, having both died in 1688, he succeeded to the estates and the chieftaincy of the clan while still at the university. At the revolution he left the university to join Dundee in his highland campaign. He did this in direct opposition to the wish of his mother, who, in order to deter him from carrying out his purpose, wrote as follows in a letter to the Robertsons, dated Carie, 25 May 1689: ‘Gentlemen, tho' you have no kindness for my son [the clan had some doubts as to her share in the death of the son by the first wife], yet for God's sake have it for the laird of Strowan. He is going to Badenoch just now; for Christ's sake come in all haste and stop him, for he will not be advised by me’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. pt. viii. p. 37). The letter seems to have been sent under cover to Donald Robertson of Calvein, who, on the following day, wrote to his young chief: ‘Honoured chief, it seems our tryst will not hold, therefore I wish you to take the most credable [sic] way to begin in your king's service.’ This letter, with either her own or a copy of it, was enclosed by the chief's mother on 29 May with a letter to Lord Murray, then acting for his father, the Duke of Atholl; she asked Murray to consider the documents, but not to let it be known to the Robertsons that she sent them, ‘for,’ she affirms, ‘they will kill me’ (ib.) The chief and the Robertsons were then, with the Atholl men, acting a neutral part, and the chief's mother expressed her satisfaction that, notwithstanding his youthful folly, he was meanwhile ‘ruled by his friends in Atholl’ (ib.) Some time before the battle of Killiecrankie, Dundee had his headquarters in Strowan, from which he addressed several letters; but, probably on account of the influence of Lord Murray, the Robertsons were not present at the battle. It was, however, reported to Lord Murray, on 29 July, that Robertson and Duncan Menzies, with an advanced part of King James's forces, had passed Dunkeld on the way to Angus, and were threatening to kill all who refused to join them (ib. p. 41). Subsequently the Robertsons were sent by General Cannon to reconnoitre Perth, where they were attacked by Mackay's forces and completely routed. For taking part in the rising Robertson, though still under age, was in 1690 attainted by parliament, and his estates were forfeited. He made his escape to France, and, after remaining for some time at the court of St. Germains, is said to have served in the French army in one or two campaigns. After the accession of Queen Anne in 1703, he obtained a remission, and returned to his estates; but, as he did not get the remission passed through the great seals, the forfeiture of 1690 was never legally repealed. The Duke of Perth wrote of him in 1705: ‘He has ever been scrupulously loyal [to the Jacobite cause], and since his return to his own country would never take any oath nor meddle with those who now govern’ (the Duke of Perth's ‘Instructions’ in Hooke's Correspondence, p. 228).
With about five hundred of his clan Struan joined the standard of Mar in 1715. Some time before 22 Sept. he was sent forward by Mar with a party of the Robertsons to reinforce Colonel Hay, who then occupied Perth. Mar at the same time wrote to Hay as follows: ‘You must take care to please the Elector of Strowan, as they call him. He is an old colonel, but, as he says himself, understands not much of the trade. So he'll be ready to be advised by Colonel Balfour and Urquhart’ (Chambers, History of the Rebellion in 1715). At Sheriffmuir the Robertsons, with the Atholl men, were stationed on the left wing, which was entirely routed by Argyll's horse. The chief himself was taken prisoner during the battle, but was rescued by his kinsman, Robert Robertson of Invervack. After the battle he was again taken prisoner, but while being conveyed to Edinburgh made his escape by the assistance of his sister Margaret. He again took refuge in France, where he was for some time one of the colonels of the Scots brigade (Chambers, Illustrations of the Author of Waverley, ed. 1884, p. 4). In 1723 the estate of Struan was granted by the government to the chief's sister Margaret, ‘for the subsistence of herself and other poor relations and nieces’ of the chief (Cal. Treasury Papers, 1720–8, p. 221). On his return in 1726 she disponed it in trust for the behoof of her brother, and in the event of his death without lawful heirs to Duncan, son of Alexander Robertson of Drumachune, her father's cousin and the next lawful heir of the family. It is stated also that he forcibly removed her from the house—being unable to abide her imperious disposition—and sent her to the western isles (Ramsay, Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, i. 32). She died in 1727. Struan obtained a remission from the government in 1731.
The Robertsons were not out as a clan in 1745, but about 140 of Struan's tenants in Rannoch joined the highland army. The old chief himself attended as a spectator, and was present at the battle of Prestonpans. After the battle he was persuaded to return home, and the Robertsons, during the remainder of the campaign, were incorporated in the Atholl brigade. As a special mark of respect, and doubtless much to his gratification, he was driven back to his house at Carie in Sir John Cope's carriage, and clad in his fur-lined coat, the most remarkable trophy of the highlanders' spoil. As there was then no road for wheeled conveyances to his residence, the carriage having been driven as far as it could be pulled was carried the remaining distance on the shoulders of the clansmen (Chambers, History of the Rebellion of 1745, ed. 1869, p. 137). On account of his great age, and the fact that he had taken no active part in the rising, his name was omitted in the list of proscriptions. He thus enjoyed the unique distinction of having been ‘out’ in all the three great rebellions, and of having escaped with merely nominal punishment. He died without lawful issue at his house at Carie in Rannoch on 18 April 1749, in his eighty-first year, and was buried in the family tomb at Struan. Although the distance was eighteen miles, the funeral was attended by about two thousand mourners.
Struan, in the leading traits of his character, bore a faint resemblance to Simon Fraser, lord Lovat, his university education, as was the case with Lovat, only serving to bring into prominence the old savage characteristics of the Celtic chief. But his personality was weaker, and he was more trustworthy as well as more amiable. His worst fault was perhaps his disregard of his lawful debts; he was accustomed to have all the passes in his vicinity guarded that he might have timely warning of the arrival of the officers of justice. On one occasion an officer did obtain admission to him, and was received with every mark of courtesy; but the women of the house, having got an inkling of his errand, stripped him naked and soused him under the pump (Ramsay, Scotland and Scotsmen, p. 33). Struan had considerable reputation as a wit, and cultivated poetry, although in a somewhat careless and reckless fashion. Many of his poems are stated to have been copied from his own recitations while in his cups. A volume of them was published surreptitiously shortly after his death, and an abridged edition appeared at Edinburgh in 1785—but without a date on the title-page—under the title ‘The History and Martial Atchievements of the Robertsons of Strowan, and the Poems on Various Subjects and Occasions by Hon. Alex. Robertson of Strowan, Esquire.’ Robertson is credited by some with being the prototype of the Baron Bradwardine in Scott's ‘Waverley,’ and the theory obtains some corroboration from the fact that Scott puts in the mouth of the baron a stanza of Struan's poetry:
For cruel love has garten'd [gartered] low my leg,
And clad my haunches in a philabeg.