Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stewart, John (1700-1752)

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STEWART, JOHN, called John Roy (Gaelic ruadh = red) (1700–1752), Jacobite, was son of Donald Stewart by his second wife, Barbara Shaw. He belonged to the Stewarts of Kincardine, Inverness-shire, the first of whom, Walter, third son of Alexander Stewart, earl of Buchan [q. v.], was knighted for his valour at Harlaw (24 July 1411), and obtained the barony by charter from Robert III in 1400. The property continued in the family till 1683, when it was sold to the Duke of Gordon.

‘John Roy’ was born at Knock, Kincardine, in 1700, when his mother was fifty-two years of age. He served for some time as lieutenant and quartermaster in the Scots greys, but, being refused a commission in the Black Watch, he resigned. Subsequently he was employed as a Jacobite agent, and, on being arrested, he broke out of Inverness gaol by the connivance of Simon Fraser, lord Lovat [q. v.], 1736 (State Trials, vol. xviii.) Retiring to France, then a sort of Cave of Adullam for discontented Scots, he was next sent on a mission to Rome. He fought in the French army at Fontenoy (30 April 1745). At the opening of the Jacobite rebellion in the summer of 1745 he joined Prince Charles at Blair in Atholl, and was placed in command of the ‘Edinburgh regiment.’ His regiment was actively employed in all the engagements from Prestonpans (21 Sept. 1745) to Culloden. Scott calls him ‘a most excellent partisan officer,’ and Chambers says he was ‘the beau ideal of a clever highland soldier.’ His courage and devotion, his gift of song, and the knowledge and culture which he had acquired by service at home and in France, made him a great favourite with the Prince, who called him ‘the Body’ (‘Lyon in Mourning’). The highland chiefs had such confidence in his skill and resource that it was at one time proposed to make him commander in place of Lord George Murray (1700?–1760) [q. v.] After Culloden a price was set on his head, but, though he had many hairbreadth escapes, he was never betrayed. He described his immunity in a poem which he called ‘John Roy's Psalm.’ After hiding for some weeks on Speyside, he joined the prince in Lochaber and accompanied him to France, where he died in 1752.

John Roy was noted as a poet as well as a soldier. His Gaelic songs and laments are marked by strength and ardour, with fine touches of humour and pathos. They are still popular in the highlands.

[Duncan Stewart's History of the Stewarts, 1739; Old Statistical Account; Chambers's History of the Rebellion; The Beauties of Gaelic Poetry.]

W. F.