The Grant Raid
The Last Rising of the Clans in Scotland
Written by: G. A. Dixon for the Friends of Grant Lodge
As the focus of the last clan raid in Scottish history, Grant Lodge in Elgin is one of the most historic buildings in Moray. The Lowland home of the chiefs of one of the most powerful clans in the Highlands, in 1820 it saw the final confrontation in the long centuries of sporadic conflict between Highlanders and Lowlanders, between two different ways of life in one country, Scotland.
The immediate cause of the Raid was an overheated political dispute between Whigs and Tories during the hotly contested general election following the death of King George III in January 1820. Elgin was one of the five royal burghs, the others being Cullen, Kintore, Banff and Inverurie, which together elected a Member of Parliament to represent the Elgin Burghs.
In those pre-Reform-Act days, the Tories controlled Cullen and Kintore Councils and the Whigs those in Banff and Inverurie. The control of Elgin Town Council was therefore seen in 1820 by both parties as essential for victory in an election to be decided solely by the representatives of the five burghs due to meet in the returning burgh for that election, Cullen, at the end of March.
For many years Elgin had been a safe Tory stronghold. The Good Sir James Grant, builder of Grant Lodge to Robert Adam's plans in the 1760s, had been immensely popular in Elgin, as in Strathspey, but he had died in 1811 and in 1820 his son and de facto heir, Col. F. W. Grant of Grant, was far away in Italy, leaving his incapacitated elder brother, Lord Seafield, in the care of his sisters Anne, Penuel and Margaret in Grant Lodge.
Seeing a chance of seizing victory from the apparently leaderless Grants, the leading local Whig magnate, Lord Fife, plied the Elgin populace with gifts and won over sufficient councillors to his side almost to close the gap between the parties. He was helped by having his brother, General Duff, as the Whig candidate while, because of a late withdrawal by Robert Grant, the Tories were left with a stranger, Archibald Farquharson of Finzean on Deeside, as their last-minute candidate.
By early March, the 17-member Town Council's effective votes were split seven-seven, Provost Sir Archibald Dunbar and Col. Grant being absent and Bailie Innes resolutely “sitting on the fence”. To “mak siccar”, on Saturday the 11th the Duffs kidnapped two of the “Grant” councillors. Councillor Robert Dick was seized at his shop door, bundled into a waiting carriage, driven to Burghead and put aboard a ship which carried him across to Sutherland. Bailie Francis Taylor was even more unfortunate: seized near his garden gate, he soon found himself in an open boat facing a stormy seventeen-hours passage across the Moray Firth. Neither councillor got back to Elgin in time for the vote on Wednesday the 15th.
In the meantime, matters were taking a decisive turn in Grant Lodge. The Chief's family then resident there having been feeling increasingly besieged by the Duff partisans among the Elgin populace and being abused and threatened whenever they ventured out, the formidable eldest sibling, Miss Anne Grant of Grant, decided late on the Saturday to send servants under cover of darkness up to Strathspey to summon assistance.
One of her letters was delivered on Sunday morning to the Factor of Strathspey, Captain John Grant, Congash, on the south side of the Spey, the other to young Patrick Grant, Auchterblair – the future Field-Marshal Sir Patrick Grant, Acting Commander-in-Chief in India during the Indian Mutiny, Governor of Malta and Gold Stick-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria – on the north side.
It being the Sabbath, most of the Strath's inhabitants were assembled for worship and so the summons to rescue their Chief's family from the Elgin mob was easily disseminated. By late afternoon, some six hundred Strathspey men, armed only with staves, were marching north-eastwards down the strath, their destination “the Palace of Elgin”, Grant Lodge.
As the innkeepers' bills later paid by Factor Grant show, there were pauses en route for a dram or two at Delnashaugh and Rothes and the Raiders reached Elgin at intervals during the morning of Monday, 13th March, and gathered in the extensive grounds of Grant Lodge.
Accounts vary as to the reception they received from the understandably very alarmed Elgin citizenry while marching through the town. Tales of waiting basketfuls of broken bottles, for instance, do not figure in the contemporary accounts and are probably the product of some overheated Victorian imagination. The situation around the Lodge as Monday wore on was, however, undeniably tense, not least because Duff reinforcements began to arrive from the neighbouring Fife estates.
In the event, neither side came to blows. Late-19th-century stories about the Elgin Provost pleading for mercy on his knees before Miss Grant can be dismissed as myths, but Sheriff Sir George Abercromby does appear to have successfully negotiated an agreement in Grant Lodge that the Grant Raiders should withdraw, by securing a promise that a large number of special constables would be immediately sworn in to keep the peace in Elgin and that the “siege” of Grant Lodge would be ended.
Having won their point, the Grant hundreds marched off westwards to the sound of the pipes and had a “refreshing” time later on the Monday night at Forres, Captain Grant only a week later paying the two Forres innkeepers a total of £73/5/10d for “Entertainment”, no small sum in 1820, when whisky cost eight shillings (40p) a gallon.
Back in Elgin, the attenuated Council met on Wednesday, 15th March, and although not legally constituted managed during the ensuing fortnight to nominate two delegates to attend the election meeting in Cullen on the 31st, one for each side. At that meeting, protracted legal bickering resulted in the election of the Grant candidate, Archibald Farquharson, who remained M.P. for Elgin Burghs until 1826.
That the Clan Grant had not actually injured its standing in late-Georgian Britain was shown in 1822. On 3rd July that year King George IV granted Miss Grant of Grant and her sisters the titles they would have inherited had their father Sir James lived a further eight months and become Earl of Seafield. Then, later that summer, during one of the King's colourful public occasions in the course of his only visit to Scotland, he asked one of his lords-in-waiting to point out the lady on whose account so many Highlanders had marched to Elgin two years previously. Lady Anne being pointed out, the King declared: “Well, truly she is an object fit to raise the chivalry of a clan”.
Looking back over nearly two centuries, however, the essence of the Grant Raid on Elgin is its spectacular demonstration of a great clan's loyalty to the family of its greatest and greatly beloved chief, an impressive aid to redressing the balance of our understanding of the post-Culloden Highlands.