Robert Duncanson (Army officer)

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Robert Duncanson
Died 1705
Nationality British

Robert Duncanson (died 8 May 1705) was a Scottish colonel involved in the Glencoe massacre.[1]


He was "of the family of Fassokie in Stirlingshire",[2] a family distinguished for its adherence to the Argylls. When Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, made his descent on Scotland in 1685, he sent off Sir Duncan Campbell, with the two Duncansons, father and son, to attempt, at the last moment, new levies in his own county.[3]

Glencoe massacre[edit]

Duncanson, as major of Argyll's foot regiment, was second in command to Lieutenant-colonel James Hamilton, who had the planning of the Glencoe massacre. On 12 February 1692, Hamilton received orders to execute the fatal commission from Colonel John Hill. He directed Duncanson to proceed immediately with four hundred of his men to Glencoe in order to reach the post which had been assigned him by five o'clock the following morning, at which hour Hamilton promised to reach another post with a party of Hill's regiment. Whether Duncanson hesitated to take an active personal part in the massacre is matter of conjecture. Dr. James Browne says: "The probability is, that he felt some repugnance to act in person", as immediately on receipt of Hamilton's order he despatched another order from himself to Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, who had already taken up his quarters in Glencoe, with instructions to fall upon the Macdonalds precisely at five o'clock the following morning, and put all to the sword under seventy years of age:[4]

You are to have a speciall care, that the old fox and his sone doe on no acct escape yor hands. Yow're to secure all the avenues that none escape; this yow are to put in execution at 5 a cloack precisly, and by that time, or verie shortly efter it, I'll strive to be at yow wt a stronger party. If I do not come to yow at 5, yow are not to tarie for me, but to fall on. [5]

The severity of the weather prevented Duncanson from reaching the glen till eleven o'clock, six hours after the slaughter, so that he had nothing to do but to assist in burning the houses and carrying off the cattle. [6]

Campaigning in Flanders and Portugal, and his death[edit]

Anglo-French War No proceedings were taken against him. The Scottish parliamentary commission of inquiry of 1695 recommended the king "either to cause him to be examined in Flanders about the orders he received, and his knowledge of the affair, or to order him home for trial," but William declined acting on either suggestion.[7]

Duncanson was promoted to the colonelcy of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, 12 February 1705, and fell at the siege of Valencia de Alcantara on the following 8 May.[8]


  1. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 174.
  2. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 174 Notes and Queries, second series viii. 109.
  3. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 174 cites Fox, Reign of James II, quarto edition page 193.
  4. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 175 citesBrowne, History of the Highlands, ed. 1845, ii. 216, 217).
  5. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 174 cites Papers illustrative of the Highlands of Scotland, Maitland Club, pages 72, 73, 74.
  6. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 175 cites Browne, ii. 220.
  7. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 175 cites Browne. ii. 224.
  8. ^ Goodwin 1888, p. 175.