Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: Clan or Family


Accepting that as a family group we have spread to all corners of the earth, we need to decide if being a Scottish Clan and embracing the rules of Scottish culture are still important to us.

All of us here at the Clan Carruthers Society-International believe it is extremely important, as we wish to retain a respect and passion for our history, heritage and culture.

Without embracing the past we are less able to deal with the future and we wish to build something that we can all be proud of, not just for a few but for all Carruthers and for many generations to come. For this reason and because we have descendants of the Chiefly Line of Holmains still alive we have no option but to follow the path of those before us. This path dictates that we have a senior of our line declared chief after examined genealogical evidence, through matriculation of the Chiefly Arms by the Lyon Court in Edinburgh.

Border Family?

As a border reiver riding family or Grayne, we are still seen by some as following the lead of Bruce, that of retaining the ‘Family’ structure and name rather than clan. The house of Bruce’s society is called the Family of Bruce International, and this stance is heavily supported by both the current Chief; the Earl of Elgin, Andrew Bruce and the heir Apparent, Lord Charles Bruce, but is it right for us?

With this in mind, many in the borders and lowlands, see the use of the term Clan as being specific to highland families. This may be the case for some but wrongly or rightly the poplarisation of all things Scottish both at home and abroad, have see all other reiver families embrace the Clan as a collective term. Does this make it right? One could argue that what it does do is make the structure more easily understandable to the outside world. This is simply because the term Clan and Scotland have become synonymous with each other. However, is this a reason to embrace it or not and that has to be a personal choice?

Historically there is some evidence that the term Clan was not specific to the highlands of Scotland as is first thought, but was seen in some quarters and within the judiciary, as a generic term. This term it seems was especially used describing Scottish family groups with a head of house, from wherever they hailed. Wikipedia says this about Scottish clans:

What is a Scottish clan?

A Scottish clan (from gaelic clann, “children”) is a kinship group among the Scottish people.

Clans give a sense of shared identity and descent to members, and in modern times have an official structure recognised by the Court of the Lord Lyon which regulates Scottish Heraldry and Coats of Arms. Most clans have their own Tartan patterns, usually dating from the 19th century, which members may incorporate into kilts (or trews) or other clothing.

The modern image of clans, each with their own tartan and specific land, was promulgated by the Scottish author Sit Walter Scott after influence by others. Historically, tartan designs were associated with Lowland and Highland districts whose weavers tended to produce cloth patterns favoured in those districts. By process of social evolution, it followed that the clans/families prominent in a particular district would wear the tartan of that district, and it was but a short step for that community to become identified by it.

Many clans have their own clan chief; those that do not are known as  Armigerous Clans generally identify with geographical areas originally controlled by their founders (in the case of Carruthers this is in the Annandale of what is now Dunfrieshire), sometimes with an ancestral castle (Carruthers: Mouswald Tower, Holmains Tower (Howmains) and 
Dormont House) and clan gatherings, which form a regular part of the social scene. The most notable gathering of recent times was “the Gathering 2009”, which included a “clan convention” in the Scottish Parliament.

Further, it was Sir George McKenzie of Roseburgh, the Lord Advocate who wrote in 1680, quoted in ‘Clan Families and Septs, published in the Scottish History Site, Electric Scotland (2001) by the renowned historian, Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw Bt, “By the term ‘chief’ we call the representative of the family from the word chef or head in the Irish (Gaelic), with us the chief of the family is called head of the Clan”.

Agnew then went on to elaborate that along with the words ‘chief’ or ‘head’, ‘clan’ or ‘family’, that he felt these words were interchangeable.  He further states that the concept of highlanders being classed as clans and lowlanders as families is simply a construct of the 19th century. Interestingly it seems as early as 1384 that the Lowland family/clan Macduff was referred to as a clan in legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.

A Carruthers Chief.

For over 10 years many of us have been working towards this very goal to ensure that Carruthers has an official position in the law of Scotland. No legally recognised Chief, no official clan and therefore Carruthers remains armigerous (led by armigers -those Carruthers with registered Arms). But why is this important, well it prevents false claims, self appointments and people taking monies under false pretences while claimimg to represent the Clan Carruthers. Only a legally recognised Clan Chief can make that statement, and the Society and clan who follow them.

Carruthers Shields latest dec 2019.jpgA point that therefore needs to be made is that in Scottish law, an officially recognised Clan or Family is a legally recognised group, with its own corporate identity being recognised as a ‘Noble Incorporation’. This identity comes only through the acceptance of a Chief who is recognised, as the head of that ‘House’ as being a hereditary and legal entity. This is only chieved through the auspices of the Lord Lyon and incorporated by his Letters Patent. This permits an individual to be granted use of the chiefs ‘Seal of Arms’ which then becomes the clan’s ‘company seal’. Only the Chief may use this seal on behalf of the clan, however they then take on a responsibilty for both its administration and its development.

Although the Lyons jurisdiction is limited to Scotland and we acknowledge this, his authority in such matters is accepted worldwide by those who embrace their Scottish heritage and culture. The process of the Lyon Court is thertefore seen to be the epitomy of legal process in such matters and rigorous enough to ensure that an individual claiming the right to being a Chief of a clan or a head of a family, has been proven to be entitled to do so, thus ruling out any false and improper claims.

Carruthers, being Armigerous since our last Chief died in 1809, with the 12th Laird of Holmains we currently have no such official recognition and it is imperative for our future as a Clan or family that we can attain it. If for no other reason than to prevent those who would wish to abuse it. Genealogical information and evidence for a chief lies with the Lord Lyon as we speak, and we are awaiting his pleasure.

The Act of the Suppression of Unruly Clans 1587 and its aftermath.

Because of the troubles spanning over 300 years where families lived and died by the sword on the Anglo-Scottish borders, alligience putting family and friends above that of support for either crown, was common place. The debatable lands of the West March was the worst of the lot and encompassed the lands of our forebears in the Vale of Annan.

In an attempt to bring peace and order to the area and accepting the undercurrent of Anglo-Scottish politics at the time, a resolution through statute was brought forward by the Scottish King James I and his council of ministers in Edinburgh.

The Act names both Lowlanders and Higlanders within the concept of “Chiftanis and Chieffis of all clannis…….duelland in the hielands or bordouris” and with respect to Carruthers, only 17 lowland ‘clannis’ were named, and we are one of them. This shows that the concept of Clan whether highland or border. with a head were seen as and described clans in legasl documentation and included Carruthers in that definition.

What is also interesting is that although the last ‘recognised’ chief of our family, Simon Carruthers of Mouswald was killed during a border raid in 1548, the ‘Chief’ of Carruthers is listed as being that of Holmains. This fits with our chiefly arms being the Arms of Holmains that we all know and love.

The list of ‘bordure clannis’ in the Act includes:

Middle MarchArmstrong, Elliott, Nixon and Crozier

West MarchScott, Beattie(son), Little, Thomson, Glendenning, Irvine, Bell, Carruthers, Graham, Johnstone, Jardine, Moffat and Latimer.

As an aside: this was a statute made as an extension of law, in an attempt to improve the power and control of the Scottish government over parts of the country deemed to be ‘unruly’. These included ‘clans’ from the western and northern isles, the Highlands and the Borders.

Interestingly and accepting the Union of the Crowns was sitting in the wings and because of the ongoing conflict and inabiity of either country to control the border lands or its people, James VI, with the help of the English, turned on his own subjects.

In 1588, assisted by troops and equpment from Carlisle, he set out to deal with the border problem and progressively after 9 years, in 1597 both governments appointed a joint commission and set out a treaty to improve the judiciary and its administration of justice over the border lands.

On the death of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, who died withoiut issue (children), James I of Scotland became the heir apparent to the English throne being the next in line to the throne. In his role as King James VI of Scotland and I of England, his support came from his protestant background and the added bonus that he already had male heirs in line. His 36-year rule in Scotland has been deemed a success by some and although the majority in Scotland were against the union, in 1603 the Crowns of Scotland and England were unified.

In 1605, a Willian Cranston, son of John Cranstoun of Morriestoun and grandson of Cuthbert Cranstoun of Thirlestanemains, who was a member of a prominant lowland family,  along with his mounted police, dealt with the reiving in the Borders, reputedly in one year.  However it was not until 1621 that the problem was deemed resolved  by King James and the border guard disbanded. Cranstons rule of law, supported by Lord Dunbar was to hang them first, try them second  and was to become known as Jeddarts Justice. This led to many, to include our own folk, either fleeing or being moved out of their homes to other parts of Scotland, England, Ireland and the Colonies.

This turmoil left a growing self awareness within Scottish society of self identity- Lowlander versus Highlander versus Borderer, partly through language and partly through economics and both sadly exacerbated by the forced clearances of the highland and border regions. Some of this feeling has lasted to this day which may augment the feeling of historical division between those who see Family over Clan.

Clan or Sept?

Carruthers has no septs but we do have derivations of our name for historical reasons, usually from the inability of the clerks writing the ‘Carruthers’ names down and augmented by what they heard from those communicating it them, led to variations in the spelling. As many of our kith and kin could neither read nor write the name had to be pass on verbally. For that reason we have Carruthers, Caruthers, Carrothers, Carothers, Carrithers, Carithers, Carouthers, Cruthers, Cridders, Carothers etc and many more derivatives of the same.

A sept is thererfore simply a family name that can be related to a Clan or larger Family for various reasons.  Taken from the Irish gaelic sliocht meaning progeny or seed this would normally come about either through marriage or by a smaller family seeking the protection from a larger and more powerful neighbour. History however dictates that Carruthers were not small be any means and although not as large as the Maxwells or Armstrongs, Holmains alone which excluded other branches, could field 500 light cavalry when called upon to do so.

Nowadays, and since the late 1800’s, this relationship of a sept to a clan is more likely to have commercial reasons, as the more members of a clan their are, the more products that business’s are likely to sell. This is most often seen in the accoutriments to the wearing of the clan tartan that individual families as septs are entitled to wear, but definately not lay claim to.


For many years Carruthers have worn the Chiefly tartan of Bruce. This tartan is registered, patented in the Scottish Tartan Register and therefore owned by them, not Carruthers. For that reason and accepting that we may still wear Bruce and because a tartan is one of the main visual attributes of being a clan, the Red Carruthers was registered in 2017,  again with the Scottish Tartan Register in Scotland, for all Carruthers to use.

Carruthers have been great supporters of Bruce through the ages and we have to be proud to have been associated as a sept of such a noble house. But as history shows, we are a distinct and separate family with our own heritage, history and future. Therefore following in the path of other armigerous clans before us, it is time that we become official through the long and ardous process of having the recognition of a legally accepted chief,  by the Lord Lyon.

Therefore Clan or family becomes a personal choice, but in following the other Reiver family societies such as the Maxewell, Elliott, Armstrong, Bell and Irving to name but a few, we remain Clan Carruthers.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey


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