Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: An interview with the Convenor.

INTERVIEW with Dr George Carruthers, FSA Scot

The questions were compiled by Sophie Hammel and Sharnie Procter, the interviewer was Sophie Hammel, April 2020.

S.H. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, George. may I begin by asking you to tell us a little about yourself?

D664FAE9-0F95-4652-80EF-6508834C840E_1_105_cG.C. Ok, although there is not really much of interest to tell. I’m just a guy who felt that because of our history, Carruthers should have been viewed with a little more prominence than we were.  I remember while growing up, opening the usual books on Scottish clan history and looking at clan posters, looking for our name. At this time I could find very little if anything and started to wonder, if the stories my father used to tell were true, why were we not in there. As it happens, knowing what I know now, they were true, and our family profile has been raised.

Regarding myself as we say at home, I was born and bred in Scotland, in the beautiful county of Fife just north of Edinburgh. My father and his family came over from Lanarkshire in the west to work on the land in the early 1900’s.  However, like all Carruthers, they historically originated in Dumfriesshire. My professional life has me currently living and working in England, but much of my family and friends still live back home, so I return regularly.  

Amongst other things, in the last couple of years, I am honoured to have been made a Burgess and Freeman of the City of Glasgow and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh. However, the highlights and greatest achievements of my life are that I am a husband, father and grandfather and for that I feel blessed.

We are aware that you are Convenor of the Clan Carruthers Society International, but what does that actually mean?

In the case of our Society, the Convenor is its head, but he is not the head of the clan, that is the Chief. Our job and in fact my job, is to represent and inform all Carruthers to the best of my/our abilities, and ensure that any information we receive is accurate and whatever we put out is honest and evidenced. I believe we do that quite well.

It is stated that it is the ‘official’ Society, where does it get that official status from?

The official status of the Clan Carruthers Society International, is through our acceptance as the only society recognised by the hereditary Chief of Carruthers (Carruthers of Holmains) to represent Carruthers world-wide. As the Chief, there can be no higher authority.

Why is the clan so important to you. I understand you have put a lot into it?

My genuine perception is that any clan and/or family is only as important as the whole, i.e. its people and its history. The people are bound together by that history and ancestry. Couple that with the pride in the blood that we share, and we are half way there.

With this in mind, I’m passionate about us being represented accurately on the world stage and like others, strongly object to it to being misrepresented or diluted.  This is our family’s Scottish and Reiver heritage and should be portrayed accurately, which is sadly not always the case.

As Carruthers, this is who we are and what we stand for and as a proud Scot, it is difficult not to find it important and based on that, it has to be well worth the effort.

Having seen some different ones on the web, what are the Carruthers family coat of arms?

Simplistically, there is no such thing as a family coat of arms. This is a misapprehension perpetrated for commercial reasons. Scottish arms are registered to one person and passed from father to son, or in some cases, to daughter.

The arms of our Chief are the arms of Holmains which, to reflect his status, have since been granted supporters of two fallow bucks rampant Proper. Anything else, to include dragons or unicorns, is simply made-up nonsense with no historical basis nor legal recognition attached.

What is the clan motto, and why is it important?

To begin with, Scottish personal arms have the motto above them, as can be seen on all Carruthers arms, not below (that is the English way).

The clan motto is the motto on the Chief’s arms, which in our case is Promptus et Fidelis. This means ‘Ready and Faithful’ and reflects the history of the Holmains family through the ages. Clansmen and clanswomen may wear the Chief’s crest, always represented as six wings with an angelic face in the centre. This sits within a belt and buckle on which is inscribed the motto. The wearing of this badge and/or the use of his crest and/or motto in whatever form is, like all others clans, showing fealty to our Chief, Carruthers of Holmains.

Where did the motto come from? 

As far as we are aware, it was first recorded by John 9th of Holmains as part of the Chief’s arms, after the Lyon Act of 1672.

We also believe that the Holmains arms, which are a combination of the ancient arms of Carruthers dating as far back as the 13th century and the arms of Sir Simon Carruthers, 10th of Mouswald, last Chief of that line and dating to the 16th century, would have been in use prior to that. This is reflected in the use of ‘Carruthers of Holmains’ arms by other branches off the main trunk of Holmains, who have used their motto or a derivation of the same around that time.   

In 1672, the Scottish Parliament decided that in order to stop the abuse of arms, only those worthy of bearing them would be allowed to and more importantly be recorded in the Register of all Arms and Bearings in Scotland. Although there were existing armorials with historic arms contained within them, this was to keep them all in one place. The fact that Carruthers were included, simply reflects their status in Scottish society.

The Register remains active to this day and is kept under the auspices of the Lord Lyon. It includes all recognised Scottish Arms from 1672, while the other pre-existing armorials are still retained.

It is important to state that the main and truly historic part of the arms is the shield. It was the pattern on the shield that announced who the warrior was so that they could be recognised in battle.  The other bits have been added through time, but these days they also retain a level of importance, as the whole represents the full achievement of the individual’s arms.

We are told that you have your own Coat of Arms?

Yes, I am privileged to have been granted them by the Lord Lyon in 2017. I am one of only three eligible living Carruthers armigers who can bear their own arms, excluding the Chief, from whose arms all Carruthers arms are differenced. To date, as far as we are aware, only two armigers have chosen not to use the Chiefly motto of Holmains, Carruthers of Isle and myself, although we think there may be another. However, we are still researching this. The last armiger granted arms in 2019 was Gary Carruthers, the Clan Commissioner for Australia, a good friend of mine who by choice, decided to keep the chiefly motto. 

How did you achieve them?

To attain arms from the Lord Lyon, the governing factor in the case of an original Grant of Arms, which is what I have, is the domicile of the petitioner or the ownership of property in Scotland. However, whether grant or matriculation, there must be two differences from the Chief’s arms (in our case Holmains, registered in 1672), unless you are matriculating the Chiefs arms themselves, in which case they remain unchanged.

Therefore, if a petitioner sought to matriculate from a previous Grant of Arms, as in the case of the Chief, he would have to prove without any semblance of doubt, his relationship to the original grantee and show that he comes within the destination of the original Grant of Arms (the living senior of that line). In this instance, it does not matter where they are domiciled. It is the genealogical evidence that proves the right for a person to bear the Chiefs arms. It is therefore this right that then confirms the individual as Chief.  

So a Chief is by ‘rite of passage’ as it were?

One could, I suppose, argue that the raising from a petitioner to a chief, is in itself a rite of passage. It is very important to the clan, as it gives us official status and takes the Clan itself from being armigerous, to being recognised and viewed as a ‘Noble Incorporation’. However, as a hereditary role, once in place, the progression of a chief from heir to chief is based simply on their lineage to the previous chief.

What do you mean by ‘where they are domiciled’?

Scots have been scattered across the world since the clearances, both highland and lowland, which took place in the 1600’s or so. This progressively led to chiefs and clans losing touch with each other. In the case of Carruthers, this occurred more recently over the last two hundred years, as until then the Chief was always on the ancestral land. In the interim, life hasn’t stood still, and in many cases, as with the clearances themselves, necessity drove location. This has led to clans being scattered to the four winds, but they are still part of the clan. With the renaissance and increased interest in clan and family history and genealogy, this has led many more people ‘with the blood’ to search for their own ancestral links with Scotland. This upsurge in interest has highlighted not only the importance of accurate information on our past, but the importance of linking in with a Clan and Chief whose status is recognised by the Scottish clan community, both at home in Scotland and overseas as well. 

So to complete the circle, the Chief is the Chief by virtue of his ancestry, not his current domicile. As an example, quite a few of those recognised by the Lord Lyon as Clan Chiefs, are living outside the UK, although that’s not true in our case. They are domiciled as far afield as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the USA, therefore, their place of residence does not matter, however their birthright to bear the Chief’s arms does.

As this situation is shared with many other Scottish clans without issue, I feel that the years of hard work have paid off.  The fact that we are once again being recognised as a Clan in our own right, with a recognised Chief at our head, is a very positive starting position for us going forwards.

You said before that you didn’t use the Chief’s motto – why?

I discussed this at great length with my family and friends and although I could have, I just thought as much as the clan and family and its history are very important to me, I felt that I wanted to reflect who and what I was and leave some personal point of interest for my own kin. I therefore chose: Non Sto Solus (‘I do not stand alone’) to reflect my beliefs, my strong family ties, my close friendships and our family as Border Reivers. And in a strange sort of way, to also reflect that I had chosen to start all this, not for self-gain or ego, but simply for the benefit of every one of our name.

I suppose I have always believed that others out there would feel that retaining factual links with their Carruthers and Scottish heritage was worthwhile and important. Experience has shown me that I was right in most cases.

Can you tell us anything about the Chief?

There will be more on the Chief at a later date, but it is fair to say at this point that as a man I find him kind, thoughtful and a very astute individual. The latter from his background as a scientist and researcher in his own right. He likes things to be accurate and correct.

As Chief, a role he takes very seriously, he cares immensely about the clan and his position within it.  

I also believe that you observed some of the proceedings to confirm the Chief, first-hand?

Yes. I was lucky enough to attend both hearings of the Lyon Court in Edinburgh in relation to the Chief’s petition, and he was extremely well prepared. At the end of the first hearing, the Lord Lyon advised both petitioners present to seek legal representation. In the second hearing Peter was the sole petitioner and was represented by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw QC, who is a well-known expert in his field. The evidence and legal arguments, which were presented to the Lyon for consideration, showed beyond doubt that our Chief is the fourth-great Grandson of John the 12th of Holmains, who died in 1809, and the rightful heir to the title. From the passing of John 12th there were no claimants for the chiefship until the current Carruthers of Holmains was confirmed. This process took 20 months of analysis of the proofs and the two court hearings mentioned. It was only when the Lord Lyon was fully satisfied that the hereditary title of Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers was confirmed on Simon Peter Carruthers of Holmains, in August 2019.

Do all Scottish Chiefs still follow the male line?

No, Scotland has always been quite progressive in these things and for a great many years, descent has not always been patronymic i.e. down the male line. In fact there are some very well-known and highly respected female Clan Chiefs. The chiefs of the Clans Elliot, Hunter, Kincaid and of course the Countess of Mar, Chief of Clan Mar, spring to mind.

We notice some Scottish names have more than one Clan, such as Macdonald – is there more than one Clan Carruthers?

Good grief, no, but this is exactly the same for any other Scottish clan or family and to quote the famous phrase from the movie Highlander; ‘there can only be one’.

Clan Donald, which you mention, is a huge clan, but it is one clan, which has large branches of its own.  Some of these have their own recognised Chiefs/Chieftains, but they all come under the High Chief, Lord Macdonald. There are only two in that category that I am aware of; Clan Donald/Macdonald being one, and the other Clan Leod/Macleod, whose High Chief is Macleod of Macleod.

Carruthers itself is a medium sized border family and although of reasonable size, it is small compared to Clan Donald.

How do people know when a Chief legally holds the title?

In two simple ways – firstly they have to be recognised as such by the Lord Lyon.  Secondly if they are not invited to sit on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, then they are simply not recognised as a Scottish Chief. 

Do they not have to be elected?

Like many other Scottish clans, a Chief is based on genealogy, e.g. direct lineage from the last known Chief. If none can be found because the chiefly line is extinct, a clan can elect a Commander, not a Chief, under the supervision of the Lyon Court in Edinburgh at a gathering (derbfhine) held in Scotland. The Commander stays in post for a time set by the Lord Lyon, after which if no one comes forward with a strong genealogical claim, then the Commander becomes hereditary Chief.

Genealogy and proof of lineage has to be satisfied before a gathering with an election can take place. Carruthers of Holmains is the real deal and a direct descendent of the Chiefly line going back to the 12th century.

Is the Chief of Carruthers on the Standing Council?

Appreciating he was only confirmed in August 2019 and only had supporters granted in November 2019, a necessary component to have a hereditary place at the table, our own Chief has just been invited to sit on the Council.

A necessary component, what does that mean?

Chiefs, recognised by the Lyon, are invited to sit on the Council, but not all chiefs will have supporters granted to their arms. Those Chiefs without supporters reapply after a chief passes and an heir takes over. Those with supporters hold hereditary positions on the Council. Carruthers fits into this latter category.

While researching for this interview, we see the word ‘ancient’ being used to describe Carruthers. How far back does the Carruthers family tree go?

Carruthers is a topographical name taken from a place, rather than being patronymic i.e. from a person. Many highland clans claim lineage from a single male source, but like many Borderers, we do not.

The name comes from the words Caer Rydderich, meaning the fort of Rydderrch, who was a ruler of some renown in his time. The history of this goes back to approximately the 6th century, when the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde existed. The area was inhabited and governed by the Celts and the language spoken was Brythonic/Cumbric, a form of old Welsh. The land around the old fort progressively became known as ‘Carruthers’, and increasingly, the people on the land took the name.  Whether or not the family gave the name to the old parish of Carruthers, or the parish took the name as the inhabitants had done  from the area in which it existed, we don’t know, but Carruthers was the original seat of the family.

Interestingly, only a few recorded surnames appeared in Scotland as early as the 1200’s, and it seems that ours was one of them. The first mention of our name in the record books was William de Carruthers who, in the reign of Alexander II (1215-1245), gave a donation to the Abbey of Newbattle. Simon Carruthers, who it is now believed was the son or grandson of William, was recorded as Parson of Middlebie in 1296, being mentioned in the Ragmans Rolls of that year. The designation of the preposition ‘of’ or the French ‘de’, were commonly used to suggests the person using it owned the land or was of that family e.g. William (Carruthers) of Carruthers.

We know through our research that Carruthers and Bruce go way back, but what links Carruthers with them?

When the family of Bruce were Lords of Annandale, which basically lasted from the 12th century to the early 14th century, Carruthers are recorded as being Stewards of Annandale under them, Keepers of Trailtrow Preceptory and Guardians of the Old Kirk Ford. In 1320, six years after Bannockburn and after the title of Lord of Annandale was passed to the Randolph family, also great supporters of Bruce,  King Robert the Bruce granted a charter of lands to Thomas Carruthers, son of John Carruthers (of Carruthers), for services to his family. So began the Chiefly House of Carruthers of Mouswald. That chiefly line continued for over 200 years, until 1548, when the last chief was killed. The Chiefship then passed to the next senior line, Carruthers of Holmains, who hold it to this day.

Going back to the Family of Bruce, Carruthers have been great supporters of them since the 11th century, and again through the ages. King David II, son of Robert the Bruce, was a guest of Mouswald on one or possibly two occasions it seems. On each occasions charters of land were granted by the monarch to the family. This in itself suggests close ties between the two houses.

However,  since the mid to late 1800’s and being armigerous at the time after the passing of John 12th, we became a sept of Bruce.  Because of that close relationship as a sept of that family, we have worn their tartans with pride, but legally, do not retain any claims of ownership upon any of them.  

This leads nicely onto our next question regarding the Carruthers tartan. What can you tell us about it?

The concept and history of tartan is interesting, especially as borderers never really wore it and definitely not a family-assigned one; nor did they wear kilts.

Reputable historians tell us that there were no recorded family tartans, even in the Highlands and Islands, until at the earliest 1810. The first one recorded for a border family, which was taken from Verstiarium Scoticum, was for the Armstrongs (and I now believe that was in 1842). 

Regarding the Carruthers tartan itself, I was lucky enough along the way to be introduced to quite a few very knowledgeable people who guided us on our journey. It was pointed out to me that these days, one of the main visual signatures of a clan is to have its own separate and distinct tartan.  As we had always been classed as a sept of Bruce, and wore their tartan, it hadn’t been an issue. However, to support our goals of having a chief confirmed and thus attain official status, I commissioned tartans to be designed and registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans (STR) in Edinburgh.

Who designed it and what was the influence? 

In 2017, two Carruthers tartans were designed, one blue and one red. Because only a Chief can officially adopt a clan tartan, both were registered as ‘personal’ but the red was open to all of our name. However, the red tartan was also adopted by the Society on its initial registration, so it became their official tartan. Once the Chief was confirmed, I gifted the rights of that tartan to him, and it was registered by the STR in February 2020 as the official Clan/Family tartan of Carruthers. The blue Carruthers tartan, which was also registered in my name STR 11699, remains the personal tartan of my own family.

The brief to Brian Wilton MBE, the designer and also a renowned tartan historian, was for both tartans to follow in part the threadcount and sett of Bruce as a form of homage, while that which was to become the Carruthers tartan should reflect our Reiver past. I feel he has achieved both. The threadcount and sett are basically the ‘DNA’ of the tartan, and without it no tartan can be made. Our Clan tartan and its details are registered as STR 11700.  

Who makes the Tartan, as there is some being made outsiude Scotland?

We are very pleased to say that we are not one of them. Like everything else we have done we have chosen to ensure that we do things to the best of our abilities for the family and the future. The Carruthers Tartan is woven by one of Scotland oldest independent family run weavers still in existence, the House of Edgar based in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland. It was established as far back as 1783, nearly 240 years ago. As they are the only registered suppliers, every piece of Carruthers tartan, to include those items that come from McPhails in British Columbia in Canada, are sourced from the House of Edgar in Scotland. Now, that is doing things right. 

We are aware you started from scratch – what have been the main difficulties getting the Society up and running?

We live in a media-driven society, and this has both pros and cons. The pros are the ease of communication to get the facts out there and the ability to carry out reasonable, albeit filtered research. The cons are the fake information and false claims that muddy the waters, confuse and prevent people getting to the truth. This of course is not simply the case for clan societies, but progressively with life in general. False and dangerous advice being perpetrated relating to many things, COVID 19 being a fine example.

However, as in most things, the facts are filtering through. This allows people who genuinely wish to celebrate their Scottish ancestry to be able to maintain their links with the country. It is reflected in our membership who are fiercely proud of their family heritage, and because of that have chosen to join a Society that strongly anchors them to both Scotland and our culture. Hopefully, and continually Clan Carruthers Society International will do just that.

What part did the Society play in having a chief confirmed?

Initially, we thought the Chiefly line went elsewhere, but after further research and investigation over the years, we finally approached a person who we believed was getting close to being the senior of the Holmains line. After some discussion, they were kind enough to give us further information that led us to Peter. We approached him with the facts we had.  He then went away and researched his position through his own family records and once satisfied, a was petition submitted to the Lord Lyon. The rest, as they say, is history.

Can you tell us a little about your personal involvement in all of this?

Firstly, let me say I could not have done any of this without the support of many people both inside and outside the family, and there are too many to name. But a special mention has to go to Dana Caruthers Norton, who has been a rock throughout all this, and Antony Maxwell, who as our heraldist, kept us solidly on the right track.

I’m just happy to have been party to this whole event, and although arduous and frustrating at times, partly because of the journey itself, and partly through the actions of those with their own agenda, the end result speaks for itself and was therefore worth the angst. After 210 years, Carruthers now has full recognition in Scottish Clan society, and we as a Society, and a couple of us in particular, played a big role in achieving that.

Where is the Society based, and where do its members come from?

The Society is a not-for-profit organisation and as I am not the only Carruthers in it, it is headquartered by other members in Scotland. Although, as Convenor, most correspondence comes through me and is then passed on for processing, I couldn’t do this on my own.  As for our membership, it comes from all around the world, with the bulk being from the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.

From small beginnings in the South West of Scotland, as a family we have covered the globe and as was my first thought in starting all this, it is bringing the clan together. 

What do you hope will become of it in the future?

For the Society, I hope that it will continue to grow and whether Scots by birth or ancestry, we can all come together to share in the pride we have from being part of a very ancient and proud Scottish Border clan led by our hereditary Chief. I mean we were ‘there’ and we ‘did’ our bit within the rich tapestry that is both Scottish and Border history. That really is something to be proud of. 

Regarding the Clan, it is now officially recognised and is again playing a role in Scottish clan culture, that isn’t going away and it is being reflected and shared in the media, wherever Scottish culture is celebrated. 

…and finally, what has been the highlight of this journey, for you? 

There are a few that immediately spring to mind: meeting the interesting and informative people I have met; making the many friends I have found along the way; and being privileged enough to have access to a wealth of information and factual documentation on our family.

What we have witnessed over this last few years is, quite simply, history being made – and Carruthers history at that! I’m personally honoured to have played a part in it. I would also like to say a big thank-you again to Dana and Antony and also to Laura, Graham, Zelda, Stuart, Cecilia, George, Gary, Liz, Craig, Bill, David, Pam, Michael and Steve, to name but a few. Without those guys, this wouldn’t be where it is.

Thank you for giving us your time, it was a joy to share your passion, knowledge and honesty.

You are most welcome, thank you for being interested enough to organise it.


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