Clan Carruthers, USA

Clan Carruthers: Full COSCA Newsletter (USA)

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Disclaimer: This is a disclaimer for every person who submits an article or other published format to Claymore. This is intended to replace indi- vidual disclaimers that may/may not be required for each and every individual or organization.
The views expressed in this newsletter are the authors and do not represent those of any organization, including but not limited to the Court of the Lord Lyon, The Society of Scottish Armigers, the Standing Concil of Scottish Chiefs, COSCA and/or member organizations and individuals of Scottish Clan Societies, Organizations and Families. 

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Scottish clans in America lament loss of ancestral visits across the pond this year

by Kieran Beattie, May 19, 2020, 7:02 am

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A clan planning to travel from America to Scotland to walk in their ancestor’s foot- steps have spoken of their disappointment at postponing the trip.

The ancestral tourism sector in Scotland has been growing in popularity in recent years, due to rising availability of DNA tests and the success of Scotland-centric film and television shows, such as Outlander.

And this year, the Clan Forbes Society of America was due to bring 25 members on a six-day journey to sites of special significance, taking in Forbes, Corgarff, Fyvie, Tolquhon and Cragievar castles, the Knockando Woollen Mill, Culloden Battlefield and the Speyside Cooperage. Rounding off their adven- ture would have been a trip to the Lonach Highland Gathering in August, whose patron is Sir James Forbes of Newe, but due to coronavirus, the trip has been postponed until next year.

Bart Forbes, from Virginia, is president of the Clan Forbes Society. He said: “While our members enjoy seeing Forbes heritage sites such as our clan seat at Castle Forbes and Cragievar Castle, they are particularly excited about meeting other clan members at the Lonach Gathering.


“With a growing interest in genealogy, these personal connections are far more impactful to members than castles and mansion houses. All tour participants except two, due to age, have agreed to recom- mit to the new dates, I believe that indicates the strong interest in the trip.”

In 2016, a Visit Scotland survey found that a quarter of respondents in a survey from the US, Canada and Australia cited their family’s heritage as a major reason they came to Scotland.

However this year, due to the pandemic resulting in cancelled events throughout Scotland and re- strictions on travel across the globe, businesses and local communities that greatly benefit from cash brought in by ancestral tourism will be faced with additional loss of income.

Janet Robertson, of the company Thistle Dubh Enterprises in Colorado, said visiting their family’s an- cestral homelands in Scotland is hugely popular with Americans who are in touch with their heritage. Ms Robertson, originally from Scotland, helped organise the now-cancelled Clan Forbes Society trip and has been involved in organising similar Scottish clan tours for US residents for the past 15 years.

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Dear members and friends of COSCA –

We are now six months into the COV19 pandemic. The landscape has altered for all of us in the Scottish-American Community, wherever we live and work. Especially hard hit have been highland games across the USA and planned clan society heritage tours and other visits to Scotland this season. And as I write this, we are not out of the woods yet.

COSCA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), held each year since 1976 at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (GMHG) in NC in early July, has been delayed—because GMHG was cancelled for 2020, due to continuing public health concerns. (The reason we’ve always held our AGM at GMHG is the fact that 100 or more clan and family societies regularly attend those games—thus ensuring maximum attendance/ease of access to COSCA’s AGM for American Scots.)

A few highland games events are still on track for late summer/early fall. Time will tell if these get cancelled, too. But regardless, COSCA has decided the best way to hold our AGM that gives maximum access, and guarantees maximum attendance, is to do a remote meeting online. Nonprofit corporations law in our state of incorporation (DE) allows for this option and we plan to take full advantage of it.

Accordingly, our AGM will be held remotely, via Zoom, later this year (probably in the fall, and on a date to be determined). Watch our Website for details later this summer. Our Secretary, Charlie Sherwood, has a Zoom account and will host the remote AGM. All will be invited to join us online. Clan societies and other Organizational Members of COSCA will be required

to select in advance one point of contact (POC) to officially speak and vote for them on the Zoom call, though online attendance will be open to all members-in-good-standing of these organizations, just as has always been the case for our in-person AGM, under the Chieftain’s Tent at GMHG.

As most of you know, COSCA, is a co-sponsor of the annual Scottish North American Leadership Conference (SNALC), along with The American Scottish Foundation (ASF), based in NYC, the St. Andrew’s Societies of Illinois and Detroit (“Chicago Scots” and “Detroit Scots”, respectively), the Scottish Studies Programme at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, and COSCA’s Canadian sister society, Clans & Scottish Organizations of Canada (CASSOC). The SNALC 2020 Conference will be held in NYC the weekend of Friday, October 23 – Sunday, October 25. Participation will be both in-person and remote, as a Webinar, via Zoom. ASF will be the host organization this


year. This year’s theme—selected to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath—will be Scottish contributions to the North American concept of freedom. SNALC organizers will roll many of the speakers and panel discussions originally planned for Tartan Day in DC and NYC back in April, which had to be cancelled due to the public health emergency, into the October conference. A number of prominent Scots will speak to the conference attendees remotely, in real time, from Scotland.

Watch our Website ( and the SNALC website ( ) for more details later this summer.

We strongly encourage each of you to view the new Robert the Bruce film, now available on DVD or via streaming video. COSCA is an official promoter of the film, which was released several months ago to coincide with the 800th Anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, though its planned movie-house debut was a casualty of the pandemic.

COSCA’s Five-Year Strategic Plan effort is now well under way. Thanks to all our members who are actively involved in this effort, headed up by COSCA Board member John Cochran. (See John’s update report on page X.)

I am delighted to announce that Bart Forbes, President of the Clan Forbes Society (a
COSCA member) and past president of the DC St. Andrew’s Society, has joined COSCA’s Communications Team as Director of Online Communications. Bart has a long and strong
IT background and has served as a senior manager for online communications at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Our Website and Facebook page(s) now come under Bart’s purview. Both are now getting long-needed revisions, starting with the Website, which is in the process of being revamped by Bart, with general oversight from our Board, with more changes to come. In this regard, back issues of COSCA newsletters are now available to all on our Website. Thanks, Bart! (Go to the “News” Tab on the Home Page.) Next on Bart’s to-do list are our Facebook page(s), which will be combined and reorganized.

Stay safe and well. We hope to see you (in person or remotely) at the SNALC Conference in October, and at our AGM, via Zoom.

Yours aye, John B.

John King Bellassai, JD
President, COSCA
(202) 258-4876 (cell)

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Hello COSCA from your fellow kinfolk Down Under.

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Sadly, Australia is quite possibly in the same boat as the USA as all Clan Gatherings and Scottish events have been cancelled for 2020.

However, we were lucky enough to squeeze one gathering in, one week before the pandemic became a serious concern for state borders in Australia. This was the Richmond Highland Gathering inTasmania held in February each year.

It was an amazing day at Australia’s best bou- tique Highland Gathering which is held annual- ly on the Village Green in the historic town of Richmond Tasmania.

The sun was shining, the pipes were playing, the kilts were swinging and the feathers were flying. All this music and colour from highland

dancing and pipe band competitions attracted visitors from far and wide with many from overseas.

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This gathering is also growing in Clan representation and of particular note, it attracts the highest number of the senior clan alumni in Australia, even more so than Bundanoon’s Brigadoon which is Australia’s largest Highland Gathering. This year’s gathering included three Clan Chiefs, two Barons, High Commissioners and two Chiefs Lieutenants. This is truly a feather in the cap for the St Andrews Society committee who organise this beautiful unique gathering and they were truly delighted
with the turnout this year.

Did I mention how beautiful the Tasmanian weather was? Yes I did but it is worth mentioning again for you doubters.


And to COSCA, hopefully some of us Down Under can say G’day to you personally in 2021

Frank McGregor, High Commissioner, Clan Gregor Australia


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One of the oldest and most historic towns in Australia. It was founded in 1808 with land grants from the Governor. These of course went to the most un-needy, the governors, officers, surgeons with some going to NCOs and ex-convicts. A pastoral and grazing economy that faced droughts, aboriginies, bush rangers and fires. Wheat exports to New South Wales commenced in 1816 and all land had been “taken” by 1820. The stone bridge is the oldest bridge in Australia having been built in 1825. There was a gaol, the required pubs and a relatively small town, although it was the third largest in Tasmania then. It is only 25 Kms from Hobart, the state capital! All built in sandstone Georgian style. It is one of the quaintest and prettiest towns in the country. Just ask Frank!

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After more than 200 years as an armigerous clan, the latest Scottish clan chief to be confirmed by the Lord Lyon, is the Chief of the Border Clan, Carruthers, in 2019.

Brief Clan History


Carruthers are a family whose name is topographical and comes from an area in Dumfriesshire, in the South West of Scotland. It is claimed that in the 6th century, in what is now Annandale, a king by the name of Rydderich Hael, built a fort, which came to be known in the Brythonic language, as Caer Rydderich or the fort of Rydderich. Over time the area around it became known as Caer-ruthers by the indigenous population. Carruthers, from which the family take or gave their name, was a parish until 1609 when it became part of the present parish of Middlebie, and was the original seat of the family prior to Mouswald.

As surnames began to become more common place, those living on the land, like many other border families or clans, took the topographical name of the area in which they owned. Some surnames were used in Scotland from as early as the 13th century and it seems Carruthers fell into that category.

The first recorded use of the name was by William de (of) Carruthers, who gave a donation to the Abbey at Newbattle in the reign of Alexander II (1215- 1245). The second was William’s son or grandson, Simon Carruthers, the parson of Middlebie who signed the Ragmans Roll in 1296.

In 1320, 6 years after Bannockburn, Thomas Carruthers son of John de Carruthers and descendent of William de Carruthers, received a charter of land from King Robert the Bruce, for services to his family. This began the chiefly line of Carruthers of Mouswald. This house, continued until 1548 when the then Chief, Sir Simon Carruthers, 10th of Mouswald and 6th Baron, was killed in a border raid. Thomas had three brothers; William, who became 2nd of Mouswald; John, Kings Chancellor of Annandale; and

Sir Nigel, Chamberlain to the King, the latter being killed at the Battle of Durham in 1346. Mouswald became the Barony of Carruthers or as it became known, the Barony of Mouswald, in 1452.

After the killing of Sir Simon, having no male heirs, the chiefship passed to the next senior in line, Carruthers of Holmains, whose progenitor was Thomas’s brother John. After his visit to Mouswald, David II gave a charter of land to John in 1349 for his services to the King. Although not classed as the first laird, it was this parcel of land, being of half of Raffols, that was to become the kernel for the large Barony of Holmains. In 1375,26 years later, Roger Carruthers 1st of Holmains, son of John, received a charter of land from George of Dunbar, Earl of the March, which included the land of Holmains. Holmains was erected into a Barony In 1542, and by then, Carruthers had become a substantial clan in their area.

 It was John Carruthers, 5th of Holmains, 1st Baron who took on the mantle of Chief in 1548, after the demise of Mouswald and it is this family who has retain the Chiefly line to this day. It was this John who gave a charter of lands to his third son, William, 1st of Dormont, thus beginning that branch of the family. Carruthers of Dormont still live on part of their original lands to this day.


In 1672, the Scottish Parliament decreed, through the Lyon Act, that all those bearing arms should be worthy of the same. With this in mind, all accepted as such were to be recorded in the Register of all Arms and Bearings of Scotland. Although armorials, with historic representations of arms, existed before this, the Act brought them all under one jurisdiction, that being of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, who retains it to this day.

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In Scotland, personal arms are registered to one individual rather than a family. The arms of the Carruthers Chief are a conjoining of the ancient arms of Carruthers and those of Sir Simon of Mouswald. It is believed that the arms of Holmains were in use prior to 1672, as other branches of the family were using the same arms, but with differences. In Scotland all arms are taken from the chiefly arms, with a minimum of two differences. Only the chief is allowed to bear the undifferenced arms.


Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.40.07.pngCarruthers is one of the very few families who have all traditionally used angelic beings as their crests. Legend has it that this goes back to their involvement with the Templar’s and Hospitallers in their area, or as keepers of the Trailtrow Preceptory and guardians of the Old Kirk Ford at Hoddam under the Bruce, Lords of Annandale. The real reason of course is lost in time. The Chief’s crest is blazoned as a seraphim volent proper, and is always represented as 6 wings in the middle of which is an angelic face. This is worn, within a belt and buckle by clansmen and clanswomen, on which is inscribed the Chief’s motto, Promptus et Fidelis : Ready and Faithful.

As a family, Carruthers played their part in the defence of their kin, their country and their honour. This occurred throughout the tumultuous times of the Anglo-Scottish wars and their 300 years or so, as Border Reivers. They lived through the times of the great clearances, not only occurring in the Highlands, but the Lowlands of Scotland as well, yet they prospered.

Holmains grew in both land and respect in their ancestral home of Annandale. This continued until the late 18th century, when financial disaster struck. John 12th and 8th Baron, lost the Holmains estates through bad advice leading to his support of the failed Ayr bank. He died, heartbroken in 1809. From that point on, no one has chosen to pick up the mantle of Chief, and Carruthers being viewed as an armigerous clan and due to their close historical ties, were added as a sept of Bruce in the mid 1800’s and proudly wore their tartans.

Finding a Chief

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.43.46.pngAfter 10 years of genealogical investigation and networking and the formation a Clan Society, the senior of the Holmains line was finally tracked down. This led to Dr Simon Peter Carruthers, known as Peter, petitioning the Lord Lyon to bear the Chiefs arms. It took another 20 months of analysis of the presented evidence and documented proofs by the Lyon and two court hearings, before he was fully satisfied. In the final hearing Peter was represented legally by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw QC, an expert on his field. Therefore, in August 2019, Dr Simon Peter Carruthers of Holmains was confirmed Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers.

It is through the granting of the right to bear the chiefs arms of a clan or family, and only after proven lineage to the initial grantee, that the Lyon confirms a chief. This act takes a clan or family from being armigerous to that of a ‘Noble Incorporation’ thus making the clan officially recognised.

Interestingly, unlike a normal grant of arms, a matriculation of arms e.g. of a chiefly line, does not require the recipient to be domiciled in Scotland. As far as we are aware, although Carruthers doesn’t fall into this category, there are a number of recognised clan chiefs living outside the UK. It is our understanding that there are in; the US (5), Canada (1), South Africa (2) and Australia (5). All are accepted by the Lord Lyon as such, and because of this, all are able to sit on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. Interestingly, only chiefs whose arms have supporters are permitted a hereditary place on the Council, those without them need to reapply on every passing of the Name.


Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.45.45.pngIn November 2018, Carruthers of Holmains was also granted supporters, a banner and pinsel and a plant badge, to reflect his position and that of the Clan. Supporters are normally representative of the history of the clan

or the area from which they hail. In the case of Carruthers two fallow bucks rampant proper on a compartment of heathland on which is scattered the clan plant, gorse (Ulex europeaus) in flower were granted.

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.46.27.pngThe deer, themselves are the least common in Scotland, but there is a reasonable population in Dumfriesshire and reflect the area of their origins. The plant badge has three relationships with Carruthers. The plant was reputedly used to corral cattle
either owned or reived by their ancestors, the yellow of the flower re-

flects that on the Chief’s arms and the long-spiked leaves the ‘prickers’ or ‘lang spears’, used by their ancestors as both reivers and reputedly, some of the finest light cavalry in Europe in their day.

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Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.50.11.pngOn February 25, 2019 Scott Roderick MacMillan of Staunton, Virginia, was called home to be with God. With him at his passing were his wife of nearly 36 years, Katherine Kurtz-MacMillan, and their son, Cameron Alexander Stuart MacMillan. No one has ever left this life with more style and grace than Scott. A memorial service held on March 9, 2019, his 72nd birthday, at Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Waynesboro, Virginia, was presided over by Bishop Peter Robinson of the Anglican Church. As Scott was the Baron of Rathdown in Ireland, the service included heraldic banners and a traditional funeral hatchment, favorite hymns, a lone piper, and taps. In attendance, were his wife and son, his daughter-in-law, Anna Moore MacMillan, his brother and wife, Richard and Cheryl McMillan and daughter, Katie McGinley. Numerous friends from the Staunton area, around the country and Canada came to pay their respects.

Friends often referred him as the “real” most interesting man in the world and few would dispute that claim. He was well travelled and had many a good story to tell.

Born in Ogden, Utah, to John C. “Jack” and Lois McMillan, he was fourteen when the family moved to Burbank, California. After graduating from John Burroughs High School in 1965, he attended Glendale Community College and USC, where he studied Cinematography. Scott was employed by ABC Television and Chuck Barris Productions, and made training films for the Los Angeles Police Department and the U.S. Air Force. Scott was also known for his career as a writer, having authored two novels: Knights of the Blood and At Sword’s Point, as well as numerous magazine articles. He was a former editor for “Guns and Ammo” and “Far West” magazines, with a prodigious knowledge of firearms and edged-weaponry. His writing also included scripts for both television and films.

Scott served in the California State Military Reserve, attaining the rank of Captain, and worked as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. He was instrumental in forming the Mounted Unit for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office just prior to the 1984 Olympics. In 1986, Scott, Katherine, and Cameron moved to Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, near Dublin. During more than 20 years of residence there, Scott’s interest in heraldry and orders of chivalry grew into a vocation, with eventual appointment as a Consulting Herald in the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland.

He continued his heraldic pursuits privately after he and his family moved back to the United States
in 2007.Very proud of his Scottish heritage, Scott was instrumental in the founding of Clan MacMillan Pacific Branch, a branch of the Clan MacMillan National Society, which promotes and fosters
the shared interests of MacMillan family, heritage and history. He also was a lifelong vintage car enthusiast, especially of Morgans, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces, and active in many car clubs on both sides of the Atlantic.Reflecting his lifelong interest in chivalry and chivalric orders, Scott was a knight in many orders, among them: the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (Yugoslavian), the Order of St. Lazarus, the Order of the Holy Trinity, the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland), the Order of Emperor Menelik, (Ethiopia), the Order of Vila Viçosa (former Portuguese royal house), the Sovereign Military Order of St. John, and most recently the Order of St. George (Hapsburg). He was also a Companion of the Royal House of O’Conor (Ireland), Past Master of his Masonic lodge in Dublin (Victoria IV), and most recently the Sons of the American Revolution. He joined the St. Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C. in 2008.

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Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.54.50.pngMajor Giles Vivian Inglis-Jones, who died 22 June, 2020, aged 53, was the husband of Arabella Kincaid of Kin- caid, Chief of the name and arms of Kincaid.

He was born in 1967, scion of the Inglis-Jones landed family, son of Julian David Vivian Inglis-Jones [1933- 2010], by his wife the former Mairi Lennox Owen, and married 24 March, 1995, the then Arabella Jane Hor- nell, daughter of Denis Peareth Hornell Lennox of that Ilk and of Woodhead [b 1 Aug, 1941], by his wife the former Jane Logan Batters.

His wife was recognised as Chief of the Name and Arms of Kincaid from on 29 July 1999. She was recognised by Lord Lyon King of Arms, and matriculated her arms at the Lyons Court on 26 January 2001. On 26 January 2001 her name was legally changed to Arabella Jane Kincaid of Kincaid, recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

Maj Inglis-Jones leaves a widow and five children.

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Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.56.45.pngAlexander Guthrie of Guthrie, chief of Clan Guthrie, died from coronavirus after two weeks of self-isolation in London. Alexander Guthrie’s claim to chiefship came by a circuitous route. The 20th chief was the distinguished sol- dier Lt Col Ivan Guthrie of Guthrie, Alexander’s great-grandfather. Col Guthrie’s twice-married elder daughter Moyra resumed her maiden name in 1968, and was recognised as 21st chief. Loetitia Philips, her daughter from her first marriage, married Leonardo Bedini-Jacobini, son of a Roman count, with Alexander the son of that union.

Moyra, 21st chief, died in 1984, after which Alexander Guthrie petitioned then Lord Lyon Sir Malcolm Innes of Edingight, ultimately being given recognition as 22nd chief of Guthrie in 2000.

Alexander Ivan Bedini-Jacobini Guthrie (motto: “I stand for truth”) received his education in Italy and En- gland, latterly attending University College London. He went into business as a professional landlord, living in Rome with a toehold in London.

He grew up in a thoroughly Italian world, rapidly making his mark as someone who was both colourful and hospitable. Away from Rome at his villa in Tuscany, he entertained widely, friends and acquaintances from worlds as far apart as banking and the church, minor royalty and simple travelers.

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 15.56.55.pngAlways an innovator, Guthrie early on saw how IT would change the way people booked accommodation, with one of his ventures developed as an upmarket city accommodation booking system.

Alexander Guthrie savoured his role as chief of a clan, attending gatherings of clan Guthrie – principally in the USA, where there is a flourishing Clan Guthrie association. At home in Rome, he had an engaging pen- chant for wearing full Highland dress to formal social occasions. On his way to one event, he was stopped by the carabinieri, and asked to explain why he was carrying a sword.

The chief came of a distinguished line stretching back to 1457, when an Alexander Guthrie is mentioned in a charter. Clan lore, however, claims earlier foundation, that a “laird of Guthrie” went to France in 1299 to invite.


William Wallace to return to Scotland. The mission was successful and Guthrie apparently landed back with Wallace at Montrose.

Certainly, the line of Guthrie played its part in Scotland’s history. Sir Alexander Guthrie, 2nd chief, was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513. In 1567 Alexander, 5th of Guthrie, signed a bond upholding the authority of the infant James VI against that of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.

The spread of the family can be judged by the fact that Patrick Guthrie, 10th laird, was succeeded by his fourth cousin once removed, the Rt Rev John Guthrie. Nor were women excluded, for the 12th chief was Bethia Guthrie, John’s daughter.

Col Ivan Guthrie, 20th of Guthrie, was the last Guthrie chief to live in the ancestral home of Guthrie Castle, near Forfar. Born in 1886, he commanded the 4th Battalion, Black Watch, and during the First World War gained the Military Cross for valour. The castle is now a venue for weddings, business meetings, and golf.

Alexander, 22nd of Guthrie, never married, but is survived by his long-term girlfriend Tal, a lawyer, and his brother Christian.

Memorial services for the late chief are due to be held later this year in London and Rome.

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Andrew Morrison, Viscount Dunrossil

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Chapter 1: Two Scotlands, Two Cultures

Chapter 2: What’s a Clan?
Chapter 3: The Role of a Modern Clan Chief

Chapter 4: The Lord Lyon and Scottish Heraldry

Chapter 5: Who cares about this, and why?


CHAPTER 1: Two Scotlands, Two Cultures

Like many countries, Scotland is an artificial fictive construct while also being a legal entity. The idea of Scotland as a nation beyond this legal status obscures the disparate origins of the people. Scotland, as de- scribed in the early 13th century De Situ Albanie, was a land bordered to the south by the Firth of Forth, to the west by the “Drum Alban mountains,” and to the north by the Great Glen. It was a country where the people were of Pictish and Gaelic origin and spoke Gaelic. This means that Edinburgh and Glasgow, indeed most of the Central Belt and the Lowlands, were not part of Scotland as it was understood at the time. Obviously, there were other, adjacent territories claimed by Scottish kings, even then. These peripheral areas, which came to be incorporated into Scotland as a kingdom, included Glasgow and the western Lowlands, where the principal lan- guage was akin to modern Welsh, the eastern lowlands, where the language was Inglis, the Germanic ancestor of what is now, bizarrely, called Scots, and the Hebrides and Argyll, the old Kingdom of the Isles, where the predominant language had recently changed from Old Norse to Gaelic.

In the 11th Century king Malcolm Canmore married an Anglo-Saxon princess, “Saint” Margaret. She refused to learn Gaelic. She changed the language of the court from Gaelic toInglis. Her son, David, who had been raised and educated in England, introduced Anglo-Norman feudal law into Scotland and granted most of his kingdom and its wealth to Norman knights. These soon came to hold most of the noble titles, as well as much of the land, and these lords, including the Bruces, Comyns and Stewarts, were soon fighting each other for the throne of the kingdom itself. In short order the culture of the kingdom of Scotland ceased to be Scottish, as it had been understood, in any meaningful way. Scholars today suggest that the word “Scot” originally meant a speaker of Gaelic and so
“Scotland” means the land where Gaelic is spoken. By 1500, however, the language previously known as Inglis was being called “Scots” and the original Scottish language, Gaelic, was being called Erse or Irish and treated as a foreign and less civilized language in its own country.

The tension and mutual suspicion between these two cultures, languages and world views continued until the Jacobite Rising in 1745. After that everything changed. Despite centuries of oppression, judicial theft and even attempted genocide by Stewart kings, it was still the case in 1750 that just over half the population of the country lived in the Highlands and spoke Gaelic. Today, less than 10% live in the Highlands and barely 1% can speak Gaelic.

The removal of the populations of the Highlands, known as the Highland Clearances, continued for over a hundred years. Today, it is a curious irony, that while almost all the chiefs live in Scotland, most of their clansmen and women live elsewhere. People in Scotland speak of the five million and the fifty million. There are just five million people living in Scotland, but some fifty million worldwide who identify as Scots. And arguably, the original Scottish culture is cultivated and honored more among Scots of the Diaspora than among the people of the Lowlands and the Central Belt, who today dominate the motherland. These, in turn, sometimes affect a mild contempt for what they see as an obsession with the past and with “tartan tat” among the children of the dispossessed.

The differences between the two cultures are many and profound, despite the passage of time and the tendency of the two to merge. For convenience sake, I will call them Highland and Lowland (the Gaelic word for the Highlands is Gaidhealtachd, which literally means “where Gaelic is spoken”). Thus, the language of the former is (or was) Gaelic, the language of the latter Inglis or English. The former observed a legal system known as Brehon law, an unchanging code studied and practiced by the Brieves. The latter adopted Anglo-Norman feudal law, under which law could be made by the king and his placeholders. In the Highlands land was owned collectively by the clan, and all clansmen had an inalienable right to settle on it. This system was known in Gaelic as duthchas. Chiefs were not landlords. In the feudal system, land was real estate, that is, it belonged to the king, who made grants of parts of it to favored lords, who then had full rights over the populations there. They were landlords and the people were little more than squatters, paying rent for the opportunity to till a portion of their lord’s land. This system of inherited individual ownership was known in Gaelic as oighreachd. The notion of clans and chiefs belongs to the former world, that of lords and tenants to the latter. The Stewart kings spent centuries trying to unify and pacify their realm. This meant working to undermine the old Gaelic culture and teach the semi-independent chiefs to think of themselves as landlords, who owed their positions to some royal grant of title, and to see their clansmen as tenants, just like the Lowland lords.


The vast majority of Scottish noble titles and Scottish heraldry in general belong to the feudal world. Feathers and tartans belong to the world of chiefs and clans and are governed by tradition, while coats of arms are governed by law and are the province of the Lord Lyon. Today growing ties between Lyon Court and the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs have seen these distinctions begin to blur, to erode.

In feudal law, the normal system of inheritance was known as primogeniture: the heir to a title was the eldest son of the previous holder. Under Brehon law, the mode of succession was known as tanistry. A chief could nominate his tanist or successor more freely from a wider family group, based on ability as well as birth. The Gaelic word tainistear can mean either “heir-presumptive” or “regent, governor, trustee, tutor” (MacLennan), indicating that a caretaker would be chosen if the eventual heir was a minor. The chief understood his duty to the clan and would not leave them with a weak protector.

Understanding and honoring these different traditions is often challenging, but it is worth making the effort to do so. Without this understanding, the name of chief would degenerate into just another “noble title,” empty of real meaning and function in the modern world. The conventional laws of precedence would suggest that I, as a Viscount, outrank not only my own chief but those of the MacDonalds and MacLeods, the largest clans in Scotland, who dominated the Hebrides where my ancestors lived. As a Highlander, a Hebridean, this feels absurd. It represents a failure to honor the culture of what might be called the first Scotland and forces the position of clan chief into some artificial, minor category in the second, feudal Scotland, where it does not belong.

CHAPTER 2: What’s a Clan?

The Gaelic word clann means children, descendants. The idea was that all members of a clan descended from a common ancestor. This is why so many Highland names begin with the prefix “mac,” which means son of, or have the suffix son. This highlights one of the distinguishing features of the Highlands. In the Lowlands, as in the rest of Europe, a feudal lord and his tenants would typically be unrelated, regardless of surname, the lords generally being related more frequently to each other than to many of those who shared their name. In the Highlands, by contrast, a chief and his clan felt a real bond of kinship.

A common misconception among first time visitors to a Highland Games in America is that all Scots must belong to a clan. This is not altogether a bad thing: it is certainly true that people tend to identify with Scotland through the medium of some surname group. The stronger that sense of kinship, the stronger too will be the bond that they feel with Scotland as a whole. It has proved an excellent way to build enthusiasm for the “brand.”. On the other hand, the two most common names in Scotland are Smith and Brown, which are clearly not clans, and a glance at the Scotland Rugby team will typically show just one or two clan names at most among the 15 players. Nobody could question the patriotic fervor of these men who expend such effort and make such sacrifices to bring honor to their country. And so the first point is that there is no dishonor in not being from a clan: it doesn’t make one less of a Scot. It is a fact that most Scottish surnames are not clan names, but working out which are and are not can be challenging, not least for organizers of Highland Games in the US and elsewhere. These can receive applications for tent space from all kinds of groups purporting to be clans, and it might be worth pausing for a moment to consider what are the common types of Scottish names that are not clan names and how to tell them apart from those that really are:


1. The first and largest category would be names that are not from the Highlands. At a Games in America you will see booths with banners that proclaim Clan Eliot, Clan Armstrong, Clan Scott, Clan Douglas, Clan Lindsay, Clan Graham, Clan Leslie, Clan Irvine, Clan Montgomerie, and so on. These are all fine Scottish names, with an impressive history of accomplishments, but none is a Highland clan. As we saw earlier, this is not just a mat- ter of geography but of culture and social organization. Purists like Dr. Bruce Durie feel strongly that we should call these Lowland name groups families, even if they are much larger than many clans, but even that suggests a kindred relationship, whereas some Lowland name groups were connected mainly through a landlord-tenant relationship.

These name groups may well have a chief of the name, who is entitled to sit in the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, but he or she will not really be a “clan chief”. Indeed, some of these name groups use a differ- ent term, not clan or family: we talk about the “House” of Gordon or the “House” of Bruce. Now it should be noted that these distinctions tend to matter much less to Scots of the Diaspora than at home, and that many Lowland chiefs are starting to resemble their Highland counterparts, for instance by wearing the kilt, appointing seanachies and generally, by coming out to Games in the US to connect with their “clan.” Seanachaidh is a Gaelic word and a Highland institution, and yet Dr. Durie himself is seanachie to a Lowland chief and happily repeats the claim that the Lord Lyon himself is seanachie to the monarch. These developments are surely to be welcomed, and all Games will feel comfortable giving tent space to a Lowland family whose head is a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, even if they are not, properly speaking, a clan. This courtesy should not, however, be extended to any of these other categories.

2. The second category consists of pure patronymics, where there is no history of people coming togeth- er as a surname group in any collective action. Examples here would be Anderson (son of Andrew), Wilson or Simpson. The Andersons have a self-appointed “chief,” but he has not been invited to sit in the Standing Coun- cil and has not been recognized by the Lord Lyon as chief. Andrew, being the patron saint of Scotland, is clearly a common name and so there are unsurprisingly plenty of “sons of Andrew” about. There was and is no Ander- son clan, however, nor a Simpson or Wilson clan.

3. A third category consists of names that have to do with hair color, a common way to distinguish some- one before surnames were common. These can have either English or Gaelic forms. Examples would include Brown, White, Black, Gray, Reid (red), Boyd and Bowie (buidhe, yellow), Dunn (brown), Duff (black), and so on. As mentioned, Brown is the second most common name in Scotland.

4. A fourth category consists of professional names, where the profession might logically be practiced anywhere. This would include Taylor, Wright, Clark, Walker, Smith, Shepherd, Millar, Hunter, and even Dewar (a keeper of relics). Clearly, Smith is a particularly common name, the most common in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is no Clan Smith.

5. A fifth category consists of surnames that are place-names, like Paisley or Wardlaw. There are people trying to set up “clan” organizations for both at this time, in a further, disturbing illustration of what some refer to as “clan creep.”.

6. Finally, there is the thorny issue of “septs” or small clans. Outside one of those Clan tents at an American Games you can expect to see a list of as many as twenty so-called septs of their clan. For the most part, this is complete fantasy. Some of these names will be simple patronymics, some professional names, some hair colors, and so on, and therefore will be found all over the country. The word “sept” is not even Gaelic in origin and there is really no ancient precedent for the concept. Nevertheless, apart from exhibiting a desire to sign up as many people as possible to one’s clan society, there are a couple of legitimate ideas behind this. One is to list common variants of the main name (for instance, Gilmore for Morrison, Monroe for Munro, Calhoun for Colquhoun). The second idea is to acknowledge small clans which lived in the territory, and sought the protec- tion, of larger clans. Of course, usually these families would end up taking the larger clan name too, or, in other cases, they might seek the protection of different clans at different times. A legitimate example of such a sept might be the MacAskills as a sept of the MacLeods. Other notable examples from the Isles would be the Bea- tons (Macbeths) and the Curries (MacVurichs). Each performed a special professional service for the Lords of the Isles and for other major clans in the area, the Beatons as men of medicine and the Curries as bards. Today, there is a tendency for some of these smaller but very distinguished name groups to identify as clans in them- selves, and a Currie was recently granted provisional arms as Commander (and thus potentially chief someday) of his own clan.

In summary: a clan is one of those Scottish name groups which originate in the Highlands and with Gaelic culture, has a core group that is truly a kindred, and has a history of acting cohesively and independent- ly as a clan (usually, that means going to war with another clan). From a legal standpoint a clan must also have a chief, who is entitled to be a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, recognized by Lyon as the chief of the name and arms. In some cases, a chiefly line had died out, perhaps several hundred years ago, as had happened with the Morrisons. Some of these clans had arms granted to a clan society as a temporary expedient. The term “armigerous clan” has been applied to these, but Lyon Morrow is at pains to point out it is a misnomer. The society has arms, not the clan. In fact, no clan has arms. Arms in Scotland are generally speaking the personal possession or “achievement” of an individual “armiger.” There is no such thing as a family or clan coat of arms, despite what unscrupulous vendors may try to tell you. For a clansman to be able to acquire the usual accoutrements of a clansman, including the crest of his chief surrounded by a strap and buckle, he must first have a chief. For this reason, Lyon Morrow has expedited the process for a number of clans that have been without a chief; indeed, both the Gunns and Buchanans have acquired them during his tenure.

So, who are some of these Highland clans? The major Scottish clans can be identified by the popularity of their surname in the Highlands and Islands today. A search of the phone book for the Highlands and Islands is as simple and accurate a way to guage population numbers as any and shows a very different set of names from those found in the country as a whole. The four largest clans clearly emerge as MacDonald, MacLeod, Mackenzie and MacKay. The next largest are Campbell, MacLean, Ross, Morrison and Fraser. After them you see Sutherland, Cameron, Stewart, Robertson, Grant, MacLennan, Murray, Sinclair and Munro. And after them, MacIver, Macrae, MacKinnon, MacIntosh and Matheson. Were they to be clans, Smith (the most common name in Scotland) would have come in at number 10 in the Highlands, after the second group and before the third, while Wilson would have been in the fourth. Neither is a clan name: one is a profession and the other a simple patronymic. All the other names among the 25 most common in the Highlands and Islands today would be considered genuine clan names. We can see from this that there’s still a remarkable concentration of traditional clans in the Gaelic heartlands. Arguably, among the next 25 names there are only nine true clans, along with a smattering of Lowland families, patronymics, hair colors and professions, such as might be found all over Scotland.


CHAPTER 3: The role of a modern Clan Chief

If every clan needs a chief, what is the role of a chief? Let me begin with a word of caution. What I am about to say applies specifically to Highland chiefs. The extent to which the heads of Lowland families choose to follow or adopt these norms is, in the final analysis, up to them. In recent years, as we noted above, we have seen many of these adopt, not only the names of chief and clan, but the wearing of kilts and the appointment of seanachies. Some confluence of traditions is a good thing, in that it assists the emergence of a single Scotland in place of the former two. But it is one thing for Lowland lairds to take on the mantle of chief; it’s quite another thing for chiefs to act like lairds and treat their positions as a mere heritable title. It should be clear that you can be a Lord, even a Duke, without anyone to lord it over, but you can’t be a real chief without a clan. 

The exercise of turning chiefs into a species of landed gentry served a purpose at the time in “pacifying” the Highlands, but it turned out to be a terrible thing for the clans themselves. Today, the process of assimilation seems to be working the other way, as Lowland lords begin to appreciate and acknowledge the clan-like devotion of their former tenants. This is building a mutuality where, in some cases, it never existed, and that can only be a good thing. The ceremony at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 2019, where the Earl of Eglinton and Winton raised his standard as “chief of Clan Montgomerie,” exchanging vows of mutual devotion and loyalty with the representatives of the clan society, set an intriguing precedent. There is something very special about the role of chief and the relationship between chief and clan. Something worth preserving, and when apparently lost, restoring, or where it never existed, worth building up. This relationship was deliberately eroded and undermined over the centuries by the Scottish crown, but many chiefs today are doing what they can to restore or reinvent it, in a way that is much appreciated by their clans.

Before the Statutes of Iona issued by James VI and the Acts of Proscription passed by the Westminster Parliament after the ’45, chiefs had considerable powers and related responsibilities. The chief’s principal duty was to bring glory to the clan, through success in battle, and to protect and provide for the clan in peace. He would be expected to support a bard, who would help him by turning his exploits into verse to impress future generations, and a seanachie or clan historian, who kept him in touch with the past. In return the clansmen owed him a duty of service. In effect, every chief had a private army at his disposal.

After 1747, when private armies were banned, many chiefs tried first to monetize this duty of service, turning their fellow clansmen into tenants on their own land, then drove them out altogether, when they realized they could make more from (the clan) lands by importing sheep. When one tried to raise a regiment for the crown after the Clearances, a former bard famously declared, “You have preferred sheep to men. Now let sheep defend you!”

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 16.06.05.pngToday, the clans are widely scattered. Both the old duty of service and the later landlord/tenant relationship are long gone.

So, what is the role of a chief in modern times? Each chief finds his own way. Dr. John Morrison remained living in the Outer Hebrides in his old age. He kept an open door at Ruchdi and a good supply of whisky at hand. He enjoyed receiving visitors from all over the world, offering them a dram, hearing their stories and answering their questions (in Gaelic or English) about clan history and the islands. Lord Macdonald, whose ancestors were the Lords of the Isles,

effectively kings of a separate country, has established a museum of the peoples of the isles at Armadale Castle (above), his home in the Isle of Skye. The Clan MacLeod is welcomed to Dunvegan Castle, also on Skye, every four years for a clan parliament. My wife’s family were Munros from near Tain, in the northeast of Scotland. Last year I reached out to Hector Munro, the chief, and asked if we could stop by. Despite being in the middle of the harvest season (he’s a farmer by profession), he met us at the castle and generously gave us a full guided tour.

There is no clan without a chief, but, by the same token, there is no real chief without a clan. Clanspeople want to know that the clan matters to their chief, that he or she cares about it as much as they do. Although many lead busy professional lives, clans want them to show up at the odd clan event or Games, in the US and elsewhere, and to take an interest in clan affairs. Clans like their chiefs to take part in the Standing Council of Chiefs, at least showing up for the Annual Meeting in July occasionally. Above all, just as in the old days, they are expected to bring honor to the name.

What if they don’t? What if they commit some heinous crime or are simply uninterested in the clan? In that case, I would contend the clan has the right, and has to be given a mechanism, to remove and replace the chief. Presumably there would need to be a strong consensus among leading members of the clan, expressed through an ad hoc derbhfine or clan convention, working with the Lord Lyon. The key point is that the obliga- tions and duties of chief and clan are two way. In effect, there is a kind of social contract between the parties. It is unwritten, because the Gaelic culture was predominantly an oral one, but it was considered binding, nonetheless. The chief has duties towards the clan, and if they do not perform these duties, another chief should be found, ideally from within the chief’s immediate family.

Clearly this would be a radical step, extremely rarely taken. The most effective ways to ensure that it would not be taken are, first, to reemphasize the fact that chief is not simply an inherited title, like a lord, but an office that carries with it important responsibilities, and, second, to bear these responsibilities in mind when identifying a tanist or successor. The privileges, the perks, as it were, of a chief today are obviously fewer than in earlier times, and most people have a hard enough time earning a living and taking care of their immediate family without taking on any additional, wider, responsibilities. It’s better all round to say upfront that you don’t want the job than to take it on and do it badly. It also follows that nobody should be expected to assume these responsibilities while a minor: an adult commitment is required. We don’t let minors marry because we don’t consider them old enough to make such a commitment. Historically, kings and chiefs who inherited as minors had guardians who managed affairs until their majority, either in a council or individually, while preparing and educating the new chief for their upcoming role. Thus, Donald MacLaren of MacLaren’s father died when he was just 11. Donald had already been designated tanist by his father, but it was not until he was 18 that he was formally inaugurated as chief in a ceremony where he and the clan exchanged vows. Similarly, Prince Charles was given the title of Prince of Wales when he was only ten, but it wasn’t until he was 21 that he was considered ready for his formal investiture. By that time, he had learned enough of the Welsh language that he was able to make his vows to the Welsh people in their own language in a powerful, memo- rable and moving traditional ceremony. If the ceremony had been performed while he was still a child it would have been insulting to the Welsh people, an indication that the royal family did not take their responsibilities to the people seriously.

The distinction between a chief and other kinds of title can also be seen from two recent cases, the Sutherlands and the Leslies. Both cases remind us that we are talking about two systems, two “Scotlands,” as we discussed earlier.

The Sutherland case reminds us that, unlike most titles in Great Britain as a whole, a Scottish chiefship may pass through the female line, as long as the woman and her successors use the clan name as surname, not her married name. If Penny, the daughter of the old chief of the MacSporrans, had married a Mr. Pound, she would perhaps have started calling herself Mrs. Pound. If the old chief died without a son, she might be chosen to become the new chief, but only if she agreed to go back to calling herself MacSporran. Her son, in turn, if she had one, could inherit from her, but only if he too changed his name to MacSporran. Otherwise he could hardly be chief of the name and arms. One clan society told me their “chief” was a woman in England who didn’t even use the clan name. She showed no interest in clan affairs but refused to give up the “title”. To my mind that is unacceptable, and she should simply be replaced.

The Leslie case is particularly relevant and helpful here. The old earl and chief could see that his older son, who would inherit the earldom either way, was not interested in clan affairs, while the younger one was passionate about them. He was able to identify the younger, the Hon. Alex Leslie, as his tanist, his successor in the office of chief.

In former times, as we have seen, a chief might appoint various officers at his “court,” most notably a bard and a seanachie. The one essential position that needs filling today, in my mind, is that of seanachie. The seanachie has certain responsibilities during the life of the chief, to do with helping to preserve and honor the traditions of the clan, but perhaps his most important role is in organizing the ceremony in which the new chief accepts their role and swears to honor their responsibilities to the clan, while senior representatives of the clan swear their loyalty to the chief. Fortunately, Dr. Bruce Durie, who among other things is seanachie to the chief of Durie, has put together a training program, so that would-be or newly appointed seanachies may have a good idea of their roles and duties and how to perform them. It is important to remember that this office is appointed by the chief and is not an elected position within a clan society, and as such, Lyon Morrow has indi- cated that he would consider making a grant of arms to the holder, as indeed did some of his predecessors.

CHAPTER 4: The Lord Lyon and Scottish Heraldry

During the Crusades knights wore heavy armor, which covered them from head to toe. It was important for their commanders and their men to be able to identify them. To help with this they started to paint a device on their shields, a design which would be their personal mark of identification. Heraldic arms, at least those of men, are still displayed on a shield motif. The next step was to paint the same design on the cloth surcoat they wore over their armor. Hence the term, coat of arms. When they came home and competed in jousting tournaments, they would be identified in the same way. Obviously, someone had to identify these knights. That meant keeping a register of all such arms and bearings, making sure that nobody could use a design which had already been identified with a different knight. This job fell to the heralds, the messengers whom the king would send to convey orders to his commanders. If the king said, “Herald, go and tell the Duc de Croissant to bring his force up on the left flank,” it was obviously important that the herald be able to spot the Duke among his men and all the other knights.

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 16.08.34.pngWhen Anglo-Norman knights brought this fashion to Scotland in the 13th and 14th centuries, they need- ed their own heralds. In time a formal structure of heraldry emerged with a chief herald, the Lord Lyon King of Arms. The Public Register of All Arms and Bearings was established in 1672 and is housed today in New Register House under the protection of Lyon Clerk. It should be obvious that this institution belongs very much with what we might call the second of the two Scotlands and overlays the older world of chiefs and clans, which came into being independently of this feudal, Norman world.

On the other hand, while there are clearly two Scotlands culturally, there is only one political entity today and one set of laws under which the country as a whole is governed. There is also value in having some- body or some organization able to rule definitively on disputes, establishing clear precedents and clear rules where none existed. The current Lord Lyon, the Rev. Joe Morrow, is well suited to this. Whereas his predeces- sor was a scholar, who tended to see the complexities of every case laid before him, Lyon Morrow is by back- ground a judge, who excels in making decisions.

Lyon is an officer of the Crown in Scotland, independent of the Scottish Government: he has his own court and his own Procurator Fiscal to prosecute cases before him. Improper use of another person’s arms is considered the same as identity theft, although actual prosecutions are rare. Moreover, his writ does not extend beyond the boundaries of Scotland itself.

This makes him unable to deal as he would like with the petty frauds and deceptions of groups like the notorious sellers of souvenir plots. The absurd claims that buying a square foot of some glen makes one a “laird”, that “laird means the same as “lord” and that one’s spouse is therefore entitled to be called “lady” have helped separate many enthusiastic members of the Scottish diaspora from their hard earned money. All three statements are false. It is true that anybody in Scotland can call themselves whatever they like, even the Queen of Sheba, but that does not “entitle” them to be called that by anyone else. The meaning of laird is not simply owner of land, anyway, but owner of large tracts of land on which there were many tenants. It is strange that anyone in the US would even want to be associated with that position, since the ancestors of many Americans of Scottish descent left the mother country, unwillingly, because of the actions of lairds.

A laird may share a common root with the word lord, but it is not a rank within the peerage. These are, in descending order of precedence, Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount and Lord. The lowest grade of peer is called a baron in England and a Lord of Parliament in Scotland. There are other subsidiary ranks within what Innes of Learney termed the “noblesse,” though not part of the peerage itself: chiefs (if not also peers), knights and baronets (hereditary knights), and other armigers. These might include people who have been granted arms on the basis of a territorial designation, that is, as owners of land, but the land needs to be at least large enough to build a proper house on (clearly, souvenir plots do not qualify). Until recently there was another category known as feudal barons, but although or perhaps because such baronies can be purchased on an open market, the title of baron no longer exists in Scotland.

The Lord Lyon actively encourages eligible members of the Diaspora to apply for arms in Scotland. The qualifications are several. First, and most important for Lyon Morrow, who is also an Episcopal priest, is that the applicant be of good character. Nobility is more than an accident of birth. Second, if not actually born in Scotland, the applicant must be able to trace his or her ancestry back to someone who was and provide docu- mentary proof of this descent. An exception can be made for people who can trace their lineage back to some- one who lived in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War, even if they can’t get all the way back to Scotland itself. In such cases, the applicant would apply posthumously in the name of this ancestor and then matriculate the arms down to him or herself. Finally, Lyon is interested in looking at applicants who might hold a special position within a clan, like a seanachie, having been appointed directly by their chief for a semi-per- manent term. Applications from holders of elected clan society offices will not be considered without addition- al birth qualifications. If someone is interested in exploring the subject more closely, I would encourage them to visit the website, where there is a section on petitioning for arms, including sample forms. There are Heralds and Pursuivants who would be delighted to walk you through the process. Alternatively, they could get in touch with Dr. Bruce Durie, an expert Scottish genealogist, who is also licensed to present petitions to the Lyon Court (

Scottish heraldry, then, is a matter of law, not mere tradition. People in the USA and throughout the Diaspora cannot be expected to know the right and wrong answers to some of the thorny questions of prece- dence and protocol, and that includes the organizers of Highland Games and Scottish Festivals, which might invite a clan chief to be their guest of honor. For this reason the Society of Scottish Armigers, the president of which is the Lord Lyon, has a section of Frequently Asked Questions on its website ( and other information may be found on the website of the Lyon Court itself (

These rules govern more than coats of arms. For instance, there are strict rules regarding flags and banners, their size and who may have or display them. Size is often determined by rank. Thus, a peer is entitled to a carrying flag for use in processions measuring 48” wide by 60” high while a chief (unless also a peer) is entitled to one measuring 33” by 42”. It should also be noted that the Lion Rampant, which one sees frequent- ly displayed at Highland Games, is not a national flag of Scotland but the Queen’s personal banner as Queenof Scots and it is an offense for it to be flown by anyone without her express authorization. Lyon Court and the Society of Scottish Armigers will tend to tread lightly on these issues, preferring to be a source of right answers for those interested in finding them. But, for instance, when an armiger is invited to judge the best clan tent at a Games, they have been known to discount any tent where the Lion Rampant is displayed.

When it comes to the position of clan chief, Lyon works closely with leading members of a clan and the clan society. Lyon’s office has the ability to examine and weigh the competing claims of rival applicants, should they exist, and they work closely with the clan, in what is called a clan convention, or derbhfine, to issue the final petition. Lyon emphasizes that it is for the clan to choose or nominate someone, but Lyon has certain criteria in mind too. For instance, he wants to know that the new chief, if appointed, has the interest and the means to take the role seriously, and that they are likely to be able to take care of the succession beyond them- selves. He will not want to recognize a single, childless man in his eighties, if that would lead to the process having to be repeated in a few years.

A word about DNA. With important but very rare exceptions, the Lyon court is loath to consider DNA evidence, insisting on the primacy of documentary proof. This is particularly true for chiefs since the inheritance could have passed through the female line. This has happened before with the Morrison Brieves and, in the Lowlands, with the Scotts, Hays and most recently, with the Elliots and Kincaids. It has been said that the Earl of Cromartie is “four times not a Mackenzie” in terms of succession. Human nature being what it is, there is also a chance that some chiefs are descendants of extra-marital liaisons. The “Troubles of the Lews,” for instance, the fifty-year civil war that ended with the death of the last Morrison Brieve and the Mackenzie takeover of Lewis, began with a deathbed confession by a previous Brieve. Wanting to save his immortal soul, he confessed to being the natural father of the supposed heir of the MacLeods of Lewis, one Torquil Conanach. Torquil ended up being killed in the dynastic dispute that followed. Otherwise, the chief of the Lewis MacLeods today would, by DNA, be a Morrison. And the Morrison, by his DNA, was in fact a MacDonald, as a result of succession through the female line. A DNA test might lead to claims that the previous hundred years or so of chiefs, worthy and admired in their own rights, had been in some way illegitimate. No clan wants to go down that road.

The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs tends to take its cue from Lyon when it comes to applicants. It will tend to approve an application by anyone Lyon has recognized as chief of the name and arms and, very rarely, will include someone, like myself, whom they consider the Head of a major family or branch within the clan, as long as they have supporters on their arms. It calls itself the “authoritative body on the Scottish clan system,” but it should be noted that its scope is much broader than what we have identified, more narrowly, as clans. Its members include the heads of Lowland families as well as Highland clans. Its emblem is the three feathers, which by tradition, may only be worn by a chief of the name. (An armiger may wear one feather and certain heirs or hereditary chieftains may wear two.) In addition to the Lyon Court, the Council actively liaises with the Scottish Government through various tourism and heritage committees and with Scottish organiza- tions overseas, like the Society of Scottish Armigers and Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (www.cosca. scot) in the United States.


CHAPTER 5: Who cares about this and why?

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 16.13.37.pngHeraldry has been called illustrated history, and while it obviously has a long and interesting, not to say beautiful, history, it would be a mistake to think of it as something no longer relevant. For one thing, people continue to apply for, and are granted, arms. But perhaps the best way to see how it continues to incite pas- sions is to think about sports. On a coat of arms there will be livery colors, which would be worn by a knight’s followers, and a motto or war cry they might be expected to shout at an enemy.

Americans need only think about college football to see how these traditions have survived. If somebody in the state of Alabama is seen wearing a particular shade of red and is heard shouting “Roll Tide,” or wears those words printed on their shirts, everybody recognizes their allegiance, in this case not to a chief but to a school. The same is true of every other major college program. What college football is to the US, professional soccer is in England and Scotland. At an old firm football game in Glasgow, not only will the supporters wear their team’s colors, perhaps painted on their faces, but they will wave flags associated with their perceived subcultures, the Union Jack or Saltire by mostly Protestant Rangers fans and the Irish flag by the mostly Catholic Celtic supporters. People generally care much less about politics than they do about sports, but even political campaigns and parties have their colors and slogans, for followers to demonstrate their allegiance. War is the model for sport and sport for politics.

Many teams have emblems that closely resemble heraldic shields. These are not just corporate logos but are treasured by supporters, or members of the club, as symbols of their identity. The new American owners of Arsenal FC in London failed to understand this and thought they would change the club’s emblem to give it a more fresh, modern look. They were taken aback at the passionate and very hostile response and quickly abandoned their plans.

In the same way, visitors to Highland Games, once they have identified their “clan,” can be found buying up ties, kilts and other materials in their clan tartan, and mugs, shot glasses, pins, brooches and key rings with their chief’s crest. Many Games feature the clans marching in procession past a reviewing stand and shouting their war cry, even banging replica swords on painted targes. Any sociologist who studies the appeal of gangs in the inner cities will recognize the appeal of belonging to a group, wearing its colors and shouting or writing its slogans. This is all very much part of human nature and probably always will be.

But beyond this kind of natural enthusiasm, an interest in clans serves a real purpose, even multiple purposes. First of all, for Scotland it provides a great way to foster an interest in the mother land, which pays off in the form of heritage tourism. It’s been proven that this kind of visitor spends more per head than other visitors. It is widely understood that Diaspora Scots tend to identify with Scotland through the medium of a surname group. In a less tangible way, it boosts what is called soft power. Every year on National Tartan Day in Washington DC there is a reception on Capitol Hill with the members of the Scotland Caucus in Congress, where Congressmen from both parties may be seen sporting their clan tartans.

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 16.15.33.pngFor the individual there are benefits of another kind. Especially in a modern multicultural society it is easy for people to feel lost or alien- ated, even valueless. A sense of identity brings a sense of belonging, of con- text and meaning. It helps answer the question, Who am I, or, Who do I belong to? In Gaelic, Co leis thu?

Perhaps most important, it leads to an interest in the discovery and preservation of a minority culture and language, and ultimately in minority cultures and languages in general, which represent a significant and fragile treasure for mankind. Speaking personally, my enquiries into clan history and into the persecution of the Gael in Scotland, opened my eyes to the similar fate suffered by native peoples in the Americas and elsewhere, when confronted by Anglophone monolithic imperialism. This is something we should all care about. A different language enshrines a different way of looking at the world, and as the dominant mainstream culture continues to destroy the planet and its ecological diversity, these minority languages and supposedly dead cultures only gain in value, offering insights into a healthier, more sustainable relationship with the earth.

Andrew Morrison, the 3rd Viscount Dunrossil, was born in London in 1953 and lived in Speaker’s House with his parents as a baby and from 1956-8. After spending most of his early years in Australia, Bangladesh and South Africa, he attended Eton and Oxford, where he studied the Classics. He moved to the US in 1981, working for a British bank, and has lived in San Antonio, Texas, since 1989.

Andrew is a former Chairman of the American Financial Services Association and serves as the Hon- orary British Consul General in San Antonio. He is also a former Chairman of the Society of Scottish Armigers, whose President is the Lord Lyon. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Council of Scottish Clans and Associa- tions and on the Executive committee of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. In addition, he is an Honorary Patron of the American-Scottish Foundation. He has been an honored guest and keynote speaker at various Scottish Games, Tartan Day ceremonies and festivals in the US, as well as for the Scottish North American Leadership Council. He serves as the Hereditary Chieftain for the North American region of Clan Morrison.

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You may have seen adverts offering plots of land for sale in Scotland, with the additional inducements “Become a Laird, Lord or Lady” or save some particular animal or piece of nature.

These have become increasingly controversial over recent years. One of the main critics has been Andy Wightman, MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament), who has campaigned against such schemes and their operators, and who was recently sued in Court of Session for defamation, with damages in the sum of £750,000 (over $900,000 US).

To cut a long story short, Lord Clark, a Judge of the Supreme Courts in Scotland, published his Opinion on
11 March 2020, and found resoundingly in favour of Wightman, throwing out the defamation and damaged claims. It’s not necessary here to recite all the legal arguments around defamation in Scotland. But Lord Clark made a couple of other observations which struck me, and which summarise and settle some of the matters over ownership of souvenir plots, and the use of titles like Lord. He said:“…it is false advertising to assert that one is offering for sale a plot of land when title to the land will not pass on that sale and the seller is not the owner of the plot.”


“It was neither moral nor legal to offer for sale something that one does
not own, or to offer land for sale without explaining the limitations of the effect of that sale, or to represent falsely that the purchase will entitle the buyer to style himself or herself as a Lord or Lady”

Buying a Souvenir Plot

The idea of such schemes is that for a variable but small sum of money (typically under $50) you get one square foot of land in Scotland, often named something emotive like “Glencoe” or “Wildernesse”. However, here’s
the law – you do not actually own that piece of land. In fact, if you read the small print on such schemes, it
does explicitly say something like “You obtain a personal right to a souvenir plot of land… XXX remains the registered landowner and manages the land on your behalf”.

Does this seem strange? I sell you a car. You pay me for a car. I hand over the car. You are now the owner of that car. This is called (in Scotland) a “real right”. But a “personal right” is different. All it really means is that you can sue the owners if they sold the same plot twice. But who is to know if they did? In order for land to be bought and sold in Scotland, it must appear on the Land Register. Fact – souvenir plots do not appear in the Land Register. You have not actually bought, and do not actually own, that piece of land.

Let me make that absolutely clear –
1. a transaction relating to a souvenir plot cannot be registered;
2. if it cannot be registered this means that the purchaser of a souvenir plot cannot become the owner.

It is also said you are buying the “right to visit” your plot. But everyone has a “right to visit” almost anywhere in Scotland, even private land, provided it’s not, for example, someone’s garden, a field with growing crops, places that normally charge for access, schoolyards and playing fields, and other sensible exceptions. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 granted what is commonly known as “the right to roam” – the right to be on and cross most land and inland water in Scotland in a responsible manner.

The right to style yourself Laird, Lord or Lady of [Wherever]

In one sense, anyone in Scotland can call themselves anything they want, provided it’s not for reasons of fraud. I could sign my cheques “M. Mouse” if I wanted, if I’m not defrauding anyone, and if the cashing bank would wear it (which they probably wouldn’t). But the implication here is that by “buying” this land, you have acquired the title Laird, Lord or Lady. This is sheer nonsense, as Lord Clark said (as have many others before him).

  • –  First, as you are not buying the land, no title can be acquired by doing so.
  • –  Second, the only title it is legal to buy and sell in the whole of the United Kingdom is a Scottish Feudal Barony, which, by the way, also does not entitle anyone to be called “Laird”, “Lord”, “Lady”, etc. But if you want to buy a Barony (and possibly get a Coat of Arms from the Lord Lyon) do get in touch – and have about $150,000 US handy.
  • –  Third, there is no such title as “Laird” – this is merely a designation, and understood to apply to those with a substantial estate, workers on the land etc. Otherwise, anyone who owned a house or an outbuilding would become a “Laird”.
  • –  And fourth, no-one is entitled to be called “Lord”, “Lady” or equivalent, unless that person has a Peerage, or whose job entitles them. For instance “Lord Clark” himself is not a “Lord” (in the Peerage sense) but is addressed by that honorific title as are many senior judges. Likewise the Lord Lyon is not a “Lord”. Winston Churchill, when he ran the Admiralty, was called “First Sea Lord”, but he was never a “Lord”.It used to be that the sellers of Souvenir plot schemes would also send a document that changed your first name from, say, Joe Blow to Lord Joe Blow, by using the Deed Poll mechanism (in England – there is no Deed Poll in Scotland). Then they said, you could use this to change your passport, driving licence, bank accounts and so on. Well, that loophole has been closed. In Scotland, there is a Change of Name Office, who will consider – for a fee of £40.00 (less than $60 US) they will consider your application. But anything that looks like it may involve a title such as “Lord” will probably be referred to the Lord Lyon, who will say a resounding “No”. What’s more, the passport and driving licence people simply won’t play.Can you use a souvenir plot to get a Coat of Arms? No. The Lord Lyon says: “The ownership of ‘souvenir’ plots of land of a few square feet or thereby, such as are marketed from time to time, is insufficient to bring anyone within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.”But apart from all that – do you want to go around in Scotland calling yourself “Lord of [Wherever]? You will simply get laughed at and people will point at you in the street. You might as well style yourself, as one wag put it, the Duchess of Windsor, Pluto the Wonder Dog, Emperor of the Sun or Warlord of Atlantis. Nor does buying anything from anyone grant you any right to call yourself by any title. (A tip of the hat here to my old friend in America, Earl Dale MacAlpine, who really was christened with that name!)And finally – beware of schemes or the companies selling them that include the words “Scotland” or “Scottish” and “Charity”, but which are not necessarily based in Scotland, or registered as a charity there. So…

    Don’t take my word for it. There are good, independent legal reviews of all this at:



You can read Andy Wightman’s blog at and the full opinion of Lord Clark is at opinions/2020csoh30.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Dr Bruce Durie is a genealogist, heraldist and historian living and working in Scotland, and is an Advisor to the Board of COSCA.

Screen Shot 2020-10-24 at 13.24.54.pngDr. Bruce DURIE

BSc (Hons) PhD OMLJ FCollT FIGRS FHEA FRSB CBiol QG Genealogist, Author, Broadcaster, Lecturer

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Shennachie to the Chief of Durie

Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Academician, Académie Internationale de Généalogie Right of Audience at the Court of the Lord Lyon Freeman and Burgess, City of Glasgow

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