Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Border Reiver-Graynes, Septs, Clans and Families.

List of Clans mentioned in the 1587 Act.
The Act itself did not implicate the whole family/clan but simply those who were rogue in their actions and the named chiefs/heidsmen were advisede to bring them to task. It was those choosing to ignore this warning which led to horrific and violent consequences for the border lands as a whole and those families/clans living within it.

Border Reivers: What is a Grayne

Questions are sent to us regularly regarding our history and the facts behind it. Some of these include the difference or similarities behind collective terms such as Clan, Family, Sept and Grayne. Here we will try to put this to bed.


The word Grayne is often considered to be a collective term for a Border riding surname or family. However in old Anglo-Saxon/Middle English from which the border tongue comes (we never as a whole spoke gaelic), the term grayne or greyn was a noun meaning a fork in a river, a branch or twig or a component or portion of the whole.

As such it is considered that the term Grayne, rather than being descriptive of the whole family, represents either a cadet line or a family under the protection of another through intermarriage, close friendship or those simply working or living on the lands.

This would have been akin to the highland concept of sept, but in some cases outside ‘the blud’ was a lot looser and in many cases a more fluid relationship as the old Border saying of ‘family first’, would always carry its own rewards.

Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochaw Bart LVO QC

The Agnew

Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochaw 11th Bt, LVO, KC, FRGS, Albany Herald Extraordinary at the Lyon Court and Chief of that Name, wrote an excellent piece in August 2001 on the subject. In it he discusses Clans, Families and Septs and how they intertwine.

From the Lord Lyon’s website:

Sir Crispin Agnew was appointed Albany Herald Extraordinary in 2021, having been Rothesay Herald since 1986, and previously Unicorn Pursuivant from 1981. He is the Chief of Clan Agnew and the eleventh holder of the baronetcy of Agnew of Lochnaw in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia. Sir Crispin was an advocate, specialising in rural property, environmental and public law. He was called to the bar in 1982, took silk in 1995 and went non-practising in 2020.

His particular interest in succession to arms has involved him in many complex peerage cases over the last thirty years. He is now an Honorary Research Fellow with the University of Dundee and was created a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in the Birthday Honours 2021

NB: We were fortunate to have Sir Crispin as the legal representative and advisor to our own chief during the Lyon Court proceedings which led to the confirmation of Peter Carruthers of Holmains as Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers.

Clans, Families and Septs by Sir Crispin Agnew

The difference between clans, families and septs is the source of many questions as is the question phrased in one way or another, which asks, “to which clan do I belong”. There are many definitions of clans and families as there are people, but this article will try to indicate how these matters are viewed in the Lyon Court.

It should first be recognised that a clan or family is a legally recognised group in Scotland, which has a corporate identity in the same way that a company, club or partnership has a corporate identity in law. A clan or family is a ”noble incorporation” because it has an officially recognised chief or head who being a nobleman of Scotland confers his noble status on the clan or family, thus making it a legally and statutorily recognised noble corporation often called “the Honourable Clan………”

A name group, which does not have a chief, has no official position in the law of Scotland. The chiefs Seal of Arms, incorporated by the Lord Lyon’s letters Patent, is the seal of the corporation, like a company seal, but only the chief is empowered by law to seal important documents on behalf of his clan. A clan as a noble incorporation is recognised as the chief’s heritable property – he owns it in law and is responsible for its administration and development.

So far the words clan and family have been used interchangeably in this article and this is the position. There is now a belief that clans are Highland and families are Lowland but this is really a development of the Victorian era.

In an Act of Parliament of 1597 we have the description of the “Chiftanis and chieffis of all clannis…duelland in the hielands or bordouris” thus using the word clan to describe both Highland and Lowland families. Further, Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh, the Lord Advocate (Attorney General) writing in 1680 said “By the term ‘chief’ we call the representative of the family from the word chēf or head and in the Irish (Gaelic) the chief of the family is called the head of the clan”.

So it can be seen that all along the words chief or head and clan or family are interchangeable. It is therefore quite correct to talk of the MacDonald family or the Stirling clan, although modern conventions would probably dictate that it was the MacDonald clan and Stirling family. The Lyon Court usually describes the chief of a clan or family as either the ”Chief of the Name and Arms” or as “Chief of the Honourable Clan – -“

Who belongs to what clan is of course, a matter of much difficulty, particularly today when the concept of clan is worldwide. Historically, in Scotland a chief was chief of “the cuntrie”. He was chief of his clan territory and the persons who lived therein, although certain of his immediate family, would owe him allegiance wherever they were living. The majority of his followers and in particular in battle, relatively to a neighbouring chief, would switch their allegiance to the other chief depending on outcome. Thus we find that when Lord Lovat took over a neighbouring glen to his clan territory for the donation of a boll of meal to each family, the family was persuaded to change their name to Fraser and owe him allegiance – to this day they are called the “boll meal Frasers”. Another example is a migration of a family of the Macleans from the West Coast to near Inverness and on moving to Inverness they changed their allegiance from the Maclean chief to the chiefs of the Clan Chattan. Thus the Macleans of Dochgarroch and their descendants and dependants are properly members of the Clan Chattan and not members of the Clan Maclean even though they bear a common surname.

A chief was also entitled to add to his clan by the adoption of families or groups of families to membership of his clan, a good example being the “boll meal Frasers”. Equally, a chief has and had the power to expel or exclude particular persons from membership of his clan and this included blood members of his family. It was his legal right to outlaw certain persons from his clan.

This is accepted in the modern sense to mean that a chief is empowered to accept anyone he wishes to be a member of his clan or decree that his clan membership shall be limited to particular groups or names of people. All persons who bear the chief’s surname are deemed to be members of his clan. Equally, it is generally accepted that someone who determines to offer their allegiance to the chief shall be recognised as a member of that clan unless the chief has decreed that he will not accept such a person’s allegiance, Thus, if a person offers his allegiance to a particular chief by joining his clan society or by wearing his tartan, he can be deemed to have elected to join that particular clan and should be viewed as a member of that clan unless the chief particularly states that he or his name group are not to be allowed to join the clan.

It should also be said that the various Sept lists, which are published in the various Clans and Tartan books, have no official authority. They merely represent some person’s, (usually in the Victorian eras) views of which name groups were in a particular clan’s territory. Thus we find members of a clan described, as being persons owing allegiance to their chief “be pretence of blud or place of thare duelling”. In addition to blood members of the clan, certain families have a tradition (even if the tradition can with the aid of modern records be shown to be wrong) descent from a particular clan chief. They are, of course, still recognised as being members of the clan.

Historically, the concept of “clan territory” also gives rise to difficulty, particularly as certain names or Septs claim allegiance to a particular chief, because they come from his territory. The extent of the territory of any particular chief varied from time to time depending on the waxing and waning of his power.

Thus a particular name living on the boundaries of a clan’s territory would find that while the chiefs power was on the up they would owe him allegiance but – if his power declined retrospectively at some arbitrary’ date which the compiler of the list has selected (so would their allegiance ed).

Often the names are Scotland-wide and so it is difficult to say that particular name belongs to a particular clan. Often surnames are shown as potentially being members of a number of clans, and this is because a number of that name has been found in each different clan’s territory. Generally speaking, if a person has a particular sept name which can he attributed to a number of clans, either they should determine from what part of Scotland their family originally came and owe allegiance to the clan of that area or, alternatively, if they do not know where they came from, they should perhaps owe allegiance to the clan to which their family had traditionally owed allegiance. Alternatively, they may offer their allegiance to any of the particular named clans in the hope that the chief will accept them as a member of his clan. Equally, as has already been said, with the variations from time to time of particular chiefly territories, it can be said that at one particular era some names were members of or owed allegiance to a particular chief while a century later their allegiance may well have been owed elsewhere.

In summary, therefore, the right to belong to a clan or family, which are the same thing, is a matter for the determination of the chief who is entitled to accept or reject persons who offer him their allegiance.

Sir Crispin Agnew

Lord Lyon Guidance Note Chiefship Clans and Families Final 16 December 2021

This piece taken directly from the Lord Lyons guidance list, differentiates Society from Clan/Family

While a clan or family association, society or other corporate body may be created that body is created only in support of a clan or family. That body is not itself the clan or family. That is an important distinction. The chiefship of a clan or family is regulated by the Lord Lyon King of Arms by regulation of arms. The Lord Lyon does not regulate the leadership of associations, societies or other corporate bodies created in support of a clan or family. That is an internal matter for the association, society or corporate body itself. Any chief recognised by the Lord Lyon as chief of a clan or family is chief of all who bear the name of the clan or family and not only those belonging to a particular body.

As such this piece reiterates that there is only one Clan Carruthers which is led by our hereditary Chief – Peter Carruthers of Holmains. Holmains line goes back to before 1320 and as it stands, the only links with a sept would be the time we were commercially linked with Bruce. This is widely known and is supported by this piece below taken from the Clan Buchanan website:

Today, sept lists are used by clan societies to recruit new members. Such lists date back to the 19th century, when clan societies and tartan manufacturers attempted to capitalise on the enthusiasm and interest for all things Scottish. Lists were drawn up that linked as many surnames as possible to a particular clan, regardless of whether there was an actual historical connection to that clan surname. In this way, individuals without a “clan name” could connect to a Scottish clan and thus feel “entitled” to its tartan.

Any Graynes would include, if we use Carruthers of Mouswald as our trunk, such families as Carruthers of Holmains, now Chiefs since 1548, and Carruthers of Dormont, who are still in residence on the ancestral lands. Both of course being off the same genealogical line i.e.

  • Carruthers of Holmains from John Carruthers, Kings Chancellor of Annandale, the younger brother of Thomas 1st of Mouswald who recieved a charter of lands in 1361 and was progenitor of the Holmains line. It was this link that made Holmains the senior house and therefore Chiefs after the extinction of the Mouswald line in 1548.
  • Carruthers of Dormont from William Carruthers, younger brother of George 6th of Holmains, who recieved a charter of lands from his father John Carruthers 5th of Holmains and 1st Baron, in 1552, and was progenitor to the Dormont line. John 5th was the first of the Holmains line to be Chief.

So what does all this mean? Here is a simple summary:

  1. A Grayne does not define a whole Border name.
  2. Clan and Family have been interchangeable, with the division of highland clan and lowland/border family being of victorian construct.
  3. However, there is resurgence of Border names in Scotland reverting away from the term clan and pushing the use of the name family, however our chief sees us as a clan.
  4. That we are not a sept of any other clan or family but a clan and family in our own right and in fact were only tagged in with Bruce for commercial reasons, albeit a very proud name to be linked to.
  5. We are officially recognised in Scots law through the Lord Lyons decision to confirm our chief based on his documented genealogy.
  6. Finally and more importantly, there is only one Clan and Family of Carruthers and only one Carruthers Chief, whose origins and history are deeply rooted in the ancient border soil of Annandale, south West Scotland.

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