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THE HIGHLAND CLANS, Sir Iain Moncreiffe (Text) and Design Yearbook Ltd. mcmlxvii
This edition published by Bramhall House, a devision of Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.
Printed and bound in the Netherlands.
Produced by Design Yearbook Ltd., 21 Ivor Place, London N.W.1
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the publishers, except for the quotation of short extracts in a review.

(Photo): Dirk with carved heather-wood hilt and sheath, mounted in its present form in 1822 for SIR EVAN MacGREGOR of MacGregor.  The blade is older, and the silver mounting is inscribed ‘Major Even MacGregor, Aid de Camp to H.R.H. Prince Charles, Sept. 1745’.  Major Evan, whose son Sir John eventually became 18th Chief of Clan Gregor, was younger brother of Robert MacGregor of Glencarnock, Chieftain of the  Children of the Mist, who commanded the MacGregors in the 1745 Rising.  It was Evan MacGregor who, with a long gun (‘she was so heavy that no man could carry her above a mile at once’) fired the first shot at Cope’s army the day before Prestonpans.  ‘The Prince thought much of this, that we got the first blood of them’  Duncan MacGregor, who was present as an officer, wrote years afterwards to Evan’s son, Sir John, about the MacGregor regiment at the battle of Prestonpans itself: ‘Captain Duncan MacGregor was wounded through the thigh, Captain James Mor MacGregor was wounded thro’ the thigh, Captain Malcolm MacGregor got his two legs broken, twenty-one private men were wounded and one shot dead upon the spot.  We pursued the retreating army a mile and a half…The Prince came and took Glencarnock in his arms, and Captain Evan, and told them to gather the whole Clan MacGregor upon the middle of the Field of Battle.  There was a table covered and the MacGregors guarding him at dinner, every man got a glass of wine and a little bread.  Your Father and Uncle sat down with him, the rest of the Chieftains took it amiss that the MacGregors got this honour, but it was dear bought…’

This illustration also shews the bye-knife and fork carried in the scabbard.

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A great magnate like Atholl, just like his Lowland counterparts such as Douglas, was attended in Edinburgh by followers who wore his crest hung around their necks (rather like decanter-labels), as can be seen, for instance, in Chambers’ eighteenth-century print of the Riding of the Scottish Partliament in 1685.  From this there were evolved the modern clan badges, which consist of the chief’s crest surrounded by a strap-and-buckle bearing his motto.  These badges are usually made of silver, and have been worn in the bonnet since the nineteenth century.

The older badges were the lucky plants of the clans.  The idea of a sacred plant is very ancient, going back to the Dawn Religion in the New Stone Age.  Family plants are found as far afield as among the Japanese samurai.  And there was an ancient Greek who, fleeing from a battlefield, came on a field of clover and stopped to be slain rather than tread on his family plant.

(photo): A silver pine-cone button from Sir Gregor MacGregorof MacGregor’s evening kilt coat.  It is the plant-badge of Clan Gregor.

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In view of the chiefs’ traditional powers, the Scots Privy Council was wont to hold such of them as it officially recognized, responsible for the actions of all people of their clan or name.  In this case, the Crown styled them, e.g. the Laird of MacGregor, even if they were not tenants-in-chief, the theory being that they held their clan, though not their lands, directly of the Sovereign.  In the sixteenth century, the Government took hostages from them.  In the seventeenth century, it made chiefs find cash security for their clansmen’s good behaviour.  By the eighteenth century, a ‘bounty’ or pension was sometimes paid by the Government to chiefs, in return for the task of keeping their clansmen under control.

In 1714 the MacGregors, then a chiefless and broken clan, even went so far as to elect a remote cadet as ‘Chief’, simply in order to get the pension for them, with a secret agreement that he should split a third part of any pension received among the three chieftains – Roro, Glengyle and Bracklie – who each really claimed the true chiefship.

Clan discipline was sometimes rather summary.  The following incident occurred during the 1745 Rising.  ‘When (MacGregor of) Glencarnock and (Cameron of) Lochiel were at breakfast in the morning, they heard shooting on the brow of the hill, Lochiel said to Glen “What shooting can be in the hill?”.  Glencarnock answered “I shall tell you that the Camerons are shooting sheep on the hill”.  “God forbid” said Lochiel “It is the MacGregors”.  Says Glen “I shall lay forfeit one hundred guineas that it is not the MacGregors”.  With this the two left breakfast, and drew their pistols and vowed if they were Camerons that Lochiel would shoot them and if MacGregors that Glen would shoot them; and by great fortune, passing the head of the avenue, there was a Cameron with a sheep upon his back; Lochiel fired at the fellow, and shot him thro’ the shoulder, there he fell, the two went on a good way further but they got not a MacGregor yet.’  

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In times of war, the ordinary tenants formed the bulk of the chief’s fighting force.  Man were true clansmen whose genealogies went back at least nominally to the father of the whole clan.  To the crofters this was important, because the chief and his branch chieftains accepted the usual Celtic moral obligation to ward off famine from their kindred and to provide a share in the ancestral lands for every descendant of the common ancestor.  The system lasted until a Whiggish statute of the Scottish Parliament in 1695 eventually brought about the end of runrig tenure of the land.  ‘Nor is it difficult to date from the passing of this Act that break-up of the Clan system in its agrestic character, not reached, in its patriarchal aspect, until after 1746.’


The rest of the fighting force was made up of new-comers who had sought the chief’s protection.  For example, when the MacGregors massacred the McLarens, slaying their chief and temporarily breaking the clan, many MacLarens went to the neighbouring chieftain, Campbell of Glenorchy, and offered him their calp.  This was the best beast or steed in each clansman’s possession at the time of his death, in return for which he and his heirs were protected, provided they followed that chief or chieftain.  Calp was abolished by statue in 1617.

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Similarly, it must not be forgotten that ultimately the true Highland clansmen descended just as much from their dynastic name-father as the chief himself did.  When King George II asked to see a Highland soldier, two Black Watch privates, Gregory McGregor, ‘commonly called Gregor the Beautiful’, and John Campbell, son of Duncan Campbell of the family of Duneaves in Perthshire (a cadet of Glenlyon), were sent to London.  ‘They displayed so much dexterity and skill in the management of their weapons, as to give perfect satisfaction to his Majesty.  Each got a gratuity of one guinea, which they gave to the porter at the palace gate as they passed out.  They thought that the King had mistaken their character and condition in their own country.’  For Private Gregor McGregor was as much a descendant of the original chief, Gregor of Golden Bridles (‘Royal is my Blood’), as was the then Chieftain of the Children of the Mist; and Private John Campbell could trace his descent from Great Colin as easily as could the Duke of Argyll himself.

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Glen Fruin, in the Colquohoun country.  Here the MacGregors lost their name for slaughtering the Colquhoun forces during the great raid in 1603.

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(photo):  Loch Lomond, from the South.  The left bank was held by the Colquhouns and Macfarlanes, the right bank by the MacGregors, Grahams and Buchanans while the Cunninghams held part of the South bank.  Their overlords, the Stuart earls of the whole Lennox (in which Loch Lomond lies) kept most of the South Bank in their own hands.

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In 1468 a MacGregor certified to the Bailie of Glendochart that he held the tack of the lands of Corehynan from the ‘Deore of the Meser’.  The saint’s armbone was known as the Main, and his toft at Killin is referred to in 1640 as ‘Dewar-na-Mans-croft’ and in 1670 as ‘Dewar-na-Maynes-croft’.  King Robert Bruce prayed in the Priory of Strathfillan while a fugitive and attributed his escape from the MacDougalls to the saint’s intervention.  Accordingly, the silver shrine of the saint’s arm-bone was brought to spend the night in the king’s tent on the eve of Bannockburn, and was borne to the battlefield by the Abbot of Inchaffray himself.  This enshrined arm-bone must have been an especially interesting relic, as we are told that one upon a time, ‘when thesaint was in his cell after sundown, a lay brother was sent to call him to supper.  The messenger, curious to know what St. Fillan was doing, looked through a chink in the wall and was astonished to see him writing by means of a light that streamed from his left arm.  Next day a tame crane that was kept by the holy fraternity picked out the eye of the lay brother who was guilty of prying upon the saint, and rendered him quite blind, but at the request of the rest of the brethren St. Fillan restored his sight to the erring one’.

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The MacLarens are the Sons of Laurence, and take their name from their ancestor Laurence, Abbot of Achtow in Balquhidder, who apparently lived in the thirteenth century. In those days, abbey-lands were held hereditarily by the Founder’s Kin, often with the title of abbot, and of course the Celtic church permitted their ecclesiastical functionaries to marry just as the Protestant churches do nowadays.  Achtow was doubtell dedicated to some religius foundation by the local dynasts of Strathearn.

Achtow itself adjoins Achleskine and the Kirkton of Balquhidder at the foot of Loch Voil, and this was the heartland of the clan which later spread to other parts of Strathearn and into Atholl as well.  The dukes conferred baronial powers of life and death on some of the MacLaren chieftains who held under them, but unfortunately were never superiors of the original MacLaren homeland.  However, although the MacLarens of Achleskine never got a royal or ducal charter of their lands, they were never dispossessed by the successive nominal superiors.

But they were over-run and massacred in 1542 and again in 1558 by the ‘Children of the Mist’, the wildest ‘house and gang’ of the MacGregors, and became for a while a ‘broken clan’.  The landless MacGregors may have had some land-claim through a MacLaren heiress, for their chief’s crest of a lyon’s head crowned with an antique crown is differenced from that of the MacLaren chief only but its colour, and by the MacLaren addition of their laurel plant-badge.  Indeed, the present MacGregor chief lives on what was once MacLaren land.  Luckily the MacLarens always had staunch allies in the Stewarts of Appin in Lorn, who never forgot their descent from a MacLaren lady.