200 th anniversary of Waterloo

By Sir Malcolm MacGregor, Convenor

This week is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, Belgium. Without going into detail, the outcome of the battle, likeTrafalgar, shaped Europe until World War 1. Hundreds of clansmen from the Outer Hebrides to the borders fought at Waterloo. There are many epic tales involving the Guards, the Royal Scots Greys, the Highland and lowland Brigades. War artists, such as Lady Butler, came to prominence as well. Lady Butler’s painting of the charge of the Greys entitled ‘Scotland forever’ is perhaps the most well known. Sgt Ewart of the Greys, who captured the French Eagle, was feted around Edinburgh and the borders by Sir Walter Scott.

Frank Wherrett, SCSC secretary, has carried out extensive research into the clan component of the Duke’s Army, painstakingly going through the nominal role of all those who were awarded the Waterloo Medal – some 24,000 names.  The list is topped by Clan Donald and Campbell at 175 and 150 respectively. Clan Gregor is on 35. Nearly every clan & family name is represented, – highland, lowland and Borderers. 19% of the Duke’s Army were Scots, from a population of 10% of UK. The Duke of Wellington himself was of course Irish.

Wellington’s chief medical officer was Sir Charles McGrigor who created the system of casualty evacuation as a formal logistical operation of war, perfected in the Peninsular Campaign. He founded the Royal Army Medical Corps. Sergeant Macgregor was one of a band of 5 Scots/irish soldiers and 5 english officers who successfully closed the gates at Hougoumont Farm against a full French onslaught, and thus turned the whole battle. Sous-Lieutenant LeGros ( that really was his name) and known as ‘L’enforceur’, to friend and foe, was a 6ft 6in beast of a man from the Imperial Guard, tasked by Napoleon to break into the farm, by smashing down the gates with an axe. Incredibly, he succeeded but he and his imperial guards were overpowered. Colonel Macdonnell (brother of the Glengarry chief) commanded the Coldstream Guards and 3rd Foot Guards (later Scots Guards) at Hougoumont. He was also part of the gate group and was effectively named ‘man of the match’ by the Great Duke. He shared the accolade of being ‘the bravest man in Britain’ with Corporal James Graham who was Scots/Irish.

Meanwhile Piper Kenneth Mackay, from Reay in Caithness, and of the Cameron Highlanders played the tune “Peace or War”, marching round the outside of the square formed by the Camerons in defence against the French massed cavalry charge led by the heroic Marshal Ney, when ‘the earth vibrated under the thundering tramp of the mounted host’.  Mackay was later given a set of silver mounted bagpipes by the King in Paris.

My role in the commemoration is to represent the SCSC and the clans/families at the ceremony at Hougoumont Farm, of the unveiling of the Monument dedicated to the British Army that fought at Waterloo. The ceremony will be enriched by a Guard of Honour from the Scots Guards and the pipes and drums in full rig. So there will be a good number of kilts present. The planning of the event has mainly been carried out by the Guards Division and the British Embassy in Brussels. They have done an extraordinary job in tracking the descendants of key figures in the German, Belgian and Dutch contingents of the Duke’s army. Family names that became well known in later years such as Kielmansegg and Stauffenberg. Something of a relief to know that the Army and our Foreign Office have stepped up to the plate on this.

In order to keep the French under control, as they think they won the battle, or that it was at least a draw, there is to be a brief ceremony at the monument involving the Duke of Wellington, Prince Nikolas Blucher and Prince Charles Bonaparte.

There are other events taking place in Scotland in Edinburgh, the borders and Drumlanrig Castle, which are being covered by the bold Lady MacGregor and Border TV. Additionally there is a commemorative service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. The SCSC will be represented by the Hon. Katherine Nicolson whose ancestor, Lord Saltoun, chief of the Frasers, commanded the 1st Foot Guards  at Waterloo. The final crushing blow at the battle was the rout of Napoleon’s Imperial Grenadier Guard by the 1st Guards from which they later took the name Grenadier Guards. The bearskin cap, worn by the Imperial Guard, was subsequently adopted by the Guards Brigade as a result, and is still worn today on ceremonial duties.

A final point of interest from a diaspora perspective. Most of the accommodation around Brussels is fully booked up not by the British, but by americans and canadians who are descendants of those who fought in the Duke’s Army. Indeed there is an american arm of the Hougoumont restoration project team.

I look forward to meeting Lord Uxbridge with or without his ancestor’s leg.

Clan Means Children

The word ‘clan’ means ‘children’. But in Scotland at least, fewer and fewer young people seem to have very much time for their clan. This raises two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘What’s to be done?’

In one sense perhaps, the clans have been a victim of their own success. The image of the clan is a marketing miracle and its trademark features – the tartan, the pipes, the castle – have all become clichés of the tourism industry. It’s no surprise that not all Scots want to see themselves as part of something that looks like a tourism package. Unlike overseas clansfolk, Scots don’t need the clans to express their Scottish identity. What’s more, the enthusiasm of overseas clansfolk compared to disengagement at home can make the whole idea of the clan seem rather phoney. So what do clans have to offer for Scots today?

Firstly, the clans are part of Scotland’s national inheritance. They are our living link with the history of the nation, and few families will have changed their clan since the Declaration of Arbroath. Scottish identity is bound up with the clans; turn your back on them, and you turn your back on part of Scotland.

As well as being part of the bedrock of Scotland, the clan is also a part of who we are ourselves. It’s not something we have much choice about. As we look back into our families’ pasts, there it is growing stronger the further back we go. It’s written into our very names. Accepting your clan identity is a matter of owning up to who you are.

Now put yourself in the place of a Scottish youth. If you do discover an interest in your clan, what are you going to do about it? It doesn’t follow that you’ll want to learn to dance the Fling or toss a caber, and there’s no obvious pay-off from joining the clan society. Is there anything else on offer?

Some Scots clearly feel disenfranchised and alienated from their clans. For some, it’s about the Clearances and a feeling of betrayal. For others, it might have more to do with class consciousness. Many just feel there’s no way to take part that suits them. It’s all very well to tell them they should come along and join in; if they don’t see a place for people like themselves, they won’t feel at home.

That’s why I’m putting forward a proposal for a Clans Foundation that will enable people to connect with their clans in altogether new ways. You won’t need to go through the clan society; you won’t need to shake hands with your clan chief. But if you value your clan community, you can play your part to make it work for everyone. And unless you opt out, your society and your chief will learn about what you are doing on behalf of the clan.

Of course, clan identity (like any group identity) isn’t formed around benevolent work alone. That’s why I’m setting up a new Clans Football League. The organisation isn’t quite in place yet, but we already have our first fixture – MacEwens v. Frasers at Moniack in August. And I understand that representatives of the MacDonalds and Scotts are also interested in getting involved for next season. I’d welcome enquiries from other clans that might want to take part in future matches.

The Clans Foundation is not about doing away with the old – indeed, I hope that the existing institutions will actually be strengthened as interest grows. But it is about giving the idea of the clan a newer and stronger underpinning. The Victorian era reinvented the clans for its time, now is the time for us to reinvent the clan for ourselves.

To find out more about the Clans Foundation, please visit my site here: http://thorewing.net/clans/foundation . Do let me know what you think, and if you’d like to get involved.

Thor Ewing is a writer, translator, cultural historian, musician and the founder of the Clans Foundation.



Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

I have been Guest of Honour at several Highland Games over the years and accompanied my father to two or three while he was still alive (good practice, I think). There are, however, few things that can prepare you for the extraordinary atmosphere and scale of Grandfather. It takes place at about 5,000 feet in a natural amphitheatre in the mountains of North Carolina. And attracts between 40 and 50,000 people.

Some may say that the variety of Scottish dress on display is an embarrassment and there should be more education about to dress, but the enthusiasm completely over-shadows the need for correctness.

The welcome is amazing. It takes fully an hour to do a ‘circuit’ of the Games, past all the Clan Tents. At almost every one we were offered refreshments (both liquid – mainly very good whisky – and food). My father once said, while sitting in a cart following McGoofy round Epcot Centre in Florida – honestly – that if we had a dollar for every time we had our photo taken we would be very rich indeed. But it is a pleasure and the visitors are proud to be there and extremely grateful (and surprised) that we would take the time and trouble to travel from Scotland to be with them.

It is extremely good therapy if you are suffering from low self esteem!

Alex Leslie

 Next year Jamie Macnab of Macnab is the Guest of Honour – and the Macnabs are extremely pleased that Jamie is reinvigorating the Society. He will be joined by others, among them Francis Napier, who wrote:

Parade of Tartan, Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, USA – July 2014

I understand from the President of the Clan Napier Society (CNS) that its sister organization, the Clan Napier North America (CNNA) has won its fifth Parade of Tartan ‘Award of Excellence’ since 1985, fighting off over 102 clans at the 59th Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (1997, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2014!). I thought it was a tremendous news because they were such a small clan and up against 102 clans participating every year.

My family and I have been invited by the CNNA to attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games as one of their honoured guests next July. The CNNA are planning to celebrate the 30th anniversary as a formed society and they will attempt to win the sixth Award of Excellence from the Parade of Tartan competition too! The members’ enthusiasm is still as strong as ever.

As a Chief of the Name and Arms of Napier, I hope to attend with my family, which should be fascinating and memorable for them too.

 Lord Napier and Ettrick

8th Marquess of Ailsa

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 11.00.40It is with sadness that we have to report the death of Charles Kennedy, 8th Marquess of Ailsa.

He was born on September 13th 1956, and died while attending the Florida Highland Games at Altamonte on January 15th 2015.

As well as being the 8th Marquess of Ailsa, he was also 19th Earl of Cassilis and 8th Baron Ailsa. He also held the title of 21st Lord Kennedy.

Although his death was unexpected, his family believe it was fitting that the Marquess passed away, kilted in the Kennedy tartan, while leading a gathering of Clan Kennedy in Florida, doing ‘what he loved most.’ He he lived close to Culzean Castle, the Clan Kennedy family seat which was handed over to the National Trust for Scotland.

The Marquess of Ailsa is survived by his daughters Lady Rosemary and Lady Alicia-Jane, and by his brother David, who becomes 9th Marquess of Ailsa, and Chief of the Clan Kennedy.


A fuller obituary can be found here.

A look back at 2014 – Bannockburn Live (just)

Controversy went hand in hand with this event from its inception, to the extent that the Government ordered a hearing into what went wrong. There has been much debate about several issues including the scope of the event, the planning of Armed Forces Day next to it, in both time (the Saturday) and place (Stirling). Many feared that it would become a political football, to be kicked around ahead of the Referendum.

The irony, as many agreed, was that it was a very enjoyable event. The sad thing was that with the expectations so low, the vendors only sent skeleton staff, and so the queues were long and the frustration levels high.

Here is a personal view from The Hon. Kate Nicolson.

I was initially sceptical of the whole concept of the Bannockburn three day event and relieved when it was reduced to two days. I was also amused by the UK government’s decision to award Armed Forces Day 2014 to Stirling, quite clearly not a naval base.

I can only say the organisation proved me quite wrong!

The fact that the site is actually quite small meant that one had the opportunity to see everything. Having agreed to attend the Bannockburn Service of Magnanimity at Dunfermline Abbey on the Friday afternoon it was left to my husband Mark and son Alexander Fraser (who lives & works in Germany) to ‘set up’ our Clan Fraser tent. In spite of it being only five years since the 2009 Clan Gathering in Edinburgh (and in my view much too soon to try to host another Clan Gathering), the powers that be decided that the 2014 Bannockburn commemorative event should include a Clan Gathering – which was promptly cancelled.

This meant that there was always the possibility of Frasers (or indeed anyone else!) from across the globe planning on coming to Scotland and that, although cancelled, coming anyway – therefore we should be polite enough to be there to welcome them. When the family met up in the evening – with very kind friends who had offered to put us up for three nights – the men said that the task had proved simple and efficient (the same for clearing up on the Monday morning!) This was proven the next morning when we arrived having had to dump the car in the nearest village (due to a mass of people on foot queuing for the Box Office) at the behest of a charming police officer. The security staff and the event staff were equally charming and obliging.

The atmosphere of the event on both days was overall calm and happy in spite of a dampish first day. The re-enactment was hugely entertaining and highly popular. The event sold out which must have surprised the organisers, given that they had woefully underestimated the amount of food & drink on sale, resulting in horrendous hour-long queues for both (although at this event there were no queues for the loos!)!

The best moment for us was the sight of the First Minister being ‘buzzed’ by a lone Red Arrow en route home after a spectacular display over Armed Forces Day! The most obvious error was the site’s giant flagpole flying the Saltire rather than the more appropriate Royal Standard of the Bruce!

I think the organisers can be assured that the Bannockburn event was a success and I think most clans present had a steady flow of visitors and our exposure was probably worth the effort.

Kate Nicolson

One thing worth noting – indeed it was noted during the meeting with COSCA and others that followed the AGM – was that there were an encouraging number of Scots – who actually live in Scotland – at the event. Many were surprised to see their clan tent. They thought such things as clans were long dead, and were generally enthused by the fact that they are alive and well. Perhaps we should spend more time promoting clan activities in our own country?


A somewhat historic event took place at the Palace of Holyrood House on Friday 28 November. Organised by Madam Arabella Kincaid of Kincaid and Jamie Macnab of Macnab, the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs (SCSC) hosted a reception for heirs to clan chiefships and heads of families. It was scheduled as a finale to an outstanding year of Homecoming, which saw a myriad of clan events. The Duke of Hamilton kindly allowed the party to take place in his private apartments. He is the hereditary keeper of Holyrood Palace and bearer of the Crown of Scotland, a duty last performed at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The Earl of Elgin generously supplied the whisky, being the year of Bannockburn. Some 90 chiefs, heirs and their wives attended; including Lord Lyon King of Arms, Dr. Joseph Morrow, and, Lyon Clerk, Elizabeth Roads. Other heralds present were Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw (chief of the Agnews) and the Hon. Adam Bruce who is heraldic adviser to the Standing Council, and the younger son of Lord Elgin. Also present was the Reverend Neil Gardner, Minister of the Canongate and Holyrood.

The heirs and guests were piped into Holyrood by Pipe Major Canning of the Pibroch Society and welcomed by myself as Convenor, along with The Hon. Alexander Leslie, Vice-Convenor. Additional music was provided by Iona Warren and Iona Munro from Fettes College, playing the harp. Having shared a traditional commemorative toast with Pipe Major Canning to mark the occasion, I gave a short speech stressing the importance of the relationship between chiefs and their clansfolk which stretches way beyond the shores of Scotland.

The aim of the party was to develop a sense of cohesion and camaraderie amongst the heirs, and to introduce them to some of the duties and responsibilities of chiefship. This was supported by a booklet prepared by the SCSC Executive. Greetings came from a number of quarters, but perhaps the most significant was from COSCA in the USA. The President, Susan McIntosh, sent a heartfelt message of affinity and affection for clan chiefs, their heirs and families. She stressed, in the spirit of American generosity, that should any heirs find themselves in America they would be hugely welcomed.

The furthest travelled was Richard Broun younger of Coulston, all the way from Australia. Angus Maclaine younger of Lochbuie had come all the way from Hong Kong. Claire Henderson younger of Fordell is Australian but working in Glasgow.  Many heirs work in London and they made a big effort to get north to Edinburgh. Within Scotland the furthest travelled was Colin, Viscount Tarbat from Strathpeffer, heir to the great clan Mackenzie. From the Isle of Lismore came Catriona, the Maid of Bachuil heir to the chiefship of the Macleays, and her sister Flora Livingstone of Bachuil.

Other heirs present were: John, Master of Lauderdale; Alexander Burnett of Leys, Andrew Carmichael of Carmichael, Patrick Colquhoun of Luss and his brother Fergus, Alexander, the Master of Cranstoun; Ben Eliott of Redheugh, Alistair Forsyth of that Ilk, Harry, Lord Hay; Angus Kincaid of Kincaid and his sister Jessie, Duncan Ban MacIntyre of Camus-Na-H-Erie, Roderick Oliphant of Oliphant, Arthur Macmillan of Macmillan, James Macnab of Macnab and his sister Daisie, Ossian Moncreiffe of that Ilk, William, Master of Napier; Simon, Lord Ramsay; Jamie, Master of Rollo; Fiona Ross of Ross, Francis, Master of Sempill; Dugald Skene of Skene, Henry Trotter of Mortonhall, Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald, and The Hon. Georgina Leslie (heir to the Borthwick chiefship).

Early Tartan

Pictures and early travelers’ descriptions show that tartan was the garb of Highland Scots at least as early as the 1500’s.


What were tartans like before the Proscription? Pictures and early travelers’ descriptions show that tartan was the garb of Highland Scots at least as early as the 1500’s.  This knowledge is due because this is the earliest century that visitors were able to get their travel memoires printed and illustrated. Such early references and illustrations depict “Scottish peasants” but tartan was not limited to the poor. The Countess of Lennox had her portrait painted about 1575 wearing what has become the oldest tartan still woven today, the “Lennox District.”

Pre-1745 tartans were varied in colour and design. Daniel Defoe, an early war correspondent, thought that the Scottish army resembled a crowd of “Merry Andrews” – translation, “clowns.” A number of early 18th century tartans are preserved both in cloth and in portraits.

The majority of the east coast tartans use bright red due to the proximity to the continent. The dye came from the cochineal bug from Persia. The “Ulster Tartan”, discovered in Antrim in 1956 and dated 1600-1625, is today woven in two versions – yellow and brown as found stained by the long burial in soil and in a bright red and green, believed to have been the original colours. The majority of Scottish north and west coast tartans are more blue, black, and green from available natural dyes. However, few of the colours match the so-called “Ancient” palates in use today. 

Many of these Pre-1745 tartans are dissimilar in warp and weft, the “up and down”. Many are also asymmetrical, running from left to right and then simply picking up the pattern and starting over rather than the modern technique of centering a stripe and weaving symmetrically outward in all directions. A modern example of an asymmetric tartan is the “Buchanan.” 

In 1704 the Laird of Grant was able to order his tenants, including MacDonalds, to wear tartan in broad stripes of red and green but no specific design was given. J. Telfer Dunbar was able to count twenty-two tartans in the famous painting of the battle of Culloden.

None of these is worn today. However, some of the pre-1745 tartans are being hand woven today. The tartan of the portrait of the “Piper to the Laird of Grant” has been resurrected. The tartan in the portrait of James Moray of Abercairney has been hand woven and worn by T. Col. Peter MacDonald, TD. 

The most controversial pre-1745 tartan was that of the original Independent Highland “Watch” Companies. The material was woven on Speyside . It was uniform but no design has been preserved other than that it was dark. The late James Scarlett, MBE, believed the original was not the same as the “Government Tartan” of today. After it was regimented in 1740 the “Black Watch” was issued two different tartans, one for the “great kilt” with a red stripe and another for the “little kilt.” The present sett is post-1745 but is not originally a “Campbell” tartan.

Philip D. Smith, Jr. PhD, GTS, FSA Scot

Professor Smith is the President of the American branch of The Scottish Tartans Authority, based in Crieff, Perthshire. As such, he serves on the Board of Governors. He is a member of the Guild of Tartan Scholars (one of seven Internationally) and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He teaches Gaelic and lectures internationally on tartan.

This article was first published on Panalba.



The Equality (Titles) Bill

Late last year, Lord Lucas of Crudwell (England) and of Dingwall (Scotland) introduced his Equality (Titles) Bill in the House of Lords. The provisions of the bill would allow for the eldest born in the family to inherit the family title. The initial statute provided that the bill would be permissive, which is to say that application could be made to the Lord Chancellor to change the inheritance of a title.


This bill was followed swiftly by some amendments made by the Earl of Clancarty, one of which was to make it mandatory for the title to go to the eldest child. No doubt both peers were inspired by the recent Royal Succession Bill which enables the eldest child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, whether male or female, to become monarch.


So how and why does this affect Scottish Clans and Chiefs? Because titles and their Ilk come under the heading of constitutional matters reserved for Westminster Parliament. Lord Lucas and Lord Clancarty seem to have little knowledge of clans and chiefs.  Whilst one can fully sympathise with the equality aspects, and the clan system needs to be modern and up to date, the fact remains that by law many of these titles are reserved for males only. A good answer is to change the law. Fair enough, but the consequences of changing the law need to be collated and understood.


As far as clan chiefs go, there are about 65 who hold titles within the peerage and the baronetage. That leaves some 85 chiefs who do not hold titles in addition to their chiefly designation. In the case of these 85 chiefs it is arguable whether their positions are ‘hereditary titles’, or not. Clearly the Dukedom of Argyll and chief of Clan Campbell is.


Without wishing to take away the equality aspect of the bill, and it was questionable what the bill actually did for equality, the Standing Council was keen to protect chiefs and clans from the potential consequences. The council was lucky to have the Earl of Caithness in the House of Lords. In addition to Lord Caithness, a small working group included Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, member of the SCSC and chief of the Agnews, the Hon. Adam Bruce, heraldic advisor to the Standing Council, and myself.


Initial analysis quickly revealed that some current heirs who expected to inherit the chiefship would not do so if the bill became law.  If Angus Macsporran younger of Macsporran had an elder sister, called Heather, he would no longer be the heir of apparent. Heather would be. Supposing that there was a castle or clan home that the younger of Macsporran had grown up expecting to inherit.  How would the situation be reconciled if Heather becomes clan chief, but lives out of Scotland and is married to Richard Dawnay from an old English family in Devon? She is Mrs. Dawnay living in Devon. On the death of her father she becomes Chief of the Macsporrans. Does she change her name to Mrs. Macsporran of MacSporran? What if she refuses? Can a Mrs. Dawnay be chief of clan Macsporran?  Will Mr. Dawnay agree to her name change? Should he change his name? What of the children? The eldest of whom, whether male or female, is now the heir apparent to the Macsporran chiefship. This heir apparent is now in the curious position of living in Devon possibly in an old Dawnay family home of historical importance, whose ancestor fought with Sir Francis Drake against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and yet, is destined to be chief of a famous highland clan whose lands and castle lie 500 miles away. Meanwhile the original younger of Macsporran keeps that name, lives in the clan castle, and is not the chief. What is the impact of this scenario on the clan? It is not unrealistic, and the scenario applies to a number of chiefs.


The situation is complicated further, if there is a peerage involved. Supposing the Macsporrans were in fact the Earls of Coigach. Lady Heather Dawnay becomes the Countess of Coigach whilst married to Mr. Dawnay. Her younger  brother Angus was Viscount Lochinver. What now happens to that title as it has to go to the new Duchess’ heir apparent whether boy or girl? In effect Angus and his children are disinherited by the law of the UK Parliament. Where is the fairness in that? Plus Angus could be living in the family home and be neither the Earl nor the chief. Families could be split apart over this.


It can be seen how chiefships could easily become separated from traditional clan lands and titles. One of the aims of our working group was to prevent that. A secondary aim was to preserve ‘expectation’ and to propose that the changes would not take place until the current generation had been installed. This would then give time for clans and families to plan for the future.


If hereditary titles go through the female line, there is greater risk that the title might be separated from any clan chiefship, or chieftainship, if the husband of a future female title holder is not willing to change his name, or to allow his eldest child to adopt the clan name, as identified in the Macsporran/Dawnay example. From a Scottish perspective it might have been sensible to have a provision in the Bill stating that any heir to a title is bound to adopt the surname linked to the title thus keeping the title with the chiefship. There are many examples where names have been changed to secure both the title and the clan chiefship. There are examples where the chiefship has been separated from the title, because the title was destined to the heir male, but if all titles go through the female line there is a greater risk of separation. That is not in the interests of the clan system.


There were also concerns that the Bill did not address specialities that relate to Scottish Peerages, Baronetcies and other hereditary titles. In the Ruthven of Freeland Peerage Claim 1977 SLT (Lyon Ct) 2 in giving evidence Sir Iain Moncrieffe of that Ilk identified 110 Scottish Peerages descended under a special or entailed destination, which could also go through the female line, 93 destined to heirs (ie male or female), 86 destined to heirs male whatsoever and 73 to heirs male of the body. So far as is known there are at least four Nova Scotia Baronetcies that have special or entailed destination and one that goes to heirs (male or female). No consideration was given as how these special destinations will operate when the succession opens to the next heir, whether male or female. Nor how succession through a complex entail will be traced in these changed circumstances.


In respect of chiefship of clans there is the position of  Lord Lyon. One of his roles is to grant the ‘undifferenced arms’ to the senior line of the clan or family. So that the holder of those arms is chief of the name and arms. It is then up to the clan to accept that individual whether male or female as clan chief. In almost all cases they are accepted. However there are instances where the current chief can alter the assignation of the ‘undifferenced arms’ with the agreement of Lyon. Under the Equalities (Titles) Bill that would no longer be possible because of the mandatory element proposed by Lord Clancarty, for the eldest child to inherit. This takes away years of flexibility, and rides roughshod over the Scottish system of assigning armorials. In addition Lord Clancarty put down an amendment to include ‘”all bearers of arms”. So in effect including all armigers in his bill and ‘straitjacketing’ the system of granting arms in Scotland.


There is then the further question of the myriad of hereditary offices of state which come with a chiefly title. For example The Earl of Errol, and chief of the Hays, is Lord High Constable of Scotland. The Earl of Lauderdale, and chief of the Maitlands, is hereditary bearer of the National Flag of Scotland.  The Earl of Dundee, and chief of the Scrymgeours, is hereditary Royal Standard Bearer for Scotland. There are others such as the Captain of Dunstaffanage, and in England the Lord High Admiral of the Wash held by the le Strange family since the Norman Conquest.  There are others that would have been affected or become separated from their traditional families without careful thought and consideration. Whilst our system may be complicated with these ancient titles, they add colour and vibrance to our national life with titles enshrined in law. They are not plucked out of a tree because someone feels like being the Captain of this clan, or that castle.


The bill would have been become law in April 2014 and would have given a massive jolt to our clan system. But there are too many hoops for it to go through, so it is unlikely to pass.  One sensible solution to all this is to make it easier for families with no male issue to apply for a special remainder. This could be done via the Lord Chancellor, but is difficult. It should be made easier. Lucas and Clancarty were attempting a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problems of equality in inheritance. The British, English, Irish and Scottish system of inherited titles is complicated. To try and wipe out laws with a blanket approach is not a good way to proceed. There are families with big estates, employees, and are symbolic in local communities, which could go awry. Far better to treat each case on its merits and make it easier for individual families to change the laws of inheritance to fit their circumstances with the approval of Lord Lyon or the Lord Chancellor.


I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw to some aspects of the above article.


Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor

Convenor, Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs


The Modern Clan is a Modern Asset

Almost accidentally Scotland has ended up with a unique asset in the form of the modern clan.

Tartan, the kilt and bagpipes have given the country an instantly recognisable identity around the globe. It’s an astonishing change of fortune for the Highland culture, once despised as being barbaric across the rest of a nation that applauded its destruction in the 1740s. Today it is so seductive that pipe bands play Scottish music in virtually every country in the world, and registered tartans include Sikh, Singh, California Highway Patrol, Jewish, Lady Boys of Bangkok and even the Law Society of Scotland.

Several factors coalesced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to bring about this transformation. The publication of the poems of Ossian, supposedly the work of a great Gaelic poet, the equivalent of Homer to ancient Greece, took Europe by storm. It fitted into the fashionable concept of the Noble Savage. Then came the heroism and effectiveness of the Highland regiments in the British army that impressed the world. A few years later, the works of Walter Scott cemented the whole concept into place and he turned his words into vivid spectacle during the famous visit in 1822 by George IV to Edinburgh.

But the clan culture is more than just image. Scots have been emigrating for centuries and the numbers departing accelerated after the ’45 and through the 19th century. In Gaeldom ancestry and family was very important. Ask in Gaelic from where someone comes, and the question is, literally, from what family or line he comes. Kinship defined one’s place in that society and every Highlander could once reel off his ancestors and collaterals back through the generations. In new worlds the old kinship links within Scotland were irrelevant and this knowledge was soon forgotten – to the immense frustration of those of Scots stock today who research their forebears. But the modern clan – and today this includes Lowland names whose family origins were never Gaelic or Highland – allows virtually every descendant of Scots emigrants an instant family with whom to explore their Scottish roots. With the bonus of a shared language, no other nation can provide such a powerful draw or such a strong bond to its diaspora.

Most Scots are oblivious to this. More people and younger people are wearing kilts, particularly as badges of identity at national sporting events or weddings, but they don’t feel the need to associate with a particular clan except, perhaps, to choose the tartan of their surname. Only the tiniest minority take their interest in their clan origins much further. Being natives most feel they have no need to establish a Scottish identity.

This leads to a catastrophic wasted opportunity. There are estimated to be some 41 million people of Scots descent in the English-speaking world. In North America and the antipodes, Highland Games can attract scores of thousands. Unlike their equivalents over here, perhaps 120 Clan Associations will have tents, pulling in new members and creating a welcome for any who claim a Scots ancestry. The centrepiece of these games will be the march of the clans. Many clan associations will have branches throughout North America. All of them look to Scotland as their spiritual home and all want to discover their family and their families’ history here.

And this is where they are so often let down. Some thriving transatlantic clan associations have no equivalent over here. As a result they have no points of reference in the home country. For those that have, too often the Scots clan societies are old-fashioned, inward-looking, unadventurous and prone to internal squabbles. Few look with any great enthusiasm at their North American counterparts and too many feel superior. They feel they are the real Scots and they can find the tiggerish enthusiasm of the diaspora hard to handle. As a result the opportunity to harness the immense good will that the descendants of the emigrants feel towards Scotland, their country of origin, is sometimes rebuffed and dissipated.

A cultural bond can be used to create an economic bond. $10.4 billion was invested by the US in Ireland in 2004, only $3b less than investment in the whole UK. Of course Ireland is independent but the entire nation woos its diaspora and has copied Highland clans and tartans, knowing full well the advantages these can bring.

‘I have attended a number of meetings in Canada and the USA where some Scottish Minister was doing the rounds or other Scottish organisations wanting to talk to local people. Never have they come up with plans on what we can do to help. They tell us a tiny amount about their organisations or what is happening in Scotland and expect us to read their minds about why they have come or what we might be able to do to help…The local Scots seem to want business handed to them on a plate. ‘Do you mean we have to do some work to get the business? Unless there is a grant I’m not interested!’ That’s from Alastair MacIntyre who hosts the Electric Scotland website in Ontario with 35,000 pages and 1.5 million downloads a month.

We could change this by embracing our diaspora this summer. The Gathering will be the first International Clan event in this country since 1977. The last was great fun, well attended and left no legacy. This time we should use it for the benefit of this country.

First published in the Scotsman newspaper in March 2008

The Flodden Service

 It was a chilly morning on the 9th September 2013. It was, we understand, a chilly morning 500 years earlier. Then, the day would bring a sea of blood and the greatest catastrophe ever suffered by Scotland. Now, the day brought a solemn commemoration of the battle that ripped out the best of Scottish governance, vision and society.




The service was two years in the making and we had enormous support. From the Minister of St Giles’ Cathedral to Isla St Clair, from the New Club in Edinburgh to Maxwells who donated the flowers, everyone was behind the enterprise.


The earliest of decisions was to make sure that the service would not be misconstrued as some strange ‘celebration’ of the disaster. So, we set out to raise money for two contemporary Scottish charities that look after soldiers who are damaged in current conflicts.


We chose Combat Stress and Erskine.


Energy company EdF and auction house Bonhams sponsored a reception after the service, so that all donations could go straight to the charities. We raised over £25,000 for them.


The service itself was beautiful. It was solemn, with stirring songs and sad, with Flowers of the Forest sung with extraordinary beauty by Isla St Clair. It was also a reunion, with over 40 chiefs gathering to commemorate ancestors (such as my own, William, 3rd Earl of Rothes) who were lost. As such, it was, ultimately, an upbeat affair.


A highlight was the address by historian and sought after speaker Alistair Moffat. You can read the full text here. Here are two excerpts:

  1. When dawn broke on the morning of 10th September, 1513, the landscape of hell was revealed. On the gently undulating northern ridges of Branxton Hill more than 10,000 men lay dead or dying. In the midst of the carnage were the naked, plundered bodies of King James IV of Scotland, his half-brother, Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St Andrews, George Hepburn, Bishop of the Isles, two abbots, nine great earls of Scotland, fourteen lords of parliament, innumerable knights and noblemen of lesser degree and many thousands of farmers, ploughmen, weavers and burgesses. It was the appalling aftermath of the battle of Flodden, the greatest military disaster in Scotland’s history.
  2. At the same time, James IV was about to make a catastrophic decision, a crucial error of judgement. Instead of occupying an elevated position at the rear of his vast army, he chose to lead from the front. His division raced down Branxton Hill and as they reached the lower slopes and much softer ground, many men began to skid and lose their footing. This unsteadiness made it very difficult for them to control their long, 12 foot pikes. The wet ground made them charge out of formation, only engaging piecemeal with the solidly planted ranks of English billmen, With their shorter, more easily handled bills, they began to slice into James IV’s division. And as the men at the back saw the Scottish pikes go down, they hesitated and many of them ran, believing their king to be killed. By leading from the front, James was immediately submerged in the ruck of the fighting, only able to see what was directly in front of him, in no position to direct his forces. The result was disaster.


And the result was to be felt by generations. The only people left to Govern Scotland were children and old men.


The service was a great success, money was raised for two important, charities and the profile of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs was raised, due in part to the extensive television and press coverage we received.


The moment that I will long remember is when I saw a BBC television sound engineer behind a pillar waiting for Isla St Clair to sing Flowers of the Forest. We had told him before the service that she did not want to use a microphone. I could see him thinking ‘this is going to be rubbish, I bet I can’t use….’ and then he stopped as she began to sing and he looked up. And, I could not be sure, but I thought I saw a tear in his eye.


Alex Leslie

Vice Convenor

November 2013


The Battle of Flodden on Wikipedia is here