Two Declarations With A Common Purpose: The Link Between 1320 and 1776

By John King Bellassai*

We’ve just wrapped up another annual celebration of Tartan Day–observed each year on 6th April, the anniversary of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath.  Parties and parades behind us for yet another year, it is only natural that we reflect on the significance of it all for those of us in the Ancestral Diaspora. This is especially timely, given that next year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tartan Day holiday, which has now firmly taken root in communities all across our land.  (As I’ve pointed out before, the real meaning of Tartan Day is contained in the plain wording of the standing resolutions of both houses of the U.S. Congress that authorize its observance:  To recognize and celebrate the many contributions of Scots, and Scottish-Americans, to the founding and subsequent development of the United States.)

Many of our Scottish cousins love to come over and help us celebrate Tartan Day, this year including the First Minister.  But they still tend to wince at the name (which we actually borrowed from the Canadians), as being romantically Victorian, maybe even a bit brigadoonish.   That is short-sighted on their part.  Even more than the thistle or the saltire, the tartan is a universally recognized symbol of the Scottish ‘brand’—not just something highland, but something quintessentially Scottish.  After all, it is well-documented that lowland ladies widely wore tartan shawls and wraps to protest the Union in the earliest days of the 18th century—a sentiment that many in modern Scotland seem to be embracing once more.  And a piece of simple tartan has even been found stuffed inside a clay pot, buried at the base of Hadrian’s Wall, wrapped around a fistful of 1st century Roman coins.  So tartan has been a commonly recognized symbol of “things Scottish” for a long, long time.  And here in America, 32 of our 50 states—typically states with heavy Scottish immigration in their respective histories–now have officially adopted their own tartans, registering them with the Scottish Tartans Authority.

The romance of the name “Tartan Day” aside, many, maybe most, in Scotland and even some here in America still pooh-pooh the claimed inspiration for our Tartan Day holiday being found in the Declaration of Arbroath. But should they so quickly dismiss the link?  I think not.  Much recent scholarship supports it, and an actual analysis of the structure of the two documents, even some striking similarities in phrasing, suggest that 1320 was indeed a powerful inspiration for 1776.  Not the only one, to be sure, but an important one, nonetheless.

The key to understanding the link between the two “declarations” lies in the fact that the American Revolution came right on the heels of the Scottish Enlightenment and that the works of many Scottish philosophers and academicians were being widely read, and deeply appreciated, in the American colonies in the decades immediately preceding our break with Britain.  Though all estimates tell us that Scots immigrants to the American colonies prior to 1776 made up less than 10 percent of the general population, their influence on the worldview held by the educated segment of the population was far out of proportion to their numbers.  Why so? 

The answer lies in the fact that 18th century Scots immigrants included many well-educated clergymen and graduates of Scottish universities—Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen—the seats of the Enlightenment.  These two classes of immigrants, clergymen and university graduates, were well-acquainted with the works of Adam Ferguson, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Lord Kames and others that espoused the so-called “Common Sense Philosophy” then prevalent among the educated classes in Scotland.  Both at the grammar school level and in the majority of the six universities in the American colonies (four of which were founded by Scots), Scottish immigrants predominated in the teaching ranks; as a result, these Scottish Enlightenment works were widely read and debated among both faculty and students in America. 

We know that far from being an obscure document, the Declaration of Arbroath was well known  in Scotland in the years immediately preceding the adoption of the Treaty of Union in 1707, because it featured in the so-called “pamphlet wars” that swirled around that event.  Moreover, we know the Declaration of Arbroath itself went through at least four mass printings in Scotland in the decades between 1707 and 1776—showing that it was widely read and its sentiments appreciated.   But did this knowledge really cross the Atlantic?

In many ways, the key to understanding how the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath came to influence the American Declaration of Independence is to understand the relationship between William Small and Thomas Jefferson.  Small was born in Scotland in 1734 and emigrated to America in 1758, settling in Virginia, where he became a professor of rhetoric at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburgh.  But prior to emigrating, Small had attended Marischal College in Aberdeen, graduating in 1755.  And while a student there, he studied under William Duncan, Professor of Natural Philosophy, whose 1748 work, Elements of Logick–the dominant logic treatise of its time–waswidely read, both in Scotland and in America.  Jefferson studied under Small at William & Mary, graduating in 1761; through Small he became well acquainted with the work of Duncan. The two men, Jefferson and Small, remained life-long friends.  In his autobiography, Jefferson described Small as his mentor.    

In March of 1764, shortly after graduating from William & Mary, Jefferson purchased a copy of William Robertson’s The History of Scotland, which addressed in great detail the events of the Scottish wars of independence, culminating in the Declaration of Arbroath.  We also know that Jefferson’s mother’s family, the Randolphs, who numbered among the Virginia gentry, claimed descent from Thomas FitzRandolph, Early of Moray, nephew of King Robert the Bruce and himself a signer of the Declaration of Arbroath.  And we know that Jefferson was aware of this claimed descent on his mother’s side. Doubtless this purported connection with a signer of the Declaration of Arbroath affected Jefferson’s appreciation of the events of 1320.  A review of the catalog of his library at Monticello shows that Jefferson later owned works by almost all the great thinkers and writers of the Scottish Enlightenment, including Hutcheson, Hume, Ferguson, Kames, Adam Smith, and others—a life-long interest he kept.

The structural organization of the American Declaration of Independence is a logical syllogism and this suggests Jefferson was inspired by the logician and rhetorician Duncan, whose work was taught to Jefferson by Small.  Jefferson’s document conforms to the structure recommended by Duncan for conveying the maximum degree of conviction and certainty—a series of five propositions–(1) that all men are created equal; (2) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; (3) that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; (4) that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men; and (5) that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.  This is followed in the Declaration of Independence by a so-called “self-evident” major premise: That when government becomes tyranny, men have a right to rebel against it.  This entire structure conforms carefully with Duncan’s rhetorical standards for proving any proposition, as contained in his 1748 treatise.

These facts aside, did the 1320 Declaration directly influence the 1776 Declaration?  Apart from both declarations being of similar length and signed by approximately the same number of “worthies” (39 bishops and nobles at Arbroath, 56 delegates at Philadelphia, appointed by the 13 colonies), many of the clauses in Jefferson’s declaration closely echo sentiments in the Declaration of Arbroath, even down to a similarity in many of the words used:   For example, both summon God to be their witness as to the rightness of their cause (the Scots calling him “the Supreme King and Judge”, the Americans calling him “the Supreme Judge of the World”).  Each contains a list of grievances against the tyrannical actions of a far-away English king as justification for them to take up arms.  Each declares that the assent of the governed is a key ingredient in the new political order it is advocating—for the Scottish people in 1320, to throw off the English yoke and choose their own king (The Bruce), from among their own citizens; for the Americans in 1776, to throw off the English yoke and set up a new form of self-government (a constitutional republic) by which to govern themselves.   And each says that if the new government does not meet the peoples’ expectations, they may change it, yet again.  Each says the freedoms for which they fight are meant to apply to all their citizens (the Scots listing “Jew and gentile alike”).  In each instance, the signers pledge to support and defend each other. And in each instance, the signers say they enter into this written compact for freedom alone, to which cause they pledge their lives and their sacred honor. 

Once drafted, Jefferson submitted his Declaration to the assembled members of the Continental Congress, which referred it to committee, where it was amended and finalized.  Two other prominent Scottish immigrants were among the members of that Continental Congress—John Witherspoon and James Wilson—and each argued forcefully for its passage in the debates which followed.  The Rev. John Witherspoon emigrated from East Lothian to New Jersey in 1768; James Wilson emigrated from Fife to Pennsylvania in 1765.  Both men were extremely well educated Scots and certainly knew of the Declaration of Arbroath, not only the wording itself but the history of its adoption. 

The first of the two, Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister—the only clergyman among the delegates—who had become President of the College of New Jersey (later renamed as Princeton University).  The second, Wilson, was an accomplished lawyer who went on to become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.   Drawing on their strong educational backgrounds as graduates of Scotland’s leading universities, both men contributed strong support to Jefferson’s Declaration.

Witherspoon, sixth President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), was educated at the Universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. He was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland in 1745 and only emigrated to America after actively being urged to do so by Benjamin Rush, who visited Paisley expressly to recruit him behalf of the college.  During his 25 years in the job, Witherspoon transformed the small Presbyterian college, founded primarily to train clergymen, into the preeminent university in America.  A delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress and the only clergyman among them, Witherspoon actively served on over 100 committees and was the most outspoken among the delegates on behalf of full political separation from Britain.  Throughout his academic career, Witherspoon was an eloquent and outspoken proponent of the “Common Sense” Philosophy espoused by the Scottish Enlightenment scholars Hutcheson, Hume, Reid, Kames, and others, which he taught at Princeton.  

Witherspoon not only himself signed the Declaration of Independence, but in the decade preceding it, educated many of the first generation of political leaders in the new United States of America.  From among his students came 12 other members of the Continental Congress, each of whom signed the Declaration of Independence, plus one American President (James Madison), one American Vice President (Aaron Burr), 37 federal judges (three of whom later became U.S. Supreme Court justices), 28 later U.S. senators, and 49 later U.S. congressmen.  President John Adams once said of Witherspoon, “I know of no character, alive or dead, who has done more real good for America.”

Wilson, known in America as “James of Caledonia”, was also a delegate to the first Continental Congress, but from Pennsylvania. He had attended the universities of Glasgow, St. Andrews and Edinburgh before emigrating and thus was equally well read in the works of the Scottish Enlightenment as were William Small and John Witherspoon.  Imbued with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, he moved to Philadelphia in 1766, to begin teaching at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), which awarded him an honorary Master of Arts degree.  Wilson began to read the law at the office of John Dickinson a short time later; after two years of study he joined the bar in Philadelphia, setting up his own practice in nearby Reading, Pennsylvania in 1767.  Wilson was very highly regarded by George Washington, who in his memoirs praised Wilson’s abilities and temperament.  A leading legal theorist in colonial America, he was one of the six original justices appointed by President Washington to the U.S. Supreme Court shortly after the Constitution was adopted in 1789.

One of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1789, Wilson contributed greatly to the constitutional debates of the 1780’s which led to the formulation of the modern American tri-partite political system, consisting of co-equal executive, legislative and judicial branches, as embodied in the U.S. Constitution.  And it was Wilson who convinced Congress to directly state that all powers of government, any government, are ultimately derived from the people—a characteristically Scottish notion and one which had been clearly articulated by the Scots in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[This article appears in abbreviated form in the current issue of Scots Heritage Magazine.  It is reprinted here in its entirety with the permission of the editors of that publication.]

* John King Bellassai is President of the Council of Scottish Clans & Associations (COSCA) and Vice President of the National Capital Tartan Day Committee.  (His maternal grandfather, John King, after whom he is named, emigrated from Killearn, in Stirlingshire, to America in 1910.)

TARTAN DAY SPEECH 2017, By Viscount Dunrossil


As always, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be here, as we celebrate National Tartan Day and honor in particular those Scots who died here at the Alamo.

My first task is to bring you greetings from various people who do not have the opportunity to be here with you in person.

First, FROM the people of the (still) United Kingdom including SCOTLAND: these are momentous times across the water. This week the British Government formally notified the EU that it is withdrawing from the Union. Brexit has begun. Also this week the Scottish Parliament voted in favor of holding a second Independence Referendum, known locally as INDYREF2. This is certainly a time, as well as an appropriate place, to reflect on the meaning of nationhood, sovereignty and independence.

Secondly, I would like to bring you greetings from the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations, COSCA: If you’re here for this event and for the Games which follow it, you understand that Scots in the Diaspora tend to identify with the mother country through the medium of clan and family, and both SCSC and COSCA are there to assist you as you explore that relationship. It operates at a level below that of nationalism, but for all that, the love and loyalty it inspires is just as strong, and if anything, somewhat purer and less complicated.

Third, I bring you greetings from the Society of Scottish Armigers and the Court of the Lord Lyon. The Society, of which I am currently the chair and Lord Lyon the President, exists partly to serve as a resource to help Games and individual enthusiasts “get it right” on matters of form and protocol. This Lyon in particular has a long experience with, and a love for, America: he studied for his doctorate in canon law at Georgetown and served for a year as a priest in Iowa. He has made it known that he is keen to encourage more worthy Americans to apply for arms. While this can be a very satisfying accomplishment for an individual and his family, it can be particularly important for clans with no chief: the route to getting a chief, and so to representation on the SCSC, is first to get a set of armigers, who can hold a clan convention.

Finally I want to mention a new organization, The initial goal of is to raise the funds needed to pay for a Visiting Lectureship in Scottish Gaelic Studies at UNC Chapel Hill for the 2018-19 academic year. The University will advertise and fill the position according to the standard, competitive bidding process. I wholeheartedly recommend this to you. There are chairs at American universities in almost every conceivable hyphenated American studies, but not in Gaelic American studies. This is long overdue. As we are here to celebrate and remind ourselves this evening, Scots have contributed as much as any national group to this country, and more than most.

Scholarship matters. It brings the past to life and gives us a lens through which to view and understand the present.

When I first read about the Alamo, the comparison which came to mind was with the heroic stand by Spartan hoplites at Thermopylae in 480 BC, an always doomed stand by heavily outnumbered troops, which dented the morale of the invaders and gave their own side precious time to organize an eventually successful resistance.

But that is not how the defenders themselves understood their action. The historical precedent, which mattered and motivated them, was the struggle for Scottish Independence in the early fourteenth century. The chain that joins these two wars for self-determination, over five hundred years apart, has three crucial links, which Texan historians all too often neglect.

They are national origin, Bannockburn and Arbroath.

First national origin: the displays in the Alamo shrine contain the flags of many states from which the defenders most directly came to Texas. What they obscure is the fact that, as Carl Peterson pointed out, over 80% of them shared a single national origin: they were Scots. And these Scots knew their Scottish history and Scottish literature, especially the poetry of Burns.

Austin, Dallas and Houston are all Scottish names, and while it’s fair to say that the Spanish played a major role in Texas history as the first European settlers, it’s also true that without the Scots, Texas (and for that matter other states like New Mexico and Colorado), would still be part of Mexico today, and America would probably never have become a major power on the world stage.

Second, Bannockburn. This was the great victory in 1314 by Robert the Bruce over King Edward II which played a great part in securing Scottish independence. When I was young, before Flower of Scotland was penned, the anthem Scots used to annoy the English was popularly known as Scots Wha Hae, which Burns wrote in 1793, some forty years before the Alamo, but long enough for the song to have traveled the world. It is also sometimes known by the subtitle, ‘Bruce addresses the troops before Bannockburn’. We believe that this was sung and played every night by the defenders, who saw themselves reliving the struggle of Bruce and his men. Both Scots and Texans faced an enemy with superior numbers led by an autocratic ruler with a better legal claim to the land, who had crossed their southern border and now stood ready for battle. When the defenders wanted to appeal for reinforcements, they sent out a poster entitled “Now’s the day and now’s the hour,” a quotation from the poem. And when the scout rode out with their desperate last appeal he added that the defenders were determined to “do or die,” another quotation from the poem.

If Bannockburn and Burns were the inspiration for the Scots who fought and died here at the Alamo, it is only fitting that modern day Scots come here each year to honor them.

Today, or technically April 6, is now known in this country as National Tartan Day. The date was chosen because on April 6 1320, six years after Bannockburn, Scots signed the Declaration of Arbroath, which has been called the first, seminal declaration of Independence, and the inspiration, directly or indirectly, for all subsequent declarations. What Arbroath asserted was essentially three things, which bear repeating today, but which were quite novel at the time:

  1. Ultimate sovereignty lies with the people, who retain the right to replace rulers who do not honor their wishes.
  2. There is an essential principle of freedom and national self-determination
  3. And you can expect that no-one (certainly no Scotsman) will surrender this freedom while they have life and breath.

The Alamo defenders were Scots who saw themselves as reenacting the battle of Bannockburn, inspired by the message of freedom and self-determination first expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath. “That which no man surrenders but with his life.” They did indeed give up their lives that day. But their cause prevailed. And it is our promise that their sacrifice, and the events and songs that inspired them, will never be forgotten.

Andrew Dunrossil, 2017

New Zealand’s Scottish Gene

Guest Article by Dr Cathy Gunn, Edinburgh and Auckland

First impressions of my adopted home were of similar natural beauty, but otherwise a world apart from Scotland. The climate was a good deal warmer, the plant life more tropical, and most houses on a single level with timber walls and an iron roof. No tenements here!


It wasn’t long before the strength of New Zealand’s Scottish connections began to emerge. Walking past a popular beachfront wedding venue one day, I spotted a tall, handsome Maori man in full highland dress. A sight for sore eyes indeed – and I had to ask! He was a McDonald, honoring family tradition by getting married in his grandfather’s formal attire. His Maori connection was obvious, although the depths of those cultural traditions remain unknown to many New Zealanders.


The next surprise was the Auckland City Christmas Parade. Along with colourful floats carrying jolly men in red suits, elves and ruddy nosed reindeer, marched more pipe bands than I had ever seen in one place. The connection between Santa Claus and pipe bands escaped me, and those poor folk were marching in woollen kilts, jackets and bonnets in the height of New Zealand summer! It didn’t make sense, but it still tugged on my heartstrings, as the sound of the pipes always has and always will.


My next encounter with New Zealand’s ‘Scottish gene’ was at the Waipu Highland Games. This small north island town is where Reverend Norman McLeod landed his flock after the clearances. They moved from Ullapool to Nova Scotia and Australia before settling in New Zealand in 1854. The New Years Day Games have run for 142 years, and often host international championships. Like so many Scottish events, there are mutton pies, tattie scones and ‘your other national drink’ to sustain the crowds. The serious business is followed by a lively ceilidh, and a wee dram or two.


The Waipu Games are just one of many events held annually around the country to celebrate the Scottish heritage of citizens of various ethnic blends and origins. Scottish music and dance, Burns Suppers, Kirkin o’ the Tartan, Gaelic and Clan Societies are part of the vernacular for a small but significant number of New Zealanders. A Scottish accent is a great conversation starter and often leads to stories of a granny or granddad that sounded like they walked out of Glasgow yesterday after 63 years away! Apart from areas of general discontent around the legacy of colonization, which many Scots can understand, I have often received a special welcome because I am Scottish.


Many old, familiar cultural traditions are alive and well in my adopted country. Some are echoes from the point of migration. Hence the phrase ‘more Scottish than the Scots’ for a diaspora that maintains traditions long since changed in the homeland. Others are a lovely fusion of immigrant and indigenous cultures, reflected, for example, by the music trio Pacific Curls, ‘an inimitable combination of Pacifica, Maori and Celtic influences, with taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments) and Scottish fiddle’; or weaver Roka Ngarimu-Cameron ‘combining traditional indigenous methods with European technologies, showing the similarities between Maori cloaks and Scottish kilts.’ In a different vein, a ceremony at the Gathering in Edinburgh 2009 to honour the late Squadron Leader John Mahiti Wilson noted similarities between Scottish Clan and Maori Tribe (Iwi). One of NZ’s first WWII Maori fighter pilots, and a high profile lawyer in civilian life, John Mahiti Wilson was of Scottish and Maori descent. So whether the elements are traditional and ‘pure’ or modern infusions, the ‘Scottish gene’ really has become a core part of New Zealand culture.

200 th anniversary of Waterloo

By Sir Malcolm MacGregor, Convenor

crest_yellow_on_blue_96x130This 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: . 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 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).

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 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