Clans Emerge In The Scottish Highlands


   The mountainous terrain of the Scottish Highlands contributed to the formation of the clan system in Alba. Charles MacKinnon ‘of Dunakin’, in his book The Scottish Highlanders, noted that “Lack of mobility was part of it [the creation of the clan system] too. It has already been pointed out that the mountainous and tortuous nature of the country, consisting as it did of hundreds of glens and lochs and fjords, lent itself to a great many little, distinct groups of people, rather than to large, cohesive groups.” MacKinnon also noted that the clan system possibly became so firmly established in the Scottish Highlands because “All Highlanders tend to be clannish, whether in Wales, in the Ozark Mountains of America or in Scotland. They tend to feud a good deal, because their holdings are, by the very geographical nature of things, comparatively small; and instead of one broad stretch of land supporting one people… there were numerous little enclaves supporting small groups, all seeking means of expansion and looking very warily at all neighbors stronger than themselves.” MacKinnon went on to say that “the Highlanders probably had to be and to remain more self-sufficient and independent, because of their remoteness from the trade routes and the fact that normally they did not have much money. Their wealth lay in their clan and its fighting force…”

   The Scottish clans were quite territorial ~ an aspect of their nature that set them apart from other forms of ‘clans’. According to the book, Social And Economic Development Of Scotland: “all through the history of the Highlands the territorial connection was a strong one.” What this is referring to is that the various Scottish clans tended to hold on to their ancestral homelands for very long periods of time not just because they possessed those lands, but rather because it was their heritage, their birthright, to possess them. Just as the clansmen felt a kinship to the clan chief, they felt a similar kinship to the lands from which their chief had sprung. The Scots had a word for this ~ duthus: the ‘inheritance-land’.

   There can perhaps be no greater sign of such a kinship to the land than to be known as ‘so-and-so of some or other estate’. For the Muirhead Clan, from which the author of this article descends, the head of the preferred line was known as ‘of Lauchope’, referring to the Lauchope Estate in Lanarkshire. The progenitor of the Muirhead family was Willielmo de Muirhead of Lauchope. For the Shaw Clan, from which the author also descends, the head of the preferred line was known as ‘of Rothiemurchus’, the principal ancestral estate of the Shaws. The Scots who continued to reside on their ancestral homeland estates, and whose surnames matched those of the estates had their own special title: ‘of that ilk’. The Albany Herald, Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, the author of The Highland Clans, proclaims, with his name, that he is the inhabitant and possessor of the Easter Moncrieffe estate. This sentiment of the significance of the duthus was so strong that a chief was considered to no longer be chief of his clan if he was forced to part with his lands.