The Middle Period Of Clan History


   The reign of Malcolm III, aka Malcolm Caenn Mor (1058-1093) saw a dramatic rise in the number of clans throughout Scotland, especially in the Highlands. That may be attributed to the influences of the king’s second marriage ~ to Margaret, the sister of the exiled Saxon King, Edgar Atheling of England. Among other things that Margaret brought to the Scottish court was the idea of feudalism. According to Robert Bain, in his book, The Clans And Tartans Of Scotland: “Under the Celtic Patriarchal system the land belonged to the tribe, but feudalism meant that the land passed into the possession of the king to be parcelled out according to his whim or necessity.” He went on to note that “when the larger tribes were broken up clans smaller in size than the tribes emerged, and thenceforward clanship was the principle governing the Highland people.” The clans tended to be confined to ~ or rather defined by ~ districts, restricted by the configurations of the natural topography of the water sculptured land. As noted previously, the mountainous terrain of the land in the highlands, the loch dotted lowlands, and the many isles to the west facilitated the territorial aspect of the clans.

   Frank Adam, in his masterful The Clans, Septs, And Regiments Of The Scottish Highlands, pronounced the end of the Thirteenth Century as a period of turmoil that led to the “commencement of the Highland Clan System.” Alexander III was king of Scotland from the year 1249 until 1286 when he was killed by his falling from his horse and down a cliff. At that time, his only heir was his nine year old granddaughter, Margaret, Princess of Norway. She died only four years later on the voyage from her Norway to Scotland. Scotland was without a clear heir to the throne of the royal line for the first time in her history. There was therefore a need for someone to make a decision on who should be monarch. The lords of the realm asked the English king, Edward I, to decide for them. Edward’s choice was John Baliol, an ineffectual leader, but the one candidate whom Edward thought could be manipulated to England’s advantage.

   By the latter half of the Thirteenth Century a number of clans emerged from anonymity and gained some measure of prominence, claiming descent from either the Scots of Dalriada or from the Norse invaders of the Eighth Century. Notable in this group were the Campbells, the Lamonts, the Mackenzies, the MacGregors, the Mackintosh, the MacLachlans, the Macleans, the Macleods, the MacNaughtons, and the MacNeils. At this time there was the appearance of certain clans claiming mythological credentials. The Campbells claim that their clan, initially styled Clan Diarmid, descended from Diarmid O’Duin, a figure from the Fianna of Celtic mythology. Clan MacFie’s name is believed to have been derived from the Gaelic dubh-sidh, meaning ‘black fairy.’ The clan claims that its ancestors had been in touch with the elfin folk in its past. The MacLeod’s claim descent from a Scandinavian god. Fitzroy Maclean, in the Highlanders – A History Of The Scottish Clans, noted that: “The clansmen followed their chief not so much as their feudal superior, but rather as the representative of their common ancestors.”

   Edward planned to invade France and requested the assistance of the Scots, which he assumed would be freely given. Much to his chagrin, Baliol made a treaty of support with France; so Edward invaded Scotland instead. The attempt by the English King, Edward I to take the Scottish throne from John Baliol in 1296 led to a great surge of patriotic fervor in the Scottish people. They found their hero in the person of William Wallace. Wallace carried on a guerilla war against the English until he was betrayed by his friend, John Monteith, and captured and executed by the English in 1305.

   Wallace’s fight for Scottish sovereignty galvanized the people, encouraging not only their loyalty and support for Scotland, the nation; it also reinvigorated pride and fealty to their own clans.

   Robert Bruce, crowned as Robert I at Scone in 1306, continued the fight after the death of Wallace. His army routed the English at the Battle of Bannockburn on 24 June, 1314. Bruce rewarded those clan chiefs who had supported him with grants of land taken from those clans which had not. Allan Macinnes, in the book, Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia, noted that “Robert the Bruce sought to harness and control the martial prowess of the clans through the award of charters. Comprehensive grants of lands and the right to dispense justice in the name of the Crown were given to chiefs and leading gentry of the clans prepared to support the national cause against the English kings.”

   Despite the emergence and growth of various clans at the time of this so-called ‘First War of Independence’, very few were called clans by the contemporary writers. Although the members of many clan societies today make bold claims of their ancestors fighting at Bannockburn, the contemporary chroniclers, such as John Barbour in his poem The Brus, did not mention any of them by name.