Many of you will have Scottish ancestry and as such you may be part of a clan. But what really are the clans and how do they work.
Well from the start let me state that I have ancestry in the Buchanan Clan. I am descended from ancestors called Dow and as such am part of the Buchanan clan. My Scottish ancestors came from Govan in Scotland but the furthest back I’ve got is to the late 1700’s in a small village called Lorn which used to be on the banks of Loch Lorne. My 5 times great grandparents were Duncan Dow and Mary McIntyre. According to their son Archibald Dow’s death certificate from 1855 Duncan was a shepherd.
So what is a clan? In basic terms a clan is a group who come together as a sort of family. Many started out as villages or regions under the control of a laird or chieftain. They usually share a common bond and have sub groups who come under their flag. They usually share a tartan to denote they are of the clan so they can be easily identified. The use of tartan is also a way of showing who your fealty to a clan chieftain.
Clans are usually headed by the most powerful family of the clan, although they may not carry the clan name surname, so just because you are chieftain of the Buchanan Clan doesn’t mean you have to be a Buchanan. The 6th chief was McBeath McCausland. Since the 8th Chief they have carried the surname Buchanan. The current chief is John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan.
The clans in some respect were like states or counties. They set their own local laws and the members would pay taxes to the chief. The Chief would hear grievances from the clan’s people and act as a sort of judge and jury. The Chief would also have soldiers who would defend the clan’s lands from attack from other clans which happened when other clans decided to use this method to expand their territory. Chief’s also used marriage to expand their lands. They would marry their children to into other clans in the hope of the marriage bringing another clan under their control.
The role of the clans changed after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. This was when Charles Edward Stuart the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to get the throne back for his father James Edward Stuart the Old Pretender. James Stuart was the eldest son of the deposed King James II/VII (depending on if you’re using the English or Scottish regnal number although now I think we’re supposed to use the VII) of Great Britain and his second wife the catholic Mary of Modena. James was deposed due to his Catholic faith as Great Britain was a Protestant country. He was replaces as King in 1688 to be replaces by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III.
During the rebellion Bonnie Prince Charlie led his troops in battle against the British army to try to force William and Mary to give the throne back to his father. The rebellion failed but the clans came under great scrutiny for their role in the rebellion. May of the clan chiefs powers were revoked including that of passing laws. Also the wearing of tartan was banned but this was repealed later in the century.
Today the wearing tartan by those descended from the Scottish clans began in the Victorian era. It became fashionable to be descended for the clans and people wanted to show they had a Scottish heritage and all things Scottish. Whether the fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had just bought Balmoral had an impact on this I don’t know, but you would think it had. This even continues today. Any Scottish city you visit you’ll find a shop where you can trace you Scottish ancestry and purchase tartan, scrolls, and clan badges showing your lineage. I know I went in one as a kid and have a badge that states my clan in Buchanan.
So the Scottish clans today may not be the powerful groups they were in the past but they do still exist and you can trace you ancestry to them. They are famous throughout the world and new tartans have been developed to show the diversity of Scotland. The Sikh’s of Scotland have their own tartan. Which is the most famous of the clans, well it’s probably the McDonald’s, but not for they clan heritage, more for the burgers.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!