This page was last updated on 07 November 2015

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

L

M

N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

X

Y

Z

 

 

Index of first names

The Scottish Clan System - Our Guide

What Is A Clan?

 

Section Contents
 
  • What is a clan?
  • Who Is A Member Of A Clan?
  • Septs
  • The Search For Clan Chiefs
  • Crests
  • Tartans
  • The clan system is closely bound up with Scottish heraldry. The best definition of a clan provided by a heraldic authority is contained in Nisbet’s “System of Heraldry”, published in 1722: - social group consisting of an aggregate of distinct erected families actually descended, or accepting themselves as descendants of a common ancestor, and which has been received by the Sovereign through its Supreme Officer of Honour, the Lord Lyon, as an honourable community whereof all of the members on establishing right to, or receiving fresh grants of, personal hereditary nobility will be awarded arms as determinate or indeterminate cadets both as may be of the chief family of the clan.

    A clan is therefore a community which is both distinguished by heraldry and recognised by the Sovereign. At the head of this honourable community is the chief. He is the only person entitled to display the undifferenced shield of Arms, ie without any marks of dependency upon any other noble house.

    Chiefship is a title of honour and dignity within the nobility of Scotland. Any claimant to such a title must establish, to the satisfaction of the Lord Lyon representing the Sovereign, that he or she is entitled to the undifferenced arms of the community over which they seek to preside. It is the determining of chiefship which is among the Lyon Court’s central work.

    Many of the cases which have come before the Lyon Court in the last 50 years have related to the chiefships of clans. There are now about 140 clans that have chiefs recognised by the Lord Lyon.

    A clan or family. which has a recognised chief or head confers noble status on the clan or family which gives it a legally recognised status and a corporate identity. A family or name group which has no recognised chief has no official position under the law of Scotland.

    Family or Clan?

    The Gaelic word for 'children' is more accurately translated as 'family' in the sense in which the word Clan became accepted in the Scottish Highlands during the 13th century. A Clan is a social group whose core comprises a number of families derived from, or accepted as being derived from, a common ancestor.

    Almost without exception, that core is accompanied by a further number of dependent and associated families who have either sought the protection of the Clan at some point in history or have been tenants or vassals of its Chief. That Chief is owed allegiance by all members of the Clan, but ancient tradition nevertheless states that the Clan is above the Chief.

    Although Gaelic has been supplanted by English in the Lowlands of Scotland for nearly a thousand years, it is an acceptable convention to refer to the great Lowland families, like the Douglas', as Clans although the heads of certain families, such as Bruce, prefer not to use the term.

    Allegiance was generally given to a father's Clan, but Celtic tradition includes a strong element of descent through, and loyalty to, a mother's line. In reality, the chief of a Clan would ingather any stranger, of whatever family, who possessed suitable skills, maintained his allegiance and, if required, adopted the Clan surname.

     

    Errors and Omission

    We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archves

    If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know.


    The Forum

    If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

    You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

    Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.

    What's New?

    We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

    We also use the blog to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.


    Back to top

    The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

    The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

    As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

    Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

    Contact Us

    Last modified: Tuesday, 01 December 2015