Ancient and Honorable Carruthers Clan Society Int LLC
CarruthersClan Int LLC
Promptus Et Fidelis
Some little known facts about Scottish Clans
Over the centuries a great many myths surrounding Scottish clans have arisen, due in no small part to the “Romantic-Revival” of Scottish culture that began with the publication of James MacPherson’s Ossian, less than two decades after the clans were defeated in the last Jacobite uprising in 1746. Although reduced to a mainly ceremonial status, Scottish nostalgia and sentiment for the clans fueled a continuing interest which had led to the development of many customs and traditions that have since become an integral part of our Scottish cultural heritage. Although it is often wrongly assumed that these customs developed naturally over the course of many centuries, many of them originated in the first decades of the 19th century while others first came to light during the Victorian era that followed shortly thereafter.
Myth #1: Clans are exclusive to the Highlands
The word clan comes from the Gaelic term clann, meaning “descendants” or “offspring.” Within the context of Scottish culture, clans were historically considered to be any group composed of extended family claiming descent from a common ancestor. The fact that clans are found in the Lowlands as well as the Highlands is made clear in an Act of Parliament of 1587 for the quieting and keeping in obedience of the disordered subjects, inhabitants of the borders, highlands and isles, which was directed at “the captains, chiefs and chieftains of all clans, as well on the highlands as on the borders, and the principals of the branches of the said clans….which clans dwell upon the lands of diverse landlords and depend upon the directions of the said captains, chiefs and chieftains (by pretence of blood or place of their dwelling).” Thus the word clan is used to describe both Highland and Lowland families. As Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw put it, the “belief that clans are Highland and families are Lowland….is really a development of the Victorian era.”
Myth #2: Clan tartans are of great antiquity
Ian Carruthers from Scotland
According to the great Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1829, the “idea of distinguishing the clans by their tartans is but a fashion of modern date.” The concept of named tartan “setts” or patterns of a specific design serving to differentiate a particular Scottish clan or family is indeed of comparatively recent origin, having evolved since the latter half of the 18th century when certain distinctive tartan patterns were first adopted by Scottish military regiments, often named after their founders, such as the Gordon Highlanders, the Fraser Highlanders, the Cameron Highlanders, etc. These regiments used tartans based on the original “Government tartan” worn by the Black Watch or 42nd Highland Regiment, with the addition of distinctively colored stripes which served to distinguish the tartans worn by one regiment from the others. The government contractor who supplied tartan cloth to the Scottish military was a firm known as William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn, Stirlingshire, who held the monopoly on the tartan trade during much of the early 19th century. In addition to naming tartan patterns after military regiments such as the Gordons, the Frasers, the Camerons, etc., Wilsons’ expanded this practice to include tartan patterns named after Scottish clans, families, locations, historical and royal personages, etc.
Myth #3: Tartan is a Highland Scottish innovation
Portrait of Sir Robert Dalrymple circa 1720
The oldest known surviving fragment of tartan to be found in Britain was discovered in the Scottish Lowlands. Unearthed inside a clay pot containing more than 2000 Roman era silver coins dating to the 3rd century A.D., this ancient piece of tartan was found in Falkirk, Stirlingshire. The oldest known tartan fragments discovered in all of Europe were found outside of Scotland itself, among artifacts belonging to Gallic tribes located in what is now Salzburg, Austria, which was inhabited by the Gauls between 400 B.C. and 100 B.C. By the 18th century tartan was being commercially produced on a large-scale basis in the Scottish Lowlands by firms such as Wilsons of Bannockburn, who held the monopoly for tartan cloth supplied to the Scottish military regiments as part of their uniforms, and it is known that during the era of the Jacobite rebellions, many Lowlanders who supported the House of Stuart wore tartan, such as Sir Robert Dalrymple of Castleton, who appears in a portrait dated 1720 dressed in a robe of tartan.
According to Ivan Baillie of Aberiachan, writing in 1768, the style of kilt recognized today as the quintessential form of Scottish attire “is rather of late than ancient usage” and was worn by both Lowland as well as Highland Scots: “this piece of dress….was in the Gaelic termed felie-beg….and in our Scots termed little kilt; and it was found so handy and convenient, that, in the shortest space, the use of it became frequent in all the Highland Countries, and in many of our northern Low Countries also.”
Col. James Oglethorpe visits Darien, Georgia in 1736
As the Scots began to venture overseas, the kilt went with them as a part of their everyday dress. It is known to have been worn in America by the Scots who settled in colonial Georgia under Governor James Oglethorpe in 1736, and was likely worn by many of the Scots who had settled along Cape Fear in North Carolina as early as 1729.
Myth #4: Clan Crest Badges date back many centuries
The notion that what is commonly referred to as a “clan crest badge” is derived from some supposedly historical practice of Scottish noblemen giving their retainers a metal representation of their heraldic crest to wear suspended from a leather strap and buckle, which was coiled about the crest when not being worn, as described by Margaret O. MacDougall in Robert Bain’s The Clans and Tartans of Scotland, is a modern fiction. Nowhere in any of the early works on Highland Dress by authors such as James Logan, David Stewart of Garth, R. R. McIan, or Charles Niven MacIntyre North is there any mention of the clansman’s crest-badge. It is not until the latter half of the 19th century, during the Victorian era, that clan crest badges in the form of a heraldic crest surrounded by a “strap and buckle” design borrowed directly from the insignia of the English Order of the Garter first make their appearance in the artwork of Kenneth MacLeay who painted a series of portraits in 1869 which were published in a volume entitled “The Highlanders of Scotland.” It should be noted that during that early period of the clan crest-badge’s development, the strap and buckle surround was not indicative of a follower of a clan chief, as MacLeay painted clan chiefs such as The Chisholm wearing exactly this style of crest badge on both his kilt and his bonnet while earlier portraits pre-dating the Victorian era show a complete absence of clan crest-badges of the style known today. It is thought that the use of heraldic cap badges surrounded by the strap and buckle Order of the Garter style insignia was first introduced by the British military regiments whose regimental cap-badges often included the Garter-style surround. Among certain Scottish military regiments such as the 5th Territorial Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, raised by the Duke of Sutherland in 1859, minature silver eagle’s feathers were worn behind the regimental cap badge to indicate the officer’s rank; with a single feather designating a lieutenant, two a captain, three a major, and four feathers a colonel. This style would later be adopted by civilians in the wearing of minature silver eagles feathers to indicate whether the wearer was an armiger, a chieftain, or a clan chief. “The use of feathers is one of custom and convention, and has no legal basis” (Opinion of the Lord Lyon King of Arms; from the Clan Convention at The Scottish Parliament; 25 July 2009; afternoon session).
Myth #5: The status of Clan Chief is subject to the determination of the Lord Lyon
While the Lord Lyon is the foremost authority and arbiter in matters pertaining to the legal protection and use of coats of arms recorded in Scotland’s Lyon Register, he has no power to determine the status of Clan Chiefship. This is made clear in the Introduction to the Law of Scotland, 9th edition, 1987, p. 25, where we read: “The Lord Lyon King of Arms has jurisdiction, subject to appeal to the Court of Session and the House of Lords, in questions of heraldry, and the right to bear arms. (Hunter v. Weston (1882) 9 R 492, Mackenzie v. Mackenzie (1920) S.C. 764, affd. 1922 S.C. (H.L.) 39.) He has no jurisdiction to determine rights of precedence (Royal College of Surgeons v. Royal College of Physicians, 1911 S.C. 1054.), nor to decide a disputed question of chiefship or chieftainship. (Maclean of Ardgour v. Maclean, 1938 S.L.T. 49; and see 1941 S.C. 613.)” This was determined in part by the case of Maclean of Ardgour v. Maclean, in which Lord Wark stated: “I agree with your Lordships that Lyon has no jurisdiction to entertain a substantive declarator of chiefship of a Highland clan, or of chieftainship of a branch of a clan….The question of chiefship of a Highland clan, or chieftainship of a branch of a clan, is not in itself, in my opinion, a matter which involves any interest which the law can recognise. At most, it is a question of social dignity or precedence. In so far as it involves social dignity it is a dignity which, in my opinion, is unknown to the law. It was decided in the case College of Surgeons of Edinburgh v. College of Physicians of Edinburgh (1911 S.C. 1054), that Lyon has no jurisdiction except as is conferred by statute, or is vouched by the authority of an Institutional writer, or by continuous and accepted practice of the Lyon Court….in my opinion, there is no practice or precedent which entitled Lyon to decide a question of disputed chiefship or chieftainship, either by itself or incidentally to a grant of arms….But it is a different thing altogether to say that in a case of dispute Lyon has jurisdiction to determine and declare who is chief. For that no precedent has been cited to us. In my opinion, it is outwith his jurisdiction to decide because (1) at best it is a question merely of social status or precedence; (2) this social status is not one recognised by law; and (3) and, most important of all, it depends, not upon any principle of law of succession which can be applied by a Court of Law, but upon recognition by the clan itself. Like your Lordship, I am at a loss to understand how any determination or decree of Lyon ever could impose upon a clan a head which it did not desire to acknowledge.”
Myth #6: – Scotland is what makes the Scots “Scottish”
Britain circa 600 AD. Areas occupied by Scots shown in green.
The original Scots were not native to the country now called Scotland (which did not exist until the High Middle Ages), but were a tribe of Gaels who inhabited the north of Ireland. These Gaels or Scotti, as they were known to the Romans, eventually established an outpost colony called Dalriada in what is now Argyllshire around the year 500 A.D. About 350 years later, Kenneth MacAlpine, a descendant of both the royal lines of the Irish Scots of Dalriada and of the Picts (who were descendants of the native Britons that inhabited the non-Romanized northern third of Britain) united both tribes to form the Kingdom of Alba, which would eventually become known as “Scotland” several centuries later. At one time Ireland was referred to (in Latin) as Scotia after the Gaels or Scotti. When the Scotti emigrated to the northern third of Britain, that part of Britain came to be known as Scotia Minor while Ireland was known as Scotia Major. We know that the Gaels were also the Goths, Guts, Gots, all from Gutland, Carruthersland, who settled in Northern Ireland and Northwest Scotland at an earlier time, then when they came to Scotland in 450 A. D.
These Irish Scots, together with the Picts and some Viking admixture, became the ancestors of the Highlanders. The Lowland Scots were descended mainly from the native Celtic Britons and Picts together with a bit of admixture from the Angles who came to Britain from Germany during the Dark Ages and settled in Bernicia (Northumbria). The majority of the population of Britain however is descended from the native Celtic Britons, a people who the Germanic Anglo-Saxons referred to as Welas meaning “strangers”, from which the modern words Welsh and Wales are derived. The Britons of Ystrad Clud, Rheged, and Goddodin, which were located in the Scottish Lowlands were ethnically and culturally the same people who are known as the Welsh today, though in Scotland they became the ancestors of the Lowland Scots.
The Gaels who first came to Ireland from the European continent by way of Spain were of Scythian origin. Scythia was a vast region that in ancient times encompassed much of Eastern Europe including present day Ukraine and the Caucasus. The Scythians were known by many names: Scyths, Sacae, Skuthes, Skuda, Scoloti, etc. (meaning “archers”) and from them the Gaelic tribe known as the Scotti or Scots is descended. It was in that part of Scythia, located along the current Polish-Ukranian border, that the ancient province of Galicia is found. Galicia was the original homeland of the Gallic people, who were the earliest ancestors of the Gauls of Europe, and the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland. This history is recalled in the words of the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, addressed to the Pope in 1320:
“Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since.”
The “chronicles and books of the ancients” referred to in the Declaration are undoubtedly the annals contained in the medieval Irish text known as the Lebor Gabala Erenn (Book of the Conquest of Ireland), which describes how the Gaels originated in Scythia and made their way across Europe until they at long last reached Ireland, their prophesied destination:
“Now Feinius had two sons: Nenual, [one of the two] whom he left in the princedom of Scythia behind him; Nel, the other son, at the Tower was he born. Now he was a master of all the languages; wherefore one came [to summon him] from Pharaoh, in order to learn the multiplicity of languages from him. But Feinius came out of Asia to Scythia, whence he had gone for the building of the Tower; so that he died in the princedom of Scythia, at the end of forty years, and passed on the chieftainship to his son, Nenual. At the end of forty two years after the building of the Tower, Ninus son of Belus took the kingship of the world…..Now that is the time when Gaedel Glas (from whom are the Gaels descended), was born……Now Sru son of Esru son of Gaedel, he it is who was chieftain for the Gaels who went out of Egypt after Pharaoh was drowned with his host in the Red Sea of Israel: Seven hundred and seventy years from the Flood till then. Four hundred and forty years from that time in which Pharaoh was drowned, and after Sru son of Esru came out of Egypt, till the time when the sons of Mil came into Ireland.….Forty and Four ships’ companies strong went Sru out of Egypt. There were twenty-four wedded couples and three hirelings for every ship. Sru and his son Eber Scot, they were the chieftains of the expedition. It is then that Nenual son of Baath, son of Nenual, son of Feinius Farsaid, prince of Scythia, died; and Sru also died immediately after reaching Scythia….Eber Scot took by force the kingship of Scythia from the progeny of Nenual, till he fell at the hands of Noemius son of Nenual…..For that reason was the seed of Gael driven forth upon the sea, to wit Agnomain and Lamfhind his son, so that they were seven years on the sea, skirting the world on the north side. More than can be reckoned are the hardships which they suffered….they had three ships with a coupling between them, that none of them should move away from the rest. They had three chieftains after the death of Agnomain on the surface of the great Caspian Sea, Lamfhind and Allot and Caicher the druid….It is Caicher who spoke to them,….Caicher the druid said: Rise, said he, we shall not rest until we reach Ireland. What place is that ‘Ireland’ said Lamfhind son of Agnomain. Further than Scythia is it, said Caicher. It is not ourselves who shall reach it, but our children, at the end of three hundred years from today….Thereafter they settled in the Maeotic Marshes…..It is that Brath who came out of the Marshes along the Torrian Sea to Crete and to Sicily. They reached Spain thereafter. They took Spain by force…..Four ships’ companies strong came the Gael to Spain: in every ship fourteen wedded couples and seven unwed hirelings…..Brath had a good son named Breogan, by whom was built the Tower and the city – Braganza was the city’s name. From Breogan’s Tower it was that Ireland was seen; an evening of a day of winter Ith son of Breogan saw it.”
18th century illustration of a Pictish warrior
The Scythian origin of the Scots is also recorded in the text known as Chronica de Origine Antiquorum Pictorum (The Pictish Chronicle), which is based on an earlier work, dating to the 7th century, entitled Etymologiae by Isidore of Seville, who wrote: “The race of the Picts has a name derived from the appearance of their bodies. These are played upon by a needle working with small pricks and by the squeezed-out sap of a native plant, so that they bear the resultant marks according to the personal rank of the individual, their painted limbs being tattooed to show their high birth. The Scots, now incorrectly referred to as Irishmen, are really Scotti, because they originated from the land of the Scythians…..It is a well known fact that the Britons arrived in Britain during the third Age of Man (the time between Abraham and David), while the Scotti, that is the Scots, migrated into Scotia or Ireland during the fourth Age of Man (the time between David and Daniel). The Scythian people are born with white hair due to the everlasting snow; and the colour of their hair gives name to the people, and thus they are called Albani: From this people both Scots and Picts descend. Their eyes are so brightly coloured that they are able to see better by night than by day. The Albani people were also neighbours with the Amazones. The Scythian territory was once so large that it reached from India in the east, through the marshland of Meotidas (the Sea of Azov), till the borders of Germania.”
18th century illustration of a Pictish woman
The Picts were simply non-Romanised Britons, as the Romans didn’t conquer the entire island of Britain, they ended up building a coast to coast fortification (Hadrian’s Wall) to separate Romanised Britain from the non-Romanised Britons living in the northern third of the island of Britain. Because the Britons living north of Hadrian’s Wall were not under Roman control, they retained their own indigenous native Celtic culture and language, whereas the Britons living south of Hadrian’s wall were more influenced by Roman ways and manners. The names Briton and Britain themselves come from the Celtic words Prytani and Prydain, which the Britons used to refer to themselves and their island. These words are derived from the Celtic root word Pryd, meaning “to mark” or “draw” and refer to the native Briton practice of painting or tattooing their skin with designs using a dye or ink obtained from the woad plant which produces a blue color; a trait described by Herod of Antioch in the 3rd century A.D., who wrote: “The Britons incise on their bodies coloured pictures of animals, of which they are very proud.” So the Britons (or Prytani, as they called themselves in their own language) were the “painted” or “tattooed people”. This is something Julius Caesar himself remarked about in his journals when he invaded Britain in 54 B.C.: “The mainland of Britain is inhabited by a people who claim to be indigenous to the island, on the coast live the immigrant Belgae, who crossed over for war and pillage, but settled to cultivate the land…Those living inland do not sow grain but live on milk and meat and wear clothes of animal hides. All Britons paint their skin with woad which makes them blue and more terrifying to confront in battle.”
The immigrant Belgae, mentioned by Caesar as having settled on the coast of Britain, were a group of Gallic tribes which included the Cimbri, who had formerly inhabited the Himmerland in the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, prior to the occupation of that region by the Germanic Danes The Greek historian Plutarch mentions the Cimbri in his Life of Gaius Marius, written in 75 AD:
“There are those who say that Gaul was once wide and large enough to reach from the furthest sea and the arctic regions to the Maeotic Sea eastward, where it bordered on Pontic Scythia, and from that point on the Gauls and Scythians were mingled together….so that the whole legion was generally known by the name of Gallo-Scythians. Others say that the Cimmerii, anciently known to the Greeks, were only a small part of the nation, who were driven out upon some quarrel among the Scythians, and passed all along from the Maeotic Sea to Asia, under the conduct of one Lygdamis; and that the greater and more warlike part of them still inhabit the remotest regions lying upon the outer ocean. These are said to live in a densely wooded country hardly penetrable by sunlight, the trees being so close and thick, extending into the interior as far as the Hercynian forest….and from this region the people, anciently called Cimmerii, and thereafter, by a slight change, Cimbri”
Somewhat earlier, in about 60 B.C., Diodorus Siculus wrote: “They [the Britons] are so noted for a fierce and warlike people that some have thought them to be those that anciently overran all of Asia [Minor] and were then called “Cimmerians,” and who are now (through length of time) with a little alteration called Cimbrians” [Brythonic: “Cymru”].” The Cimbri, or Cymric tribes as they were known in Britain, were descendants of the ancient Cimmerians who originally inhabited what is now the Crimea on the northern shores of the Black Sea bordering Scythia, until they were scattered after generations of intramural struggles for rulership with competing Scythian tribes; not unlike the events described in the Lebor Gabala Erenn.
While the Britons living in the southern two-thirds of Britain became more “civilized” under Roman military rule and adopted Roman ways and manners, the Britons living in the northern third of the island beyond Roman control retained their own native Celtic customs and practices, which included tattooing their skin with woad. Thus by the end of the third century AD, the Romans began to refer to the Britons living in the northern third of the island as the “Picti” or Picts (from the Latin word Pictus, meaning “painted”). The term Pict first appears in a in a verse praising the emperor Constantius Chlorus written by the Roman orator Eumenius in 297 AD; while in 416 A.D. the Roman poet Claudian wrote:”This legion, set to guard the furthest Britons, curbs the savage Scot and studies the designs marked with iron on the face of the dying Pict”.
Thus it is not the country of Scotland that makes its native inhabitants Scots, but rather it is the Scots themselves who, by inhabiting the northern third of Britain, made the country that came to be called Scotland “Scottish.”
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