As the civil wars of the Three Kingdoms broke out in the early 17th century the Covenanters were supported by the territorially ambitious Argyll Clan Campbell and the Clan Sutherland, both powerful Highland clans, as well as some clans of the central Highlands opposed to the Royalist House of Huntly. While some clans remained neutral, others led by Montrosesupported the Royalist cause, projecting their feudal obligations to clan chiefs onto the Royal House of Stuart, resisting the demands of the Covenanters for commitment and reacting to the ambitions of the larger clans. In the Wars of 1644-47, the most prominent Royalist clan were Clan Donald led by Alasdair MacColla.
With the Restoration of Charles II, Episcopalianism became widespread among clans as it suited the hierarchical clan structure and encouraged obedience to Royal authority, while some other clans were converted by Catholic missions. In 1682 James Duke of York, Charles’ brother, instituted the Commission for Pacifying the Highlands which worked in co-operation with the clan chiefs in maintaining order as well as redressing Campbell acquisitiveness, and when he became King James VII he retained popularity with Highlanders. All these factors contributed to continuing support for the Stuarts when James was deposed by William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution.
Clan support, their remoteness from authority and the ready mobilisation of the clan hosts made the Highlands the starting point for the Jacobite Risings. In Scottish Jacobite ideology the Highlander symbolised patriotic purity as against the corruption of the Union, and as early as 1689 some Lowlanders wore “Highland habit” in the Jacobite army.
Decline of the Clan system
Successive Scottish governments had portrayed the clans as bandits needing occasional military expeditions to keep them in check and extract taxes. As Highlanders became associated with Jacobitism and rebellion the government made repeated efforts to curb the clans, culminating with brutal repression after the battle of Culloden. This followed in 1746 with the Act of Proscription, further measures making restrictions on their ability to bear arms, traditional dress, culture, and even music. The Heritable Jurisdictions Act removed the feudalauthority the Clan Chieftains had once enjoyed.
With the failure of Jacobitism the clan chiefs and gentry increasingly became landlords, losing the traditional obligations of clanship. They were incorporated into the British aristocracy, looking to the clan lands mainly to provide them with a suitable income. From around 1725 clansmen had been emigrating to North America; both clan gentry looking to re-establish their lifestyle, or as victims of raids on the Hebrides looking for cheap labour. Increasing demand in Britain for cattle and sheep led to higher rents with surplus clan population leaving in the mass migration later known as the Highland Clearances, finally undermining the traditional clan system.
The Ossian poems of James Macpherson in the 1760s suited the Romantic enthusiasm for the “sublime” “primitive” and achieved international success with a disguised elegy for the Jacobite clans, set in the remote past. They were presented as translations of ancient ballads, a fraud caustically dismissed by Dr. Samuel Johnson. This damaged the reputation of the poems, but their artistic merit had widespread influence.
Shortly before or after the Dress Act restricting kilt wearing was repealed in 1782, Highland aristocrats set up Highland Societies in Edinburgh and other centres including London and Aberdeen, landowners’ clubs with aims including “Improvements” (which others would later call the Highland Clearances). Clubs like the Celtic Society of Edinburgh included Highland chieftains and Lowlanders taking an interest in the clans. The success of the historical novels of Sir Walter Scottas well as the pomp surrounding the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822 spurred 19th century interest in the clans and a reawakening of Scottish culture and pride.
The revival of interest, and demand for clan ancestry, has led to the production of lists and maps covering the whole of Scotland giving clan names and showing territories, sometimes with the appropriate tartans. While some lists and clan maps confine their area to the Highlands, others also show Lowland clans or families. Territorial areas and allegiances changed over time, and there are also differing decisions on which (smaller) clans and families should be omitted. Some alternative online sources are listed in the External links section below.
This list of Clans contains clans registered with the Lord Lyon Court. The Lord Lyon Court defines a clan or family as a legally recognised group, but does not differentiate between Families and Clans as it recognises both terms as being interchangeable. Clans or families thought to have had a Chief in the past but not currently recognised by the Lord Lyon are listed at Armigerous clans.