OT: 22 January 1921 – Alexander Macrae “The Clan MacRae”

The Oban Times, 22 January, 1921

The Clan MacRae


Shephall Rectory, Stevenage, Herts, 12 January, 1921

Sir,–As some references have been made in the MacRae controversy, now going on in your columns, regarding my history of the Clan, and to the question of a “MacRae Chief,” about which there still seems to be a great deal of misconception, I hope you will be so good as to give me space for the statement of a few facts which have some bearing upon that question.

There is a MS. history of the Clan MacRae written by the Rev. John Macrae, of Dingwall, who died in 1704. In this history there is no mention or even hint of a Macrae Chief, or of any other Kintail Chief except Seaforth. In fact, he speaks of the Baron or Chief of Kintail as the “Master” of Finlay Dubh Mac Gilchrist, the founder of that branch of the Macraes, whose history he records thus acknowledging the chiefship of the House of Kintail from the very beginning.

This MS. history was continued by Farquhar Macrae of Inverinate, who died in 1789, but he makes no mention of a Macrae Chief. Both the Rev. John of Dingwall and Farquhar of Inverinate were naturally anxious to make the most of their own family, for whom the “chiefship” is now claimed, and if there ever have been such a chiefship it is quite inconceivable that they should make no reference of any kind to it.

In Mackenzies History of the Mackenzies (revised edition, page 7), it is shown that the Barons of Kintail had a powerful following of Macraes before the Clan Mackenzie came into existence. The Macraes were thus his clan in an older and closer sense than any of the Mackenzies ever were, for there were no Mackenzies in Kintail at any time, and he was Chief of the Macraes in a closer sense then of any branch of the Mackenzies. Those who think that there was a chief for every Highland surname, and that all the lieges of every chief necessarily bore the same surname as himself, know little of Highland history.

We find constant contemporary references in the 18th century to Seaforth as the Chief of Kintail. Sir Walter Scott makes frequent mention of the Chief of Kintail. Now, a Seaforth rent roll of 1756 shows that at that time there were about 40 Macrae tenants in Kintail, all of them substantial man, so far as may be judged from the rents they paid, but there was not a single Mackenzie on the whole Kintail estate (i.e., the two parishes Kintail and Glenshiel). Of whom then was Seaforth as Chief of Kintail, the Chief of the Mackenzies who did not exist on his ancestral estate, or of the Macraes who occupied practically the whole of it? The answer to this question is surely obvious. Farquhar Macrae of Inverinate, for whom the chiefship of that period is claimed, is simply mentioned as one of the more substantial tenants, but the tenants of Morvich, Camusluinie and Torlysich paid higher rents than he, while the principal tenant on the estate, judging from his rent, was Alexander Macrae of Arvugan (or Ardintoul), father of Archibald of Ardintoul, who, I believe, was the last Chamberlain of Kintail, and died about 1830.

When the Macrae history was being written, an exhaustive search for material was made in the Record office, Edinburgh, and a considerable amount of valuable information was thus collected, but no reference was found to any Macrae chiefship, while there were abundant evidences of the Macrae chiefship of Seaforth. In the whole range of Highland history, there is not a single fact more clearly or more fully established then the fact that the Macraes of Kintail never claimed and never acknowledged any other chief than Seaforth.

When the Lord Lyon gave his decision in the famous Macrae coat of arms case, which he did after the most careful consideration, the defeated party might have appealed to the Court of Session, if they felt they had any possible case. As they did not do so, they ought to have accepted that decision with good grace and dropped the whole subject of chiefship and the Orangefield arms, to which the Lyon King decided that Sir Colin Macrae had no claim. Had they done so, the unity of the Clan would have been preserved, and they themselves and the whole Clan with them, would be in a much more dignified position to-day than they are.

With regard to the placing of shields in the Highlanders’ Memorial Church, I do not know enough of Scottish Heraldry to be able to add to anything that has already been said. I may say, however, that I do not believe MacRae of Orangefield had any connection with the Macraes of Kintail, though there is a vague tradition that there was such a connection, not, however, with the Inverinate family but with the Torlysich family–the Black Macraes as they were called. With regard to the names McBriar, McRaiche, and McCrach, considerable allowance must no doubt be made for the loose spelling of the 17th century, but taking these names as they stand, they are phonetically impossible as forms of the name Macrae.

In conclusion, let me say that all true Macraes must feel deeply gratified and highly honoured to know that the King has been graciously pleased to restore the ancient peerage of his family to the present representative of the House of Kintail, and of the only Chiefs that have ever been claimed or acknowledged by the Clan Macrae.–I am, etc.,

Alexander Macrae