OT: 10 September 1927 – D. [“The Clan Macrae Chiefship”]

The Oban Times, 10 September, 1927 

[The Clan Macrae Chiefship] 

 27 August, 1927 

 Sir,–There is reason to suppose that the fact that the Macraes of Kintail were merely tenants (or some of them,wadsetters) on the lands of the Earls of Seaforth inclines some persons to the belief that there could not have been a Macrae chief. The Rev. Alexander Macrae brings forward this point in his letter in your issue of 13th inst., in which he refers to the present representatives of the Inverinate family as making “the Macraes the Clan (which could only mean the servantors) of a tenant farmer, or at most a wadsetter, for that is what the heads of the Inverinate family really were.” 

Until so late as 1680 Cluny Macpherson, the head of the Macpherson Clan, was merely a removable tenant (a “tenant farmer”) of the Earls of Huntley in respect of Cluny (“three plenches”); and one reads that at the Battle of Glenlivet (1594) the “Chief of the Macphersons with his men fought on the side of the Earl of Huntley.” Huntley was his “territorial” chief, just as Seaforth was the “territorial” chief of the Macraes of Kintail. In principle, therefore, there is no reason why the head of the Inverinate family, although a “tenant farmer, or at most a wadsetter,” should not have been looked upon by the Kintail Macraes as their “clan” chief. The connection between the Kintail Macraes and their “territorial” chief (Seaforth) was undoubtedly close, but that is not to be wondered at, for Seaforth’s Castle, Eilean Donan, was situated in their midst. 

Masters in Bond of Union 

Although Seaforth was not the “clan” chief of the Kintail Macrae’s it is quite correct to refer to him as their “master.” The word “Masters” occurs in the “Bond of Union by and betwixt the Tribes of Clan Chattan, 1609,” thus “. . . . The Lord Marquis of Huntley and the Earl of Moray “their Masters” being excepted. . . . ” Neither Huntley nor Moray was the “clan” chief of any of the tribes of the Clan Chattan. According to the old usage the landlord and the subject-superior were respectively, “master” in relation to a tenant and “superior” in relation to a vassal. This may be seen in the following quotation from Lord President Forbes “Memorial regarding the Highland Clans” (printed in appendix to vol. I. of Stewart of Garth’s “Sketches”). . . . . his [the Duke of Gordon’s] extensive 

jurisdiction and superiorities in the centre Highlands, viz., Badenoch, Lochaber, and Strathspey, do not yield him any followers. The tenants on his own property, as well as those who hold their lands of him in feu. follow their natural-born Chief, of whom they are descended, and pay no regard either to the Masters or superior of their lands. Thus the Cameron’s follow Lochiel, the Macphersons follow Clunie, and other chiefs are followed and obeyed in the same manner from respect, family attachment, and consanguinity.” 

The Rev. Alexander Macrae has stated elsewhere that “Seaforth was the only owner, and therefore the only one that could be a chief in that country [Kintail]. . . .” 

“Now a chief was a petty king, ruling absolutely with power of life and death over all the people living on his territories, no matter what their names might be. It was not their names that made them his subjects or relatives or clan, but the fact that they were living on his land. In fact-the family name in those olden days was a matter of little consequence.” 

Importance of Consanguinity 

This ignores the importance of consanguinity (which is so strongly brought out in the above quotation from Lord President Forbes’s “Memorial.”) In “Culloden Papers”–No. 343 entitled “Some thoughts concerning the State of the Highlands of Scotland,” written by Lord President Forbes of Culloden in (perhaps) 1746, there is a definition of a Highland Clan in which it is stated–”Some chiefs there are that have neither property nor jurisdiction, and that cutting off the present Chief does no more than make way for another.” It is clear that consanguinity (“blood is thicker than water”) is here indicated, and that “the family name in those olden days was a matter” of much consequence. 

In “The Clan Gillean” (by Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair) it is mentioned that:– 

“A clan includes, first, those who claim descent from a common ancestor, and use the name of that ancestor as their surname. It includes, secondly, all who have joined it by adopting its name as their own… 

A man who stands at the head of a clan and represents the founder of it, is known in Gaelic as “an ceann cinnidh,” the Kenkinnie, or clan head. The representative of a branch of a clan as known as “an ceann-taighe,” the kentie, or house-head. The word ‘ceann-cinnidh’ is generally rendered into English by the term chief, and the word ‘ceann-taighe’ by the term chieftain…” 

Word “Chief” in Two Senses 

“The English word chief is used in two distinct senses in connection with clans. It is used first, as the equivalent of the word kenkinnie; and secondly in the sense of feudal superior, or landlord . . .” 

This throws light upon what to some persons must seem somewhat perplexing, viz., the recognition by the Highland Society of London, in 1803, of Alexander Macrae (the representative of the Inverinate family) as Chief of Clan Macrae, when a Lord Seaforth (Francis Humberston Mackenzie, “High Chief of Kintail”) was alive and in possession of Kintail. It is clear that it was as “ceann-cinnidh” that Alexander Macrae received this recognition. 

Murdoch McRaw the Kintail man, who was hanged at Inverness in 1746 by order of the Duke of Cumberland on a charge of being a spy, was “nearest relation to the chieftain of that name” (Farquhar Macrae of Inverinate), according to the accounts applied to Bishop Forbes in 1749 by the Rev. James Hay, episcopal minister in Inverness. It is reasonable to suppose that Farquhar Macrae was looked upon in Kintail as the Macrae chief, and this could only be in his capacity as “ceann cinnidh.” (It is not uncommon to find the words “chief” and “chieftain” used indiscriminately). 

In these days when “money speaks” (through a megaphone), the importance in the past of consanguinity in the constitution of the Highland Clan may not be apparent to some members of Clan Macrae (who, it may be, would wish to “remove the ancient landmarks”); but thoughtful Macraes will see the proceedings in the Macrae case in the Lyon Court in their true perspective, and will recognize the significance in the Clan annals of such events as, for example, the signing at Ballachulish in 1702–when the House of Kintail was at the zenith of its power–of the Bond of Friendship with Campbell of Craignish–Farquhar McRa of Inverinate and other McCras (his kinsmen) on that occasion signing “in name and on behalf of the hail remnant gentlemen and others, of the said name of Ra, in Kintail and elsewhere lineally descendent of their forbearers and predecessors.”–I am, etc.,