From the Creator: Some history of Clans in Scotland


Our current storyline involving Eric North, finds him questioning his loyalties and his ties to the Vampyres in comparison to those of his Clan and his country.  He owes much to the Vampyres and has been one of them for a great many centuries. We will see in future episodes though that his ties to the Clan MaCleod go back as far, or further than the ties to the Vampyres. In order to understand why Eric might be so willing to put the Clan and Country, as well as Judith, ahead of any allegiance to the Vampyres, it might help to have some background history and information on the Clan systems of the Highlands along with their importance and impact on their members lives and self identities. It might also help us in understanding some of Brennie’s difficulties in accepting her place in the Vampyre world over the centuries. Both Brennie and Eric have feelings of loyalties and bonds outside of the Vampyre realm though for the most part they have managed to maintain their loyalty to the Vampyres.

Eric and friends5

Eric’s thoughts:

Eric in the Castle

Eric’s memories


Most people tend to assume that Clan refers to family connections. In some areas it does.  The Scottish/Gaelic Clan membership includes a much broader group of membership. It is a common misconception that every person who bears a clan’s name is a lineal descendant of the chiefs. Many clansmen although not related to the chief took the chief’s surname as their own to show solidarity, or for basic protection, or for much needed sustenance.

The Scottish Clan system was based more on a form of  feudal organization than strictly  family connections. Their existence goes back to before the year 1000 AD and was the basis for Highland government until they were essentially destroyed by the British in 1745. When the British took over ruling authority in 1745, they set into place strict rules that would take away all power and sense of allegiance or affiliation to separate clans. They sought to eliminate completely the history and culture of the highland Clans in order to bring those people into British control rather than separate Clan control.

In the most ancient history of the clans, the Chief or founder of a clan would have been one chosen as leader of that group by the members. It then developed into a highly complex system of government based on those original leaders.

To look at the Clan as a family connection or grouping is far too basic or simplistic for the system that evolved from the beginnings of small family or warrior groups that banded together in order to survive. Over the centuries, Clan membership cut across all lines of class, status, religions, initial family connections  or other allegiances.  As mentioned earlier, many of those who swore allegiance to a certain clan would give up their original family ties, or surnames for that of the Clan which was offering them protection and much needed benefits. People often speak of “old” families or lineage, while in reality no family is older than any other. It is just that some families can easier trace their lineages back with documented records. This generally applies to aristocracies and Royal family lines in other countries. In the Scottish Highlands, virtually everyone can trace their history back to one of the historic ruling clans.

Sir Iain Moncreiffe  provided a description which appealed to all Highland descendants. He described it in this way, the sacred royal and dynastic origin of the founder chiefs, and thus of the clans themselves: the ultimate biological unity with the Sovereign that accounts for ‘Highland pride’ and ‘loyalty; In the end-papers of this book, Sir Iain sets out two conjectural family trees: The Galley, showing clan descent from the Norse King Ingiald, 7th century ruler of Uppsala, and The Lyon, showing clan descent from the Irish Eochu, King of Tara, father of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

The Highland Scottish Clan system and the people it includes can trace their origins and history back to Celtic beginnings in Ireland and the most ancient Norse migrations.


These ancient Norse migrations are the basis in our story for Eric North’s ancestry. Once his small family group arrived, they would have eventually become part of the Clan Mcleod, which has a long and rich history and claims connections to the Norse, and to Fairies in their documented accounts of their lineage!


Before we go into specific history of the clan Mcleod, it might be interesting and benefitial to understand some basics of Clan hierarchy with the Chief’s place and role in it.

Clan hierarchy and Chief

What is a Chief ?  A chief is properly described as Chief of the Name and Arms. He is head of the whole Clan name in Scotland. The description; Chief of the Clan is sometimes used although this is more properly a social description rather than a legal designation. The chief of the name and arms is entitled to wear three eagle’s feathers in his bonnet badge. Under the Chief are his designated branch rulers known as Chieftains.  A Chieftain is the head of a considerable branch of the name and was frequently called Chieftane of the Cuntrie. A chief will have one or more chieftains under his command although in the organization and leadership of their branch they will have considerable independence. The chief’s eldest son or heir presumptive is also considered to be a chieftain and in the major clans, all the chiefs’ sons may be considered to be chieftains. A chieftain of a clan is entitled to wear two eagle’s feathers in his bonnet badge. Having said that the head of a whole name is described as Chief; the law does recognize that there are different levels of chiefship to reflect the relative importance of the different names of Scotland.

In history, the Chief’s role was of high importance, but what of now days?  What use  is he or she when warfare has little use for claymore,  kilt or pipes?What use is a Chief when the economy of the clan no longer depends upon a communal agriculture close to the land of a single glen or island or district?  What use is a chief when boasting of great exploits or mighty position is more likely to bring  embarrassment than  cheers of  approval?

In spite of all these changes, the chief of a clan still is usually the center of leadership in whatever the clan does. What has changed is less the role of the chief than it is what the clan does. Where once it was the very essence of existence, the clan now is a valued adjunct to the more fundamental problems of earning a living in a money economy, and of being a good citizen in a modern community, a community caring little for ethnic attachments to past glories and ties. (Even in Scotland is this in a sense true.) The modern chiefs role can be seen then in terms of these clan activities and interests– supplemental to our everyday lives, but vital to the clan. Finally, a chief still serves as symbol, representative and leader of his great extended family.

Earliest forms of the Clan system and Chief’s role.

In Gaelic, clann means children, and, by extension, descendants. The head of each clan was often a “king,” which over the years evolved into “chief.” Members of the clan did not necessarily bear the same name. At first, only the chief and his family used fixed surnames to indicate their descent from the founder of the clan. Around the 17th century, the use of surnames among all clans in the Highlands became the norm.

In the early history of Scotland’s clans, to avoid corruption, the king was not permitted to own property. The clan provided for all his needs in return for his wise leadership.  Succession was hereditary within a family, with each clan electing a new king.   It was a unique system, whereby the lowest member shared a common bond with the king, in this way it differed from feudalism, in which each rank in society owed their lord everything. In those earliest days, just because you were the eldest son, that did not necessarily mean you would automatically become the next leader. The Clan members would meet and decide on who among the family was the best choice as leader of the group.

As the clan system developed, “broken” men –men without a connection to any clan–were allowed to join. Sometimes, tenants of clan lands who came from outside the clan became members after three generations of tenancy.   In spite of that affiliation, however, these tenants were still not considered blood members of the clan.  In yet another variation of membership, an entire clan or “sept” (a branch of a clan) could be accepted into another clan after losing the last of its chiefs or its territory.  Smaller clans sometime swore fealty to a larger clan for safety.

Traditionally, the men of the clan were called together by a fiery cross (crois taraidh), which was made from two pieces of burned, or burning, wood. A relay of runners tied the pieces of wood together with a rag soaked in blood and carried the cross from glen to glen.

Generally speaking, the men in most clans fought and hunted, while the women and older children did the work at home. A steady source of income for  some  clans  was “blackmeal,” or protection money, which the Lowlanders or other neighbors paid to buy off the raiders.

In spite of his often humble surroundings, a clan chief tended to create the kind of pageantry usually associated with royalty.  Whenever he traveled, his huge entourage followed. First, were his henchmen or personal bodyguard.  Next, came the bard (Seanachaidh).  It was the bard’s duty to record the chief’s heroic deeds, including those of the clan and the chief’s forebears.   Following the bard was the piper.  The piper ’s position was hereditary one, passing father to son. The bard and the piper often followed the chief into battle, “the former that he might witness with his own eyes his leader ’s acts of valour, and the latter to inspire the Clan to greater heroism by his playing,” wrote Scottish historian Fitzroy MacLean.  Next up was the chief’s spokesman (Bladaire), who functioned as a king of protocol officer.  The spokesman’s role was to issue proclamations for the chief or argue the chief’s position on a dispute.  Finally, bringing up the rear of the company was a ghillie, or two, who carried the chief’s broadsword and shield (targe).

The last rites given to a Highland clan chief were no less renowned for spectacle than his entourage.  Regardless of the distance, custom dictated that the chief had to be buried with his fathers.

The chief’s corpse was carried feet first, with the piper ’s place at the head. Tightly furled in front was the clan standard. Following behind were the Clansmen with drawn swords. Attending every funeral was the piper, whose music honored the dead as well as inspired the bearers on the march.   The women of the clan followed the funeral march as far as the first brook (burn).  At that point, they presented a cup of wine, which symbolized a prayer for the departed.

Because the distances to the burial ground could be quite lengthy, the custom of wakes began among the Gaelic-speaking descendants of both the Scots and the Irish.  Although they now have a reputation as being somewhat rowdy, wakes evolved gradually from the quiet, reverential vigils of Roman Catholicism.

Inclement weather was no obstacle to a proper and ceremonious burial for a Clan Chief.   In fact, if anything, it spurred the burial party to even greater pride in their duty as the procession chanted:  “Blessed be the corpse the rain rains on.”


History of Clan Mcleod and Dunvegan Castle

The Clan Macleod were the original founders of our story’s Dunvegan Castle and we will try to stay as close and true to their rich history as possible with our inclusion of them in the ongoing story! It might be of some interest to note here that they have been long associated with stories of Fairies and other such legendary figures… namely that of the rather famous immortal, Duncan Macleod of the Highlander series!



Clan MacLeod (/?klæn m?’kla?d/; Scottish Gaelic: Clann Mhic Leòid;  is a Highland Scottish clan associated with the Isle of Skye. There are two main branches of the clan: the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan, whose chief is Macleod of Macleod, are known in Gaelic as Sìol Tormoid (“seed of Tormod”); the Macleods of Lewis, whose chief is Macleod of The Lewes, are known in Gaelic as Sìol Torcaill (“seed of Torcall”). Both branches claim descent from Leòd, who lived in the 13th century.


The surname MacLeod means ‘son of Leod’. The name Leod is an Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic name Leòd, which is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse name Ljótr, meaning ugly. Clann means family, while mhic is the genitive of mac, the Gaelic for son, and Leòid is the genitive of Leòd. The whole phrase therefore means The family of the son of Leod.
The Clan MacLeod of Lewis claims its descent from Leod, who according to MacLeod tradition was a younger son of Olaf the Black, King of Mann (r.1229–1237). However, articles have been published in the Clan MacLeod magazine which suggest an alternative genealogy for Leod, one in which he was not son of Olaf, but a 3rd cousin (some removed) from Magnus the last King of Mann. In these alternative genealogies, using the genealogy of Christina MacLeod, great granddaughter of Leod, who married Hector Reaganach (McLean/McLaine) these articles suggest that the relationship to the Kings of Mann was through a female line, that of Helga of the beautiful hair. The dating of Christina’s genealogy and the ability to line it up with known historical facts lend a great deal of authenticity to the claims of the authors.


MacLeod tradition is that Leod who had possession of Harris and part of Skye, married a daughter of the Norse seneschal of Skye, MacArailt or Harold’s son who held Dunvegan and much of Skye. Tradition stated that Leod’s two sons, Tormod and Torquil, founded the two main branches of the Clan MacLeod, Siol Tormod and Siol Torquil. Torquil was actually a grandson of Tormod; Torquil’s descendants held the lands of the Isle of Lewis until the early seventeenth century when the Mackenzies successfully overthrew the Lewismen,[3] partly with the aid of the Morrisons, and the MacLeods of Harris (Siol Tormod). Younger branches of Siol Torquil held the mainland lands of Assynt and Cadboll longer, and the Isle of Raasay until 1846.[3] Siol Tormod held Harris and Glenelg on the mainland, and also the lands of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.

Leod, according to tradition, died around 1280 and was buried on the holy island of Iona, where six successive chiefs of the clan found a last resting-place after him.[4]


A DNA project studying the Y-DNA of males bearing surnames associated with Clan MacLeod found that the vast majority of the men tested had a Haplogroup of R1b, which is the most common Haplogroup in the British Isles. A total of 32% of all men tested, who were also in this R1b Haplogroup, also shared the same Haplotype and showed this group shared a common ancestor.

A romanticised depiction of a McLeod by R. R. McIan in 1845.
According to the study, this 32% of MacLeods tested had a common ancestor within 1000 years (some will have a common ancestor earlier but all who match with another of the surname with 23/25, 33/37, 62/67 markers share the same more distanct ancestor), thus this Haplotype is considered to show the founding lineage of the Clan MacLeod.[5] While the study could not prove a “Viking” origin of the clan, the study claimed the DNA of this group showed that the clan was founded by a man who could have originated in Scotland or the Isle of Man. It should be noted however, that the R1b haplogroup is found at 30% frequency in Norway and that the studies of the haplogroup R1b are very fluid.


Of further note on the history of the Clan Macleod is the history of the Castle Dunvegan, which we have covered previously, and the ancient artifacts that are related to the clan and the Castle. Those being the The Fairy Flag, Ruiaidh Mor’s drinking horn, The Dunvegan Cup.

Ruiaidh Mor’s drinking horn
A drinking horn, made from ox horn, with a silver tip. Named for Sir Rory Mor (Ruiaidh Mor MacLeod) clan chief who lived from 1562-1626. Some historians suggest that it actually dates from the 10th century and is of Norse origin. Clan tradition says that the chief must prove himself by drinking a full measure of wine from the horn.

The Fairy Flag
In a special display case within the castle is the prize possession of Clan MacLeod; the Fairy Flag. This is the Highlands, and you almost expect myths and fantastical tales to appear around every corner, but even so, the Fairy Flag is something special.

There are several versions of the story, so you are free to choose your own! One story goes that a chief of Clan MacLeod fell in love with a ‘bean sidhe‘, a fairy princess. The princess’s father was against the marriage, but his daughter pled to be allowed to marry the chief until the father agreed to a period of handfasting. This was a sort of trial marriage that lasted for a year and a day. At the end of the handfasting period the princess was to return to the fairy realms, and bring with her nothing from the human world.

The agreement was made, and for a year the couple lived happily at Dunvegan. A son was born to them, but at the end of the handfasting period the princess bade a tearful farewell to her husband at the Fairy Bridge, not far from the castle. She made her husband promise that the baby would never be allowed to cry, for the sound of his cries would disturb her even in the fairy realms. The distraught chief agreed, but the depth of his grief alarmed his clan members. They thought to cheer him up and organised a large party for his birthday, to take his minf off his loss. The revellers celebrated long into the night, and the young nursemaid assigned to guard the baby crept from her post to watch the revels.

You can perhaps guess what happened next; the baby kicked off his coverlet and began to cry, and the mother heard him from far away in her fairy realm. She appeared by his cradle, wrapped the baby in her shawl, and sang a lullaby to nurse him back to sleep. The nurse returned, and though could hear the lullaby she could not see the fairy mother. She took the child, still wrapped in the strange shawl, to see the chief, and told him what had happened.

When the child grew to be a young man he told his father a strange tale; that the shawl was a talisman, and that if the clan ever found themselves in danger they should wave the shawl three times and armies from the fairy realm would come to their aid. A powerful weapon indeed, but there was a catch; the fairy flag could only be used three times, then it would return to the fairy realms, taking with it the one who waved the flag.

Dunvegan cup, Fairie Flag and rory mors horn

Dunvegan cup, Fairie Flag and rory mors horn

remnants of the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan

remnants of the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan

The Fairy Flag has been used twice; once when the clan was in battle against their bitter enemies the MacDonalds. The clan chief waved the flag three times and the tide of the battle turned in the MacLeod’s favour. The second time the MacLeod cattle herds were stricken with plague and the clan members were dying of starvation. The chief waved the flag and the fairies returned the cattle to health.

Another tradition says that the Fairy Flag was guarded by hereditary standard bearers, and only the eldest male of this family was allowed to unfurl the flag. The very first standard bearer was honoured by being buried in the tomb of the clan chief on Iona.

During World War II many MacLeod servicemen carried a photo of the Fairy Flag in their wallets, and it is claimed that no airman who carried the photo was lost in the Battle of Britain. The chief of Clan MacLeod famously offered to bring the flag to Dover and wave it at the Germans should they invade Britain. Thankfully his intervention was not required, and the Fairy Flag is still waiting its third use. In the meantime it sits in a special display case in Dunvegan Castle.

A fanciful myth? Perhaps, but where does the flag actually come from? Scientific tests on the fabric reveal that it is made of silk from Rhodes or Syria, and dates to sometime between the 4th and 7th centuries. So it is of very ancient provenance. One story suggests that it was brought back from the Holy Land by a crusader.


The Dunvegan Cup
This is a late 15th century ceremonial cup made of wood decorated with silver. It was created in 1493 for Caitriona, wife of John Maguire of Fermanagh. How did it come to Dunvegan? History is vague on this point. One legend says it was a gaift of faeries.




3 thoughts on “From the Creator: Some history of Clans in Scotland

  1. Pingback: From the Creator: Some history of Clans in Scotland | Time Slips

  2. Pingback: Eleanor’s Journal: The depths of Eric’s past… from Norseland, to Vampyres and Romans | Time Slips

  3. Pingback: Outlander: The Gathering and some Shinty! | Time Slips

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