How we became members of a notable Highland Clan

Life can be a strange old thing and at times, a journey full of totally unexpected twists and turns. One such meandering course in the path of life led myself and my wife to become life members of the Clan Macpherson Association.

The Clan Macpherson are one of the oldest and most illustrious clans of the Highlands of Scotland, able to trace their ancestry back through the centuries. They were one of the founding members of the great Clan Chattan Confederation and vied for its leadership with the powerful Clan Mackintosh, indeed, that issue still simmers in the background today.

Tradition states that Robert the Bruce granted the Macpherson lands in Badenoch to them on condition that they support him and wage war against his erstwhile enemies, the Comyns, who were rival contenders for the throne of Scotland.

At a later time, the Macphersons were ardent Jacobites and faithfully supported the Stuart line of kings. In 1745 the Clan Chief brought out 600 of his clansmen in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’. Although the Macphersons narrowly missed the cataclysmic battle of Culloden, they did fight at the battle of Clifton Moor in Westmoreland during the Jacobite retreat from Derby. It was the last action fought by a Scottish army in England.


They also helped to facilitate the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie to France after the collapse of the Jacobite cause. For their Jacobite sympathies and armed opposition to the Hanoverian regime, Cluny Castle, the seat of the clan chief was put to the torch and their lands were made forfeit. Their chief, Euan Macpherson, was forced into hiding for nine years until finally escaping to France in 1755, where he died in exile the year after. Cluny Castle was to be rebuilt in 1784.

Euan's son, Duncan, was able to restore the family lands by virtue of his military service to the British crown during the American war of independence. Over the years since then the Macphersons have lost most of their original lands in Badenoch. The Cluny estate was bankrupt by the end of the 19th century and the land and castle were sold off. The last big Macpherson land sale was that of the estate of the Glentruim branch of the family at the end of the 20th century.

The Highlands have never been an easy place to make the kind of money necessary to facilitate the running of a great estate, and many of the old landed families have found themselves unable to continue on their ancestral domains. Today unfortunately, many have fallen into the hands of wealthy foreign absentee landlords who use them for their own private pleasure

Back in May 2008, we were looking at a very interesting work opportunity in the vicinity of the town of Newtonmore, right in the heart of Macpherson country. We travelled up to Inverness in May 2008 to take a look at the area between there and Badenoch, to see where we might be relocating. We had no great knowledge of the Clan Macpherson at that point, apart from being aware of the clan museum based in Newtonmore. It appeared to be an interesting place to visit whilst we were in the area.

We drove to Newtonmore on a lovely sunny day from Inverness, and were made most welcome by the very friendly staff and clan members at the museum. There was a special exhibition going on at the time and it was extremely interesting to meet the people involved in it. We were also invited to attend an informal ceilidh at the museum that was very enjoyable. The truth of Highland warmth and hospitality was certainly much in evidence.

At the Macpherson Museum in Newtonmore

We loved the whole atmosphere of the day and the open and welcoming friendliness of the people, such a refreshing contrast to the oppressive unfriendliness to be found in London where we currently live. We both felt that we wanted to do something constructive for the museum, so we offered to translate the visitor information into Russian for them. My wife is a native speaking expert on the Russian language and has a superb knowledge of Russian grammar.

At the same time we asked about becoming members of the Clan Macpherson Association, which is usually restricted to those of Macpherson descent or descent from one of the clans accepted septs. Our membership request was laid before the clan chief himself by the clan’s registrar and given our useful service to the clan museum, we were welcomed into the association as life members, something that we both greatly cherish.

In the end the work opportunity in Badenoch did not pan out for us unfortunately. However, we became members of one of the most illustrious clans in Scotland instead, something we did not envisage at all when we headed off from Gatwick airport a few days earlier.

Our Scottish connections have expanded once again, from our maternal Kerr roots in the borders and the paternal link to the Gunn’s of the far north, to the Macphersons of Badenoch. It is a new connection that will be proudly passed down the generations to come.

Our recent welcome into the Clan Macpherson is a perfect example of one of the ways clans grew centuries ago, and illustrates how the concept of sept names originated. It shows how those not of the direct bloodline or surname of a particular clan could become associated with it by giving service, or seeking protection for themselves and their families, especially from a more powerful and established clan.

The surname of James will never of course become an officially recognised sept of the Clan Macpherson in the modern age, as such sept recognition can only be made by the clan chief himself, and I don’t believe that any new surname has been added to the list of clan septs since the Victorian period. Many such lists were set in stone at that time and some clan historians were known to have appropriated sept names on sometimes less than solid connective evidence.

One interesting thing our membership of the Clan Macpherson Association has done is to increase the number of tartans we are associated with and genuinely able to wear. We of course have our own sett, then there is that of the Kerr’s, the Gunn’s and now the Macphersons. It will certainly permit a colourful, historical and fascinating wardrobe to be maintained.  

Euen Macpherson of Cluny - 23rd Clan Chief

Return to Top

By Mark James - 9th October 2009

©Copyright - James of Glencarr