Great Scottish Clans
Great Scottish Clans
tartans image

Most Scottish clans have their own tartan pattern, usually dating back from the 19th century, which is incorporated by its members into kilts and other clothing. Clans generally identify with geographical areas originally controlled by their founders, sometimes with an ancestral castle and clan gatherings. Let’s have a look at the history of some of Scotland’s most famous clans:


At the height of their influence, the Mackenzie clan was the 4th most powerful clan in Scotland, with lands extending from the Isle of Lewis in the west to Ross on the east coast of the mainland. Their ancestry goes back to the 12th century. They acted as royal agents for a number of Scottish kings – being in effect the monarchy’s strong men in the north. The first castle to be associated with the Mackenzie clan is the enchanting Eilean Donan Castle. The home of the present clan chief is castle Leod in Strathpefer. Throughout history, they were loyal to the Stuart monarchy, supported Mary Queen of Scots during her brief reign and stood by the Jacobite cause after the Stuart dynasty was forced into exile. The four main tartans associated with the Mackenzie clan are: the Mackenzie, Mackenzie Dress, Mackenzie Hunting, and Mackenzie Millennium.


The main Campbell territories are in Argyll, as well as across Angus, Ayrshire, Moray, Perthshire and even stretches down into Northumberland. The clan’s main seat is Inveraray Castle on the shores of Loch Fyne. However, many other castles across Scotland have Campbell connections. By the 13th century, they were one of the main forces on Scotland's western seaboard, thanks in part to their huge fleet of galleys. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, they emerged as one of the most powerful families in Scotland, with a wide sphere of influence and authority that stretched from Edinburgh to the Hebrides and western Highlands. Although mills produce many fabrics based on the Campbell tartan, the Clan Chief recognizes only four: the Campbell (more commonly known as the Black Watch), Campbell of Breadalbane, Campbell of Cawdor, and Campbell of Loudoun.


The Stewart Clan is not just one clan but several major branches evolving from the descendants of various High Stewards of Scotland. The first and main seat of the Stewarts was in Renfrewshire. They were of Norman origins, migrating from Brittany through England to Scotland by the 12th century. They took the name Stewart as a surname, which was derived from High "Steward," the official name for the person in charge of the household and treasury of the King, many of which eventually became Kings and Queen of Scotland and England. The French variant Stuart is sometimes used in place of Stewart, there being no "w" in the French alphabet. Clan Stewart dominated Scotland from the Highlands to the Lowlands, from the Hebrides to the islands of Orkney and Shetland, as well as England and beyond for three and a half centuries. Apart from the royal house of Stewart, the three main branches of the clan that settled in the Highlands during the 14th and 15th centuries were the Stewarts of Appin, Stewarts of Atholl and Stewarts of Balquhidder. Nowadays, the Earls of Galloway are considered the senior line of the clan. The Royal Stewart Tartan is the best known tartan of the royal House of Stewart, as well as being the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II.


The Norse-Gaelic Clan MacDonald is one of Scotland’s largest clans. Their ancestors were Lords of the Isles and their main stronghold was at Loch Finlaggan on Islay where they held their court. The clan’s official seat is Armadale Castle but there have been many others associated with the clan, especially within the Isle of Skye. For almost 400 years they ruled the seas and built an empire big enough to challenge Scotland's kings. There are also numerous branches to the Clan, amongst others the Clan Macdonald of SleatClan Macdonald of ClanranaldClan MacDonell of GlengarryClan MacDonald of Keppoch, and Clan MacAlister. Nowadays, there are more than half a million MacDonalds worldwide and there are at least 27 different tartans associated with the clan.