The Clans of Scotland

About The Clans of Scotland

The intriguing Scottish clan system plays a big role in Scottish culture and tradition and has its roots in the ancient Celtic tribal system. So it fits in perfectly!

A clan has been many things, over hundreds of years…..
…. including a family group, a political system, and a means of defending territory and ensuring survival in harsh conditions and difficult times.

It’s as hardy and resilient as the Scottish people themselves and has survived (and thrived) throughout centuries littered with bloody battles, as well as many attempts to destroy them.

Today, Scots around the world are still committed to their clan heritage and fiercely proud of it too.

In fact with today’s growing interest in genealogy, heritage and history, you could say that clans are seeing a ‘revival’ of their own.

How The Clans Were Born….

The Scottish clan system seems to have been well established by the 11th and 12th century, but signs of their existence go back as far as the 6th century.

The word ‘clan’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘clann’, which meant ‘family, offspring, children’ and that’s basically what they still represent, large family groups.

The original clans of Scotland were basically extended family groups, the majority of members were related by blood and descended from a common ancestor.

They also contained a number of ‘Septs’, which were families who didn’t have direct blood ties to the Clan Chief (or Chieftain) but were still associated with it.

Often these Septs wielded a certain amount of clan power themselves.

Other individuals sometimes joined a clan to show their support or to seek protection or simply to stay alive.
In the beginning clan names were usually tied to specific areas, known as ‘clan territories’, they were created to bond residents of that area and to protect it from being invaded or stolen by other groups.

Interesting Fact!

North of mainland Scotland lies the The Shetland Isles and the Orkney Isles.

These were part of Norway until the mid-15th century when they were ‘gifted’ to Scotland.

They never adopted the clan system, or many of the other traditional Scottish cultural traditions such as kilts or bagpipes.

Plus, that type of landscape also helped when it came to setting up defenses to protect individual territories.

Each individual Scottish clan was tightly bound together, by blood and by loyalties, and they tended to develop their own very specific customs, traditions and laws.

Loyalty and devotion ran deep, and feuds with rival clans were often passed down through the generations – the ill-will refusing to diminish over time.

Many bloody battles were fought over clan territories, and there was generally no love lost between the Highland clans of Scotland and the Lowland clans or septs.

By the 1800’s they were under attack in the form of increasing pressure from the English monarchy and British Government.

In 1746 a Scottish rebellion was defeated at the Battle of Culloden, and the Scottish clan system was almost destroyed.

However, the Scots are nothing if not determined and hardy, and they clung to their traditions and beliefs and in the 19th Century they saw the popularity of their clans begin to see a revival.

Since then a growing interest in Scottish history & culture has people across the world wanting to learn more about their Celtic ancestry and roots.

Overall, the clans have played a huge role in shaping the culture, traditions, attitudes and sentiments of the Scottish people.

How The Clan System Works

When we think of a family we tend to think of blood-relatives, but of course there are relatives by marriage (‘in-laws’), and close friends who we consider to be family.

Clans worked in a similar way, with each one being led by a Clan Chief (or Chieftain) whose family would usually lived in their own ancestral castle.

Each clan had their own fiercely-guarded territory or land and was ruled by the powerful Chieftain who controlled just about every aspect of daily life.

But historically, these are much more than family groups, in fact for centuries this was the main political system in Scotland.

Membership passes down through the male side of the family (patriarchal).

It’s centered around the man’s last name, so once a woman marries she becomes part of her husband’s clan – while the rest of her birth family remain members of her father’s clan.

Also, it wasn’t unusual for the Clan Chief’s children to be raised by a maternal uncle and his family in a different clan.

Both of these practices helped build ties between clans which paid off during times of trouble or attack. There’s strength in numbers, and friendly clans would join together to protect land, cattle and other resources.

Today, the distinctive Scottish tartan (if you’re American, think ‘plaid’) is closely tied to the clan system, but this wasn’t always the case.

Tartan comes in an almost endless variety of colors and patterns (although all feature the interlocking horizontal and vertical lines).
*From All About The Clans of Scotland,