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Clan Donnachaidh Annual
The Early Clan Donnachaidh


The author of this article, Gordon A. MacGregor, is a professional genealogist with 25 years experience researching the land-owning families of Highland Perthshire. His most recently published work, ‘The Red Book of Perthshire’, came out at the end of 2006. It contains, in close on 1100 pages, detailed genealogical accounts of virtually every family to have ever held lands within Perthshire from the introduction of written record. His work can be seen on the web at

     Funded by a member of the Society, Gordon was asked to look closely at the records concerning the Clan Donnachaidh, especially its early days, and the ancestry of Stout Duncan, our charismatic chief from the 14th century about which there has been so much uncertainty and controversy. His first results are published below. They may not fit with all the previous accounts or legends but they are based on land charters – historical facts. It has often been claimed that the Robertsons of Struan and the Clan Donnachaidh have the oldest verifiable ancestry in Scotland. For the first time it seems to have been proven - Ed

Of great importance to any family are its origins and the origins of the Clan Donnachaidh have been under scrutiny for some generations now. In reality very few positive steps forward have actually been taken in determining the male ancestry of the Clan mainly due to the lack of documentary evidence at hand.

     One tradition that gained a foothold early on was that the Clan descends from the MacDonald, Lords of the Isles, with the following passage occurring within the first pages of document known as the ‘The Red Book of Clan Donnachaidh’, the earliest surviving narrative history of the clan.

‘The Robertsons of Scotland are called in the Gallick language Clan-Donochy from Duncan the founder of the family in Perthshire, who was son to Angus, Lord of the Isles, called by the Highlanders “of Cowal”, from the place of his birth or nursing, for Duncan is styled in the Gallick language “Donnach Ravir Macinnes na Coalich”, that is “Duncan the fat or corpulent son of Angus of Cowal”. The friendship that has ever subsisted betwixt the Clan Donochy and the Macdonalds is avowedly grounded upon the absolute certainty of their being sprung from the same stock. Duncan is said to have been born in the year 1275, he came to the Highlands of Perthshire some time before the coronation of King Robert 1st most probably invited to be the Captain and Protector of such as found themselves apprised under the tyranny of the Baliol party.’

     Reliable evidence testifies to no such link. Instead extant documentation confirms an Andrew de Athol as being the actual father of the above noted Duncan and therefore the earliest verified lineal ancestor of the later chiefs. Andrew’s existence is known only through being named as father of Duncan de Athol and grandfather of Robert de Athol in charters in their favour in the first half of the 14th century. A more credible assumption is that the Clan descends in some way from the original Earls of Atholl who come down from Crinan, Abbot of Dunkeld, through his son King Duncan I. whose subsequent Royal dynasty ended in the male line on the tragic death of King Alexander III at Kinghorn in 1282.

Conan filius Comitatus Henrici and Ewan de Glenerochie

     In various accounts Andrew de Athol is speculatively shown to be a son of a Ewan of Glenerochie and as such, a grandson of Conan and great-grandson of Henry, Earl of Atholl. With evidence now at hand, this is now known not to be the case. However there is no doubt that Andrew and Ewan shared a common male ancestor.

     Of Conan little is known other than he granted a charter to the Abbey of Lindores for certain sums to be uplifted for his lands for the weel of the souls of himself, his wife, his ancestors and his successors in around 1235-1242. In this charter he is styled as ‘filius henrici quondam Comitis de Athoyle’ or ‘son of Henry, sometime Earl of Athol.’ Of added interest are several of the witnesses to this particular charter namely; Ewan, his son, Hath son of Gilbrid and Madith de Clonyn.

     Hath, son of Gilbrid, is unusual as the description of him given in the charter is ‘genero meo’. ‘Genero’ means to ‘produce’ or to ‘beget’ or ‘generate’ and suggests that Hath was ‘come of Conan’ and was therefore a grandson although whether of the male line or by reason of Gilbrid having married to a daughter of Conan is not presently known. [It has previously been stated that “genero” is used to denote a son-in-law although this cannot be the case as the term quite literally means to beget i.e. that it is of the same flesh of another and shares the same blood.]

     Madith de Clonyn undoubtedly is of the extended kingroup of Conan as his christian name heavily implies descent from Madach, 1st Earl of Atholl, the great-grandfather of Conan and his designation of ‘Clonyn’ points to his possessing the lands of Clune or Clunes immediately to the east of Struan and which lands later comprised part of overall Clan Donnachaidh territory.

     Ewan of Glenerochie, son of Conan, first appears as a witness to his father, Conan’s, charter to Lindores in 1235-1242 and he afterwards granted a charter to the Monks of Coupar Angus Abbey for his lands of Calziebrochan to be held by them of himself and his daughters and their respective husbands in 1282 as superiors. Ewan married to Maria, second daughter and coheiress of Conghal, son of Duncan, son of Malise, Seneschal or Steward of Strathearn, and died prior to 28 October, 1284, leaving daughters who carried with them portions of their father’s estate including the lands of Calziebrochan but not his principal possession of Glenerochie which passed to his heir-male as shall be seen.

The lands of Glenerochie

Destination played a vital role within the feudal system and its purpose was to define and stipulate the rules by which lands were allowed to be conveyed heritably. There were two basic categories:

     1. The lands would be held by the heirs of the founder [The term “Founder” is used to denote the individual who first obtained the lands.] whatsoever. This permitted the lands to pass to the closest heir of the last possessor, whether male or female. [In instances where a landholder would marry more than once and have only a daughter by senior marriage and a son by the junior, generally the daughter would be regarded as the proper heir to the father’s estate. This in itself was the cause of many feuds more especially when the heiress married and the estate was conveyed out of her family and into the control of another. In some instances deals were struck between such heirs whereby the estate would be conveyed to the heir-male for a certain price paid to the heiress in compensation.

     2. The lands would be held by the heirs-male whatsoever of the founder. This stipulated that lands could only be transferred to the closest representative in the male line. This could be a son, a brother, a cousin, or in certain instances, a very remote male relation.

Thomas Duncanson of Struan, the first recorded possessor of the lands of Struan, died between 1443-1451. He left an only child, a daughter Matilda, as his heir, to whom the lands of Straloch were conveyed to be held by her in her lifetime before being passed on to her eldest son Alexander Patrickson. Those lands owned by Thomas which were deemed to be heritable only in the male line passed to Thomas’s nephew and heir-male Robert Duncanson, son of his brother Duncan Robertson, who subsequently had his entire holdings erected into the Barony of Struan in 1451 as reward for having captured the assassins of King James Such a transfer of the estate of Struan confirms its particular destination to be limited to heirs-male exclusively. Only those of Straloch were deemed to have been heritable by heirs-whatsoever thus allowing transfer to an heir-female and her family.

     The appearance of the lands of Glenerochie in the list of those lands comprising the estate of Struan in 1451 make it evident that their destination too was confined solely to the heirs-male of the previous possessor. This is of significant importance in unravelling the origins of the Clan when one considers that the previous known possessor, Ewan of Glenerochie, had died leaving only daughters and that his principal lands of Glenerochie [From which he took his designation or title.] had passed by 1451 to the Clan Donnachaidh. In simple terms, with the destination of the lands of Glenerochie being limited to the heirs-male of the previous possessor, such a transfer could only have occurred if the family of Robertson of Struan were heirs-male of Ewan of Glenerochie. Not all of the estate of Ewan of Glenerochie was deemed to be heritable by the heirs-male as, by Ewan’s own admission his lands of Calziebrochan were to descend to his married daughters.] Thus, although the generation by generation relationship is uncertain, it is quite clear from this alone that the Clan Donnachaidh descend in the male line from the Earls of Atholl.

Another indicator of the ancestry of the Clan lies in their usage of the designation “de Athol” or “de Atholia”. Territorial designations such as these being adopted as early forms of surnames by families of high rank and influence are well recorded and if extant records of the sons of these early Earls are considered we find examples of members adopting the name of their family’s Earldom as a form of designation such as Robert de Strathearn, brother of Malise, 6th Earl of Strathearn, when a hostage in England for the good behaviour of his brother the Earl in the second half of the 13th century and of Gilbert and Robert, younger sons of the said Malise, during their own terms as hostages in London in the first years of the 14th century. That such usage is confined to an Earl’s sons suggests that some form of right or acceptance for them to be known as such existed and was in direct consideration as male members of the family who possessed these lands and n 1402 we find Sir Almyer de Athol styled as brother of John de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl. Similar examples can be found with the Earls of Lennox, with the Earldom of Menteith being the best recorded where the immediate descendants of Walter Stewart, third son of Walter, 3rd High Steward of Scotland, in contemplation of their descent and inheritance of the Earldom of Menteith via one of the heiresses of the original family, adopted the name of their Earldom, i.e. Menteith, as a surname and which continues to this present day.

Early Origins

In demonstrating that Glenerochie passed from Ewan of Glenerochie to the Clan Donnachaidh as heirs-male, it is important to attempt to clarify the relationship between this Ewan and the first confirmed ancestor of the Clan, Andrew de Athol. Normal common sense would dictate that they were closely related. At the very least they would share a common ancestor in Maelmare, younger son of King Duncan I. who was father to Madach, Earl of Atholl, who was witness to the foundation charter for Scone Abbey in 1114. With the other family members of Conan, father of Ewan, being cited above, namely Hath, son of Gilbrid, Andrew may very well have been the son of Hath and therefore a first cousin to Ewan and indeed, chronology would certainly support such a relationship although caution must be observed in this particular instance as it is not specified whether the relationship was in the male or female line.

     Alternatively, a far more realistic descent would be from Madith of Clonyn, or Clunes, apparently a cousin of Conan, son of Earl Henry, [If he were a brother of Conan he would certainly have been styled as such in Conan’s charter to Lindores where his close family are given their proper designations. That no relationship is given is highly suggestive of his being of their family but a cousin of some description.] and of obvious interest is his possession of the lands of Clunes as these lands formed part of the Clan Donnachaidh landholdings for many generations afterwards.

     Tracing landownership during the 12th-15th centuries especially is a reasonably effective means of determining kinship as lands tended on the whole to remain within a family since its income, influence and standing were all derived from its territorial possessions. Expansion was encouraged as it extended wealth and influence whereas sale or alienation was heavily discouraged as it had the obvious opposite effect of diminishing the influence of the family overall. Thus, when the possessions of the early members of the Atholl family and the Clan Donnachaidh’s landholdings are considered, we find a very curious story indeed.

     It is evident that the individual estate which became known by the name of Struan by at least the last years on the 14th century was not of old standing and must have previously comprised part of a much larger holding. In this regard we are informed that Duncan de Athol (reamhair) divided his estate by conveying a smaller portion, the lands of Lude, to his younger son Patrick in around 1360. Duncan passed the bulk of his property to his eldest son Robert. Analysis of the lands contained in the overall estate of Lude show that included are those of Clunes immediately to the north of Pitagowan and which must, therefore, have formed part of the overall extensive estate possessed by Duncan de Athol. This is significant for the Clan Donnachaidh since that we know the identity of the previous possessor of Clunes was Madach, which makes it likely that Clunes was the name of the overall estate until its division around 1360. Furthermore the eldest son inherited the lands of Calvine, Struan, Glenerochie etc., with Patrick, the younger son, receiving those lying to the east that included Clunes. Thus the principal seat of the family must either have originally been located at Struan itself or else have shifted at that point to Struan which thereafter became the principal possession of the senior line since the family thereafter assumed this as their title as is apparent by the first appearance of Struan as an individual estate not long afterwards in circa 1398.

     As with Struan and Glenerochie, later 15th century Lude charters confirm that the destination of the Barony of Lude, comprising Clunes, was confined to the heirs-male exclusively and as such descent or at least male-line relationship to the original possessor is all the more likely.

     There is every reason to presume that Madach of Clunes was of the family of the Earls of Atholl both from his Christian name which was previously borne by his paternal great-grandfather, Madach, the first recorded Earl of Atholl, and because he possessed a good-sized estate within the very heartland of Atholl. This shows that a process of subinfeudation had been carried out by an Earl of Atholl kinsman, either in favour of Madach or, more likely, his father to whom the lands were passed as patrimony. Of possible fathers, two individuals appear in record. These are Duncan and Malcolm, sons of Malcolm, 2nd Earl of Atholl, and brothers to Henry, Earl of Atholl, father of Conan, father of Ewan of Glenerochie. Such a relationship would make Madach of Clunes first cousin to Conan and would place them close enough, should the male line of either fail, to be heirs-male.

Duncan de Athol (reamhair) and Andrew de Atholia

We are informed in ‘The Red Book of Clan Donnachaidh’ that Duncan was born in the year 1275. Unfortunately, chronology does not support this in the slightest; neither does it support his bearing arms at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. [Not only does chronology not support this but his omission in public records as being one to whom King Robert I. is rewarding for loyalty and service is also indicative of his not actually having served in his army.] That a man born in 1275 could have grandchildren not even of middle-age in 1428 is scarcely credible and so the birth of Duncan by necessity, must be brought forward in time to at least 1305 thus making him aged approximately forty when he obtained the lands of Discher and Toyer in 1343 and around fifty when receiving those of Appin of Dull in December of 1355. Such an augmentation in dates also makes the subsequent known facts surrounding his children and grandchildren much easier to accept when chronology and known facts are compared. This also has the result of pushing forward the time period in which his father Andrew de Athol lived and who may well have been the one born in 1275.

     Of Andrew, he was either too young or not of sufficient standing to be expected to sign the Ragmans Roll in 1292. If he were a younger son of the head of the family then there would be no need for him to sign such a document considering that the head would sign and therefore take upon himself the burden of maintaining the good behaviour and loyalty of his extended family. If he were born in 1275, then he would be too young to be a signatory. That he was of a principal Atholl family goes without saying considering the status of his son Duncan although his non-appearance in any documents is highly suggestive of his not being senior although this was a situation which changed in favour of his son who succeeded to quite a considerable amalgamation of older estates in later years.

     In the records generated by the Wars of Independence two of any real note and significance bearing the designation ‘de Athol’ make an appearance namely, Adam de Athol who signed the Ragman Roll in 1291 and a ‘Mak Bek de Atholia’ who is styled as an ‘armiger,’ [A bearer of arms] was active in the Scots army and was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Dunbar in 1298 and subsequently conveyed to Wallingford Castle, in Berkshire, England, a fortress then belonging to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall. The name of ‘Mak Bek’ is curious and undoubtedly is an attempt by a notary ignorant of the Gaelic language to spell an unusual name and its similarity to ‘Madach’ certainly cannot be overlooked. Clearly, not only was this individual of standing in Atholl but his being sent as a prisoner to England after being captured at Dunbar which saw many Scots of lower ranks killed in cold blood confirms that he was of good class and worthy and of use as a hostage and in this regard he must be considered as being part of the hierarchy of Atholl at that time and therefore a landowner.

At this point however, although many factors confirm a male line descent of the Clan Donnachaidh from the Earls of Atholl, and most likely via Madach of Clunes, the generation-by-generation descent between Madach and Andrew de Athol is unclear although emerging documentation and a reappraisal and reinterpretation of known facts is clearing the waters somewhat.


1. It is established that the Clan Donnachaidh do not descend in the male-line from Ewan of Glenerochie on account of documentary evidence confirming that Ewan’s daughters were his heirs in certain of his lands on his death with occurred between 1282 and 1284.

2. By the conveying of the lands of Struan and Glenerochie to the heir-male of the previous possessor in 1451 it was then confirmed that these lands were to be held exclusively by the heirs-male thus, in this regard, on account of it having been proven that Ewan of Glenerochie died without male issue, that the Clan Donnachaidh share a common male ancestry with this Ewan.

3. By extant documents, it has been demonstrated that the lands of Clunes, like those of Glenerochie, were heritable only in the male line thus male kinship between the Clan Donnachaidh and the first established possessor Madach of Clunes, is very likely.

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