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Duncan


Originally a forename, this seems to be one of the earliest names to appear in Scottish records. Dunchad, eleventh abbot of Dunkeld was killed at the battle of Dorsum Crup, Perthshire in 965. This name was clearly widespread, but some Duncans claim to be descended from the Ancient Earls of Atholl, the name was taken from a chief of clan Donnachaidh, "Fat Duncan", who led the family at Bannockburn. From then on the history of the Duncans is associated with Clan Donnachaidh. (The name Robertson was not adopted by that clan until the 16th century from "the son of Robert", a chief living at the time of James I). The Duncans are therefore considered a sept of Clan Donnachaidh but also possessed lands in Forfarshire including the barony of Lundie and the estates of Gourdie. Sir William Duncan was one of the physicians to George III and in 1764 was created a baronet, but the title became extinct on death in 1774. Alexander Duncan of Lundie, provost of Dundee, supported the Hanovarian sid e during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. He married Helena, daughter of Haldane of Gleaneagles. Their son born in 1731, entered the navy in 1746 and was appointed Commander of the Fleet in the North Sea and Admiral of the Blue. In 1797 he gained at Camperdown one of the most glorious victories in the history of the British navy when he defeated the Dutch navy. For his services he was created Viscount Duncan of Camperdown by George IV in 1880.

Another Account of the Clan

BADGE: Dinth fraoch (erica cinerea) fine-leaved heath.
SLOGAN: Garg’n uair dbùisgear.
PIBROCH: Failte Tighearn Shruthan, Salute to the Lord of Struan; and Riban gorm, the Blue Ribbon.

Duncan or RobertsonTHE MacGregors are not the only Scottish clan entitled to the proud boast "My race is royal." Clan MacArthur can produce a vast deal of presumptive evidence to support its claim to a descent from the famous King Arthur of early British history and tradition. And Clan Robertson was placed in a similar position with regard to descent from a later monarch by the researches of the historian Skene, whose own family may or may not be a branch itself of Clan Robertson. It was formerly the habit of genealogists to attribute the origin of the Robertson Clan to the blood of the MacDonalds, but according to the authorities adduced by Skene in his History of the Highlanders, the chiefs of the name appear rather to be descended from Duncan, eldest son of Malcolm III., the great Canmore of the eleventh century. Common tradition, again, previously bore that the name Robertson was derived from the head of the clan in the days of King Robert the Bruce, who, having had certain signal services rewarded by that king with a grant of lands on the upper waters of the Garry, adopted the king’s cognomen as his family name. It seems well established, however, that the Gaelic name of the Clan Donnchadh, pronounced Donnachy, and translated Duncan, was derived from an ancestor of that name, fourth in descent from Conan, son of Henry, last of the ancient Celtic Earls of Atholl, while the name MacRobert or Robertson takes its origin from Robert Reoch of the days of James I. and James II., who played a prominent part in the dramatic history of his time.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, in 1392, a couple of years after King Robert III. had ascended the throne of Scotland, Clan Donnchadh played its part in one of the fierce transactions characteristic of that wild time. The savage Earl of Buchan, better known as the Wolf of Badenoch, a son of Robert II., enraged by the spiritual reproof of the Bishop of Moray, had made a ferocious descent upon the lands of that prelate, sacking and plundering his cathedral of Elgin, and giving both cathedral and town ruthlessly to the flames. Immediately afterwards, the Wolf’s example was followed by one of his natural sons, Duncan Stewart, who gathered a great force of the wild mountaineers of Atholl and Badenoch, armed only with sword and target, and, bursting through the mountain passes into the fertile plain of Forfar, proceeded to destroy the country, and commit every sort of ravage and atrocity. Clan Donnchadh are recorded as among the wild clansmen who took part in this raid, and from their situation in the uplands of Atholl and on the borders of Badenoch itself, it is certain that they must have been, by force of compulsion if not by actual inclination, among the most constant followers of the Wolf and his savage sons. On this occasion Sir Walter Ogilvy, Sheriff of Angus, along with Sir Patrick Gray and Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk, rapidly gathered together the forces of the district, and, though much fewer in numbers, trusting to the temper of their armour, hastened to meet and repel the invasion. They attacked the Highlanders on the Water of Isla at a place called Gasklune, but were almost immediately overwhelmed. The mountaineers rushed upon them with the utmost ferocity, and before that rush the knights in steel armour went down like stooks of corn in a spate. Ogilvy and his brother, with Young of Auchterloney, the Lairds of Cairncross, Forfar, and Guthrie, and sixty men at arms, were slain, while Sir Patrick Gray and Sir David Lindsay, grievously wounded, were only carried from the field with the greatest difficulty. The fierceness of the Highlanders on that occasion is shown by an incident quoted by historians. Sir David Lindsay had pierced one of them through the body with his spear and pinned him to the earth, but in his mortal agony the brawny cateran writhed himself up, and with a sweep of his sword cut Lindsay through the stirrup and steel boot to the leg bone, then instantly sank back and expired.

Strangely enough, this fierce raid was followed by no punishment on the part of the weak government; but under the rule of the king’s brother, Robert, Duke of Albany, this was one of the worst governed and most turbulent periods in Scottish history.

The next episode in which Clan Donnchadh played an outstanding part was, curiously enough, on the side of law and order, though in connection with one of the most outstanding crimes which stain the historic page. King James I. had been murdered in the Black Friars Monastery at Perth in the early days of 1437, and the murderers, with their chief, Sir Robert Graham, had escaped into the wild mountains of Mar. The Earl of Atholl had taken a chief part in the conspiracy, and the fact that he was the immediate neighbour of the Chief of Clan Donnchadh might have led that chief also to become a partner in the treason. The chief, however, the Robert Reoch already referred to, remained staunch in his loyalty to the Crown, and, along with John Gorm Stewart, effected the capture of the Master of Atholl, the chief conspirator, Sir Patrick Graham, and others, who were immediately afterwards executed with excruciating tortures. For this service the Robertson chief received an addition to his family arms of which his successors were always justly proud.

As already mentioned, it is from this Robert Reoch— Robert the Swarthy—who is sometimes styled Robert Duncanson, that in later days the chiefs and members of the clan took the name of Robertson.

Alas! the next appearance of the Duncanson or Robertson chiefs in the pages of history is much less creditable. It was seven years after the assassination of James I. The rapacious nobles, Douglas, Crawford, Hamilton, and others, had seized the opportunity of the minority of the infant James II to satisfy their own greed and lawless desires by all kinds of rapacious deeds. The one true patriot of the time, Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews, ventured to withstand their rapacity, and united with the former Chancellor Crichton in an effort to restore law and order. Forthwith the Earls of Douglas and Crawford, with other fierce nobles, among whom is specially mentioned as an associate Robert Reoch, gathered together a great force, and descending on the Bishop’s lands in Fife and Angus, burned his farms and villages, committed all kinds of savagery, led his vassals captive, and utterly laid the country waste. The Bishop retaliated by laying the fierce marauders under the Church’s ban of excommunication, and among those who were thus placed outside the pale of all Christian hope and brotherhood in this world and the next must have been included the Robertson chief.

There may have been those who saw in the downfall, ten years later, of the great house of Douglas, the ringleader of this great national outrage, a fulfilment of the good Bishop’s curse, but so far as is now known, the Robertson chiefs can have been no more than temporarily affected by the excommunication. From their chief seat and possession, Struan or Strowan—Gaelic S’ruthan, "Streamy "—the chiefs were known as the Struan Robertsons, the only other Highland chiefs thus taking a qualification to their family name being the Cluny MacPhersons, whose estate of Cluny lay at no great distance from that of the Robertsons. Struan was otherwise known by the name of Glenerochie, and the possession was erected into a barony in 1451. The chief was also Dominus De Rannach or Rannoch, and possessed, further south, the fifty-five merk land of Strath Tay. Early in the sixteenth century, however, the Robertsons became involved in a feud with the Stewart Earls of Atholl, descended from the Fair Maid of Galloway, heiress of the great house of Douglas, and John Stewart, half brother of King James II., and son of Queen Joan, widow of James I., by her marriage with the Black Knight of Lorne. In this feud, about the year 1510, William, the Robertson chief, was killed, and, his successor being a child, a great part of the Robertson lands was seized by the Earl, and never afterwards recovered. At Struan, however, the chiefs treasured to the last as an heirloom a mysterious stone set in silver, which seems to have been a Scots pebble. This was known as the Clach na Bratach, the stone of the flag, and was believed to give the Robertsons assurance of victory in the field.

As became their royal lineage the Robertson chiefs remained loyal to the House of Stewart throughout the troubles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During the civil wars, under Donald Robertson, son of the tenth chief, acting for his nephew, then a minor, the clan joined the standard of the Great Marquess of Montrose, and took part with distinguished bravery at the battle of Inverlochy, in which the Campbells were so utterly overthrown. For his loyalty Donald Robertson was rewarded with a pension at the Restoration. Mclan, in his Costumes of the Clans, inserts a tradition regarding one of the Robertson warriors who particularly distinguished himself on this occasion. This individual, who was known from his occupation as Caird Beag, the little tinker, had slain, it is said, nineteen of the Campbells with his own hand. When the conflict was over, he made a fire and with some comrades proceeded to cook a meal in an iron pot which he had brought with him. The Marquess happening to pass, and, being himself without any such means of securing a meal, asked the Caird Beag for the use of the pot. His request was met with a downright refusal, the clansman declaring that he had well earned the meal he was preparing, and thought the least favour that could be allowed him was to be permitted to refresh himself therewith. Montrose, it is said, took the answer in good part, exclaiming, "I wish that more little tinkers had served His Majesty to-day as well as you have done."

At the Revolution, again, in 1689, Alastair or Alexander Robertson of Struan raised his followers, and took part with Viscount Dundee, King James’ general, in the short campaign which ended with the death of that romantic personage at the battle of Killiecrankie in Atholl, no great distance from the Robertson country. As a consequence, in the following year, Struan Robertson suffered the forfeiture of his estates. He, however, escaped to France, and obtained a remission in 1703, and, when the Earl of Mar, in the autumn of 1715, raised the standard of "James VIII. and III." at Braemar, he was joined by the Robertson chief. The military force of the clan at that time was reckoned to be 800 men. At Sheriffmuir, Struan Robertson was taken prisoner, but managed to escape, again obtained a remission in 1731, and again, in 1745, was among the most notable Jacobites who joined the standard of Prince Charles Edward. His clansmen were then said to number 700, though only 200 of these resided on the estates then actually owned by the chief. In consequence of his repeated risings in the Jacobite cause, Struan Robertson finally lost his estates, which were annexed to the Crown in 1752. Apart from his military escapades, this chief, Alexander, the thirteenth of his line, remains a notable figure in the history of the Highlands. He was no mean poet, and a published collection of his pieces, including a curious genealogical account of his family, has been described as "very creditable to his literary acquirements." In private life he was marked by a conviviality of feeling and humour which is said to have bordered on eccentricity.

At a later day, in 1785, part of the old Struan property, including the seat of the family, was restored to a representative, and finally came into possession of Major General Duncan Robertson, descendant of Donnchadh More of Druimachinn, third son of Robert, the fifteenth chief. General Robertson had his residence at Dunallaistair in Rannoch. The oldest cadets of the family were the Robertsons of Lude, while the Robertsons of Inches in Inverness-shire traced their descent from the house of Struan at a very early period, and from them sprang, about 1540, the Robertsons of Ceanndace and Glencalvy in Ross-shire. The Skenes of Skene have also been thought to be a branch of the Robertsons. According to this tradition Donnchadh More an Sgian—Great Duncan of the Dirk—migrated from Atholl to Strath Dee, and there founded this family. The fact that the head of this house who signed the Ragman Roll in 1296 did so as John le Skene, seems to favour the tradition of the personal origin of the name, while the dirks in the coat armour and the Highland supporters in antique costume also maintain the theory. But it seems more likely that the family of Skene took its name from the parish than that the parish took its name from the family.

Many distinguished men of the name have added lustre to the clan. Eben William Robertson, High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire, who died in 1874, was the author of Scotland under her Early Kings and other historical works of importance. James Robertson, Professor of Hebrew at Edinburgh University in the latter half of the eighteenth century, was the author of a well-known Hebrew grammar. James Burton Robertson (1800-1877) was translator of Schiegel’s Philosophy of History. Sir John Robertson, an Australian squatter, was five times Premier of New South Wales. Patrick Robertson, who died in 1855, was the distinguished Scottish judge whom Sir Walter Scott nicknamed Peter o’ the Painch. Thomas William Robertson, 1829-1871, was a well-known actor and dramatist who acquired fame as the writer of Caste, School, Ours, and other society plays of the mid-Victorian period. And, greatest of all, there was William Robertson the historian (1721-1793), who, when minister of Lady Yester’s Chapel at Edinburgh in 1759, attained enormous success with his History of Scotland. He was appointed Principal of Edinburgh University three years later, appointed historiographer of Scotland, and elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1763, and attained a European reputation with his History of Charles V. in 1769. His introduction to the last-named work, which comprised an estimate of the Dark Ages, was among the first successful attempts in this country to found larger theories of history upon considerable accumulations of fact. His latest work, A History of America, published in 1777, was not less valuable than fascinating, but was never completed owing to the outbreak of the revolutionary war in America.

Septs of Clan Duncan or Robertson: Collier, Colyear, Donachie, Duncan, Duncanson, Dunnachie, Inches, MacConachie, Macinroy, MacDonachie, MacRobbie, Maclagan, MacRobert, Reid, Roy, Stark, Tonnochy.


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