MacArthur is one of the oldest of Argyll and its age is referred to in the proverb,
"There is nothing older, unless the hills, MacArthur and the devil". The
MacArthurs themselves claim descent from Arthur, that early resistance fighter who may
have fought against the expansionist English for the Scots. The MacArthurs supported Bruce
and were rewarded with grants of extensive lands in Argyll including those of the
MacDougalls and the chief was appointed Captain of the Castle of Dunstaffnage. This was
indeed the peak of their fortunes for when James I returned from exile in England, in his
launch to regain power he executed Iain MacArthur chief of the clan from which the clan
never recovered. From thereafter it was the name of Campbell rather than MacArthur that
flourished in the region. A family of MacArthurs held land in Skye granted to them by
MacDonalds of the Isles as part of their rights as hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds.
Clan descendants however have brought fame particularly in America and Australia. John
MacArthur of the principal family of Strachur was deemed "father" of New South
Wales. He arrived in 1790 and laid the foundations to the wool industry introducing the
cross Bengal with the Irish sheep and the Merino. He also planted the first Australian
vineyard in 1817, and in America, a grandson of a Strathclyde emigrant became General
Douglas MacArthur, the conqueror of Japan during the Second World War
Photo by Scottish Panoramic
Another Account of the Clan
BADGE: Garbhag an t-sleibh (lycopodium
selago) Fir club moss. Also Lus mhic righ Bhreatainn (thymis syrpillum) wild
thyme.SLOGAN: Eisa! O Eisa! (possibly
should be Eisd! O Eisd! meaning Listen O Listen)
many clans appear to have flourished and immensely increased their power and
possessions under the early feudal system, there were others whose fortunes
were very different. Like a plant with a worm at the root they wilted and
did not thrive. In some cases, like that of the Bissets, they seem to have
been snuffed out by some great feud or disaster; in others they became
chiefless, broken men, without a common cause and therefore ineffectual in
the page of history; and in many instances they subsided to the position of
mere septs of another clan. No more striking instance of contrasting
fortunes of this sort could perhaps be cited than that of the clans
MacArthur and Campbell. In their case the original position and chiefship
appear to have been exactly reversed, the MacArthurs, who were originally
the main stem and chiefs of the clan, having become in course of time
something like a sept under the protection of their younger offshoot.
In this connection the whole
question of the origin of Clan Campbell is discussed by Skene in his
well-known work on the Highlanders of Scotland. All students of Highland
history are aware of the theory according to which the name of Campbell is
made out to be originally Norman-French, and the ancestor of the family to
have been one of the Norman notables who "came over with the
Conqueror." Against this theory Skene points out that no such name as
De Campo Bello appears in the Roll of Battle Abbey, Domesday Book, or other
record of that time. This fact would not necessarily render the theory of
Norman descent untenable, but there is, further, the evidence of the old
Gaelic genealogies to show that the family was originally understood to be
of Celtic origin. The old theory was similar to that of a Norman origin for
the Clan MacKenzie, which has been shown by actual documents to be
impossible. De Campo Bello, it is said, acquired the first property of the
Clan in Argyllshire by marriage with the heiress of a certain Paul O’Duibne.
This, Skene points out, is the common form which family tradition has taken
in the Highlands in cases where the chiefship has been usurped by the oldest
cadet of the family. He cites the oldest Gaelic genealogists to show that
the Campbells were descended in the male line from this very family of O’Duibne,
and in support of his statement that the Campbells were originally a cadet
branch, he points out that the MacArthurs of Strachur, as "the
acknowledged descendant of the older house," have at all times disputed
the chiefship with the Argyll family. The tradition of the MacArthurs is
that the Campbells were an offshoot of their house; and an old saying in
Argyllshire runs, "There is nothing older, unless the hills, MacArthur,
and the Devil."
At the first appearance of
the race in history in the reign of Alexander III. it is divided into two
great families, distinguished by the patronymics of MacArthur and MacCailean
Mor. MacCailean Mor, ancestor of the Campbells of to-day, first appears on
the historic page as witness to the charter of erection of the Burgh of
Newburgh by Alexander III. in 1266. At that time he is believed to have been
Sheriff of Argyll, an office created by Alexander II. in 1221. But till the
reign of King Robert the Bruce, according to Skene, the family possessed no
heritable property in Argyll. The MacArthurs, on the contrary, were
possessors of very extensive territory in the old earldom of Garmoran, and
were clearly, in power as well as in seniority, at the head of the Clan. As
early as 1275 Cheristine, only daughter of Alan MacRuarai, granted a charter
" Arthuro filio domini Arthuri Campbell, militis, de terris de
Mudewarde, Ariseg, et Mordower, et insulis de Egge et Rumme." In the
early years of the following century MacArthur embraced the cause of King
Robert the Bruce, fought for him at Bannockburn, and was rewarded handsomely
out of the lands of the defeated MacDougals. He was made Keeper of
Dunstaffnage, and granted a considerable part of Lorne. To these possessions
his descendants added Strachur, in Cowal, on the shore of Loch Fyne, as well
as parts of Glenfalloch and Glendochart.
It was in the days of Robert
the Bruce that the MacArthur chiefs reached the climax of their fortunes,
and it is interesting, in view of later events, to enquire what was their
actual ancestry. Herein lies a point of much more interest, with much better
foundation of history to support it, than may have been commonly supposed.
According to the legendary
account of the Highland clans in early Gaelic manuscripts, given by Skene in
Appendix VIII. of his Celtic Scotland, Cailean Mor, from whom the
modern chiefs of the Campbells take their patronymic, and who is known to
have been slain in the famous pursuit on the Sraing of Lorne, was the
grandson of Dugall Cambel or "Crooked Mouth," from whom came the
name of Campbell. Dugall’s great-great-grandfather was Duibne, whose
daughter, according to the legend of Norman descent from De Campo Bello,
carried the chiefship to a family of that name; and Duibne was
great-grandson of Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, son of Ambrosius. The Red
Book of Argyll declares the ancestor of the race to have been Smervie Mor,
son of King Arthur of the Round Table, and the statement is supported by the
fact that the badge of the clan is the Lus mhic righ Bhreatainn—" the
plant of the son of the King of Britain," wild thyme.
Here we have a link which may
well startle the student of Highland history, an actual claim in early
manuscripts that the Clan Arthur and the Clan Campbell are descended from
the famous Arthur of British history, whose deeds have formed the favourite
subject of romancer and poet almost from his own time till the present day.
The claim is, however, by no means so strange or so entirely unlikely as it
looks. Elsewhere in his Celtic Scotland Skene has shown that the
actual historic Arthur fought his battles, not in the south of Wales, as
modern readers of Tennyson, Swinburne, and Matthew Arnold are apt to
suppose, but in the Lowlands of Scotland and on the fringes of the
Highlands, on Loch Lomondside, and the northern district of Northumberland.
The pages of Nennius, the historian of those early centuries, remain as
undoubted evidence of this fact. It can be easily shown how all subsequent
Arthurian literature has had Nennius for its original, and also how the
popular tales of the deeds of Arthur have followed the Cymric, British, or
Welsh language as it ceased to be spoken in the Scottish Lowlands and early
princedom of Strathclyde, and came to have its chief seat in Wales and
Cornwall. The present writer has shown elsewhere, from documentary evidence,
that, as son of Eugenius, or Owen ap Urien, King of Reged or the Lennox, in
the sixth century, St. Kentigern or Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow, was
grand-nephew of this historic Arthur, and the fact may be taken to show how
not at all unlikely is the claim of the ancient Gaelic manuscripts for an
Arthurian origin of the Clan Arthur and Clan Campbell. There are many
enduring memorials of the great King Arthur in Scotland, including some two
hundred place-names, from Arthur’s Seat in Midlothian to Ben Arthur in
Argyll; but surely none of these is so interesting as the memorial remaining
in this name of the ancient Highland clan which had its seat under the
shadow of Ben Arthur itself on the shore of Loch Fyne.
The causes which led to the
decadence of Clan Arthur and the ascendancy of Clan Campbell, though they
are to some extent obscure, might be well worth the pains of the historic
antiquary to trace. It has already been mentioned that the MacArthur chief
took arms in the cause of King Robert the Bruce. So did the chief of the
Campbells, Sir Neil, grandson of the famous Cailean Mor, from whom the later
Campbell chiefs have all been known as MacCailean Mor. Both of these chiefs
earned the gratitude of the king, and both were generously rewarded with
lands of Bruce’s enemies. But Sir Neil Campbell had another reward which
was bound to bear still greater fruit in years to come. This was the hand of
a sister of the Bruce, and there can be no question that the royal
relationship gave the Campbells a rise in influence which nothing else could
have done. To this marriage, indeed, typical of many others by which the
Campbells afterwards advanced their fortunes and increased their estates,
may probably be ascribed the real foundation of the subsequent greatness of
that house. It was not very long afterwards when the Campbell chiefs began
to show the leadings of their ambition. In the reign of Bruce’s son, King
David II., MacCailean Mor made the first effort to secure the chiefship of
the clan. The attempt was resisted by MacArthur, who procured a charter
declaring that he held his lands from no subject but from the king alone,
and the MacArthurs continued to maintain this position till the time of
James I., Bruce’s great-great-grandson.
Down till the time of that
king and even later, the feudal dependence of the Highland chiefs upon the
Crown remained in many cases more nominal than real. The Lords of the Isles,
we know, still at intervals claimed to be independent sovereigns. In the
reign of James II. the Lord of the Isles made an independent treaty as a
sovereign prince with the King of England, and, in the interests of the
defeated Earl of Douglas, his lieutenant, Donald Balloch, invaded and
harried the shores of Clyde. Later still, the MacGregors, with the proud
boast "My race is royal," declared that they would hold their
lands by no "sheepskin tenures," but by the strength of their own
right arm and the ancient coir a glaive or power of the sword.
It was to put an end to this ancient allodial and irresponsible tenure,
which constituted a grave danger to the State, and to establish uniformly in
its place the system of feudal tenure under which each chief should
acknowledge that he held his territory from the Crown, and should become
answerable to the Crown for the administration of law and for the defence of
the realm, that King James I. summoned his famous early parliament at
Inverness. The Highland chiefs were called to attend that Parliament, and
among those who came was John MacArthur, chief of the name. Bower, the
continuator of Fordoun’s Chronicle, describes MacArthur as "a great
chief among his own people, and leader of a thousand men"; but
MacArthur’s hour had come. Along with a considerable number of others
whose independence and turbulence the king considered a danger to the State,
MacArthur was seized, imprisoned, and beheaded. All his property was
forfeited to the Crown excepting Strachur, and some of his lands in
Perthshire, and so great was the blow thus struck at the family fortunes
that the MacArthurs never again appeared as makers of history in the North.
The act of King James I.
effectually cleared the way for the ambition of the house of MacCailean Mor,
which from that time remained in undisputed possession of the honours of the
chiefship of the race. Soon afterwards their position was made still further
secure by their being raised to the rank of the nobility, and from century
to century, by means of advantageous marriages and shrewd tactics, they
continued to raise themselves in power and influence. At the same time the
MacArthurs sank to the position of private gentlemen, and though they never
ceased to claim the honours of the chiefship, they never found themselves in
a position to make that claim effectual. MacArthur of Strachur, last in the
line of chiefship, died unmarried about the middle of the nineteenth
A number of MacArthurs
remained for centuries about Dunstaffnage, but where their chief had once
been hereditary keeper they had become merely tenants to the Campbells.
Among others of the race were the MacArthurs, who, from father to son,
throughout a long line, remained hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds of the
Isles. Several anecdotes of these MacArthur pipers are recorded by Angus
MacKay, piper to Queen Victoria, in his work on Pibroch music. The last of
the race, who was for many years piper to the Highland Society, and a
composer of many pieces still held in high esteem, died about the middle of
last century in London.
It is sad to think that a
clan which could boast descent from so great and romantic a figure as the
King Arthur of British history should thus so completely melt and die away
from the proud ranks of Highland chiefship. Inishail in Loch Awe is the
recognised burying-place of the clan.
Septs of Clan MacArthur:
Arthur, MacCartair, MacCarter.
reluctant chief of Clan Arthur
AS MISSING persons cases go, the disappearance of the title of chief of the
Clan Arthur is in a class of its own.
Last seen in India in the 1780s, the title vanished with the death of one
Charles MacArthur of Tirivadich. Childless and with no obvious male heir,
his death appeared to have consigned the hereditary chiefdom to history.
But now, an heir apparent has been found after a genealogist spent 15 years
tracing the clan’s family tree.
More than 220 years after the disappearance of the chiefly line, the Clan
Arthur stands on the verge of having a leader once more. The man they have
placed their faith in is James Edward Moir MacArthur of Tirivadich and
Milton, 87, a former Coal Board employee living in Edinburgh.
Mr MacArthur, however, is something of a reluctant standard bearer, anxious
no-one should think he is putting himself forward for the title.
Yesterday, he said: "I must stress this, it is not for me, it is for the
clan. I am only a cog in the wheel. But a clan has got to have a chief to be
a real clan."
It was the senior members of the clan who set the search in motion in 1986,
hiring highly-respected genealogist Hugh Peskett to delve back through 12
generations of MacArthurs to find a common ancestor for the last chief,
Charles MacArthur of Tirivadich, and the man their hopes now rest on.
Mr Peskett found his man back in the 16th century in the shape of another
Charles MacArthur, the 12 times great-grandfather of James MacArthur.
That Charles MacArthur died in 1525 and the chiefly line continued through
his eldest son, eventually dying out with the final Charles sometime between
1786 and 1788.
His ancestor, however, had two more sons, and the current James MacArthur is
descended from the third one.
The discovery provided the common ancestry the clan needed to present its
claim to Robin Blair, the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
Mr MacArthur was appointed commander of the clan - one step down from chief
- ten years ago after Mr Peskett presented his initial findings to the
senior members of the clan, but it will be up to the Lord Lyon, who is
appointed by the Queen and whose office dates back to at least 1318, to
decide whether to recognise him as the rightful chief.
Mr MacArthur explained: "I was popped in as makeshift commander and the clan
became a clan once again having had no leadership for several hundred years.
"It took Mr Peskett more than ten years to find the connection between the
house of Milton, which I am, and the house of Tirivadich, which is the
chiefly line, because the chiefly line appeared to have died out.
"Now that Mr Peskett has investigated and found the connection back to the
Tirivadich family, the clan wished to put forward a chiefship. I am simply
there to obey instructions."
Married with a son, John, and two grandsons, Mr MacArthur spent time in the
Far East after the Second World War before returning to Britain to work for
the Coal Board.
Despite his reluctance to press his case for the chiefship, he admitted he
first discovered he had a claim in 1922. "My father told me on a Sunday walk
in the country that our family was the leader of the Clan MacArthur," he
said. "But he said the family had never bothered about it."
Even then, nothing might have come of it had it not been for the interest of
the overseas members of the clan, which has branches in New Zealand,
Australia, Southern Africa, Canada and the United States. It was the
Americans in particular who decided they needed a chief.
Bob McArthor, the editor of the clan magazine Round Table, explained they
had been actively seeking a chief for at least the last 20 years after
turning up for a clan gathering in Scotland.
He said: "I guess it is our fault. We sent a letter to the court of the Lord
Lyon inquiring what we should do to restore our kinship.
"Someone recommended James and at first he was reluctant because he is a
very modest man, but we persuaded him he was the best person to fill this
post and he agreed to go through with this.
"As a result we held a derbh-fine [conclave] in Scotland and by popular vote
"We in the States are responsible for pushing him. I think he is afraid of
offending the Lord Lyon but we love him and he really is our hope."
Mr Peskett said there was little doubt about the claim, adding: "It took me
a long time and a lot of work but I am satisfied that James MacArthur is the
"Other people might try, and they often do, but I am satisfied that he is
the right man."
Yesterday, the Lord Lyon’s secretary said a petition had been received and
an advert had been published to allow anyone else with an interest in the
chiefship to come forward. Unless someone else emerges in the next 40 days,
it will be deemed there is no-one with a better claim.
If the Lord Lyon is happy with the information before him, the MacArthurs
will have their first chief for more than 220 years.
Thursday, 7th February 2002
Ancient clan installs its first chief for 230 years
ONE of Scotland’s oldest clans, Clan Arthur, has its own clan chief for the
first time in more than 230 years.
James MacArthur of the Noble and Ancient House of Milton, an 87-year-old
former Coal Board employee, has been officially installed as chieftain at a
ceremony in Edinburgh.
His inauguration, in the presence of members of the clan who had travelled
to the city from across the globe, has ended more than two centuries of a
leaderless existence for the Clan Arthur and marked the culmination of a
17-year search by senior members of the clan to find the true successor.
The title of Chief of the Clan Arthur ceased to exist officially in 1771
when the last chief, Patrick MacArthur, died in Jamaica, leaving no children
and no obvious male successor.
Any hope of finding a legitimate heir to the title appeared lost until 1986
when Hugh Peskett, a renowned genealogist, began poring through 12
generations of the MacArthur family tree.
Through his studies, he uncovered the heir apparent, Mr MacArthur, who had
been born in Canada but had emigrated to Edinburgh to work for the Coal
Mr MacArthur later recalled that he had first discovered he had a claim to
the title as a young boy, in 1922. "My father told me on a Sunday walk in
the country that our family was the leader of the Clan MacArthur but he said
the family had never bothered about it," he said.
Then, in 1991, Robert McArthur, another prominent member of the clan,
organised a "derbfine" - a meeting of the arms-bearing members of the clan -
in Argyll, at which the clansmen agreed that "James Edward Moir MacArthur of
the Ancient and Noble House of Milton" should be proposed for appointment as
Last August, following another ten years of genealogical research, Mr
MacArthur successfully petitioned the Lyon Court to be appointed the first
Chief of Clan Arthur after an interval of 231 years.
Almost 100 clansmen from as far as the United States and Australia attended
yesterday’s ceremony. A spokesman for the clan said: "It was a warm and
friendly historic occasion - a truly a momentous day in Clan Arthur’s
Tuesday, 22nd April 2003