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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
Clan chiefs take their place in society

Clan chiefs take their place in society
Gethin Chamberlain

The publishers of the definitive guide to British blue blood have decided that chiefs have been excluded for too long and should be allowed to take their place among the country's recognised nobles. About 140 chiefs will be included in the 107th edition of the book when it is published next year.

Yesterday, Hugh Peskett, consultant editor for Burke's in Scotland, said the decision to include clan chiefs in the new edition marks a change in the attitude towards chiefs which had persisted since the abolition of the clan system in the middle of the 18th century. After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Highlanders at Culloden in 1746, the clan system was banned by law. Highlanders were not permitted to carry weapons, and all tartans and clan symbols were forbidden. Even bagpipes were banned, being classified as instruments of war. Coupled with the Highland clearances and a dramatic drop in the price of cattle, many former clan chiefs were ruined, said Mr Peskett, and despite the lifting of the proscription in the 1820s, many clans lost track of their chiefly line. "It is only recently that there has been a resurgence of interest in the clan system, driven in a large part by interest from America," he said.

He said when Burke's Peerage was first published, clan chiefs were not considered worthy of inclusion. "Burke's started in the early 1800s when chiefs were rather ignored and looked down on in an Anglo-centric way. It never occurred to people that chiefs were peers," he said.

About 140 chiefs will be included, although there are another 200 chieftainships which are as yet undetermined. Many of those who will appear in the new edition are not even based in Scotland. The list includes five resident in the United States, two each in Australia and Canada and one each in South Africa, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. Some clan chiefs - such as the Earl of Elgin and Earl of Glasgow, as heads of the Bruce and Boyle clans respectively - are already included because of their titles.

But the decision to include untitled clan chiefs was welcomed by Major Timothy Strange, whose official title is Strange of Balcaskie and will appear in the new edition. He said he had been unaware of the change in the criteria for inclusion but was pleased that the clans had finally been officially recognised. "Some people think it's a load of old bull but I think of it as an honour. I think the family thing is quite important, more so these days when things are not so easy to hold together. "My wife comes from a rather down-to-earth Devonshire family and looked at it a bit sideways to start with, but I think now she's become quite interested in it."

Recognition of their status is unlikely to bring any financial benefits to the clan chiefs but the prestige will appeal to some who would not otherwise be eligible for inclusion in Burke's Peerage. The book, which is regarded as the definitive authority on the British aristocracy, has become something of an institution in its own right. Since it was founded in 1826, it has charted the family lineages of titled families using records extending back many generations, some as far back as the eighth and ninth centuries. It includes most Prime Ministers and the new edition will also include knights, dames and foreigners who have been given honorary titles among its 4,800 entries.

The three-volume publication has already courted controversy by announcing that it will include some celebrities in the new edition. Critics have suggested that the decision to widen the scope of its qualifying criteria is indicative of a move downmarket and has been taken with a view to selling more copies - at 350 a time - to those who appear in its pages. Those who may appear in the latest edition include Sir Jimmy Savile, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Paul McCartney. Foreign nationals expected to make it into the pages include Bob Geldof and Rudolph Giuliani.

Charles Mosley, the editor of Burke's Peerage, has defended the decision to widen the scope of the entries, arguing that "if they are good enough for the Queen to honour, they are good enough for Burke's." Three years ago, Mr Mosley upset traditionalists when he decided to include details of illegitimate children of the aristocracy for the first time.

Return to Oct/Nov 2002 Index Page


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