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According to Mr Skene, MacAulay or clan Aula belong to the Siol Alpine. Many formerly held that the MacAulays derived their origin from the ancient earls of Lennox, and that their ancestor was Maurice, brother of Earl Maldouin and son of Aulay, whose name appears in the Ragmans Roll as having sworn fealty to Edward I in 1296. According to Skene, these Aulays were of the family of De Fasseslan, who afterwards succeeded to the earldom.

The MacAulays consider themselves a sept of the clan Gregor, their chief being designed of Ardincaple from his residence in Dumbartonshire. That property was in their possession in the reign of Edward I. They early settled in the Lennox, and their names often occur in the Lennox chartulary, hence the very natural supposition that they sprung from that distinguished house. In a bond of manrent, or deed of clanship, entered into between MacGregor of Glenstrae and MacAulay of Ardincaple, of date 27th May 1591, the latter acknowledges his being a cadet of the former, and agrees to pay him the "calp", that is, a tribute of cattle given in acknowledgement or superiority. In 1694, in a similar bond given to Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck, they again declared themselves MacGregors. "Their connection with the MacGregors", says Mr Skene, "led them to take some part in the feuds that unfortunate race were at all times engaged in, but the protection of the Earls of Lennox seems to have relieved the MacAuleys from the consequences which fell so heavily on the MacGregors".

Mr Joseph Irving, in his History of Dumbartonshire (p.418), states that the surname of the family was originally Ardincaple of that ilk, and seems inclined to believe in their descent from the Earl of Lennox. He says, "A Celtic derivation may be claimed for this family, founded on the agreement entered into between the chief of the clan Gregor and Ardincaple in 1591, where they describe themselves as originally descended from the same stock, 'M'Alpins of auld', but the theory most in harmony with the annals of the house (of Ardincaple of that ilk) fixes their descent from a younger son of the second Alwyn, Earl of Lennox". Alexander de Ardincaple who lived in the reign of James V, son of Aulay de Ardincaple, was the first to assume the name of MacAulay, as stated in the Historical and Critical Remarks on the Ragmans Roll, "to humour a patronymical designation, as being more agreeable to the head of a clan than the designation of Ardincaple of that ilk".

When the MacGregors fell under the ban of the law, Sir Aulay MacAulay, the then chief, became conspicuous by the energy with which he turned against them, probably to avert suspicion from himself, as a bond of caution was entered into on his account on Sept 8, 1610. He died in Dec 1617, and succeeded by his cousin-german, Alexander.

Walter MacAulay, the son of Alexander, was twice sheriff of Dumbarton.

With Aulay MacAulay, his son and successor, commenced the decline of the family. He and his successors indulged in a system of extravagant living, which compelled them to dispose, piece by piece, of every acre of their one large possessions. Although attached to Episcopacy, he was by no means a partisan of James VII, for in 1689 he raised a company of fencibles in aid of William and Mary.

Aulay MacAulay, the twelfth and last chief of the MacAulays, having seen the patrimony of his house sold, and his castle roofless, died about 1767. Ardincaple had been purchases by John, fourth Duke of Argyll, and now belongs to the Argyll family.

About the beginning of the 18th century, a number of MacAulays settled in Caithness and Sutherland. Others went into Argylshire, and some of the MacPheiderans of that county acknowledged their descent from the MacAulays.

A tribe of MacAulays were settled at Uig, Ross-shire, in the south-west of the island of Lewis, and many were the feuds which they had with the Morrisons, or clan Alle Mhuire, the tribe of the servant or disciple of Marg, who were located at Ness, at the north end of the same island. In the reign of James VI, one of the Lewis MacAulays, Donald Cam, so called from being blind in one eye, renowned for his great strength, distinguished himself on teh patriotic side, in the troubles that took place, first with the Fifeshire colonies at Stornaway. Donald Cam Macaulay had a son, Fear Bhreinis, "The Man", or Tacksman "of Brenish", of whose feats of strength many songs and stories are told. His son, Aulay MacAulay, minister of Harris, had six sons and some daughters. Five of his sons were educated for the church, and one named Zachary he bred for the bar.

One of the Aulay MacAulay's sons was the Rev. John Macaulay, A.M., who was grandfather of the celebrated orator, statesmean, and historian, Lord Macaulay. One of his sons entered the East India Company's military service, and attained the rank of general.

Another son, Aulay Macaulay, was known as a miscellaneous writer. In 1796, he was presented to the vicarage of Rothley, by Thomas Babington, Esq, M.P., who had married his sister Jane. He died February 24, 1819.

Zachary, a third son, was for some years a merchant at Sierra Leone. On his return to London, he became a prominent member of the Anti-slavery Society, and obtained a monument in Westminster Abbey. He married Miss Mills, daughter of a Bristol merchant, and had a son, Thomas Babington Macauley, Lord Maccaulay, author of "The History of England", "Lays of Ancient Rome", &c, and M.P. for the city of Edinburgh.

Another Account of the Clan

BADGE: Giuthas (pinus sylvestris) pine.

MacAulayVERY considerable doubt exists as to the origin of the MacAulay clan. The name itself might suggest descent from a Norwegian source, as it might mean "Son of Olaf," and the situation of the ancient stronghold of the chiefs, Ardincaple, at the mouth of the Gareloch in Dunbartonshire, might be used to support this theory. A similar sea-eyrie, Dunollie near Oban, on the Argyllshire coast, is said to have been the "Fort of Olaf." Ardincaple is perhaps rather far up the Firth of Clyde to have been a fastness of the bold Norse conquerors who built, the castles of Rothesay and Dunoon, but this fact in not conclusive against the suggestion. Another theory regarding the origin of the name MacAulay—as of Dunollie—is that it was derived from "ollamh," a physician. But whatever may be the resources of a Harley Street specialist at the present day, it is extremely unlikely that a medicine-man of the Highlands in the time of Somerled or Hakon, or even Robert the Bruce, would be able to build himself a stronghold like either Dunollie or Ardincaple.

The favourite tradition of the MacAulays themselves is that they are a branch of Clan Alpin, and therefore kin to the MacGregors. The only evidence in support of this idea, however, is the action of MacAulay of Ardincaple in 1591 and his descendant in 1694. In the former of these years the chief signed a bond of manrent with MacGregor of Glenstrae, in which he acknowledged himself a cadet of the MacGregor family, and agreed to pay Glenstrae the "calp," or tribute of cattle, in token of his superiority. And a century later, in 1694, in a similar bond to Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbriae, the MacAulay of that time acknowledged the same descent from the House of MacGregor.

It looks, however, as if rather much reliance had been placed on these statements. The chief of 1694 seems merely to have copied the statement of his predecessor of 1591, and there is considerable reason to believe that the earlier statement may have been made for other reasons than mere zeal to elucidate a Highland genealogy. In 1591 the MacGregors were threatening to make things more than uncomfortable for their neighbours on the shores of Loch Lomond, Gareloch, and Loch Long. They secured the alliance of MacFarlane of Arrochar, and it was possibly only to protect himself from their vengeance that MacAulay in 1591 found it prudent to sign the bond of manrent. He escaped, at any rate, from the fate which befell his neighbours, the Colquhouns. In the following year the MacGregors and MacFarlanes raided Colquhoun’s lands, shut the chief up in his castle of Bannachra, and, aided by Colquhoun’s servant when lighting his master up a stair, shot him dead through a loophole. Eleven years later the MacGregors, in still greater force, again raided the lands of Luss, defeated the Colquhouns with great slaughter in Glenfruin, and destroyed all the Colquhoun possessions.

From such attacks the bond of manrent saved MacAulay and his lands of Ardincaple on the other side of the hill. The action of the Government of James VI. which followed, seems to have recognised the fact that MacAulay, in signing the bond of manrent with MacGregor, had merely done so under force majeure, for, while MacGregor was executed and his clan proscribed, Sir Aulay MacAulay of Ardincaple and his clan were exempted from retribution.

For this exemption, according to Skene, MacAulay was indebted to the protection of the Earl of Lennox. The fact may be taken as evidence of a very different origin of the clan. Joseph Irving in his History of Dunbartonshire, states that the surname of the family was originally Ardincaple of that ilk. "A Celtic derivation," he says. "may be claimed for this family, founded on the agreement entered into between the chief of the clan Gregor and Ardincaple in 1591, when they describe themselves as originally descended from the same stock, ‘ M’Alpin of auld’; but the theory most in harmony with the annals of the house (of Ardincaple) fixes their descent from a younger son of the second Alwyn, Earl of Lennox." Alwyne or Aulay was a common Christian name in the Lennox family. The second and third of the early race of earls bore this name. The MacAulays, further, repeatedly appear in the deeds in the Lennox chartulary, and their relations with that house appear to have been fairly personal and close. If, as seems likely, they were really cadets of the Lennox family, they could claim kinship with James VI. himself, who was the actual head of that house, and this would largely account for the fact that they escaped prosecution after the battle of Glenfruin, when their quondam allies, the MacGregors, were being everywhere relentlessly hunted down.

Another clan proved by undeniable documentary evidence to be descended from the Lennox family was that of MacAulay’s neighbours, the MacFarlanes, who in similar fashion were coerced into an alliance by the MacGregors, and similarly escaped punishment after Glenfruin.

As if to show still more unmistakably that the statement of kinship with the MacGregors inserted in the bond of manrent of 1591, was no more than a convenient fiction, Sir Aulay MacAulay, when the MacGregors were proscribed for their evil deeds, was one of those who took up their prosecution with most energy.

In view of all the facts it would seem that the tradition attributing the origin of the house of Ardincaple to a younger son of an Earl of Lennox, has the chief weight of evidence on its side. In any case the family was of consequence as early as the thirteenth century, for the name of Maurice de Arncaple appears on the Ragman Roll. Nisbet (vol. ii. appendix, p. 35) in his Historical and Critical Remarks on the Ragman Roll, states that MacAulay was not adopted as a surname till the time of James V. Alexander de Ardincaple, son of Aulay de Ardincaple, then adopted it as more suitable for the head of a clan than the feudal designation previously borne, of Ardincaple of that ilk.

Sir Aulay MacAulay, of the time of the battle of Glenfruin, died in December, 1617, and was succeeded by his cousin-german Alexander. This chief’s son, Walter, was twice sheriff of Dunbarton. The sheriff’s son, Aulay, MacAulay, though a member of the Episcopal Church, was by no means a Jacobite, but on the contrary, at the Revolution in 1689, raised a company of fencibles for the cause of William and Mary.

It was with this chief that the decline of the family began. He and his successors, as a result of their extravagant habits, were forced to part with one possession after another, till every acre of their once great territories was gone. Aulay MacAulay, twelfth and last chief, sold his roofless castle to John, fourth Duke of Argyll, and died a poor man about 1767.

Meanwhile, early in the eighteenth century, forced to migrate, probably, by the impoverished state of their chief, a number of MacAulays settled in Caithness and Sutherland, while others passed into Argyllshire, where some of their descendants were afterwards known by the name of MacPheideran. A number also migrated to Ireland, where their chief owned the estate of Glenarm in Antrim. Already, however, at an earlier date, another tribe of emigrants from Garelochside had moved farther afield. It was from this race that the chief distinction of the clan was afterwards to come. Settling at Uig, in the southwest of Lewis, they engaged in constant feuds with the Morrisons of Ness at the north end of the island. In the days of James VI., when the Fife Adventurers settled at Stornoway, in the first of those attempts to bring prosperity to the Lewis, of which the attempt of Lord Leverhulme is the latest example, an outstanding part in the strife that ensued was played by one of these MacAulays. This individual, known as Donald Cam, from his blindness in one eye, was renowned for his strength. His son, "the Man " or Tacksman, of Brenish, has had his feats commemorated in many songs and tales. His son again, Aulay MacAulay, was minister successively of Tiree and Coil and of Harris. Of the minister’s six sons, five were educated for the ministry and one for the Bar. One of these sons, Kenneth, minister of Ardnamurchan, wrote the History of St. Kilda, praised by Dr. Johnson. Another, the eldest, the Rev. John MacAulay, A.M., was minister of Inveraray, where he encountered Dr. Johnson, and afterwards of Cardross on the Clyde. He had three distinguished sons. One became a general in the East India Company’s service. Another, known by his literary works, was made vicar of Rothley by Thomas Babington, M.P., who had married his sister. A third, Zachary, became notable as a member of the Anti-Slavery Society, under its auspices became Governor of Sierra Leone, and had his efforts recognised by a monument in Westminster Abbey. Zachary married Selina Mills, the daughter of a Bristol bookseller, and their son was Thomas Babington, Lord MacAulay, M.P. for Edinburgh, author of Lays of Ancient Rome, The History of England, and some of the most brilliant essays in the English language.

Septs of Clan MacAulay: MacPhedron, MacPheidiran

Another account of the clan...

There are two clans of this name which have no family connection with each other. Firstly there are the MacAulays of Ardencaple, Dunbartonshire who are believed to be of Irish origin and claim to be descendants of the Siol Alpin. It has been suggested that they are descended from a son of Alwyn, Earl of Lennox. Alexander de Ardincaple who lived during the reign of James V was the first to adopt the name MacAulay. In 1591 the chief of these MacAulays entered into a bond of manrent with Macgregor of Glenstrae which acknowledged the clan as a cadet branch of the Macgregors. Several generations later in 1694 the then chief again signed a bond of manrent, this time with Sir Duncan Campbell of Achinbreac where they again state they are Macgregors. In 1613 John Dow McAlwa and his son Awla McAlwa were fined for the reset of members of the Clan Gregor. The line ended with the 12th Chief Aulay MacAulay who in 1767 sold the lands of Ardencaple to the Duke of Argyll. After this many of the clan settled in areas as far apart as Argyll, Sutherland and Caithness. The Hebridean MacAulays trace their descent from Aula or Olave "the black", last King of Man and the Isles who lived during the early 12th century. The MacAulays held Luig on the Isle of Lewis where they were followers of Siol Torquil, the Macleods of Lewis  and were bitter enemies of the Morrisons. Although little has been written of this clan the Lewis MacAulays appear to have faired better than their southern namesakes. Among their numbers were Lord MacAulay (1800-59) the famous essayist and historian, several notable clergymen and a general in the East India Company. 

Notice in The Herald on 3rd August 2001

Clan to choose first chieftain in 250 years


THE post of chieftain of the ancient Clan MacAulay, which has been vacant for almost 250 years, may soon be filled.

A special court will meet in Dingwall today to decide who should be the new chief, ending more than two centuries of doubt and sometimes heated discussion.

The court, known by its traditional name of a Derbhfine, will meet in Tulloch Castle, Dingwall, when the Lord Lyon King of Arms will consider submissions.

The main case will come from the clan elders and from landowners associated with the clan. It has been without a chief and effectively dormant since the last leader died, destitute through drink and excess, in the eighteenth century.

Iain MacAulay, 80, a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp survivor, is front-runner to become the 20th chief of the clan.

However, fellow clan association member Iain McAulay, 59, is opposing the selection of the great-grandfather and former RAF medical orderly.

He wants to see the honour go to someone who can prove to be of direct descent from the last clan chief, and argues the selection should be delayed for five years while further searches are carried out.

But the clan association believes that, after 10 years of fruitless searching for someone with a direct line to the former chief, it is time to choose a new head.

The elder Mr MacAulay, who lives in a semi-detached house in Drumbeg, Sutherland, was commissioned as Commander of the Clan at its first modern assembly in Perth three years ago.

He put his name forward for consideration as chief in the absence of finding anyone who is directly related to the former head of the clan.

His rival, a newspaper industry consultant who now lives in Chester but comes from Helensburgh, believed he could show he was a true descendant of the last chief, but was unable to produce acceptable evidence.

The Lord Lyon gave him a year and a day to prove that link, but he failed. The consultant insisted he does not want the honour of leadership himself. "I don't want to be chief of the clan. I had my lineage investigated for the clan and for my own family's benefit," he said.

"I would suggest we should wait five years before any chief is appointed - put a time limit on it. We have lasted 200 years without a clan chief - what difference will another couple make?"

However, the clan's position is that anyone who came forward and could prove a right to the chieftainship after the new chief is chosen in August would be welcomed as leader.

Mr MacAulay, from Assynt, who has been fighting to revive the clan for more than 30 years, said: "Mr McAulay has been offered a place at the annual general meeting on August 4 to put his case forward to the members. He is a man who has interfered with the smooth running of the clan."

Life and Letters of Lord MacAulay
By his nephew the Right Hon. Sir G. O. Trevelyan Bart,. O.M. in two volumes (1908)
Volume 1  |  Volume 2



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