A Review of The Documents & Historical Events That Define It

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A Wee Bit More About Donald the Drover

There’s been a bit of controversy here and there as to whether Donald MacLaren was indeed a captain in the Appin Regiment or whether he belonged to a different regiment.  There is sufficient documentary evidence in my opinion to support the assertion that he was part of the Appin Regiment and not the Atholl Brigade as some have claimed.

First, an article in the Journal of the Society for Army Research – A. McK. Annand, ‘Stewart of Appin’s Regiment in the Army of Prince Charles Edward, 1745-46‘, (Vol. 38(153), 1960. Page 24 and Page 27).

The entry reads: “Whilst all the casualties suffered by the officers were amongst those with the surname of Stewart (with the exception of one MacLaren), of the remainder, 69 killed and 40 wounded bore other names….Of these the greatest number were MacColls with 18 killed and 15 wounded and MacLarens with 13 killed and 4 wounded”. The MacLarens who were killed and wounded, however, may have been residents in Appin so not Balquhidder. I have found no evidence to support their residency.

Listing of MacLaren and Stewart casualties at Culloden

Angus Stewart, in his article entitled ‘The Last Chief: Dougal Stewart of Appin‘, in The Scottish Historical Review, (Vol. 76(202), Edinburgh 1997, Footnote 41 on page 209): “There was a contingent of McLarens from Balquhidder with the Stewarts. This included Donald McLaren of Invernenty, listed as captain in the Order Book of the Appin Regiment and celebrated for an audacious escape from captivity in the aftermath of Culloden. An old blood tie is the usual reason given for the alliance, it may also be significant that Appin gave Invernenty credit and thereby acquired titled in 1748 as a secured creditor in the ranking of his creditors (service of heirs, SRO, C22/95/24)….”

This ties in nicely with a couple of things. First, the blood tie. Margaret MacLaren’s history of our clan and several Stewart family histories detail out the marriage between the daughter of the Chief of MacLarens of Ardveich and John Stewart. A previous liaison between the two had produced a son, Dugald. After John’s first wife died he sent for the MacLaren woman (whose first name I’m still searching to find) and Dugald (18 at the time) with the intent to marry her and declare Dugald his legitimate heir.  He had no male issue from his first marriage.

The powers that be in the Stewart clan weren’t too happy about this as they stood to lose any claim to the throne – so to speak. So they set about to have John killed. The idea being to see him dead before he could wed MacLaren and make his bastard son a legitimate heir.  So they set about hiring an assassin to stab John Stewart. Happily for MacLaren and son, John, in spite of life threatening injuries managed to hang on long enough to say ‘I do’ and declare Dugald his heir; basically dying at the alter. 

Unfortunately, at 18 and without a great deal of support, Dugald was unable to fend off his relatives and he was forced to relinquish his claim and departed for another part of Scotland where he went on to found the Appin Stewarts. 

That blood tie with the MacLarens was held and enforced across the centuries as the two clans went to each other’s aid when required. (See Henry Lee, History of the Stewart Family, New York: 1920, p. 36 onward and Margaret MacLaren, The MacLarens, p. 31)

This is nicely supported by Donald’s son, James, who sued the Stewart family after Dugald Stewarts’ death in an attempt to gain back the lands his father sold to Dugald after the uprising of ‘45. In his Memorial – which more or less equates to what we would call a deposition today – he says: “…He [Donald MacLaren] owed sundry debts to several persons, particularly to Dugald Stewart of Appin, who was his connection and confidential friend, who was a man of considerable influence in that part of the country, and who had taken the memorialist’s father, as being one of his followers, under his protection and friendship.” Here is a copy of that passage.  

Page from James MacLaren’s Memorial

Further, on page 142, listing number 2234 in the Prisoners of the ’45, Vol. III by Seton and Arnot, we find another reference to Donald MacLaren identifying him as a Captain in the Appin Regiment.

Listing of MacLaren as part of the Appin Stewart’s in the Prisoners of the ’45 book.

Finally, there is a listing in the Atholl Chronicles, Vol. III wherein Donald is listed, again, as a Captain in the Appin Regiment.  As these are the records of the Duke of Atholl it seems pretty unlikely that he would have written that MacLaren was an officer in the Appin Regiment if he was an officer in the Atholl Brigade.

Listing of Donald MacLaren from the Atholl Chronicles

All-in-all it looks to me that the preponderance of evidence strongly supports the argument that Donald was, in fact, an officer in the Appin Regiment during the course of the Jacobite uprising in 1745-46.

The Mermaids and MacLaren Heraldry

I’ve been asked about the presence of Mermaids on the Clan’s Coat of Arms.  Why mermaids?  Are they real representations of the some aspect of the clan or just a decoration that someone along the line thought looked nice.  The answer is: they are real representations of an aspect of the Clan.

First, let’s take a quick look at heraldry.  A Coat of Arms in Scotland only belongs to one individual. 1Alastair Campbell of Airds, West Highland Heraldry and The Lordship of the Isles, The Lordship of the Isles, Richard D. Oram, (ed), Vol. 68, 2014 p. 208.   In the case of the clans – any Scottish clan – the individual to whom the Coat of Arms belongs is the chief.  If the arms belong to a family name (as opposed to a clan name), then they belong to the head of that family. So although the MacLaren Coat of Arms belongs to our Chief Donald alone, it represents the rest of us as members of his clan.  Remember, the word ‘clann’ (with two n’s in the Gaelic language) is the Gaelic word for ‘children’.  Thus members of the clan can be considered to be the extended family of the chief. 

Heraldry can tell you a great deal about the individual, or in our case, Clan.  It can give you heritage information, origin information, virtues and moral values.  It can do this because each of the images that are part of a Coat of Arms are symbols representing something.  Even the way the images are laid out on the shield gives information.  As Alastair Campbell of Airds writes in his article on West Highland Heraldry: “And whatever critics may say, heraldry is intensely symbolic and allows its users to make statements which can be clearly recognisable and which can offer a valuable sidelight on history.” 2http://www.heraldry-scotland.co.uk/westhigh.html

For example, if we look at a couple of the clans from the isles, we see a Galley of the Isles (or Black Galley) and The Galley of Lorne symbols.  These go way back to the Isle of Man during the time of Somerled who is arguably the first of the Lords of the Isles in the 1100s, and who conquered the Isle of Man. 3W.D.H. Sellar, ‘The Origins and Ancestry of Somerled’, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 45(140), 1966, p. 123  But going back even farther, we find that the galley symbol was also present on banners of Norse nobles.  So in Somerled’s case, this might well represent his connection with the Norse Lords. 4W.D.H. Sellar, ‘The Origins and Ancestry of Somerled’, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 45(140), 1966, p. 123 and Ellis Caitlin, ‘Impressions of a Twelfth-Century Maritime Rule – Somerled: Viking Warrior, Clan Chieftain or Traitor to the Scottish King’, Northern Studies, Vol. 51 (2020), p. 3.  The MacDonalds, who are direct descendants of Somerled, display that historical relationship by the use of the galley on their Coat of Arms. 5Alastair Campbell of Airds, West Highland Heraldry and The Lordship of the Isles, The Lordship of the Isles, Richard D. Oram, (ed), Vol. 68, 2014 pp. 200-253

The MacLaren Coat of Arms has several symbols, including a galley, and you’ll find a comprehensive explanation of the MacLaren Arms in Chapter 11 The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran. 6Margaret MacLaren, The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran, 1960, p. 130  But the ones we’ll discuss today are the mermaids; a symbol found on the Coats of Arms of other clans and families besides MacLaren, the Murrays for example.  So how did the mermaids come to be a part of our Clan’s heraldry?

The mermaids date back to the time of the Picts who were an independent pre-Roman people in Scotland until they were united with the Scots of Dalriadia by Kenneth McAlpin in around 843 AD. 7https://www.digitscotland.com/who-were-the-picts/.  To the Picts, the mermaid represented the Mother Spirit but they also have a variety of other attributes such as Eloquence and Strength. 8Margaret MacLaren, The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran, 1960, p. I  No one is really sure, beyond the Pictish belief in the Mother Goddess, what any Pict symbol represents. But scholars have suggested that the mermaid, along with the comb and mirror, is representative of a female person as well as a relationship to the sea.

The mermaid symbols on the Clan MacLaren Coat of Arms represent the origins of the clan as it relates to the early people of Scotland.  But how do we more directly equate the early Picts with Clan Labhran? 

Well, it’s a little complicated but Strathearn and therefore Balquhidder was part of Fortrenn/Fortriu, a Pictish kingdom upon which the high-kingship of the Picts was based prior to the merging of the Pictish lands with those of Dalriada in the 9th century. What is now Perthshire was part of Fortriu and so the ancestral lands of the MacLarens were originally Pictish. 9C. Thomas Cairney, Ph.D., Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland – An Ethnography of the Gael a.d. 500-1750, Maryland: Heritage Books, (2006), p. 58 and Woolf, Alex, Dún Nechtain, Fortriu and the Georgraphy of the Picts, The Socttish Historical Review, Vol. LXXXV, 2 No. 220, (2006) pp 182-201 It could be suggested, then, that location plays a part in the presence of the mermaids.  

But so does hierarchy.  According to Margaret MacLaren when discussing the origins of the Clan and its relation to Pict mermaid symbology, “Even after the coming of Christianity she retained her symbolic importance in the minds of the people and when a Gaelic prince came over from Lorn and married their princess the mermaid survived as the tutelary emblem of the princess’s descendants, the Clan Labhran, whose Chiefs to this day, in token of their origin, bear mermaids as heraldic supporters for their Arms.” 10MacLaren, Margaret,The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran, (1960) p. I

For further reading:

  • There’s a website which gives a lot of information on the Picts and seems quite comprehensive. (I can’t say how scholarly this site is.)
  • The Aberdeenshire Council page dedicated to the Pictish Symbol Stones

(For a fascinating video about Pictish symbols, have a look at this YouTube video:

  • 1
    Alastair Campbell of Airds, West Highland Heraldry and The Lordship of the Isles, The Lordship of the Isles, Richard D. Oram, (ed), Vol. 68, 2014 p. 208
  • 2
    http://www.heraldry-scotland.co.uk/westhigh.html
  • 3
    W.D.H. Sellar, ‘The Origins and Ancestry of Somerled’, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 45(140), 1966, p. 123
  • 4
    W.D.H. Sellar, ‘The Origins and Ancestry of Somerled’, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 45(140), 1966, p. 123 and Ellis Caitlin, ‘Impressions of a Twelfth-Century Maritime Rule – Somerled: Viking Warrior, Clan Chieftain or Traitor to the Scottish King’, Northern Studies, Vol. 51 (2020), p. 3
  • 5
    Alastair Campbell of Airds, West Highland Heraldry and The Lordship of the Isles, The Lordship of the Isles, Richard D. Oram, (ed), Vol. 68, 2014 pp. 200-253
  • 6
    Margaret MacLaren, The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran, 1960, p. 130
  • 7
    https://www.digitscotland.com/who-were-the-picts/
  • 8
    Margaret MacLaren, The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran, 1960, p. I
  • 9
    C. Thomas Cairney, Ph.D., Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland – An Ethnography of the Gael a.d. 500-1750, Maryland: Heritage Books, (2006), p. 58 and Woolf, Alex, Dún Nechtain, Fortriu and the Georgraphy of the Picts, The Socttish Historical Review, Vol. LXXXV, 2 No. 220, (2006) pp 182-201
  • 10
    MacLaren, Margaret,The MacLarens, A History of Clan Labhran, (1960) p. I