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Clan Duncan Information and History


The Donachad, Dunchad (Duncans) descends from King Malcolm II who reigned from 1005 to 1034 and was the last king in the direct male line to descend from Kenneth MacAlpine, who united the Scots and Picts in 843 A.D. and is considered the founder of Scotland. One of Malcolm's three daughters, Bethoc, married Crinan, the secular hereditary Abbot of Dunkeld. Through her, the Abbot's son was installed by Malcolm as the King of Cumbria in 1018. After Malcolm II's murder by his nobles at Glamis, Duncan killed his opponents and seized the throne as King Duncan I. His first cousins, Macbeth (of Shakespearean fame) and Thorfinn the Raven Feeder, Norwegian Earl of Orkney, united to advance MacBeth's claim to the throne through his mother, another daughter of Malcolm II. Duncan reigned from 1034 until he was defeated in battle by their combined armies and killed by Macbeth in August 1040 at Elgin. Scotland was then ruled by Thorfinn in the northern districts and Macbeth in the southern districts.

Malcolm, Duncan's eldest son, rebelled twice against MacBeth in an effort to gain the throne. His grandfather, Crinan, was slain in 1045 near Dunkeld "with nine times twenty heroes" as he led an aborted attempt to put his grandson on the throne. The second attempt was more successful as Malcolm, at the head of an English Saxon army defeated and killed MacBeth while his Norwegian allies were engaged elsewhere and Malcolm ascended the throne in 1057 as King Malcolm III Ceann Mor (Canmore).

In 1068, Malcolm took as his second wife, Margaret, later known and revered as St. Margaret of Scotland. She had fled England with her brother Edgar Aetheling after the Norman Conquest. During his 37 year reign, the first events now known as Highland Games were held on the Braes of Mar to choose the best available men to serve as his servants and soldiers. His death in battle in December 1093 and the death of his wife, several days later brought on a turbulent time which saw Malcolm's eldest son, King Duncan II murdered by Malcolm's brother Donald Bane, Lord of the Isles, in order to become king. Another son, Edgar, finally secured the throne in 1097 with the help of another English army of Saxons and Normans led by his mother's brother, Edgar Aetheling. King Malcolm III's hereditary possessions devolved on his youngest brother, Maelmare, the first celtic Earl of Atholl and on his death, the earldom passed to Malcolm III's namesake, the second son of his first marriage. This Malcolm, the younger brother of the slain King Duncan II is the recognised progenitor of the Clan.

As stated by the eminent historian, William F. Skene in 1837, "the Robertsons of Struan are one of the oldest families in Scotland, being a branch of that Royal House of Atholl which occupied the throne of Scotland during the 11th and 12th centuries." The male line of this royal house ended in 1286 with the untimely death of Alexander III when he fell from his horse. On the death of Alexander III's daughter Margaret, the "Maid of Norway", Scotland was plunged into the famous wars of succession to determine who would be the next King of the Scots. The claimants to the throne, the houses of Balliol and Bruce, who in turn became rulers of Scotland, were of Norman origin in the male line, though they descended on the female side from the ancient Atholl dynasty. England, led by King Edward I, supported John Balliol. By 1306, Robert the Bruce had been crowned King of Scots at Scone and the War of Independence from the English continued while at the same time he continued to consolidate his hold on the throne among rival Scots claimants.

The Clan's first recognised Chief was Donnachadh Reamhair, or "Stout Duncan", who led the clan and supported Bruce during the wars of Scottish independence which culminated in Bruce's famous victory at Bannockburn on June 24, 1314 over Edward II's army. The most precious clan relic, the celebrated rock crystal charm stone of the clan, the "Clach na Brataich" or "ensign stone", was unearthed when the chief's standard pole was pulled from the ground while on the march to Bannockburn. It has been carried by all chiefs since then when leading the clan to battle.
Stout Duncan had four sons. The three younger sons: Patrick, Thomas and Gibbon, were outlawed by King Robert III for their part in leading the daring "Raid of Angus" in 1392 which garnered 3,000 head of fat Angus cattle, laid waste the district of Angus and resulted in the death of the Sheriff of Angus and a host of his followers who had pursued the clan back to Atholl. The eldest son, Robert, became the second Chief in 1355 and died sometime after 1392. Duncan, his eldest son and third Chief, spend some time as a hostage in
England for the ransom of King James I and died sometime before 1432. He was known as the Lord of Rannoch, as all the other lands in Rannoch were in the hands of the Crown.

His eldest son, Robert Ruabh Duncanson, fourth Chief, was a strong supporter of King James I and was incensed by his murder. He tracked down and captured the regicides, Sir Robert Graham and the Master of Atholl hiding in a small glen and turned them over to the Crown. They were drawn and quartered at Sterling Castle.

The Robertson crest badge of a right hand holding an imperial crown was awarded by King James II to the fourth Chief, on August 15, 1451 as a reward for capturing the assassins of King James I in 1437. It is from this Chief that his descendants and many of his clan folk took the name "Robert's sons" or Robertson.

This is only one account of the early history of the Duncans and up to this point, many would agree with this early historical account. However if we accept the above view, not all clans folk followed their then chief and changed their name, as did he, to that of Robertson; as evidenced today by the number of individuals and families around the world who retain the name of Duncan and the various spellings thereof. Rather than show allegiance to the Chief of Clan Robertson (Donnachaidh) many Duncans have chosen to use the crest in a belt & buckle (ship under sail) said to be that of Clan Duncan, depicting Admiral Adam Duncan of Camperdowns Crest, sadly its neither. It is also interesting to note that, almost as a departure from normal heraldic practice, all grants of arms in the name of Duncan do not bear any resemblance to those arms of their supposed chief who is a Robertson.

Could it be that by wearing the clansman’s crest badge, said to be that of Duncan, all be it a contrived one, show that a very large proportion of Duncans do not wish to show allegiance to a Chief of a Clan they do not regard as their own or follow a Chief not of their own name?

Robertson of Struan at present is (according to Burke’s Landed Gentry of Scotland) the 24th Chief of Clan Robertson and the 28th Chief of Clan Donnachaidh and there can be no doubt that his genealogy links him to both but, to be Chief of Robertson’s is one thing, to be Chief over the name ‘Duncan’, a name he and his immediate family abandoned over 450 years ago is quite another. To expect those who today retain the name of ‘Duncan’ to wear the Crest Belt and Buckle of the Robertson Clan is, to some quite unpalatable. Follow this link for more information on the Duncan -Donnachaidh -Robertson, Scenario

One of the purposes of ‘The Clan Duncan Society’ is to reunite the Duncans once again as an independent Clan and in time present the Lord Lyon King of Arms of Scotland with their own proposed Chief of Clan Duncan. The regulations laid down to achieve this goal are stiff but, “It can be done” and “Has been done” by others. First and foremost however, we must unite!


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