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The Duncan – Donnachaidh – Robertson, Scenario


After receiving numerous emails and other communications regarding the Clan Duncan Society, its aims, objectives, purpose and other queries, I thought it was time to give a brief outline of why the Society was formed in March 2005, after nearly twenty years of research into the name Duncan. The research included various prominent Duncan families, Duncan Armorial Bearings (Coats of Arms), Genealogy, Family Biographies, the historic roots of the Duncans in Scotland and other Duncan related history and events. About one third of the research completed so far is published on the Clan Duncan Society Website. This will give you a more in-depth view.

One of the Society’s prime goals is to have a ‘Duncan Chief of the name’ officially recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms of Scotland. This is one of the areas which causes the most confusion and perhaps stirs up the most passion. Some people, who contact the Society, make statements and ask questions such as;

  • “We already have a Chief of Duncan; Alexander Gilbert Robertson of Struan, Chief of Clan Donnachaidh” 

  • “Why have you started a Clan Duncan Society, There is already a Clan Donnachaidh Society?” 

  • “There is no such thing as a Clan Duncan” 

  • “Duncan is a ‘sept’ of Clan Donnachaidh” 

  • “You make reference on your website to Clan Robertson, there is no Clan Robertson it is Clan Donnachaidh”

My first instant reaction is to say to them “I am a Duncan not a Robertson” or “How can I be a member of a so called ‘sept.’ of my own patronymic name” This is why a more informative explanation is required.

It is believed that Robertsons descend from the Duncans and from on particular ancestor that of Robert Duncanson of Struan around 1451, which indeed seems to be the case.  However we must note some other facts,  Duncan Grant of Dalvey, The Great Seal of Scotland 1442 was also regarded as the Chief of Clan Donachie aka Donnachaidh (Duncan). The Jacobite Muster Roll of the Athol Brigade 1745-46 which included Clan Robertson was also devoid of Duncans & Donachies in their muster and The Donnachidh DNA project at present also fails to provide a DNA connection between those Duncans and Robertsons tested. This is only a few examples there are others.

Robertson of Struan 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 or at least one particular Duncanson. However, to be Chief of the Robertsons 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 (Clansman’s Badge) of the Robertson Clan is, to some, not acceptable. 

So is it Clan Donnachaidh or Clan Robertson? The Letters Patent of the father of Alexander Gilbert Robertson of Struan (The Grant of Arms from the Lyon Court confirming that he is an officially recognized Chief) states; 

  "Langton George Duncan Haldane Robertson of Struan, Chief of the name and head of Clan Robertson otherwise entitled Clan Donnachaidh"   

So, in actual fact and contrary to what many believe to be the case, it is Clan Robertson and he is head of that name. 'Otherwise entitled' means that Clan Robertson can otherwise be called or known as Clan Donnachaidh. No mention is made of the name Duncan in the letters patent (Grant of Arms), nor is there any reference to Clan Duncan. Struan is nowhere in this document acknowledged as being Chief of, or having any relationship to, the Duncans.  In fact, his coat of arms is that of the head of the family of Robertson. These are not Donnachaidh arms and they are most certainly not Duncan arms which are very different. 

To further substantiate the above in the 1934 edition of Clan Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, page 177 by Frank Adam & Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Carrick Pursuviant of Arms later Lord Lyon (Sir Thomas is excepted as being a learned legal authority on heraldry & clans) they also make reference to the situation of the Robertson, Donnachie and Duncan scenario.


"Duncan, Duncanson -- Instead of the Duncans, Donnachies. etc., appearing as septs of the Robertsons, the position should, properly speaking, be reversed. As explained in notes on the Clan Robertson the progenitor of the Clan Donnachie was Duncan, or Donnachadh Reamar; the appellation of Robertson having been derived from the name of the Chief, Robert who flourished during the reign of King James I."


Heraldry (Coats of Arms) plays a huge part in the clan System in Scotland and The Lord Lyon King of Arms is a Minister of State and member of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Household. As Head of the Heraldic Executive and Judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon, he has jurisdiction over all heraldic matters in Scotland and he maintains the Scottish Public Registers of Arms and Genealogies. So it should be noted that by the Law of Arms of Scotland, that, if the name Duncan was considered associated with Robertson/Donnachaidh, then all Duncan Coats of Arms would be based on what is known as the stem arms (Chiefly Arms in this particular case) of the family name Robertson of Struan; they are not. Duncan arms are very different and the oldest Duncan arms so far known have been traced back to 1592 in The Hague Roll. Please see The Duncan Armorial Roll and we are at present researching what may be even older arms - those of Finlay Duncan of 1538. 

So, what are the chances of a Duncan Chief of the name being officially recognised by the Lord Lyon of Scotland?  

At present there are two methods: Firstly, find a genealogical Duncan link that goes back to the 4th Chief of Clan Donnachaidh (predating the Robertson Chiefs who, at that time, could be considered to be simply a cadet branch of the 4th Chief). This presents an almost impossible task, considering the lack of records from that time. Secondly, one could hold what is known as a ‘Derbhfine’. A Derbhfine is a council of nine people who are either Armigerous (a person who has obtained a grant of Scottish arms from the Lord Lyon) or who have substantial land holdings in Scotland. 

For more details on holding a ‘Derbhfine’ and Clan recognition see Clan Recognition and the Derbhfine

For the present and until a derbhfine can be held for the nomination of candidate who would in the first instance, be appointed Clan Commander, the ‘Territorial House of Duncan of Sketraw’ will be looking after the interests of Clan Duncan.

One area that other Duncans and those with alternate spellings can help, is by joining the Clan Duncan Society as a member details of membership can be found here. You can also lend your support to the Clan by filling in the Clan Roll Form there also.

John A. Duncan of Sketraw, Laird of Sketraw, FSA Scot.
Clan Duncan Society


1 The Barnetage of England (and such Barnots of Scotland) by William Bethem 1805

2 The History of the province of Moray - Page 56 Lachlan Shaw 1827

3 The Public Register of all Arms Scotland, Court of The Lord Lyon, Edinburgh

4 Clans Septs and Regiments of The Scottish Highlands page 177 by Frank Adam & Sir Thomas Innes of Learney 1934



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