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Scottish Clans: A Treasury of Families and History

Updated on September 23, 2013

Scottish Clans : Endeavor for Freedom

Scottish clans (from Scottish Gaelic clann, "children"), give a sense of identity and shared descent to people in Scotland and to their relations throughout the world, with a formal structure of Clan Chiefs officially registered with the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms which controls the heraldry and Coat of Arms. Each clan has its own tartan patterns, usually dating to the 19th century, and members of the clan may wear kilts, skirts, sashes, ties, scarves, or other items of clothing made of the appropriate tartan as a badge of membership and as a uniform where appropriate. Clans identify with geographical areas originally controlled by the Chiefs, usually with an ancestral castle or manor, and clan gatherings form a regular part of the social scene.The word clann in Gaelic means "children of the family". Each clan was a large group of related people, theoretically an extended family, supposedly descended from one progenitor and all owing allegiance to the patriarchal clan chief. It also included a large group of loosely-related septs - related families - all of whom looked to the clan chief as their head and their protector. Lens Homepage - your one stop for all things Scottish.

3 things you should know about Scottish Clans



There are no official rules on who can or can not wear a particular tartan. Up until now there has been no official registry for tartans but this changed on the 9th October 2008, when it was announced that the Scottish Parliament had passed a bill establishing an official register of tartans for the first time. The National Archives of Scotland will create and maintain the register.

Even though the Lord Lyon does not have jurisdiction over tartans, the Lord Lyon may record a specific tartan which a clan chief or commander wishes to use as an "official" tartan for their clan.

Originally there appears to have been no association of tartans with specific clans; instead, highland tartans were produced to various designs by local weavers and any identification was purely regional, but the idea of a clan-specific tartan gained currency in the late 18th century and in 1815 the Highland Society of London began the naming of clan-specific tartans. In fact, many of today's clan tartans are the work of a 19th-century forgery known as the Vestiarium Scoticum, but despite this, the designs are still highly regarded and they continue to serve their purpose to identify the clan in question.


A sign of allegiance to a certain clan chief is the wearing of a crest badge. The crest badge suitable for a clansman or clanswoman consists of the chief's heraldic crest encircled with a strap and buckle and which contains the chief's heraldic motto or slogan. Although it is common to speak of "clan crests" there is no such thing. In Scotland (and indeed all of UK) only individuals, not clans, possess a heraldic Coat of Arms. Even though any clansmen and clanswomen may purchase crest badges and wear them to show their allegiance to his or her clan the heraldic crest and motto always belong to the chief alone. In principle these badges should only be used with the permission of the clan chief and the Lyon Court has intervened in cases where permission has been withheld. Scottish crest badges, much like clan-specific tartans, do not have a long history, and owe much to Victorian era romanticism, having only been worn on the bonnet since the 19th century. The concept of a clan badge or form of identification may have some validity, as it is commonly stated that the original markers were merely specific plants worn in bonnets or hung from a pole or spear.


Clan badges, are another means of showing one's allegiance to a Scottish clan. These badges, sometimes called plant badges, consist of a sprig of a particular plant. They are usually worn in a bonnet behind the Scottish crest badge, they can also be attached at the shoulder of a lady's tartan sash, or be tied to a pole and used as a standard. Many clans which are connected historically or that occupied lands in the same general area, share the same clan badge. According to popular lore clan badges were used by Scottish clans as a form of identification in battle. However, many of the badges attributed to clans today are completely unsuitable for even modern clan gatherings. Clan badges are commonly referred to as the original clan symbol, however Thomas Innes of Learney claimed the heraldic flags of clan chief's would have been the earliest means of identifying Scottish clans in battle or at large gatherings.

An Example of a Scottish Tartan

Clan Keith Ancient

An Example of a Scottish Crest Badge

Clan Buchanan

This image depicts the CREST BADGE of Clan Buchanan on the clan tartan. The motto, CLARIOR HINC HONO, translated, HENCE THE BRIGHTER HONOUR.

An Example of a Scottish Clan Badge

Juniper is attributed as the clan badge of the Gunns, Macleods, Murrays, Nicolsons (of Skye), and Rosses.

Traditional Scottish Attire - Examples of Tartans in their Proper Use

Scotland National Coat of Arms

Scotland National Flag - The Cross of Saint Andrew

THE SCOTTISH THISTLE - Legendary National Symbol of Scotland

The Legend of the Thistle

Common throughout the highlands, islands and lowlands of Scotland, the prickly purple thistle has been Scotland's national emblem for centuries. This proud and regal plant, which grows to a height of five feet, has no natural enemies because of the vicious spines that cover and protect it like a porcupine.

There are several different legends that tell how the thistle became Scotland's symbol, but most date from the reign of Alexander III and in particular the events surrounding the Battle of Largs in 1263.

It is often forgotten, that for hundreds of years much of Scotland was part of the Kingdom of Norway. By 1263 however, Norway seems to have had little interest in their former territory, that was until King Alexander III proposed to buy back the Western Isles and Kintyre from the Norse King Haakon IV. The thought of relieving King Alexander of some of his riches and territories appears to have re-kindled Norse interest in Scotland.

Late in the summer of 1263 King Haakon of Norway, now intent on conquering the Scots, set off with a sizeable fleet of longships for the Scottish coast. Gales and fierce storms forced some of the ships onto the beach at Largs in Ayrshire, and a Norwegian force was landed.

Legend has it that at some point during the invasion the Norsemen tried to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness the Norsemen removed their footwear. But as they crept barefoot they came across an area of ground covered in thistles and one of Haakon's men unfortunately stood on one and shrieked out in pain, thus alerting the Clansmen to the advancing Norsemen.

His shout warned the Scots who defeated the Norsemen at the Battle of Largs, thus saving Scotland from invasion. The important role that the thistle had played was recognised and so was chosen as Scotland's national emblem.

The first use of the thistle as a royal symbol of Scotland was on silver coins issued by James III in 1470.

It is said that the Order of the Thistle, the highest honour in Scotland, was founded in 1540 by King James V who, after being honoured with the Order of the Garter from his uncle King Henry VIII of England and with the Golden Fleece from the Emperor of France, felt a little left out. He resolved the issue by creating the royal title of Order of the Thistle for himself and twelve of his knights,an allusion to the Blessed Saviour and his Twelve Apostles'. He set up the arms and badges of the order over the gate of his palace at Linlithgow.

The common badge worn by the knights is a cross surmounted by a star of four silver points, and over this a green circle bordered and lettered with gold, containing the motto "i Nemo me impune lacessit", "No-one harms me without punishment" but more commonly translated in Scots as "Wha daurs meddle wi me", in the centre is the thistle. The badge is normally worn over the left breast.

The Order of the Thistle and an Ancient Scottish Coin

The Entrance of Linlithgow Palace

The panels above the gatehouse proclaiming King James V to be a member of the Order of the Garter of England, the Order of the Thistle of Scotland, the Order of the Golden Fleece of Burgundy and the Order of St Michael of France

CLICK HERE to visit ANCIENT SCOTLAND's website for more Images of this and other magnificent structures

The History of Scotland Videos - From the Picts and Gaels to the Highlanders and Medieval Scotland


TImelines, panoramic 360 degree veiws, extensive coverage of subjects from early prehistory to modern Scotland.

Some features require REAL PLAYER which is available on site or CLICK HERE to dowbload it now for Free!


ANCIENT SCOTLAND Lens - Megalithic and Neolithic Scottish sites

The Scottish Wildcat, ENDANGERED - Learn, Join, Donate, Shop to help save one of God's noblest creatures! (CLICK ON PHOTO!)

Scottish Wildcat, Endangered Species
Scottish Wildcat, Endangered Species

Scotland's cat; less than 400 remain...

Far back in the history of Scotland clans formed together under the image of the wildcat and fought wars for the independence of the land. Today less than 400 Scottish wildcats remain in the wild and the extinction of Britain's last large mammal predator could come within the next five years.

Scottish Highland Games - A Taste of Scotland and Gaelic Tradition

Highland games

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Highland games are events held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games are so well known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centred on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.

The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland every August, is the largest Highland games in Scotland, attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 15-20,000 spectators from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is dwarfed by two gatherings in the United States: the 50,000 that attend Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and the even larger gathering-the largest in the Northern Hemisphere-that has taken place every year since 1865 hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. This event is currently held Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California.

Click here to read the rest of this WIKIPEDIA article

Another Great Squidoo Lens you'll enjoy - The Border Reivers

This special group of people represent a unique clan ancestry quite different from the often more familiar Scottish clan names such as MacDonald and Campbell. In fact the Reiver's claim to place name before nationality. An Armstrong before England or Scotland a Graham before any country, and Elliot before a nation.

(Click here to see this lens)

Kilts and Scottish National Dress - Introducing the Scottish National Dress (Click on Image)

This lens is intended to provide information about the Kilt and its origins as well as to provide a guide on how it should be worn. If you want to know the truths about kilt wearing and how not to misrepresent our Highland Scots ancestors, then this lens is for you. The lens is compiled in Scotland, by a Highland Scot with actual experience and knowledge based on service in a Highland Regiment and as a student of the Great Highland Bagpipe

SCOTWEB - Ivy Creek Studio's choice for Scottish kilts and accessories.

CLICK HERE Media Store

THe Scottish History Online Website


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    • profile image

      Kathleen Sloan 

      2 months ago

      Found this very interesting, but do have a question for you. I was a Shaw, but im divorce now. Can i still wear the badge and the tartan ??

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      4 years ago

      Very interesting.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love this lens! So much information and good stuff. We have so much Scottish blood in us we may as well live their. Many of the clan names are our names in genealogy.

    • Rangoon House profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Thank you for sharing so much about Scotland - will definitely visit my clan lens.

    • MariaMontgomery profile image


      7 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      Do you have any links to Logan, McPherson, Lawson, and/or Montgomery? I only just begun looking. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Very nice lens, by the way. Liked.

    • Lauchtane profile image


      8 years ago

      Brilliant Lens, Would greatly appreciate a links to you from my own on the Laughtons of Orkney. Keep up the good work promoting this increasingly forgotten corner of Scottish culture.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      What an interesting story! My ancestors were from Scotland, but I've never looked up any background. Perhaps time to look into some genealogy. You've gotten me interested in knowing!

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 

      8 years ago from USA

      This is an excellent informational lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is the best page ever!

      I learned so much!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is great! I'm linking to it on Border Reivers too!


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