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A Brief History of Clan Strachan
By Jim Strachan, FSA Scot

Copyright © 2014-17. 
All rights reserved.
Clan Strachan Scottish Heritage Society, Inc.


Clachnaben (archaically "Cloch-na'bain"; Scottish Gaelic: "Clach na Beinne") , one of the eastern Grampians in Strachan parish, Kincardineshire.  It is crowned by a mass of bare granite, from which it is sometimes called the "White Stone Hill."  According to an old-world couplet: "There are two landmarks out at sea, Clochnabin and Bennachie." 

The STRACHAN name is a habitation (aka Territorial) name, taken from the barony of Strachan (today known as the District or Parish of Strachan).  It is located some 20 miles south west of Aberdeen, in the Royal Deeside Grampian Highlands of Scotland.

The word STRACHAN is derivative from the Scottish Gaelic language. The origination of the surname is somewhat a conundrum, and often a topic of some debate.

The first part of the surname is derived from the Gaelic word "strath" meaning "broad valley."

The main burn (or river) running through the hamlet of Strachan is the Feugh. The word Feugh, some suggest, is similar to the word Fiddich, derived from the Gaelic word Fiadh/Féidh - which is a generic word for deer. The cartographer Timothy Pont renders the name Feugh as Feuich (c. 1583x1614). Remember, in Gaelic the 'f' disappears in the genitive.

The Gaelic word for 'river' is Abhainn. There are a few Gaelic pronunciations for this word, but the one commonly used in the Royal Deeside is /awn/ like lawn. 

Therefore, many believe the original pronunciation is a conflation of the three aforementioned Gaelic words:  strath-euch-an.   Meaning the "Valley of the Deer River."

The first charters and grants pertaining to Strachan of that Ilk seems to support this thesis of a three syllable word: Stradhehhan (c. 1189x95), Stratheuchin (c. 1203x14), Stradhehin (c. 1222), Strahechyn (c. 1219x25), Strathechin (c. 1225x39), and Stratheihan (c. 1230). 

If further confirmation were needed, the main heraldic achievement used in Strachan armorial bearings dating back to at least 1309 is a stag or hart (a male deer).

Mormaer of the Mearns

Strachan was located on the northern border within the Pictish kingdom of Circind, which boarders the Water of the Dee to the south.

In 1094, the Mormaer of the Mearns, Máel Petair,  murdered King Duncan II, and his lands (including Strachan and Durris) are believed to have been confiscated by King Duncan's brother and successor, King Edgar of Scotland.

The barony of Strachan is first mentioned in a feu grant by King William the Lion to William Gifford in 1189x95.   (RRS, ii, no. 340)  William Gifford was of Norman extraction.

Contrary to what many believe, the barony of Strachan was not part of the Earldom of Mar. Rather, the above charter confirms Strachan was instead part of the Royal demesne, and held in forest as a royal hunting reserve.

The Gifford tenure of Strachan appears to be fairly short lived for other than this initial grant of Strachan, there is no evidence of any further Gifford family connection with the barony.  Instead, it appears the barony was inherited by another Norman incomer by the name of Ranulf. Contrary to that claimed in earlier 18th and 19th century sources, Ranulf de Strachan, Knight is first of the Name mentioned in a charter, probably dated 1212. (Arb. Lib., No. 65, and POMS) , and not in 1153x65.

The most feasible explanation appears to suggest that Ranulf de Strachan likely married an un-named daughter of William Gifford, and acquired or inherited the barony through marriage (Before c. 1207).   

The barony of Strachan appears to have been one of the largest baronies geographically in Scotland, but only accounted for one knights fee due to its poor mountainous terrain. The Parish of Strachan is about twenty miles in length, extending from the confines of the parish of Durris, on the east; to Mount Battock, on the west ; and is twelve miles in breadth, from Cairn-o'-Mount, in the south, to the river Dee, which constitutes its northern boundary, and separates it from the parish of Banchory-Ternan. It encompasses 56,362 acres.  (Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, ii, p. 504-5)

Disinherited

The 'de Strachan' family were close associates and (the chartulary suggests) were kin to John Comyn, the Earl of Buchan, and opposed Robert de Bruce. 

Archeological research suggest forces loyal to Robert de Bruce sacked the timber fortification in Strachan known as Castlehill during the summer of 1308, and subsequently confiscated the barony of Strachan.

In 1316, Robert de Bruce granted the barony of Strachan to Sir Alexander Fraser.

Clan Strachan Revival

Admiral Sir Richard Strachan, Bt. was a Representor of Thornton, the last Chief of Clan Strachan recognized by the Court of the Lord Lyon, and died in 1828.  For nearly 200 years the Chiefship of Clan Strachan lay dormant, as did the clan itself. 

In 1873, an unsuccessful attempt was made to claim the Baronetcy of Nova Scotia from the Strachan of Thornton line by one Thomas A. Wise of Hillbank (formerly Wyse of Lunan, in the County of Forfar).

Perhaps more profoundly, at no time since the death of Sir Richard had anyone laid claim to the Chiefship of Clan Strachan.

When Queen Victoria first visited Scotland in 1842, a devotion for Scotland grew within her.  She visited the Highlands on many occasions, and in 1855 arrived at Balmoral, in the Royal Deeside, referring to Balmoral and the beautiful lands and countryside surrounding it as, '"This dear paradise".  Quite simply, she had a love for the Scottish Highlands unparalleled by other Scottish monarchs who preferred the comforts of Edinburgh and Holyrood, Linlithgow and Sterling. 

It was not until Queen Victoria came to live at Balmoral that any British or Scottish sovereign had even entertained the notion of acquiring a permanent seat in the Highlands, which was quite literally a few miles from the ancient ambit of the Strachan District.

This love for Scotland sparked a clan revival among many Scottish families.  

Sept relationships among the various Scottish clans, whether true or imagined, became codified.  Tartan plaid carpets and curtains were fabricated in large quantity. And, in addition to some of the old tartans, new clan tartans were invented.

Whether you're a fan of Queen Victoria, or not - - it's irrelevant.  Everyone agrees her love of the Highlands created a catalyst for a revival in Scotland, and strengthened a feeling of continuity with the past.

Beginning in the late 19th and well into the 20th century virtually every Scottish clan created societies, associations and trusts.  That is, virtually all families except for Clan Strachan.  While other clans were re-inventing themselves in the 1850's, the Strachan family did not have its own tartan until well over 100 years later, in 1987. It was designed by Tony Murray, which it is unknown if he had a maternal link to a Strachan ancestor, or if he was more motivated by the prospect of selling tartan products to Strachans?

Regardless, the new Strachan tartan, according to Kenneth Dalgliesh (Scottish World Tartan Society), was first seen in 1999, at the turn of the 21st century.  

Quite literally, by all accounts our family had gone cold on its history and heritage.

That is, until 2005, when Jim Strachan and Dennis Strawhun founded the Clan Strachan Society with the intent to resurrect Clan Strachan as one of the ancient and noble families of Scotland.  One of their goals being to restore legitimacy and honour to the Name of STRACHAN.


Jim Strachan (left) and Dennis Strawhun (right)
Picture from UT San Diego

For the first two years the Society conducted an online global survey.  It quickly became apparent that Retired Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Maj. Ben Strachan, Mill of Strachan, Strachan, Aberdeenshire had merged as the lead candidate.  Over 300 votes were cast, with 99.3% recommending Ben Strachan of the Mill of Strachan become our next Clan Chief.

In 2007, the Society then sent a proposal to Robin Blair, Lord Lyon King of Arms seeking Ben be recognised as Chief of Clan Strachan.  Unfortunately, it was communicated that we had gone about it all wrong.  Simply, Clan Strachan needed a certain number of Scottish Armigers and landowners to hold an official meeting (Gaelic: Derbhfine) under the supervision of the Court of the Lord Lyon.  Mr. Blair further explained that this process would likely take decades, to a lifetime to accomplish.  Jim Strachan immediately filed a petition for a new grant of Arms, and this was followed shortly by LCDR William Strachan in New South Wales, Australia.

In 2008, David Sellar was appointed as the new Lord Lyon King of Arms. 

In July 2010, Mr. Sellar created new guidelines for holding a Family Convention (aka Derbhfine).

In 2010, the Clan Strachan Society posted a letter requesting the Lord Lyon's determination on the appropriateness of holding a Family Convention (aka Derbhfine) in order to recognise a new Clan Strachan Representor.  A response was returned confirming that Clan Strachan was the first to make reference to his new guidelines, and also received an affirmative response. We quickly began a two year search for qualified Strachans to join the Family Convention. Furthermore,  during this period there were a number of new STRACHAN grants of Arms by the Lord Lyon including: Drew Strachan from Elgin; Dr. Martin Strahan from Queensland, Australia; Roddy Strachan of Benholm; and Charles Robert Lund Strachan from the Mill of Strachan.  Also, through the help of the Lyon Clerk, the Society was able to locate an existing Armiger previously known, Professor Sir Hew Strachan Laird of Glenhighton.

Due to Ben Strachan of the Mill of Strachan's advanced age and declining health, he and his wife Lize appointed Rob Strachan as the Family Representor at the Family Convention.

On 16 December 2012, David Sellar, Lord Lyon King of Arms appointed Charles J. Burnett, Esq., Ross Herald Extraordinary, to be the Supervising Officer for the Strachan Family Convention. [see above screenshot] 

 

4-Febuary 2013, seven Strachan Armigers (including one pending petition), plus the Armigerous Clan Strachan Society, and other prominent individuals of the Name totaling 21 in number and residing throughout the world were approved by the Supervising Officer to participate in the Family Convention (or Ad Hoc Derbhfine).

Derbhfine: (Pronounced: /jar-ah-fee-na/. English: "Family Convention"):
Defined as an ancient Celtic Court summoned by the Lord Lyon King of Arms who rules on the recommendation of the Supervising Officer.  A Derbhfine (synonymous with Family Convention) is truly an ancient patriarchal Celtic Court, where tradition and democracy are beautifully united. According to Charles Burnett,The Convention is the opportunity for the clan family to come together, for individuals to express their opinions before a Supervising Officer, for potential candidates to present reasons why they might be elected as the Strachan Representer, and if two candidates appear equal, then for the Supervising Officer to ask for the franchise of those present in terms of their chosen individual.  The Supervising Officer takes notes throughout the Convention which form the basis of his Report to the Lord Lyon King of Arms which should state who is the preferred candidate. The Report concludes with a request from the Strachan Family Convention to the Lord Lyon seeking his recognition of the chosen individual

In May 2013, an informal worldwide telephone conference call was convened among 20 Attendees authorized by the Supervising Officer to participate in the Derbhfine. Of the 20 Attendees, three individuals residing in Scotland were open to the possibility of becoming the Clan Strachan Representor.  The conference call was independently moderated by Mr. Michael Grewer from Edinburgh, and concluded with full and unanimous consent that Rob Strachan, Mill of Strachan, Strachan, Aberdeenshire be proposed to the Supervising Officer as Clan Strachan's new Representor at the Ad Hoc Derbhfine in Edinburgh scheduled the following year.

On 17 Jan 2014, it was announced that Dr. Joseph Morrow would be appointed the new Lord Lyon.

The following month, the Aberdeen Evening Press published the following. (see image on right) 

A mere six years after the initial failed attempt, on Friday 11 April 2014, an official meeting to revive Clan Strachan's standing under Scots Law was made before the Court of the Lord Lyon.  For the first time in recorded history, Clan Strachan convened an Ad Hoc Derbfhine (or Family Convention) under the supervision of the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. 

Shortly after this truly historic event, the Lord Lyon signed a warrant to appoint Rob as Commander for a period of 5 years.  This "waiting period" is to allow another claimant with a well-proved and documented genealogical link to the past Chief of Clan Strachan (or a cadet branch) to make a claim on the Chiefship, and allows the clan itself to make sure it is happy with Rob's leadership.

Naturally, any genealogical claims to the Chiefship must be made to the sole and exclusive satisfaction of the Lord Lyon King of Arms. A successful claimant must petition and be granted undifferenced Arms of the past Chief of Clan Strachan, and assuming the Lord Lyon grants these Arms the successful claimant (if a representative of Thornton) would likely also be recognised as rightful heir to the Baronetcy of Nova Scotia.

As mentioned previously, no claim has been made in nearly 200 years, and all genealogical research strongly suggest the Chiefly stem of Clan Strachan has become extinct in the male line.  Subsequently, the Clan Strachan Society does not anticipate any legitimate new or competing claims to arise during this 5 year wait period.

In 2019, another Strachan Family Convention will be held to confirm Rob as Hereditary Chief of the Honourable Clan Strachan.  This meeting again will be held under the auspices of the Court of the Lord Lyon, and hopefully held in or near the village of Strachan.

 

 


Copyright © 2005-2016.
All Rights Reserved.
Clan Strachan Scottish Heritage Society, Inc.
A Federal Tax Exempt 501(c)(3) Public Charity


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