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Clan MacFarlane History by James MacFarlane

The history of Clan MacFarlane by James MacFarlane... 1899


The early history of the Clan Macfarlane is so interlinked with the House of the ancient Earls of Lennox that the history of one family is practically the history of the other, until the extinction of the line with the eighth earl of the original House of Lennox.

The founder of the clan, one Gilchrist, was indeed the younger brother of Maldowen, the third Earl of Lennox, who granted him a charter making him overlord of the lands of Arrochar. If further proof of this near kinship between the families was required it is found in the Lennox charters, several of which Gilchrist endorsed as a witness. He is described therein as frater comitis—brother of the Earl.  Mr. Skene, the famous Highland historian, states that with the exception of the Clan Donnachaidh the Clan Pharlan is the only one the descent of which from the ancient earls of the district wherein their possessions were situated, may be established by the authenticity of a charter. Of all the native earls of Scotland those of this district alone have had a foreign origin assigned to them. It is supposed, runs the story, that Alwyn MacArchill, an Angle of Northumbria, was father of the first Earl of Lennox. The first known Earl of Lennox undoubtedly bore the name of Alwyn, as did the second earl, and it is equally certain that an Alwyn Mac Archill repeatedly witnessed charters of David I. The Northumbrian's father was named Aikill, and he was connected with a certain Archillus, son of Aykfrith, a Saxon who had large estates in Northumbria and fled to Scotland in 1070 to evade the vengeance of William the Conqueror. Skene, however, scouts this suggestion, maintaining there is nothing to support the theory except the resemblance of names. He in his turn traces the origin of the family back to Lughaidh, King of Munster, of the line of Heber, through his son Core, and gives the descent from father to son, through Maine Leamna, Machdovnaigh, Muredach, Alwyn, first Earl of Lennox, Alwyn, second earl, and Maldowen, third earl, whose brother Gilchrist, as we have seen, was the founder of the Clan Macfarlane. So much for what is almost pre-historic ancestry and dry reading at the best.

It was not until a great-grandson of Gilchrist's assumed the chiefship that the clan became known by the name it has since borne. This chief's name in Gaelic was Parlan or Bartholomew. The real founder of the clan is, however, considered to have been Malcolm, the son of Parlan, as it was he who received the charter, dated Bellach, May 4th, 1354, confirming him in the lands of Arrochar in return for service to the king.

The seventh chief of the Macfarlanes had not long succeeded to his inheritance when the ancient original line of the Earls of Lennox became extinct. This was in the year 1460, and the earldom and estates were claimed by three families, two of which were the chiefs of Macfarlan and the Stewarts of Darnley. The latter were successful and took possession in the year 1488, when the clans formerly allied to the earldom, of which that of Macfarlan was the principle, disassociated themselves from their former allegiance. The chief of Macfarlan's claim was that of heir male. Undoubtedly a just one from his point of view, and he took the field against the more successful heirs. The fighting that ensued proved disastrous to the clan. The chief and his family perished in defence of what they considered their just rights, many of the clansmen fell and the remainder were dispersed to find refuge in remote parts of the country. Happily for the descendants of Macfarlan to-day, their forefathers were saved from utter annihilation through the efforts of a kinsman, Andrew Macfarlan, who had a claim of gratitude upon the Stewarts, and furthermore had married a daughter of the House of Darnley, the new Earls of Lennox. He rehabilitated the clan and recovered most of their hereditary possessions. Andrew, though the saviour of his family, was not in the direct line of the chiefship and so jealous were the clansmen of preserving the direct line intact that they refused him the title and dignity of chief, he and his son, Sir John Macfarlan, merely bearing the subordinate title of captain of the clan.

The clan in gratitude for their salvation now returned to their allegiance to the House of Lennox, an unfortunate connection for them, as subsequent events proved. In the 16th century Duncan Macfarlan with 300 of his kith and kin joined Lennox and Glencairn's army of 1544, and, of course, was on the defeated side at the battle of Glasgow-Muir. Forfeiture of lands was again suffered, and only the intercession of powerful friends at court obtained their restoration under the privy seal. When Lennox returned from England, whither he had flown, Macfarlan could not join him personally, being strictly observed by the Government, but unshakenly loyal to his patron and preserver of former days, he sent his kinsman, Walter Macfarlan of Tarbet, with this time 400 men to swell the army of the invaders. It is stated by Holinshed that these Highlanders did very excellent service, acting as light troops and guides to the main body, which was composed of English troops loaned by Henry VIII. The warlike Duncan perished eventually at the battle of Pinkie in 1547, on which fatal field many of his clansmen fell around him.

The battle of Langside was the next episode in the history of the clan, and this time they were on the side of victory. Indeed the clansmen of Macfarlan were instrumental in turning the tide of battle at the crucial moment. "Macfarlan," so the story runs, "came up with three hundred of his wild caterans in the hottest of the fight, and falling fiercely on the flank of the Queen's army, threw them into irretrievable disorder and thus mainly contributed to decide the fortune of the day." The clansmen took three of Queen Mary's standards in the fray, which were preserved for many generations in the family. Macfarlan's reward for this notable achievement was not very tangible, and does not reflect creditably upon the munificence of the Regent Murray, being merely the bestowal of the crest below referred to, which sufficiently flattered the vanity of the chief. Doubtless the rank and file took part in the general loot which followed battle in those lawless days, and as fighting was as the breath of their nostrils to them, they would return to the wilds of Loch Sloy fully satisfied with their deeds. The Macfarlans were now as loyal supporters of the reigning House of Stewart as before they were uncompromising opponents, an attachment which however led to their ultimate dispersal.

But I anticipate. In the disturbed times following the decapitation of the unfortunate Charles I. of Great Britain, they remained Royalist to the core. Twice Macfarlan was besieged in his own house by the Roundheads, and his castle of Invernglas was burned down by Cromwell's troops. It still stands a melancholy ruin. Although always a small clan, due to their constant engagement in every minor war which was waged in the neighbourhood, they were most turbulent and predatory. By the Act of the Estates of 1587 they were declared to be one of the clans for whom the chief was made responsible; by another act passed in 1594 they were denounced as being in the habit of committing theft, robbery, and oppression; and in July, 1624, many of the clan were tried and convicted of these crimes. Many were punished, some pardoned, while others were banished to the Highlands of Aberdeenshire and to Strathaven in Banffshire, where they assumed the names of MacCandy, Greisock, MacJames, Stewart, and Maclnnes. One of their forays, in company with an equally turbulent section of the MacGregors, which occurred in July 1592, is fully described. They descended upon the low country of Dumbartonshire, and committed vast ravages, especially upon the territory of the Colquhouns of Luss and Rossdhu. Sir Humphrey Colquhoun at the head of his vassals, and accompanied by several neighbouring gentlemen, attacked the invaders and after a bloody encounter which continued until nightfall, the Colquhouns were defeated, Sir Humphrey retiring to Bannachra Castle which is situated—the ruins still stand—at the foot of the hill of Benibuie, on the north side, in the parish of Luss. A party of the Highland allies pursued him thence and sat down before the castle. Now occurred an act of treachery which cannot be paliated, the only excuse to be offered being the war customs of the period. One of Sir Humphrey's retainers agreed to turn traitor at a price. While conducting the knight to his sleeping apartment up a winding stair he caused the glare of his torch to reflect in such a way as to make his victim's position evident to the murderers without, when he was passing a loop-hole of the castle. A winged arrow true to its mark entered and pierced the unhappy knight to the heart. Macfarlans of to day can only lay the unction to their souls that the treacherous shaft came from a Macgregor's bow. The fatal loop-hole can still be seen, though the castle is rapidly falling to decay.

In direct succession there were no less than twenty-three lairds of Macfarlan and the family held their lands, extending from Arrochar round the head of Loch Lomond, for 600 years. The lineal descendant of the chieftains cannot now be traced, and various claimants have arisen for what is now, alas, but an empty title. In a volume, "The Scottish Highlands," it is stated the last scion emigrated to North America early in the 18th century, and from him M. W. W. Macfarlan, a New York barrister, claims to rule. The Irish Macfarlanes claim the title from Macfarlan of Hunstown House, in the county of Dublin, a branch of the family having settled in Ireland in the reign of James II. of Great Britain. But as the clan existed at Arrochar until the fatal rebellion of Prince Charlie in 1745 when they were finally broken up, these claims seem to have but slight foundation. The true descendant will never be known, but as there is nought now to inherit, the lands of Arrochar having passed to the Colquhouns, the matter is not of vast importance. Indeed, perhaps it is better as it is, for each scion of the family can imagine to his satisfaction that he is the lineal heir. While they held sway in Arrochar they were a terror to the more peacefully disposed farmers of surrounding districts. The peninsula of Roceneath was one of their favourite foraging grounds, and the natives must have been serenely glad when they were rooted out.

The devotional loyalty of the Macfarlans to whichever cause they espoused, the loyalty, approaching worship, of the clansmen to their chief, and their great bravery in every fight in which they took part, must call forth the admiration and applause of every reader. Had the chief succeeded to the Earldom of Lennox, to which according to modern ideas he was justly entitled, the family might now be as powerful as that of MacCailein Mor himself. They were, however, unfortunately for themselves, invariably on the losing side in political struggles, except upon the solitary occasion when they threw the weight of their support on the side of Protestanism and James VI. in the scales against QueenMary and Roman Catholicism.

The Macfarlane tartan is not of the order "fashionable" and therefore has not been duly distorted from its original design to meet the exigence of certain garments. The groundwork is red crossed with four stripes, two of green and two of navy blue. The green stripes enclose the blue ones, while an indication of white completes one of the most artistic of the many Highland designs.

The coat of arms, to describe it in other than the somewhat involved and pedantic heraldic language, consists of a shield bearing the St. Andrews Cross upon its surface, and supported on either side by a Highlander whose feet touch a scroll. On the scroll is inscribed the famous battle-cry of the clan " Loch Sloy." Above the shield is a helmet with the visor down, while over that again is the crest earned from the Regent Murray at the battle of Langside for prowess in the field—a demi-savage holding in his right hand a sheaf of arrows and pointing with his left to an imperial crown. The motto, "This I'll defend," is borne upon a scroll above the head of the savage. The clan badge is the cloudberry bush.

Since the days of its greatness the clan has given at least one eminent man to Scotland. I refer to Mr. Walter Macfarlane, who was, as Mr. Skene says, as celebrated among historians as an indefatiguable collector of the ancient records of his country as his progenitors were among the Highland chiefs for their prowess in the field.

Helensburgh. James MACFARLANE.

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