The Clan System

The structure of the Scottish clans today

Every Folk that hold their own has its origins in the darkness of the Past, and knows about Kings, or heroic Battles. The same is true of the scottish Clans – a grouping of relatives, who are usually at least distant, who live in a particular Region and claim a common origin and/or ancestry.

Identification features

Every Leader of a Clan has a Coat of Arms. In addition, every Clan calls a Tartan, an Emblem or Badge and a Motto, even a certain Bagpipe Tune their own. In addition, there is often a Clan Plant Badge, a Plant that stands for the Family or the Region from which the respective Clan comes, which used to be the only Sign of recognition. An example of this would be the Mistletoe for the Hay, or the Heather for the MacDonalds. Another example is the Pine for the Clans MacKinnon and MacGregor. Normally such a Badge is worn on the Bonnet, or on the Shoulder (on the sash) for women.

Structure of the Clans

In principle, you can distinguish between Highland and Lowland Clans, whereby a finer/more accurate classification is possible.
The inner structures are however the same and are constructed as follows:


The Head of a Clan that owns the loyalty of the Clan members.
He was a Judge in disputes within the Clan and his Chief Army Commander. He also distributed the Country of the Clan among the members and was responsible for the poorest members. As a Sign of his office, he carries three Feathers on Bonnet. He is bearer of the Coat of Arms and regulates the wearing of the Tartan and the Badge.

The Head of a significant Family of the Clan and Deputy of the Chief.
He settled disputes within his Family, was responsible for them to the Chief and led in fighting his Warriors. During Wars, the Chieftain of the oldest family commanded the right Wing. As a Sign of his office he wears two Feathers on Bonnet. Today he is like the Chief Holder of the Crest, Tartan and Badge of the Clan.

The Tacksman is a member of the Clan with a special status.
He is usually a Landowner with special responsibilities within the Clan and thus has special rights, but also duties to the Chief. As a Sign of his office, he carries a Feather on Bonnet.

Every chief and chieftain had a bard at his court.
In peacetime he was a narrator and entertainer and wrote among other Poems on special Occasions. In time of War he incited the Clan to fight by told glorious stories of the Clan.


The musician of the Clan.
Like the Bard, he was responsible for the entertainment during the peace. In the war for example he was Collection point of the own troops. Often Bard and Piper were the same person.

The remaining Clansmen and Clansman.
Family members and/or relatives of the Chief and Chieftain

History of the Clans

Even before the Christianization of Scotland, the Clans were an institution.
However, they did not receive much attention and strong sense of belonging until the time of the War of Independence (1296-1314).

To the End of the 14th century, most Clans had established themselves and smaller families sought alliances within the great Clans in the neighborhood through alliances. In the 15th and 16th centuries, James IV. managed to enforce the Lowland feudal concept in the Highlands and confirmed the land claims of many chiefs by a royal transfer parchment – the Sheepskin Certificate.
When, from 1603, England and Scotland were united under a single Crown and the Lowlands were pacified, most of the clans retreated deep into the Highlands, living in spite of the barren land self-sufficiency. Due to their involvement in the Jacobite uprisings (1689-1745), the clan system was smashed by the ‘Act of Proscription’, as well as the following ‘Highland Clearances’, and typical clan symbols such as tartan were banned by the ‘Dress Act’. Only when the Dress Act 1782 was repealed kilt and tartan regained access to the clans and Societys were founded, which should support the clans in collaboration with the Chiefs. Previously, emigrants in America tried to renew old clan structures, some of them very successfully. Today there are about 140 clans recognized by the Court of Lyon worldwide.