The Chiefs of the Clan are numbered from Duncan, in Gaelic “Donnach”. Thus Clan Donnachaidh means “the Children of Duncan”. The next great Chief was Robert Riach IV, and many clansmen took the surname Robert-son in his memory.
Duncan, the first chief, was described as a potent man. In the Wars of Independence, he allied himself with William Wallace and particularly with Robert Bruce. To the latter and his queen, Duncan gave shelter after the battle of Methven and fought a major action in Glen Dochart with the king against the McDougal of Lorne, allied with the Comyns. Duncan brought the clan down to fight at Bannockburn in 1314.
Once during these wars, the McDougals advanced into the heart of clan country. When Duncan heard of this, he summoned his clansmen and concealed them by the river Errochty, while he dressed as a beggar and penetrated the enemy camp to discover their numbers and strength. He found out what he wanted but was discovered as a spy by the Lorne invaders. They chased Duncan to the river where the chief paused to his closest pursuer before leaping across the torrent—a risk which those chasing him dared not take—and rejoined his army. Whereupon they fell upon the unprepared McDougals and after a bitter and bloody struggle, defeated them.
His famous leap, from a standing position, was 16 feet across the river chasm. Duncan was handsomely rewarded for his service to the king as a rare chief who backed the winning side and lived until he was 80.
The fourth chief, Robert Riach (Grizzled), was another who backed a winner. The Earl of Atholl thought he should be king. Along with Sir Robert Graham, he and his son murdered King James I in Perth in 1437. Sir Robert and the earl’s son sought refuge in Atholl. It is said that they and their followers hid in the forest behind Schiehallion, but their banditry revealed them. Chief Robert and a couple of stout-hearted neighbors tracked the assassins and captured Sir Robert cowering beneath a rock by Loch Bhac.
As reward, he was offered a title, but the canny chief requested instead a crown charter to the lands he occupied. Robert was also given the crest of a hand holding up the crown (a unique honor in Scots heraldry) and the unusual addition of the wild man in chains (Graham) below the shield to commemorate the event.
Struan had “an accidental encounter” with Forrester of Torwood when he received a head wound. He bound it up, went to Perth to collect his charter from the king, returned home, and died of his wound. The clan called itself Robert-son after him.
“The Poet Chief”
Alexander Robertson, 13th of Struan, 1670–1749, was a poet and the most fanatical of Jacobites. He wrote not only in English and Gaelic but also versified in Italian, Latin, and French. Long periods of his life were spent in exile with the Jacobites in St. Germains. King James VIII called him the first gentleman of his court. He lost his estates in 1690 after he scurried home from St. Andrews University and let his clan to fight for Bonnie Dundee.
Alexander was late for Killiecrankie but came upon enemy troops near Perth and lost his battle. He then went abroad for a decade to the exiled Stuart Court. His sister Margaret collected the rents and petitioned the authorities to allow her brother to come home. Alexander rewarded her by having her removed to a remote Hebridean island to avoid paying her annuity. She escaped in time to save his skin after the 1715 Rising, and he spent another 10 years in exile before she won a pardon for him.
By the time of the ’45, Struan was an old man but still led his clan down to the Battle of Prestonpans. After the victory, he appropriated the gold chain, the wolf fur cloak, the brandy, and the carriage belonging to the defeated commander, Sir John Cope. His clansmen escorted him back home, carrying the coach on their shoulders for the last few miles after a wheel broke.
The chief’s portrait depicts him holding a glass and toasting the spectator, an appropriate pose, since it is recorded that the Duke of Perth was hors de combat (out of action) when Bonnie Prince Charlie sent his summons in 1745. The duke had been staying with Struan, and it took him several weeks to recover from all the drink he had consumed.
Struan died in 1749, and 20,000 men marched 14 miles behind his coffin from Rannoch to his grave at Struan Kirk. He left his estates forfeit and saddled by debts. The clan never recovered from its adherence to the Stuarts. It refused to betray its honour for expediency.
THE CURRENT CHIEF
Alexander Gilbert Haldane Robertson of Struan is the 23rd chief of the clan. He inherited from his father in 1983. Struan trained as an engineer and scientist, in which disciplines he worked for 20 years. In 1982, an increased interest in the land led him to switch careers to agriculture. He now lives in Kent with his wife Bridgit where they have a fruit farm.
Alasdair Robertson of Drumachuine is Struan’s heir. He and his wife live and work in Glasgow.