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A Brief Clan History

Legend provides the story that in ancient days, the Picts of what is now Perthshire, consisted of the Kaledonioi. Of the Kaledonioi, there were five great clans, and one of these was Clan Donnachai. These clans made a great fight against the Roman invaders about A.D. 78 and preserved their wild independence, being the only race in Europe that came to blows with Imperial Rome and was never subdued. In the year A.D. 84, the Clan Donnachiai and other great clans fought the Romans in the famous Battle of Mons Grampus and brought the Roman invasion to a halt. The real Highlands were never invaded.

The Robertsons claim descent from the great King Malcolm II (1005–1034) and through him, from Kenneth MacAlpine, first King of the Picts and Scots, who reigned 843–859 A.D.

The grandson of Malcolm II was King Duncan II (1034–1039), who was murdered by his cousin Macbeth of Shakespearean fame. On the defeat of Macbeth, Duncan’s son Malcolm III (Canmore) became king. Of Malcolm III’s many sons, another Malcolm was the first Earl of Atholl, and from him, the Robertsons are descended.

The second earl was also named Malcolm, and his son was Henry, third and last earl of the old Celtic line. He had two sons, Constantine and Conan. Constantine predeceased his father, and his daughters carried the earldom out of the royal line. Conan of Glenerochyly possessed large territories in Perthshire, which eventually were possessed by his descendant Duncan (Rheamhair) de Atholia, who was born about 1275.

Duncan or Donnachaidh Rheamhair (meaning robust or stout) was a famous fighter and a firm friend of King Robert the Bruce. He fought many battles and led the Clan at the Battle of Bannockburn. He had four sons, three of whom were outlawed for the fight in the daring raid of Angus. The eldest, Robert named after King Robert the Bruce, was ancestor of the Robertsons of Struan. The Robertsons of Lude are descended from the second son, Patrick.

Another noted chief was Robert Ruadh who was greatly feared by the lowlanders, whom he constantly raided. He made himself especially famous by capturing the assassins of King James I.

The Clan increased in numbers and prospered, many branches appeared, descended from younger sons, and the Clan was noted for loyalty to the Stuarts, a loyalty which was to cost them dearly in later years. Under the great Montrose, when they fought for King Charles I, the Clan numbered 800 fighting men.

The Clan was fervently Jacobite. Our 13th Chief, Alexander of Strowan, the Poet Chief (1668–1749), was the only Scottish Clan Chief to “rise” for the Stuart cause in 1689 under Bonnie Dundee, again in 1715 under the Old Pretender, and of course, under Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. The chief was too old to fight, so the Clan was led by Lt. Colonel Donald Robertson of Woodsheal in the name of Bonnie Prince Charlie. At age 77, the Chief watched his Clansmen, commanded by Lt. Col. Robertson, charge successfully at the battle of Prestonpans (1745). Alexander was carried home to Loch Rannoch wearing the gown of and in the carriage of John Cope, the defeated English General.

The Clan forces then merged with the Atholl Brigade under Lt. General George Murray and took part in the last battle fought on British soil, where many of our Clansmen gave their lives on the grim battlefield of Culloden Moor (April 1746). The battle of Culloden was a “bad day” for the Robertsons and many other Jacobite clans, as well as for Stuart Kings.

After Culloden, many of the Clan emigrated to the United States (particularly the southern states), Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but many stayed in Scotland and a number went to England. According to F.A. Adams, the Scottish historian, “Clan Donnachaidh or the Robertsons number over 4,500 in Scotland alone and are now one of the most numerous clans in the world. Many thousands are occupying important positions in the United States and in all the Dominions and Colonies of the Commonwealth.”

No Clan Donnachaidh laird ever evicted a tenant as part of the Highland Clearances during the 19th century. Quite the opposite—the 18th Chief, George Duncan Robertson of Struan, broke the entail on his estate and sold Dunalastair, the family seat, and dispersed part of the proceeds to his needy Clansfolk.

Loyalty and service have always been Clan attributes. The Black Watch, the Perthshire Regiment, abounds with Clansmen who have rendered faithful service to the Monarch. More members of Clan Donnachaidh have won the Victoria Cross than any other clan or group of people sharing similar surnames. In the First World War, the only enlisted private ever to reach the rank of Field Marshall in the British Army was one William Robertson.

Of more recent times, the noted historian and eminent authority, Dr. W.F. Skene says, “The Robertsons of Struan are unquestionably the oldest family in Scotland, being the sole remaining branch of that Royal House which occupied the throne of Scotland during the 11th and 12th centuries.”

The chief of the Clan is styled “Struan” (meaning “stream”) Robertson. In ancient days, the chiefs had castles at Inverack near Struan and in Rannoch. In more recent times, their residences were at Dell, Dunalastair, and Rannoch Barracks. The burial places are at Struan and Dunalastair.

To invoke the motto Virtutis Gloria Merces (Glory is the Reward for Valor), may we, as clansmen and clanswomen of a great and famous Clan live up to the motto and its glorious tradition.

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