2. MacNauchtans in the Golden Age

HISTORIANS of the clans have been generous to the MacNauchtans of Argyll, attributing to them about everything a Highland family could have wished except numbers, power, and wealth. This may have been due partly to sentiment: a sympathetic glamour still clings to those who adhered to the Stewarts through all their misfortunes, and suffered for it.

The chroniclers have in fact conceded a few more honors than were due, and it remains for us to revise the record here and there. After these subtractions, we find the MacNauchtans have a record of useful service, untainted by disloyalties. They never had any part in mean and murderous conspiracies so common among medieval nobles to knife a King or despoil rivals. They were loyal to the Church; their lands came to them honestly. If they engaged in clan warfare they were merely conforming to the spirited customs of their times.

They had a tartan of red and green that is still used; a clan badge, the trailing azalea, which they had cherished from early days in Perthshire; a slogan or war-cry, "Fraoch Eilean" (Heathery Isle). They came into an island castle in Loch Awe in Argyll that was granted to them by King Alexander in on condition the sociable and gregarious monarch might repair to them for entertainment at his pleasure: the castle of Fraoch Eilean.

Another of their seats was the castle of Dubhloch (Dark Loch) in Glenshira, whose interesting story will appear. The chief seat in later times was Dunderave, near the head of Loch Fyne on the western side. How early they occupied their promontory overlooking the loch and the hills beyond we cannot say; the first mention of a MacNauchtan of Dunderave appears in a history of the clan in the Crawford MSS., where a chief named Duncan is attributed to Dunderave in the reign of James I, early in the fifteenth century.

It is to be presumed Duncan lived in a fortalice or small castle. The origin of the name Dunderave has been a subject of speculation; "dun" in Gaelic means fort or stronghold, and according to Lord Archibald Campbell in Records of Argyll, "da-ramh" means on or of the promontory. So "the stronghold on the promontory" may be as good a deduction as any. A new castle was built there in 1596, and there it stands today.

Numbers meant power, and power was a means to wealth. Some other clan chieftains augmented their ranks by inducing stout fellows to join them and assume their surnames. Sometimes lesser families, fear-ing neighbors and wishing protection, voluntarily surrendered their names to take a chief’s. For reasons of their own the MacNauchtans seem not to have adopted this means to power and influence, so it appears none but a MacNauchtan bore the name and wore the tartan. Today while others may not be sure they are in the true line whose surname they use, every MacNaughton and every descendant of a branch of the old clan may be reasonably free of such doubt.

In or about 1580 Shane Dhu MacNauchtan established himself in Antrim in Northeast Ireland, where descendants still live and cherish the traditions of which you are about to read. The present chief of the clan, Sir Francis Macnaghten, eighth baronet, lives on his estate of Dundarave, Bushmills, in County Antrim.

Dr. William F. Skene, Scottish historian who wrote much of the Highland Celts, says the Clan MacNaughton had its derivation from intruders from Northern Ireland: the Scots of the little western kingdom of Dalriada, now Argyll. He quotes from a genealogy in an old manuscript of 1467 he discovered in the Advocates Library in Edinburgh that purports to show direct descent of this clan from Ferchar Fada, one of the petty Iro-Scots Kings of Dalriada.

He concludes the early MacNauchtans removed to Moray to become part of the great Clan Chattan along with Macintoshes and MacPhersons, also described as descendants of Ferchar Fada. The tribes of Moray became too troublesome for Malcolm IV, Dr. Skene says, so the King drove them out to make room for more tractable subjects, and consoled the evicted with other lands. To the MacNauchtans, he says, was given an area along the river and loch of Tay.

Many writers have accepted Dr. Skene’s thesis without question, but comparison of the list of succeeding MacNauchtan chiefs in the 1467 MS., written by Irish chroniclers, with the known names of the successors of Gilchrist MacNauchtan, shows no similarity. Dr. Skene drew his conclusions from a source wholly unreliable.

Dr. Alexander MacBain, another and later Celtic scholar, edited a posthumous edition of Dr. Skene’s Highlanders that was published in Stirling in 1902, adding an excursus and many notes. He disposed of the question of MacNauchtan origin in a note on page 416, referring to Dr. Skene’s account of the Iro-Scots beginnings, settlement in Moray as part of the Clan Chattan, and removal by Malcolm IV on page 304. Because he was an authority, he could throw the case out of court with few words. Observe:

"The MacNaughtons. The name Nechtan is Pictish and comes from nig, wash, as already said. The deportation of the MacNaughtons from northern Moray is mere theory, and unlikely, too. The name exists clan-wise only in Strathtay and Argyll...."

Brushed away with the Irish story is the idea that the MacNauchtans once formed a minority group in the Clan Chattan with the Macintoshes and MacPhersons in Moray. They have been MacNauchtans or MacNaughtons always and never have been part of any larger clan. From the most remote times they were living in the strath or valley of the Tay, northwest of the city of Perth. I leave it to the Macintoshes and the MacPhersons to declare whether they were originally Scots or Picts. We belong with the Picts.

"If an intelligent stranger were asked to describe the most varied and the most beautiful among the provinces of Scotland," wrote Sir Walter Scott, "it is probable he would name the County of Perth." It lies south of the Grampian Mountains; it is a region where Highlands slope down to Lowland country. "The most picturesque, if not the highest, hills are to be found there," Sir Walter continues. "The rivers find their way out of the mountainous region by the wildest leaps, and through the most romantic passes connecting the Highlands with the Lowlands." Two of the famous passes are the Trossachs and Killiecrankie. In the shire there are fifty mountains that exceed 3,000 feet in height, and the hills celebrated in The Lady of the Lake: Ben Ledi, Uam Var, Ben Venue, and Ben A’an.

The longest river in Scotland, the Tay, rises on the Argyll frontier and pursues its course of 117 miles through Perthshire to the North Sea. Part way down it widens to form Loch Tay, fourteen and a half miles long and about a mile across. Farther south are the lakes made famous in the Scott poem: Loch Katrine, Loch Vennachar, and Loch Achray.

In medieval times and earlier, the MacNauchtan clansmen lived in Strathtay and along the shores of the loch, tending their cattle and sheep and practicing the simple agriculture of the period. Also the less simple arts of warfare when necessary. Writing of the period before King Malcolm Canmore in "Scotland", a most readable popular history, Robert L. Mackie says a province was subdivided among tribes, each ruled by a chieftain, called a Thane.

"Part of the tribal holding of land was the demesne of the chief and was cultivated by his serfs; part was held by free tenants; the remainder was the common property of the tribe. . . . Tenants were expected to follow the King or their superior on foreign service or on expeditions at home, to pay to him cain, a yearly portion of corn or cattle, and four times a year to afford him food and lodging for the night, should he require it, or in lieu of this hand over to him a contribution in kind.


"Laymen wore their hair long, with pointed beards or with mustaches," Mr. Mackie tells us. "Their dress consisted of tight-fitting breeches and a plaid loosely wrapped around the body, or else a closely fitting jerkin with sleeves, girt round the waist by a belt. On horseback cloaks and peaked hoods were worn, or a kilt-like dress with a plaid flung over the shoulders. Spurs were unknown; riders sat on peaked saddles without stirrups. The manes and tails of riding horses were docked, and the snaffle-bridles terminated in cheek-rings. Two-wheeled carts were sometimes used, drawn by two horses fastened to a central pole."


Weapons of the time were bows, swords, and spears. The swords were long, heavy, two-edged claymores, blunt at the point and with straight guards at the hilt. Warriors carried round shields or targes, of leather or bronze, with a boss of metal in the center.


Homes of the plain people were rude huts, sometimes made of mud-plastered wattles or basket-work. Often these homes were nothing more than roughly-roofed excavations in the ground. The chief had a castle or fortalice of stone, where he kept many of his retainers. Churches or chapels of the time were small and poorly lighted buildings of stone, barely thirty feet long, with one window over the altar. "There was no chancel arch; the windows were mere quadrilateral perforations; no carved stone-work adorned the doorway." Though no great architectural standards were attained, the monks, Mr. Mackie tells us, "produced manuscripts of the Gospels or the Psalms written in the most delicate hand, the initial letters, borders, and sometimes whole pages being a maze of interlacing lines."

Of the MacNauchtans, Sir Robert Douglas says on p. 418 of his "Baronage of Scotland", published.in Edinburgh in 1798:

The traditional account is that one Nauchton, a man of rank and distinction in the reign of Malcolm Canmore, who, when surnames began to be hereditary in this country, called themselves MacNauchtons, as sons of Nauchton, and hence the surname of this family. They were a race of brave and warlike people, and were making a considerable figure in Scotland above 500 years ago....

We shall only here further observe that the sons and daughters of this house of MacNauchton were connected by marriages with many of the best families in the west of Scotland; and Donald MacNauchton, a younger son of that family, was elected Bishop of Dunkeld in the reign of King James I, anno 1436....

Major Macnaghten of Windsor, England, is inclined to doubt the brilliance of one or two of these marriages — particularly that which produced the future Bishop — and to feel a trace of uneasiness over the sometimes roseate language of the writers who must be quoted. This attitude of reserve has merit. The family marriages, it will be observed later, were mostly with the sons and daughters of other chiefs in and near Argyll, whose stations were about the same. In these pages the information will be presented just as found, without gilding.

Nisbet’s Heraldry (Vol.I, p. 419) refers to one of the family as "an eminent man in the time of Malcolm IV," and says he "was in great esteem with the family of Lochawe [Campbells of Argyll], to whom he was very assistant in their wars with the MacDougalls. for which he was rewarded with sundry lands." It appears that in joining the Campbells he also was helpful to Malcolm IV, who had difficulty in holding in check the MacDougalls, a powerful clan in Lorne. The "sundry lands" thus gained undoubtedly were the first held by the MacNauchtans in Argyll, and this military enterprise in or about the year 1164 marked the beginning of the movement of the heads of the clan from Tayside to Argyll.

Dr. Skene in his account of the MacNaughtons at p. 304 of "The Highlanders" relates that additional lands came to them after the conquest of Argyll by Alexander n in 1221 and 1222. They "must as Crown vassals have formed a part of his army, to whom the forfeited lands were principally given." The Argyll campaign was a very important one. Somerled of the Isles and his predecessors had held this province as an independent principality, and the outcome was that it was permanently joined to Scotland as a sheriffdom.

Historians say the thirteenth century was a Golden Age for Scotland, for in that period the country had its greatest strength and unity under the last of its native rulers, descended from Kenneth MacAlpin: Alexander II and his son Alexander III. The interference of Edward I of England, "the Hammer of the Scots," after the death of the last Alexander in 1286, initiated a long struggle for independence that, though marked by the historic triumph of Robert Bruce over the English invaders at Bannockbum in 1314, resulted eventually in the union of the crowns after the death of Elizabeth in 1603, when James VI, King of Scots, was proclaimed James I, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland.

This digression has appeared only to emphasize the fact of the Golden Age, which was the period when the MacNauchtans rose in royal favor and came into possession of their lands in Argyll. We find this in Burke’s Peerage for 1875:


In the twelfth century a large grant of lands in Strathtay was made to the MacNaghtens, who were styled Thanes of Lochtay. In the thirteenth century, in consequence of their joining the King as Crown vassals in his expedition into Argyllshire against Somerled, Alexander II granted them lands extending between the south of Loch Awe and Loch Fyne, including the glens Ara, Shira, and Glenfyne. This King also issued a patent from his court at Scone, on 12th February 1267, granting to Gillichrist MacNachtane and his heirs the custody of Fraoch Eilean, on condition that he would rebuild and keep the castle in repair, and preserve it in a fit state for the reception and entertainment of his majesty, whenever it should please him to go there.

Fraoch Eilean was long one of the principal residences of the MacNaghten family, who were hereditary grant rangers of the forest of Benbery [Benbuie], by reason of which the chief of the clan is entitled to carry two roebucks for supporters [with his coat of arms]. They had possessions also in Upper Cowal, and one of them is spoken of as Baron Cowal.

Other clans were generally dependent upon some greater sept. The MacNaghtens continued to exist without any perceptible increase or diminution of strength . . . until the beginning of the seventeenth [properly eighteenth ] century, when their fortunes declined with the ill-fated house of Stuart.

Gillichrist MacNaghtane, constable of Fraoch Eilean, was grandfather of Donald of that Ilk, who joined with his relative MacDougall of Lorne, against King Robert Bruce [at Dalree]; but struck with the bravery of that prince, went over to his interests, and continued faithful in allegiance to him for the remainder of his life.

Dr. Skene accounts for the grant of extensive lands in Argyll on the assumption that, being Crown vassals, the MacNauchtans assisted in the pacification of Argyll completed by Alexander n in 1222. It is a reasonable hypothesis that the chief of the clan at that time was Malcolm MacNauchtan, as his name appears in extant charters of ca. 1246, 1247, and 1257 as the father of three adult sons.


Alexander II presumably needed the help of his Argyll adherents again, when in 1235 he had to quell an uprising in Galloway. Alan, last of a line of Celtic Lords of Galloway, had died in 1234, leaving the control of his province to three daughters, each married to a Norman noble. The Celtic Galwegians hated Normans, and staged an uprising in favor of Thomas, natural son of Alan. Aided by Highlanders, Alexander II put down the revolt, and quite possibly he granted forfeited lands to

some of the chiefs who had assisted him.


It will be remembered that the MacNauchtans helped Malcolm IV get the MacDougalls of Lorne under control in 1164, and then moved into Galloway to become neighbors. They became friends,

too, and then allies in preliminary skirmishes with Robert Bruce.


Now we come to the year 1246, when Gilchrist MacNauchtan conveyed by a charter still existing, which is undated but is generally attributed to that year — a small bit of parchment inscribed by a clerkly monk — the parish church of Kilmorich (Kit-Murdoch) at the head of Loch Fyne to the Abbey of Inchaffray. Gilchrist probably had built the church in his own parish, and conceived or accepted the idea of conveying it to the Abbey, to be held in perpetuity.


In this charter Gilchrist is identified as the son of Malcolm MacNauchtan, or Macnauchthan. The actual conveyance of title was to take effect on the death of the cleric who then held the benefice, and so we find in 1247 a second and final charter from Gilchrist to the Abbey, indicating the passing of the cleric.

Ath MacNauchtan, following the example of his brother, gave a charter to the Abbey of Inchaffray for the parish church of Inishail on the island of the same name in Loch Awe, on June 29, 1257. Ath also was identified as a son of Malcolm Macnauchthan, and the charter states he made the gift with the consent of his brother Sir Gilbert, with whom he presumably shared clan lands. The island of Inishail is near the heathery isle of Fraoch Eilean at the head of Loch Awe. Nothing is left now of the two chapels, or of the castle, occupied after 1267 by Gilchrist. All that remains of the ruins of Inchaffray Abbey may be found on a wooded mound six miles east of the town of Crieff, near Maderty station on the railroad to Perth. The charters are reproduced in these pages.

We must be vague about the son of Gilchrist who carried on the line of chiefs. John MacNauchtan’s name appeared as that of a witness on a number of Crown charters, and he may consequently have been often in the King’s company. A very hazy tradition of the McNaughts of Galloway is that the first of them was John MacNacht-an. This is mentioned without expectation that it will be given much credit.

Nor do we know anything more about Gilchrist’s brothers, Ath and Sir Gilbert. When John Balliol was temporary King of Scotland by grace of Edward I of England, and when he reorganized control of Argyll in 1292, a Gilbert MacNaughton was recorded as a landowner there. (Skene, Celtic Scotland, Vol. in, footnote p. 478.) Then when Edward foreclosed the liberties of the Scots in 1296, one of the names signed to the Ragman Roll was that of Gilberd Makenaght (Gilbert MacNaucht) of eastern Galloway. The reader cannot draw conclusions from such possibly unrelated details.

Whenever a Scottish King made a grant to one of his vassal lieutenants, it may be assumed that lands or a castle were conferred in reward for military service in one of his campaigns. Why then did Alexander in give the keeping of Fraoch Eilean to Gilchrist MacNauchtan in 1267? If we examine the history of the time to look for a possible justification, we come upon the story of the King’s campaign to rid western Scotland of the Norsemen, which ended successfully in the battle of Largs in Ayrshire on October 3, 1263. It would have been strange if the MacNauchtans had not been called into service when their own region was invaded by King Hako of Norway with his fleet of 120 Viking ships. The settlement with Norway after Hako’s retreat and his death at Kirkwall in Orkney was not arranged until July 2, 1266. Thus it had been completed only seven months when Alexander III executed at Scone the charter that gave Fraoch Eilean to Gilchrist MacNauchtan in February 1267. This points to a possibility, and not to a conclusion.

Some castles, we read in Mackie’s "Scotland", were all but impregnable; one on a small island like Fraoch Eilean was surrounded by a natural moat. The King’s representative dispensed rude justice in his demesne, with a pit and gallows always ready for the punishment of wrongdoers. He tried all local cases except those involving "the four pleas of the Crown" — murder, rape, robbery, and arson. Persons accused of these major offenses were detained for the visits of the King, who held court while enjoying the hospitality of his constable. Alexander in liked to move about his kingdom, and no doubt staged good shows in trying culprits. If his lively eye fell upon a pretty face among the spectators, that made the day all the better for him.

After hearing a charge against a prisoner, the King decided how to proceed: whether to accept the oath of the complainant or defendant, or to declare for trial by ordeal of water, or hot iron, or battle. If three trustworthy old men joined a complainant in accusation, the King ordered the accused to be "hastily hangit." Formal testimony of wit-nesses was not usual; "compurgators" were but character witnesses.

In case of decision for the ordeal by water the accused was flung into a pool; if he sank he was innocent and was fished out. If the hot iron was ordered, the suspect grasped it, and his hand was wrapped up for a while. If when unbound the burned hand had festered, guilt was indicated. In the ordeal by battle accused and accuser fought with dirks or claymores before the King and assemblage. A man of rank could hire a substitute to fight for him; a churl or bondman had to take his own part unless his chief provided a champion.

Gilchrist MacNauchtan no doubt held court in the same manner in trying lesser cases involving raiding, stealing, or assault. His castle had a dungeon, if like all others, with chains to confine prisoners securely.

Most of the average turbulent Scots thought prevailing justice slow and uncertain, and preferred to impose their own punishments by taking private revenge. A thief caught in the act of stealing a sheep or a cow was likely to have an ear sliced off on the spot.

Clansmen freeholders on a feudal estate were required to join their chief in military service for the King; they paid rent in money or in cattle, sheep, grain, or fowl. Bondsmen had to work on the estate for protection, shelter (in turf huts likely enough), and bits of land to cultivate; they also had to take arms when called upon.


Table furnishings in the better houses of the time, Mackie tells us, "seem to have been cups, wooden bowls and platters, and spoons. ‘1 lie housewife used for her cooking a kettle, pots and pans of brass, a grid-iron, a roasting-iron, and a griddle or flat metal plate. In cooking, these were suspended from a hook in the chimney over a fire of wood or peat. Many a household, in addition, possessed its brewing vats and brewed its own ale."


Alexander Carmichael, at heart a Celtic poet and by occupation a collector of excise in Argyll, has related the legend of the Isle of Fraoch in an appendix he contributed to Records of Argyll. His text shimmers with imaginative color. The island has been called the Hesperides of the Highlands, he says, in allusion to the classic tale of the garden of Hesperides in which grew the golden apples, cared for by nymphs and guarded by a dragon. It was one of the labors of Hercules to elude the dragon and get some of the apples.

Young Fraoch of the Gaelic poem, son of Fiadhach, was in the eyes of his sweetheart tall, broad, and strong, with glossy hair, blue eyes, and a voice more melodious than the sweet tones of the harp. He was generous and brave and the maid, fairest of all of Cruachan, was beautiful with long golden locks. Unfortunately the girl’s mother, Meve, also loved Fraoch and when she found she could not win him she resolved to destroy him.

On an isle in Loch Awe grew a rowan-tree whose fruit was sweeter than honey, with the quality of restoring lost youth. Coiled round the trunk was a fierce dragon, or reptile, which no one dared approach. Feigning illness, Meve begged Fraoch to bring her some of the fruit of the rowan-tree. He swam to the isle, eluded the dragon and brought back fruit, but Meve was petulant, and demanded he bring the tree, torn from the roots, lest she die.

To appease his sweetheart’s demanding mother Fraoch swam again to the isle, avoided the sleeping serpent, tore out the tree, and hurried to the shore. The awakened reptile overtook him in the loch, where they fought until the water was red with blood. The maiden with fairest form and warmest heart brought Fraoch a knife of gold, with which he slew the reptile as he was about to die. The maiden swooned and died on her lover’s bosom. The Cairn of Fraoch was raised over the grave of the two on the shore of the loch. Fraoch gave his name to the heather, and the heathery isle came to be known as Fraoch Eilean: the Hesperides of the Highlands. This is a part of Celtic mythology, which glows with imagination.


Virtually nothing is known of the later tenancy of MacNauchtan chiefs at Fraoch Eilean. The island castle passed eventually to the owner-ship of the Campbells, as did other of the clan estates. This much we learn from Argyll Sasines (1st Series, p. 112): that on December 6, 1650, Archibald Marquis of Argyll conveyed the castle with various parcels of land to the Campbells of Inverawe.

Fraoch Eilean must have been in use at the time of the rising for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, for J. H. Allan wrote in "Bridal of Caolchairn" in 1822 that preparations had been made for entertaining the prince there, in case he passed that way. Allan also remarked: "It is not very long since this beautiful isle has been delivered over to ‘these in-habitants [gulls and water eagles]; for a great-aunt of a neighboring gentleman was born there. He was moved to add these lines:

And Fraoch Eilean’s refuge tower grey

Looked down the mighty gulf’s profound defile..

Alas! That Scottish eyes should see the day

When bower, and bield, and hall in shattered ruin lay.

Major Macnaghten says the island is today the property of the Captain of Dunstaffnage, whose mother was heiress of the Campbells of Inverawe. He quotes from a poem written in 1858, which indicates a wall with a single gable then remained, and that on the top of a chimney was a nest finally deserted by the last water eagle, or osprey.

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