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Bogus Baronage and the origin of Clan Gregor

By Peter Lawrie, ©2018

Introduction from Amelia "History of The Clan Gregor"

In 1822, the Rev. William MacGregor Stirling began the compilation of a history of the Clan Gregor, for Sir Evan Murray MacGregor, the 21st (or 19th) chief. The work, with the assistance of Professor Donald Gregory, was not ready for publication when MacGregor Stirling died in 1833, The death of Professor Gregory in 1836, and of Sir Evan in 1841, put a stop to any further progress. I wonder, too, if the divergence betwen the findings of his researchers from the beliefs of his family which are mentioned in the next paragraph may have deterred Sir Evan from publication. Eventually Amelia Murray MacGregor, great grand-daughter of Sir Evan, published volume I of the "History of The Clan Gregor" in 1898 and volume II in 1901. The published History is more or less an exact transcription of the research notes with a degree of organisation and also includes extracts from a small number of other published works such as "The Red & White Book of Menzies".

Quite separate from the meticulous research into state and other archives by these two researchers, in 1769 John Murray wrote a contribution on Clan Gregor to be included in the compendious "Baronage of Scotland", by Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie. Douglas's " Baronage" was eventually published posthumously in 1798 and included John's fantastical speculations on the early history of the Clan Gregor with his personal belief in the seniority of descent of his own family. It is unfortunate that Amelia chose to incorporate the resulting "Baronage account" into her "History of The Clan Gregor", giving it equal weight with the work of MacGregor Stirling and Gregory. [1] John Murray became chief in 1787 when 897 clansmen signed a document in his support. He obtained the junior peerage title of 1st baronet MacGregor in 1795.

According to Amelia in chapter 1 of volume i, quoting from John Murray's 'Baronage' contribution, "The renowned ancestor to whom we look as the Founder of our Race was King Gregory, who reigned from 878 to 890. This 'Gregory' he claimed to have been the same as Giric whose father was Dungaile or Dungallus, grandfather of Run, King of the Britons of Strathclyde, who married the daughter of Kenneth McAlpin. After the death of Aedh, or Heth, the last of Kenneth’s sons, Eocha, son of Run, was placed on the throne of the Picts, and another King, Girig, was associated with him as his Governor. This claimed to have been found in a “Latin History of the Alpinian Family, formerly in the Scots College at Paris, and recovered from it by David Mallet” the poet, who died in 1765. Amelia stated that this Latin History "had been in the possession of Sir John Murray, but cannot now be found!"
Harummph! Even Amelia tried to distance herself from some of these claims of early origin, although later in the "History" she continued to incorporate extracts from the Baronage as if they were based on genuine research.

Martin MacGregor's unpublished thesis "The History of the Clan Gregor to 1570"

Martin MacGregor in his unpublished 1989 Edinburgh University thesis "The History of the Clan Gregor to 1570" [2]   stated that the originator of this claim of Dark Age origin had been Hector Boece, who had transformed Girig, an obscure king who reigned with Eocha, grandson of Kenneth MacAlpin, from 878-889, into a Dark Age superhero, Gregor or Gregory the Great, conqueror in turn of the Danes, Britons and Irish. Boece’s invention was seized upon in a work entitled A Latin History of the Alpinian Family which identified Gregory the Great with the eponym of Clann Griogair, and connected him genealogically with Kenneth MacAlpin. [3]  

Martin commented that further myth-making was an inevitable part of such a process, and reached apotheosis in the article on the name ‘MacGregor’ in Douglas’s Baronage of Scotland (1798), - "a piece of sustained fiction marred only by the occasional intrusion of fact". [4]  

Martin derived 'Gregor', which in modern Scottish Gaelic is normally spelt Griogair, from the Greek verb gregoréo, ‘to be watchful’. Thus Gregórios (Lat. Gregorius) meant ‘watchman’, a name which was borne by no less than 16 Popes, commencing with St. Gregory the Great at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries. Between the twelfth and late thirteenth centuries, the Latin form Gregorius was applied to several Scottish ecclesiastics: bishops of Moray, Dunkeld, Ross and Brechin, a dean of Strathspey, and an archdeacon of St. Andrews. It is possible that some of these men had Gaelic personal names with which Gregorius was being equated. Gregorius could then have come to be used as a Gaelic forename in its own right, ultimately assuming the form Griogair.

There is also the possibility of Norman influence. The Normans brought the name to England, where, in the form Gregory, it was common by the twelfth century. The earliest record of the name Gregory in Scotland - Gregory de Melville or Gregory son of Geoffrey - is found in the late 12th century. The earliest record of 'Gregor', as opposed to 'Gregory', in Scotland seems to be Gregor Makenkerd (i.e. mac an ceaird, son of the gold- or silver-smith) in 1297. Thus Griogair, the eponymous ancestor of the MacGregors, is unlikely to have lived any earlier than the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries.

Martin identified three surviving pedigrees of the early MacGregor chiefs, [5]   all composed between c.1415 and c.1512. Two are found in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. [6]   The Dean, Sir James (Seumas) and his family were based at Tulaich a’Mhuilinn near Fortingall at the mouth of Glen Lyon. There is considerable internal evidence that sir Seumas, his brother Donnchadh, and their father Dubhghall played the critical roles in determining the contents of The Book of the Dean of Lismore. The two genealogies can be extracted from poems which rehearse the pedigrees of the respective MacGregor chiefs they eulogise. The first, by Mac Giolla Fhionntóg an Fear-dána, addresses Maol-Coluim, chief from 1415 to 1440; the second, by Donnchadh, brother of the dean, addresses Eoin Dubh, chief from 1461 to 1519. Donnchadh also gives us a prose version of the pedigree of Eoin Dubh. The third genealogy is one of a number contained in a Gaelic manuscript generally known as MS 1467 possibly written in the general area of the Butler territories of Ormond in 1467.

While there are some discrepancies between the three genealogies, I have provided Martin's conclusions in the table below, headed "The Dean's 16th century genealogy".

Martin was confident that the only possibility for the eponymous Gregor is Griogair, son of Donnchadh Beag and father of Eoin. Since Eoin cam died in 1390 Griogair himself must have flourished in the first half of the fourteenth century. Thus the assertion that the eponym was a brother or son of the ninth century Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots and Picts, is clearly a myth. Despite this the belief in royal descent from Gregory the Great and/or Kenneth MacAlpin has persisted to the present day both in the popular mind in clan histories, thus explaining the disproportionate amount of space which some of them devote to the Dark Ages.

Martin commented that even at a more scholarly level this idea of descent from Alpin has been influential [7]   and must help to explain Donald Gregory’s belief that the MacGregors were already an “ancient tribe” at the time of the First War of Independence. [8]   However, he pointed out that there is no documentary evidence for the surname MacGregor being used during (or indeed prior to) the lifetime of the eponymous Griogair himself and it first came into use by his grandson in the first half of the fifteenth century. In many clans, he says, within two or three generations from the eponym, his name would be borne by his specific successors as chiefs, as their style; by his descendants collectively, as their clan name, and by his descendants individually, as their surname.


The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the sequence of the 3 billion nucleotide base pairs that make up human DNA, and of identifying and mapping all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and a functional standpoint. It remains the world's largest collaborative biological project. After the idea was first proposed in 1984 to the US government, the project formally launched in 1990 with an original budget of three billion dollars. The international consortium included geneticists in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, China and others. It was declared effectively complete in 2000.

The technologies developed have since become far cheaper and today (2018) an individual's genome can be sequenced almost completely for under a thousand dollars. For genealogical research the small Y-chromosome, passed from father to son, allows male line descent to be investigated for a few hundred dollars per test. It has been found that, on average, in the regions of the Y-chromosome which are tested, mutations will occur at a predictable rate (although this can vary in some circumstances).

DNA testing can be of great value to genealogists and particularly to Highland Clans. Professor Richard McGregor of the Clan Gregor Society now manages one of the largest family groups with (at the start of 2018) over 1420 members tested or in process. Among all surname projects, the MacGregor project ranks as the 11th in the world and 3rd largest of the Scottish clan projects.

In view of the vicissitudes of the clan in the 16th and 17th centuries, (the name was banned from 1603 to 1775, with a gap from 1660-1693), Clan Gregor has fewer non-related 'part-takers' than most clans, hovering around 50% of the members tested. Many testees do descend with a high degree of probability either from Gregor himself or from a closely related member of his kindred around AD 1300.

If a defined set of locations are tested and it has been determined that it is statistically highly probable that there will be a mutation in that set once in every three generations, then finding a difference of seven mutations in that set of locations between two samples implies a common ancestor 21 generations ago which would take us back to around AD 1300. If within the same defined set of locations, two samples have 40 differences, then their common ancestor could be 120 generations or at least 3600 years ago, in the Bronze Age. In practice, it can be somewhat more complex than this simplistic explanation.

If the present chief, Sir Malcolm MacGregor is taken as the standard, against which others are tested, his second cousins with the same great grandfather may have just one difference.The chief descends from Donnchadh Abrach who died in 1604, 12 generations ago through his eldest son Padraig aldoch. Therefore if a male-line descendant of Donnchadh's second son Raibart abrach is tested, he might be expected to differ from Sir Malcolm by 4 mutations.

Martin's studies, mentioned earlier, indicated that our eponym, Griogair, was a member of a ruling lineage, possibly known as the Clann Ailpein. His ancestor, Aodh Urchaidh (Hugh of Glen Orchy), may have been a ruler of this kindred which appears to have been disrupted by the Wars of Independence. This name Clann Ailpein does not imply descent from a 9th century King Alpin, but is more likely from an eponym who lived in the 12th or 13th centuries. A small number of testees bearing the name MacGregor (or one of a number of accepted sept names) have been found to have a mutation count which indicates that their common ancestor with other MacGregors may have lived in the century or two before Griogair. Neglecting the possibility of their "hyper-active DNA" mutating faster than expected, these could be descendants of earlier Ailpeanach and have subsequently adopted the name MacGregor, in the same way that unrelated 'part-takers' may be found in many clans to have adopted the surname of the local clan chief.

By comparing our results with testees from other clans claiming Dalriadic origins, for example Grants, MacKinnons, Macnabs, MacQuarries, MacAulays and MacAlpines, there appears to be strong probability of common ancestry in the period of Alpin of Dalriada - which is not to say we have proved descent from King Alpin, only to some member of the elite kindred that lived in the area of Dalriada in the "Dark Ages".

An attempt to explain the arms of Clan Gregor

Before listing the genealogies and discussing the Baronage account, perhaps I should speculate on possible explanations.

First of all we should absolutely dismiss the Baronage fables. However, the Glencarnaig family represented the descendants of Donnchadh Làdasach. John Murray ultimately became clan chief by election in 1787. At one time Donnchadh Làdasach held the lands of Ard Choille, now Ardchyle in Glen Dochart. The coat of arms registered with the Lord Lyon by the chiefs descended from John Murray and published in Innes of Learney's "Clans, Septs and Regiments", has the motto "ard choille", while the arms published in the 1902 edition of Debrett's "Baronetage" have the motto is 'E'en do and spair not'. In both cases the crest has 's rioghal mo dhream' - royal is my race. I believe that 'Ard Choille' and 'E'en do and spair not' or some spelling variant on it are both specific to Làdasach's line with the Scots version probably no earlier than the 17th century.

The idea of our Royal descent, and hence the use of the crown in the various badges and arms, goes back to the writings of Boece in the 15th century and it appears to have been taken up by the family of the Dean in Fortingall in the 16th century, hence 's rioghal mo dhream'. As I mention below, in mocking the fable of Sir Malcolm of Glenurchy, the ownership of fixed coats of arms did not become the norm until the 14th century and even then they were exclusive to knights and peers. Subsequently gentlemen not in the peerage became able to acquire coats of arms. The earliest record of a MacGregor heraldic coat of arms, as mentioned below is in the Pont MS of 1624. The herald who designed the arms for Sir John in 1795 would have made use of the information and requirements presented to him at the time.

The plant badge of Clan Gregor, according to the late Lord Lyon, Innes of Learney, is not the Oak but the Scots Pine. This is shared with other clans which consider themselves as part of the Clan Alpine: Grant, MacAulay, Macfie, Macnab, Mackinnon, MacQuarrie, MacAlpine and Clann Fhearghuis of Strachur. The Oak is shared as a badge by various unrelated clans, except that Macfie is in both lists: Buchanan, Cameron, Macfie, Kennedy and Stewart. The Clan Gregor Society crest uses the Scots pine, not the oak. So we cannot be sure why the oak appears in the late 18th century coat of arms, only that we can be confident that it had nothing whatsoever to do with warding off a fierce boar.

According to a Pont MS, the Clan Gregor slogan was once "Bad Jewis" - Bad Guibhas meaning ‘Clump of Firs’. (The modern Gaelic form is Bad Ghiuthas.).

The Pont ‘MS’, which is now in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh has: ‘A note of the Arms of the Nobilitie of Scotland set doun in order as they ride at Parliament also the Arms of the wholle sirnames in Scotland exactly blazoned in their proper colours and done in order of the alphabit collected by James Pont Anno Dom. 1624’, where it describes a coat of arms thus: McGreigor; Argent, a sword az; and a fir tree vt crost salterwayes beneath a crown gu; with these words ‘Bad Jewis’.

Gaelic verse referring to the Battle of Glen Fruin confirms that Bad Guithais meaning ‘Clump of Firs’ was the slogan used at the time.
  Nuair a dhìrich sibh 'm bruthach
'S a ghlaodh sibh 'bad giuthais'!
Bha luchd nan ad dubha fo leòn

Bha mi 'n làthair an latha
'N robh do bràithrean is d'athair
Far an d' fhàg sibh nan laithe luchd chleòc

  When you climbed the bank
And you cried out 'Pine Clump'!
The folk of black hats were dealt blows.

I was present at the battle
At which were your brothers and father
Where you felled the cloaked people.


"In the achievement of ‘MacGregoure’ from the Lislebourg MS in the British Museum date 1589 there is no motto; a circumstance leading to the inference, that the Slogan of Ardchoill had been first recorded in 1544." Finally the same source on that page concludes that: "Duncan Ladosach was…styled of Ardchoille…which, from being the seat of his particular lineage…under Duncan’s son and heir, became its war cry". Clearly the Clan Gregor, like others in the Clan Alpine, once used the pine as their plant badge. For reasons now lost to us, the lineage of Donnchadh Làdasach have at some point adopted the oak instead. As the chiefly line of Glen Strae lineage was almost completely eliminated in the conflict with the Campbells, the descendants of Donnchadh Làdasach became pre-eminent, so their badge and war cry became that of the entire clan.

In the small burial ground behind Glengyle House is a wall mounted stone slab with an central figure holding a vertical sword with a crown on the left and a vertical tree on the right. The tree does appear more like a pine than an oak, but it is difficult to be sure. The words above read, "P Bell builded the burial place of the family of Mac Greggars called Dugald keirs family. Forevard and spare not." I suspect this dates from the time the house was built around 1708 and makes use of the Scots words similar to those used by Làdasach's line, so this does not help with ascertaining any earlier forms.


The Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis,” is in Amelia Vol i, ch 1. Prior to Duncan, father of Gregor it is of virtually no value, but has been included only "because it's there!". The nonsense in the Baronage Account follows this table

The Dean's genealogy on the left is as discussed by Martin above. Before Donnchadh beag it is impossible to verify, but clearly jumping from Patrick in the mid 15th century to Alpin in the 9th in 11 generations is not credible. However, in reciting the genealogy of Patrick (died 1461) the bard states "Down from Alpin, heir of Dougal there are twenty and one besides thyself", but only 11 generations are listed not 21!. Assuming an average of 30 years each for 21 generations gives 630 years which takes us back from Patrick (d 1461) to a putative Alpin around 830 which is at least biologically credible. It does make one wonder if Donnchadh mac Dhubhghaill Mhaoil knew there were 21 generations back to Alpin, why did he not list them? Or perhaps he listed the only names he had, but his arithmetic was as good as ours!


The Dean's 16th century genealogy
Alpin (Ailpin)
Kennan (Connan)
Hugh of Glen Orchy (Aodha Urchadhaich)
Gillelan (Giolla Fhaolain)
Duncan (Donnchadh) Duncan the small (Donnchadh beag)
[Malcolm - [perhaps brother of Gregor]
John the learned - [perhaps brother of Gregor]
John (Eoin cam)
Black John (Eoin dubh) - the first MacGriogair


“Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis,”
Feradach finn
Ferchar fada
Ferchar og
Ferchar og


The Baronage

Simply because it has been mentioned but not implying any credibility whatsoever, the table summarises the Baronage account of descent from Alpin. I have provided links to jpg scanned images of the complete Baronage account of Clan Gregor.

The funniest of all is the story of "Sir Malcolm of Glenurchy". It might be just a laugh, but unfortunately this story has given rise to the current Clan coat of arms, embodying an uprooted oak tree with crossed sword and the clan motto "E'en doe bot spair nocht". Examining these in turn, we are expected to believe that when the King was being attached by a boar, Malcolm had to ask the King's permission to help him. He then had time to uproot an oak tree with which to attack the boar. What was he doing on a boar hunt without a suitable weapon? Clearly Scottish boars, before they were driven to extinction, were sporting gentlemen, It gets worse though, the King awarded him a hereditary coat of arms, at least 50 years before the first record of hereditary ownership by knights and peers of fixed armorial bearings came into use in either England or France. Even more ludicrous is the use of 16th century Scots in the motto.

"8th, Sir Malcolm MacGregor of Glenurchay, "a man of gigantic size and strength." Being of the retinue of King David I. at a certain hunting party, in a forest, his majesty having attacked a huge wild-boar, was like to be worsted, and in great danger of his life; when Sir Malcolm coming up demanded his majesty's permission (by the courtesy of Scotland none durst interfere with the king's sport without permission) to encounter the boar, and St. David, the king, having hastily answered—"E'in doe boit spaire nocht"—Sir Malcolm is said to have torn up a young oak-tree by the roots, dashing himself between his Majesty and the fierce assailant, with the oak in one hand, kept the boar at bay, until with the other he got an opportunity of running him through the heart. In honour whereof, King David was pleased to exalt him to the dignity of the peerage, by the style and title of Lord MacGregor of MacGregor, to him et haeredibus masculis, in perpetuum—circa A.D. 1135; and, in order to perpetuate the remembrance of the brave action, gave Sir Malcolm, Lord MacGregor, an oak-tree, eradicated, instead of the fir-tree, which the family had formerly borne in their armorial bearings. [Vide Workman's M.S. Douglas Baronage, p. 494.'] His lordship died circa 1164."

Duncan went on to claim that before his death in 1164, this "Sir Malcolm" had built the castles of Kilchurn, Balloch and Finlarig with its chapel.. In fact the Drummonds built the first castle at Finlarig around the start of the 15th century and later, when it came into the possession of the Campbells of Glenorchy, it was rebuilt with a chapel by Black Duncan around 1609. Kilchurn dates from no earlier than 1440 and was much added to by Grey Colin, who also built the first castle at Balloch after 1550.

And thus the totally uncorroborated and unhistoric nonsense continues :
1st Gregor MacAlpine
2nd, Dongallus MacGregor.
3rd, Constantine.
4th, Gregor, de Brattich, died, A.D. 961.
5th, John More, killed A.D. 1004.
6th, Gregor Garubh, or the Stout, 1004 - 1040.
7th, Sir John MacGregor, Lord of Glenurchay, died circa 1113.
8th, Sir Malcolm MacGregor of Glenurchay, died circa 1164.
9th, William, Lord MacGregor, died circa 1238.
10th, Gregor, Lord MacGregor, flourished in the reigns of Kings Alexanders II. and III.
11th, Malcolm, Dominus de MacGregor, He died at an advanced age, A.D. 1374.
12th, Gregor Lord MacGregor, called Aultn,
13th, Malcolm, Lord MacGregor died A.D. 1420, succeeded by his brother.
13th John, Lord MacGregor of that Ilk, was robbed of many of his lands.
14th, Malcolm, died in the reign of King James IV.
15th, James, laird of MacGregor, entered into a bond of friendship with Lauchlan Mackinnon of Strathardill A D 1571
16th, Alexander MacGregor, fought (he memorable battle of Glenfruin, against the Colquhouns, Buchanans, Grahams, &c, A.D. 1602.
17th, Gregor the bastard, in whose time the Clans were harassed and proscribed.

If you really want to read them, the following scanned image jpgs of pages 504 to 517 of Douglas's Baronage comprises Duncan Murray's bunkum.
Click on each for the image.

Baronage page 504

Baronage page 505

Baronage page 506

Baronage page 507

Baronage page 508

Baronage page 509

Baronage page 510

Baronage page 511

Baronage page 512

Baronage page 513

Baronage page 514

Baronage page 515

Baronage page 516

Baronage page 517

[1] A.G.M. MacGregor, History of Clan Gregor, vol i, 407, pages 5-6
And on page 394 of volume ii:
A great deal of the family history in the Article in Douglas's Baronage was communicated by Duncan MacGregor Murray to his nephew Sir John, by him. In one letter Duncan alluding to some reproduction by a Mr Auld, remarks that there is no harm in it.- but that he is entirely averse to "republishing what relates to the Clan in the Baronage –
“for several reasons, First because all the subscribers are served with their numbers already and who are only gentlemen who mind very little any errors that may happen to be therein, which almost every publication is liable to in less or more degree, being furnished with materials from a variety of people who may through inadvertency or willfully mislead an Author without any sinister design of his." Duncan adds "it is well known that I am always ready to serve any of the name without distinction on every occasion in a lawful way." "Dun. MacGregor."

[2] MacGregor, Martin, 1989, unpublished thesis, p8 at click here for link

[3] R. Douglas, The Baronage of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1798), 493; (ed.), S. Lee, Dictionary of National Biography (London, 1909), xii, 869-72.

[4] MacGregor M, op cit. page 12

[5] MacGregor M, op cit. page 9

[6] NLS, Advocates’ MS. 72.1.37.

[7] Kermack, The Clan MacGregor, 4.