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The Clans of Balquhidder

By Peter Lawrie, ©2020
The Clan Gregor is associated with Balquhidder in most people’s minds as Rob Roy lived there and is buried in the kirkyard. The Clan MacLaren or MacLaurin is also associated with Balquhidder but, in reality, neither clan have their origins in the Glen. The Stewarts in Balquhidder descend from a son of the 15th century Duke of Albany. Fergusons and Macintyres also lived in the glen in considerable numbers in the 17th century.

Scotland became a feudal state under David I (he reigned 1124-1153). The Edinburgh lawyers who administered the feudal land laws of Scotland (not finally abolished until 2000) did not recognize the concept of a “clan”. Lord Ardmillan stated in 1862 that “.. although clans are mentioned … in acts of Parliament … To all practical purposes … they do not legally exist”. So why discuss the “Clans of Balquhidder” at all? The answer is that for practical purposes until the 18th century, Highland society functioned around chiefs and their clans, not paper charters. Feudal charters to land from the crown in Edinburgh could be effectively worthless if the people on the ground did not accept the lord who possessed the charter.

All this would change when the clan system was finally destroyed after 1746 by overwhelming military coercion. The rights of legally enforceable charters then became crucial and the rights of clanship irrelevant. The Highland clearances which inevitably followed are another story.

However, it seems from this investigation that Balquhidder, by the late 17th century, was not a typical Highland glen or the duthchas of any clann. Instead, the glen had been colonised from the early 16th century, by peoples owing allegiance to the Campbells.

Balquhidder lies close to the Highland boundary and thus came earlier into the nominal ownership of lords possessing charters issued by the royal court in Edinburgh. The parish became crown land from 1436. In 1475 the Earl of Argyll was granted the legal power of lieutenancy, responsible for "good order" in an area which included Balquhidder. Crown charters could mean nothing if not accepted by the people on the ground. According to the Atholl and Tullibardine Chrinicles (vol 1, page 11), in 1483 Sir William Murray of Tullibardine was appointed Steward of Strathearn and Balquhidder and Keeper of the Royal Forests and Coroner of those bounds for Life. Sir William died in 1525. Stewart of Baldorran was appointed baillie for the crown lands of Balquhidder in 1488 and his descendents remained for centuries, particularly in Glen Buckie.

During the 16th century portions of Balquhidder were granted to court favourites, although Argyll’s legal powers continued in force. In this paper I have argued that both the MacGregor and MacLaren lineages in the parish were introduced after 1500. It is not documented but likely that MacGregors in particular were introduced by Argyll to overcome local resistance to his control. With MacGregor strength in the glen owing allegiance to Argyll, John Ross and Lord Drummond may have enjoyed little real control or benefit.

Balquhidder is said to derive from Gaelic both phuidir – pronounced Bo_fudj_yir - possibly meaning 'the dwelling or holy site of the Puidir'. This could be the name of a kindred of unknown date or the original name of the glen, from which the Pudrac, a monolith of probable Neolithic date, derived its name. Other authorities derive Both Fuidir to mean 'Fodder Homestead', suggesting good farmland. Balquhidder people are referred to in Gaelic as Puidirich. [1]   Some MacGregors had this name, such as Alasdair pudrach (d.1598), a natural son of the chief Alasdair roy and brother of Gregor roy.

The Barony of Balquhidder,
a quarter of the whole glen and comprising the north side of the river Balvaig from Kingshouse up to Loch Voil, was granted by James IV to John Ross of Craigy in 1511, who sold it to David Lord Drummond in 1558.

The Lordship of Balquhidder,
comprising the south side of the river and the whole of the glen beyond Loch Voil, was first granted in 1500 to Janet Kennedy, mistress of James IV and subsequently, by James VI in 1585, to Sir John Murray of Tullibardine, ancestor of the Dukes of Atholl. In 1606, Lord Murray was created Earl of Tullibardine, Lord Gask and Balquhidder. In 1686, his descendant became Marquis of Atholl, Viscount Balquhidder and Lord Balvenie.

The Ednample lands lay around the west of Loch Earn. The parish also included part of Strathyre.

Can Balquhidder be considered the land of a particular Clan?
Clan MacLaren claim Balquhidder as their ancient duthchas. So were MacLarens the majority of the population? An analysis of the Hearth Tax of 1691 reveals a different picture. The list included only householders responsible for paying the tax. Most of the farms were in joint tenancy, with a total of 215 names listed. It is possible that some had multiple holdings, but this cannot be proved. The most frequent clan names were 45 Fergusons, 18 McGregors with 14 Mcaries giving 32; 25 Stewarts, 23 Mcintyres, 22 McLarens, 6 Buchanans, 4 McNabs and 1 Mcfarland. [Mcarie is a common MacGregor alias].

Like the MacGregors and MacLarens, Fergusons and Macintyres were common in Argyll. There were just three Campbells listed at Edinample Castle, and 7 Ogilvies, far from their clan land in Angus. There were also 5 McNies, a sept of Clan Gregor. The Mcaries do not appear in the OPR (1691-1745) so I counted them as MacGregors. As there are 50 McNie births listed in the OPR, it becomes a debateable point as to whether they can be also counted among the Clan Gregor numbers.

A number of Lowland names listed in the Hearth Tax were a surprise. They included 8 Millers, 5 Fishers and 1 Wright. These do not appear to be occupation names applied to indigenous people A total of 18 different Highland names (23 individuals listed below) accounted for the remainder.

The list was organised for tax purposes into the lands of the four lords possessing charters. These were the Earl of Perth’s Barony lands; Edinample , which included Ardveich on Loch Earn; Lord Morray's lordship [sic – this is Lord Murray, the Marquess of Atholl]; and Strathyre. The Barony, which clan MacLaren have claimed to be theirs, had just 7 McLaren tenants, 5 Stewarts and 4 McGregors among 29. In Edinample there were 9 McLaren and 10 McGregor tenants out of 38. Lord Murray's 97 tenants in the Lordship included 23 Mcintyres, 18 Stewarts, 16 Fergusons, 9 McGregors and just 5 McLarens. 45 tenants in Strathyre included 24 Fergusons, 9 McGregors and just 1 McLaren.

The introduction of the MacGregors and MacLarens to the glen will be discussed in more detail below. It is not known when the Fergusons and Macintyres first came to Balquhidder, but it seems probable that they were also introduced by the Earl of Argyll.

A Total of 1727 Old Parish Record (OPR) baptisms recorded in the period 1696 to 1745 were examined. While there were 45 different father’s names, the five principal names, McLaren, Fergusson, Stewart, Macintyre and Macgregor accounted for 1053 baptisms or just over 60% of the total. 433 of the mother’s names were blank, but out of the 1296 recorded names, the same five names occurred 784 times, again just over 60% of the total.

I went on to examine all of the 6448 baptisms recorded in the Old Parish Record covering the period from its beginning in 1696 until 1854. Despite Donald's claim that Balquhidder was a "MacLaren Glen", in fact it appears to have been more of a "Ferguson Glen" with 1142 baptisms accounting for 18% of the total!
Ferguson:..1142 - 18%
McLaren:.....940 - 14.6%
Stewart:.......773 - 12%
McGregor:...538 - 8.3%
Mcintyre:......511 - 7.9%
Total:......... 3904 - 60.5% of 6448

The family descend from Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany who was executed by James I in 1425. Murdoch’s great-grandson, William Stewart of Baldorran was appointed baillie for the crown lands of Balquhidder in 1488. When James IV granted the parish to his favourites in 1500 and 1511, the Stewart bailliary ended, but the family remained. Descendants include the Stewarts of Ardvorlich and the Stewarts of Glen Buckie. It is possible that some Stewarts of Appin were also introduced by the Campbells.

Fergusons, like the MacGregors and MacLarens, may have been introduced to Balquhidder from Argyll by the Campbells. Y-DNA testings indicates a common ancestor in Argyll of Fergusons, MacLaurins and MacVicars between 450 and 650 years ago. Hilton McLaurin advised me that some Fergusons in Balquhidder have been shown to share the R-Y16252 haplogroup with the Balquhidder McLarens. This might prove their common ancestry or the possibility of members of one family adopting the other as an alias at some time in the past (as members of the Clan Gregor were compelled to do). [2]  

William Ferguson kindly supplied some history of the Fergusons in Balquhidder. He wrote that
“Fergus(s)on families worked the farms at the north end of Loch Lubnaig since the mid 1600’s. There is a profusion and confusion of family line, with large gaps in documentation around the time of the 1745 uprising. Document and anecdotal accounts make it inevitable that there are strong links between the Loch Lubnaig, Loch Earn, Atholle and Balquhidder families in the 17th and 18th centuries. So it is not surprising to see Fergus(s)on tenancy and ownership of Balquhidder Parish farms from 1650 to 2000 and beyond. Tighness, Immervoulin, Laggan, Kip, Stronslaney, Gartnafuaran, Stronvar, Immeroin, Muirlaggan, Blaircreich, Ledcreich, Tulloch, Monachyle Mhor, and Auchleskine all show evidence of Fergus(s)on tenure or ownership during the last four hundred years.”

( Fergusson spelt with one ‘s’ or two...only seems to have become consistent in the 20th century.)

Catriona Fergusson from Muirlaggan has also written a little article which is well worth reading

The Macintyres, an Argyll kindred like the MacLaurins, appear to have their origin in Appin. For centuries the clan was centred in Glen Noe by Loch Etive in Ardchattan parish and may also have been introduced to Balquhidder due to the Earl of Argyll’s influence.

In the Balquhidder OPR up to 1745, fathers named Wright (95), Fisher (43) and Miller (17) represented 9% of all baptisms. Fathers with these names also appear in the Argyll OPR before 1745, where there were 21 Wrights and 17 Millers, all in Campbelltown. There were 5 Fishers in Campbelltown and 77 more in Inveraray parish.

Macintyre would often be anglicised as Wright and MacInniasgar / Macineskar would become Fisher. There are many similar examples in Argyll and Perthshire after 1745, such as on Lochaweside and in Kilmartin. However, I could not find any prior to 1745. It would be interesting to discover which way the migration had proceded - Campbelltown to Balquhidder, or the other way. Or perhaps it could be purely a coincidence of early anglicisation of names in both parishes!

The Earl of Argyll had been granted Kintyre after 1607 confiscated from Clan Donald South. The ‘unruly and barbarous’ tenants of Kintyre were replaced with Lowlanders, forbidden to sublet the land to any one with the names MacDonald, Maclean, MacAlister or MacNeil (Campbell 2002, 145-151). In 1609 Argyll established the burgh of Lochhead, later Campbelltown, where he introduced a few Lowland settlers. In 1650, the Marquis of Argyll initiated a more ambitious settlement of Lowlanders in Kintyre. Large blocks of land were leased to West-Country lairds who settled many of their followers. After 1669, many persecuted Covenanters from the Western Lowlands were also given refuge in Kintyre. [3]

I am still looking for sources to corroborate my suggestion here that Covenanters escaping from violent repression in South-West Scotland may have been encouraged by Argyll to take new names in order to escape further persecution as he resettled them. Perhaps some of these settlers adopted their occupations – Wright, Fisher and Miller - as surnames. Were some of these settlers later relocated to Balquhidder? or perhaps they were a different group. In either case, there seems to have been considerable changes in the population of Balquhidder in the later 17th century.

Other Highland names
For completeness, here are the other names in the Hearth tax. Assuming that the majority of the population had been introduced by the great lords, - Campbell of Argyll or Glenorchy, Murray of Atholl and Drummond of Perth - since the start of the 17th century, then some of this list may represent the original inhabitants - but there aren't many of them and some may be patronymics or bynames!
Bane - 1
Coskrach - 2
Deuar - 1
Glass - 1
Mccoskire - 1
Mccumin - 1
Mcgibbon - 1
mcinrie - 1
Mckier - 1
mckinley - 1
Mclechallum - 2
Mclechonnell - 1
Mclester - 2
Mclevain - 2
Mcniving - 1
Mcnuir - 1
Nish - 1
Roy - 2

Clann Griogair or MacGregors
The eponym of Clan Gregor was Griogar who lived in the early 14th century at the foot of Glen Strae in Argyll. The Clann Griogair is included in MS1467 which is discussed below. Much has been written about the descent of the MacGregors in Argyll from the Dark Age kings of Dalriada, but that is not relevant to this paper.

Following the Wars of Independence, lands including Glen Strae were granted by King Robert to Niall Campbell of Lochawe, but Griogar and his immediate descendents remained in Glen Strae and adjoining glens as explicit feudal vassals of the Campbells. The paper dependency meant little, but the continuing relationship of the two local kin groups appeared to be largely peaceful. Indeed a family of MacGregors became hereditary castellans of the Campbell castle of Kilchurn from 1440 until the 1590s. Both Campbells and MacGregors successfully expanded eastwards, occupying new lands, perhaps with a degree of force,during the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Earls of Argyll had obtained authority as Royal Lieutenant over the area from 1475 and, as they did elsewhere, proceeded to settle people amenable to their authority, often supplanting the earlier inhabitants. Thus, it appears probable that both the MacLaren and MacGregor lineages had been introduced to Balquhidder and other locations in Perthshire, such as around Loch Tay, as the result of Campbell expansion.

Martin MacGregor stated on page 48 of his thesis “On the basis of the evidence available to us, then, it would seem that the Campbells came to Balquhidder before the MacGregors”.

Clann Labhruinn or MacLaren
According to the Clan MacLaren Society, the progenitor of the MacLarens was the medieval Abbot of Auchtow, who was kin to the Earls of Strathearn. Following the forfeiture of the last Gaelic Earl in 1344 his lands, including Balquhidder, were granted to a member of the rising Stewart dynasty and later annexed to the crown by James II in 1436. [4]  

The MacLaren kindred had no legal title to any land in Balquhidder until, in 1957, the present chief’s father, also Donald, purchased fifteen acres of hillside around the "Boar's Rock" near Balquhidder kirkton and the Kirkton farmhouse. Donald persuaded the Lord Lyon court to grant him the title of chief, although many MacLaurins with roots in Appin disagreed. The MacLaren claim to their existence in Balquhidder before 1500 appears to hang from two “shoogly pegs” - MS1467 and the location of Ardveich.

MS1467 is a 15th century manuscript which included a list of genealogies of clans associated with the Lordship of the Isles. Before its abolition, the Lordship dominated the Western Isles, much of Argyll and part of Ross. According to Dr Martin MacGregor, all the clans in the manuscript were located within the territory of the Lordship, with the exception of the assumed clan MacLaren - but only if their duthchas was truly Balquhidder. [5]  

Mac Labhartaigh from MS1467 Click on the image of the Mac Laverty page from MS1467 for a full screen. The image is from

In 1837, W F Skene interpreted an indistinct entry of “genalach cloinni Lab” in MS1467 as the Clan MacLaren. Part of that genealogy included some symbols which Skene read as Ab Achtus meaning the "Abbot of Achtus” [6] Dr Black today interprets that “extraordinary collection of contractions" as the "Abbot of St Andrews".

The current scholarly interpretation of “Cloinni Lab” is Mac Labhartaidh (MacLaverty). A different kindred in MS1467, which actually included a "Laurence" is now interpreted as Mac Leran which is more likely to be the MacLaurins. If it was, it does not include Skene's “Ab Achtus” symbols.

With no other evidence, Skene interpreted his Ab Achtus to mean there had been an Abbot residing at Auchtubha in the Barony lands of Balquhidder, as that was where the MacLarens were in his time. Watson says “The eponymous ancestor of clan Labhrain is said to have been 'Abbot Labhran' of Auchtoo. This 'tradition' comes via W.F. Skene.” [7]  

James Logan, in his 1845 work “McIan’s Costumes of the Clans” was assisted by Daniel MacLaurin to create a fantasy descent of the MacLarens in Balquhidder from the supposed Abbot of Achtoo.

Laurence de Ergadia, who was  born around 1220, became Bishop of Argyll in 1264 until his death in 1299. [8]  
Despite their vows, it was common for clergy in medieval Scotland to be married. His descendents took the Gaelic name mhic Labhruinn (pronounced VicLaurin). There is such a clan MacLaurin recorded in Appin and Lismore.

Dugald Stewart 1st Lord of Appin in the 15th century was recorded as having a McLaurin mother who came from Ardveich. [9]  
However, there are two places named Ardveich in Scotland, one on Loch Earn in the parish of Balquhidder and the other one, now lost, but recorded on the 1654 Bleau map, on the North side of the inlet to Loch Creran in Appin directly across from Lismore. James Logan, in his 1845 “Costumes of the Clans” having seen Skene’s interpretation of the MS1467 entry, assumed it to be Ardveich on Loch Earn, and thus claimed that the MacLaurin lady came from an established kindred in Balquhidder, not Argyll.

A section of the Bleau map of Appin is shown, with thanks to NLS.
Ardeurich is probably Ardtur opposite the northern tip of Lismore on the OS 1:50000 map. Ledgrinach is on the modern map as Ledgrianach. Therefore Ardveich must be on or near the site of the present 18th century Airds House at the mouth of Loch Creran.
  Ardveich, image from Bleau map, NLS  
Is it possible that the MacLarens of Balquhidder and the MacLaurins of Appin are one and the same? It is understood that recent DNA results have confirmed the close relationship of MacLarens and MacLaurins with MacVicars from Appin.

It appears that everything that has been written about the origin of the Clan MacLaren in Balquhidder postdates Skene and Logan.

In Balquhidder, the first documentary evidence for a MacLaren presence was Malcolm Maklawryn, - tenant in the rentals for Invernenty in 1512 along with Macintyres. [10]  It is, of course, quite possible that there were MacLarens in Balquhidder prior to Malcolm Maklawryn. Indeed, the fervent belief of the clan MacLaren that their ancestors had possessed lands in Balquhidder for hundreds of years prior to 1510 cannot be completely ignored. However, they are unable to produce any evidence for this while there is actual evidence supporting the origin of Clann Labhruinn in Argyll.

Fionnlagh MacGregor was also recorded in 1510 as tenant of half of Easter and Wester Innerlochlane. So it appears that both MacLarens and MacGregors appear in the glen for the first time, probably moved there as a result of the Earl of Argyll's expanding control after 1475 over Balquhidder.

Hilton McLaurin told me that he has been unable to find any older presence of MacLarens in Balquhidder or Strathearn. He says "I am confident that Malcum Maklawryn at Invernenty in 1512 is an early-to-arrive McLaren, the 1559 Glenorchy/V’Laurane Balquhidder Bond has Malcum's sons and his nephews from his nine brothers, Malcum's generation apparently having all passed away by the March 11,1559 date of the Bond. All the Balquhidder and Strathearn McLarens appear to descend from these ten brothers.

After carefully reading "The MacLarens", by Margaret MacLaren, the earliest independently documented references I could find, were:
1. On page 50, the testament of Patrick Mor in 1544. This is the earliest recorded MacLaren will. Patrick is said by Hilton McLaurin to be a son of Malcum in Invernenty.
2. On page 46, from the Lord High Treasurer's Accounts for 1633, a translation from the Latin reads "And of xl pounds, the value of the forfeited possessions of Nichol McKinreauch McLaure, Nigel (Neil) Nicholsone McLaure and his sons, and also Duncan Paterson McLaure, put to the King's horn for the killing of the late Schir John McLaure, vicar of Balquhidder".

The claimed attack in 1558 by the MacGregors on the MacLarens
According to the Clan MacLaren, in 1558, the MacGregors attacked and murdered eighteen MacLaren families and took over their farms. [11]  

This claimed atrocity is inscribed on a granite memorial stone in Balquhidder kirkyard - paid for by Daniel MacLaurin of St John’s Wood, London, in 1868 which reads:
. “IN MEMORIAM of the Clan Laurin anciently the Allodian inhabitants of Balquhidder and Strathearn the Chief of whom in the decrepitude of old age together with his aged and infirm adherents, their wives and children, the widows of the departed kindred, all were destroyed in the silent mid-night hour by fire and sword by the hands of a banditti of incendiarists from Glendochart. A.D. 1558”.

Daniel MacLaurin in his self-published "History in Memoriam of the Clan Laurin" of 1865 wrote at length on this supposed event. MacLaurin's booklet then became a ‘primary source’ for "The MacLarens", published by Margaret MacLaren in 1976. MacLaurin had previously colluded with James Logan in claiming the ancient possession of Balquhidder by Clan MacLaren in "Costumes of the Clans", published in 1845.

On page 17, MacLaurin, located the 1558 attack in Balquhidder and went on:
"The manner in which they were cruelly dispossessed is related in ‘Pitcairn's 'Criminal Trials’, where it is said they were attacked in the silence of midnight by a band of the MacGregors who set fire to their thatched cottages, and gave no quarter. They took possession of the cattle and farms of their massacred victims."
And on page 20 of the booklet:
"... this last catastrophe cost the Clan Laurin the flower of their youth and manhood, and also the able-bodied or fighting men. Bereft of all protection the infirm, the aged, the women and children offered an unresisting prey to their base destroyers” …. ‘The Criminal Trials of Scotland’ by Robert Pitcairn, W.S., gives an account of the cruel murder and burning of eighteen householders of the Clan Lauren, their wives and bairns, committed forty-six years since or thereby." …. "And thus miserably perished, at the least, one hundred human beings, without even time to supplicate their creator to receive their souls."

This is a pretty dreadful crime to accuse the MacGregors of - on a par with a massacre in Srebrenica. But did it happen, as described? Or, at all? Was it just a figment of MacLaurin's over-active imagination? One would expect that such dreadful deeds would be corroborated elsewhere, or at least mentioned in the lengthy lists of the outrages actually recorded in charges against MacGregors during the late 16th and the 17th century. But they are not!

So, what did Pitcairn actually publish about this in ‘Criminal Trials’?: The only reference is a single sentence on Page 440 of Volume 2:
‘Johnne McCoull Cheire to be clene, innocent and acquit’ .. ‘ffor airt and pairt of the crewall Murthour and Burning of auchtene houshalderis of the Clanlawren, their wyves and bairnis ; committit fourtie sax yeir syne or thairby [12]  

Johnne McCoull Cheire was acquitted! The only "not guilty" verdict in all the MacGregor trials of 1603 and 1604. No one else was charged with this. Pitcairn does not mention Balquhidder; the murder of a hundred of the clan “in the flower of their youth”; “in the silence of midnight”; “no quarter”; or that the MacGregors “took possession of the farms of their victims”.

It is scandalous that MacLaurin could claim the murder of 100 men, women and children, on such flimsy evidence. Margaret MacLaren’s book repeated this uncritically, as does her son, Donald MacLaren, the present clan chief.

The bonds of manrent (allegiance) of the MacLarens collected by Glenorchy from 1559 onwards might seem to support the possibility of pressure of some kind having been exerted on them. However, the charge does not actually state that the MacLarens were all murdered, just that 18 homes may have been set on fire with an unspecified number of MacLarens, if any, killed. It is important to note that the usual Scots Law charge of ‘hamesucken’ – breaking into a home in order to commit violence or murder – was not mentioned.

Apart from Pitcairn, I looked at J H Burton's "Criminal Trials in Scotland" which devoted 72 pages to the sins of Clan Gregor without even mentioning this murder of the MacLarens. It's not mentioned in Alexander MacGregor's "Feuds of the Clans". Admittedly, MacGregor’s work mainly concerned the Northern Highlands, but one might have thought that the author, a MacGregor himself, would have mentioned such an outrage.

Joseph Anderson, in his 1890 work "The wicked Clan Gregor" mentions the killing of 27 MacLarens in the 1540s by Donnchadh Ladasach and his band, and also the events of 1589 in Balquhidder which followed the murder of John Drummond, leading to the entire Clan Gregor being outlawed for a time. However, Anderson does not mention a raid on the MacLarens in 1558. Nor does Donald Gregory refer to this crime in his "The Clan Gregor" of 1830.

Keith Brown's 1986 study, "Bloodfeud in Scotland", doesn't mention it either.

Volume 1 of the First series of the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, edited by J H Burton, covers the period 1545 to 1569, although there is a gap from 1554 to 1561. When the meetings of the Council resumed after 1561, various complaints were made about the Clan Gregor (who, by 1562, were in a state of open war with Grey Colin Campbell), but there was no reference to the claimed 1558 attack on the MacLarens, in Balquhidder or elsewhere.

The Black Book of Taymouth (BBT) does not mention the 1558 raid, nor is it recorded in the Chronicle of Fothergill. Grey Colin and Black Duncan, vehement enemies of Clan Gregor after 1562 might be expected to loudly deplore such examples of MacGregor violence. Indeed, the only source for Làdasach’s raid in the early 1540s when 27 of ClanLaurent were supposedly killed is the poem “Duncan Laideus Testament” which is printed in BBT.

In 1475, James III appointed the 1st Earl of Argyll as his Lieutenant in large areas of the Southern Highlands, including Loch Tay and Balquhidder. The Earl and his successors introduced their dependents, including MacGregors and MacLarens, to establish their control on the ground. In 1558, John Ross sold the Barony of Balquhidder to Lord Drummond which may have been viewed by the Campbells as a threat to their growing regional hegemony. I am grateful to Hilton McLaurin for highlighting that: in November 1559, Archibald, Earl of Argyll, transferred the allegiance of the ClanLauren and ClanGregor to Colin Campbell of Glenorchy; A few days later, the ClanLauren in the Loch Tay area signed bonds with Glenorchy; In March of the following year Malcum M'Coule Kair M'Gregor dwelling in Balquhidder signed a similar bond and three days later the Clan V’Laurene in Balquhidder also signed. [13]  

In summary, apart from the brief “not guilty” in Pitcairn, There is no evidence at all in support of this central belief of Donald MacLaren's clan.

According to Dr Martin MacGregor, the Clan Gregor had been the ‘enforcement arm’ aiding the expansion of Campbells since the 15th century, until the bitter dispute over Glen Strae which began in 1562. Had the MacLarens needed some ‘encouragement’ by Glenorchy’s MacGregors to sign these bonds? Glenorchy would not have wanted them dead, just obedient to his will. (It’s difficult to give one’s allegiance after being murdered by incendiarists!) If so, which MacLarens were so encouraged? There appears to have been at least two groups. The charge in Pitcairn does not mention Balquhidder at all. The V’Laurene were in Balquhidder while the ClanLaurane were settled along the south shore of Loch Tay. Indeed, which of these MacLaren kindreds did Làdasach raid in the early 1540s? Can the ‘Testament’ poem in BBT which did mention Balquhidder be relied on? Was that raid, if it happened at all, at the behest of the Campbells or against their interest?

According to Dr Martin MacGregor, the Clan Gregor had been the ‘enforcement arm’ aiding the expansion of Campbells since the 15th century. So were the Glenorchy Campbells behind the raids on the MacLarens? Grey Colin Campbell and his son Black Duncan (who succeeded him in 1583), repeated similar tricks on other kindreds throughout Southern Perthshire with the aim of obtaining legal claims over their land. [14]  

Despite being aided by the MacGregors up to then, in 1562 Grey Colin began the long conflict with the Clan Gregor when he refused to enfeoff Gregor Roy in Glenstrae. Grey Colin personally executed Gregor in 1570, but the conflict with Clan Gregor continued and culminated in the battle of Glen Fruin in 1603, following which all MacGregors were proscribed by the crown.

The Lordship of Balquhidder
King James VI granted the Lordship lands to his favourite Sir John Murray in 1587. According to Nimmo's "History of Stirlingshire" (1817), Sir John Murray, was, in 1592, appointed Master of the King’s Household; created Lord Murray of Tullibardine on the 15th April 1604; and 1st Earl of Tullibardine on the 10th of July 1606."
This can be confirmed from other sources, but apart from Nimmo, I could not find any corroboration of the following account of John's holdings. It may or may not be correct.
"John had by Catherine, daughter of David, 2nd Lord Drummond, 4 sons, and 5 daughters. His fifth daughter married John MacGregor, also known as Iain glas, (sic) the brother of the 11th chief of Clan Gregor, Alasdair ruadh.” John was appointed baillie of the Lordship lands. Despite Nimmo’s account, it appears that John MacGregor was actually married to a daughter of John Murray of Strowan, who was a cousin of Tullibardine, and he was Iain dubh, not Iain glas.

As Tullibardine’s baillie in Balquhidder, Nimmo continued “John MacGregor and his wife resided, before his death in 1603, at Innis-Mhic-Ghrighoir, or ‘Isle of MacGregor’, at the southeast extremity of Loch Voil in Balquhidder. The foundation of his castle, 20 feet wide and 66 long, existed within the memory of persons still alive (in 1817). John MacGregor, as feudal vassal of Tullibardine, was granted the following lands in Balquhidder parish: Stronvar, Glenbucky, Gartnafuaran, Letchrich, Craigrich, Monachoil-Mor, Monachoil-Beg, Imerioch (now Newton), Invercharnaig, Inverlochlarig-Mor and all pertinents, Drumlich, Blarcrich. Invernenty, Monachoiltuarach, Murlaggan. The yearly value was 200 merks. By his lady wife, he had two sons, Gregor and Patrick. Following the battle of Glenfruin, in which his son in law was killed, John Murray fetched home his daughter and grandchildren, and resumed possession of the abovementioned lands for their support. As a result of proscription, Gregor, (the 12th chief of Clan Gregor), assumed the name of John Murray. [15]  

This account, if true, could perhaps demonstrate the significance of the MacGregor presence in Balquhidder well before the time of Rob Roy and Iain oag beag. As Alasdair ruadh was childless at the time of his execution in 1604, it was his brother's children who would succeed as clan chiefs in the 17th century.Tullibardine may have tried to make use of the MacGregor strength in the glen, which had been alienated from the Campbells, to make his paper charter of ownership effective.

The influence of the Glenorchy Campbells appears to have been resisted in the Lordship so Murray retained his control with MacGregor tenants on the ground. In the early part of the 18th century the descendants of Lord Tullibardine, by then, Dukes of Atholl, appointed Iain oag beag, or John Murray (alias MacGregor) of Glencarnaig, succeeded by his son Robert Murray as their baillies for the whole of the Lordship. Iain oag beag is the ancestor of the present chief of Clan Gregor.

Feudalism and Manrent
As an aside it is worth considering feudalism and manrent. In spite of the older tribal connections of people to the leaders of their kin group which we call clanship, Scotland became a feudal state under David I (he reigned 1124-1153). The King granted lands to his tenants-in-chief, the great lords, who might sub-infeudate to their vassals. In earlier times, feudal duties often involved knightly or labour service, but by the 16th century, tenants in chief paid their dues to the crown for fixed annual cash payments. However, farmers at the lowest level continued to pay their rentals "in kind" – in livestock, grain or cheese.

MacGregors in Balquhidder and elsewhere would often pay rent for their tenancy,"in kind", to their feudal landlord and yet continued to give their calp - a form of tribute - to the MacGregor chief. This could and often did lead to conflicts of allegiance. This also applied to other clans, who lived on the lands of feudal lords not of their name. The MacLarens, however, do not appear to have had a chief, as such in the 16th century.

The Barony of Balquhidder where most of the MacLarens were found came into the hands of Lord Drummond as crown tenant in 1558. It appears to be more than a coincidence that a raid on the MacLarens by a group of MacGregors occurred in the same year. One might speculate that Colin Campbell of Glenorchy had wanted the crown grant for himself?

Barony tenants paid their rents "in kind" to the lord’s baillie whose duty was to turn it into cash for his Lord. Scotland in the later sixteenth century experienced significant inflation causing the currency to devalue, but feudal duties were usually fixed cash amounts while the value of food and other produce increased considerably with inflation. Thus when Colin Campbell of Glenorchy obtained bonds of manrent from the MacLarens, following the 1558 MacGregor raid, he intruded in the relationship of the tenants with Lord Drummond.

The tenants would now pay their rent "in kind" to Glenorchy’s baillie - which he would realise for cash, of which a declining proportion in real terms would be sent on to Lord Drummond as his fixed feudal duty. Lord Drummond still had to pay the crown, but that was a fixed amount too, so Glenorchy accrued the increasing profits. When the Drummond estate was confiscated by the Crown following the 1745 Jacobite Rising, the Glenorchy Campbells, by then Earls of Breadalbane, were able to convert their actual financial control of the Barony into ownership.

We find a similar pattern on Loch Tayside, such as at Morenish where in 1550 a MacGregor called Alasdair odhar signed a bond of manrent with Grey Colin of Glenorchy. -
“ Alexander McPatrick VcCondoqhtty is becumyn of his awin fre will ane. . . . faythtfull seruand to Collyne Cambell of Glenwrquay and his ayris for all the dais . . . . of his lyftyme”,
Here Grey Colin inserted himself between Alasdair and Menzies of Weem who held crown charters of Morenish. Two consequences flowed from this bond of manrent. Firstly that very soon afterwards Donnchadh ladasach murdered Alasdair, and secondly, Glenorchy's descendents, the Earls and Marquesses of Breadalbane were able to convert their position into absolute ownership.

Achleskine today
In 1830, Sir Evan Murray MacGregor, the 2nd Baronet MacGregor, purchased a significant portion of the Barony lands from the Marquis of Breadalbane and built Edinchip House. The title of the present chief, Sir Malcolm MacGregor, is the 7th Baronet of Balquhidder and Lanrick. Since Sir Evan, the Clan Gregor chiefs have all been buried at the MacGregor mausoleum in the Barony. Donald McLaren's ancestors lived at Achtoo for generations as tenants of the MacGregor chiefs on the Edinchip estate.

While Achleskine itself originally formed a part of the Edinchip estate, it was sold during the 1840s and after several changes of ownership was purchased in 1957 by Duncan and Patrick Fergusson, the sitting tenants. Auchleskine remained in the Fergusson family intact until 1983, when most of it was sold to Charles Methven, the current owner, although Easter Auchleskine is still in Fergusson ownership. Donald MacLaren, who uses the title "of MacLaren and Achleskine" does not own the lands of Achleskine. Hilton McLaurin told me that "Auchleskine" derives from Daniel McLaurin, whose family lived as tenants at Leidneschrean in the early 19th century, but claimed to be of Auchleskine. This was the same Daniel MacLaurin who collaborated with James Logan in creating the myth of MacLaren's Balquhidder origins in the 1845 work “McIan’s Costumes of the Clans”.

William Ferguson, a grandson of Duncan Fergusson, told me that:
"My own ‘immediate’ family were crofters on the Laggan estate near Strathyre and came to tenant Wester Auchleskine in 1808, not too long after the MacGregor had bought the Balquhidder properties. (There had been Fergussons a Auchleskine around 1755-56, but we are fairly sure they were cottars. McLarens are named in the Surveys as the tenants at that time). Auchleskine was split into 3 farms originally, West, Mid and East. There were McLarens tenanting Mid and East Auchleskine right up to 1885, but from then the Fergussons tenanted all three farms until they purchased it in 1957, holding it right up until the sale to Charles Methven in 1983. I don’t know that these McLarens were any close relation to the chief".

"Donald MacLaren, father of the present MacLaren chief, purchased the Manse Rock, known as Creag an Tuirc or 'The Boar's Rock', and the ‘Auchleskine’ wood, which is a 15 acre strip adjoining the rock to the east. Donald has also purchased Kirkton Farmhouse beside Balquhidder Kirk as his residence."

Donald MacLaren has recently used the proximity of his land to the Kirk to erect a misleading "information" board denigrating Rob Roy and the Clan Gregor. The board is positioned to attract the attention of the many visitors to Rob Roy's grave in the adjacent kirkyard.

The Jacobite Risings
MacGregors from various places, including Balquhidder, are reported to have participated as a group, usually described as a regiment, in every one of the pro-Stuart risings - with Montrose in 1644; with Bonnie Dundee at Killicrankie in 1689; and as identifiable formations in the 1715, 1719 and 1745/46 Risings. The “Muster roll” of the 1745/46 Rising lists only the 16 officers of the MacGregor regiment, of which half were from Balquhidder. There were no “other ranks” in that list,, despite reports of up to 300 of the clan in arms.

MacGregors are also included in the lists of other regiments, particularly the Duke of Perth’s and the Atholl Brigade. James Mor and Ranald, both sons of Rob Roy, are listed as captains in both the MacGregor and Duke of Perth's regiments. James Mor claimed to have been a major in Perth’s regiment at Culloden. [16]  

There was no MacLaren regiment in the ‘45. Donald dubh MacLaren of Invernentie (Balquhidder) has been listed as a Captain in the Appin Stewart regiment in the “Muster Roll”. It has been suggested that this was an error and he should have been listed in the Atholl Brigade.Other than him, despite MacLaren claims of significant involvement with the Appin Stewarts, in an extensive list of the regiment including “other ranks”, there was only the regimental doctor Lachlan McLaren and his brother Hugh, both from Appin.

There is no record of any other MacLarens from Balquhidder in the Appin regiment. Indeed Donald dubh was reported to have passed Finlarg Castle “wounded” with the rest of the Atholl men. The substantial list in the “Muster Roll” of members of the Atholl Brigade included lieutenant Duncan McLaren of Wester Invernentie and two other lieutenants from elsewhere in Atholl. There were five MacLarens listed among “other ranks”, none of whom have Balquhidder locations against their names. The Duke of Perth’s regiment included a Peter MacLaren from Muthil.

After the defeat of Culloden, the MacGregor Regiment was reported in the Scots Magazine to be the last Jacobite formation in arms. They marched back to Balquhidder Glen, intact and colours flying under the command of Robert of Glencarnaig and Gregor glun dubh of Glengyle. From there they dispersed to their homes.

Burial grounds
A page on the website has "The claim that Balquhidder Kirk burial ground was the burying place of Clan MacLaren is another mis-representation which has been repeated so often it is taken in some quarters as fact." The actual burial ground for MacLarens in the area is Leckine Cemetery, close to the fragmentary remains of the house of Ardveich at the southern end of Glen Beich where it joins Loch Earn. Ardveich was once the residence of one of the principal MacLaren family in the parish from the 17th century.

An old plan of the Leckine burial ground indicates that sections were set aside for the MacLarens in Glen Artney, in Auchraw, in Ardveich and Auchtow. The webpage reports that it was exclusive to members of Clan MacLaren and the oldest burials are 17th century. [17] .

Ruins of Ardveich. Copyright Dr Richard Murray and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Balquhidder Kirk was a cemetery for all people in the parish in the 18th century. MacLaren burials are relatively modern. The oldest graves recorded at the Balquidder Kirk are primarily MacGregors with Rob Roy’s listed as one of the oldest. The oldest MacLaren burial is fifty years later in 1788 with the rest being late 19th and 20th century. Totting up from the list on of the currently extant memorial stones in the burial ground, there are 18 MacGregor dedications but only 15 MacLarens, which seems to contradict the assertion from some quarters that it is a "MacLaren kirk". [18]  

It is wrongly assumed by some people that the MacLarens in the glen were more important in the 18th century than they actually were. Stewart’s book "Settlements in Western Perthshire” makes clear the relatively lowly status of the few remaining MacLaren households. Stewart commented on page 174 "The decline of the indigenous (sic) MacLaren interest was most marked after 1665." [19]

Rob Roy’s grave occupies a prominent place in the kirkyard alongside his wife Mary and two of his sons who died later. A contemporary record in the Caledonian Mercury reported his death.
“On Saturday was se'nnight died at Balquhidder in Perthshire the fam'd Highland partizan Rob Roy"

Nineteenth century romantics built on the brief notice in the Caledonian Mercury, --
- "When the death of their chieftain became known, many clansmen, women and children from distant locations gathered to attend the burial of Rob Roy. Amid the strains of the coronach, they laid his body – still clothed in his Highland garb at the Old Kirk Yard in Balquhidder on New Year’s Day 1735."

Despite claims by certain MacLarens in the press, we can be confident that Rob Roy’s remains do lie in the Kirkyard. After all, Rob's son, Ranald, lived close by in the Kirkton of Balquhidder, where he was the innkeeper, until his own death in 1786.

MacLaurin in Appin
The descendants of a "Bishop Laurancii" or Labhruinn were recorded at Kildonan, Ardchattan on the North Shore of Loch Etive in 1420. The ‘descendents of Laurence’ would have acquired the Gaelic name mhic Labhruinn (pronounced VicLaurin” = MacLaurin), thus recalling their descent from a well known and probably respected clergyman. [20]

In 1436, Vicar Dubhghall Mac Ghille-Chriost mhic Labhruinn was recorded asthe vicar of Kilmichael Glassary. [21] (That is Dougal son of Gilchrist, grandson, or descendent, of Laurence). The Laurence eponym whom the vicar descended from was the 13th century Bishop Laurence of Argyll.

McLaurins were mentioned living in various places throughout Lorn in a document of 1463 and also mentioned in the retinue of Dugald Stewart of Appin in 1463.

Lord John Stewart of Lorn in 1473 married a MacLaurin woman from Ardveich on Loch Crearan, Argyll, not from Ardveich on Loch Earn. James Logan in his 1845 work, “McIan’s Costumes of the Clans” was responsible for the confusion of Ardveich in Appin with Ardveich on Loch Earn.

Appin men in the list of 1509 included a number of MacVicars. Some Appin McVicars have been shown to be close Y-DNA matches to various Appin MacLaurin males.
An older MacLaren clansman's badge The modern cap badge which members of Clan MacLaren are encouraged to wear is on the right. "Creag an Tuirc" - meaning "Rock of the Boar" - is the new wording, referring to a gathering place of the clan which was created by Donald MacLaren, father of the present chief, in the 1950s.

The older Clan MacLaren cap badge on the left bears the words “Dalriada” referring to the actual origin of the clan in Lorne on the Atlantic coast of Scotland.

The current MacLaren clansman's badge as designed by Donald MacLaren's father
The Campbells
In 1475, James III appointed Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, as his Lieutenant in areas which included Argyll & Lorn and, among other territories, Balquhidder. This authority was repeated by the crown for the Earl’s successors in 1504, 1525 and 1549. By 1500, the Stewarts of Appin had become bound as vassals to the Earl of Argyll. In 1566, John Stewart, 5th of Appin signed bonds of manrent giving his allegiance to Colin Campbell of Glenorchy.

Although the King had made feudal grants of Balquhidder to his favourites, at the same time he had awarded the Earl of Argyll extensive legal powers over the same area. This combination of legal authority and the use of bonds of manrent allowed the Campbells, over time, to convert their authority into ownership of large areas of Argyll and Perthshire.

MacGregors and Stewarts of Appin, whose dependents included MacLaurins, Fergusons and Macintyres were vassals of the Campbells, whose lordship of large areas of Argyll and Perthshire expanded during the 15th and 16th century. The Campbells moved their dependents into new territories. Thus it appears that members of the Clann Griogair and Clann Labhruinn, as well as Fergusons and Macintyres, came into Balquhidder from the start of the 16th century, largely displacing the earlier inhabitants.

During the 16th century, legal title to Balquhidder had been granted by the crown to the Drummond Earls of Perth and the Murrays of Tullibardine - later Dukes of Atholl. It appears that the Campbells may had introduced their own dependents into a frontier zone between themselves and the Drummond/Murray interests, in order to undermine their control. The Campbells of Glenorchy would ultimately deprived the Drummonds of the Barony lands, while the Murrays made use of the Balquhidder MacGregors, who had been alienated from the Campbells, to retain control of the Lordship.

[1] Angus Watson, PhD thesis. "Place-names, Land and Lordship in the medieval Earldom of Strathearn", University of St Andrews, 2002. page 36 (page 41 in the pdf)

[2] McLaurin, Hilton Lamar, "McLaurins and McLarens", 2018, page 9

[3] Whyte, Ian D, “Scotland Before the Industrial Revolution.”, 1993, page 128

[4] Samuel Cowan, Three Celtic Earldoms, Edinburgh 1909, page 54

[5] MacGregor, Martin (2000) Genealogies of the clans: contributions to the study of MS 1467. Innes Review, 51 (2). pp. 131-146. ISSN 0020-157X , page 144

[6] There are also relevant Articles in WHN&Q on the same web page.

[7] Angus Watson, PhD thesis. "Place-names, Land and Lordship in the medieval Earldom of Strathearn", University of St Andrews, 2002. page 492

[8] McLaurin, Hilton Lamar, "McLaurins and McLarens", 2018, page 6,

[9] McLaurin, Hilton Lamar, "McLaurins and McLarens", 2018, page 17

[10] McLaurin, Hilton Lamar, "McLaurins and McLarens", 2018, page 13

[11] These words are inscribed on a 19th century memorial stone in the kirkyard of Balquhidder

[12] Pitcairn, R: Criminal Trials, 1833,. vol 2, page 440. Also A.G.M. MacGregor, History of Clan Gregor, vol i, 327

[13] Black Book of Taymouth. (BBT) Manrent Book (Cailean Liath), f. 9r.

[14] The History of the Clan Gregor to 1570 By Martin MacGregor, PhD - Doctoral Thesis presented to Glasgow University, 1991, chapter 2

[15] Rev. William MacGregor Stirling (Ed), 2nd edition of Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire, republished in Stirling, 1817, page 459

[16] Livingstone, Aikman and Hart, The Muster roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army 1745-46, 1984, AUP

[17] Ardveich burial ground


[19] Stewart, James, 1986. PhD thesis University of Newcastle. Highland settlement evolution in West Perthshire : development and change in the parish of Balquhidder from the fifteenth century to 1851.

[20] McLaurin, Hilton Lamar, "McLaurins and McLarens", 2018, page 2

[21] McLaurin, Hilton Lamar, "McLaurins and McLarens", 2018, page 10