History of Clan Strachan

History of Clan Strachan (Part 1)

History to 1230

The lands of Strachan were once located on the northern border of the Pictish kingdom of Circind, which is bounded to the north by the Waters of the Dee and the Pictish Kingdom of Ce (pronounced /cay/) which lay to its north.

A Mormaer was a Gaelic title for a regional or provincial ruler. The term would eventually become 'earl' in Scotland as feudalism slowly took hold.

On 12 November 1094, Mormaer Máel Petair of the Mearns ambushed and murdered King Duncan II  (Early Sources, ii: 89-91). In 1097, Duncan's brother, Edgar took the throne of Scotland, and almost certainly confiscated the Mearns and retained this territory as a crown possession (Oram, 2004: 44-45; Grant, 1998).

The barony of Strachan is first granted by King William ('the Lion') in c. 1189x95 to William Gifford in feu and in forest, and held as part of the royal demesne.  This charter is the first and last time the Gifford family are association with the barony of Strachan.

William Gifford died in 1207.

Between c.1203x1213, probably c.1212, the first recorded to use the territorial designation of 'de Strachan' is Ranulf de Strachan, who was a witness to a charter of Thomas de Lundie (Arbroath Liber, i, 65). 

It is with a high probability that Ranulf de Strachan came into possession of the barony of Strachan through marriage.

The Christian name of 'Ranulf' is not a traditional Highland name, but rather of Scandinavian, suggesting Norman decent.

Charter evidence suggest that Ranulf de Strachan had no children and that the barony of Strachan was inherited likely by his younger brother Waltheof de Strachan.

Waltheof de Strachan in c. 1230 granted to the Priory of St. Andrews in Fife land in Strachan (Blarkerocch) to construct a church and town hall within the village (St. A. Lib., 276-7).  In 1242, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Strachan was consecrated by the bishop of St. Andrews, David de Bernham (Cowan, Parishes, p. 189). Ironically, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Strachan was a peculiar (or a detached) parish, which was not under the diocese in whose territory it is located. Although technically within the Bishopric of Brechin’s border, the parish of Strachan was under the diocese of St. Andrews, Fife (Gray, pp 23).

Similar to the name "Ranuf", the Christain name of "Waltheof" is also of Scandanavian origin.  The name of Waltheof was somewhat unusual, and generally associated with families decendant from the high-reeve or Ealdorman of Bamburgh, who flourished in c. 994.  This may be significant as the Earl of Lothian and the royal House of Dunkeld (i.e., the Crown) were both desendants of Waltheof of Bamburgh.  It is therefore speculative, but if the 'de Strachan' family are of this lineage, then they would have been related by blood to the crown, albeit to what extent is uncertain. 

Waltheof de Strachan was succeeded by his son, Ranulf. 

In 1264, Ranulf succeeded Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, to the Sherifdom of Banff (Exchequer Rolls, vol. i, Appendix to Preface, pages clxxviii, clxxx; and page 15).   Sherifdoms, according to Alexander Grant, were at this time generally hereditary. This suggests that Strachan of that Ilk may have been kin to Alexander Comyn. Certainly, at the very least, Alexander Comyn thought very highly of Ranulf and supported his succession as Viscount of Banff.    

In 1268, Ranulf and his cousin Michael de Strachan were appointed attorneys of Elizabeth de Quincy, Countess of Buchan, to receive her property on her behalf (CDS / BAIN, Volume i, no. 2513). 

The 13th century was a time when one trusted only family, and these two antiquarian sources suggest that Strachan of that Ilk may have been related to the earl or his wife, Elizabeth de Quincy.

Ranulf de Strachan was succeeded to the barony of Strachan by his son, John de Strachan. 

Interestingly, in 1195, the lands of Beath Waldeve in Fife were granted by Saer de Quincy to Dunferline Abbey (RD, no 154).  However, in 1278, John de Strachan grants these same lands back to the Crown (RD, no. 87).   The confirming charter states the lands of Beath Waldeve formerly belonged to John of Strachan, son and heir of late Ranulph of Strachan, knight, which John and his ancestors had held under king and his ancestors by hereditary right.

Subsequently, the charters of 1264, 1268, and charters associated with the lands of Beath Waldeve suggest a thesis that the 'de Strachan' family were blood kin to the earls of Buchan, and in particular to Elizabeth de Quincy, Countess of Buchan. This would play an important element in the future of Clan Strachan. 

Wars of Independance

King Alexander died in 1286, and shortly thereafter, his sole heir and granddaughter (Margaret Maid of Norway) died. This void to the Crown of Scotland nearly pushed a country into civil war. To avoid civil war a panel of 12 Guardians were appointed who sought to have King Edward I of England arbitrate the matter. Edward agreed so long as the Guardians of Scotland recognized King Edward as Lord Paramount of Scotland. The two main competitors to the throne of Scotland were Robert de Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale and John Balliol. 

The arbitrators found that John Balliol had the strongest claim, and he was subsequently crowned 30 November 1292. 

King Edward I of England wasted no time and began treating King John I of Scotland as a vassal of England, humiliating him at every opportunity. Edward demanded that homage be paid, legal authority over the Scottish King in disputes brought against him by his own subjects in English courts,  and also costs of defense be paid by Scotland.

In 1293 following a naval incident between the Normans (i.e., France) and instigated by the English, King Philip the Fair of France summoned Edward I to French court with the intention to treat Edward no better than Edward was treating John I of Scotland.  Edward refused his summons to appear before the King of France, and subsequently King Philip disinherited King Edward of his lands and estates in France. 

In 1294, Edward declared war on France, and required King John Balliol send troops to support his campaign against France, and also required King John's personal attendance.  This was an outrage that one King should summon another to fight his battles.

The Scots nobility soon tired of their deeply compromised king; the direction of affairs was allegedly taken out of his hands by the leading men of the kingdom, who appointed a council of twelve - in practice, a new panel of Guardians - at Stirling in July 1295.  This new panel of Guardians went on to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France – known in later years as the Auld Alliance.

Angered by the perceived betrayal, King Edward subsequently invaded Scotland and made quick work, brutally dispatching Scots forces in Berwick Upon Tweed and shortly thereafter at Dunbar.

10 July 1296, King John Balliol surrendered.  Here, King John was disinherited.  King Edward formally tore the arms of Scotland from John's surcoat, giving him the abiding name of "Toom Tabard" (empty coat).  Scotland became occupied territory, and John Balliol was sent to the Tower of London.  He was eventually placed in the custody of the Pope and exiled to his estates at Hélicourt, Picardy, in France (1299).

Rise of the Bruce and Fall of the Strachans

In 1297, William Wallace along with Andrew Morray launched a rebellion in Scotland against the English to return King John Balliol to the throne of Scotland.

However, King John Balliol by this time was quite old, and uninterested in the crown of Scotland.   This created yet another void to the throne. Edward Balliol (b. 1283), was the only son and heir of King John. However, Edward was exiled by King Edward of England to his family estates in France a year earlier in July 1296, and appears to have also been uninterested in the Scottish Crown until Robert de Bruce's 4-year old son inherited the thrown decades later (c. 1230).  Regardless, in the early 14th century, the nearest relative in Scotland of John Balliol was John III 'Red' Comyn, Lord of Badenock. Red Comyn's mother was Eleanor Balliol, King John's sister. To confirm, based on a hereditary monarchy, Red Comyn had a superior claim to the Crown over Robert de Bruce based on a primogeniture right.

Nonetheless, Robert de Bruce (son of Robert de Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale) had never reconciled the prior judgment that Balliol and later Comyn both had a superior claim, and remained resentful that his father, Robert the Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale, was not Crowned King of Scotland.

Robert de Bruce invited Red Comyn for a secret meeting before the high altar at Greyfriar Abbey in Dunfries on 10 February 1306. In a meeting that was supposed to be peaceful, Robert the Bruce slew Red Comyn at the high alter.  This was an excommunicable offense and to avoid capture and imprisonment, Robert de Bruce immediately fled to Glasgow to meet with Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow.  After promising to obey the Church if made king, Bishop Wishart absolved Robert from his sin, and further proclaimed Robert de Bruce the rightful King of Scotland.

However, Robert's claim as Sovereign of Scotland was not recognised by the Church, and to the contrary Robert de Bruce was excommunicated for this murder of Red Comyn.

Regardless, the following month, on 25 March, Robert de Bruce was crowned King of Scotland after much controversy.  Contrary to many popular accounts, Bruce's actions at Greyfriars and subsequent excommunication severely damaged his reputation in Scotland. 

Upon the death of Red Comyn, the next in line to succeed Balliol to the throne was his cousin John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan. As mentioned above, there is charter evidence confirming that Strachan of that Ilk were very closely allied to the earls of Buchan, and also were likely blood kin and possibly cousins to John Comyn, earl of Buchan.

Undeterred, Bruce coordinated a series of attacks against both English forces and those loyal to the Comyn cause.  Bruce was soundly and repeatedly defeated, and eventually forced into a long retreat into the Highlands where he went into hiding.

The following Spring, Robert de Bruce returned, and changed tactics. Instead of taking and holding castles and fortifications, his goal turned into sacking and destroying castles and fortifications loyal to Comyn or garrisoned by the English. Bruce was ruthless, and took no prisoners. He would slaughter the castle garrison down to the last man, including prisoners who surrendered. Further, he would burn the castles and fill the wells. Any crops would be burned, and livestock either taken, or slaughtered and burned. This strategy largely prevented the English or Comyn forces from re-taking or re-occupying these fixed fortifications, which they had so successfully done in the past.

This new mobile strategy allowed Bruce to consolidate his gains.  After taking control of most of Lowland Scotland, Robert the Bruce and his forces proceeded up the west coast of Scotland, into the Highlands, and around into the Northeast.

Continued in Part 2