Scottish Clan Has a First New Chief Since 1681
The ancient Scottish Clan Buchannan has been without a leader since the 17th century. Now, the rightful heir to the clan has been crowned chief in a ceremony dripping with archetypes from Scottish history.
Clan Buchanan was first recorded in 1225 AD. The name appears on a document issued by the Earl of Lennox granting “Sir Absalon of Buchanan” lands on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond in western Scotland. However, according to the official Clan Buchanan website , the origin myth claims “the first laird” was chief or king Anselan O Kyan, of the clan Ó Catháin in north Ulster, County Londonderry, Ireland.
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For his services fighting Danish Vikings in 1014 AD Anselan received the lands of Buchanan from King Malcolm II. The name “Mac a Chanonaich” (Buchanan) is said to have been derived from “Macauselan” (son of Anselan).
However, DNA analysis has shown that the Clan Buchanan was in existence “well before the year 1000 (AD) and possibly going way beyond that,” explains the Clan Buchanan Society International . “There is a strong DNA link to the Clan Gregor which seems to indicate a common ancestor around the year 400 AD).”
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5 Million Clan Members Without a Leader
Today, Clan Buchanan has around five million members across the globe, reported the Evening Standard . However, the clan has been without a chief since 1681 when John Buchanan died without leaving a male heir. Members from ten Scottish clans came together last week in Callander, in the Scottish Highlands , for the first time in 240 years to witness the inauguration of the new “true heir” of the clan, John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan.
“It’s fantastic to be in Scotland representing Clan Buchanan members from the USA,” explained Kevin Buchanan, vice president of the Clan Buchanan Society based in California. John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan, the new clan chief, is the manager of Cambusmore Estate and is the father of four children. A report on Scottish Television said Baillie-Hamilton’s inauguration as clan chief represents “a turning point in our clan’s history.”
John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan, the new Chief of Clan Buchanan. ( The Clan Buchanan Society International )
A Promise to Restore Ancient Traditions
The new clan chief pledged to bring Clan Buchanan into the modern era by “restoring our ancient traditions and championing the values, relevance and importance of the global community we represent.” And Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan waited no time, as he has already restored the ancient clan parliament which he says will “explore the future of the Buchanan clan and discuss how traditions can be celebrated in the modern day.”
John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan’s appointment as clan chief results from 60 years of hard work by the late British genealogist Hugh Pessket. This was the guy who in 2004 demonstrated U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s paternal Irish ancestry was blended with Scottish blood from Paisley, Glasgow. According to a report in The Independent at the time, Regan asked the Irish Ambassador to Washington to “keep his Celtic heritage secret because he was terrified it would ruin his political career.”
Pessket’s mother was a descendant from the Buchanan of Leny and she urged her son to find the rightful chief of Clan Buchanan. According to Clan Buchanan Society International , in 2018, after 60 years of research, Dr. Joseph Morrow, Lord Lyon, “accepted the claim of Michael Buchanan of Arnprior and that Ilk to be chief of Buchanan.”
Ancient Scottish Symbols of Office
The chief’s inauguration ceremony was laced with recreated artifacts and symbols from ancient Scottish history. However, the new chief was given “recreations” of the original clan Buchanan jewels including the chief’s signet ring featuring the Buchanan coat of arms.
The original clan jewels, including the Little Sword of Leny which acted as a clan charter, were confiscated by the British government after the 1740s Jacobite uprising. Buchanan of Leny and Arnprior had served as the treasurer and armorer for the defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie .
Perhaps the most archetypally Scottish aspect of the new chief's costume was his Balmoral Cap or Bonnet featuring three golden eagle feathers. The Court of the Lord Lyon provides guidelines for entitlement to display one or more Golden Eagle feather(s) tucked behind a crest badge “as a mark of rank in a clan/family.” However, this particular Scottish tradition has been woven into the egos of many clan members around the world.
A plate entitled “Buchanan” illustrated by R. R. McIan, from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, published in 1845. ( Public domain )
“My Feather’s Bigger Than Yours”
“Sadly, not all descendants of expatriate Scots understand the meaning of the display of feathers… evident at overseas Highland Games events around the world,” explained writer W. Neil Fraser . Traditionally in Scotland, real Golden Eagle feathers were tucked behind the clan crest badge on Balmoral and Glengarry caps.
This way, the large pointed end of the feather projects above, with the quill tucked behind the badge, as a mark of clan or family rank. Frazer says at many foreign clan events there are “so many feathers being displayed “it must terrify the remaining population of the Golden Eagle, now considered an endangered species in Scotland.”
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The clan Buchanan website informs that, along with the actual jewels and badges of the ancient clan, “our ceremonies and customs were lost too.” After the Jacobite uprising governmental restrictions forbade the wearing of clan insignia or tartans for 40 years, after which “many of the oral traditions, ceremonies and experiences held by a clan and its members, were lost forever.”
Considering the mass-destruction of Scottish heritage and history in the wake of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, it is easier to see why so many Scots, including myself, are delighted with this step towards resurrecting and maintaining some of what was lost.
Top image: The crowning ceremony of the Clan Buchannan chief was laced with recreated artifacts and symbols from ancient Scottish history. Source: The Clan Buchanan Society International
By Ashley Cowie