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Issue 65 - The Clan Davidson

Scotland Magazine Issue 65
October 2012


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The Clan Davidson

James Irvine Robertson looks at one of Scotland's great families

Clan Chattan, the Clan of the Cat, was unique; a group of clans in Badenoch in the central Highlands that had the wisdom to know that united they stood and divided they fell. They chose the chief of one amongst their number to be captain and they joined their individual armies, most of the time, to fight under him against their common foes.

The Davidsons are one of the most important of the clans within this federation. Their founding father was Black David, in Gaelic Daibhidh Dhu, pronounced Davie Doo, son of Muirich the hereditary parson of the Celtic Church at Kingussie and great-grandson of Gilliechattan Mor, descended from the Cenél Loairn kindred who carried their name from a dynasty of early kings of Dalriada. Such people were powerful landowners and war leaders as well as holding clerical office. The Davidsons' territory lay at Invernahavon, just north of the junction of the rivers Spey and Truim alongside the Macphersons who descended from another of Muirich's sons.

The chief of the Macintoshes had married the main line heiress of Gilliechattan Mor and was thus possessor of much of the ancient Clan Chattan lands. By virtue of this he was acknowledged as the Captain of Clan Chattan.

To the west lay the territory of the Camerons. They had occupied land that rightfully belonged to Clan Chattan, said Clan Chattan, and since they refused to acknowledge this fact or pay rents it was only fair that they must pay in kine. Rustling Cameron cattle was almost a duty. Unsurprisingly this led to many clashes between the clans and a feud that is said to have lasted 368 years.

An early and bloody encounter came in the late 1300s. Some 400 Camerons returning from a major retaliatory cattle raid were overtaken by the warriors of Clan Chattan just south of Newtonmore in the heart of Davidson territory. Lachlan MacIntosh, the Captain of Clan Chattan, led his own clansmen along with the armies of the Davidsons and the Macphersons. The two forces drew up to make battle but a dispute arose between the Davidsons and the Macphersons as to which was entitled to the position of honour on the right wing. Much the same would happen centuries later at Culloden. There it was the Macdonalds who failed to fully participate in the battle, feeling insulted that they were placed on the left wing of Prince Charles's army rather than the right.

The result at the battle of Invernahoven was that the disgruntled Macphersons withdrew from the army and sat on a nearby knoll to have their lunch and watch the ensuing battle. It was a disaster for the now outnumbered Clan Chattan. The Davidson chief and his seven sons were killed within 200 yards of their own front door and the Camerons continued on with their booty.

Lachlan MacIntosh sent his bard to taunt the Macphersons for cowardice, saying that the message came from the Camerons. This fired them up and they caught up with the Camerons at Loch Pattack in the hills some 15 miles further south. There the Camerons were massacred. But the first battle had torn the heart out of Davidsons.

A corollary to the battle came in 1396 in the Battle of the North Inch in Perth. The Earl of Crawford on the king's command had tried to make peace between two feuding clans. Their chiefs suggested a trial by combat reminiscent of a spectacle put on in the Coliseum in ancient Rome. Stands were erected and, in front of packed spectators that included the king and his court, with 30 picked champions on each side, two bodies of clansmen fought to the death, 29 died on the losing team, 12 on the winners.

For such a dramatic event, it is strange that the identities of the combatants have never been satisfactorily established. Everyone agrees that victors were champions of Clan Chattan but the other force is named by the earliest source as Clan Kay and no such clan is known or can be identified. One theory is that the combat was between Clan Chattan and the Camerons but, if so, they certainly failed to bury the hatchet. A more favoured idea holds that the battle was actually between the Macphersons and the Davidsons as a consequence of the dispute over which should take precedence in the Clan Chattan army. Whether as a result of the original battle or that on the North Inch in Perth, it marks the time when the Davidsons ceased to be a powerful element within Clan Chattan. Of course clansmen remained but many changed their names; according to one source the chief took up the name of Macpherson and they ceased to hold territory in their heartland in their own right.

One has to look north for the next record of the Clan. David Davidson, presumed to be a refugee from the chief's family, is found holding land, Davidson on the Black Isle near Cromarty. There he prospered with his descendants marrying into the local gentry and making money. Henry Davidson amassed a fortune in the West Indies and bought the estate of Tulloch in 1763 and became keeper of the Royal castle of Dingwall. His son and grandson represented Cromarty in parliament at Westminster. This family were recognised as chiefs of the clan and at least one of their members made every effort to increase its number. The 4th Laird of Tulloch was Lord Lieutenant of Ross and had five wives by whom he had 18 children - and fathered at least another 30 out of wedlock. He was nicknamed 'The Stag'. His eldest son died without an heir in 1917 and the chiefship became dormant.

In 1996 a senior member of line in New Zealand, descended from the Stag's 6th legitimate son was recognised by Lord Lyon as chief of the clan. Today's chief is Alister Guthrie Davidson of Davidson.

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