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An Overview of the Henderson History

MacEanruig’s, proud sons of Henry…the HENDERSON’s, descendants of a King of the Picts. We are a noble collection of five family bloodlines that took hold in Caithness, Glencoe, Fordell, and Liddesdale–by way of the Shetlands and Ulster. Our ancestors are as old a family as any clan in the Highlands.

In the early 16th century young Henry Gunn decided to separate himself from the constant fighting between the Gunn and Keith clans and his descendants emerged as the Henderson’s of Caithness.






The Clan Henderson Society has permission from the National Library of Scotland to allow the download and reprinting of the map of Scotland, Scotia Regnum, created and published in 1654.  The version you can download from our website is a modified version of Scotia Regnum that shows the origins of the Clan Henderson.






























It was James Henderson, a former Lord Advocate of Scotland, for whom the lands of Fordell were erected into a barony in 1511. The Fordell Henderson’s are the line from which our current Chief of the Name and Arms of Henderson, Dr. Alistair D. Henderson, is descended.





                       Fordell Castle              Dr. Alistair Henderson

In the Shetland’s, in 1582, the King of Denmark gave the patronymic Henryson to all subsequent generates of William Magnusson. By the 17th century, many of Shetland’s Henderson’s migrated to the border regions of Liddesdale and later, evidence suggests that large numbers went on to Ulster and then, beyond.

At the time of the Massacre of Glencoe, in 1692, our Gaelic-speaking ancestors served the MacDonald Chief  (Mac Ian) as the traditional pipers of his Clan.  Of 38 men, women and children killed that fateful morning, 22 were Henderson’s.

Henderson Diaspora

(Diaspora: a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived)

Why Henderson’s Left Scotland

 (From the speech given at the National Scottish Immigrants Memorial, Philadelphia, PA, Dec 2013)


There is a great book entitled “How the Scots invented the Modern World”, by Arthur Herman.  In the book, Herman talks of how Scots fanned out across the globe and were hugely influential in shaping the Modern, western world we know today.  As Herman postulates the true story of the Scots is “How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It.”

We Henderson’s are one of the Highland’s oldest clans.  Our ancestors, the MacEanruig’s, have roots dating back to Pictish Kings.  With this pedigree, we have to ask, why were Scots, and especially our Henderson ancestors, leaving Scotland?

     First and foremost, in 1700, before unification with England, Scotland was the poorest INDEPENDENT country in Europe.  Abject poverty, high unemployment and little hope for improving one’s future were key instigators in the great migration that has created the Scottish Diaspora of today.


     As Scots began to look for a chance to improve their circumstances, some of the first to leave were Henderson immigrants, who came from the Highlands of Scotland, specifically the regions of Caithness and Glencoe.  Later, a great many Henderson’s left from the Scottish Lowlands, and the border counties between Scotland and England.  Henderson’s emigrated to North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  The initial waves of immigrants often included a stopover of several decades in Northern Ireland, as part of an English exportation of citizens program called the Ulster Plantations.  Again, Henderson’s were involved in all these phases of history.



     But leaving Scotland was no simple matter for our Henderson ancestors.  The sea journey across the Atlantic was a fearsome ordeal. The trip typically took one to two months, sometimes longer. The ships that carried them were crowded and cleanliness, hygiene, and decent living quarters were luxuries not afforded the common people. Hunger, thirst, boredom, anxiety, fear, sickness and, all too often, death were frequent occurrences. Children were especially vulnerable to shipboard sicknesses.   The food was terrible and conditions on board the ships of the day were wet and miserable.  To add to these miseries, scarcely a day went by without a fight or a robbery among the crew and passengers.

     So, again, the question: why did they come? The answer lies in the politics of England and the economy of Scotland. During the early 17th century, Scotland and Northern Ireland were plagued with weak and unfavorable economic conditions. Rents escalated throughout the century resulting in dispossessions from the land. Wages were low, unemployment high, and commodities scarce. At the same time, new worlds had been discovered and opportunity arose beyond Scotland’s shores.

     For some of our Henderson ancestors, the trip to America gave them religious opportunity to worship God as they desired. Our Scots-Irish and Lowland Henderson’s were Presbyterian while our Highland Henderson’s were a mixture; some Catholic, some Anglican (Church of Scotland), and some Covenanter Presbyterians.

      Scots were also valued for their military prowess and England’s empire expansion meant soldiers were in demand.  Unable to find other work, many Scots joined the ranks.  Their duties took them to far-off lands and many remained in the new colonies.

      Finally, great famines in the 18th and 19th centuries led to Scots seeking new lands and better chances for their families to survive.


     But whatever, their reasons for leaving, the fact is Scots can be found across the globe.  Here today, we honor those Scots who arrived on the shores of the American colonies. And, as we stand here today, honoring our Scottish Heritage, and as we look at we look at a beautiful, inspiring sculpture—reminding us of that heritage, I ask that we reflect on something else.  Not just the bronze effigies before us—which alone are a fine tribute to our ancestors.  But there is more.  There is a deep, strong vein running thru us all, a vein so remarkable, so profound, so deeply rooted that it binds this bronze statue to our ancestors, and in turn, to those standing here today.  It forges us into one entity—a people of Scots heritage—a proud people—for ultimately, that is what we are honoring today—the binding flesh of Scots, past, present and future.  I close with another line from Arthur’s Herman’s book…. “If you want a true monument to the Scots…just look around you.



  Immigration patterns of Scots




                                         Immigration of Highlanders to America




Ulster Scot

What is an Ulster-Scot?

Ulster Scots is a term referring to those Scots who migrated to the northern province of Ireland (Ulster) beginning about 1605 during the ‘plantation scheme’.  The term is used primarily in the United Kingdom and Ireland although sometimes in North America they are referred to as “Scotch-Irish” or Ulster-Irish.  All of these terms refer to those Lowland and Border Scots who settled in the northern counties of Ireland in the 17th century.To be sure, there were Scots in Ireland as early as the 1400’s, such as the McDonalds of County Antrim.  There was also a steady stream of highland Scots migrating to the north of Ireland in the early 1800s as a result of the “clearances” in Scotland.  But the bottom line, in modern times, is that anyone who migrated from Scotland to Ireland from about the 1400s onward, is usually referred to as an Ulster-Scot.


The Plantation Scheme.

For most of the 17th century (1605-1697) Scottish migration to Northern Ireland (Ulster) was part of a scheme organized by the British government.  During this period it is estimated that over 200,000 Lowland Scot crossed the North Channel to settle in Ulster.  Consisting predominantly of farmers (planters) this relocation of British subjects came to be called the “Plantation Scheme.”

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The migration, termed the Plantation of Ulster, took part in two stages. The first stage was confined principally to the counties of Antrim and Down.  With the encouragement of the British Crown, this initiative was largely guided by Scottish fortune seekers and can be considered entirely a private, commercial venture, although the Crown’s support ensured cooperation and “encouragement.”  Lands of Irish rebels were seized and then subsequently settled by loyal subjects to the Crown.

The second stage was broader in scope.  It was a state venture fully conceived, planned and supervised by both the British and Irish governments.  This wave of the plantations included both Scot and English settlers, although Scots outnumbered the English 20:1.

The primary goal of this venture was to populate Northern Ireland with subjects loyal to the British Crown.  This goal was establish deliberately to counterbalance the native Irish population.  Here the plan for land confiscation changed.  Rather than settling the Planters in isolated pockets of land confiscated from convicted rebels, all of the land would be confiscated and then redistributed to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons. What was more, the new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants and had to import them from England and Scotland. The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was relocated to live near garrisons and Protestant churches. Equally important, Planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman.

It should be noted that officials in Scotland (Scotland had its own government until 1707) were highly supportive of this English/Irish scheme, as many Scots, especially in the Lowlands and Borders regions lived in desperate poverty.  The desperate, hardscrabble condition of their lives forced many of these Scots to live a life of marauding and thievery.  So common was the practice, that thievery became its own occupation (Reivers).  The Plantation Scheme was seen as means of reducing the population trying to support families off the Scottish land; reducing crime in Scotland and the Borders—especially cattle stealing and bolstering loyalty to the British Crown in Ireland.

It should be noted that in addition to being given land, the loyalty of migrating Scots (remember, Scotland was its own nation, with distinct laws, customs and manners) was further ensured by a requirement to take an oath of loyalty to the British Crown as “Denizens” of Ireland—foreigners with the rights of Irish citizenship.  If a Scot wanted to become an English citizen, he had to obtain letters of support from ranking Englishmen, pay a fine and then take an oath of allegiance.

The “Plantation Scheme” changed the demography of Ireland by creating large communities with a British and Protestant identity. These communities replaced the older Catholic ruling class, which shared with the general population a common Irish identity and set of political attitudes.  The physical and economic nature of Irish society was also changed, as new concepts of ownership, trade and credit were introduced. These changes led to the creation of a Protestant ruling class,  which in turn secured the authority of Crown government in Ireland during the 17th century.

The Great Migration from Ulster to America and Canada

he Great Migration from the north of Ireland (Ulster) began in 1717.  There had been some migration to the new World before this date but those instances were few and isolated.  Religious freedom was one reason people began fleeing but to a far greater degree economic hardship, resulting from unfavorable economic policies instituted from England and then fueled by drought led to the exodus.  Ultimately, approximately 250,000 Ulster-Scots/Irish sailed for America between 1717 and 1775.

So, what led to this?  The original rationale for the Plantation Scheme worked for most of the 1600s and Irish unrest was relatively low-key.  In fact, by the late 1690s, Northern Ireland was more prosperous than any other Irish province and many English counties, as well.  Conditions were fairly prosperous for most Ulster-Scots.  But the very success of the Ulster flax and wool industries was causing England to notice.  Ultimately, the English began to look at the economic success of Ulster as a threat and in 1698 English businessmen petitioned the King to “protect” their interests.

Pressured by the Crown, Irish parliament passed the Woolens act in 1698.  This act prohibited the exportation of Irish wool to anywhere but England and Wales.  The result for Ulster: an economic depression began to set in.

Soon, another hardship was imposed on the Ulster-Scots. In the early 1700’s a practice called “rack-renting” was made legal.  Rack-renting allowed a renter to raise the rents when leases expired.  Today, we consider this normal but in 17th and 18th century England/Ireland and Scotland this was a radical departure from tradition.  What had been common was to rent land for approximately 30 years and re-rent at the same rents, if the same farmers/family was in place. Under this practice, renters tended to keep the land well-maintained and often even made improvements—as they assumed they would continue to live there.  But the change demanded money and money—as a currency was scarce to come by.

The culminating event that led to the Great Migration was a severe, sustained drought that stretched from 1714-1719.  This obviously affected food crops but a greater impact was the harm done to wool and flax industries—the economic strength of Ulster. Insufficient grazing grass for sheep and a disease known as “the Rot” crippled farmers.  Additionally, religious restrictions imposed on the Presbyterian Ulster-Scots by the Church of England created further dissention.    Meanwhile, stories from the American colonies spoke to a better life.


In 1717 mass migration began and continued almost unabated for nearly 60 years.  Initially, large numbers of Ulster Scots immigrated into Pennsylvania but by the mid 18th century many headed for the Virginia and North Carolina colonies.  To this day, these states display a remarkably rich Scots-Irish heritage.  Ultimately, the impact of this migration can be seen in the many contributions of Scots-Irish immigrants towards the building of our nation and its subsequent expansion and growth

Theirs was an impact that lasts to this day




































































Notable people with MacEanruig (Henderson) in their blood include:

Note: MacEanruig is pronounced “Mac-IAN-Rick”

* Over 4300 members “gathered” into the Clan Henderson Society

* A key player in the Presbyterian Reformation in Scotland

* Founders of two Scotch whiskey distilleries (Old Pulteney and Caol Ila)

* J.E.B Stuart, the Confederate Cavalryman

* A Lord Advocate of Scotland

* The longest serving Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps

* The first Governor of Texas

* Mark Twain

* A Chief Justice of the United States

* A Medal of Honor winner

* The Reverend Billy Graham

Henderson Society has members in almost all continents and many countries.  Our motto: Sola Veritas Nobilitat,

“Virtue Alone Ennobles”

Fordell Castle.jpg
1654 map of Scotland.jpg
Mark Twain.jpg
Billy Graham.jpg

Henderson Origins, on Joan Blaeu, Scotia Regnum (1654).  Reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.”

Why the Lowlanders Immigrated to America


Scottish History and Clan Henderson

80      Julius Agricola is sent from Rome in to be governor of Britain.  He and his Roman soldiers push into the north, advancing to the valley crossing Scotland from the River Clyde to the Forth.

84      Calgacus unites the Celtic tribes to fight the advancing Romans, but he and some 10,000 Celts are killed in a battle at Ardoch.

296    For the first time, Romans mention the Picts in their literature.  The word was derived either from a Latin word meaning “painted ones” or another meaning “fighter.”

360    Romans describe the marauding tribes who come over from northern Ireland as “Scotti,” meaning raider.

368    Tribes of Picts, Scots and Saxons attack Romans in what is now London and plunder the area.

503    Some of the Scotti leave Ireland and establish the kingdom of Dalriada on the west coast of Scotland, in Argyll.

597    St. Columba, the great Christian missionary who left his native Ireland to minister to the Scots and establish monasteries, dies on the Inner Hebrides island of Iona.

794    The Norsemen begin raiding Scotland and western Europe.

843    Cinead (Kenneth) MacAlpin unites the Picts and the Scots as one nation.  The significance of his ascent to the throne is that it marks the end of the first stage of Scottish unification. (The use of ‘Mac’ in his name shows that the prefix in use at this time.)

900    Orkney is now a Norse earldom and includes Caithness.

1005    Malcolm II kills Kenneth III and becomes king.

1011    Eanruig Mor Mac Righ Neachtan (Big Henry, son of King Nectan) arrives in Kinlochleven, the beginning of the Hendersons in Glencoe.

1018    Malcolm II defeats the Saxons at the Battle of Carham, acquiring Lothian.

1034    Duncan, ruler of Strathclyde, kills his grandfather, Malcolm II, and becomes King of Scotland.

1057    Malcolm III, also known as Malcolm Canmore (the latter name meaning “Great Head” or “Chief”), rules Scotland for 35 years.

1066    The Norman conquest of England introduces a new language and feudalism to Scotland.  The Normans force many fugitives into southeastern Scotland.

1097    Edgar becomes king, ushering in a period of two centuries of peace between Scotland and England. Although feudalism becomes prevalent during this time, it never really takes widespread root in the Highlands.  The clan system by this time is evolving and supercedes it in the north and the west of Scotland.

1107    With the death of Edgar, Scotland becomes disunited again. Alexander I becomes King of the Scots, while David I becomes King in Lothian and Strathclyde.

1124    With the death of Alexander, David becomes King of the Scots and the country enjoys unity again.  Under David, Scotland undertakes major extensions of its borders.

1221    The name of Fordell is first mentioned when Hugh de Camera gives a homestead and additional property of his lands to the monastery of Inchcolm, in gratitude for his safe return from the Crusade.

1295    Scotland and France sign the “Auld Alliance,” one of the world’s oldest mutual defense treaties.

1296    England annexes Scotland.  Subsequently, King Edward I of England removes the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny), the coronation stone for Scotland’s monarchs, and installs it in London’s Westminster Abbey.  Temporarily returned to Scotland in 1950, the stone was permanently returned in 1996.

1287    Alexander III, the last of the Irish royal line, dies, leading to the Wars of Succession among the Lowland families of the Bruces and the Balliols.

1305    William Wallace, the leader of the Scots’ efforts to defy English rule, is put to death in London.

1314    The Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, rout the English, led by Edward II, at Bannockburn, resulting in the establishment of Scotland as a sovereign  nation.

1320    Scotland’s lords and bishops sign the Declaration of Arbroath, a petition to the Pope urging him to recognize Scotland’s independence from England.

1450    Hendrich Hendrichson arrives in the Shetlands, the beginning of the Hendersons there.

1468    James III marries Margaret, daughter of Christian I, King of Denmark. This union adds Orkney and Shetland to the realm of Scotland.

1488    James III is murdered after being accused of surrounding himself with advisors who encouraged him to bring Englishmen into Scottish affairs of state.

1494  The first evidence of distilled Scots Whisky

1502    King Henry VII of England gives his daughter in marriage to James IV of Scotland.  This eventually leads to the Union of Crowns in 1603.

1508    Robert Henryson dies. A schoolmaster in Dunfermline, he used poetry to provide the most enduring record of Scottish life during the reign of James IV.  His work was written in English, although the version spoken where he lived was known as “Scots” or “Middle Scots.”

1512    By treaty, all Scottish citizens become French, and vice versa.

1528    The Scottish General Assembly formally accepts Presbyterianism.

1547    The Battle of Pinkie occurs.  On Saturday, September 10, known as “Black Saturday,” Somerset crosses the border at the head of an English army advancing on Edinburgh, meeting the Scots at Pinkie.  The result of this period of warfare is to convince the Scots that the best way to gain the support of the French in their struggles against the English is to have their queen leave for France to marry the Dauphin.

1559    John Knox gives a sermon at Perth, regarded as the start of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland.

1582    The University of Edingburgh is founded.  Scotland now has four universities to England’s two.  Students work and play in Latin.

1584    Episcopacy is reaffirmed.

1592    Act is passed to authorize the Presbyterian Government.

1594    The Hendersons are recorded as living in the so-called Middle Marches during this time, although the 1594 Act of the Scottish Parliament does not list them as one of the Border Clans.

 1600    Scotland abolishes the Norse laws in Orkney and the Shetlands.

1603    James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England as well, which brings about the Union of the Crowns.

1607   James I initiates the Plantation of Ulster in northern Ireland, hoping to provide a Presbyterian barrier between the Irish Celts and their Hebridean cousins by transplanting fellow Lowlanders.  These transplanted Scots are successful in their new homes, and some take their industrious nature with them to the New World as well.  From the stock of well-to-do in Edinburgh and the Lowlands comes the establishment of Henderson of Fordell.

1611    James I publishes the Authorized Version of the Bible.

1621    Attempting to create jobs and opportunity for Scots, Sir William Alexander plans the colony of Nova Scotia (New Scotland) in the New World.   In 1632, however, the colony passes into the hands of the French.

1625    Charles I is crowned.  He alienates most Scottish landowners by an Act of Revocation, which cancels all grants of crown property since 1540 and all dispositions of church property.  Sometime during Charles’ reign, Ninian Magnusson in the Shetlands becomes the first there to assume the Henderson name.

1633    Charles I visits Scotland for the first time.  This is a tumultuous period in the church because of Charles’ requirement to use the English Book of Common Prayer.

1637    Charles I regards protests against his prayer book as treason. A riot had occured in Edinburgh the year before over the prayer book, but was quelled by the Lord Advocate, who suggests the formation of a committee to come up with a suitable response. As a result, the National League and Covenant is created, which binds all who sign it to defend the king with their lives, but to have nothing to do with his new ideas for the church (Episcopalianism) until they have been approved by the General Assembly and by Parliament.  Subsequently, during the General Assembly, in November at Greyfriars’ Church in Glasgow, the Presbyterians abolish Episcopacy. Alexander Henderson is the moderator of the Assembly and author of the National Covenant.

1639    Charles calls a General Assembly, effectively abolishing the Scottish Bishops, which leads to the First Bishops’ War.  The conflict is temporarily quieted when an agreement is reached through the Treaty of Berwick.

1640    The Second Bishops’ War occurs when the peace created the year before collapses.  Civil war breaks out in England.  The Scottish Covenanters side with the English rebels, who take power.

1651    England’s Parliament passes the Navigation Act, which, at varying times, either helps or hurts Scottish merchants.

1685    When Covenanters fail to accept Charles II, they are transported to the American colonies.

1688    James VII (and II of Scotland) escapes to France.  William of Orange ascends to the throne of England.  When he is invited to rule Scotland as well, the Viscount of Dundee (Graham of Claverhouse) leads armed opposition in the support of James.  James’ supporters now become known as Jacobites, from Jacobus, the Latin word for James.

1692    William of Orange issues a proclamation directing all Highland chiefs to take an oath of allegiance, to be signed prior to Jan. 1, 1693. MacIain of Glencoe, a MacDonald, is one of only two who fail to meet the deadline.  He was delayed, possibly by inclement weather, and William sought to make an example of him.  William ordered troops, under the command of a Campbell of Glenlyon, to dispose of MacIan and his Clan. Captain Campbell, however, is a relative (by marriage), so there is no alarm at the sight of him and his men.  On the morning  of February 13, Campbell and his men massacre approximately 38 people, including MacIan, his wife and 22 Hendersons.  Many more are hunted down in subsequent days.  The Campbell’s treachery inflames both the English and Scottish folk.

1707    The Treaty of Union reunites Scotland and England, creating the United Kingdom.  The Scottish Parliament meets on March 25 for the last time.

1715    The Jacobites rise up in force in support of James VIII, “The Old Pretender.”  Jacobite forces include those clans aligned against the Campbells, such as the Stewarts, MacDonalds, Camerons, MacPhersons and Robertsons.

1739    Ten companies of Highlanders are formed to combat lawlessness in Scotland.  They are known as the Black Watch.

1745    The Jacobites, led by Charles Edward (the son of James VIII and more popularly known as “Bonny Prince Charlie”), make an adventurous attempt to reclaim the Scottish throne.  At first the uprising is successful.  More Scots are a part of the government army, however, than are in support of Charles. The Jacobite dream of reestablishing a free and independent Scotland comes to an end at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  As a result of the defeat, a new Disarming Act is passed in the English Parlament, further disarming the Clans.  In addition, the wearing of the kilt, the plaid or the tartan are outlawed.  One-third of the Highland population is transported to the United States, Ireland and Australia.

1763    The Highland Clearances begin and continue to 1850. As the Industrial Revolution begins, the Highlanders find themselves at a disadvantage, and many landowners sell their property.  Many Scots leave to find better economic opportunity in foreign lands.

1782. July 1.  The repeal of the Proscription act occurred.  The ban of tartans was lifted.

1839    John Henderson, who traced his ancestry back to Sir John Henderson, 5th of Fordell, emigrates from Scotland to Australia.

1840    The Scottish government encourages and organizes immigration. Throughout the next half century, there was another wave of evictions and clearances.

1845    The Potato Famine in Ireland occurs.  Many Irish come to live in Scotland, while many Scots emigrate to the United States and other parts of the British Commonwealth.

1870    Samuel M. Henderson, the tenth child and seventh son (considered to be a gifted birth order by the Scots-Irish) of Samuel and Anne Henderson, emigrates to America from Ireland with his sister, Anna Eliza.

1918    After World War I, many of the large estates in Scotland are sold and many mansions become institutions.

1988    Having been authorized to formally organize two years before, the Clan Henderson Society of the United States and Canada is officially established.

1996    The English government formally returns the Stone of Scone (or Stone of Destiny) Scotland’s coronation stone, 700 years after its theft by Edward I.

1997    In a landmark vote, Scots vote to re-establish their own Parliament again.

2009    Clan Henderson Society convenes at The Gathering 2009 in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Brief History of Early Scotland

The  earliest  recorded  people  to  live  in  Scotland  were the Celts and the Picts. The Celts, also known as the Cruithne or “wheat growers,” claimed an ancestry back to Japheth mac Noah at the time of the great flood.  In their attempts to conquer these early peoples, the Romans applied the name Picts because their language used pictures and symbols. The Picts’ legacy can still be viewed today in the many “henges” (groups of upright stones) throughout Scotland. Another hallmark of the Picts was their woven, multi-colored cloth, which other cultures had not yet developed and which evolved into the tartan.

At the end of the 5th  Century, Fergus MacErc crossed the sea from Ireland and took over a small area in what is called Argyll.  This small band of folk was called “Scotti,” a Roman word for raider, because the members frequently came across to pillage the western side of Scotland. The Scotti’s small kingdom was named Dalriada, where they ruled for centuries in peaceful coexistence with the Picts of Alba.

St. Columba, an Irish prince, brought Christianity to the land where his Scotti relatives resided in the 6th century.  He succeeded because he adapted the many druidic practices and celebrations to introduce his Christian religion.   His Celtic Christian Church was the Church of Scotland for the next five centuries.

In  787,  the  Vikings  made  their  first  recorded  raid  on the British Isles.   These raids continued for the next several centuries, prompting priests and monks throughout what is now western Europe to pray, “From the fury of the Northmen, deliver us, O Lord.”   The Norsemen established their rule first in Orkney and Shetland, then in the Hebrides and along the northern and western mainland.   Their assaults on the Highlands in the 8th and 9th centuries certainly influenced the Scottish gene pool, including the Henderson ancestors in Argyll (Glencoe), the Shetlands and Caithness.

When Kenneth MacAlpin became King of both Dalriada and of Alba in 843, an interesting transformation occurred as the Cruithne began to refer to themselves as Scots and to their kingdom of Alba as Scotland. Although the Scotti represented only about 5 percent of the population, from that time forward our ancestral home has been referred to as Scotland.  It is also interesting to note that MacAlpin’s name shows that the prefix ‘Mac,’ which means ‘son of,’ was in use at the time to denote family relationship and affiliation.

Scotland enjoyed affluence and growth under MacAlpin. That growth continued under both Malcolm I and Malcolm III. The latter was also known as Malcolm Canmore (the last name meaning “Great Head” or “Chief”) and he ruled Scotland for some 35 years.

With William the Conqueror ’s defeat of England in 1066, change came to Scotland, including a new language.   The Normans forced many fugitives into southeastern Scotland, helping to spread the English language among the Lowland Scots.   Throughout the Middle Ages, these Lowland Scots referred to their speech as English, because Scottish meant Gaelic to them.  In 1072, William invaded Scotland. Although William never truly conquered the country, Malcolm Canmore was forced to pay homage.

The next ruler of Scotland was Edgar, who became king in 1097.  So began a period of almost two centuries of virtually unbroken  peace  with  England. As  a  result,  the  Lowland Scots copied their neighbors to the south.   Merchants grew in wealth and became cornerstones of the economy.  Scottish homes, churches, even the language in the Lowlands, became the same as their English counterparts.  Although there was a firm border between Scotland and England, it meant little to the Lowland Scots.  They were sort of half-English and half- Scottish, and the various clans had blood ties throughout the borders.

Following Edgar were his youngest sons, known as the Sons of Margaret (for Edgar ’s wife) and the “Normanization” of  Lowland  Scotland  continued  under  them. That  meant the introduction of feudalism, which brought pronounced change to Scotland.  Introduced into Britain by the Normans, feudalism was a social system whereby a man held land from another in return for military service and payment of taxes.

With the death in 1286 of Alexander, the last of Scotland’s Celtic kings, Scotland had no clear heir to the throne. Contending for the right to rule Scotland were Robert the Bruce and John De Balliol, both Scots of Norman heritage. Seizing upon this disarray and confusion was King Edward I of England, who sought to extend English rule to Scotland. Edward was called the “Hammer of Scotland,” a nickname which aptly describes his belligerent attitude toward his northern neighbors and his protracted campaign to subdue them.

Heroes often rise up under such oppression and this period in Scottish history is no different.  William Wallace, a Scottish knight, rallied his countrymen in armed resistance to Edward. Joining him was Robert the Bruce, who, oddly enough, was married to Edward’s goddaughter.   Unfortunately, Wallace was betrayed, captured and executed in London in 1305. Robert the Bruce successfully pressed the struggle, leading to his coronation as King of Scotland in 1306.

Edward I died in 1307 and was replaced by his son Edward II.  Under Robert the Bruce, the Scots soundly defeated the English troops under Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314.  This victory was the decisive battle in the so-called Scottish Wars of Independence.

In 1320, the lords and bishops of Scotland wrote the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter to Pope John XXII in which they requested recognition of Scotland’s independence and the sovereignty of Robert the Bruce. The most-repeated line of the letter is: “For as long as one hundred of us shall remain alive we shall never in any wise consent to submit to the rule of the English, for it is not for glory we fight, for riches or for honours, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but with his life.” It was four years later that the Pope responded, recognizing the Bruce’s title. Conflict between Scotland and England, however, would drag on for numerous generations to come.

With Robert II, the Stewarts came to power in Scotland. Robert was quite young, though, and his lack of maturity eventually led to control of Scotland by the Duke of Albany. James II, using ruthless methods, wrested control back for the monarchy from several powerful families that had emerged in Scotland.  Internal power struggles continued through the reigns of both James III and James IV.  The latter was killed at the Battle of Flodden trying to help Scotland’s French allies against the English.   The close political ties forged between Scotland and France against their common enemy, England, are often referred to as the “Auld Alliance.”

Under James V, Scotland strengthened ties with France. James V married two French women in succession, largely to obtain financial concessions from the Pope. The Protestant Reformation had begun, however, and a number of Scots began to embrace Lutheran ideas. They thought Scotland should ally itself with Henry VIII, who had rejected the Pope’s authority. As a result of James’ actions, Scotland found itself at war with England once again. James died in 1542, shortly after the Scots were routed at Solway Moss.

With  the  death of  James  V,  his  daughter,  Mary  Queen of Scots, ascended to the throne when she was only a week old.   Her right to rule, however, was contested by some in both France and England, as did some Scots.   Henry VIII encouraged  those  supporters  in  Scotland  and  orchestrated the murder of Cardinal Beaton, who had favored Scotland’s alliance  with  France.  Earlier,  Beaton  had  burned  George Wishart, a Protestant preacher who had been an ally of English political deals, as a heretic.  Henry VIII then attempted a very aggressive effort to betroth Mary to his 5-year-old son, Edward. Henry’s efforts were characterized by the great Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott as the “Rough Wooing.”  Mary, however, was sent to France, where she was married to the dauphin.  Thirteen  years  later,  with  her  spouse  dead,  she returned to Scotland.   Trouble awaited her, though, because Scotland, like the rest of Europe, was now fully caught up in the Protestant Reformation.

The roots of the Protestant Reformation arose in central Europe, where Martin Luther in 1517 rebelled against what he saw as corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.  Luther was followed by others, including John Calvin in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland.  Knox was certain he could remove the Pope’s authority and the Catholic Mass from Scottish life, and by 1560 he had introduced a new Book of Discipline, and the Scots Confession of Faith.  (Note that an edition of The Scots Confession was published in 1960 in Scotland by The Right Reverend George David Henderson, 1909-1999!)

Mary, Queen of Scots, a Roman Catholic, tried to steer a middle ground by proclaiming her tolerance of both faiths.  Unfortunately, this didn’t appease either faction or the Scottish noblemen, the latter of whom were critical to governing Scotland.  Mary also claimed that she had a more legitimate claim than her cousin, Elizabeth I, to the throne of England.  Mary married Lord Darnley, another cousin, who was next in line to succeed Mary.  Darnley, however, became estranged from Mary and was murdered. Subsequently, the Earl of Bothwell, who many thought to be Darnley’s murderer, forced Mary to marry him. Armed rebellion followed, and Mary was turned out in favor of her and Darnley’s infant son, James VI.  In 1568, Mary fled to England, where she thought Elizabeth would give her safe haven.  Instead, Elizabeth had Mary imprisoned and ordered her execution in 1587.

Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, then ascended the throne. Also known as King James I of England, he brought Scotland and England together again under the Union of Crowns in 1603.  Much to Scotland’s disappointment and frustration, though, he spent most of his time at the court in London.  He is probably best remembered for his authorized version of the Bible, published in 1611, a seven-year-long project involving some 50 scholars.

Following James was his son, Charles I, who was crowned in 1625, and tried to introduce a Protestant Episcopal form of church government through the Isles.  But, he also alienated many Scottish landowners with the Act of Revocation, which cancelled all grants of crown property since 1540 and all disposition of church property.  Sharp conflicts ensued once again, and yet his desire for a unified religious faith led to the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643.  This was introduced by Scottish nobles both to squash Charles’ effort to establish the new religion and to maintain the Presbyterian Church. (It is to be noted here that the primary Scottish commissioner to this assembly was the Rev. ALEXANDER HENDERSON, who became so dismayed with the British treatment of this document that he died “of heartbreak” in 1646–see a biographical sketch of Alexander Henderson in this website, under History/ Famous Hendersons.)   When civil war erupted in England, the Covenanters who controlled Scotland, allied with the English Parliament against Charles I in return for the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in both England and Scotland. Opposing forces under Oliver Cromwell eventually defeated Charles and his supporters.  Consequently, Charles was executed in 1649.

Although  they  had  no  great  affection  for  Charles,  the Scots were outraged that the English had put him to death. Subsequently, they proclaimed his son, Charles II, as the rightful heir on the condition that he would sign the Covenant, which he did in 1649.  This action, however, prompted an invasion by Cromwell, forcing Charles into exile in Holland.  Cromwell died in 1658.  Shortly after, Charles II was invited to return to Scotland, on condition that he would abide by the Covenant he signed.  He did so and returned, but his reign eventually led to “The Killing Times,” when many Covenanters were put to death.

James VII (James II of England) tried to follow a policy of toleration for Catholics and Presbyterians alike, but Parliament refused to sanction it. The result was the English revolution of 1688, which caused James to flee and, in effect, he forfeited the crown. Some of his supporters, led by Graham of Claverhouse, the Viscount of Dundee, rebelled but were defeated at Killecrankie in 1689.  Their defeat helped to pave the way for William and Mary of Orange (the House of Hanover) to ascend the throne of England.   Their reign put armed conflict over religion to rest for the most part and restored the Presbyterian Church, but, as we will recount later in our history on Clan Henderson, William instigated an action that led to an outrageous massacre of some of our Highland ancestors.

The next epochal event in Scottish history was the legal reunion of the country with England.  Confronted with virtual bankruptcy because of a failed effort to establish a Scottish colony in Panama and the prospect of more armed conflict with England, the Scottish Parliament, under pressure and bribery, voted itself out of existence.  So was born the Act of Union in 1707.  Scotland was allowed to retain its church, its courts and its legal system, but the majority of Scots vigorously opposed the reunion.


The new union brought representation for Scotland in Parliament, but few, if any, real benefits to the country. Support soon grew in Scotland for James Stewart, exiled in France, to return and restore the country’s independence.   Since the revolt led by Graham of Claverhouse, James’ supporters were known as “Jacobites,” from Jacobus, the Latin word for James. Although most Scots chafed under the English government and longed for a return to home rule, many in Scotland, particularly the  Lowlanders,  opposed  the  Jacobites.  Reinstatement  of the Stewarts would have meant a Catholic would once again occupy the throne. Since Protestantism had by this time taken firm hold of both Scottish social and religious life, many Scots would have no part of it.


Under James’s son, Charles Edward Stewart, “The Young Pretender,” the Jacobite rebellion gathered momentum.  Fair- haired and handsome, Charles was more popularly known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.”  He returned to Scotland from France in 1745 to try to reinstate his father on the throne.  Though not extremely large nor well funded, the Jacobites under Charles enjoyed several important military successes. Pressing their battle into England, Charles even had an opportunity take London, but he knew he lacked the troops to hold it.

The Jacobite cause came to a brutal end in April 1746 at the Battle of Culloden (also known as Drumossie Moor) near Inverness.  There, a much larger force of Hanoverian troops, commanded by William, the Duke of Cumberland, defeated some 5,000 Jacobites under Charles.  Known as “The Butcher,” a title of which he boasted, Cumberland gave an order of “no quarter” as his soldiers crushed the already tired, hungry and ragged Jacobites.  Cumberland’s troops shot many wounded were they lay.  Some were burned alive.  More than a hundred were taken back to England, where they were tried and executed, contrary to the rules in the Act of Union, which had called for the sovereignty of Scotland’s courts. Some were even sold as slaves and shipped to America to work on plantations. Still others were sent to English jails, sometimes with their wives and children.

Charles  Stewart  managed  to  escape  death  at  Culloden. He also avoided subsequent capture, in spite of the English government’s bounty of 30,000 pounds on his head. In the five months that he was in hiding, not one Scot betrayed him.  In perhaps his last adventure, he was disguised as a woman and smuggled to the Isle of Skye, where he boarded a French ship bound for Europe, never to set foot again on his native soil.

England’s  punishment  of  Scotland  did  not  end  on  that cold, gray day at Culloden. In the aftermath, the English government sought to make an example of those who had participated in the rebellion, directing much of its wrath toward the Highland clans for their involvement, although it should be noted that Highlanders could be found on both sides of the conflict.  Subsequently, England passed the Proscription Acts of 1746.  The playing of the bagpipes, the wearing of the kilt, even ownership of weapons of any kind all were outlawed. England extended similar policies to Ireland and Wales.  Clan chiefs were stripped of authority and many tenant farmers (crofters) were driven off the lands so that new landowners, with the blessing of the English government, could raise sheep, which brought more income, including more taxes. These actions led to a bleak period known in Scottish history as “The Clearances,” as many Highlanders emigrated to America, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, rather than suffer continued indignities or erosion of their rights.


The anger of the Highlanders toward England continued for numerous generations. In 1854, when the English government tried to recruit Scots to serve in the army to fight in the Crimean War, they found few volunteers among the Highlanders.  As one Highland landowner reportedly replied to his would-be recruiters: “Since you have preferred sheep to men, let sheep defend you.”

  In the centuries that followed, it is reasonable to say that Scotland’s interests became increasingly aligned with England’s. In the 1990s, however, Scotland began pursuing independence with great vigor.  In 1996, England returned theStone of Scone (pronounced ‘scoon’) to Scotland.  The rock upon which many of Scotland’s kings were crowned, the stone was stolen in 1296 by Edward I, who had it installed in Westminster Abbey as part of England’s coronation chair.  In a landmark decision in 1997, four million Scots voted overwhelmingly to re-establish their own parliament again, giving Scotland authority over its taxes and other important issues.

History of the Clan System

The origin of the Scottish Clans is a subject of some controversy but it is generally acknowledged that the Highland clans were in existence at least during  the early 1100s.

The Norman conquest of England in 1066 and the subsequent subjugation of King Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm I) were significant events in the developing history of the Scottish clans.  The introduction of feudalism produced a total change of English culture and major changes in Scotland within three generations.  “English” and “Scots” languages merged and were often in competition with the language of the Normans.

In Gaelic, clann means children, and, by extension, descendants. The head of each clan was often a “king,” which over the years evolved into “chief.” Members of the clan did not necessarily bear the same name. At first, only the chief and his family used fixed surnames to indicate their descent from the founder of the clan. Around the 17th century, the use of surnames among all clans in the Highlands became the norm.

In the early history of Scotland’s clans, to avoid corruption, the king was not permitted to own property. The clan provided for all his needs in return for his wise leadership.  Succession was hereditary within a family, with each clan electing a new king.   It was a unique system, whereby the lowest member shared a common bond with the king, totally different from feudalism, in which each rank in society owed their lord everything.

As the clan system developed, “broken” men –men without a connection to any clan–were allowed to join. Sometimes, tenants of clan lands who came from outside the clan became members after three generations of tenancy.   In spite of that affiliation, however, these tenants were still not considered blood members of the clan.  In yet another variation of membership, an entire clan or “sept” (a branch of a clan) could be accepted into another clan after losing the last of its chiefs or its territory.  Smaller clans sometime swore fealty to a larger clan for safety.

Traditionally, the men of the clan were called together by a fiery cross (crois taraidh), which was made from two pieces of burned, or burning, wood. A relay of runners tied the pieces of wood together with a rag soaked in blood and carried the cross from glen to glen.

Generally speaking, the men in most clans fought and hunted, while the women and older children did the work at home. A steady source of income for  some  clans  was “blackmeal,” or protection money, which the Lowlanders or other neighbors paid to buy off the raiders.

In spite of his often humble surroundings, a clan chief tended to create the kind of pageantry usually associated with royalty.  Whenever he traveled, his huge entourage followed. First, were his henchmen or personal bodyguard.  Next, came the bard (Seanachaidh).  It was the bard’s duty to record the chief’s heroic deeds, including those of the clan and the chief’s forebears.   Following the bard was the piper.  The piper ’s position was hereditary one, passing father to son. The bard and the piper often followed the chief into battle, “the former that he might witness with his own eyes his leader ’s acts of valour, and the latter to inspire the Clan to greater heroism by his playing,” wrote Scottish historian Fitzroy MacLean.  Next up was the chief’s spokesman (Bladaire), who functioned as a king of protocol officer.  The spokesman’s role was to issue proclamations for the chief or argue the chief’s position on a dispute.  Finally, bringing up the rear of the company was a ghillie, or two, who carried the chief’s broadsword and shield (targe).

The last rites given to a Highland clan chief were no less renowned for spectacle than his entourage.  Regardless of the distance, custom dictated that the chief had to be buried with his fathers.

The chief’s corpse was carried feet first, with the piper ’s place at the head. Tightly furled in front was the clan standard. Following behind were the Clansmen with drawn swords. Attending every funeral was the piper, whose music honored the dead as well as inspired the bearers on the march.   The women of the clan followed the funeral march as far as the first brook (burn).  At that point, they presented a cup of wine, which symbolized a prayer for the departed.

Because the distances to the burial ground could be quite lengthy, the custom of wakes began among the Gaelic-speaking descendants of both the Scots and the Irish.  Although they now have a reputation as being somewhat rowdy, wakes evolved gradually from the quiet, reverential vigils of Roman Catholicism.

Inclement weather was no obstacle to a proper and ceremonious burial for a Clan Chief.   In fact, if anything, it spurred the burial party to even greater pride in their duty as the procession chanted:  “Blessed be the corpse the rain rains on.”

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