Clann News

THE SCOTSMAN, Thursday, 7 February 2002

After 220 years - and 15 years of intensive research - an ancient family has finally found its leader

James EM MacArthur

James MacArthur says he would accept the role for the clan's sake. Picture: Allan Milligan



The Reluctant chief of Clan MacArthur

Gethin Chamberlain

AS MISSING persons cases go, the disappearance of the title of chief of the Clan Arthur is in a class of its own.

Last seen in India in the 1780s, the title vanished with the death of one Charles MacArthur of Tirivadich. Childless and with no obvious male heir, his death appeared to have consigned the hereditary chiefdom to history.

But now, an heir apparent has been found after a genealogist spent 15 years tracing the clan's family tree.

More than 220 years after the disappearance of the chiefly line, the Clan Arthur stands on the verge of having a leader once more. The man they have placed their faith in is James Edward Moir MacArthur of Tirivadich and Milton, 87, a former Coal Board employee living in Edinburgh.

Mr MacArthur, however, is something of a reluctant standard bearer, anxious no-one should think he is putting himself forward for the title.

Yesterday, he said: "I must stress this, it is not for me, it is for the clan. I am only a cog in the wheel. But a clan has got to have a chief to be a real clan."

It was the senior members of the clan who set the search in motion in 1986, hiring highly-respected genealogist Hugh Peskett to delve back through 12 generations of MacArthurs to find a common ancestor for the last chief, Charles MacArthur of Tirivadich, and the man their hopes now rest on.

Mr Peskett found his man back in the 16th century in the shape of another Charles MacArthur, the 12 times great-grandfather of James MacArthur.

That Charles MacArthur died in 1525 and the chiefly line continued through his eldest son, eventually dying out with the final Charles sometime between 1786 and 1788.

His ancestor, however, had two more sons, and the current James MacArthur is descended from the third one.

The discovery provided the common ancestry the clan needed to present its claim to Robin Blair, the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

Mr MacArthur was appointed commander of the clan - one step down from chief - ten years ago after Mr Peskett presented his initial findings to the senior members of the clan, but it will be up to the Lord Lyon, who is appointed by the Queen and whose office dates back to at least 1318, to decide whether to recognise him as the rightful chief.

Mr MacArthur explained: "I was popped in as makeshift commander and the clan became a clan once again having had no leadership for several hundred years.

"It took Mr Peskett more than ten years to find the connection between the house of Milton, which I am, and the house of Tirivadich, which is the chiefly line, because the chiefly line appeared to have died out.

"Now that Mr Peskett has investigated and found the connection back to the Tirivadich family, the clan wished to put forward a chiefship. I am simply there to obey instructions."

Married with a son, John, and two grandsons, Mr MacArthur spent time in the Far East after the Second World War before returning to Britain to work for the Coal Board.

Despite his reluctance to press his case for the chiefship, he admitted he first discovered he had a claim in 1922. "My father told me on a Sunday walk in the country that our family was the leader of the Clan MacArthur," he said. "But he said the family had never bothered about it."

Even then, nothing might have come of it had it not been for the interest of the overseas members of the clan, which has branches in New Zealand, Australia, Southern Africa, Canada and the United States. It was the Americans in particular who decided they needed a chief.

Bob McArthor, the editor of the clan magazine Round Table, explained they had been actively seeking a chief for at least the last 20 years after turning up for a clan gathering in Scotland.

He said: "I guess it is our fault. We sent a letter to the court of the Lord Lyon inquiring what we should do to restore our kinship.

"Someone recommended James and at first he was reluctant because he is a very modest man, but we persuaded him he was the best person to fill this post and he agreed to go through with this.

"As a result we held a derbh-fine [conclave] in Scotland and by popular vote elected James.

"We in the States are responsible for pushing him. I think he is afraid of offending the Lord Lyon but we love him and he really is our hope."

Mr Peskett said there was little doubt about the claim, adding: "It took me a long time and a lot of work but I am satisfied that James MacArthur is the rightful heir.

"Other people might try, and they often do, but I am satisfied that he is the right man."

Yesterday, the Lord Lyon's secretary said a petition had been received and an advert had been published to allow anyone else with an interest in the chiefship to come forward. Unless someone else emerges in the next 40 days, it will be deemed there is no-one with a better claim.

If the Lord Lyon is happy with the information before him, the MacArthurs will have their first chief for more than 220 years.

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