Sons Of Arthur

"The hills and streams and MacAlpin, but from whence came forth MacArthur?"

The MacAlpin referred to in this ancient question from the land of Argyll, is Kenneth MacAlpin, King of the Scots, who defeated the Picts around 840AD and united the Kingdoms of Dalriada and Pictland to form the basis of the Scotland we know today. This traditional historic statement however is incomplete, as there is no mention of the Welsh speaking Brythons (or Britons) who still inhabited most of Southern Scotland at this time. It is within the relationship of the 'Kingdoms' (or tribal regions) of Dalriada, Strathclyde and Lothian that we will find the origins of Oor Arthur and his children. This old question, more than suggests that the ancient Argyll name of MacArthur, not only predates the tumultuous events of the mid-ninth century, but was also a name of notability by this period. In the 13th century, the MacArthur Chiefs were tracing their descent from "King" Arthur. Now the theory of an Argyll clan descended from the Dalriadic 'Prince' Artur son of Aeden McGabhran, King of Scots' in the latter part of the sixth century, does have a certain continuity about it. The theory also finds support from another traditional Argyll proverb:

"There is none older, save the hills, the Devil and MacArthur"

MacArthur - Leader of a Thousand Men
On the surface this may appear like a quaint old saying that merely alludes to the longevity of Clan Arthur, but this proverb can be interpreted to establish a rough date for the birth of the clan name.

There was no Devil in Northern Britain until the advent of Christianity. The Devil was not a concept of the old indigenous religion. Therefore, in pre-Christian Scotland, the Devil literally did not exist. If MacArthur is as old as the Devil himself, then the clan name must date from the Christianisation of Northern Britain, ie. The 6th century Arthurian period. That makes the Devil and MacArthur about 1500 years old.

The story of Clan Arthur from the West of Scotland is the story of the development of a quintessential part of Britain's history. Claiming descent from the legendary 'King' Arthur, this once powerful tribe's change of fortune has cast their people to the four-corners of the globe and left their history as corrupt and fragmented as the Arthurian Faery tales. What we do know about the origins of Clan Arthur is that by the 13th century, the MacArthur Chiefs were strong enough in Argyll & Cowal to support Wallace and Bruce in the wars of independence. Yet, here again is another grossly inaccurate traditional historic statement: Scotland was independent in the 13th Century! William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and my ancestors were fighting to save us from subjugation to the invading House of Plantagenet, who had long since taken the throne of England.

In 1308, after helping Bruce to defeat the MacDugall Lords of Lorne, the MacArthurs are said to have been appointed honoury garrison to Dunstaffnage Castle (The early seat of Scottish Kings). At Bannock Burn in 1314, Clan Arthur fought for freedom, winning even greater lands by their victory. In 1427, the Clan Chief, John MacArthur, was described as a man of princely state, the commander of a thousand men, and one of the five primary Scottish highland chiefs! MacArthur wore saffron - a rare sign of distinction in the medieval Highlands.

In the same year Clan Arthur's fortunes turned. The sudden decapitation of John MacArthur by James I, King of Scotland (and The Bruce's grandson) left the clan forfeit of all lands and all status. The clan was dispersed, to seek protection with other clans or in other lands, and so began Clan Arthur's decline in the West and their disappearance from the pages of history. It was Clan Arthur's further oppression that cleared the way for Clan Campbell's ascent.

Clan Campbell was a cadet branch, or a younger off shoot, of the MacArthur Chief line, and as the MacArthur's lost their grip on their homeland, the Dukes of Argyll were born. The Campbell Clan's chequered rise to fame is well documented, yet Clan Arthur still remains in the shadows. The MacArthurs continued to play their part in history however, nurturing a famous piping tradition, forging ahead in foreign countries, and eventually fighting on both sides at Culloden in 1746, the last battle fought on British soil.

To understand the full history of Clan Arthur it is highly recommended that you study the following articles in sequence, and in conjunction with the Oor Arthur page. Some articles are not yet available, but will be published in due course. Please drop by regularly for updates and do visit the House of Arthur or the Clann Home Fund. Once you have read my case, I am sure that you will agree that of all the Scottish Clans, Clan Arthur deserve at least a cairn to mark their origin.

Copyright Hugh McArthur 2001


Grimble, Ian
Scottish Clans & Tartans
ISBN 0785815082

Eyre-Todd, George
The Highland Clans of Scotland

MacArthur's Crest

Wild Thyme - The King of Britons' Badge

Arthur's Shield
Septs of Clan Arthur
Tartan - The Family Cloth

Clan Arthur Lands





Loch Awe




The McArthur Pipers



Famous Clanfolk

Clan Arthur - The Global Tree

Words From The Chief
A selection of previously published "Round Table" articles penned by the late
James Edward Moir MacArthur of that Ilk, FSA Scot, First Chief of Clan Arthur for 234 Years.