Ad Hoc Derbhfine
Clan Strachan Elects a New Hereditary Chief by Means of a Family Convention of the Clan’s Armigers and Principal Men
Clan Strachan’s ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’, Edinburgh 11 April 2014
Clan Strachan is a Lowland Scottish clan that does not have a chief; therefore it is considered by Court of the Lord Lyon, and by the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, as an ‘Armigerous clan’.
The Anglicization of the Gaelic led to different spellings of the name, as transliterations were made in various censuses: Strachan (mainly Scots); Straghan (mainly Irish); or Strahan (both); and Strawn (American). Strachen, Straughan, Strawhun, Straun, Strane, Stracon, Strahin, Strain, Strong, Strongman, Stronger, Strang, Stronge, Strang, Strange, Strangeman, Straughn, and Stranahan are also recognized derivations of Strachan.
The Highland Boundary Fault is a geologic fault that traverses Scotland from Arran and Helensburgh on the west coast to Stonehaven in the east. It separates two distinctly different physiographic regions: the Highlands from the Lowlands. The original Strachan lands and home of all Strachans (Strachan District or Strachan, Aberdeenshire) is located in Aberdeenshire some 15 miles northwest of Stonehaven, 3 miles outside of Banchory, north and adjacent to the Highland Boundary Fault. Therefore, the traditional boundaries of Strachan is within the Highland Region. These lands, including Durris and the entire Howe of the Mearns were likely held under the Mormaer of the Mearns, Máel Petair of Mearns. His name means “tonsured one of (Saint) Peter”. One source tells us that Máel Petair was the son of a Máel Coluim. His name occurs in many sources because he was the man who, in 1094, is often given credit for the murder of King Duncan II of Scotland. Most historians agree that King Edgar, the brother and heir of Duncan II confiscated Máel Petair’s mormaerdom, and converted it to crown lands. By mid-13th century, virtually all of the Mearns were converted to ‘thanages’ *.
* Thane was the title given to a local royal official in medieval eastern Scotland, equivalent to a count, who was at the head of an administrative and socio-economic unit known as a shire or ‘thanage’.
Evidence from various charters and grants suggests that Clan Strachan should most appropriately be classified (during this period) as a Lowland Clan residing within the Highland Region. The territory controlled by Strachan of that Ilk were not held by the Clan in the traditional highland sense, but were occupied by the first of the name, Waltheof de Strachan (c. 1200) and his heirs until about 1315.
Various grants and charters confirm that Waltheof de Strachan was extremely loyal to the Scottish Crown and the House of Dunkeld. Given the cultural divide between highland and lowland peoples, in all likelihood Waltheof de Strachan would have been greatly offended had anyone considered him a ‘Highlander’, which in the 13th century inferred loyalty to MacDonald Lord of the Isles. During that period, Lowlanders generally considered the Gaelic-speaking ‘Wild Irish’ Highlanders to be outlaws and traitors to the Scottish Crown.
On 11 April 2014 in Edinburgh, Clan Strachan held a Family Convention (or ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’ *) under the supervision of the Court of the Lord Lyon. The meeting ended amicably with unanimous support for Rob Strachan of Mill Strachan, Aberdeenshire to be recognised as the Clan Commander.
* The Derbfine (pronounced Der-vinn-ah in English; jer-ub-finn-ah in Irish) was an Irish agnatic kinship group and power structure as defined in the first written law tracts. Its principal purpose was as an institution of property inheritance, with property redistributed on the death of a member to those remaining members of the Derbfine. Comprising all the patrilineal descendants over a four-generation group with a common great-grandfather, it gradually gave way to a smaller three-generation kinship group, called the Gelfine.
Within a clan, on the death of its chief or king, the surviving members of its Derbfine would elect from their number a new chief and/or elect his successor, or Tánaiste (in English, his Tanist). A larger number of clan members, either allies or cousins who were too distantly related to be members of the Derbfine, would not have a direct say in such an election. The frequent recitations of a clan’s genealogy by its bards was therefore a reminder of who was currently in or out of the clan’s Derbfine as much as it was a claim to ancient lineages.
On 29 April 2014, Lord Lyon Dr. Joseph Morrow dispatched a letter to the Sennachie of Clan Strachan, Jim Strachan, whereas Lyon wrote, “I have signed a Warrant authorizing the Lyon Clerk to prepare a Commission appointing Charles Robert Lund Strachan to be Commander of the Hounourable Clan Strachan for a period of 5 years.”
In 2019, there will be another Strachan Family Convention to officially recognize Rob as Hereditary Chief of the Honourable Clan Strachan. The Clan Strachan Society will be notifying its membership and those on their email lists of tentative plans was time approaches.
In British-Scotland, a Family Convention, or Derbhfine, is an official meeting held under the supervision of the Court of the Lord Lyon (Lord Lyon being the English Queen’s heraldry official in Edinburgh). It is a meeting of “Leading Members of the Family or Name in question,” which generally includes Scottish Armigers, Scottish landowners and property owners, and other eminent and professional individuals. The Attendees of a Family Convention should be across a broad geographical region. All Attendees to a Family Convention need to be found acceptable by the Court of the Lord Lyon’s Supervising Officer. (This would never be acceptable in independent non-British Ireland, where – in keeping with the heritage and history of the Old Gaelic Order – the ONLY ‘authority’ recognised by individual Irish clans regarding the internal ‘business’ of the clan, is the clan’s own Irish Derbhfine.)
There are a number of circumstances in which it could be appropriate to facilitate a Family Convention, but generally it is when a Scottish Family (aka Clan) no longer has a Clan Chief recognised by the ‘Sovereign of Scotland’ (the Sovereign of Scotland is the English Queen in London). This generally occurs when the Chief dies without an heir to his Name and his Arms.
From a historical perspective, the last cadet line of the Strachan chiefly ‘stem’ was Strachan of Thornton. In 1659, Thornton Castle and the Strachan Baronetcy of Nova Scotia was succeeded by collateral succession through an extremely remote relative, James Strachan of Inchtuthill. In 1683, he sold the Castle and Mains of Thornton to his wife’s father, Robert Forbes of Waterton, for the tidy sum of £13,934 . 14s . 8d, and James Strachan then resigned his own interest in favour of his wife (Barbara Forbes). The Strachan Baronetcy of Nova Scotia itself then falling to a number of soi-disant claimants.
Shortly thereafter, heraldic evidence shows the family relocated to London, and it appears the family line began to fail, lacking successive male heirs (based on English primogeniture system of inheritance). Whereas, under the Old Gaelic Order, the Derbhfine of an Irish clan would select the best talent available from amongst the Derbhfine, to be their new chief.
As for Clan Strachan, the last individual who could have claimed the chiefship was Admiral Sir Richard John Strachan, Royal Navy, Baronet of Nova Scotia, and Representor of Thornton. Sir Richard died in 1828 without male heir.
Admiral Strachan became famous during his career for his ungovernable temper and violent cursing. This eventually earned him the nickname of ‘Mad Dick’ among his men, but he remained a popular and sought-after commander.
During the prior 145 years, the Strachan family resided in or near London, and in all likelihood saw themselves as more English than Scottish. Moreover, given the cultural divide with the ‘Wild Irish’ Highlands at the time, it is likely the last several generations of the family would have renounced any claims of a ‘Scottish Chiefship.’ Even before the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the ‘Wild Irish’ highlanders were seen as outlaws and traitors to the English Crown by Scottish Lowlanders and by the English. After the Battle of Culloden, the clan system itself came under attack, and was outlawed by the English government.
It was 14 years after Sir Richard’s death that Queen Victoria first visited Scotland in 1842. Queen Victoria fell in love with it so much she and her husband, Prince Albert, returned annually. In 1852, the Queen purchased Balmoral Castle, which is very near the traditional ambit of the Strachan District. This sparked a ‘Highland revival’, and largely wiped away centuries of hate and bigotry … with the Lowlanders wanting to dress-up in kilts and pretend to be Highland Scots. Clan tartans were also invented by a couple Polish merchants, with encouragement from the Lowlander Sir Walter Scott. An Englishman invented the ‘small kilt’ which was then enthusiastically adopted as a ‘national costume’ by the Lowlanders. People who had vilified highlanders, were now seeking to prove their genealogical links to Scotland.
There is no doubt that Queen Victoria is responsible for the creation of the modern clan system.
About 12 years after the death of Sir Richard, one Mr. John Strachan of Cliffden, Teignmouth, Devonshire, preferred a claim to the representation of the House of Thornton, and passed through a form of service before the bailies of the Canongate. In his claim or ‘brief’, Strachan of Cliffden sought to construct his descent from Roger Strachan of Glichno, brother of John Strachan of Thornton, great-grandfather of the first Baronet. Roger Strachan was set forth as father of Dr. Robert Strachan, physician in Montrose, whose son John was minister of Strachan. George, a son of the minister, was represented as a merchant in Montrose, and father of James Strachan, Lieutenant Royal Navy father of the claimant. This statement of pedigree, unsupported by evidence, and in entire variance with chronological requirements, was surprisingly accepted by a friendly jury, and certified by the Canongate bailies, and formed the basis of a retour in Chancery, bearing date 8th November 1841.
Mr. Strachan of Cliffden, styled thereafter as Sir John Strachan, Baronet died in June 1844, leaving two sons. John, the elder, died 20 January 1854. James Graham, the younger son, died unmarried. Both of these sons died without issue, and thus came an end to the Strachan Barontecy of Nova Scotia (1854); which never would have asserted itself but for the absurd facilities afforded by the law then existing in Scotland. Because of the lack of genealogical proofs, the Strachan of Cliffden line is not recognized as being the rightful and legitimate Chief of Strachan.
Therefore, the Chiefship of Clan Strachan lay officially dormant for nearly 186 years, and has likely long been renounced for prior centuries.
On Friday, 11 April 2014, a Strachan Family Convention (or ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’) was held at the Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh, Scotland. There were 21 Attendees at the Family Convention from multiple continents. These included nine residents from Scotland, two from England, seven Americans, two Canadians, and one Australian.
Charles J. Burnett, Esquire, ‘Ross Herald Extraordinary’, an Officer of Arms at the Court of the Lord Lyon (Lord Lyon being the English Queen’s heraldry official in Edinburgh), and the appointed Supervising Officer of the Strachan Family Convention began the meeting by eloquently explaining that these proceedings were a democratic process by which a Scottish Clan chooses an individual as their leader and Representor, and who after serving as Commander for a period of time may eventually become hereditary Chief of the Name and Arms.
(Having a ‘government’ official – Irish or English – supervising an Irish Derbhfine meeting would never be acceptable in independent non-British Ireland, where – in keeping with the heritage and history of the Old Gaelic Order – the ONLY ‘authority’ recognised by individual Irish clans regarding the internal ‘business’ of the clan, is the clan’s own Irish Derbhfine.)
Mr. Jim Strachan, Co-Founder of the Clan Strachan Society, and a Scottish Armiger of Clan Strachan next spoke about the Society’s nine year struggle to bring legitimacy and return honour to the Name of STRACHAN, as well as various efforts and procedures leading up to the day.
Mr. Strachan explained that in May 2013 a worldwide conference call was held among those authorised by the Court of the Lord Lyon to attend the Derbhfine. He explained that there were three competitors to the chiefship, and each competitor was mutually supportive of the others; as well as being supportive of the will of the Derbhfine Council. The conference call concluded amicably with unanimous consent to propose Rob Strachan as Commander.
Mr. Burnett then addressed the Strachan Derbhfine, and asked various attendees their thoughts and also inquired as to any dissenting opinions. After some exchange of comments among the attendees, it was quite apparent that the Derbhfine Council unanimously supported Rob as Commander, and Luke Strachan as his heir (Tanist) in Name and Arms.
Rob was then called to give a brief speech about his vision for the clan. In a bit of brilliant diplomatic gamesmanship, rather than dictating from the top Rob asked the Derbhfine Council their expectations of him, and what their shared vision for Clan Strachan might be?
Mr. Burnett then confirmed to the attendees he would file a report and recommendation with the Lord Lyon that Rob Strachan, with unanimous consent of the Derbhfine Council / Family Convention, would be recommended as Commander of Clan Strachan.
After the Derbhfine Council / Family Convention, a dinner at the Royal Scots Club was held. The dinner was publicized in the June 2014 issue of the Scottish Field Magazine (see below).
Right: The Clan Sword and White Rod
Various other awards were given throughout the evening, including the Order of the Hart, which is the Clan Strachan Society’s highest honour.
Order of the Hart
The Order of the Hart * is Clan Strachan’s highest honour and decoration bestowed upon an individual. Its award is considered a rare honour. It is awarded to a select few virtuous and deserving individuals for preeminent contributions, service or personal-sacrifice to the benefit of Clan Strachan. It takes precedence over all other Clan Strachan awards or decorations. Recipients must be nominated before the Society Board of Directors; said nomination must be seconded, and then unanimously approved by the Board.
* A ‘Hart’ is an old heraldic term for a mature male deer (or stag), which is the primary heraldic charge on Strachan armorial bearings.
The Order of the Hart was introduced by the Clan Strachan Society in July 2013 in anticipation of the Strachan Family Convention (or ‘Ad Hoc Derbhfine’) scheduled for April 2014. The Order of the Hart is usually presented to the recipient (or their next of kin) by the Clan Strachan Representor and/or the Convenor of the Clan Strachan Society, at official Clan Strachan functions, such as Clan Gatherings, Annual General Meetings, etc.
Major Benjamin Strachan, CMG and Mrs. Lize Strachan of Strachan Mill.
Awarded 11 April 2014. The nomination reads as follows:
It is with great pleasure that this first Order of the Hart to be awarded this evening go to retired Ambassador of the UK, Major Ben Strachan & his wife Lize Strachan of the Mill of Strachan. Since acquiring the Mill of Strachan over 50 years ago, their family has been welcoming Strachan tourists to the village, and their home. While stationed in London doing diplomatic service, Ben spent time researching the ancient Houses of Strachan, and authored the book, “A HISTORY OF THE STRACHANs”. This was the first book exclusively dedicated to Clan Strachan that was not a special pleading made before the Lord Lyon. Ben and Lize, you’ve kept the heritage and history of Clan Strachan alive, when sadly the rest of the family went cold. It was your inspiration that motivated Jim and Dennis to create the Clan Strachan Society, and subsequently the events of today. With a warm heart and great affection, it is an honour to recognize you this evening.
Ian and Griselda Thornton-Kemsley, Thornton Castle
Awarded 11 April 2014. The nomination reads as follows:
For literally generations this particular family has been welcoming Strachan visitors to their home, where they maintain a Guestbook for visiting Strachans. Prior generations of the family have authored a book called, “Bonnet Lairds”, which attempts to chronicle the early family histories of Strachan of that Ilk, as well as Strachan of Thornton. The Thornton-Kemsleys of Thornton Castle more than any other, has kept the spirit, traditions, and history of Clan Strachan alive when admittedly most of our Name went cold on our heritage. The Thornton-Kemsleys’ are not Strachan by blood, which means this award and honour is only that much more special. This family engenders the definition of Highland Hospitality, and we - - Clan Strachan - - will be forever grateful, and in your debt.
Much Honoured Roddy Stachan, Baron of Benholm; Sir Hew Strachan, Laird of Glenhighton; and Rob Strachan of Strachan Mill
Awarded 11 April 2014. The nomination reads as follows:
There are three individuals here tonight who made themselves available to a process we started almost 3 years ago. Each made themselves open to the possibility of becoming Commander of Clan Strachan, and each expressed thoughts of reluctance, unworthiness, humility and probably fear. More importantly, they all expressed a willingness to serve the Strachan family in whatever capacity. They’ve always been open to supporting the will of the Derbhfine Council. For their self-sacrifice in being open to the process, the family shall be forever grateful. If I could ask Rob Strachan from the Mill of Strachan, Sir Hew Strachan from Glenhighton, and Roddy Strachan of Benholm to come to the stage and be recognized.
James Andrew Strachan, FSA Scot and Dennis Craig Stawhun
Awarded 11 April 2014. The nomination reads as follows:
The final awards go to the two Founders of the Clan Strachan Society, whose personal finances, resources and service to all Strachans has created the catalyst to reviving the modern Clan Strachan. The Society was created in 2005, and only 9 years later, it is hoped Lyon will soon recognize Rob as Clan Representor, thus Clan Strachan will be recognized by the Crown of Scotland for the first time in 186 years. Quite simply, without Jim and Dennis we simply would not be here tonight. Jim Strachan and Dennis Strawhun please come up to the stage to be recognised.
The Clan Constitution was signed, and near the end of the evening Rob created the Clan Council for Clan Strachan, which is the worldwide governing body of the family.
On Tuesday, 15-Apr 2014, Mr. Burnett submitted his report to Dr. Joseph J. Morrow, Lord Lyon King of Arms, with a recommendation to recognise Rob Strachan as Clan Commander.
On 23 April 2014, the Dr. Joseph J. Morrow, Lord Lyon King of Arms signed a warrant appointing Rob as Commander of Clan Strachan.
On 1 May 2014, the Scotsman Newspaper ran the above story. Articles were also ran in the Scottish Banner, the Aberdeen Press & Journal, and others.