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You might be a bit sceptical of how this sort of thing could be devised. Well, these maps do come with some caveats, but exploring these is an interesting exercise. The first things to keep in mind is that these maps shouldn’t be considered as modern territorial maps, with fixed eternal-seeming borders. They are best considered as indicators of activity. Clanship in the Highlands, and, what should best be described as ‘Lordship’ in the Lowlands (we’ll chat more about this another time, ‘kinship’ is the best lowland term to describe ‘clanship’, although not here as we’re dealing with land - for a full account see the Encyclopaedia), were fluid in two ways.
As clanship was primarily about loyalty, and only secondly about blood relations, you would often find certain surnames supporting another – ie the Keith Earls Marischal had dependent Frasers, who supported Keith actions and lived on Keith lands, but who were separate from Frasers of Philorth or Frasers of Lovat. You may also find entire surnames within the power of larger clans: the Aidies or the Jupps were septs of the Gordons for example.
The second caveat is that things changed an awful lot over time. So where one powerful lord might hold the earldom of X, with its associated lands and people in one decade, they might lose it in another. For example, after 1601 the Ruthven Earldom of Gowrie was extinguished and many Ruthvens banished from Scotland, their lands were then distributed to others, the Murrays being major benefactors of this.
So most ‘clan maps’ of Scotland tend to paint a picture of around the year 1600. This is primarily as the records are best for this time, and this is more or less the time that the old system of kinship and lordship in the Lowlands broke down in favour of ‘landlordism’ (more on that another time). Clanship survived longer in the Highlands but was breaking apart by the end of the century and most historians see it as in terminal decline by the time of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.
The records in question come from these beasties:
The printed records of the Register of the Great Seal of Scotland. In theory, as all land in Scotland was owned by the king, and only ‘held’ from him by everyone else, any land transaction had to be approved in a charter (basically a receipt), made official by the king’s great seal. These records aren’t for the feint hearted. They are all in Latin and, like any bureaucratic paperwork, can often be quite tedious to follow.
As major lords would get charters confirming all their lands from time to time, or would be granted gifts by the crown, we can use these records to build a map of who owned what in Scotland. So when you’re looking at one of these clan maps, these usually represent the lands held by a major nobleman and the cadet branches of his house. This is why you won’t find every Scottish name on one of these maps – they represent who held the lands, not necessarily who lived there.
Our maps deal with these issues in different ways. The Border Art maps take a broader approach, avoiding any line borders to give you a handy impression. Our online map goes in the opposite direction. This takes the 1600 data as a base, but then supplements it with more information, such as where smaller kindreds, clans and surnames may have been found, as well as some of their territorial origins.
Overall, we hope you enjoy these efforts to visualise a piece of Scottish History. If you enjoy these, and want to take an even deeper dive there's some wonderfu online map-based resources available on the web, such as Scotland's Places, the Canmore datanbase of historic sites in Scotland, or our personal favourite, the People of Medieval Scotland Project.