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The Clann Donnachaidh

The first of the Robbins (Robins) line in America was Daniel Robinson. He was born in Blair-Athol, Pertshire, Scotland in 1627 to Richard and Mary Robertson. The Robertsons, in Gaelic, belong to the Clann Donnachaidh, or Clan Donnachaidh, pronounced "Donna-Key." It is translated as "Children of Duncan."

The Clan's territory consists of Central Perthshire, east from the Black Wood of Rannoch to the River Garry and the lands around Bruar and Atholl.

Recent research seems to confirm the Robertson claim to have descended from the Celtic Earls of Athol and have emerged from the union of the Scottish and Pictish kingdoms and counts among its forebears the kindred of St. Columba.

Legend has provided us with the story that in the ancient days, the Picts, of what is now Perthshire, consisted of the Kaledonioi. Of the Kaledonioi there were five great clans and one of these was the Clan Donnachaidh. These clans made a great fight against the Roman invaders about A.D. 78 and preserved their wild independence, being the only race in Europe which came to blows with Imperial Rome and were never subdued. In the year A.D. 84 the Clan Donnachaidh and the other great clans fought the Romans in the famous Battle of Mons Grampus and brought the Roman invasion to a halt. The real Highlands were never invaded.

Abbot Crínán of Dunkeld, descended from the kindred of St. Columba, married Bethóc, daughter of King Malcolm II. They were the parents of Donnchad mac Crinain (Duncan I, and nicknamed "the Diseased" or "the Sick." He was born circa 1001 to 14 August 1040 and was king of Scotland (Alba) from 1034 to 1040 when he was murdered by his cousin, Macbeth. He is the historical basis of the "King Duncan" in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. On the defeat of Macbeth, Duncan’s son Malcolm III (Canmore) became king. Of Malcolm III’s many sons, another Malcolm was the first Earl of Atholl and from him the Robertsons are descended.

The chiefs are numbered from Duncan the Stout (stout in battle rather than in belly), who lived in the 1300s. He held lands in Rannoch and around Glen Errochty and took his followers to fight at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 in support of his firm friend King Robert Bruce.

In 1437 Chief Duncan's great-grandson, Robert "Riabhach", the Grizzled, the 4th Chief of Clann Donnchaidh, was a strong supporter of King James I (1406–1437), who was brutally murdered in front of his wife by assassins at the Blackfriars Dominican Friary in Perth. Grizzled Robert tracked down and captured two of the assassins, Sir Robert Graham and the King's uncle, the Earl of Atholl. They were both tortured to death in Edinburgh. As a reward King James II in 1451 granted him a Charter creating the family lands into the Barony of Struan and elevating his crest to a hand upholding a crown. Alexander, the next chief, called himself Robertson and thereafter the clan chiefs and many of the clansfolk were styled Robertson.

The Chief's Coat of Arms is made up of the Clan Crest, shield, Supporters and Compartment and War Cry. The crest consists of a hand upholding the crown, an allusion Chief Robert's capturing the murderer of King James I in 1437. The motto "Virtutis Gloria Merces" is translated from the Latin as "Glory is reward of valor." The shield with three wolf's heads appeared as early at 1438. In those days, Atholl was still the haunt of wolves, but the exact reason for choosing them has been lost. It could have been that the wolf was an heraldic beast of Clan Donnachaidh's ancestors. In the case of great men, the arms came to be held up by figures called "supporters." In Scotland, these supporters are only allowed for use by certain institutions, peers, chiefs, and certain lairds holding very old feudal baronies. The supporters usually stand on a grassy mound called a "compartment." In this case, the Robertson plant-badge is bracken. The Robertsons also have a remarkably rare honor of a special compartment, granted them in memory of their capture of the principal slayers of King James I. This special compartment consists of a wild man lying in chains on whom the Robertson chief's shield rests. When a chief is allowed supporters to his arms, it is a great compliment to his clan, as it marks their importance and such chiefs are admitted to the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. The Robertson supporters are a Serpent and a Dove. The are collared with bows of the Robertson red, and the dove wears a baronial cap-of-maintenance (When a family lost the lands of its old barony, as happened in 1854, the cap is colored blue, but it has the usual ermine brim). The Serpent and the Dove allude to the origin of Clan Donnachaidh in the kindred of St. Columba, for they refer to a pun on the saint's name. King Alexander III, of the same kindred, made the pun on his privy seal seven centuries ago: Esto prudens ut serpens et simplex sicut columba (be wise as the Serpent and as gentle as the Dove). At the botton is the battle cry "Garg'n Uair Dhuisgear", Gaelic for "Fierce when roused."

The Robertsons of Struan are unquestionably the oldest family in Scotland, being the sole remaining branch of that Royal House which occupied the throne of Scotland during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.”

Modern Robertson Tartan

The Clan increased in numbers and prospered, many branches appeared, descended from younger sons, and the Clan was noted for loyalty to the Stuarts, a loyalty which was to cost them dearly in later years.

This would lead to the first of my line, Daniel Robinson (Robins/Robbins), arriving in America. His story will be told in the next post.


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