Origins of the Name
The name Macpherson — or MacPherson or McPherson, according to different spellings — comes from the Gaelic Mac a’ Phearsain and means ‘Son of the Parson’. The Parson in question was Muriach, a 12th century parson, or lay preacher, of Kingussie in Badenoch. Historically, the term ‘parson’ (in the Gaelic pearsain or pears-eaglais literally ‘person of the church’) had a different meaning. Before the Reformation in Highland Scotland, the religious leader of a parish was the priest and the parson was the steward of church property, responsible for the collection of tithes.
Origins of the Clan
The history of Clan Macpherson has been called “The Posterity of the Three Brethren” as the three grandsons of Muriach are the antecedents of the three main clan families, Cluny, Pitmain and Invereshie.
For many centuries, the Macphersons have been a leading clan in the Clan Chattan Confederation along with Clan MacKintosh, Clan Shaw and others. Although the Macphersons have a strong claim to the Chattan lineage, they have been unsuccessful in wresting control of the Clan Chattan from the MacKintosh. Today, the clans cooperate closely in the Clan Chattan Association, where John MacKintosh, chief of Clan MacKintosh, is president and Sir William Macpherson, chief of Clan Macpherson, is vice president of the association along with allied clan chiefs.
14th Century Clan Conflicts
In the 14th century that Macphersons were partly responsible for the defeat of Clan Comyn, the enemies of Robert I of Scotland, at Badenoch.
Battle of Invernahoven 1370 or 1387. The Clan Cameron numbering approximately 400 men were returning home with the treasures they had acquired after a raid at Badenoch. They were overtaken at Invernahavon by a body of Chattan Confederation led by Lachlan, Laird of Clan MacKintosh. The Chattan Confederation forces consisted of the Mackintoshes, Davidsons and Macphersons. As a result of a disagreement as to whether the Davidsons or Macphersons would occupy the right wing which was the post of honour, the Macphersons withdrew in disgust from the army. The combined numbers of the Clan Chattan confederation had outnumbered the Camerons but with the loss of the Macphersons the Camerons now had a greater number. The battle resulted in a defeat for the Clan Chattan confederation (Mackintosh and Davidson). It is said that an ally of Cameron known as Charles MacGilony led the clan into battle and is believed to have changed the outcome of the day with his uncanny ability as an archer. At this point, possibly the next morning the Macphersons changed their minds and decided to rejoin the Chatton confederation attacking the Camerons with such vigor that they changed the victory into defeat, and put the Camerons “to flight” towards Drumouchter, skirting the end of Loch Ericht, and then westwards in the direction of the River Treig. The Mackintoshes later claimed that the Macphersons were coaxed into the battle by a man from clan Mackintosh who turned up at Macphersons camp pretending to be from Clan Cameron and calling the Macphersons cowards. The Macphersons then attacked the Camerons’ camp making a dreadful slaughter of them, even killing the Camerons’ uncanny archer Charles MacGilony at a place now called Charles’s Valley, or in Gailic Coire Thearlaich.
18th Century Jacobite Uprisings
At the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, the Clan Macpherson chief commanded a company of his clan in the services of the British government. However a party of Camerons, commanded by Dr. Cameron, was sent to the house of Macpherson of Cluny, the chief of the Macphersons. They were there to apprehend him, and succeeded. The Macphersons then joined the Jacobites.
The chief of the clan, Ewan of Cluny, raised a force of 400 men to aid Charles Edward Stuart. The Macphersons played an active role at the beginning of the rebellion and even fought at the Clifton Moor Skirmish in 1745.
However Charles was urged to wait for Cluny, who was engaged in operation in Atholl, before the Battle of Culloden. He did not and the men of Macpherson took no part in the famous defeat at Culloden. The regiment was disbanded and Ewan went into hiding. A reward of 1000 pounds was placed on his head, but he was never captured in the nine years he spent in hiding. In 1755 he fled to France. During his time in hiding, his wife, Janet, gave birth to their son. The child was born in a corn kiln, earning him the nickname ‘Duncan of the Kiln’.
During his time hiding in and around the clan seat at Laggan, Macpherson had many hiding places made for him. One of these was Cluny’s Cage, which featured in “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, a heather hut on the slopes of Ben Alder. In another story Cluny was staying at Dalchully House in a bolt hole in the East wing when he was caught outside by Colonel Munro, the very man charged with searching for him. Since the two men had never met, Cluny calmly held the Colonel’s horse whilst the soldier went inside the house. It is claimed that he was given a penny for his trouble. Another of the famous hiding places is Cluny’s Cave high on the crags of Craig Dubh between Newtonmore and Laggan. This cave is no longer accessible without expert assistance. Every year in August, clan Macpherson holds a family gathering, during which a ceremonial run to the top of Craig Dubh and back takes place.
Cluny Castle was the seat of the Chief of Clan Macpherson until the 1930s.
Ballindalloch Castle has been owned by the Macpherson-Grants since the middle of the 16th century.
Gaelic Name: The Gaelic name for Macpherson is ‘Clann Mhuirich’ - Children of Murdoch.
Plant Badge: White Heather
Motto: Touch not the catt bot a glove. ‘Bot’ means without. The ‘glove’ of a wildcat is the pad. If the cat is ‘ungloved’, its claws are unsheathed. The motto serves as a warning that one should beware when the wildcat’s claws are ‘without a glove’. It is a reference to the historically violent nature of the clan and serves as a metaphorical warning to other that they should think twice before interfering with Macpherson business.
There are 17 tartans ascribed to Clan Macpherson. The most common are the red, hunting and dress tartans.
Clan Cousins & Associated Families
Clan Macpherson Today
Approximate numbers in various countries: Unknown
Prominent members: The 27th and current Chief of the Clan is Sir William Macpherson of Cluny Macpherson, retired High court judge, and author of the Macpherson report into the racially motivated killing of Stephen Lawrence. Model Elle Macpherson is a member of the clan despite being a Macpherson only by adoption, since she was born a Gow, one of the associated families. Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs has sported the MacPherson kilt and said in an interview that he is from the clan MacPherson. Jack White’s original last name is Gillis.
Ancestral lands: The ancestral lands of the Clan are in Badenoch, in the Scottish Highlands. They centre on the area around Cluny Castle, which was the seat of the clan chief until 1932. The current chief resides at Newton Castle, Blairgowrie which was purchased by his family in 1789.
Clan association: Clan Macpherson has a very active clan association, with 2500 members in many countries of the world. It publishes an annual newsletter, Creag Dhubh, operates the Clan Macpherson House and Museum at Newtonmore in the heart of clan territory, and organises the annual clan gathering at Kingussie and Newtonmore. Members participate in activities worldwide, including Highland Games in Scotland, Australia, Canada and the United States. The chairman of the Clan Macpherson Association is William MacPherson of Seattle, Washington-USA.