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Scots Heraldry - The Heraldry Society of Scotland

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  West Highland Heraldry - The Meanings
 

Let us now look more closely at the users of West Highland heraldry - The Macdonalds

 
The MacDougalls

The senior line descended of Somerled is that of the MacDougals of Dunollie, formerly Lords of Lorne, who used the style "de Ergadia" - "of Argyll". They are on record as using the galley on its own in 1296, between 1300 and 1307 and again in 1332. The Red Hand was added in a seal of 1565. The Dunvegan Armorial of 1582 gives the first appearance of the MacDougall Lion rampant, silver on blue but this time with the addition of three silver mullets in chief - a possible reference to Moray at the other end of the Great Glen from Dunollie, the seat of Loam so many of whose descendents appear again in the area around Inverness.

The MacDougalls originally buried their Chiefs at Ardchattan, built by Duncan MacDougall around 1232, until the burial of an 18c Chief was held up by a furious storm which prevented the funeral cortege crossing Loch Etive. After several days, urgent action was imperative and the mourners took him through the hills to Kilbride, south of today's Oban where the MacDougall chiefs now have their mausoleum.  Here is to be found the coat of 1737 which has everything in it, all four symbols plus a castle, and in 1785, the first appearance of today's coat borne by the MacDougall Chiefs which quarters the lion rampant with the galley.

Seals 1296, 1300-7. Balliol Roll
Workman's Manuscript
The Dunvegan Armorial
Tombstone Kilbride
Tombstone Kilbride
Lyon Office
The Macdonalds

The MacDonalds, too, were early users of the galley down to the time of John, 1st Lord of the Isles. Subsequent Lords were frequent users of seals and seem to have altered their pattern with regularity. From the considerable number on record, I start with seals of Donald, Lord of the Isles who fought the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 over his claim to the Earldom of Ross Several historians have commented on the fact that he might have had ideas of a an even greater claim and the addition of the Royal double tressure to the galley -as well as the eagle displayed may well have reflected this; his mother, after all, was the daughter of King Robert II. After his defeat at Harlaw it may be significant that the double tressure is dropped - for a time. Through his wife Lady Margaret Leslie he claimed the earldom of Ross and this is reflected in the consequent use of the three lions rampant of Ross. the Leslie buckles on a bend and the Comyn garbs - this last referring to the half-share in the earldom of Buchan also inherited through his wife's great-uncle.

Quite what the hand and dagger in the seal of John, last Lord of the Isles of 1472 represents, I am not sure, although I do not think it is the Red Hand of the O'Neills.

Donald
Donald
Alexander
Alexander
John
John
John
John

In 1493 the Lordship of the Isles was forfeited and the Clan Donald fragmented. Thereafter it would appear that the use of the quartered West Highland coat became prevalent if not universal among the chiefs of the various branches although the first instance of its use does predate 1493.

Keppoch
Clanranald
Lord of Kintyre
Sleat
'MacDonald Buie'
Dunnyveg
Earl of Antrim
Sleat
 

As early as 1461 Celestine, Lord of Lochalsh, younger brother of John, last Lord of the Isles had introduced the galley and the single lion rampant into his coat while his son Alexander in 1492/3 adds the red hand thereby scoring three out of four.This branch of the family, even before the forfeiture had been showing signs of wanting to contest the leadership of the great Clan Donald and it is not impossible that this was reflected in their use of heraldry.

Celestine, Lord of Lochalsh
Alexander of Lochalsh
 
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The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 05 Jun 2017