The Clans of the Scottish Highlands. Clan Chisholms.

Traditional Scottish national costume. Scottish Tartan, Kilt. Clan Siosal. Clan Chisholms.

Clann Siosal, or the Chisholms


The Clans of the Scottish Highlands.

THE claim of this clan to a Celtic origin has been very confidently opposed by some writers; but their opinions, formed all different grounds, arise in consequence of a confusion of names, an insufficient knowledge of the Gaëlic language, and a want of due consideration of Highland and Lowland usages. Chisholm is the Saxon name of a property on the border of Scotland, and the proprietor is designated from his estate, but no such name exists in the Highlands. The vernacular appellation is Siosal, and the translation of that word is one of the numerous similar corruptions introduced by the capricious ignorance of chroniclers and fanciful heralds.

An t-Siosal, The Chisholm

Chisholm of Chisholm is very improperly substituted for An t-Siosal, The Chisholm.
Again-those who came to understand the original appellation found, by a fertility of imagination, that the race of Siosal descended from the English Cecils; but the ancestors of that family were Cambrian knights, who bore the appropriate name of Sytsylt and Seisylt, long after the Chisholms appear in the pages of national history; and the coat armour, on which so many fortify their belief of family connexion, is entirely dissimilar.
Harald, or Guthred, Thane of Caithness, flourished in the latter part of the twelfth century. Sir Robert Gordon gives him the surname of Chisholm; and the probability is, that it was the general name of his followers. He married the daughter of Madach, Earl of Athol, and became one of the most powerful chiefs in the north, where he created continued disturbances during the reign of William the Lion, by whom he was at last defeated and put to death, his lands being divided between Freskin, ancestor of the Earls of Sutherland, and Ma’nus, or Magnus, son of Gillibreid, Earl of Angus.(History of the Earls of Sutherland, fol. Lord Hailes. Annals.)
It seems that, from the rigorous prosecution to which the followers of Harald were subjected, they were compelled, as was the case with several other clans in troublous times, to seek for new possessions; and Strathglas offered an eligible position for a high-spirited clan maintaining their independence.

These proceedings occurred about 1220; but we do not find other notice of the Chisholms until 1334, when the clan was of such importance as to induce Sir Robert Lauder, of Quarrel Wood, who was Constable of Urquhart Castle, on the bank of Lochness, to seek its alliance by giving his daughter and heiress in marriage to the Chief. There are, indeed, the signatures of Richard de Chesehelm and John de Cheshome, in Roxburgh and Berwick shires, attached to the deed called Ragman’s Roll, 1296;† (Prynn) it but none of the Siosailich submitted to this degradation or betraying their country’s independence. Robert, the son of this marriage, acquired Quarrel Wood in right of his mother, and succeeded to the important trust of the keeping of Castle Urquhart. He obtained the honour of knighthood, and was taken prisoner, with King David II., at the unfortunate battle of Neville’s Cross, 1346. He lived long after his release; and his piety is attested by a well-preserved deed, dated Inverness, the feast of the Epiphany of the Holy Cross, 1362, in which he grants, for the salvation of his own soul, and those of his ancestors and successors, six acres of arable land lying within the lands of the old castle of Inverness. The piece of ground thus bestowed is still, in part, the property of the Kirk Session; and its proceeds being devoted to relieve the poor, it was called Tir na bochd, now, corruptly, Diribught, “the poor’s lands.” Many charters and exchanges of property between the different chiefs, the Scottish kings, and nobility, took place, which shows that their possessions were very extensive.• Family History. 4to. MS.

John de Chesehelm

They occasionally got into misunderstandings with the bishops and chapter of Moray, respecting their lands in that county. In 1369 these clergy made complaint that Robert, Lord of Quarrel Wood, had “wrongously intromitted” with some of their property; and, in 1398, John de Chesehelm was charged to give up the lands of Kinmlylies, which were the church’s patrimony.

The form of an act of homage, 1368, for certain lands, is preserved, which is somewhat curious:-” In Camera domini Alexandri Dei gratia Episcopi Moraviensis apud struy presente tota multitudine Canonicorum et Capellanorum et aliorum, ad prandium ibi invitatorum. Alexander de Chisholme fecit homagium junctis manibus et discooperta capite, pro eisdem terris,” &e. About this time, Uilan, or Wyland, hodie William, “venerabilis vir et dominus,” was treasurer of Moray, and appears to have been a very active official. († Registrum Moraviensis).

Alexander Sutherland, Baron of Duffus

John, who was chief at the end of the fourteenth century, had an only child, Morella, who married Alexander Sutherland, Baron of Duffus, and she carried away so much of the property, that the male heir was greatly reduced, having little more than the “country” of Strathglas. From this marriage the house of Duffus carry the addition of the boar’s head in their armorial coat.
An indenture for the settlement of the respective lands was entered into, in 1403, between Margaret de la Aird, widow of Alexander, late chief, then designed from the place of his residence, “of Comar,” his successor, Thomas, and William Lord Fentoun, heirs portioners, by which we find the property lay, not only in Inverness and Moray shires, but in the counties of Perth, Forfar, and Aberdeen.

Battle of Killicrankie 1689

In 1513, we find Uilan of Comar assisted by Alastair Mac Ranald of Glengarry, storming the castle of Urquhart. In 1587, the chiefs, on whose lands resided broken men, were called upon to give security for their peaceable behaviour, among whom appears “Cheisholme of Cummer.”
After the battle of Killicrankie, 1689, Erchless Castle was garrisoned for King James, and it required considerable exertion, on the part of General Livingstone, to dislodge the Highlanders, and prevent them from regaining possession of it, having besieged it with a large force. Ruarai’, or Roderic Mac Ian, had signed the address of 102 chiefs and heads of houses to George I., expressive of their loyalty, but no notice being taken of it, he engaged very actively in the rising under the Earl of Mar, 1715, Chisholm of Cnocfin, an aged veteran, heading the clan at the field of Dunblane, in requital for which his estates were forfeited and sold. In 1727 he procured, with several other chiefs, a pardon under the privy seal; and Mac Kenzie of Allangrange, who then possessed the lands, “disponed” them the same year to Chisholm of Mucherach, who again conveyed them to Roderic’s eldest son, and entailed them on his heirs male.
This chief, so devoted to the family of Stewart, joined his fortune with that of Prince Charles, 1745, and Colin, his youngest son, was appointed colonel of the Clan Battalion. Alexander, who succeeded to the family honours and estates in 1785, left an only child, Mary, married, to James Gooden, Esq., London; and dying in 1793, the chiefship and property, agreeably to clan law, and by the deed of entail, devolved on his youngest brother, William, who married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Duncan Mac Donell, Esq” of Glengarry, and left two sons and a daughter. On his death, 1817, he was succeeded by the elder son, Alexander William, late member of parliament for Invernesshire, who was doomed to fill a premature grave, September, 1838, and of whose amiable life an interesting memoir has recently appeared.
The succession now rests on his brother, Duncan Mac Donnell (Gaëlice, Doncha’ Mac Dhonuill), who inherits, in an eminent degree, the patriotic characteristics of a Highland chief; while he actively promotes all objects in which his countrymen are interested, he cordially supports those institutions beneficial to society in general.

The Chisholms of Cromlics

The Chisholms of Cromlics, in Perthshire, were a distinguished branch of this clan, and were remarkable for giving three bishops of Dunblane in succession, who were most strenuous opposers of the Reformation, which involved them in continued trouble, and led to the loss of their patrimony, and the expatriation of William, who became Bishop of Vaison. By the marriage of Jane, only daughter of Sir James Chisholm of Cromlics, to James, second son of David Lord Drummond, the lands were carried to the family of Viscount Strathallan, and gave him the second title.


The ARMORIAL BEARINGS of the Chisholm are on a shield gules, a boar’s head couped, or. Crest, a dexter hand couped at the wrist, holding a dagger, proper, on which is transfixed a boar’s head couped, of the second. Supporters, two savages wreathed about the head and loins, and bearing knotted clubs, proper. Mottoes: above the escutcheon, “Feros ferio:” -underneath, “Vi aut virtute.”


The SUAICHEANTAS, or Badge, is Rainneach, Filix, Fern. The PIOBAIREACHD, or Gathering, is Failte Siosalaich Sthrathglas, the Salute or Welcome to the chiefs, a fine piece of pipe-music, composed in praise of their noted hospitality. Erchless Castle, the family seat, is an old baronial mansion, situated in a picturesque locality in Strath-glas, or the Grey-valley. The burial-place was in the chancel of Beaulieu Priory, now in ruins; but there is no monument, except a mural slab erected in memory of Alexander, who died 1793, by his only daughter. The late chief was buried, by his own desire, on a verdant mount, surrounded by venerable trees, near the castle, where several of his remote ancestors likewise repose.
The military force of this clan, in 1745, amounted to 200 men, but their “following” must have been formerly much greater.

Battle of Culloden 1746

After the disastrous battle of Culloden, Prince Charles was obliged to trust his life to the honour of his devoted followers, and three poor individuals of this clan concealed and supported him in a cave, and safely conveyed him to the coast of Arisaig, resisting the temptation of £30,000 offered for his apprehension. Hugh Chisholm, otherwise Mac Lea, one of these faithful Highlanders, having shaken hands with the Prince when parting, made a vow, which he religiously observed, that his right hand should never be offered to another.
One of the chiefs having carried off a daughter of Lord Lovat, placed her for safety in an islet in Loch Bruiach, where she was soon discovered by the Frasers, who had speedily mustered for the rescue. A severe conflict ensued, during which the young lady was accidentally slain by her own brother! A plaintive Gaëlic song records the sad calamity, and numerous tumuli mark the graves of those who fell.

The Court-dress

The figure is represented in the attire in which the chief usually appears when present at festivals and national meetings. This costume is the court-dress of a Highlander; and the Chisholms’ plain tartan is as proud a passport to the presence of royalty as the splendid uniform of the British guards. The black velvet jacket contrasts well with the red-coloured kilt, and, by wearing the imitation of the old belted plaid, the breast is left free, and neither ornaments nor arms are bidden. The pistols are remarkable for size, but they are painted from a genuine old family pair. The brogs are of a pattern frequently worn by gentlemen.

From the book: THE CLANS OF THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS. Illustrated by Appropriate Figures, Displaying Their Dress, Arms, Tartans, Armorial Insignia, And Social Occupations. From Original Sketches. By R.R. McIan, ESQ. With Accompanying Description and Memoranda of Character, Mode of Life, BY JAMES LOGAN, ESQ. VOL.1 London: Ackermann and CO., Strand. 1845

Free eBook: History of the Chisholms, with genealogies of the principal families of the name (1891) Author: Mackenzie, Alexander, 1838-1898 Publisher: Inverness : A. & W. Mackenzie