Clan Matheson

Clan Matheson (Scottish Gaelic: Clann Mhathain [ˈkʰl̪ˠãũn̪ˠ ˈvãhɛn]) is a Highland Scottish clan.

Clan Matheson
Clann Mhathain[1]
MottoFac et spera (Do and hope)[2]
RegionScottish Highlands
DistrictLochalsh, Sutherland[2]
Plant badgeBroom[2]
Sir Alexander Fergus Matheson of Matheson[2]
The 8th baronet of Lochalsh
Historic seatFort Matheson, at Loch Achaidh na h-Inich


Origins of the clan

The surname Matheson has more than one anglicization of its Scottish Gaelic derivation.[3] The historian Black attributes Matheson to the Gaelic Mic Mhathghamhuin which means son of the bear, and the clan chief's arms carry two bears as supporters.[3] It has also been suggested that MacMhathain means son of the heroes.[3] The Scottish Lowland version of Matheson means simply son of Matthew.[3]

The Mathesons were granted lands by the Celtic Earls of Ross and settled around Loch Alsh, Lochcarron and Kintail.[3] In 1262 a Scottish army led by Alexander III of Scotland invaded the Isle of Skye in order to free the isles from the kings of Norway and one of the leaders of this expedition is recorded as Kjarnac or Cormac Macmaghan.[3] Following the Battle of Largs in 1263 the Western Isles came to be dominated by the Clan Donald whose chiefs were the Lords of the Isles and the Clan Matheson sided with them.[3]

15th and 16th centuries

In 1411 the Clan Matheson fought for Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles at the Battle of Harlaw where the clan chief, Alasdair was captured.[3] The Clan Matheson was then said to have numbered over two thousand warriors.[3] Macmaken supported Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross who was suspected of treason by James I of Scotland.[3] As a result, the earl was seized by the king at Inverness in 1427.[3] Matheson was also arrested by the king,[4] and was executed.[3]

As the Lords of the Isles lost power so did the Mathesons.[3] The Mathesons then found themselves involved in the feuding between the Clan MacDonald and the Clan Mackenzie.[3] Iain Dubh Matheson was killed defending the Mackenzie stronghold Eilean Donan Castle, of which he had become constable of after marrying the widow of Sir Dugald Mackenzie.[3] Dougal MacRuadhri Matheson sat in Parliament and was Prior of Beauly between 1498 and 1514.[3]

According to the MS Account of the Gunns a historic manuscript, the Clan Matheson fought alongside the Clan Mackay and the Polsons at the Battle of Torran Dubh in 1517 against the Clan Gunn, Clan Ross and the Murrays of Aberscross.[5]

All genealogies of the clan agree that the next chief was the undisputed Murdoch Buidhe (yellow haired) who died in about 1602.[3]

17th and 18th centuries

Murdoch had two sons, Roderick and Dugald.[3] Duglad was styled of Balmacara and he rose to become chamberlain of Lochalsh in 1631.[3] Dugald was the ancestor of John Matheson of Attadale whose grandson, John, was forced to sell their Highland estates.[3]

Another branch of the Clan Matheson who had settled on the north side of Loch Shin had been ballies to the Earls of Sutherland in the late 15th century.[3] Donald Matheson of Shin fought against the Jacobites during the Jacobite rising of 1715.[3] Meanwhile, the chiefship of the clan had descended through a line who were descended from Dugald of Balmacara's elder brother, Roderick Matherson.[3] They acquired lands on the Black Isle that were known as Bennetsfield.[3] Unlike his cousins in Sutherland, John Matheson, second of Bennetsfield was a Jacobite who fought at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.[3] Of the members of the Clan Matheson who supported the British Government during the Jacobite rising of 1745, it is recorded that a Kenneth Mathisom was a lieutenant in the Independent Highland Company that was formed by the town of Inverness and a John Mathison was also a lieutenant in one of the Independent Highland Companies formed by the Clan Mackenzie chief, also to support the British Government.[6]


Bairnson, MacBirnie, MacBurnie, McBurnie, McBurney, MacMahon, MacMath, MacMathon, MacMhathain, Massey, Massie, Matheson, Mathewson, Mathie, Mathieson, Mathison, Mathyson, Matthews, Matthewson, Moannach.[7]

Clan Castles

  • Fort Matheson, now a ruin, was the original seat of the Chief of the Clan Matheson.
  • Lews Castle near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis was built by the family of Sir James Matheson who bought the property in 1846 and was originally the site Seaforth Lodge.[8]
  • Ardross Castle was originally held by the Clan Munro but later passed to the Mathesons.[8]
  • Bennetsfield near Munlochy in Easter Ross is the site of a castle or old house.[8] It was held by the Mathesons from the end of the seventeenth century and this branch of the clan became the chiefs.[8] John Matheson, 2nd of Benetsfield fought for the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, although most of his clan supported the government.[8]
  • Shiness near Lairg in Sutherland is the site of a castle or old house.[8] It was held by the Mathesons from the fifteenth century who were ballies to the Earls of Sutherland.[8] Donald Matheson of Shiness fought against the Jacobites in the Jacobite rising of 1715.[8] The property went to the Dukes of Sutherland in 1809.[8]

The current chief Sir Alexander Fergus Matheson, 8th Baronet, who now resides in Norfolk, England.

Clan chiefs

Lochalsh branch

Name Dates Comments
Mathghamhain flourished 1225
Kenneth died 1304
Murdoch flourished 14th century
Duncan flourished 14th century
Murdoch flourished 14th century
Duncan flourished 14th century
Murdoch flourished c 1400
Alasdair died 1427 or 1438 either executed by King James I in 1427 or killed at Battle of Cnoc nan Catach by the MacKays in 1438
Iain Dubh the elder died 1490s
Alasdair MacRuaidhri died 1506
Iain Dubh the younger died 1539 Chamberlain of Eilean Donan Castle
Dugald Roy flourished 1540s
Murdoch Buidhe flourished 1530s-1570s
Roderick (1st of Fernaig) died before 1600
Iain (2nd of Fernaig ) flourished 17th century Also known as Iain McRuari Mhic Mhathoin
Iain Og flourished 1660s

Bennetsfield branch

Name Dates Comments
Iain Mor died 1715
Alexander (1st of Bennetsfield) held Chiefship 1715 - 1754
John (2nd of Bennetsfield) 1754–1768 Present at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Colin (3rd of Bennetsfield) 1763–1825
John (4th of Bennetsfield) 1825–1843
James Brook Young (5th of Bennetsfield) 1843–1886
Eric Grant (6th of Bennetsfield) 1886–1899
Heylin Fraser (7th of Bennetsfield) 1899–1945
Bertram Heylin (8th of Bennetsfield) 1945–1975

Lochalsh branch

Name Dates Comments
Sir Torquhil Alexander Matheson, 6th Baronet 1975–1993
Sir Fergus John Matheson, 7th Baronet 1993-2017
Sir Alexander Fergus Matheson, 8th Baronet 2017- The current chief

See also


  1. Mac an Tàilleir, Iain. "Ainmean Pearsanta" (docx). Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. Retrieved 15 October 2009.
  2. Clan Matheson Profile Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  3. Way, George and Squire, Romily. (1994). Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). pp. 270 - 271.
  4. Clan Matheson History Archived 19 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  5. Mackay, Angus. (1906). The Book of Mackay. pp. 82 - 83. Quoting: MS Account of the Gunns.
  6. Simpson, Peter. (1996). The Independent Highland Companies, 1603 - 1760. ISBN 0-85976-432-X. pp. 127 – 128 and 130.
  7. Names and Spellings of Names connected with Clans & Families Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  8. Coventry, Martin. (2008). Castles of the Clans: The Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. pp. 441. ISBN 978-1-899874-36-1.
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