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History of Clan Farquharson

By Archie McKerracher
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The “fighting Farquharsons” are the only Highland clan in Aberdeenshire. Their lands lie in the stunningly beautiful Braes of Mar in Upper Deeside where the river Dee runs through heath and purple heather and ancient pine forests overshadowed by the eastern ranges of the Cairn Gorm mountains. Queen Victoria rightly described this area as Paradise when she established her summer residence here at Balmoral Castle in 1848. However, the Farquharsons are actually incomers to Deeside for their roots lie in the Spey Valley on the other side of the Cairn Gorms.

Their early history is that of Clan Mackintosh from whom they spring. They descend from Shaw, son of Duncan, Celtic Earl of Fife of royal descent, who went north with King Malcolm IV in 1163 to suppress a rebellion by the men of Moray. Shaw was granted land around Inverness and in the forest of Findhorn, and was called Mhic an Toiseach, son of the Thane. He was the 1st Chief of Clan Mackintosh. His great-great grandson, Ferquhard, 5th Chief of Clan Mackintosh, lived at Rothiemurchus in the pine forests of the Spey Valley. His son Angus, 6th Chief, married Eva, heiress of the ancient Clan Chattan of Badenoch and Lochaber in 1291, and thus became Chief of this confederation of clans descended from Gilliechattan Mor. William, his eldest son, became 7th Chief of Clan MacKintosh and 8th Chief of Clan Chattan in 1345, and moved his residence to Moy Castle. Angus’ second son John remained in the area and founded the race of Mackintoshes of Rothiemurchus.

John’s grandson Shaw Mor, born about 1380, was the founder of Clan Shaw. His descendant Alexander Ciar Mackintosh, 5th Chief of Clan Shaw, born 1400, had five sons. The eldest, John Macintosh of Rothiemurchus, became 6th Chief of Clan Shaw, the second and third sons founded the cadet branches of the Shaws of Dell and Dalnavert. The fourth son, Farquhar, born about 1425, was the founder of Clan Farquharson.

Farquhar moved over the mountains to the Braes of Mar on Deeside around 1450, where his father had some land and settled there. His sons were known as the “Farquhar’s sons”, and from this came the name Farquharson. He was appointed Baillie and Chamberlain of the ancient Earldom of Mar which had been annexed to the Crown and was granted much land as a reward. His son Donald married Isobel Stewart of the Mar family, heiress of Invercauld and Aberarder, and through her acquired a very extensive estate in Upper Deeside. He also acquired the square keep of Invercauld with its 7 foot thick walls sited on a plateau above the Dee.                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Their son Findlay Mor, born 1487, thus became 1st Chief of the Farquharsons of Invercauld, and it is Findlay Mor whom all branches of Clan Farquharson claim as their founder and common ancestor. The clan’s Gaelic appellation of Clan Fhionlaidh also derives from him although the actual name of the clan derives from his grandfather.

The Records of Invercauld state that “Findla, commonly called Findla Mor on account of his gigantic size and great strength of body, who was also a man of fine parts, remarkable bravery and fortitude, was killed fighting in defense of the liberties of his country bearing the Royal Standard at the battle of Pinkie, anno 1547”. He is buried in Inveresk churchyard near Musselburgh in a plot called the Lang Hielandman’s Grave. 

Before Findla’s time the clan was called in Gaelic Clan Ferquher or Eracher. The three younger brothers of Ferquhar had a violent disagreement with their elder brother around 1460 and made their way to Atholl with a band of followers. They changed their name to the older style and became known first as Mac Ferquher or Mac Eracher which became Mackercher and McKerracher. Many of this name settled around Kenmore on Loch Tay and Mckerchar is still a common name in these parts. Others moved into Glen Tilt and Glen Shee. The name Farquharson did not become fixed until about the middle of the 17th century, and some of the leading men of the clan are referred to in deeds as “Mackintosh alias Farquharson” as late as 1628. The Farquharsons, with their base at the castle of Invercauld in upper Deeside, effectively controlled the important north-south route through Glen Shee which skirted the Grampian Mountains. They also controlled the Laraig Ghru pass through the mountains which gave access to the wealthy lowlands of the north-east. The City of Aberdeen paid out an annual sum of money to the Farquharson chiefs to maintain a clan army of three hundred men to protect the landward side of the city from marauding mountain clans.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Farquharsons became a clan of importance around 1632 in the time of Robert of Invercauld, 6th Chief. He obtained Armorial bearings which portray the Lyon Rampant, marking their descent from the royal race of MacDuff; a pine tree marking their original roots in wooded Rothiemurchus; and the Royal Standard and a dagger marking their part in the battle of Pinkie. The Arms are supported by two wild cats, the symbol of Clan Chattan. The motto is “Fide and Fortitude” over the Crest and “I force nae friend, I fear nae foe” beneath. Robert died in 1650 aged sixty. John Erskine, 18th Earl of Mar, noted the increasing power and wealth of the Farquharsons with some concern. He built a castle, ostensibly called a hunting lodge, at Braemar only a mile or so away from Invercauld as a veiled warning to them, even though he was their feudal superior as possessor of the ancient Earldom and Province of Mar.

The “fighting Farquharsons”, as they were now known, fought always for the House of Stuart. Donald Farquharson of the cadet house of Monaltrie led the clan to join the army of the Marquis of Montrose in 1644. The clan also took part in the unsuccessful attempt to restore Charles II to the throne in 1650. The Farquharsons were summoned in time of war to their traditional mustering place at Carn na Cuimhe – The Cairn of Remembrance. This is sited beside the River Dee, about a mile east of Invercauld. When danger threatened the chief would send round the country a stake of wood called the Croishtara – The Fire Cross. One end was dipped in animal blood; the other was burnt, symbolizing fire and sword. At each hamlet the runner would hand it to another until the whole clan was aroused. The clansmen were required to have their weapons ready and sharpened at all times, as well as pair of serviceable shoes and oatmeal in a sporran. Each clansman would bring with him to the Carn na Cuimhe a large stone which he would place on the cairn and remove on his return. The stones that remained thus became an ongoing war memorial to the clan dead.

The links with the Mackintoshes remained strong and Farquharson of Invercauld brought 300 fighting men to The Mackintosh for an expedition to Lochaber in 1665 against Clan Cameron. The famous John Farquharson of the cadet family of Inverey, known as the Black Colonel from his swarthy appearance and black hair, killed John Gordon, Baron of Brackley, the following year in a dispute over fishing rights in the River Dee. The Colonel was dragged to Edinburgh to stand trial but the Mackintosh chief intervened both as his paramount chief and for the services rendered in Lochaber, and ensured no accuser appeared.

The Black Colonel, “a mettled independent gentleman”, fought for Viscount Dundee in the Jacobite Uprising of 1689, and carried on guerilla warfare after the defeat at Cromdale. He burned Braemar Castle which remained a shell for fifty years. He was outlawed and hunted relentlessly by Government troops. On one occasion he eluded capture by riding his horse up the precipitous rocky slopes of the Pass of Ballater. On another he was sleeping at home in Inverey Castle when the soldiers burst in. The Colonel jumped from the window and hid for several months in a rocky gorge in Glen Ey still called “The Colonel’s Bed” where his food was brought by his faithful wife Annie Ban (fair). John Farquharson of Inverey died in 1698. He had requested burial in the Chapel of the Seven Maidens at Inverey but was interred instead at the Kirk of St. Andrews at Braemar. His coffin reappeared on the surface the following morning and after this happed three times he was buried at Inverey where he now lies at peace. His targe and broadsword are preserved at Invercauld House.

In 1672 the Privy Council made Alexander, 7th Chief, enter into a Bond for the good behavior of his clansmen, and any others on his land. This was an attempt by the authorities to stamp down on the wild and lawless Highlanders by making the chiefs responsible for those within their territory. Alexander in turn entered into a Bond with all the Farquharson cadet families. He made the first major extension to Invercauld House in 1679.

In 1715 John Erskine, 24th Earl of Mar, arrived at Braemar to raise the clans in an attempt to restore the exiled Stuart king to the throne of Britain. He stayed at Invercauld House, and on August 26th met there with twenty six of the Highland Chiefs. A notable absentee at this meeting was John Farquharson, 9th Chief of Clan Farquharson, and it was also noted most of the weapons at Invercauld had also been hidden away. John saw the foolishness of the planned Uprising but had no option but to join. The Earl of Mar was his feudal superior and he was legally bound to provide him with twenty fighting men for every davoch (416 acres) of land he held. He summoned all the Farquharson cadet families of Allanquoich; Achendyne; Balmoral; Coldrach; Finzean; Inverey; Micras; Tullich and Whithouse by sending round the Croishtara.

Mar raised the Royal Standard on September 6, 1715, on top of a knoll now built upon by the Invercauld Arms hotel at Braemar. The ceremony was watched by over two thousand Highlanders, amongst whom were 500 Farquharsons. There was a gasp of dismay from the superstitious clansmen as the gold ball on top of the staff fell off. This proved to be a prophetic omen. John Farquharson led his clansmen south with the section of the Jacobite army that entered England. They found the people reluctant to join the Stuart Cause and were forced to surrender after the battle of Preston. John Farquharson was captured and imprisoned at Marshalsea prison in London. He was released a year later after his friends successfully petitioned he had been forced into the rebellion.

John’s experience in this Jacobite Uprising made him refuse to take part in the last Uprising of 1745. He hid the family charter chest on a rocky ledge high up on Cluny Craig overlooking Invercauld, and made his way south in case he was forced against his will. However, all of the clan came out under John’s nephew, Francis Farquharson of Monaltrie, the senior cadet family. He was the renowned Baron Ban of the ’45. Another famous character of the Uprising was James Farquharson of Balmoral, known as Balmoral the Brave, who had previously fought in 1715. The Farquharsons besieged Stirling Castle, joined up with the retreating Jacobite army and fought at the battle of Falkirk on January 17, 1746, where Balmoral the Brave, wounded in both legs, demanded his clansmen carry him forward towards the enemy. At the Battle of Culloden Moor on April 16, three hundred Farquharsons were in the centre of the front line where the fighting was heaviest and they took a grievous loss. In the aftermath Balmoral the Brave was proscribed for High Treason but pardoned in 1753. Francis Farquharson of Monaltrie was condemned to death in London but reprieved the night before. He was kept prisoner in England for twenty one years and only returned home in 1766. He is buried in Crathie churchyard. Many of the clansmen were executed or transported to the Virginia plantations after appalling suffering.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

tapestry reading "Fide et fortitudine"

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Anne, the 20 year old daughter of John Farquharson of Invercauld, was newly married to Angus Mackintosh, Chief of the Mackintoshes at the time of the Uprising. Both her father and husband were loyal to the Hanoverian government and in fact Angus was a captain in the Black Watch. But after both had left, Anne immediately raised Farquharson and Mackintosh clansmen and led them herself to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. She masterminded the famous Rout of Moy when a government regiment, dispatched from Inverness to capture the Prince at Moy hall, was put to flight by five men. She was captured and imprisoned but eventually allowed home. On her husband’s return home after the Uprising she greeted him with the laconic words, “Your servant, Captain”, to which he replied “Your servant, Colonel!”, and she was known as Colonel Anne from that day on. Incidentally, the navy blue uniform she designed for herself is now worn in various adaptations by sailors in every navy in the world.

John Farquharson of Invercauld died in 1750 with both his lands and his honor intact. He had escaped forfeiture because he personally had not taken part in the Uprising. His honor was intact because he had not prevented the clan coining out. He was succeeded by his son James, 10th Chief, who married the widow of Lord Sinclair. She found great misery and poverty on the estates for the people followed a way of life unchanged in a thousand years. A traveler of the period described the conditions in Braemar thus “The houses of the common people in these parts are shocking to humanity, formed of loose stones, and covered with sods which they cal divots or with heath, broom or branches of fir; they look at a distance like so many black mole hills. The inhabitants live very poorly on oatmeal, barley cakes and potatoes; they drink whisky sweetened with honey. The men are thin but strong; idle and lazy except employed in the chase or anything that looks like amusement; they are content with hard fare and will not exert themselves. The women are more industrious, spin their husbands’ cloaths and get money by knitting stockings, the great trade of the country”. Lady Sinclair erected a school at Braemar to teach the women spinning on the new “little wheel”, and flax for linen became the principal crop in the area. The Farquharson laird introduced new methods of agriculture and steadily improved his estates. By careful purchase, not least that of the forfeited Farquharson cadet estates, he put together an estate of 25,000 acres in Perthshire and 110,000 acres in Aberdeenshire. He was helped in this by marrying two wealthy wives. When he died in 1805 he and his father had been chiefs of Clan Fhionlaidh for a remarkable 111 years between them. James had eleven children, ten of whom died young. He was survived by his daughter Catherine who married Captain James Ross who took the name of Farquharson and their son John succeeded as 11th Chief in 1810.

John managed the estates carefully and consolidated the work of his forebears. In 1815 the Braemar Wrights Friendly Society was formed. This was the local forerunner of the modern welfare State and collected money for distribution to the poor and widows and orphans. It developed into the Braemar Highland Society whose interests extended to preserving the kilt and culture of Scotland. The Farquharson chief became patron of this annual Highland Gathering which in 1848 was held outside Invercauld House and attended by Queen Victoria who watched the contests of piping, throwing the caber, dancing, and pitching river stones with great interest. She agreed to become patron of what is now the world famous Braemar Highland Games always attended by HM The Queen. The area received its name of Royal Deeside after Queen Victoria bought the old Farquharson seat of Balmoral Castle and built the summer residence of the kings and queens of the United Kingdome.

The Farquharson of Invercauld were great improvers in the 19th century, planning almost sixteen million fir trees and two million larches as well as constructing many new roads on the estates. Huge logs from the timber operations were floated in rafts down the Dee to the shipyards of Aberdeen. The prosperity of the estates, and their lack of forfeiture in the “45 Uprising, prevented the mass evictions of people that happened elsewhere in the Highlands. However, many emigrated to Canada, the United States and Australia and there are few of the names left in the area. 

On the death of Alexander Haldane Farquharson in 1936 the chieftainship was confirmed on his daughter Mrs. Myrtle Farquharson who was killed in an air raid in 1940. She was succeeded by her nephew, Captain Allweyne Farquharson who is the present chief of Clan Fhionlaidh. He still owns 100,000 acres of the old ancestral estate and is one of the largest landowners in Scotland. He still resides at Invercauld House where his people have been now for over five hundred years.

Note: Captain Allweyne Farquharson M.C. of Invercauld and Monaltrie, 16th Chief of Clan Farquharson, died on Wednesday, October 6, 2021 at the age of 102 years. He was living at his home in Valley Farm, Norfolk. He is believed to have been Scotland’s oldest and longest serving clan chief and was chieftain of the Ballater Highland Games on Deeside for 73 years.