On the disappearance in 1228 of the Clan Gillespie

The Chartulary of Moray stipulates that the lands of Badenoch were acquired by the Cumyns in 1228, when, 'in that same year, "Gillespie, Chief of Badenoch," and his sons fell into the hands of William, Grand Justiciar of Scotland.' This indicates that a significant Clan Gillespie existed in Badenoch at the time of Gillespic the 'Clerich,' and this, almost certainly, the Clan Chattan itself. Unfortunately, no Senachaidean today are known to be able to further clarify this intriguing link between any Clan Gillespie and the Clan Chattan confederation.

(15th century MacIntosh histories state that Gillespic the 'Clerich' had come from the Irish province of Connacht in 1215 and settled in Lochaber, leading us to speculate that he, like St. Columba, may have migrated along the Great Glen to Badenoch.)

No Gillespie appears to have come forward in 1598 when the Scottish landowners were directed to prove title to their lands before the union of the crowns in 1603, so, by then, the probable existence of a full-blooded Clan Gillespie with its chief, captain, tanist, brieve and clansmen was history. In essence, the Lord Lyon recognises no Clan Gillespie in Scotland to-day, but, in association with Cluny Macpherson, upholds its associated family, or 'sept,' link to his clan.

The Gillespie patronymic in Scotland is an 'associated family' name of the Clan Macpherson.








Cluny Castle at Newtonmore, ancestral home of the Chiefs of Macpherson

The Arms of Cluny Macpherson, Chief of Macpherson, above the main door of Cluny Castle

Despite the clan allegiance today of Scottish Gillespies to Cluny, the Chief of Macpherson, the name rarely appears on the stones lying in the graveyards of the clan-land villages of Kingussie, Laggan or Newtonmore. Furthermore, Cluny's muster roll made in preparation for his clan's support of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1745 contained no clansman bearing the Gillespie name, although Sir Bruce Gordon Seton's "Prisoners of the '45" lists a number of them. It is quite possible that, long before the '45, Gillespies living within Macpherson clan lands in the Badenoch area changed their name to Macpherson by ascription between the mid 14th and 15th centuries.  

Scots Gillespies are bonded as an associated family of the Macpherson clan through the 13th century progenitor of clan Chattan, the 'Clerich', Gillespic: tracing the genealogy of his offspring, Gillicattan Mor Mac Gillespic, through the ages brings us to present day Macphersons. Furthermore, the clerical origin of the Gillespie name comfortably justifies the clerical origin of the Macpherson name, which signifies 'son of the parson,' specifically Muireach, the parson of Kingussie, a descendant of the Clerich, Gillespic, and of Gillicattan Mor Mac Gillespic, both mentioned above. However, Gillespic the 'Clerich' is also the progenitor of the other Chattan families, such as the MacIntoshes; Shaws; Farquharsons; MacMillans; MacGillonies; MacMartins and MacNivens. In this respect the ancient nature of the name, that lies at the origin of so many distinguished clan names that the Lord Lyon recognises today, may justifiably lead the family to regret this apparent loss of its noble tradition.


The Lord Lyon has granted armorial bearings to Scots Gillespies designating them as cadets of Cluny, although the Gillespie 3-masted galley, or Lymphad, is differenced from the single-masted, Macpherson of Cluny galley (with its own, strong Lord of the Isles cadency.) The Gillespie shield shown on this site, for example, is exposed at the Clan Macpherson museum in Newtonmore alongside those of Macpherson, and other Gillespie, armigers, and the fact that the crest is a wildcat attests to the ancient Chattan link. The Gillespie armorial tradition, which is traced back to that of the Lord of the Isles, thus appears to remain fortunately intact.

The  shield of Cluny Macpherson, Chief of macpherson

Macpherson Clan heraldry, including armigers of the Gillespie name, on show at the Macpherson Clan museum in Newtonmore

 On the possible restoration of the Clan Gillespie

The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs lays out the procedure by which a "Clan Gillespie" could be revived to regroup the family name under the Lord Lyon's legal authority: the following is quoted directly from its website. It implies the family's search for a "Commander," genealogically or otherwise, a decade of further work, and the Scots legal procedure of "derbhfine."

"Definition of Clans, Septs & Family Associations: -
The search for clan chiefs

The revival of interest in Scottish ancestry over the last 50 years has encouraged many clans and families, who had not previously done so, to look for a leader. For many clans this has involved searching for the person most directly descended from the last known chief of the clan.

A large number of clans who had had chiefs in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries went into decline after 1745. In many cases it has been possible for genealogical research to establish the identity of the last chiefs descendants and thus to find the person with the closest blood link back to the last chief. In other cases this research is either still being conducted or is now being embarked upon.

Once genealogical evidence has been found to identify the person most directly descended from the last chief, application may be made to the Lord Lyon for confirmation that the chiefly Coat of Arms, enjoyed by the last chief, should be confirmed to such a person.

The Lord Lyon reviews the genealogical evidence and must be satisfied that the applicant's descent is correctly proved. If the Lord Lyon is satisfied he recognises the applicant as chief of the clan and confirms him in the chiefly Arms.

All those who were chiefs prior to 1745 had Arms, although they have not all been recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland which was only started in 1672. The Scottish clan and heraldic systems have always been closely interlinked. Thus a clan which existed in the past will find its chief in the person entitled, under heraldic law, to bear the historic Arms enjoyed by the last known chief.

But the increasing interest in Scottish ancestry has led many families, who had not in the past been regarded as clans in their own right, to look for a leader who could rally the family as a group. While content historically to owe their allegiance as a sept or cadet to a particular clan, such families may now wish to have a distinct identity of their own.

Where such a family is able to prove that it has existed historically as an independent family group, then the Lord Lyon may be prepared to recognise them as a distinct clan or name.

If a person is able to prove descent from an individual who was historically accepted as the head of the main family within this group, then such a descendant might be confirmed in the Arms and recognised by the Lord Lyon as Representer of the name concerned.

The situation may, however, be that a family group has no clear historical evidence of its existence as a group in the distant past. In such a case it may be possible for a group to move towards being treated as a clan or name by various stages.

Since the clan and heraldic systems are so closely linked, the first stage would be for there to be a number of individuals using the same surname to record their own Arms. Once there was a significant number of armigers within the group it would be possible for a derbhfine of the group to convene and make a proposal to the Lord Lyon for the appointment of one of the group as Commander. Regulations have been laid down as to the procedure to be followed in the conduct of such a derbhfine.

If the Lord Lyon is so minded a Commander will be appointed. Once that has happened a 10 year period must then elapse before any question of a chief can be considered.

After the 10 year period a further derbhfine could, if the group desire, be held. This derbhfine could then make a proposal to the Lord Lyon for the appointment of a chief. Again regulations exist for the way in which such a derbhfine should proceed."