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The MacMillans are one of the oldest clans in Scotland, being descended from a 12th century monk or lay priest called Gilchrist; a son of Cormac bishop of Dunkeld,
whose great-great-grandfather was the Scots king Macbeth.
The collective name of his descendants, the Clann an Mhaoil or “Children of the Tonsured One” comes from the Gaelic nickname that Gilchrist bore: Maolan, “The (little) Tonsured-One” or An Gillemaol, “The Tonsured Servant (of God)”.
The two resulting surnames, MacMhaolain and MacGhillemhaoil, have been transcribed phonetically by Scots and English speaking people in over 190 different ways over the centuries; so there is no “correct” English version, though the majority of modern clan members use variations on the three most usual forms: Macmillan, MacMillan, McMillan.
In addition to the Knap line, there were two other branches of the clan with their own chieftains: those in Galloway, headed by the McMillans of Brockloch and of the Holm of Dalquhairn, who probably branched off the main line sometime in the fourteenth century; and those in Lochaber, whose chieftains, the Macmillans of Murlagan, branched off from the Knapdale line sometime in the sixteenth century. Each of the main branches spawned others in neighbouring areas; such as Arran (from Knapdale); Ulster (from Galloway); Glen Urquhart & the Outer Hebrides (from Lochaber).
Miseris succurrere disco, I learn to succour the unfortunate.Arms:
Or, a lion rampant Sable, armed and langued Gules, and in chief three mullets Azure.Crest:
A dexter and a sinister hand issuing from the Wreath grasping and brandishing aloft a two-handed sword Proper.Supporters:
Two lions Sable, having collars Or, each charged with three mullets Azure.Badge:
A lion's head erased Sable gorged with a collar Or charged with three mullets Azure.Plant:
Holly seedlings fructed Proper.View the Heraldry Dictionary for help.
he Macmillans are Celts descended from an ancient royal house and from the orders of the Celtic church. In the sixth century, the Irish prince, St Columba, established his church on Iona, thereafter the cradle of Christianity in Gaelic Scotland. The Columban church permitted priests to marry, and it faced increasing pressure from the papacy after the arrival in Scotland of Queen Margaret, under whose influence more European practices were introduced. Malcolm’s son, Alexander I, tried to integrate the two traditions when he appointed Cormac, a Columban, as Bishop of Dunkeld. Cormac had numerous sons, one of whom, Gillie Chriosd, or disciple of Christ, was the progenitor of the Macmillans. As a Celtic priest, the bishop’s son would have had a distinctive tonsure: the Celts shaved their hair over the front of the head, rather than in the Roman manner of a ring around the crown. The Celtic tonsure was described as that of St John, which is rendered in Gaelic, ‘Mhaoil-Iain’. Macmillan is therefore son of one who bore the tonsure of St John. An alternative form, ‘Mac Ghillemhaoil’, ‘son of the tonsured servant’, was favoured by the Lochaber branch of the clan.
The clan appears to have moved to the shores of Loch Arkaig in Lochaber when David I abolished the mormaership of Moray, and settled the region with Norman knights. They were well established by the end of the thirteenth century when the death of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, at Orkney in 1290, set in motion the events which were to lead to the War of Independence. Robert the Bruce settled his dispute with John, the Red Comyn, by stabbing him to death in the Greyfriars Church at Dumfries. The Comyns and their allies rose in fury, and the new king was forced to flee into hiding in the Highlands. He was sheltered by Maolmuire, the Macmillan chief, at his home at Ben Lawers. The chief’s brother, Gilbert, Baron of Ken, stayed with the king, and the clan fought at Bannockburn. He is the presumed ancestor of the Macmillans of Brockloch, a large Galloway branch of the clan. Despite this, when Robert’s son, David II, opposed the Lord of the lsles, the Macmillans, who were generally considered loyal to the Lordship of the Isles, were expelled from the area of Loch Tay around 1360. John of Islay granted them lands at Knapdale. Alexander, fifth of Knap, and twelfth chief of the clan, has left the two most enduring Macmillan memorials, a square tower and a Celtic cross. Castle Sween is one of the oldest fortresses in Scotland, and Alexander married Erca, daughter of Hector Macneil and heiress to the castle. He probably built the square tower on the north-east of the castle, known afterwards as Macmillan’s Tower. A fine cross was also erected by him, or in his memory, in the churchyard at Kilmory. One of the finest examples of Celtic art, it shows the chief himself hunting deer.
In time, the direct line became extinct and the chiefship passed, in 1742, to Macmillan of Dunmore, whose lands lay on the side of Loch Tarbert. The Macmillans were not noted Jacobites. John Macmillan of Murlaggan, whose line headed the Lochaber Macmillans, refused to join Prince Charles Edward unless the Stuarts renounced the Catholic faith. Murlaggan’s eldest son defied his father and the Macmillans formed a company of Locheil’s regiment which fought at Culloden; both sons died in the battle. Donald Macmillan from Tulloch was induced to surrender to the Duke of Cumberland under the impression that he and his companions from Glenurquart had been promised protection, but they were transported to the Caribbean without trial. Hugh Macmillan from Glenmoriston guided the prince from Fasnakyle at the mouth of Glen Afric over the hills to Loch Arkaig after Culloden.
Alexander Macmillan of Dunmore, sometime Depute Keeper of the Signet, an important legal post in Edinburgh, died in July 1770. He designated his cousin’s son, Duncan Macmillan, also a lawyer, as his heir. This line, who were styled the Lagalgarve Macmillans, seem not to have had a full appreciation of their standing as chiefs of a great clan, although they served their country well. William Macmillan, Duncan’s nephew, served as captain of marines under Admiral Nelson on his flagship HMS Victory.
It was Captain Williams’ great-grandson, General Sir Gordon MacMillan, father of the present chief, who reawakened the chiefly memory. Even he was not aware that he was the hereditary chief of the Clan Macmillan until he sought to matriculate arms to fly over Edinburgh Castle, of which he had been appointed governor. In fact, arms had been designed, showing him to be a cadet of the chiefly house, when his true pedigree was discovered by the Rev. Somerled Macmillan. Sir Gordon established the seat of the chiefs at Finlaystone House in Renfrewshire.
Name Variations: Mac'Illemhaoel, Mac-na-Maoile, MacElmail, MacElmeel, MacElmoyle, MacGhillemhaoil, Macgilbile, MacGilmole, Macgilveil, MacIlemoyle, MacIllemhool, MacIlleveole, MacIlmoil, MacKevoil, Macklvaill, MacKmallen, Mackmellon, Mackmillion, MacKmolene, Mackmulane, Mackmull, Mackmyllan, Macknilliam, MacMallen, MacMhaolain, Macmilan, Macmilian, MacMillan, Macmillan, Macmillen, Macmillian, MacMillion, MacMoil, MacMolan, Macmolane, MacMolini, Macmul, MacMulane, MacMuleni, MacMullen, Macmullen, MacMullin, Macmullin, MacMulling, MacMylan, MacMyllan, MacNamell, MacNamil, Macquemullan, Macvail, Makgillemuil, Makmillan, Makmollane, Makmulane, Makmullane, Makmyllan, Makmyllane, Makmyllen, McElmeel, McGhavile, McGillemoil, Mcgillemoill, McGillemoill, McGillemoyll, McGillemule, McGillevoyll, McGillimoyle, McGilmole, McGilmoyle, McGilvaoil, McGilveall, McGilveill, McGilvoy, McHevoul, McHoul, McHoull, McHowall, McHowell, McIlevail, McIleveule, McIlevoil, McIlimhewil, McIllemoyll, McIllemull, McIllevail, McIllevoill, McIllvaoil, McIllvoll, McIllywoul, McIlmail, McIlmale, McIlmiline, McIlmilline, McIlmoil, McIlmoill, McIlmoyle, McIlovyll, McIluvail, McIlvail, McIlvaile, McIlveall, McIlveile, McIlveoll, McIlvoail, McIlvoil, McIlvoile, McIlvoill, McIlvoille, McIlvole, McIlvoll, McIlvoyel, McIlvoyle, McIlvoyll, McIlvyle, McIlwoyll, McKilvoile, Mckmillan, McKmillan, McMallan, McMallen, McMallin, McMelane, McMelen, McMellen, McMellian, McMellion, McMellon, McMeylane, Mcmeylane, McMilam, McMilan, McMilane, McMilen, McMileon, McMilion, McMillain, McMillaine, McMillam, McMillan, Mcmillan, McMilland, McMillane, McMilleen, McMillen, McMilliam, McMillian, McMillin, McMillion, Mcmillion, McMillon, McMillone, McMolane, McMolen, McMollan, McMolland, McMollane, McMollem, McMollen, McMollim, McMollin, McMollone, McMullwne, McMolyne, McMouln, McMoylane, McMoyle, McMoylen, McMuillane, McMuilline, McMulan, McMuleon, McMuline, McMulion, McMulione, McMullain, McMullan, McMulland, McMullane, McMullen, McMullens, McMullian, McMullin, McMulling, McMullins, McMullion, McMullione, McMullon, McMulyione, McMwlane, Mcmylen, McMyllane, McNomoille, McOvill, McUlvoyl, McUlvoyll.
References:One or more of the following publications has been referenced for this article.The General Armory; Sir Bernard Burke - 1842.
A Handbook of Mottoes; C.N. Elvin - 1860.
Scottish Clans and Tartans; Neil Grant - 2000.
Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia; George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire - 1994.
Scottish Clans and Tartans; Ian Grimble - 1973.
World Tartans; Iain Zaczek - 2001.
Clans and Families of Scotland; Alexander Fulton - 1991.
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