The Question of Cadetcy

Since the turn of the nineteenth century, the relationship of the Maclaines of Lochbuie the broader Clan Maclean—all Children of Gilleain na Tuaighe—has been a point of pride for many, a point of interest for some, and unfortunately a point of contention for a few. As one of Scotland’s oldest clans, the Macleans have an expansive and sometimes complicated cadetcy. The simultaneously cadetcy and independence of the Maclaines of Lochbuie illustrate this well.

Discussion of Maclaine’s relationship tends to fall either one of two paths, either One Clan, Two Families or One Family, Two Clans. These two perspectives hinge on two key concepts: the chiefly line and cadetcy. History is more than a series of events, it is also the context in which those events unfolded. Without contextual understanding important concepts are too easily conflated or misapplied.

The individuals who witnessed the establishment of these houses lived roughly seven centuries ago. Following Jacobite loss at Culloden, the clan system that held our ancestors’ society together ended nearly three centuries ago. Though the dust of history lies thick on this topic, there are sources from which we can understand how our ancestors related. The foundation for the modern relationship of the first two houses of the Clan Maclean lies in their beginning.

Origin of the First Houses

The first two houses were likely established in 13451 after a failed negotiation with John of Islay, 1st Lord of the Isles, for land on the Isle of Mull ended with his abduction by Lachlan Lùbanach and his brother Hector Reaganach. Rewarded for their boldness, which he wished to leverage, his Lordship granted each brother lands on Mull, additionally Lachlan was bestowed significant station within the Lordship.3 Thus the Houses of Duart and Lochbuie were established.

In 1549 Donald Monro, Dean of the Isles, described their descendants as, “the Iles best barons… to wit Mcgillane of Doward, Mcgillane of Lochbuy… were haldin as Lords at sic time.”4 Their fortunes aligned with the Lord of the Isles, the houses appear to have mostly worked together to play a material role in the growth Lordship and that of their respective houses. Two centuries after their founding, the Chiefs of the Houses of Duart and Lochbuie were two of the four great nobles on the Council of the Isles5 which advised the head of the largest and most powerful province in Scotland.1

The Chiefly Line

In a letter dated January 24th, 1895 Murdoch Gillian Maclaine, 23rd of Lochbuie, asserted that, “the House of Lochbuie has always claimed to be descended from an older brother of the ancestors of the Duart line, and so to be heirs-male of Gillian na Tuigh…”1A and further implied chiefship, “of the whole name of MacGillian.”14 While Murdoch seems to have later stepped back from his assertion of chiefship of the entire name, he did bring the birth-order of John Dubh’s, 4th Chief, children into the modern spotlight.

Hector Was Likely John Dubh’s First-Born

About 1670, Hugh Macdonald introduced the idea that Hector Reaganach was the elder brother of Lachlan Lùbanach in his history of the Lords of the Isles. Unfortunately Macdonald introduced this idea two centuries after the the brothers lived and provided no supporting evidence to his claim. Further weakening his assertion is the fact that his genealogical work throughout the book has proven highly inaccurate. Nearly two centuries later, Alexander Mackenzie’s History of the Macdonalds cites Macdonald’s telling of the brothers, noting Hector as the first-born, “of whom descended the family of Lochbuy.”1

Recent research by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol reinforces this premise, asserting that John Dubh had three sons, Hector, Lachlan, and John (in that birth-order)2. While the new research is far better supported than Macdonald’s claim, over six and a half centuries have elapsed since the brothers were alive and absolute certainty of birth-order is lost to history. Despite this, Maclean-Bristol’s research is strong enough to support, though not definitively, the birth-order assertion.

Tanistry Determined Inheritance

Whether or not Hector was the eldest of the John Dubh’s sons, tanistry, inheritance by the most suited leader, was the custom in the 14th century Scottish highlands and likely would have determined seniority and leadership of the clan rather than birth order. The tanist was the heir apparent chosen from the sons of the chief by consensus of the clan’s leaders.8 Ideally the tanist would have been chosen before the death of the Chief, and would have been educated and groomed to lead the clan. Often the most suited was also the first born, making the determining factor in inheritance difficult to distinguish in hindsight. Primogeniture, inheritance by the eldest son, was still several centuries from practice in Scotland.

The Regiam Majestatem II, which was still being codified in the middle of the 14th century introduced primogeniture as the normal operation of law if no other arrangements for inheritance exist,7 expanding the patrilineal primogeniture of immovable property that became law in Scotland during the reign of William I (1165–1214). As late a s the 1290’s the succession of the Scotland’s Royal House of Alpin used tanistry in their argument during succession litigation. However the laws of the Kingdom of Scotland were not enforceable in the Hebrides until James IV, King of Scots, annexed the Lordship to the crown in 1493. Beginning in 1449, language in Scottish law shifts from jus in personam [right in the person] to jus in rem [right in the mater], shifting inheritance from partible to primogenitive. By 1541Henery VIII had established primogeniture as the normal operation of law.7 However tanistry wouldn’t be outright abolished until an Irish court issued its decision on A Case of Tanistry in 1608 following nearly four years of arguements.10

From the evolution of law and custom we can see that the legal concepts—and preference—for inheritance by primogeniture was likely well known in the Hebrides; however tanistry remained an option to the clan’s early leaders. Despite incorporating a very limited democratic approach to the inheritance of leadership roles, tanistry opened the door of inheritance to the ambitious—this has led to strife between more than a few of Scotland’s families and clans,11 the Macleans obviously included.

The Lyon Court has never recognized Lochbuie as the primary branch, or “chief of the whole name,” as Murdoch asserted in 1895. If primogeniture applied nearly 300 years earlier, not only would history have recorded it, but the Lyon Court likely surely would have acknowledged Lochbuie as such by now.

Lachlan’s Preeminence

Mackenzie makes the distinction that while Hector is older, it was, “Lachlin of whom descended the family of Duairt, and the rest of the name.”2 This is a clear indication that Lachlan’s reach extended beyond his own house, while Hector’s remained confined to the House of Lochbuie. As the brothers’ father and Chief, John Dubh, was still alive at the time, this description likely also implies that Lachlan was the Maclean tanist.

Whether for personal or political reasons, John clearly favored Lachlan. This is not to say Hector was out of the Lordship’s favor, rather the contrary seems to be the case. In comparison Lachlan was given castles, land, station and the hand John’s own daughter in marriage, while Hector was given four score merks of land2 and John personally arranged the marriage to the daughter of the powerful Chief of Macleod of Lewis.6 To Lachlan, John bestowed true power and responsibility within the Lordship through the office of Lieutenant-General of the Isles in Times of War2 and the honor of the “right hand of all Clans in Battle;” additionally John bestowed similar power under himself personally in the office of Chamberlain—or Steward—of the Household.1

The lands each of the brothers received set them on distinct paths. Duart Castle, given to Lachlan, was a strategically vital to controlling the intercoastal waterways and guarded the convergence of the Sound of Mull, the Firth of Lorn and the entrance to Loch Linnhe. Lachlan’s responsibilities would have demanded he be more involved in the politics of region as he was more engaged inland; thus the station also afforded him also provided him the clout to do deal such politics.

Loch Buie, given to Hector, was an ideally positioned to guard the sea-lanes and provide safe harbor for a fleet of sea-going galleys, evidence of which still exists.13 Hector’s responsibilities to guard the sea-lanes likely focused him more on foreign affairs that required less dealing with the political infighting of the region; this also might explain how the House of Lochbuie was able to extricate themselves from the Jacobite Rising of 1745 while the House of Duart found it unavoidable.

Both of the brothers would have maintained fleets, and together would have provided the Lordship a dominating sea power. It is no wonder that the Houses of Duart and Lochbuie became the two of the four greatest in the Lordship.

Cadetcy & Independence

When the Houses of Duart and Lochbuie were created by John’s charter, John Dubh, 4th Chief, was still alive and thus was was still the Maclean Chief; no other houses existed. Lachlan and Hector would have had to navigate loyalty to their father and Chief with loyalty to Lord of the Isles. As they laid the built the power of their respective houses, it seems they worked either in concert or at least not against each other. Their descendants, particularly those of the House of Duart failed to see cooperation as strength, and for a time attempted to bring the branch clans to heel.

Charters Shifted Fealty

The Lordship established the fealty of the brothers directly by granting each charters directly. No sources or tradition indicate that Hector received lands from the Lordship through his brother. Rather all are consistent in identifying John, 1st Lord of the Isles, as the individual granting the earliest charters to the brothers. This made both Lachlan and Hector beholden directly to the Lordship, superseding their relationships with their Chief and father, John Dubh, 4th Chief, who was still alive and had sent them as ambassadors to John in the first place. From the moment charters were granted to the brothers, both were the heads of feudally independent houses, neither bound to the will of their Chief.

In 1493 James IV annexed the Lordship of the Isles to the Scottish Crown.12 Those who submitted to the James IV were rewarded and allowed to remain mostly as they were. In 1493 John Og, 5th of Lochbuie, swore fealty to the Scottish Crown, in 1934 his charter were confirmed.6 A year later Hector Odhar, 5th of Duart, would follow suite and receive the same reward.

An Independent Clan

The independence of a house lies in the source of its charters. Though the original charters for both Duart and Lochbuie have been lost to history, both appear to have been granted directly from John, 1st Lord of the Isles, to Lachlan and Hector respectively. No traditions challenge this assertion, and the charters confirmed by later Lords of the Isles and eventually James IV, King of Scots, confirmed their charters, which therefore had to exist prior.

Formal Recognition of Independence

Based on the tradition and confirmation of the original grant to Hector, 1st of Lochbuie, the Court of the Lord Lyon properly acknowledges the Maclaines of Lochbuie as a feudally independent clan in their own right. While a genealogically branch in the the line of Gilleain na Tuaighe, the Maclaines of Lochbuie are a clan unto themselves. A term used by the Lyon Court, Branch Clan, seems to apply perfectly to this situation. The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs also recognized the Maclaines of Lochbuie as an independent clan.

The existence of an independent branch is not unusual as the Macleans of Ardgour, Coll, and Dochgarroch have also operated quite independently at various times based on charters held directly from the Sovereign. A differentiation for the House of Lochbuie is that it has operated independently since its inception.

Court of the Lord Lyon, which dates back to 1592, and the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs was founded in 1952. Both organizations came into existence centuries after the Lachlan and Hector lived. Each tried to balance the historical origins of the Maclaines of Lochbuie with the role into which it had evolved; and both seem to have come to a proper conclusion.

A Cadet House to Duart

Cadet branches of the clan are independent hereditary houses that trace their genealogy to the primary branch of the clan, and were usually established by non-inheriting male descendants who acquired their own estates. Lachlan was apparently the Maclean tanist at the time the Houses of Duart and Lochbuie were established. As tanist, upon the death of his father and Chief, John Dubh, the Chiefly Line fell to Lachlan making the House of Duart the primary branch of the clan.

The House of Lochbuie fits the very definition of a cadet house; its head did not inherit the chiefship, and it is an independent hereditary house that can trace its genealogy to the primary branch. Thus by definition upon Lachlan’s ascension to chiefship, the House of Lochbuie technically became a cadet of Duart.

Cadetcy Overshadowed

As Lochbuie’s charters were held directly from the Lordship, the cadetcy of the House of Lochbuie was immediately superseded by its status as an independent clan subject to the Lordship, just as the House of Duart was subject to the Lordship. Lochbuie’s cadetcy is little more than a inefficacious technicality of history. Lochbuie’s cadetcy has always been superseded by its independence. No known Chief of Lochbuie has ever sworn fealty to a Duart Chief, nor needed to. The Chiefs of Lochbuie has answered, alongside Duart and other branch clans, the Sovereign’s call, witnessed charters, and otherwise operated independently.9

It is hard to imagine that cadetcy was an issue for Lachlan and Hector, as both were the heads of nascent branches and inexperienced in their roles. However as they expanded and passed on the power and influence of their houses, this technicality would become a sticking point for their heirs intent on overestimating their own political and military strength.

Simultaneously Cadet and Independent

Arguments that the House of Lochbuie is a cadet of Duart built on Lachlan’s preeminence and the definition of cadetcy are technically accurate, but ignore the fact that the house was independent before the Chiefly Line fell to Lachlan and therefore are inefficacious. Inversely, arguments that the House of Lochbuie built on Hector’s presumed birth order disregard the fact that primogeniture was centuries away from being a common practice let alone law. The effective basis for cadetcy is tanistry; and the effective basis for independence is the first charters’ source.

Two—or more—things can be true at once: (1) the House of Lochbuie meets the definition of a cadet as it is an independent branch that did not inherent the chiefly line, and (2) its independence was established before the chiefly line fell to House of Duart thus superseding the cadetcy. The net effect is that though technically a cadet of Duart, the House of Lochbuie has rightly from its inception operated as an independent branch clan.

Broadly the designation Clan Maclean refers to the entire aggregation of Gilleain na Tuaighe’s descendants; thus all branches, whether cadet or independent, are properly included in the aggregate of cousins. Acknowledging the technicality in no way diminishes the status or importance of either house. It is remarkable that two brothers turned a failed negotiation into powerful Hebridian dynasties that remain well over half a millennium later. It is worth celebrating the distinctly separate yet closely kindred relationship the Lachlan and Hector created.


  1. 1. Maclean-Bristol, Nicholas. One Clan Or Two? Independently Published, 2019. p. 32, 33.
  2. 2. Mackenzie, Alexander. History of the Macdonalds and Lords of the Isles. Inverness: A&W Mackenzie, 1881.
  3. 3. see Rise to Influence & Prominence
  4. 4. Munro, Jean and Munro, Robert. Acts of the Lords of the Isles, 1336-1493. Blackwood, Pillans & Wilson, 1986.
  5. 5. Oram, Richard D., editor. The Lordship of the Isles, Brill, Leiden, 2014, p. 135.
  6. 6. Maclaine, Lorne. Siol Eachainn: The Race of Hector. Poland: Amazon, 2019. p.13, 121
  7. 7. Kenny, Courtney Stanhope. The History of the Law of Primogeniture in England, and Its Effect Upon Landed Property. Cambridge, 1878. p. 35, 40
  8. 8. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “tanistry”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date, Accessed 22 December 2022.
  9. 9. Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie,
  10. 10. Morgan, H. (2002). “A Case of Tanistry” in The Oxford Companion to Irish History. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 23 Dec. 2022, from
  11. 11. Donald Gregory, History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland from AD 1493 to AD 1625.Edinburgh: William Tait, 1836. p. 170.
  12. 12. Macfarlane, Walter. Macfarlane’s Genealogical Collections, Vol. 1. Edinburgh: University Press, 1900. p.122.
  13. 13. Maclaine, Lorne. Siol Eachainn: The Race of Hector. Poland: Amazon, 2019. p.121.
  14. 14. Maclean, J. P. An Examination into the Evidences of the Chiefship of Clann-Ghilleain. Glasgow: Maclure, Macdonald & Co. 1895.


Discussing A Case of Tanistry before the Irish Court of King’s Bench, on referral from the Presidency Court of Munster (1608) Davis 28; 80 ER 516 – The aftermath of Tudor conquest of Ireland gave James VI & I the opportunity to extinguish all vestiges of Brehon law, the ancient foundation of Gaelic legal thought, throughout the entire kingdom. A Case of Tanistry was argued for nearly four years before the Irish Court of King’s Bench finally reached a decision in 1608. The court found that the custom of tanistry was ‘unreasonable and void ab initio’, and declared Brehon law to be incompatible with the Common Law. The Court decried tanistry as ‘the true cause of the barbarism and desolation which was in all the Irish counties’, and that it was ‘void against the king, as being prejudicial to his profit and prerogative’.10 This case also established the jurisdiction of Common Law over custom, it also recognized native titles and transferred to them the rules of recognition in Common Law.

Article Written 2013 SEP 14, Updated 2022 DEC 16