Scottish chiefs are the hereditary heads of independent branches of a clan; while chieftains are the hereditary heads of cadet branches of a clan. Though recognized in Scottish law, following the Heritable jurisdictions Act of 1746, the designation has become little more than a dignity. The Lyon Court considers clans, along with their branches, noble communities under Scottish law. Historically, chieftains were allotted heritable tracts of the chief’s lands, which were territories chartered to the chief from the crown. Individuals who became significantly influential were occasionally granted charters for lands directly from the Sovereign, establishing a new independent branch clan and making them chiefs in their own right.
The majority of heritable chieftain lineages of the Clan Maclean have died out over the centuries. Today only a remnant of branches remain that have not become armigerous, and whose heads work to preserve the kin and clan connections that have bound Macleans together across the centuries.