The ‘Riding Surnames’ are defined by their mention in the Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1587 where there is the description of : the "Chiftanis and chieffis of all clannis… duelland in the hielands or bordouris" – thus using the word clan and chief to describe both Highland and Lowland families. The Border families can be referred to as clans, as the Scots themselves appear to have used both terms interchangeably until the 19th century. The act goes on to list 17 of the various Border clans, of which Carruthers are included.
Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh, the Lord Advocate (Attorney General) writing in 1680 said "By the term 'chief' we call the representative of the family from the word chef or head and in the Irish (Gaelic) with us the chief of the family is called the head of the clan". Thus, the words chief or head, and clan or family, are interchangeable. It is therefore possible to talk of the MacDonald family or the Maxwell clan. It is alledged that the idea that only Highlanders should be listed as clans, while the Lowlanders are listed as families originated as a 19th-century convention. After James 6th of Scotland, 1st of England, unified the two countries through the Union of the Crowns in 1603, he decreed that the ‘unruly border clans’ be dispersed to England, Northern Scotland, Ireland and even to the colonies.
So we know who we are and our line from Mouswald, to Holmains to Dormont, we know where we came from as a small but active riding family domiciled initially around the West March, spreading throughout Dumfriesshire and Lanarkshire and beyond. We also know that the name stems from the ancient area around Annadale, but how are ‘Carruthers’ viewed as a separate and distinct Scottish family. We know of the etymological argument that our origins are Celtic from Caer Rydderich, from which Carrutherstown takes its name, an ancient British fort and the possibility that we are descended from King Riderch Hael around AD 560.The surviving records however seem to indicate that William de Carruthers was the first on record to adopt the place ‘Carruthers’ as his surname.
Of course the French ‘de’ in the name, meaning ‘from’ in the surname could give some credence to the fact that we have Norman ancestors who accompanied William the Conquerer during the Norman invasion although no listing of our name appears anywhere, nor are we listed, or derivations of the same on Norman names. Some suggest that this may rationalise the fleur d-lis on the family arms, often used by knights to depict their links with the French monarchy, although again there is no evidence to support either a direct Norman link nor any link with the French monarchy.
It is more likely that as the Norman influence, both language and customs spread into the 'Royal Court' system to include that of Scotland that the use of the word 'de' as in French today, simply means 'from or of ' e.g. Simon 'from/of' Carruthers
The other suggestion within heraldic circles is that the fleur d-lis also had religious connotations. They allegedly depicted Miriam (Virgin Mary) symbolism of female virtue, purity and spirituality or alternatively the three petals depicted the Holy Trinity. This may correspond with James Alexander Carruthers assumptions in his book ‘Carruthers Antholgy Geneology’ that we are linked with the Knights Templars and their preceptories in Dumfriesshire and Lanarkshire, where we had the role as guardians of religious sites. This is based on the fact that Robert the Bruce, himself coming from the de Brus family, confirmed us as his ‘Stewards ' and Guardians of the Old Kirk Ford at Hoddam’ and Keepers of the Trailtrow Preceptory. If true, this may further explain the seraphim/angels registered on our family crests.
Bruce Modern Tartan (L) and Red Carruthers Tartan (R)
Currently, since the 1800's when the concept of Septs took hold throughout Scotland with every major family or Clan adding families in, we are classed as a sept of the family Bruce. Bruce, do not recognise themselves as a clan but as a Noble Family. Therefore if we are a sept, we are a sept of a family not a clan. However does being a sept restrict our individuality as a family or does it enhance it, or do we need to stand under our own banner with our own Chief, wearing our own tartan and be accepted as an official clan in our own right?Te answer from many is we need to try and stand alone as a proud and ancient Clan in our own right.
Historically as a sept of the family Bruce we have access to their clan/family tartan. That does not mean we own the tartan, nor can we lay claim to it but it simply means that we may, with their permission, use it. In fact the pattern we most commonly wear is Bruce (Modern) which according to the Scottish tartan register; The chiefly sett of the Bruce tartan, (is) based on a weavers chart, which Lord Andrew Bruce believes to date from 1571. Writing in 1967, Lord Bruce says, "... a specimen of tartan cloth (as illustrated) was in the possession of the Cumming-Bruce's of Dumphail in the mid nineteenth century and came into the keeping of Lord Elgin's family about that time after the marriage of the 8th Earl and Mary Cumming-Bruce (heiress of Dumphail and Kinnaird). It therefore belongs to Bruce, and most certainly not Carruthers as do all Bruce tartans.
Until 2017, no tartan was ever registered in the name of Carruthers, that changed with the registration of the Red Carruthers tartan STR 11700
Taking this a step further, the concept of being a sept of Bruce is explained as having come from our support of Bruce at Bannockburn, which may be true, but what is historical fact is that our family were honoured and supported by the Bruce in the 14th century, being raised to being their Stewards in Annandale. That relationship, more than anything else may have led to us being accepted as a sept within their family.
So what is a sept and does that detract from our family as a distinct entity, the answer many feel may be; YES.
We also know that Clan Carruthers is a Lowland Scottish family of the Scottish Borders and it is suggested that it is officially recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms; however, as the clan does not currently have a clan chief and hasn't had since the death of Simon Carruthers in 1504, it is recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms as an armigerous ‘clan’, this is according to Way and Squire in their book Scottish Clan Encyclopedia, however, conversations with the current Lord Court would suggest that Carruthers, along with other border armigerous families not registered as clans remain viewed as border families with no real legal standing as can be seen later.
Recognition as a clan however, is still a choice and our neighbouring reiver family of Irvine, having gone through the process of setting up a Clan society, picking a 'commander' and progressing that position to Chief. They have registered their 'clan' with the Lyon Court on the premise of being mentioned as one in the 1587 Act of the Scottish Parliament. This of course is something Carruthers could easily do and most certainly should do.
There are two ways of looking at a Sept; initially taken from the Irish to define the use of a variety of surnames within the clan itself, or the more modern approach, as surnames of a clan or dependent families of the same.
In many cases the list of a family as a sept within a clan or another larger family, carries no evidence to support why they are there at all and the listings were deemed to be a Victorian concept. However, if we are a sept of anyone, I do believe that there is a case for Carruthers within the house of Bruce. If nothing else because of our entwined history from the 14th and 15th centuries. The border system of septs can be equated to the system of the Highland Clans and their septs e.g. Clan Donald and the sept, Clan MacDonald of Sleat can be compared with the Scotts of Buccleuch and the sept, Scotts of Harden and elsewhere.
Both border Graynes and highland septs had the essential feature of patriarchal leadership by the chief of the name, and had territories in which most of their kindred lived. Border families did also practice customs similar to those of the Gaels, such as tutorship, when an heir who was a minor succeeded to the chiefship, the serving of bonds of manrent also occurred.
As much as we must and should remain honoured by our lengthy association with the family Bruce and maintain that historical link, many believe that it is time that the ancient, proud and distinct family of Carruthers make moves to be recognised in their own right. With that in mind a Clan Carruthers Society was formed with International links in 2017.
In the current information issued by the Society of Scottish Armigers (information Leaflet 11), Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, Baronet reiterates that the term clan covers both Highland and Lowland families. This demarcation was only being initiated in Victorian times however Sir Crispin refers back to the 1587 Act of the Scottish Parliament of proof of Lowland Clans. However, where a clan becomes a legal entity in its own right in Scottish law that only occurs when the Clan, in our case Carruthers, becomes an ‘Honourable Clan’ e.g. has a Clan Commander for approximately ten years before them being accepted as Chief. Without a Chief, no Scottish family or clan has any legal position within Scottish law, a Chief of Clan Carruthers would change that.
In legal terms to conform with Scottish Law and establish our own corporate name, we need to choose a person to be Chief. This can be done either by a) the hereditary mandate, b) the blood link is highly likely but inconclusive, c) where the main line has dies out and a ‘representer’ is chosen by the clan, d) where no identifiable descendent can be found and someone is chosen, e) where a clan has never had a chief and one has to be chosen.
Chiefship is a title of honour and dignity within the nobility of Scotland. Any claimant to such a title must establish, to the satisfaction of the Lord Lyon representing the Sovereign, that he or she is entitled to the undifferenced arms of the community over which they seek to preside. It is the determining of chiefship which is among the Lyon Court’s central work.
Many of the cases which have come before the Lyon Court in the last 50 years have related to the chiefships of clans. There are now about 140 clans that have chiefs recognised by the Lord Lyon.
A clan or family. which has a recognised chief or head confers noble status on the clan or family which gives it a legally recognised status and a corporate identity. A family or name group which has no recognised chief has no official position under the law of Scotland.
For Carruthers to be officially recognised, both in Scotland and internationally they must have a chief accepted by the Lord Lyon, without that we would simply be a family club with no access to the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and thus no recognition be any other reputable Scottish Clan.
Currently there is a petition with the Lord Lyon to matriculate the chiefly Carruthers Arms of Holmains by a direct and senior heir of or family. Once accepted, the position of chief will be filled, legally recognised and the clan made official by that process.