A clan is a Scottish social group whose members usually claim to be descended from the same family. In the 11th century, tribes living in Scotland divided into small clans that settled round lochs (= lakes) and glens (= valleys), and on the islands. Among the most powerful were the Campbells and the MacGregors of Argyll, the MacLeods and the MacDonalds of the Western Isles, the MacKays of Caithness and the Stewarts of Appin. The chief of each clan had complete authority. Clansmen were known by the name of their father, and this was shown by the prefix Mac- added to the father’s name. Many Scottish surnames begin with Mac-. Clan membership did not in fact depend on sharing the same name, and many clan members were not related to the chief, but were admitted to the clan as loyal supporters.The clans often fought one another. The most famous argument was between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. After William III became king in 1688, many clans joined the Jacobites who supported the former Roman Catholic king, James II. When William ordered all the clans to swear allegiance (= swear that they would be loyal) to himself the MacDonalds of Glencoe failed to do so. The Campbells were sent to punish them, resulting in the Massacre of Glencoe (1692), in which many MacDonalds were murdered.The clans fought with the Jacobites against the English in 1715 and again, under Bonny Prince Charlie, in 1745, but they were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden (1746). Many clansmen were killed or put in prison. Shortly afterwards, the Highland Clearances, in which the crofts (= small farms) of many Scots were destroyed by the landowners to make way for sheep farming, further reduced the influence of the clans.After Culloden, the clans were forbidden to wear tartan because it was thought to be a symbol of the desire for an independent Scotland. A tartan kilt (= man’s knee-length pleated skirt) was an important part of a clansman’s traditional clothing, but individual tartan patterns were not associated with a particular clan until Victorian times. Today, Scotsmen generally only wear kilts on special occasions.Clans are still important in Scotland, especially in the Highlands. Many people outside Scotland, especially in the US, also take pride in having Scottish ancestors and being members of a clan.
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