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MacTavish and the Thomsons
Arms of Thomson of that Ilk
We have received a letter from Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Chief of Clan MacTavish, and in accordance with his expressed wish we publish it here with no alteration to his spelling, to his punctuation, to his syntax, or to his grammar.

Underlying the letter is a resentment of the Baronage view about the size of Clan MacTavish. Dunardry claims as clansmen all who bear “the name of Thom(p)son”, yet it is commonly known that while some Thomsons may be anglicised MacTavishes, for most others the origin of their name is “son of Tom”. It is as futile for Dunardry to pretend that all Thomsons are his, as it would be for other clan chiefs to claim exclusive superiority of all Andersons (sons of Andrew) or Hendersons (sons of Henry) or Patersons (sons of Peter) or Watsons (sons of Walter).

Whether there ever were Thomsons of that Ilk is debateable. Workman’s Manuscript (1565-1566) held in Lyon Office attributes arms to one (see above right), and successive Lyons have notionally accepted the existence of an unknown chief and granted arms to Thomson Petitioners as indeterminate cadets. However, a shared surname does not imply descent from a common ancestor, but in the case of the Thomsons, as with the Andersons and others, those who do share the Name form “an honourable community”.

In the paragraphs that follow we look at Dunardry’s letter and then at what heraldry can tell us about his claims.

What seems to be your problem Ms Forbes? Why do you go out of you way to attempt to belittle my clan and my name? Why are you giving so much space to this wee Clan? Have I done something to you or Baronage Press outside of asking the question “why do you operate as UK company but in reality out of the Netherlands?

Or is it because I posted the articles referring to Baronage Pree is in trouble with the law?

Or could it be that you are a Campbell sympathiser and as the late Duke stated that he did not recognize Dugald MacTavish as a Chief? I think even you would have to admit that the Lyon is the one who desides who is and who is not a Chief of a distinct clan, not the Duke of Argyll or, the Baronage Press.

You mention my family history is not in the latest Burkes, what are you trying to imply?

May I suggest Ms Forbes, from what we read Baronage seems to require as much effort from you that appears to be wasted with your concern for the MacTavish. At least, thats my opinion. If you are going to ‘use’ some of this as you did a couple of years ago when I first contacted you (I have the original E-mail) please try to print the whole thing and not just take the words out of context as you did then.

Thanks very much,

MacTavish of Dunardry

The editor’s response to this extraordinary letter is published on a separate page. However, it is appropriate first to comment on the implication in the third paragraph that Baronage has not recognised Dunardry’s status as Chief of Clan MacTavish.

This was a juvenile attempt to set up a straw man that could be knocked over easily. It deliberately ignored what the letter’s signatory well knew ~ that in The Feudal Herald of September 2000 the following appeared in the Estoile’s Scrapbook section:

MacTavish of Dunardry has been recognised by the Lord Lyon as the head of the MacTavish clan and as Chief of the Name and Arms. It is thus beyond dispute in Scots law that Clan MacTavish exists. (Whether it includes all Thomsons and Thompsons, or indeed all MacTavishes, is another matter, for Thomson is itself a clan, and there are and have been MacTavishes in Clan Fraser for a very long time.)


Dunardry has been recognised by the Lord Lyon as Chief of MacTavish (even though his 18th century predecessor did not then find evidence to support such a claim, if such a claim was made at all), but the Lord Lyon has not allowed Dunardry supporters, which is within his power and for which “the Chiefs of considerable Families” qualify. If Clan Campbell were a part of Clan MacTavish, as has been put to the Editor, then MacTavish would indeed be a considerable Family. The Lord Lyon evidently thinks not.

Dunardry asks: “Why do you go out of you (sic) way to attempt to belittle my clan and my name? Why are you giving so much space to this wee Clan?” Well, during the six years of the Baronage operation there seem to have been only three mentions of the MacTavish clan. The first was in the August 2001 newsletter, in which we commented on the futility of including the dishonest nonsense of the Hall of Names in clan histories, and on the impropriety of a clan chief (in this case Dunardry himself, whom Baronage expressly recognised as a clan chief) using the prefix of Rt Hon. when he is not qualified to do so (this prefix being reserved to peers and privy councillors).

The second mention was in the September 2001 newsletter, from which, above, we have quoted two paragraphs. The third mention was in the review of the first volume of the new Burke’s Landed Gentry, in which we quoted the Laird of Dunardry as being an example of the innovative inclusion by Burke’s of “prominent Scots” whose short biographies are published even though their families do not appear in the genealogical section. With this mention we commented also on the illustration of his arms demonstrating, by the absence of supporters, that Lyon Office had not recognised Clan MacTavish as the second largest Scottish clan (as claimed by some of its members).

“This Wee Clan”

The Lord Lyon recognised Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry as Chief of the Name and Arms of MacTavish, and it is generally accepted that the Chief of Name and Arms is the Chief of the Clan. It is open, however, for clansmen to replace their chief with another, as may be done when the chief is a lunatic, for example, but this does not force the hand of the Lord Lyon. (It is feasible for there to be both a Chief of the Clan and a Chief of Name and Arms, but such an unfortunate happenstance should today be resolved without blood being spilt.)

This distinction is usually of little importance, but one aspect of it appears to be relevant to Clan MacTavish today. The Lord Lyon has recognised the Laird of Dunardry as Chief of Name and Arms of MacTavish, and Dunardry appears then to have listed all the other names he regards as members of his clan and, quite improperly, implied that Lyon’s recognition of him as Chief of Name and Arms of MacTavish automatically makes him Chief of all the other names he seeks to include.

A moment’s reflection will highlight the absurdity of this position. The Lord Lyon has stated that Dunardry is Chief of the Name and Arms of MacTavish. He has not stated that Dunardry is Chief of the Name and Arms of Thomson, nor has he stated ex officio that Clan Thomson is part of Clan MacTavish. (Nor has he stated that the Campbells are a junior branch of Clan MacTavish, as has been claimed by some correspondents.)

“This wee clan”, as Dunardry refers to it in his letter, is just that. It does not include any Thomsons or Tomsons or Thompsons (a name common in Eastern England since the 14th century) who have not specifically recognised the MacTavish chief as their own chief. And without the huge number of other Thomsons of whatever spelling, and without some of the other names Dunardry has tried to embrace, it is indeed a small clan, too inconsiderable to warrant the Lord Lyon granting supporters to its chief.

The Thomson Heraldry

What can heraldry tell us about the Thomsons? The arms of MacTavish of Dunardry include Thomson arms in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. According to the MacTavish website these are blazoned Argent, a buck’s head cabossed Gules attired Or, on a Chief engrailed Azure a cross crosslet fitchée between two mullets of the Third. Here they are on the right. Note that the principal charge is the head of a buck, not of a stag as is usual in Thomson arms. (The buck is a male fallow deer, whereas a stag is a five years or older male red deer. The heraldic difference is in the shape of the antlers.)

Arms of MacTavish of Dunardry
Here are some of the older Thomson arms on record, reading left to right ~ Thomson of that Ilk (Argent a stag’s head cabossed Gules, on a chief Azure two mullets of the field); Thomson of Gourlabank (Argent a stag’s head cabossed Gules, on a chief Azure a cross crosslet fitchée Or between two spur rowels of the field); Thomson of Duddingston (Argent a stag’s head cabossed Gules attired Azure, on a chief engrailed of the last a crescent between two mullets Argent); and Thomson of Maynes (per pale Argent and Gules a stag’s head cabossed counterchanged, on a chief Azure a cross crosslet fitchée Or between two spur rowels of the First).
Arms of Thomson of Duddingston
Arms of Thomson of Gourlabank Arms of Thomson of Maynes
Arms of Thomson of That Ilk
of Gourlabank
of Duddingston
of Maynes
of that Ilk
In general, the further away an armiger is from the Chief or Representer, the greater the differences between the Chief’s arms and the armiger’s. The four shields above exemplify this. Gourlabank varies the charges on the chief and increases their number. Duddingston changes the tincture of the stag’s antlers and engrails the chief. Maynes makes the major modification of partitioning the field and counterchanging the principal charge. Now look at the Thomson quarter that appears in Dunardry’s arms (in the frame a little higher on the right). The principal charge is no longer a stag ~ it is a buck. These are the arms of an indeterminate cadet, yet Dunardry, using this quarter in support, claims all “Thom(p)sons” as his clansmen.

As noted above, we took the blazon for Dunardry’s Thomson quarter from his MacTavish website ~ Argent, a buck’s head cabossed Gules attired Or, on a Chief engrailed Azure a cross crosslet fitchée between two mullets of the Third. Now take a look at his arms as they appear on his website. The buck has become a stag, and the cross crosslet fitchée and the mullets are silver instead of gold. Moreover, the engrailed chief is now undy (the points have disappeared and the line is tightly waved). What is he trying to tell us when he makes these unauthorised changes to the arms that, as Chief, he knows so well? (Incidentally, when a blazon and a painting differ, the blazon takes precedence, being deemed always the more correct.)

The existence of a painting of the arms of Tomsoun of yt Ilk (Thomson of that Ilk) in the 1565-66 manuscript in Lyon Office (see top of this page) demonstrates that the Name of Thomson was recognised as that of “an honourable community” more than two hundred years before arms were granted to any MacTavish. No man can be chief of two clans, so all that Dunardry can claim is that some of the Thomsons who do not belong to the “honourable community” of their Name have offered their allegiance to him. Others belong to Clan Campbell, many thousands of others are English and recognise no Scottish chief, a few have given their loyalty to other clans, and the remainder are members of Clan Thomson, not of Clan MacTavish.

An Open Letter to Dunardry from the Editor
A pop-up page of Dunardry's arms as featured on his website
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