Stewart of Appin Clan History

The Appin Stewarts also known as “The Loyal Clan” are the West Highland branch of Clan Stewart. Rather than just a branch the Stewarts of Appin are considered a Clan in their own right since the 15th Century. The Chiefs of Stewart of Appin are descended from Sir James Stewart of Perston, who was the grandson of Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward of Scotland. The surname ‘Stewart’ came from ‘Steward’. Sir James Stewart of Perston; Walter Stewart was the 6th High Steward of Scotland married Marjorie Bruce, the daughter of King Robert the Bruce, and their son Robert 2nd was the first Stewart Monarch. So the Stewarts of Appin are cousins to the Royal Stewart Monarchy.

The name Appin arose at this time from the Gaelic Apuin – Abbey Lands – of the Lismore Abbey founded by St Moluag. Appin is located on the Scottish West Coast between Benderloch to the South and the Ballachulish Narrows to the North in modern day Argyll.

Legends tells us that in 1445 the chief Sir John Stewart (born around 1410) was returning to his seat (home of the chief) at Dunstaffnage Castle when he met and fell in love with the daughter of MacLaren of Ardvech. Unfortunately Sir John was already married but this did’t stop him pursuing an affair with his new love. A son was born who they called Dugald. This boy became the progenitor of the famous Clan Stewart of Appin.


Dunstaffnage Castle

Sir Johns wife died and as was custom then he waited 5 years before Marrying Dugald’s mother and his real love. Sir John set a wedding date and sent for Dugald and his mother to come to Dunstaffnage. Unknown to Sir John, there was a plot to kill the Lord of Lorn. It is not fully known, but it is thought to have been set up by the Lord of the Isles who was in a power struggle with the King of Scots, and who saw it as being in his best interest to neutralize this powerful and loyal representative of the King in the west highlands. The other plotters, which some feel included Colin Campbell, Lord Argyll, Sir John’s son-in-law, were primarily represented by Alan MacCoul, the illegitimate grandson of an earlier MacDougall Chief. As the lightly armed wedding party made its way from Dunstaffnage to the small chapel located approximately 180 yards from the castle walls, they were attacked by a superior force led by Alan MacCoul. Although better armed, MacCoul’s force was defeated, but not before mortally wounding Lord of Lorn. Sir John was rushed into the chapel and MacCoul and his henchmen ran into and occupied the deserted Dunstaffnage. With his last breath Sir John married Dugald’s mother, legitimizing him and making him the de jure Lord of Lorn. After receiving the last rites, Sir John expired and a new chapter in west highland history was opened. Dugald gathered all the adherents of the Lord of Lorn and with the assistance of the MacLarens laid siege to Dunstaffnage, but to no avail. Unbeknownst to Dugald, Colin Campbell, Lord Argyll who seemed to have been involved in the plot, raised a group of MacFarlanes to aid MacCoul in his struggle against the de jure Lord of Lorn. MacCoul’s men with the MacFarlanes met the men of Lorn and MacLaren in what was to be known as the battle of Leac a dotha. It was a fierce battle with both sides leaving the field with very heavy losses.

For the next few years Dugald, who had lost the title of Lord of Lorn through the treachery of his uncle Walter Stewart and the lord of Argyll, but had retained Appin and Lismore, consolidated his power and fortified the hunting lodge of Castle Stalker on the Cormorant’s Rock in Loch Laich. He also ensured that the Campbells were in no doubt about his displeasure over the loss of the Lordship of Lorn, by having the Campbell territory surrounding Appin regularly raided by the clan. Finally, in 1468, in a bid to finally destroy the power of Appin, Colin Campbell and Walter Stewart, the latter now recognized as the Lord of Lorn (but with no authority in Lorn), organized a massive raid against Dugald and his clan. Alan MacCoul was again involved and they met at what was to be known as the Battle of Stalc. Though losing many men, Dugald virtually destroyed the military strength of the MacFarlanes (a destruction from which they were never to recover) and personally killed Alan MacCoul, his father’s murderer. The battle solidified Dugald’s claim to Appin and the surrounding area, which was formally granted to him by King James III on the 14th of April 1470.

In 1497 some of the Clan MacLaren stole cattle from the Braes of Lochaber from the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch. The MacDonalds followed them and overtook them at a place called Glenurchy where a battle took place. The MacDonalds won and recovered their cattle. However the MacLarens then looked for assistance from Dugald Stuart of Appin. Another battle then took place where the MacLarens were now joined by the Stuarts against the MacDonalds. During the battle Dugald, the chief of the Clan Stewart of Appin and the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch chief were both killed.

In the Civil war Clan Stewart supported the royalist, James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose at the Battle of Inverlochy (1645), the Battle of Auldearn and the Battle of Kilsyth. fter James VII was deposed in 1688, the Stewarts of Appin supported the deposed House of Stuart.

The Appins supported the Jacobite Risings and sent men to fight in both the Jacobite rising of 1715 and Jacobite rising of 1745. At the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Appin Regiment suffered 92 killed and 65 wounded out of a fighting force of approximately 300. Charles Stewart of Ardsheal led the men of the regiment (which included men of ~19 other clans) most notably Clan MacLaren during the rising of 1745. Ardsheal later escaped Scotland to meet his family in Europe where he spent the rest of his days.

Memorial Stone at Culloden

Ardsheal’s Cave

After the battle of Culloden the clan dispersed, and though Lochiel and Ardsheal endeavoured to rally the Western clans, and hold possession of Lochaber, they never drew to a head again. Amongst those attainted of high treason on the 8th June 1746, were ” Stewart of Ardsheal, and the other officers of the Stewarts.” Haldane of Lanrick and his sons, who served in the campaign as major and captain of a body of Perthshire horse, were also attainted, and when the Act of Indemnity was passed in 1747, both Ardsheal and his friends the Haldanes were excepted from its benefit. Before escaping to France, Ardsheal wished to see his family, and succeeded in reaching Appin, where he lay concealed in a cave, still called Ardsheal’s cave, on the hill of Ardsheal, being generally supplied with food by a little maiden, the daughter of one of his tenants, who daily drove out a few lambs to the hill, and watched her opportunity of communicating with her hidden chief. The district was occupied by English soldiers, and the peasantry were acquainted with Ardsheal’s hiding-place, but, regardless of the rewards offered for his capture, they were faithful to the trust reposed in them. After a few weeks’ concealment in the cave, Ardsheal found an opportunity of escaping to France.

Appin Murder

In the aftermath of Culloden a murder was to outrage the British establishment and was also to inspire Robert Louis Stevenson to write Kidnapped. The government agent Colin Campbell of Glenure was assassinated in a ruthless ambush where he was shot in the back by an unknown hand in the Wood of Lettermore near Ballachulish by the side of Loch Linnhe in Argyll. This sparked one of the biggest murder hunts in Scottish history.

The following day evictions for non-payment of rent among some Stewart tenants were to take place. Appin seethed with resentment and anger. Glenure was the most reviled man in the area.

The trial was a farce, eleven of the fifteen jurors were Campbells. Historians believe this was one of the blackest marks on Scottish legal history. After the chief suspect, Alan Breck Stewart, made his escape, James Stewart, the half-brother of the chief, an innocent man was found guilty and hung without one piece of evidence.

Cairn marking the Appin Murder

The Daoine Uaisle

Clan leadership for The Stewarts of Appin was different from other Clans. The leadership of the Clan was held by the Chief and his many cousins, who were tacksmen who held minor estates in Appin as cadets of the chief. This was known as The daoine uaisle (Gaelic: noble people).

These men controlled areas, or “tacks”, within the greater clan lands.Rents were collected in various forms and rents from the daoine uaisle were in turn paid to the Chief within some clans, and not in others.

Many of the clansmen were descended from families which had lived in Appin long before the Stewarts arrived, including McColls, Clan MacLea, McQuorquodales and Carmichaels.

The primary “Cadets” of Appin are Ardsheal, Achnacone, Fasnacloich, Invernahyle, and Strathgarry. The major branches of Appin stem from the sons of Alan Stewart, 3rd of Appin. Originally they comprised John, 1st of Strathgarry, Dugald, 1st of Achnacone, James, 1st of Fasnacloich and Alexander, 1st of Invernahyle. Ardshiel, the branch our Chief hails from, was given to John, 1st of Ardshiel by his father, John Stewart, 5th of Appin. Andrew Francis Stewart of Lorn, Appin and Ardsheal, 17th of Appin & 12th of Ardsheal, the current Chief of Appin is descended from Charles Stewart, 7th of Ardsheal who ascended as Chief upon the death of Dugald Stewart, our 10th Chief, who died without sons in 1769. Today Andrew Francis Stewart holds the title of both “Appin” (denoting the Chief) and Ardsheal.