Derived from the Gaelic MacGilleEathain meaning “servant of Saint John” or the “son of the servant of Saint John”, the MacLean clan was founded by the warlord, Gillean of the Battle Axe, who lived during the 13th century.
Gillean fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263, where the Scots Army defeated the forces of the Norweigan King Haakon, a victory which paved the way for Scotland to regain control of the Western Isles through the Treaty of Perth three years later. Gillean’s son, Gillemoir Macilyn would then sign the infamous Ragman Roll in 1296, swearing fealty to the English King, Edward I, as he invaded Scotland in a move that would signal the beginning of the Scottish Wars of Independence.
Later, Ian Dhu MacLean, the great-grandson of Gillemoir Macilyn, would settle on the Isle of Mull and his sons Lachlan Lubanach and Eachainn Reaganach would found the MacLeans of Duart and the MacLaines of Lochbuie respectively. It would be the MacLeans of Duart’s marriage into the family of John of Islay, the first Lord of the Isles, which would elevate the clan to a position of strength in the following years and by the year 1500, the clan would own most of the islands of Mull, Tiree, Islay, Jura and Knapdale.
The MacLeans would stay in a powerful position within the islands until the late 16th century when the Campbells rose to prominence in the region, leading to a number of inter-marriages between the families to avoid tensions rising. This plan would work well until a particularly bad marriage between the chief of the clan, Lachlan MacLean, and Lady Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of the second Earl of Argyll, ended with Lachlan marooning her on a rock and leaving her to drown, only for her to be rescued by passing fishermen. Elizabeth’s brother, Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, would then arrange for the death of Lachlan in Edinburgh as revenge for the attempted murder.
The clans would reconcile over their hatred for the MacDonalds but this harmony would not last and after the unfortunate deaths of several clan chiefs, the MacLeans were so badly in debt that the Campbells had gained possession of their historic clan seat, Duart Castle, by 1679 and the rest of their lands by 1689.
The MacLeans would then back the Stewart cause during the Jacobite revolution of 1715 and Sir Hector MacLean would be given a Jacobite peerage in 1716 after he was exiled to France. He would return to Edinburgh in 1745 to pave the way for the rising of that year but was eventually captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, before dying in Rome in 1750.
Duart Castle would fall into ruins after the rising of 1745 and it would not be until 1911 that the chiefs would reclaim and restore their seat when it was purchased by Sir Fitzroy Maclean.
The castle is still owned by the family today and is currently in the middle of another restoration which has already cost £1.5 million. The current clan chief residing in the castle is the Hon. Sir Lachlan Hector Charles Maclean of Duart and Morven.