The most extraordinary aspect of the MacMillans' history was their nomadic existence. Few Scots families could have occupied such varied and widely distanced regions of the country. Their ancestry can be traced back to the Siol O'Cain, an ancient Pict tribe of Moray.
The surname is derived from MacMhaoil-Iain, and it means 'Son of the Tonsured One'. More precisely, the suffix, Iain, indicates the Celtic tonsure of St. John, rather than the Roman version. An Gillemaol, the Tonsured Servant, was living in 1132, when his name was listed as a witness in the Book of Deer, the oldest Scots religious record. At that time, he was connected with a monastic community at Old Spynie, near Elgin.
Shortly afterwards, David I overthrew the Mormaer of Moray - the old established Pict jurisdiction - and settled the area with Norman feudal families. So the Tonsured Servant and his kin wee transplanted from Old Spynie to Loch Arkaig in Lochaber, where they became known as 'Clann Illemhaoil Abrach' (Clan MacMillan of Lochaber).
The Tonsured Servant had a son, Malcolm, who was mentioned in a document of 1150. Ten years later, the MacMillans set out on their travels again when King Malcolm IV transplanted them from Loch Arkaig to Crown Lands on Loch Tay in Perthshire.
Here they settled at Lawers, where they remained for two centuries. In 1306, Maolmuire MacMillan, great grandson of Malcom, sheltered the fugitive Bruce at Lawers. About 1360, the clan was moved once more: Maolmuire's son, Malcom Mór, was driven from Lawers by 'letters of fire and sword' on the orders of David II.
In this crisis, Clan MacMillan split up, Malcom Mor and the chiefly line moved to Knapdale, and became vassals of the Lord of the Isles. MacMillan's charter was engraved on a boulder standing at the Point of Knap which read:
right to Knap shall be
As long as this rock withstands the sea.'
The rock was destroyed by Campbell of Calder in 1615. Malcom Mór's grandson, Lachlan, was killed fighting for the Lord of the Isles at Harlow in 1411. His son, Lachlan Og, took part in the unsuccessful Douglas rebellion of 1455, but recouped his losses by marrying his son, Alexander, to a MacNeil heiress, who brought him Castle Sween.
Alexander lost castle Sween in 1481, when James IV conferred it on the Campbell Earl of Argyll, drastically reducing the MacMillan lands. Yet, Alexander left a striking memorial to his departed glory in MacMillan's Cross, a magnificent monument over 12 feet high, which stands beside the ruined chapel at Kilmory-Knap, bearing the inscription 'Haec est crux Alexandri Mac Mulen' (This is the cross of Alexander MacMillan).
His descendants retained only a small part of land at Tiretigan. Even so, they were still harassed by the Campbells who had supplanted them. Not surprisingly, Alexander's great-great-grandson, Malcolm MacMillan, supported the Macdonalds of Kintyre in their struggle against Campbell domination, with fatal consequences.
In September of 1615, Argyll ordered Sir John Campbell of Calder to annihilate the chiefly family. Only one of Malcom's sons, Murachie, escaped the slaughter, and passed on Tiretigan to his own son, known as MacMurachie. After killing a man who had tried to seduce his wife, MacMurachie fled overseas in 1655, and his hereditary enemies became the benefactors.
Campbell of Lagg obtained a charter of his lands. At home, the Chieftship went to his cousin, Archibald MacMillan of Dunsmore, who died in 1676. His son was coerced into joining Argyll's rebellion against James VII in 1685, and died in prison.
In 1951, the Lord Lyon recognized General Sir Gordon MacMillan of Macmillan, as the clan Chief. Hugh MacMillan was one of the 'seven' Men of Glen Moriston who guarded Prince Charlie. The Chiefs of the Lochaber line emigrated to Canada in the early 19th century.
There were many
outstanding MacMillans in history: Harold MacMillan was Prime minister of
the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963. A Dumfries-shire blacksmith named
Kirkpatrick MacMillan invented the bicycle.
Author's note: It astounds me that some Scottish historians would ever think of pretending this great family was actually of Dalriadic Scot descent. The horrific story of their many forced transplantations (through no fault of their own) is reminiscent of the similar fates meted out to many 'aboriginal' peoples in America, proving once and for all this clan's 'aboriginal' Pict roots. Hal MacGregor