The Clan Watson Society

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The Chief of Clan Watson

We could make this one of the shortest web pages in history, as there is no chief. That would, however, be something of a cop out, as there was at least one chief in the past and we are investing considerable effort in trying to not just understand this particular chief and his family but to determine whether there were other chiefs beforehand.

Charles Watson of Saughton and FamilyThe records of The Court of The Lord Lyon contain a coat of arms from 1818 for a James Watson of Saughton1. The record states that James was "chief of the name in Scotland" and was "descended in the direct male line from Richard Watson of Saughton, proprietor of those lands AD 1537". To this day, the Lord Lyon recognises the Watsons as an armigerous clan, i.e. a clan that formally had a chief but currently does not have a chief in place. The record also contains useful information about James's more recent ancestors, stating that he was the eldest son and heir to Charles Watson of Saughton and Lady Margaret Carnegie (who was the daughter of George, Earl of Northesk) and that Charles was the only surviving son and heir of James Watson of Saughton and Lady Helen Hope (who was the daughter of Charles, Earl of Hopetoun).

The record gives us a few useful insights. First off, it tells us that Charles, the father of the last chief, had no surviving siblings who could have been heirs to the chiefship or who could have sired lines of potential heirs. It is also evident that both Charles and his father James must have been considered as nobility, as they both married the daughters of earls. Finally, we see that this particular family of Watsons had been the owners of these lands in Saughton for the previous three centuries. We do have a reference in contemporary literature2 to Charles Watson also being "chief of the name in Scotland" but no accompanying record officially recognising this has yet been discovered; we have been in correspondence with the office of the Lord Lyon but so far nothing has turned up. We are aware that other clan chiefs did not officially register their arms with the Lord Lyon, so it may be that either Charles falls under this category, his record is on file but yet to be digitised, or he was not actually chief. It's a little frustrating, as if James was the first recognised chief it would suggest that he registered as such during the highland mania that accompanied the build-up to the royal pageant in 1822; however, if we can demonstrate that his ancestors were also recognised a chiefs, this may well pre-date the romantacism of all things highland that was especially prevalent amongst Edinburgh high society around the turn of the 19th century.

One of the members of our Facebook group threw up an interesting lead recently in the form of a shield containing a Watson clan crest in a different form and with a different motto to that of the Watsons of Saughton. Intriguingly, the back of the shield contained text suggesting that it was the crest of the Watson chief. Our working assumption is that the reference to the chief is from a standard script for tourist souvenirs so we don't consider it to be a reliable source, but we did start to investigate nonetheless. With a little digging, it was determined that the crest was that of the Watsons of Craslatt, most probably derived from the arms of David Watsone of Craslatt, a Provost of Dunbartonshire whose arms were matriculated in 1673. Although it is prudent to be very wary of any claims regarding clans that are made in connection with such items, we are now researching Watsons in Dunbartonshire and have discovered another cluster of prominent Watsons, again operating at the higher levels of society and, interestingly, mixing with prominent Buchanans3. We have not found any other reference to Watsons of Craslatt or Dunbartonshire being recognised as chiefs, but we will keep an open mind as we continue to investigate; if they were chiefs prior to the Watsons of Saughton it would certainly rewrite our understanding of the chiefly line!

Sholto John Douglas, 18th Earl of MortonOne point that we should discuss while we are talking about the historical chiefs is the significance of the term "chief of the name in Scotland". Many of the highland clan names are traceable back to one person or a single place, and for these names it is reasonable that the head of the family could be considered to be chief of the name in Scotland, certainly in cases where the majority of the people of that name were still in his area of influence. It's fair to say that the waters are considerably muddier in the case of the Watsons, as we will now discuss. Although we are still researching the origins and early spread of the Watson name and that of its variants, it is likely that a name meaning "son of Walter" would have arisen independently on numerous occasions as it is a naming convention rather than specific to one person or place in history. As such, although we may one day be able to demonstrate connections between some or all of the clusters of prominent Watsons, and they may even have been operating under the direction of the Watsons of Saughton, it is unlikely that every Watson in Scotland would have been under their influence and very likely that there would have been Watsons who had never even heard of them!

Looking back into past chiefs is one area in which we as a society are actively involved; another obvious area of research is that of establishing whether there are any living heirs of the last chief. In the 1980s, the then Clan Watson Society of Canada (which appears to have since ceased to exist, unfortunately), a group of Watson descendents based in Nova Scotia, were actively looking to establish whether the last James Watson of Saughton had any living heirs that may be both eligible and interested in assuming the title of Clan Chief. They established that James Watson had two sons, but both were killed in the Boer War, and that his only surviving daughter, Helen, married the 18th Earl of Morton (right), carrying the Watson chief's title to the Clan Douglas. The Society contacted the present day Earl of Morton to see whether any of his family would be interested in taking on the title of Chief of Clan Watson, but his first son may be taking on the title of Chief of Clan Douglas (understandable, as the Mortons are Douglases, Clan Douglas is currently chiefless and the 4th Earl of Morton held the chieftaincy during the 16th century) and there is still no word as to whether his second son or daughter may be interested in the Watson title.

We have for some time now been conducting our own research into the Watsons of Saughton and continue to do so. The family of the Earl of Morton appear on the thePeerage.com website, which contains a lot of information on Helen's descendents, although it contains no details of any of James Watson's other relatives and the geographical information that allows you to locate and hence validate the records is sadly lacking. We have, however, been trying to fill in the blanks using resources such as ScotlandsPeople and the British newspaper archive on FindMyPast.

Head across to the Clan Chief's Family Tree to browse through our progress to date in uncovering the lineage.

References & Notes

1. Coats of Arms Volume 2 Page No 178Z (1818) James Watson of Saughton, Court of the Lord Lyon (from ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk).
2. Wood, John Philip (1794) Antient and Modern State of the Parish of Cramond: Biographical and Geneological Collections, Respecting Some of the Most Considerable Families and Individuals Connected with that District, Edinburgh: John Paterson (available on Archive.org).
3. Irving, Joseph (1879), The Book of Dumbartonshire, Edinburgh and London: W. and A. K. Johnston (available on Archive.org)

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