Our Septs and Associated Families

Cheyne Clyne Duffus Federith Gray
Keith Mowat Murray Oliphant Others

The word sept originally meant a division of a tribe, and came to mean a family associated with the clan.

The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands by Frank Adam, a work recognized by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, as the most authoritative on the Scottish Clans, it is noted that the origins of the clan sept names can be traced to a variety of causes

  • The names of those related to the Chief by marriage.
  • Those who had become bound to the Clan by “Bonds of Manrent”.
  • Those of the blood of the Clan, who adopted a by-name to distinguish themselves from their namesakes.

There has been some uncertainty over the years as to the status of some of the families associated with Clan Sutherland. On the Lord Lyon’s Web site (http://www.lyon-court.com/lordlyon/240.html), it is written that, “There is no official list of recognised septs. This is a matter for each chief to determine.”

It is viewed by the Countess that the names Oliphant and Keith are no longer considered septs of Clan Sutherland due to the fact that they have their own clan and Clan Chief. Cheyne and Gray are also no longer considered septs. That, however, does not prevent people with those names choosing to belong to Clan Sutherland because they consider themselves to have a strong connection with either the people or lands of the name Sutherland.


The Cheynes were originally of Norman origin from Quesney in the Canton of Mont in Normandy. The du Chesneyes, settled in Scotland under King Malcolm Ceann Mor. There are many spelling variations of the name including, but not limited to, Cheyne, Cheney, Chainey, Cheeney and Chainie. Their seat was the castle of Inverugie, parish of St. Fergus, Aberdeenshire.

The Cheynes came to own about half of Caithness by marriage with an heiress of the old Norse line of Jarls. In 1296, Sir Reginald Cheyne signed the infamous “Ragman’s Role” swearing fealty to Edward I of England. His sons were Sir Reginald Cheyne was Lord Chamberlain in Scotland in 1267 and his brother Henry was the Bishop of Aberdeen (1282 – 1328). The second Sir Reginald was one of the signers of the Declaration of Arbroathin 1320, the letter to the pope declaring Scotland’s independence. He died about 1345 and had only two daughters, Marjory and Mariota. Mariota first married John Douglas and second John Keith. Marjory married Nicholas Sutherland of Duffus, son of Kenneth the 4th Earl of Sutherland. This couple was the progenitors of the Lairds of Duffus.

Inverugie Castle
Inverugie Castle near Peterhead, originally a Cheyne seat and later a Keith holding.


Inverugie Castle
Inverugie Castle




Pictures courtesy of Dave Caw at Caledonian Castles

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The word “clyne” is derived from Gaelic “claon” meaning slope or hillside. As a surname it is not officially recognized as a sept, but it comes from the place named Clyne in Sutherlandshire. Spelling variations include Clyne, Clynde and Cline.

Sir William Clyne is the first recorded chief of the family line in the year 1315. Sir William held the lands of Cathboll in Tarbat of the Bishop of Moray. In 1456, William of Clyne oversaw the transition of the Earldom of Sutherland to John, the son and heir of Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland. In 1512, William of Clyne of that ilk witnessed a “seisen” of the Sutherland Earldom in favor of John, the son and heir of the John, the 8th Earl of Sutherland. In 1518, Earl Adam Gordon, husband of Countess Elizabeth of Sutherland gave Janet Clyne and her sister Elizabeth, heiresses of William Clyne of Clyne to John Morray of Aberscors for ward and marriage to his sons. Morray returned one of them who then married into the family of the Sutherlands of Berriedale. A line of the Cline family emerged in Caithness prior to 1561, where they were seated at Greenland. Another related branch, also of Caithness, the Clynes of Caithness were notable for their presence at Culloden in 1745.


The name of Duffus comes from the lands of Duffus in Morayshire and is probably from the Gaelic words, dubh and uisg, meaning “darkwater” or “blackwater”. Once the region was below sea level and Loch of Spynie and stagnant pools were a conspicuous feature of the area. What is now Duffus Parish includes the ancient Barony of Duffus and is 9,565 acres. Records of people named Duffus date back to the 13th century. A later instance is recorded in The Kirk Session Records of Cullen from 1641, “James Duffus and George Duffus and Charles Stevinson convict in Break of ye Sabbath for playing at ye golff, efternoone, in time of Sermon, and yrfor ar ordayned evrie ane of them to pay havff a merk, and mak yr repentance ye next Sabbath”.

The family of Sutherlands, Lairds of Duffus descends from Freskin’s grandson, Hugh, Lord of Duffus, Hugh’s son, William, Lord Duffus and Sutherland, the 1st Earl of Sutherland, and then through Kenneth, 4th Earl. They lived at Duffus by Elgin in Moray and Skelbo by Dornoch in Sutherland, two castles of great antiquity now both ruins.

Duffus Castle
Duffus Castle of the Sutherlands of Duffus, near Elgin Picture courtesy of David Duffus

In 1360, Nicholas, the son of Kenneth, 4th Earl received Torboll in Sutherland from his brother William, 5th Earl for the service of one knight. His wife, Mary, daughter and heiress of Reginald le Cheyne and of Mary, Lady of Duffus, brought with her part of Duffus in Moray and lands in Caithness. In 1408 he is named as Lord of the Castle of Duffus.

Nicholas’s great-great-granddaughter Christina succeeded to Duffus and lands in Caithness. She married William Oliphant about 1489 and later Sir Thomas Lundin of Pratis. A dispute between Christina and her uncle William Sutherland was settled by an appeal to the Pope, about 1507. William Sutherland prevailed by impeaching the legitimacy of Christina his niece. He died in or before 1514.

This William Sutherland of Duffus’s grandson, also named William, succeeded in 1527-29 to Quarrelwood in Elgin and Nairn the lands of Brichtmony, Kinstearie and Auldearn. In 1529 he bought certain lands including Skelbo in the overlordship of the Earl of Sutherland paying 2300 merks Scots and giving a bond of manrent (the men whom a lord could call upon in war) as tenant and vassal to the Earl. In 1530 King James V gave him certain rights in Strathnaver previously held by Hugh Mackay of Farr. William Sutherland was killed by Clan Gunn at Thurso in 1530 by instigation of the Bishop of Caithness. His son, another William Sutherland of Duffus, challenged the Bishop to answer for his father’s death. When the challenge was ignored, the young laird seized the Bishop’s servants, whereupon he and his uncle, the Dean of Caithness, were incarcerated and by the Privy Council compelled to make peace with the Bishop. In 1542 he settled a violent dispute with Donald Mackay of Farr over lands granted to his father in 1530. William died in 1543.

Alexander Sutherland of Duffus succeeded his father before 1544 as a minor. He was infeft with dispensation from the Earl of Sutherland as overlord in the lands and castle of Skelbo, in Invershin and other lands. 1562 the Earl of Sutherland made Skelbo. Invershin, Pronsy, Torboll and all other lands in Sutherland to be held by Alexander Sutherland of Duffus for ‘ward and relief’ and other services into the Barony of Skelbo. Alexander’s grandson John was ancestor to the Sutherlands of Clyne.

Another Alexander Sutherland, great grandson of the one mentioned above, succeeded his father William when he was five years old. In 1627 he was named heir to Duffus. In 1641 Alexander accompanied the Earl of Sutherland on his visit to England attending Parliament at Edinburgh and the arrival of King Charles I that year. He was knighted before 1643 and served as a Commissioner for Sutherland in 1646. He traveled in France and Holland returning from the continent with King Charles II to Scotland in 1650. This first Lord Duffus died in 1674.

Kenneth, third Lord Duffus
Kenneth, third Lord Duffus

Kenneth, third Lord Duffus, succeeded his father in 1705 and was a captain in the Queen Anne’s Navy. Although he voted for the Union of the English and Scottish Parliaments (1707), he joined the Jacobites in 1715. After the Jacobite defeat, the estate of Duffus was forfeited and Lord Duffus escaped to Sweden. He planned return to Britain but was seized in Hamburg, imprisoned in the Tower of London and freed in 1717. Later he entered the Russian Navy and married the daughter of a Swedish noble. He died in or before 1734. That year his son Eric petitioned for a restoration of the title. Eric supported King George in the Jacobite rising of 1745-46, and the title was finally restored to Eric’s son James by Act of Parliament in 1826. James’s death in 1827 marked the end of the Sutherlands of Duffus.


The name Federith comes from an old barony of the same name in New Deer, Aberdeenshire. Spelling variations include Federeth, Federat and Fererate. The family intermarried early with the Cheynes and Sutherlands of Duffus. William de Fedreth married Christian, a cousin to the 3rd and 4th Earls of Sutherland and who had inherited lands from her mother. Christian’s sister Mary married Sir Reginald de Chene of Inverugie. In 1286, Sir Reginald de Chene granted land in Strathnaver to William de Fedreth of Duffus. The daughters of Ronald Chene inherited lands that they carried to the Sutherlands and to the Keiths, from whom they passed to the Oliphants and ultimately became the property of the Sinclair Earls of Caithness.

In 1290, Magnus de Federith was among those who recommended the marriage of the Maid of Norway to Edward, son of England’s King Edward I and grandson of Scotland’s King Alexander III. In about 1317, William Fedrey granted lands in Caithness to Ranald Chene and David II confirmed this. The line ended with an heiress, Helen Fedderesse in the time of David II.

The ruins of Fedderate Castle
The ruins of Fedderate Castle of the Federiths near New Deer, Aberdeenshire







The Grays were among those who came with William the Conqueror and different branches of the family gained prominence through judicious marriages and service to the crown. It is a common name all over Scotland and can also be spelled Grey.

In 1445, Sir Andrew Gray of Fowlis was created Lord of Parlaiment. It is said that in 1465 his son Andrew killed the Constable of Dundee over an insult to his father and was forced to flee to the north. There he married into a high ranking branch of the MacKays. Andrew’s son Alexander gained prominence within the church in the area and was instrumental in the grant of several church properties in Sutherland to his brother John. John himself was Chamberlain to the Bishop of Caithness.

In 1565, John Gray received tracts of land and was made Hereditary Constable of Skibo Castle. The Grays gained the favor of and intermarried with family branches of the Gordon Earls of Sutherland.

Skibo Castle
Skibo Castle of the Grays of Sutherland near Dornoch





Picture courtesy of the The Carnegie Club


The Grays were among those who came with William the Conqueror and different branches of the family gained prominence through judicious marriages and service to the crown. It is a common name all over Scotland and can also be spelled Grey.

Although a clan unto themselves, in the 14th century the Keiths had a branch that became a sept of Sutherland when John de Keith, second son of Edward, Earl Marischal of Scotland, married Mariota Cheyne of Akergill, daughter and heiress of Reginald Cheyne and Lady Joanna of Strathnaver. Sir Reginald divided his lands between his two daughters, Mariota and her husband gaining Strathbrock and half of Caithness.

The son of John Keith and Mariota, Andrew of Inverugie and Strabrock had a daughter who married Kenneth Sutherland, the third son of William the 5th Earl of Sutherland and the brother of Robert the 6th Earl of Sutherland. This Kenneth was the ancestor of the Sutherlands of Forse and he obtained a charter of the Forse lands in 1408 from Mariota. Andrew Keith, the son of John and Mariota, later confirmed this charter.

John and Mariota’s line died out when their great-great-grandson Alexander died with two daughters as heiresses. Margaret married William Keith, 4th Earl of Marischal and Janet married Andrew, 2nd Lord Gray. Inverugie Castle (a Cheyne seat until Mariota’s inheritance) was rebuilt by William and Margaret’s grandson George who succeeded his grandfather as the 5th Earl of Marischal. These estates remained in the family until 1766 when they were sold. Other lands in Caithness passed into the hands of the Earl of Caithness in the early 17th century.

Dunnottar Castle and Crag
Dunnottar Castle and Crag Picture courtesy of Jane Sutherland

In 1358 the Keiths received the land from the Earl of Sutherland in a land exchange.






The Mowat name is of Norman origin. Hugh Fitznorman or his brother Ralph built a fortification at Bistre called Le Mont Haut or ‘the high ground’. This was latinised to de Monte Alto, which in turn was corrupted into Mowat. Spelling variations include Mouat and Mowatt. Members of the family first migrated to Scotland through David, Earl of Huntingdon, who was a grandson of David I of Scotland and who died in 1219.

From 1212 to the 1250s, a Robert de Mowat and his brother Michael became increasingly prominent holding a number of important offices. In 1257, Sir William Mowat was a signatory to an agreement whereby the William, the 2nd Earl of Sutherland granted the castle at Skibo to the Bishop of Caithness.

Robert the Bruce (1306-1329) gave the family lands in Losscragy and Culpedauchis. It was the Mowats of Losscraggy who became established in Caithness. They were involved with several recorded land transactions during the 15th century. Branches of the Mowat family held lands in Caithness in the 16th and 17th centuries, and another branch held lands in Clyne. The Mowats were supporters of the Sutherlands and appear in many records of the Sutherland family.


Like the Sutherlands, the Murrays or Morays descend from Freskin de Moravia (fl. 1160) and his son William (fl. 1195), but then from William’s son William instead of William’s son Hugh as the Sutherlands did. As his surname, Hugh’s brother, William, took the territorial name of Murray and he is the ancestor of the many powerful families who bear this name including the Dukes of Atholl.

At least one branch of the Murrays may have been a sept of Sutherland by 1618 as a letter from 14th Earl of Sutherland to Murray of Dulrossie in that year instructed Murray “to furl his pennon when the Earl of Sutherland’s banner was displayed and to remove the red and white lines from the plaids of the men, so as to bring their dress into harmony with that of the other septs.”


The Oliphants were originally a Norman family who held lands in England around Northampton. Spelling variations include Olifant, Olifard, Olifat Olifarth and Olyfant. In some instances it was softened to Oliver, possibly due to crusader stories of elephants.

It is said that David de Olifard rescued David, Earl of Huntingdon, later David I of Scotland at the siege of Worcester Castle in 1141. He followed northward when the Earl of Huntingdon traveled to Scotland to claim the kingdom. De Olifard was later granted lands in Roxburghshire and made Justiciar of Lothian. The Oliphants of the north are descended from William, second son of the second Lord Oliphant. This William married the only daughter (and heiress) of Alexander Sutherland of Duffus, Strathbrock, and Berriedale. He took the designation of “Oliphant of Berriedale”. His wife also had inherited one quarter of Caithness. Their son, Andrew, having no sons to succeed him, resigned his Caithness estates to Lord Oliphant on condition of him finding suitable matches for his three daughters. Most of the northern Oliphant lands passed to the Sinclair Earls of Caithness. The principle seat of the family remains Ardblair Castle, Blairgowrie in Perthshire, the home of a direct descendant of the first Lord Oliphant.

Other Family Names

There are additional families that are not actually septs, but come from Sutherlandshire or have been associated with Clan Sutherland. For example, Norman and O’May are associated with the Clan and recognized as such by the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

The question has been raised about the surname Broom. It is listed as a “connected family name” in R.R. McIan’s 1845 book The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, although the evidence to support this has not been found.