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The Watsons and the Buchanans

It is fairly general knowledge that the Watsons are listed as a sept of the Buchanans, as can be confirmed by a visit to the official site for the Clan Buchanan [Ref. 1]. Before we discuss this link, it is worth briefly talking about septs.

Septs were families that followed another family’s chief or were part of the extended family but held a different surname. The first definition leads to an assumption that an agreement has been forged between two clan chiefs, with a smaller clan pledging fealty to a larger one. Although this may be the case for the Watsons and the Buchanans, we have not as yet been able to find any conclusive proof that the chiefs of the two clans signed any such agreement.

As far as we can ascertain, the Watsons and the Buchanans are linked primarily around the Buchanans' traditional lands in the west of Scotland, which are around the south east of Loch Lomond and in Dumbartonshire, although we do also know that the Buchanan chiefs owned land in Midlothian by the 17th Century so may well have come into contact with the Watsons of Saughton. In the east of Scotland, from Fife up to Aberdeenshire, the Watsons are more closely associated with the Forbeses.

The most plausible reason for the association of the Watson and Buchanan names is outlined in The History of the Ancient Surname of Buchanan and of Ancient Scottish Surnames; More Particularly the Clans [Ref. 2],which was written by William Buchanan of Auchmar and published in 1793. In it, he describes how the Buchanan family of Lenny is the oldest cadet branch of the Buchanan family. The first mention of a Buchanan laird of Lenny is in a charter dated 1247, which refers to an Allan Buchanan de Lenny. One of his descendants, John Buchanan, the second laird of Lenny called John, is stated as being laird during the reign of King Robert III, who reigned between 1390 and 1406. One of John’s sons was called Walter, although he was referred to as “Wattie in Calintuy, being the name of the place of his residence”. Wattie’s son John lived in the parish of Luss and “according to the ordinary custom of those, and even of the present times among highlanders, had his surname changed into a patronimical one, derived from his father’s proper name, being thence termed John MacWattie”. John had nine sons and the MacWatties became “in a small process of time pretty numerous”. Many of these MacWatties and their descendants retained the name, although some branches did later reassume the Buchanan name. As discussed on Page 4, the name “Watson” is the anglicised version of “MacWattie”; although we have not yet followed these MacWatties forward to see if they anglicised their names in any significant numbers, it is likely that at some point the Clan Buchanan Society included all variants of "MacWattie" in their sept list.

Another potential association between the Watsons and Buchanans is found in 17th century Dumbarton [Ref. 3], where we find mention of a David Watson and a George Buchanan in a list of prominent local dignitaries, which includes the Laird of Luss, Adam Calquhoun of Glinns, Walter MacAulay of Ardincaple and the Provost of Dumbarton. Our current investigations are centred around David Watson and George Buchanan. Specific questions include:​

  • Is this George Buchanan the George Buchanan who was 21st Laird of Buchanan and who died in 1651? If not, was he a relative?

  • Is this David Watson related to Walter Watson who was a burgess and Provost in 1661 or to Robert Watson who was a burgess at the same time?

  • What was David's position in society?

Regardless of the answers, it does appear that at least one Watson was rubbing shoulders with at least one Buchanan in higher social circles and that the Watsons were, as we so often see, burgesses and civic officials in Dumbarton. We have also seen a vague reference to the Watsons of Dumbarton being clan chiefs, although we have not found any evidence to substantiate this.

Our research into these and other links between the Watson and Buchanan names is continuing, especially as we investigate Watson clusters closer to traditional Buchanan homelands; however, the absence of a signed contract between the Watson and Buchanan chiefs should not stop any present-day Watson from forming their own association with the Buchanan clan, whether it be by following them on Facebook or by actively signing up as a member. I have spoken to the Clan Chief of the Buchanans and the President of the Clan Buchanan Society International (CBSI), and both are very keen to welcome Watsons from around the world into the Buchanan fold, so feel free to join up! I will also be working with CBSI to help to develop their links to their various septs, as part of which I write a regular column on the Buchanan septs for the CBSI quarterly newsletter.


  1. Names of the Clan Buchanan on the official Clan Buchanan website.

  2. Buchanan, William of Auchmar (1793) The History of the Ancient Surname of Buchanan and of Ancient Scottish Surnames, Glasgow: A. Buchanan, pages 72 to 82 (available on Google Books).

  3. Irving, Joseph (1879), The Book of Dumbartonshire, Edinburgh and London: W. and A. K. Johnston (available on

Coat of Arms of the Buchanans of Lenny

Coat of Arms of the Buchanans of Lenny

Ref 3
Ref 2
Ref 1
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