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The Chief of The Watsons

We Watsons are what is known as an armigerous family or clan; that is to say, we once had a chief of our name but that is no longer that case. But what is a chief?

Put simply, there are two "statuses" of chiefs in Scotland. The first is where a family or a clan recognise an individual as being the head of that kin group. The second is where the Lord Lyon recognises an individual as being "Chief of the Name in Scotland". This second status means that the Lord Lyon has recognised that an individual has enough influence over enough people with the same surname that he may be considered their leader and to act on their behalf. It is often the case that the chief of a family or clan and the Chief of the Name in Scotland are the same person, but this is not always so.

It should be noted that the Lord Lyon does not get involved in determining whether a kin group is a clan or a family; therefore, having somebody recognised as Chief of the Name in Scotland does not mean that he is recognising that person's surname as being a clan surname. The Lord Lyon is quite clear that determining whether a kin group is a clan or a family is very much up to historians and other researchers to determine, and there is a wide range of opinion amongst the academic community.

Coming back to the Watsons, there is only one individual recognised as Chief of the Watson Name in Scotland in the records of the Lord Lyon. The records contain a coat of arms from 1818 for a James Watson of Saughton [Ref. 1], stating 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". It is as a result of this record that the Lord Lyon recognises the Watsons as an armigerous family to this day. 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 literature [Ref. 2] 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 chiefs did not 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 recognised as chief by other Watsons but never officialised his status with the Lord Lyon. 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.

Charles Watson, Esq., and his Wife Lady Mary with Their Two Children James and Anne

Charles Watson, Esq., and his Wife Lady Mary with Their Two Children James and Anne

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 Buchanans [Ref. 3]. 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!

The Crest of David Watson of Craslatt

One 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 almost certain 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!

We are using a professional genealogist to actively research the family of our of last chief, James Watson, 10th of Saughton, with the aim of identifying living heirs that may be both eligible and interested in assuming the title of Chief. We have qualified the statement that James's father Charles was the eldest son and heir to James Watson, 8th of Saughton; whilst it is true that he was the only surviving son, two of his sisters did have children, although they would not have been classed as heirs all the while there was a living male line of descent from Charles. We have also established that the only one of the later James's children to have children of their own was his daughter Helen, who married the 18th Earl of Morton, carrying the Watson chief's title to the Douglas family. We have contacted the present day Earl of Morton to see whether he or any of his family would be interested in taking on the title of Chief of Name of Watson, but he is currently acting as Chief of Name of Douglas and has stated that there is no intent to petition for the Watson title. We have extensively mapped out the family tree of the Watsons of Saughton and are now actively following the various branches looking for living descendants. The full tree is available to our paid members in the Library.

The 18th Earl of Morton

The 18th Earl of Morton

Our current research is entirely funded by contributions from our members, who get privileged access to the results of the research and have a say in how it is conducted. To find out how you can get involved, please check out our Donations page!

We are currently gauging interest amongst our membership for the appointment of a Commander of the Name. Should we be unable to find a living heir who is interested in assuming the chiefship, the appointment of a commander is a prerequisite to petitioning for an alternative candidate. Given that a commander has to have been in place for a minimum of 10 years prior to the Lord Lyon considering non-hereditary candidates for the chiefship, we are keen to start the 10-year clock ticking! To have your say as to whether you think we should petition the Lord Lyon for a commander or not, please visit our Watson Commander page.

Ref 1
Ref 2
Ref 3

References

  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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