A free e-Article by Thor Ewing
© Thor Ewing 2012 All rights reserved
The Ewing name seems first to appear in the lands of Lennox in the sixteenth century; it comes from the Gaelic clan name Eóghain.
Clann Eóghain na h-Oitrich (Clan Ewen of Otter) had been forced from their homeland on Loch Fyne in 1493, and according to tradition it was at about this time that the clan appeared in the earldom of Lennox where they settled near Loch Lomond. Although spellings aren’t always consistent, the “Ewing” spelling appears at an early date and seems to be distinctive of this clan. Whilst most clansfolk seem to have adopted the surname “Ewing” it’s possible that some descendants of the same clan today go by the name of “McEwan”, however there are several other known origins for the McEwan name.
Clan Ewen of Otter
Clan Ewen of Otter, or Clann Eóghain na h-Oitrich, is the name of the MacEwen clan which once controlled the area around Kilfinan on the Cowal peninsular.
According to the earliest known genealogy (MS 1467), the clan chief Baltuir was the ‘son of Eoin, son of Eogain, son of Gillaesp . . . son of Sabarain, son of Duinsleibe, son of Aeda Alain known as ‘Buirrce’, son of Anradan lord of Badenoch’. The manuscript links Anradan (or Anradhan) with the descendants of the legendary Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. To find out more, visit my page on The Anradhan Kindred.
It is often claimed that the MacEwens of Otter were a branch of the powerful Clan Sween who were dispossessed in the Wars of Independence, but it is perhaps more likely that they were always an independent clan. The traditional homeland of the MacEwens lies in the parish of Kilfinan on Cowal; their neighbours to the north were MacLachlans, and to the south were the Lamonts. Both were kindred clans, claiming common descent from Anradhan, and so the MacEwens must have been fairly secure from attack.
On 20th March 1432, the new clan chief Swene MacEwen resigned the lairdship of Otter to King James I. The king regranted the barony to Swene for his lifetime, with the provision that if he died without heir the lands of Otter would pass to the Campbells who had stood by the king during his captivity in England. Eleven weeks later, Gillespie Campbell was at Otter wringing a surety out of the young Swene that if he should have a son he would pay a sizeable forfeit to the Campbells. Swene lived on for sixty years, by which time King James I and Gillespie Campbell were long dead. But presumably he died without a lawful heir, since on Swene’s death in 1493 the lands of Otter passed to a branch of the Campbells of Argyll.
Thus, the MacEwens lost their homeland and after this date they are spoken of as a ‘scattered clan’. However, there is no reason to suppose that the line of chiefs ended with Swene. Whilst he seems to have died without a legitimate son, his chieftaincy probably passed to a nephew or cousin who led much of the clan to new lands held in feu from the Earls of Lennox. Indeed, in the sixteenth century, the MacEwens appear to have operated as a coherent clan and are said to have taken part in the Battle of Langside (1568) under a new clan banner.
The most interesting feature is the flag which sits atop the chevron. In heraldic language, it is said to be “ensigned”. This is a mark of special favour granted by the sovereign, who in this case would have been Mary, Queen of Scots. Although the original illustration is unclear, later heraldic tradition is unanimous that the arms are ensigned with the flag known as the Red Ensign of Scotland. It is also recorded that one of Queen Mary’s standard bearers was one William Ewing. It seems very likely that the ensignment of William’s shield marks his appointment as the queen’s standard bearer, and shows the flag he carried. William Ewing’s coat of arms would have been passed down to his heirs, and so this flag would appear on the shield of all his successors; probably his appointment was likewise intended to be hereditary. However Mary’s reign ended in disaster, and it’s not altogether surprising that Scotland’s new king did not restore this favour to a family that had fought against him.
Ewings in Ladytoun
A family which might have been the chief Ewing family lived at Ladytoun or Ladyton near Bonhill. An armorial Ewing gravestone formerly in Bonhill kirkyard probably commemorated one of these Ladytoun Ewings. Ewings appear in Ladytoun from the late 1500’s until well into the 1600’s, although it has not yet been possible to establish a coherent family tree.
During the Scottish Civil War, Patrick Ewing in Dunbartonshire seems to take the leading role in Ewing affairs. He rises to local prominence in Covenanter politics after the defeat of the Engagers’ party at the Battle of Preston in 1648. When Charles II asserted his power over Scotland, Patrick Ewing was among those he refused to pardon, and he was fined £600 by Act of Parliament.
According to tradition, the Ewings stayed true to their Covenanter heritage by taking part in Argyll’s Rebellion of 1685. When the rebellion collapsed, six leading Ewing brothers fled to Ireland, where they fought with distinction at the Battle of the Boyne for which Findlay Ewing was honoured by King William with the gift of a silver-hilted sword.
The Ewing clan today
It seems that with the exile of Findlay Ewing and his brothers, the main chiefly line was lost in Scotland, but the coat of arms was inherited by the Ewings of Craigtoun who would also have taken on the mantle of chiefship. However their line died out in the eighteenth century, so the Ewing clan has remained chiefless since that time.
We know from the record of the Craigtoun arms that their motto was Audaciter (meaning ‘Boldly’ or ‘Audaciously’) with the crest of a demi-lion rampant holding a star, and there is every reason to believe that the same crest and motto were used by the earlier Ewing chiefs. This badge may be worn today by any Ewing as a mark of clan identity.
Whilst there is no recorded Ewing tartan, it is customary for Ewings to wear either the MacEwen tartan (which currently bears no specific clan affiliation) or the MacLachlan tartan (which acknowledges the protection offered to the clan by the MacLachlans in recent tradition).
Throughout the twentieth century, all Ewings and MacEwens were commonly regarded as making up a single clan descended from Clan Ewen of Otter. This interpretation of our history is no longer credible, although its influence remains. In recent months, there has been a move to appoint a new chief for the MacEwen clan. Exactly how this will impact on the distinctive and independent Ewing tradition is yet to be seen, but there is an increasing awareness of the need to protect our unique heritage for future generations.
More stuff on this site
You can make your voice heard in the clan through the Ewing Family Association (formerly Clan Ewing in America) or through the Clan Ewen Society. You might also want to join in debate on the clan forum, or you can leave your comments in the Guestbook on this site.
You can read more on these pages:
for Ewing History - with details of ongoing research into
were the Ewings? - an article written for the Ewing Family
Association Journal looking into early Ewing history
Family Association Gathering, Uniontown PA - a description of
my trip to join the Ewing Gathering in 2010
Convention, Gathering and Parade, Edinburgh - representing
Clan Ewing at the Clan Convention, Gathering and Parade in 2009
The Clans Ewen - including a brief description of Clan Ewen of Otter, which is very probably where Clan Ewing originated
The Anradhan Kindred - the legendary ancestry of the Ewing clan, as descended from an eleventh-century Irish prince
New Notes on Clan Ewen - my booklet of 2009, describing preliminary research into clan history
info @ thorewing.net
© Thor Ewing 2012 All rights reserved