Clan Makgill

Clan Makgill
Crest badge suitable for wear by a member of Clan Makgill.
Arms of the Viscount of Oxfuird, Chief of Clan Makgill.

Clan Makgill is a Lowland Scottish clan.




For some time people have quoted Dr. George F. Black's The Surnames of Scotland ( Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1999, first published by the New York Public Library, 1946). He said that MacGill was a name that meant "son of the stranger," rendered in Gaelic as "mac an ghòill."

The McGills were not Highlanders, but rather a Lowland clan and family. Thus they were not living in the Gaelic circle in Argyll and the Isles for very long. The McGills descend from Gilli, a Gael who held sway in the Western Isles for his Viking inlaws 1000 years ago. Thus "MacGill," etc., son of Gilli.

Since early spelling was not standardized, there are many spellings of the name in the records. Not one appears in this Gaelic form"mac an ghòill" in documents found so far. There would have to be a person or a family line early on with this spelling.

Some of the ways of spelling the name found by Mr. J. M. McGill (1899–1975), a family historian, of Edinburgh, Scotland (private manuscript), are: MAKGILL (the clan name), McGill, MacGill, Magill, M'Gill, MacGilli, MacGyle, MacGyll, MacGeil, Micghell,Miggill, McGile, Miggel, Miggill, Megil, Mygghil, Kigghil, MacGhil, MacGall, MacIghail, McGaldies, MaGillies, MacGillies, MacIlgill, MacGeill, MacGheil, McGeyll, MacIyell, McKillie, the Norman-French FilGilli (clearly "son of Gilli"), De Gillis MacGelle, MacKeoule, McKillan, and the use of the capital "N" in place of "M" to indicate that a person is female.

It is difficult to misspell this name.

The name became established in Galloway prior to the 13th century. Maurice Macgeil witnessed a charter of Maldouen, Earl of Lennox, to the church of St Thomas the Martyr of Arbroath in 1231.


The coat of arms depicted here is that of the chief of the clan. It cannot lawfully be used by other people. There is no such thing in Scotland as a "family crest" which anyone can use. Individuals can register their own arms (with a "difference" from the shield of the chief, to show their place in the family) in Lyon Court, Edinburgh.

This shield is described in heraldry as "gules, three martlets argent." This means that the shield is red with three silver martlet birds. The martlet is the sign of the fourth son. It has no feet and thus cannot land, just as the fourth son usually does not inherit any land of his own. The chiefs of Makgill descend from Malcolm MacGill, son of Gilbert, Lord of Gillesland (died 1185) who was the fourth son of Bueth or Heth mac Gille Lord of Galloway.

The crest badge may be worn by all members of the clan, usually as a bonnet badge. It represents belonging to the clan. The crest badge depicted here shows the phoenix, an ancient symbol of resurrection. The phoenix appears on the top-piece or crest over the chief's coat of arms.

The motto SINE FINE is Latin and means "without end", a reference to the phoenix.

The First of the Name

According to Donald Makgill, 12th Viscount of Oxfuird and Chief of Clan Makgill (1899–1986) in Makgill of that Ilk, pub. privately, 1950's, and Mr. J.M.McGill, the ancestor of the McGills, Gilli (Gille, Jarl Ghaill, Earl (Jarl of the Sudreys (Norse), or Innse Gall) ruled the Sudreys, the Southern Hebrides (Western Isles) in Scotland 1000 years ago, for his Viking in-laws. Through his Celtic grandfather, Godfrey MacFergus (died 853) he descended from Conn of the Hundred Battles, High king of Ireland in the 2nd century.

He married Svenlaug (Swanlauga, Nereida), daughter of Hlodver, Jarl of Orkney (died 980) and sister of the Viking Sigurd II. "the Stout." When Sigurd was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, Gilli continued as lieutenant of the Isles for Sigurd's son, Thorfinn.

Gilli had his seat on the Isle of Coll. Njal's Saga, or The Burnt Njal Saga, a Viking work, tells a bit about Gilli. In one story he spent the Yule at his home with his visiting Viking kin. It is also said in the sagas that Gilli's mother-in-law was a witch. She made a magical raven banner for her son, Sigurd. It would attract his enemies, and he could then kill them. Hardly anyone wanted to carry this banner, so at Clontarf Sigurd carried the banner and died there.

An Independent Clan

Sir Thomas Innes of Learney was Lord Lyon King of Arms (the chief herald in Scotland) from 1945 to 1969. During his lengthy service to the Crown he emerged as the foremost authority on coats of arms, Scottish genealogies and clan histories.

He wrote to J.M.McGill (see References below) in reply to a question about the alleged association with other clans: "The MacGill is an independent family or clan whose pedigree is recorded in the Public Register of Genealogies and claim descent at a very remote period (which is quite reasonably probable and consistent with their antecedents) from the Celtic Lords of Galloway. They have nothing to do with other clans." [italics added]

Likewise, from the Lyon Office under the date 8 January 1999, there is a letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Roads, Lyon Clerk, that states: "I can indeed confirm that the McGills/Makgills would indeed be regarded as an entirely separate family with their own Chief and would not be regarded as a sept of Clan Donald. Indeed I cannot see that such a suggestion is made in those sources concerning clans and septs which are thought reliable [italics added]."

It was further stated by Mrs. Roads that the Arms of the chief in themselves indicate independence, since the shield is undifferentiated, indicating that he is Chief of the Name and Arms of Makgill and beholden to no other.

"There may well be members of the family or clan who spell their name in a variant manner but that does not alter the actual name [Makgill]."

15th and 16th centuries

Sir James Makgill, who was a prominent Edinburgh merchant and a descendent of the old Galloway family, became Provost of Edinburgh during the reign of King James V of Scotland. He quickly embraced the reformed religion. He had two sons, of whom the elder, Sir James Makgill, purchased the estate of Nether Rankeillour in Fife. He studied law at Edinburgh, where he was soon recognised as an able scholar. In June 1554 he became a member of the College of Justice, and in August of that year a Lord of Session. He took the judicial title, ‘Lord Rankeillor’. He was a friend and supporter of the reformer, John Knox.

Mary, Queen of Scots returned from widowhood in France to reclaim her throne of Scotland in 1561, and Rankeillor became one of her Privy Councillors. He was one of the nobles who were jealous of the influence exercised by the queen’s Italian secretary, David Rizzio. On 9 March 1566, a group of noblemen led by Patrick, Lord Ruthven, burst into the apartments of the queen, who was six months pregnant, dragged Rizzio from her side, and stabbed him to death. Makgill was heavily implicated in the murder, so when Mary took revenge for the outrage he was deprived of his judicial rank and forced to flee from Edinburgh. He was later pardoned, but ordered to remain north of the Tay. Later, through the influence of Regent Moray, he was restored to his offices in December 1567. He was one of the commissioners who attended the regent on his journey to York to present accusations against the exiled Queen Mary, and was later sent by the Earl of Moray to London. He was ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1571 and 1572. During his absence his house in Edinburgh was attacked by supporters of the queen, and his wife was killed. He himself died in 1579. His younger brother, who had acquired the lands of Cranston-Riddell, was also appointed to the Court of Session in 1582. He had held the post of Lord Advocate, which he did not relinquish until 1589. He took the judicial title, ‘Lord Cranston-Riddell’. He was succeeded in March 1594 by his son, David, who followed him onto the Bench.

17th and 18th centuries

David Makgill was succeeded by yet another David, the third Laird of Cranston-Riddell, who died without male issue in May 1619. His brother, Sir James Makgill, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1627 and appointed a Lord of Session in 1629. By letters patent dated 19 April 1651, he was elevated to the peerage with the titles of ‘Viscount Oxfuird’ and ‘Lord Makgill of Cousland’. He died in May 1663.

He was succeeded by his son, Robert, the second Viscount who had a son and heir, Thomas, by his second wife, Lady Henrietta, only daughter of the Earl of Linlithgow. Thomas died in 1701, five years before his father, leaving no issue. The viscountcy was claimed by the son of the second Viscount’s eldest daughter, Christian, but this was challenged in 1734 by James Makgill of Nether-Rankeillor, sixth in descent from Lord Rankeillor. The House of Lords refused to uphold his claim, but equally denied that of Christian’s son, William Maitland, and the title became dormant. Christian’s younger sister, Henrietta, later assumed the title of Viscountess of Oxfuird, without establishing her legal right thereto, but in any event she died in 1758 without issue.

Clan Makgill today

The estates of Nether-Rankeillor passed through an heiress to The Honourable Frederick Maitland, sixth son of the Earl of Lauderdale. The family thereafter assumed the name Maitland Makgill, and when David Maitland Makgill of Rankeillor became heir of line to the Crichton viscountcy of Frendraught, they then styled themselves Maitland Makgill Crichton. It was a member of this family who established his right to the chiefship of the Crichtons and, abandoning his additional surnames as required by Lyon Court decree, was recognised in 1980 as Crichton of that Ilk. In 1986 Crichton’s kinsman, George Hubbard Makgill, was recognised as the thirteenth Viscount of Oxfuird and chief of the Makgills.

Clan chief

The current Chief of Clan Makgill is Ian Arthur Alexander Makgill, 14th Viscount of Oxfuird.


Sources for the most authentic history of Clan Makgill include: Makgill of that Ilk, a typescript written in the 1950s by Donald Makgill, 12th Viscount of Oxfuird, who in 1977 succeeded in getting the family claim to the viscountcy restored. The full copy of this well-researched document is in the Odom Library, Moultrie, Georgia, in the Clan Donald (MacDonald) file.

J(ohn)M(ichael) McGill, late of Edinburgh, Scotland, wrote a short history of the McGills of Galloway and their ancestor, Gilli. It was published in The Scottish Genealogist, the quarterly journal of the Scottish Genealogy Society, Volume II, Number 2, April 1955.

He also wrote a brief history of the family, expanding on his earlier article and discounting some of the myths, fifteen pages long. He did not live to complete this document, but he gave the compiler of this article a copy during a visit in 1971.

Mr. McGill spent a great deal of his life researching the family in the best records available, and remains as the premier McGill family historian

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