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Henderson Family History & Ancestry

Family Crest Motto: SOLA VIRTUS NOBILITAT (virtue alone ennobles)

Let me share the fascinating history of your family, the Hendersons. According to tradition, your family traces its roots back to Big Henry, or Eannig Mor Mac Righ Neachtan, the son of King Nectan, who ruled over Caledonia in the 8th century. Big Henry is said to have founded the Clan Henderson of Glencoe. Additionally, the Lowland Hendersons of Fordell in Fife are believed to be descended from the Henrysons of Dumfries. In 1374, a William Henderson served as the Chamberlain of Lochmaben Castle, accountable to Edward III of England.

The name Henderson has three distinct origins spanning different regions of Scotland. In the Borders, the Hendersons are believed to be “sons of Henry” and are often referred to as Henrysons. This family expanded from Dumfriesshire into Liddesdale, although they are not listed among the border clans named by Parliament in 1594 during its efforts to suppress border reivers. One notable descendant of this line was James Henderson, who became Lord Advocate around 1494. He acquired the lands of Fordell in Fife and built an impressive fortified mansion there. Fordell became the principal designation of the Lowland chiefs, and it is from this family that the present chief of your clan descends.

Among the prominent Hendersons of Fordell was Alexander Henderson, born around 1583. He studied at the University of St. Andrews, where he became a philosophy professor before 1611. Later, he served as the minister of the parish of Leuchars and vehemently opposed Charles I’s attempts to reform the Church of Scotland. Henderson, together with Johnstone of Warriston, played a crucial role in drafting the National Covenant, which was first sworn and subscribed in Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh in February 1638. He also drafted the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643. When King Charles I surrendered himself to the protection of the Scottish army in 1646, he specifically requested Henderson’s presence to discuss reconciliation with his disaffected subjects.

Another branch of the Henderson family resided in Glencoe and bore the English version of their name, derived from the Gaelic “Maceanruig.” They claimed descent from the semi-legendary Pictish prince Eanrig Mor Mac Righ Neachtain, or “Big Henry, son of King Neachtain.” Although their individual identity was lost when the last of their chiefs, Dugall Maceanruif, had an heiress who bore a son named Ian Fraoch with her lover Angus Og of Islay, they remained an integral part of the Macdonald chiefs of Glencoe. The Hendersons traditionally served as the chief’s bodyguard. In the far north, the Henderson name appears once again, originating from a different source. Hendry, one of the younger sons of a 15th-century chief of Clan Gunn, established his own gilfine, or sept, and adopted the Henderson name. There is no apparent connection between the Caithness Hendersons or Mackendricks and either the Glencoe or Borders families.

The Clan Henderson of the North resided in Glencoe in Argyllshire and derived their name from an anglicized version of their Gaelic name, Maceanruig. They traditionally served as the bodyguard for the MacIan Macdonald Chiefs of Glencoe. Tragically, during the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, Big Henderson of the Chanters, the Chief’s piper, was among those who lost their lives.

Furthermore, a branch of Clan Gunn also carries the name Henderson, claiming descent from a Chief of Clan Gunn during the 15th century.

Noteworthy individuals from your family’s history include Alexander Henderson of Fordell (1583-1646), who was a Professor of Philosophy and staunchly opposed Charles I’s Church of Scotland reforms. Additionally, Thomas Henderson (1798-1844), born in Dundee, became Scotland’s leading astronomer.

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Family Crest Motto: SOLA VIRTUS NOBILITAT (virtue alone ennobles)

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