The story of the clan probably goes back more than nine hundred years, but even if we draw the parallel with English history and realize that this is contemporary with William the Conqueror, it is hard for us to visualize what went on in the vastness of the Scottish mountains. Picts, Celts and Norsemen invaded, fought, intermarried, and laid the foundations of a tribal nation which defied the might of Rome. Somewhere in that melting pot Clan Cameron must have had its beginnings. There is no written record, for the story of the clan is the story of its chiefs, passed on from generation to generation in song and legend recounted by the sennachie, the ancient Celtic bards. According to these Gaelic pedigrees the first Chief of Clan Cameron was Angus, who married a daughter of Kenneth, Thane of Lochaber, a sister of Banquo who was murdered by MacBeth. Story has it that Angus saved the life of Fleance, son of Banquo, from the evil plans of MacBeth. This era of Scottish history was immortalized, if not accurately recorded by Shakespeare. MacBeth, King of Scotland, was succeeded by Malcolm III, (Malcolm Canmore), whose wife, Queen Margaret, was English, of European ancestry, a fugitive from the court of William the Conqueror. She was reputed to be a devout and gracious lady, and through her influence Norman knights came to the court of Scotland, among them Robert de Bruis, ancestor of King Robert the Bruce. These Norman knights settled in the lowlands of Scotland. A 'Robert de Cambroun' was granted lands in the Carse of Gowrie by William the Lyon, the King, whose standard, the red rampant lion on the gold background, later became the Royal Standard of Scotland. Another 'Robert de Cambroun,' in 1296, just prior to the accession of King Robert the Bruce, was Sheriff of Atholl, the neighboring district to Lochaber, and in 1320 we find 'Johannes de Cambroun' as a signatory of the famous Declaration of Arbroath. The seal affixed beside his name displays the same three horizontal gold bars as are born in the arms of our present Cameron of Lochiel. We now have the bardic pedigree linking him with the Thane of Lochaber nine hundred years ago and the heraldic evidence linking him to the Scottish Norman knight more than six hundred years ago.
In the early years of the fifteenth century we find the name from whom Lochiel takes his Gaelic patronymic - MacDhomnuill Dubh (son of Black Donald). He, in the bardic genealogy was the 11th Chief of Clan Cameron, and is considered to be the progenitor of the Chiefs of Lochiel. Like those who succeeded him he was a tough warrior, for war, like hunger and privation, was part of Highland life. The clan was constantly involved in border raids and skirmishes with neighbors, especially Clan Mackintosh, who disputed territory and pastures. Despite the establishment of primogeniture as the law of succession by King Malcolm Mackenneth, the old Pictish and Celtic customs were still the excuse for a challenge to the throne or chiefship by some ambitious leader and the clan became involved in wars supporting the claims of friends or relatives of their chiefs. In addition there was the ever growing military demands of the feudal superiorities which were gradually changing the tribal structure of the clans. It was in response to such a call that Camerons, shoulder to shoulder with twenty other clans, fought under the banner of King Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. A hundred years later, however, led by their chief, Donald Dubh, they reverted to the support of their old tribal superiors, the MacDonalds of the Islands, in a rebellion against the Royal Regent which ended in the Battle of Harlaw.
Ewen Cameron, the grandson of Donald Dubh, was the 13th Chief of Clan Cameron, and his command spanned the reigns of James IV and James V. He is said to have been present on Flodden Field, where James IV was killed; the battle which inspired the folk song which we know as 'The Flowers of the Forest.' In the reign of James V, Ewen was granted the Barony of Lochiel, and became the first of our clan chiefs to use the title of 'Cameron of Lochiel.' In the late 15th century James V forfeited the charter of the Lord of the Isles and this opened the way for the rise to power of the Campbells. During the years of clan strife to come the sympathies of the Camerons were with their ancient allies, the MacDonalds, against the powerful Campbells (Argyll) and Gordons (Huntly).
With the accession of Allan Cameron of Lochiel, the 16th Chief of Clan Cameron, we enter the period of religious and political strife involving the Royal Stewarts, the Catholic Church and the Convenanters. Montrose, the Royalist commander, with the support of the Highland clans crossed the mountains in the snows of December and made a daring descent on the Campbell stronghold at Inverary. The Campbell Chief fled in a herring boat to the joy of his ancient enemies, Clan Donald. He returned, however, to Inverary in January, ready to take revenge. Surrounding the Great Glen with loyal clans and lowland forces, he sailed his Campbell galleys up Loch Linnhe, intent upon the ambush of Montrose and his clans. Amid blinding blizzards Montrose turned south, outflanked Argyll, and in the early hours of a February morning descended the slopes of Ben Nevis to the Castle of Inverlochy. There the lowland troops and the Campbells were driven into the loch, and the power of Argyll was destroyed. In this battle three hundred Camerons were with Montrose, sent by their chief, Allan Cameron of Lochiel, yet at that very moment his grandson, later to be Sir Ewen Cameron, was in the Campbell castle at Inverary. His mother was a Campbell, and he had been sent there for education. Within five years the young Ewen had succeeded his grandfather as the 17th Chief of Clan Cameron.
He was a courageous leader and a loyal supporter of the Royal cause. His clan fought with Montrose till the last, and when other Royalist armies had been defeated he continued a guerilla campaign against Cromwell's garrison at Inverlochy. Finally he had to surrender to the army of General Monk, on terms which were honorable to him, but prevented his personal participation in the Jacobite cause. He therefore made over his estates to his grandson, making it possible for his son, John, who would have been the 18th Chief, to command the clan in the Jacobite Uprising of 1715. John was exiled, and on the death of Sir Ewen in 1719 his grandson Donald became the 19th Chief.
It is of interest to note that despite the animosity which is said to have existed concerning the Campbells, who under the Earls, and later, Dukes of Argyll, had systematically acquired power and lands in the Highlands, Donald, the 19th Chief, was the third consecutive generation to have been born of a Campbell mother. Like his forebears he was a great soldier, but he had compassion for those who bore the brunt of suffering. He was one of the first of the clan chiefs to declare his allegiance to Bonnie Prince Charlie when he landed at Loch Nan Uamh, but not before he had tried to dissuade him from this hopeless venture in order that the Highlands might not again be devastated by war. When the Jacobite army was preparing to destroy the city of Glasgow, Lochiel personally intervened to save it. In recognition of this the bells of the old Tollgate are still rung in his honor whenever a new Chief of Clan Cameron enters the city for the first time. Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempt to regain the throne for the Stewarts came to an inglorious end at Culloden. Lochiel was wounded and carried from the field to exile and death in France. Achnacarry Castle was burned, his lands forfeited, and his clansmen hunted mercilessly by Cumberland's men.
Before the outbreak of war, Donald Cameron of Lochiel was determined to bring his clan forward into an era of peace and prosperity. He developed his lands at Achnacarry and when the news came that the Prince had landed he was planting beech trees by the side of the road. He left, never to return, but the avenue of beeches still stand as a living monument to the man who has gone down in history as 'Gentle Lochiel.' The story of Clan Cameron in this romantic but tragic period of Scotland's history is told in three historical novels by D.K. Broster - The Flight of the Heron, The Gleam in the North, and The Dark Mile. Forty years passed before the clan lands were restored to the descendants of the Gentle Lochiel, forty years in which the kilt and bagpipe were banned, and clan life as it had existed for centuries came to an end.
When the oppressive legislation was repealed the Highland clans were broken as an organized fighting force, but the spirit of the old Highland men had not been subdued. In 1793 Alan Cameron of Erracht, a kinsman of Cameron of Lochiel, raised the 79th Highland Regiment, later to be known as The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. His wife was a MacDonald and the regimental tartan was designed by her - a MacDonald tartan differenced by the addition of the gold line from the shield of Lochiel. This regiment fought with distinction in two world wars, and three battalions were raised in World War I by Donald, the 24th Chief of Clan Cameron. In addition to his reputation as a soldier, he, his son Donald Walter, the 25th Chief, and his grandson, our present Chief, have each held the office of Lord Lieutenant of the County of Inverness, and have made an immeasurable contribution to the development of the Highlands.
And so nine hundred years passed. The tough little clan who fought for the right to live and hunt in Lochaber has grown, and is scattered far and wide. They face new challenges, and they have new loyalties which transcend those of their clan; but their hearts still thrill to the song of the sennachie, they are proud that nearly a hundred thousand acres of clan territory in Lochaber is still the private estate of a Cameron Chief.