THE ancestor of the race was a Breton noble, Alan, a cadet of the ancient Counts of Dol and Dinan. Walter Fitz-Alan received from David I the office of High Steward of Scotland, and was progenitor of the House of Stewart. Alexander, the fourth Steward, left two sons James, his successor, and Sir John of Bonkyl. From James descended the Royal Stewarts, from Sir John the Bonkyl branch. Walter, the sixth Steward, married Princess Marjory Bruce. Their son reigned as Robert II. From his accession until the death in 1808 of Prince Charlie’s brother, the Cardinal of York, the Chiefs of Clan Stewart were heads of the Royal House of Stewart (Stuart). On the Cardinal’s death the nearest lawful heir bearing the name was concluded to be George, 8th Earl of Galloway, whose successors in the peerage have been received as the subsequent Chiefs of the clan. The Stewarts of Garlies, created Earls of Galloway 1623, descend from Sir John Stewart of Bonkyl. From Sir James, fourth son of Sir John of Bonkyl, sprang the Stewart Lords of Lorne, and the Stewart Earls of Atholl, Buchan and Traquair. The Highland Stewarts of Appin derive from Dougal, a son of Sir John of Lorne, murdered 1463. Duncan Stewart, 2nd of Appin, was Chamberlain of the Isles to James IV. Subsequent Chiefs of the house of Appin and Ardshiel fought for Charles I under Montrose, and for the Chevalier in the Risings of 1715 and 1745. Though the lands are lost, they still bear the title, Stewart of Appin and Ardshiel.
CARE is taken by the historians of this clan to draw a distinction between its patronymic and that of the Lowland families whose original name was “Mathews son” The Highland name, they point out, is Mac Mhathain, “the son of heroes,” and the chiefs of the clan claimed to have been settled on the shores of Lochalsh in the west of Ross-shire as long ago as the time of Kenneth MacAlpin in the middle of the ninth century. According to tradition they were among the followers of that king in his wars with the Picts, whom he finally overthrew at the great battle of Cambuskenneth near Stirling in 838. They claimed to be of the same blood as the MacKenzies, whom they aver to have been the junior line. A certain Coinneach, or Kenneth, who was chief in the twelfth century, they say left two sons. From the elder of these Cailean or Colin, the Mathesons were descended, and from the younger, Coin neach or Kenneth, the MacKenzies took their origin. In the beginning of the fifteenth century the Matheson chief was strong enough to defy the Earl of Sutherland, and upon the latter descending upon Lochalsh, intent upon punishing so presumptuous a person, he was actually defeated and slain by the Mathesons. The scene of the encounter is still pointed out at a spot known from the event as Cnoc an Cattich.