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Norsemen overran not only the Western isles but much of the northern part of the country. For a time it was an even chance whether ancient Caledonia should become Norseland or Scotland. Under Malcolm Canmore and his sons, however, the Scots pushed their conquests south of the Forth, annexed Strathclyde, Northumberland, and Westmoreland, and became a formidable power in the land. David I. fortified his dynasty against attack by planting the country with Norman and English barons and introducing the feudal system; and the final issue with the Norsemen was fought out by the last of his race, the last of the Celtic line of kings, Alexander III., at the battle of Largs in 1263.
It is about this period that the traditional history of the Highland clans makes a beginning. It was long the custom to attribute the origin of all these clans to a Gaelic source. The late Dr. W. F. Skene wrote his book, The Highlanders of Scotland, to show that many of the clans, particularly in the more eastern and northern parts of the Highlands, must have been of Pictish origin. Without going into the somewhat elaborate details of his evidence and argument, with later modifications in his Celtic Scotland, it may simply be said that the proposition appears reasonable. Nor would it appear less honourable to be descended from the ancient Pictish race of Caledonia than from the Scottish race which crossed the narrow seas from Ireland. The record of the Picts includes their magnificent and victorious struggle against the Roman legions, their defeat of the British Arthur himself at Camelon in 537, and the overthrow of Egcfrith of Northumbria at Nectansmere in Fife in the year 835. But it must be remembered that the Norse race has also contributed to the origin of the clans.
The names of the ancient MacLeod chiefs—Torquil, Tormod, and the like— would of themselves be enough to point this out; and it must be remembered that the wife of the mighty Somerled, from whom all the Macdonald and several other clans are descended, was sister of Godred the Norwegian King of Man. It is equally certain that several clans are of Anglian and Norman origin. The Murrays claim descent from Freskin the Fleming. The Gordons, whether Gordon or Seton, are Norman from the Scottish Border. And the Macfarlanes, cadets of the older Earls of Lennox, are of Northumbrian, or Anglian source. Nothing could be more interesting than the process by which families of such various origin, in the course of a few generations became so impregnated with the spirit of their surroundings as to be practically indistinguishable in instinct and characteristics. Sir Walter Scott had the Highlanders as a whole in view when he framed his famous and apt description of "Gentlemen of the north, men of the south, people of the west, and folk of Fife."
The clan system no doubt took its origin largely from the mountainous nature of the country in which the people found themselves, each family or tribe living in its own glen, separate from the rest of the world, and too remote from any capital to be interfered with by a central government. In these circumstances, as in similar circumstances elsewhere, Afghanistan and Arabia, for instance, the father of the family naturally became the ruler, and when the family grew into a tribe he became its chief. The Celts were a group of peoples that occupied lands stretching from the British Isles to Gallatia. The Celts had many dealings with other cultures that bordered the lands occupied by these peoples, and even though there is no written record of the Celts stemming from their own documents, we can piece together a fair picture of them from archeological evidence as well as historical accounts from other cultures.