The ‘Lamont’ Harp

The name used to identify this harp was first published by John Gunn in 1807 although he had initially decided to call it ‘The Caledonian Harp’ in his opening chapter. The harps history was based on the information supplied by General Robertson of Lude in his covering letter when the harp was first sent to Edinburgh in 1805. This was quite brief amounting to;— [It] 'was brought from Argyleshire about the year 1640, by a Lady of the family of Lamont, to the House of Lude, upon her marriage into the family of Robertson of Lude, where it has since remained’. [1] A slightly more elaborate version of the same information appears on page 73 of that work, but with the date given as 1460. This latter date would seem to be the correct one, at least based on the fact that the records for both the Lamont and Lude families which are fairly extant for the seventeenth century certainly show no such marriage around 1640.

Following the harps examination by Gunn for the Highland Society of Scotland its subsequent history seems to have followed the same course as that of the ‘Queen Mary’ Harp, at least up to the point when on the sale of the Dalguise Estate in 1904 it was bought by Mr W Moir Bryce. [2] Shortly after his purchase of the harp the instrument was sent to London for a Loan Exhibition organised by the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In the catalogue where it was listed as number 1166, it was described as;—

Harp, Scotch, known as the Clarsach Lumanach, or Lamont Harp. Supposed to have been brought from Argyleshire by Lilias Lamont on her marriage with Robertson of Lude, 1464. Lent by Mr W. Moir Bryce.[3]

At some point after the Lamont harp had come into his possession Mr W Moir Bryce, who had paid about £750 for the instrument, offered to sell it to the Rev John Lamond for £1000, but in the ministers own words, ‘there was an excellent reason why the purchase was not completed’.[4] Subsequently, it was left to the museum and passed into the Society of Antiquaries care on the death of Mr Moir Bryce in 1918 [5] and presumably initially went into storage as the museum was still closed. In 1914 the museum had been emptied of all exhibits in preparation for a major refurbishment and upgrade. This was unfortunately overtaken by the outbreak of war and instead of the work commencing the museum was commandeered for use by a government department.

When the war ended and the museum was finally returned to the Society of Antiquaries, the refurbishment resumed, but shortages of materials meant that progress as slow. By the time the work was finished and all the exhibits were re–displayed it took until January 1923 before the museum was re–opened to the public. For most of this period as the Societies minutes put it;— ‘the valuable national collections remain lost to the public, for the time being, in the safes, cellars, etc., to which they were consigned in 1914’; [6] it was probably during this period that the Bell harp was mislaid. When the museum had been cleared in 1914 there were two harps in the collection, the ‘Queen Mary’ and the Bell. By the time the museum reopened the Lamont harp had also been added to the collection and it seems likely that it joined the ‘Queen Mary’ harp on display and the Bell harp was never reclaimed from wherever it was being stored.

The Lamont harp has incurred a considerable amount of damage, repair and reconstructive work during the course of its life some of which may have happened during the investigation for the Highland Society of Scotland in 1805. Unlike the ‘Queen Mary’ harp there is no evidence that there was any attempt to play the Lamont harp at that time, however, John Gunn's account shows a degree of reticence and read carefully does seem to imply an attempt to string it. Either that or the harp had to have been still fully strung when sent from Lude as Gunn states in present tense;—

The strings are fixed, as they are done at present, to the end (which is out of view in the engraving) of thirty very strong pins, of nearly four inches in length (Plate I. d.); all of which were originally of brass, but three have been afterwards replaced by iron pins. These strings are likewise in the present manner, fixed, at the opposite end, into thirty holes along the middle of the sounding board. [7]

Since there are no actual references to this harp in the Lude family archives prior to it being sent to Edinburgh in 1805, the background history remains conjectural. The brief account given by John Gunn in his ‘treatise’ lacks the sort of embellishment he added to his section on the ‘Queen Mary’ harp so can probably be accepted as an accurate reflection of General Robertson’s covering letter and therefore the Lude family tradition. Trying to directly verify that tradition is difficult due to a lack of firm documentary sources for the period when the harp was ‘traditionally’ said to have been made. However, it is possible to present a circumstantial case to support a possible harp link of some sort with Argyle, but first a review of the claim for a Robertson/Lamont marriage.

It should be noted that Gunn’s account does not actually provide a first name for the ‘Miss Lamont’, or indicate which member of the Lude family she married. Neither does she appear in any of the Lude family attempts to reconstruct their own family tree, but this may be simply a reflection of their primary interest in the male line as a means of establishing the family descent from the original Patrick of Lude and his father the Earl of Athol. The earliest published reference to the names of the participants in the marriage of circa 1460 was noticed by Charles Bell in the 1848 edition of Burke’s ‘Landed Gentry’ which stated that ‘Charles, fifth laird of Lude, married during his father’s lifetime, Lilias, daughter of Sir John Lamont of Lamont, chief of the name, of ancient family and extensive estates in Argyleshire. It was with this lady (Lilias Lamont) there came one of those very curious old harps which have been in the family for several centuries; hence this one was called ‘the Lamont Harp’. [8] This was repeated in the 1853 edition but it and the rest of the Lude family tree given there contain a number of errors. [9]

According to the history of the Lamont family Lilias was the sister of John Lamont, not his daughter. He did have two daughters, nominally the heirs of his line, but since his dates can be placed with some certainty they would have been too young to fit the Lude marriage timeline. John Lamont, born 1437, was a child when he became heir to his father Duncan in 1448 so his minority was overseen by the crown in the person of James II. John is credited with two sisters, Lilias and Mary and a younger brother Duncan to whom the estate was entailed as heir to John as a means to ensure that the family line continued as Lamont, rather than passing to whoever his daughters had married. Since Lilias would have been born sometime before the death of her father in 1448, she would certainly have been of an appropriate age for marriage to ‘Charles Robertson’ (Tarlach Johnson) in 1460. [10]

Tarlach (or Charles) a younger son of John Donaldson of Lude and his wife Margaret Drummond was on record in 1474 and therefore certainly a historical figure at the right time and place. Firm contemporary evidence for Lilias Lamont is harder to find but the tradition from both families for such a marriage is probably correct while the circumstantial evidence of at least one representative of a professional family from Argyle appearing in Lude along with early evidence of Lamont connections to harping enhances the case. If Lilias was the sister of John Lamont (d. 1488), or for that matter his daughter as claimed in Burkes; then she was connected to Agnes MacDonald ‘of the Isles’. Agnes ‘Donalds daughter’ as she also appears, was the wife of John Lamont, but was married and widowed twice, her other husband having been Thomas Bannatyne of Kames in the Isle of Bute.

In 1490, by which time she was living in Melldalloch, she became involved in a dispute with her son Ninian Bannatyne over the possession of some property and goods, (including a harp). The case was decided by the Lords of Council and Session who exercised a ‘Solomon’ like judgement in that Ninian had been wrong to hold onto her lands and was therefore to refund his mother the profits of those lands arising from the period he had held onto them, but she in turn was to compensate him for the value of the goods which she was allowed to keep. These included the ‘clerschew’ which seems to have been valued at 120 shillings, (£6), possibly the earliest valuation of the instrument we have.[11]

Looking Towards Clunie

From Bridge of Tilt looking across the lower slopes of Lude towards Strathgroy and Clunie
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[You may click on the picture to view a larger–sized image]

Turning to the circumstantial evidence for a link between the Lamont heartland in Cowal and Lude we start at the Lude end with a record of an instrument of sasine dated November 1588, for Easter and Wester Monzies, in favour of John Tarlochson. The list of witnesses includes an Anthony McEwin VcChlairser [McClarsair], who is described as 'servant of said John Tarlochson’.[12] It seems likely that earlier member of this mans family was one Findlay McEwin who also appeared as a witness when John Tarlochson received a charter for Wester Monzie from John Donaldson of Lude in May of 1513.[13] The charter was signed at ‘Mekilclun’ (later known as Cluniemor), and if the traditional claims that the recipients father was the Tarloch Johnson of Clunes who married the daughter of Lamont; then Clunes is where any former Lamont servants were likely to be found.

The fact that these two ‘MacEwens’ were witnesses to documents suggests that they had some degree of status in that community and probably were the family from which a ‘Croftmcewen’ was named. The evidence also suggests that a family using the name ‘MacEwen’ continued to function as harpers until at least the end of the seventeenth century. In August 1670 the Lude Baron Court Book notes an action brought by one John McEvin harper against an Allan McDod who the harper accused of assault, a claim that McDod did not deny.[14] Either the same harper or perhaps a younger namesake, also appears in a Lude Account Book in 1698, but this seems to be the last time the MacEwens are directly connected to Lude,[15] though they may have switched to another professional field and continued as ‘doers’ (Factors) in Dunkeld, ironically often working for the Atholl Estates.

Bridge of Tilt

Looking upstream from the Bridge of Tilt. The River Tilt formed the boundary between the Lude estate on the right bank and that of Atholl on the left bank.
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[You may click on the picture to view a larger–sized image]

Returning to the link to Argyle and the Lamont family, we again start with Anthony McEwin VcChlairser whose name suggests that it is more than a coincidence that there was a Eugenio Klerscharch, (Ewen Chlairseach), who occurs as a witness in two documents relating to dealings involving Kilmun in the Lamont heartland of Cowal in 1434.[16] Then what seem to be more members of a professional family using the forename Ewen appear as witnesses in a Lamont marriage contract signed in 1461 which included ‘Donald the son of Eugen the Poet’ and 'Eugen the clerk’.[17] While the scribal spellings show the usual variations they are all versions of Ewen/Eoghann, usually Latinised as ‘Eugenius’.

This raises a further question regarding these harpers connections. ‘Anthony’, at least in the Latinised form as it appears in the Lude document was clearly a Latin equivalent for a Gaelic forename and the suggestion has been made that it represents the somewhat rare name Athairne, which was used by the MacEwen (MacEoghainn), family of poets. Their genealogy has been reconstructed by adding the later members of the family to that of the author of a poem in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. This starts the line with Athairne mac Eoghain mheic Eichthighrarna the author of the poem and when added to some later references gives a family line which twice uses the name Athairne.[18]

On the basis that the poem in the Book of the Dean of Lismore was a lament for John MacDougall of Lorn it is assumed that the family acted as poets to the MacDougall’s as well as the Campbells of both Argyle and Glenorchy. However, the poet Athairne is thought to have flourished circa 1475 while that of his grandfather Eichthighearna is placed circa 1380 and there is no real evidence to indicate who they actually served. The Lamonts were one of the major families in Argyle but from around 1500 were being squeezed by the growing power of the Campbell family who were on their way up, while the Lamonts were heading down. It is therefore possible that the MacEwen poets who later appear in the service of the Campbells may have had some connection to the professional family of poets, clerks and probably harpers who had earlier served the Lamonts.

[1] Gunn, John, An Historical Enquiry Into The Performance On The Harp, (1807).

[2] Please visit the introductory section of LUDE; The Robertson family and their harps hosted here on

[3] Catalogue of the Loan Exhibition held in the Fishmongers Hall, (1904). It was the most detailed description of all the harps on show, the others being described as;—

[4] Clan Lamont Journal, volume 3. December 1919. p 341.

[5] National Archives of Scotland SC70/1/646/188, the Testament Inventory for the late William Moir Bryce, LL.D. Searcher of Records who died on the 2 August 1919. The sum of £525, Value of Lamont Harp gifted to the Nation, was deducted from the gross value of Household Furniture.

[6] Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. volume 53. (1918-1919). p 7.

[7] Gunn, John, An Historical Enquiry Into The Performance On The Harp, (1807), p 3. The bold italicized text is editorial and Michael Billinge is thanked for drawing attention to the implications of Gunn’s words.

[8] Bell, Charles, Notice of The Harp Said To Have Been Given To Beatrix Gardyn of Banchory By Queen Mary And Of The harp Called The Lamont Harp Both Formerly Possessed By The Family Of Robertsons Of Lude. The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. vol. XV, (1880–1881). p 28.

[9] Burke’s ‘Landed Gentry’ vol. 2 (1853), pp 1127–1130.

[10] Mckechnie, Hector, The Lamont Clan, (1938). pp 71–72.

[11] Acta Dominorum Concilii. NAS CS5/3/92

[12] National Archives of Scotland GD132/25. The original ‘Anthony’ is ‘Latinised’ but that part of the script is somewhat degraded due to it being in one of the documents folds.

[13] National Archives of Scotland GD132/12

[14] National Archives of Scotland GD50/159; MacDod seems to have had a habit of getting into trouble and features again in some additional Lude Baron Court records now among the archives at Blair Castle, catalogue number. 43/5/522.

[15] National Archives of Scotland CH2/694/10

[16] Macphail J. R. N, ed. Highland Papers, volume ii, Scottish History Society, second series, (1916). Writs relating to the lands of Glassarie and their early possessors, pp 175–177.

[17] An inventory of Lamont papers (1231 — 1897). Collected, edited and presented by Sir Norman Lamont of Knockdow. Scottish Record Society, Old Series, number 54 (1914), pp 18–19

[18] Thomson, D S, ed. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (1994). p 170

Submitted by Keith Sanger, 7 June, 2013.

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