Former lorry driver claims clan title
IT IS one of Scotland's northernmost clans, with a bloodthirsty reputation that dates back centuries.
Descended from the Vikings, and with lands that once encompassed Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland, Clan Gunn has survived into the 21st century despite having no chief for more than 200 years.
But now a 41-year-old former lorry driver has stepped forward to claim his right to be the new chieftain after years of dispute over who should be head of the family.
The new claimant is William Murray Gunn, whose working class background contrasts sharply with the public school education and titled parentage of most of Scotland's chieftains. He is now in line to become the latest chief after the recent death of his father William Sinclair Gunn, who decided not to take up the title.
Genealogists claim Gunn senior's heritage can be traced directly back to the previous chief, Morrison Gunn, who died in Gibraltar in 1785.
William Murray Gunn says he is now considering applying to the Lord Lyon to become the first recognised clan chief since the death of Morrison Gunn.
He said: "My dad was the direct line. The only thing that puts me off is that I'm just working class and I'm used to being myself and doing my own thing.
"But I'm semi-retired just now. Of course, it does excite me that I'm descended from clan chiefs. It is hard to put into words. But I'm just an average person.
"I mean, I was always happy being part of the family, but being a clan chief never came into my thoughts. But when it was looking like I was, it was exciting. You're afraid of it too, because I don't know what it entails." He added: "I would like to take it and let the clan do what it wants; that's the kind of person I am."
Gunn's elevation to the largely ceremonial position would end years of argument about who is the rightful heir to the title, which used to come with ownership of three northerly castles: Dirlot, Clyth and Halberry, the 15th-century stronghold.
Hugh Peskett, the Scottish editor of Burke's Peerage, said he has proved that the line of descent should pass from Morrison Gunn to William Murray Gunn's father.
William Sinclair Gunn, a plasterer from Wick, did not want the chieftanship, but his death last year has left the door open for his son to make a claim.
The clan claims descent from Sweyn Asleifsson, a warlike Norwegian known as "the Ultimate Viking", and a succession of medieval leaders who skirmished with warlike MacKays and Keiths in the north of Scotland.
The Gunns fought with the government against the Jacobites in the 1745 rebellion. But with the death 40 years later of Morrison Gunn, an army officer who died childless, succession was thrown into doubt.
It was thought the chieftainship would fall to a first cousin, but the only one was in the Dutch Army at the time. As he had sworn allegiance to the Dutch Crown, he was disqualified.
When rival claims emerged in the 1990s, genealogists discovered that William Murray Gunn's great, great, great, great grandfather Robert Gunn, who was alive in the early 1800s, was a distant cousin of Morrison Gunn. They also found that Morrison Gunn and Robert Gunn had a common great grandfather, Donald Gunn, who lived between 1685 and 1709 and was clan chief.
Peskett confirmed his research had revealed that William Murray Gunn's father William Sinclair Gunn was therefore in line for the title. "There is totally sound genealogy that WS Gunn is the rightful chief," Peskett said.
While William Murray's father was still alive, however, the issue had been complicated by a rival claim from a Michael J Gunn, a historian descended from the same line.
Earlier this month, Iain Alexander Gunn held the clan gathering, annual general meeting and dinner – along with clan presidents from North America and Australia – at his Caithness home.
The 76-year-old commander said he would welcome a resolution. "We are in limbo at the moment," he said. "I was appointed in 1972 until such time as the chiefship was resolved and I'm still here. If they find a legitimate chief, that's fine. The Lord Lyon is considering the questions that people have raised."
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