Obituary: Kenneth Urquhart of Urquhart, clan chief and academic who brought 21st-century expertise to an ancient tradition

Kenneth Urquhart of Urquhart
Kenneth Urquhart of Urquhart
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Born: 12 November, 1932, in Louisiana, United States.Died: 17 October, 2012, in New Orleans, aged 79

Kenneth Urquhart of Urquhart combined being a member of an old Southern family with the chiefship of Urquhart. As 27th chief – and one of four citizens of the United States currently holding Scottish chiefships – he cut a contrary figure to that of the stereotypical all-American clan leader.

Learned, courteous, kindly and of compact stature, Kenneth Trist Urquhart brought his clan administration into a business pattern fit for the 21st century, including even a mission statement. An enthusiast for the use of modern technology as a management tool, he was one of those who helped bring about a webstream for gatherings and games so that clansfolk around the world could watch the proceedings live online.

In his Vision For The Future of the Clan, written in recent years, he stated: “As chief, it falls to me to articulate the hopes and aspirations of the family of Urquhart. Let us live by our motto Meane Weil, Speak Weil, and Doe Weil… this exhortation to virtue. Let us teach our motto, by word and deed, to our children.

“By bearing the name of Urquhart, we are marked as members of an old family with a clearly identifiable history and character. This clan in turn depends upon your efforts to make it the best it can become”.

The ancient seat of the chief is the ruined Castle Craig on the Cromarty Firth, and Kenneth’s vision had in place a financial plan for restoration of it as an active clan centre. Additionally, with Craigston Castle near Turriff in Aberdeenshire having longstanding Urquhart connections, he played an energetic role as patron of the trust caring for Craigston.

Kenneth Trist Urquhart of 
Urqhart bore a convoluted descent from the early 14th-century William de Urchard, successful defender of the Mote Hill of Cromarty in the wars against Edward I.

Loyalty to the monarchy was rewarded when King James III gave licence to Sir William Urquhart to build a tower on the Mote Hill; the burgh of Cromarty remains linked to the Urquharts to this day. The influence of the family spread across north-east Scotland, the chiefly line establishing lairdships and family ties in Aberdeenshire in Craigston, Byth and Meldrum (now Oldmeldrum).

One of Urquhart’s predecessors was the celebrated Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty – royalist, wit, scholar, anti-presbyterian and anti-papist, who fought against his opponents by ridiculing them.

Having fought for the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester, he was imprisoned by Cromwell. During his imprisonment he occupied himself by composing a fantastical work, Ekskgbalagron, an extended joke which included the invention of a universal language with 11 genders. He died in a fit of joyous laughter on hearing news of the restoration of Charles II.

A previous Thomas Urquhart, builder of Castle Craig, lives in clan legend for reputedly fathering 25 sons and 11 daughters by one, clearly extraordinary, wife. Seven sons of the couple were killed at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. After Major Beauchamp Urquhart, last chief of the direct Meldrum Urquhart line, was killed in action in 1898 during the Second Sudan War, the chiefship veered via a fourth cousin twice removed, to devolve in 1959 on Wilkins Urquhart, 9th of Braelangwell, from whom his son Kenneth succeeded in 1974 as 27th chief of the arms and name of Urquhart.

The Urquhart came from an old Louisiana family, whose ancestor George Urquhart emigrated a decade before the American Revolution of 1776, establishing himself as a planter, and being elected a representative in the local assembly.

Holder of three academic degrees, Kenneth Urquhart was associate professor of history in New Orleans and director of the Confederate Museum. Active in historical affairs in Louisiana, he played a working role in the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

He died three days before the Stone Mountain Gathering near Atlanta, Georgia, an event he and his heir Wilkins Urquhart of Urquhart Ygr (Younger) were due to attend. In spite of his bereavement, Wilkins – the new 28th chief – attended, for it had been the express wish of his father that he be there.

Following the chief’s death, Mike MacKenzie MSP proposed a motion of tribute to Kenneth in the Scottish Parliament.

The Urquhart is survived by his wife Mary, five children, and grandchildren. Wilkins, the new chief, is a lieutenant-colonel in the United States Air Force.

GORDON CASELY