The Robertsons descend from Crinan, Lord of Atholl and hereditary lay Abbot of Dunkeld. From Crinan sprang the royal house of Duncan I, King of Scots, whose third son, Melmare, was ancestor of the Earls of Atholl. The Robertsons are more properly called Clan Donnachaidh, from Duncan, fifth in descent from Conan of Glenerochie, a younger son of Henry, Earl of Atholl. Duncan supported Robert the Bruce, and his clan fought at Bannockburn. Duncan later seems to have fallen into the hands of the English, at either Durham or Neville’s Cross. He died in 1355, succeeded by Robert, from whom the general surname of the clan is taken. Robert’s brother, Patrick, was ancestor of the principal cadet house of Lude. Lude, now a comfortable county house which dominates the skyline of Blair Atholl above Glen Tilt, was erected into a barony in 1448. Alexander Robertson of Lude joined Montrose and fought for Charles I at Tippermuir. Lude was burned by Cromwell’s forces in retaliation.
The clan’s fame and fortune was assured in 1437, following the murder of James I at Perth. Robert, known as Riach, the Grizzled, captured Sir Robert Graham, the king’s assassin who was later put to death with considerable savagery. Although the chief received the tangible reward of having his lands of Struan erected into a free barony, he was also granted a symbolic memorial by additions to his coat of arms. Subsequently, the chief of Clan Donnachaidh bore as his crest a hand holding aloft an imperial royal crown, and on the compartment under his shield a naked man in chains, representing the regicide. Robert Riach died of wounds received in battle in 1460, and the chiefship passed to his eldest son, Alexander. The clan feuded with their neighbours, the Stewarts of Atholl. William, the sixth chief, was killed trying to recover lands seized by them. The eighth chief was murdered, and his brother inherited an estate riddled with debt. A large part of the family lands were sold off, but in 1606, John Robertson, a prosperous Edinburgh merchant who claimed kinship to the chiefly family, obtained a charter under the great seal in his favour. He then reconveyed the lands to Robertson of Struan, that is, transferred the title without exchange of money.
When the chiefship passed to an infant, Alexander, in 1636, the leadership of the clan devolved upon his uncle, Donald. Donald, who was generally known as the Tutor of Struan, was a staunch adherent to the royalist cause, and he fought with the Marquess of Montrose in all of his campaigns.
Montrose commissioned him colonel on 10 June 1646. At the Battle of Inverlochy, where Montrose fell upon the surprised Argyll after a long forced march, the Robertsons played a major part in putting the king’s enemies to flight.
The next chief, Alexander, was just eighteen years old, and had been at university in St Andrews when his father died, followed almost immediately by his elder brother in 1688. He had been destined for an academic life, and has passed into history as the ‘poet chief’. After James VII’s final defeat in 1690, the Robertson estates were forfeited, and the gallant and talented young chief joined the exiled court in France. He saw some service in the army of the French king, but was allowed to return to Scotland under a general amnesty granted by Queen Anne. He did not seek any formal pardon from a Crown he still considered to be usurped, and he called out his clan in 1715 when the standard of the ‘Old Pretender’ was raised. He was twice captured by Government forces, and on each occasion contrived to escape, finally fleeing to exile again in France. He once more took advantage of a general amnesty and returned to Scotland in 1725. However, he would take no oath of allegiance to the house of Hanover. Despite all he had suffered for the Stuart cause, he hastened to the side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, although his age precluded him from active campaigning. He died in 1749 without issue.
The chiefship passed to his kinsman, Duncan Robertson of Drumachuine, but he could not take up the family estate as he had been forfeited in his own right for his participation in the rising of 1745. His son, Alexander, the fifteenth chief, had the barony of Struan restored to him by the Crown in 1784. Alexander also died without issue, and was succeeded by a kinsman who received a charter of confirmation to the barony of Struan on 23 June 1824. When George, eighteenth chief, sold the barony of Struan in 1854, he reserved for himself and his heirs the right and privilege of interment in the family burial ground for the members of the family of Struan. The chiefs thereafter lived on their estates in Jamaica, but have now returned to take up farming in Kent.