THOMSON, THOMS and MACTHOMAS
John Hamilton Gaylor
In the September 1990 edition of Scottish World, the Clan MacThomas Society placed an advertisement aimed at North American bearers of the names Thomson, Thoms, MacThomas, MacCombie and several other variants of these. The chief of the clan and president of the society was stated to be MacThomas of Finegand. The advertisement made no claim that the clan included all these names – indeed it merely listed them and gave an American correspondence address – but the implication was clear. However, underlying this there is a complex situation, and the MacThomas clan is definitely less than the advertisement would make it seem.
The commonest versions of the name are Thomson and Thompson, and arms for eight of them were matriculated in the early years of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, which opened in 1672. The coats show a consistent Thomson theme – argent, a stag’s head cabossed either gules or proper, and on a chief either azure or gules various small charges – which was maintained in fifty one out of another fifty three matriculations down to 1973. The Thomsons, larger than many names in the number of their matriculation, therefore demonstrably comprise a clan, deficient only in never having had a chiefly line recognised by the Lord Lyon.
The arms of Thoms and Thom are quite different. Those of Thoms of Aberlemno, or, a lion rampant gules, debruised by a chevron sable, matriculated in 1881, 1884, and 1946, ie over two hundred years after the first Thomson matriculations, are based on the Mackintosh-MacDuff theme of or, a lion rampant gules. Three cadet versions were matriculated, one in 1955 and two in 1973, and two indeterminate cadet versions for Thom, one in 1963 and another in 1967. Together they comprise a small but distinct group, with Thoms of Aberlemno at its head. However, in 1967 Thomas of Aberlemno metamorphosed into MacThomas of Finegand, and the arms matriculated were those of a cadet of Mackintosh, with the fourth quartering for Thoms of Aberlemno. The arms were matriculated again in 1972 with a change in the second quarter, but retaining the brisure. MacThomas of Finegand now appears in the list of clan chiefs published annually in Whitaker’s Almanac. On the armorial evidence we have therefore three distinct and independent groups – Thomson, Thoms and M’Combie – and assorted Thomases. Of which, if any, is MacThomas of Finegand the chief?
M’Combie is a Gaelic version of MacThomas, and arms were matriculated for it in 1883, 1890 and 1950, again as members of the Mackintosh-MacDuff group – or, a lion rampant and a chief gules – with M’Combie of Easterskene bearing the principal arms, which are quite distinct from those of Thoms, and which therefore demonstrate their independence.
The last armigerous name of the group is Thomas. Arms as a subordinate quartering were matriculated for it in 1818, and for it as a principal surname in 1939 and 1970, with two cadet versions of the last in 1972. The 1818 and 1970 coats share a Cornish chough motif, but have no features relating to Thomson, Toms or Mackintosh, though the 1939 coat does have a chief typical of Thomson coats.
The Thomsons have been armigerous for over 300 years, very much longer than MacThomas and, unlike the latter, are not of Mackintosh stock. It would not be proper therefore for MacThomas to be treated as their chief. The M’Combies however, do appear to be of Mackintosh descent, and bear arms accordingly, but on the armorial evidence, It would be more appropria te to regard them as a sept of Mackinto sh than of MacThom as, particular ly as they have borne arms longer than the latter. The Thomases also have no connection with MacThomas, and some of them too matriculated arms earlier, which leaves only Thoms and Thom.
From his arms, it is quite clear that Thoms of Aberlemno represented the principal line of the Thoms group, but upon becoming MacThomas of Finegand, he matriculated arms which put his previous status in doubt. His new arms comprised four quarterings. The first three were from the arms of Mackintosh of Mackintosh, and the last was for Thoms of Aberlemno, but all were within a bordure compony, which is a cadet brisure, usually a bastard one. Thus the status of representer of Thoms of Aberlemno was exchanged for that of MacThomas of Finegand, which, while is has been recognized as that of a chief, does not establish that he is chief of the name of Thoms; he cannot be its chief and bear arms as one of its cadets, possibly a bastard one at that. From their arms, the Thomases would seem to be a sept of Mackintosh, like the M’Combies, but distinct from them.
The chiefship of Thomson, M’Combie and Thomas is denied MacThomas because the arms associated with these names are quite distinct from his, and his chiefship of Thoms is questionable. Apparently however, he is the chief of the MacThomases, but down to 1973, the only matriculations for the name had been for two generations of Finegand, making them, seemingly, chief’s without a clan. This paradox is heightened by the case of Thomson – a clan without a chief – and by the synonymity of the names MacThomas and Thomson.
Another name derived from Thomas but not included in the Clan MacThomas Society’s advertisement was MacTavish. The only arms matriculated for the name down to 1997 were two coats, one of which was a differenced version of the other, showing them to be cadets of Campbell. The point of interest was that the basic gyronny coat of Campbell of Lochow was simply quartered with typical Thomas arms. It is said that MacTavishes regard themselves as a clan rather than as a sept of Campbell. If this is so, perhaps they should make common cause with the Thomsons, a name adopted by many MacTavishes on emigrating from the Highlands, (our note: this claim is made by Clan MacTavish, is totally unsupported by historical evidence and has been proven fictitious to Lyon Court) and seek to establish a chief whose arms would be quite distinct from, and on the armorial evidence, more appropriate than, those of a cadet of Mackintosh.
(Added by author, private correspondence, 2008) The MacTavish claim to be a clan rather than a sept of the clan Campbell would seem to be a reasonable one, but their position has been complicated, and to some extent compromised, by the awarding of Thomson arms to MacTavish of Dunardry in 1793.
It is clearly impossible that all Thomsons be MacTavishes. The position would be made easier if Dunardry were allowed arms which were distinctly not Thomson ones. Those Thomsons who regarded themselves as his clansmen could align themselves with him, and those who did not would be part of the greater Thomson name. Duncans are in a similar situation, with some regarding themselves as members of clan Donnachie or Robertson, and some as independent of it.
MacTavish the name was originally a simple patronymic, and it came to be used as a surname by a quite separate group in Strathglass, north of Loch Ness, lands held by the Frasers.
Clan Thompson.org Note: This article was written prior to the re-matriculation of Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry and the change in his arms from 1st and 3rd Campbell and 2nd and 4th MacTavish to the exact reverse, minimizing a Campbell connection..
Gaylor, John H. "Thomson, Thoms and MacThomas" The Double Tressure, No. 17 (1995): Journal of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, pgs. 81-83. Rpt. text and graphics with permission of the author.