The Ludicrous “Scottish Laird” Scams

By W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore MSc MA FSAScot                        Former Council Member of the Council of Scottish Armigerous Clans & Families

As members of a Clan Society, we appreciate and want to celebrate Scottish history and culture, such as wearing our tartan and taking part in highland games, wherever we may be in the world.  This also includes following a traditional chief, the Duke of Montrose for the Grahams, (or in the case of an amigerous clan like the Cunninghams, seeking a chief); a respect for chieftains, who often are heads of leading cadets (eg Breadalbane) and armigers; a respect for the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon in the granting of undifferenced arms and recognition of heads of name of families; and acknowledging the traditional Scottish hierarchy of Crown, peers, feudal barons, lairds, and esquires (any armiger).

However, there are some organisations out there, mainly based outside of Scotland[i], that sully our heritage and mock our ancient feudal history with a scam that nets them a fortune.  This is the practice of buying Scottish estates and then selling off one square foot plots under the pretext of conservation and the claim that such ownership entitles the purchaser to call him/herself Laird, Lord (sic) or Lady.

Some may  dismiss this as just a bit of  harmless fun, but as a  Scot, I am not amused that a part of our cultural heritage is being  ridiculed and  angry that  people are being  defrauded and placed at  risk of  prosecution.  The websites used to promote this  scam are, of course, generally  attractive,  persuasive and  seemingly  plausible but are, in  fact, a  tissue of mis- leading information.   The truth they do not want you to know is as follows:

First, in order for sale of land to be legitimate in Scotland it has to be recorded in the Scottish Land Register, the keeper of which, in accordance with Section 4b of the Registration of Land (Scotland) Act (1979) will not record  “a piece of land ……… of inconsiderable size or no practical utility” Thus, the plots of land they supposedly sell remain the legal property of the vendor as no transfer of real rights has taken place.

Though it is possible to legally buy land by contract (as in a house purchase) there are strict rules of contract that must be followed (such as both parties signing the contracts before witnesses and/or recording it in the Register of Sassines) which are not generally implemented by these scammers.  Thus, despite having a pretty piece of parchment, the purchaser of the plot, only has a personal right to it.  There is nothing, therefore, to stop these individuals, when they have sold all the plots, from selling the whole estate to a new owner (who has no obligation to honour the “rights” of the purchasers of these “souvenir” plots, which are trumped by his real right to it), before dissolving the firm and disappearing with their fortune.  Many supporters of this scam disingenuously argue that if this were true, no purchase of goods and services could take place in Scotland as they are not registered.  However, this is to claim that apples are oranges: land sale is governed by different laws from other forms of sale and purchase and thus cannot be compared in this way.

Second, there can only be one Laird (Lady) of an estate.  This is why I can no longer be “of Ardoch” –  the Lord Lyon having recognised Professor Thomas MacKay as “of Ardoch” by grant of Arms in acknowledgement of his having bought the ancient feudal barony along with the house.  These peddlers of fake titles would have their customers believe that a single one square foot of land (the size of an average floor tile) entitles them to become a laird/ lady, without any reference to the size of the estate or to the Lyon Court, by whom such designations have historically been recognised.

Third, they compound their calumny further by telling their customers that Laird and Lord are interchangeable as they have their origin in the same root “laverd”.  This is as true as saying that sensible and sensitive are interchangeable as they share the Latin root “sensus”.  Lord, in the UK, is only used by members of the peerage whose titles have been granted by the Sovereign, while lairds are members of the Landed Gentry.  (In the Channel Isles, where some of these companies are based, the feudal barons are called Seigneurs, and I know of no Seigneur who would dream of calling himself “Lord”, even though such baronies could be bought and sold too.)  The correct translation of the Scots word Laird into English is Squire (ie Lord of the Manor).

They further encourage their clients to complete forms that will permit them to change their documents (eg driving licences or credit cards) to show their new status (sic) so as to reap benefits usually reserved for the nobility. However, the forms are for a change of name and not a change of title; thus many of their victims now have Lord or Lady as their first name. Such altered documents, unless they bear a title before the name (such as Mr, Mrs, Ms), could lead to prosecution in the UK, if it is deemed that the person has obtained goods or services under the false pretences of being ennobled.  Also, they may unwittingly use a dignity to which they have no right as did an Englishman, until challenged by a descendant of the true Earls, was calling himself “Lord Glencairn”.

Fourth, they tell their purchasers that they will be exclusively entitled to use a coat of arms and a special tartan.  In Scotland, arms must by law be registered in the Lyon Court and they are the personal property of the grantee and his/her descendants.  If any other person uses them, it is a criminal offence, the penalty for which is an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment.  Yet, these scammers, lead their customers to believe that hundreds of people can use the same arms. Sadly, the insignia, which they have had designed by somebody who knows nothing of heraldry, are a mockery of properly designed arms.  Reading, for example, the description of the Blackwood arms, it sounds like something from a Fantasy Novel and is immediately clear that they have no knowledge of heraldic terminology (there is no fesse on the shield), nor of Latin, as the motto had a glaring grammatical error (now corrected)!  As to the tartan, I know of no law that prohibits anyone from wearing whatever tartan they like, though convention dictates that it should be the tartan of one’s clan.

Fifth, many of these scammers use the additional hook of conservation.  If this was a true part of their work, surely there would be more evidence of it on their websites.  Where are the pictures of newly planted trees?  Where are the figures showing number of trees planted or the number of local people employed in conservation?  It is not possible to plant a tree in every one square foot plot as trees require a greater distance between them if they are to reach maturity.  In other cases, much of the estate is peat bog, which is unsuitable for tree planting and requires different management and conservation, or a designated area of Special Scientific Interest (SSI), which is protected by law.  The only source of information about the supposed “conservation” is the company that has already used misleading information to get sales and, thus, is not a credible source.

Finally, if these unscrupulous charlatans are not challenged, it could encourage other people to ignore the Lyon Court in cases of Clan recognition and Chiefship, which surely is a road to chaos (but that is another article, I think).  To this end, a website has been set up to educate people and expose these scammers.  It is already having an effect as one company have, in retaliation, made unsubstantiated allegations against the founder of the website on their Forum, and another (the oldest founded in 1983) has abruptly ceased trading (it was later merged into a sister company).

My hope is that through providing accurate information to as many people of Scots descent as possible that the pool of potential victims for these scammers is so reduced as to put them all out of business.

[i]Scottish Lochaber Estates, Lochaber Highland Estates, Scottish Highland Titles and Highland Titles, are all based, not in Scotland but on the tiny island of Alderney in the Channel Islands (not part of the UK);, is based in Wales, (Laird of Bandrum), Moon Estates (Laird of Kincavel) and Enssen (Lordstitles) are all are based in England.  However, Native Wood Preservation Ltd  and  Scottish are both based in Scotland, the former in Glasgow and the latter (run by English in-comers) is in Glendaruel, Argyll.

This article has undergone several revisions since it was published in Clan Graham News – this is in response to feedback from readers.  WRBCG

7 Responses to The Ludicrous “Scottish Laird” Scams

  1. inchtalla says:

    This article has now appeared in the Clan Graham Society news magazine.

  2. I hope more Clan Societies will make their members aware of this charade

  3. As P.T. Barnum is alleged to have said over a hundred years ago and which is still as true today as it was then, “There’s a Sucker born every minute.”
    Actually, with the worldwide population explosion, suckers might be popping up every few seconds these days, and the internet gives hucksters even greater access to them.
    It is rather sad that the thirst for knowledge in many people, especially Americans who can almost trace European descent (and I say almost because no matter how hard one may wish otherwise, it almost always works out that the records you find more often tend to adequately document Someone Else’s Family rather than one’s own!) many times lead frustrated people down the bright, shining road of deceitful promulgation of titles and documents. The purveyors of Bucket Shop Heraldry and Latenight TV Land Deals will continue to do a brisk business because there will always be a willing group of people just gullible enough to spend their money for some shred of what they erroneously believe will bring them respectability. They don’t realize that if one cannot see respectability in one’s own mirror, they will never find it in a pedigree, transferrable title or armorial achievement…
    Of course, Would-Be Clan Chiefs and other egomaniacs are another matter!

    • debruis says:

      Has anyone in the UK tried to do something about the Highland Titles mob. The solicitors that are acting on the behalf are in Perth.
      Anderson Beaton Lamond I would not be surprised if they are ones that have set up the offshore company to hoodwink and sell this garbage on to the world.
      Maybe some one who lives in the UK could make a formal complaint to the Lord Lyon.

  4. inchtalla says:

    Here is an interesting article from the Journal Online of The Law Society of Scotland that provides support for those sections of the article regarding transfer of land in Scotland:

  5. Jean Michel says:

    Dear W R B Cunninghame Graham,

    Sorry for my poor english Happy-Grin

    What can do a miserable Frenchy between this two positions: your position and my romantic one!
    I understand your position but you are Scottish!
    But for me, a French, what can I do!
    I was very happy to discover this possibility. Yes, it is reaseonably a “fake” but it is for me (… us) just a symbolic attachement to an idea of Liberty.
    Because the Hadrian wall
    Because the Auld Alliance
    Because the presence of Highlanders with Jeanne D’arc in Orlean
    Because the 1/4 of celtic blood in my body
    Because your travel to Independance
    Because many others things…

    So ok, you are right. But would you please give me (… us) another good solution! Or construct an alternative one for some special guy who were not born in Scotland.
    Remember, the good time where it was easy with the Auld alliance.
    Best regards

    • inchtalla says:

      Sadly Jean Michel – this scam does very little for Scotland and a great deal for the owners’ off shore bank accounts. The behaviour of the vendors of these schemes towards their critics is absolutely shocking – this alone shows that it is not a legitimate enterprise (even though it may not be illegal). They sell their product through lies – and they have even been caught out recently lying to the authorities in an application for planning permission – this is not the behaviour of a professional organisation nor of any organisation with a genuine product.

      Remember, you never really own the land they sell you (as was demonstrated when they transferred your (sic) land without asking you; there is no title – just permission to use a trademarked phrase and encouragement to break the law by pretending to be a noble; the conservation work is not independently validated and takes no account of existing ecosystems, which it destroys. This is not harmless.

      If you want to show your appreciation of the “Auld Alliance” you could join a properly registered Scottish Charity like the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) or Historic Scotland (which would give you reduced entry to their sites when you visit) or the John Muir Trust, which (like the NTS) carries out properly validated conservation work. All three organisations are registered with the OSCR and have to publish properly audited accounts (which is certainly not true of the largest vendor of 1 sq ft plots).

      You could even go as far as Christian Allard, who moved to Scotland, joined the SNP and is a Member of the Scottish Parliament.

      Sadly, Highland Titles, Dunans Castle, Blackwood, Kincavel, etc are not helping support the auld alliance, just lining their pockets.

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