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WILLIAM FORBES SKENE (1809–1892)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 186 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILLIAM FORBES SKENE (1809–1892), Scottish historian and antiquary, was the second son of Sir Walter Scott's friend, James Skene (1775–1864), of Rubislaw, near Aberdeen, and was born on the 7th of June 1809. He was educated at Edinburgh High School, in Germany and at the university of St Andrews, taking an especial interest in the study of Celtic philology and literature. In 1832 he became a writer to the signet, and shortly afterwards obtained an official appointment in the bill department of the Court of Session, which he held until '865. His early interest in the history and antiquities of the Scottish Highlands bore its first fruit in 1837, when he published The Highlanders of Scotland, their Origin, History and Antiquities_ His chief work,however, is his Celtic Scotland, a History of Ancient Alban (3 vols., Edinburgh, '876–188o), perhaps the most important contribution to Scottish history written during the 19th century. In 1879 he was made a D.C.L. of Oxford, and in 188' historiographer royal for Scotland. He died in Edinburgh on the 29th of August 1892. The most important of Skene's other works are: editions of John of Fordun's Chronica geniis Scotorum (Edinburgh, 1871–1872); of the Four Ancient Books of Wales (Edinburgh, 1868) ; of the Chronicles o the Picts and Scots (Edinburgh, '867) ; and of Adamuan's Vita S. olumbae (Edinburgh, 1874) ; an Essay on the Coronation Stone of Scone (Edinburgh, '869); and Memorials of the Family of Skene of Skene (Aberdeen, 1887).
End of Article: WILLIAM FORBES SKENE (1809–1892)
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Additional information and Comments

Few modern historians now accept Dr. Skene's belief that all Scottish Clans were of Pictish origin. Indeed, the modern theory is that most were of Irish origin through the Dal Riada and other Irish sources, mainly Roman Catholic. Skene helped to form "The Iona Club" in Edinburgh in 1833 along with Mr. Donald Gregory, which produced the famous "Collectania de Rebus Albanicus" mainly consisting of Manuscript MS 1450 which claimed to list the pedigrees of all Scottish Highland Clans. This major work is now suspect as indicated by the claims of Cormac, last Celtic Bishop of Dunkeld in the 12th century to have been the progenitor of no less than seven Clans, all of whom have different pedigrees prior to Cormac.
Further research has traced MS1450, which has a date in it 1467, to the National Library of Scotland, where it is known as MS.72.1.1. The ancient manuscript has been analysed by Ronald Black, but the pedigrees fall far short of the modern listings upon which the Highland Clans have based their history and genealogy. The manuscript was treated with chemicals by Skene which now makes it very difficult to decipher. "A descriptive Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts" by Donald Mackinnon, MA., written in 1912 and published by William Brown in Edinburgh, suugests that Skene printed the genealogies of the Highland Clans, supplemented and corrected from Irish MSS, in "Celtic Scotland" vol.111, p.458 et seq. Whilst the early pedigrees may be fairly accurate despite being written by M'Lachlan in the 15th century, the work of the 19th century, with the addition of the earlier lines with many variations in the pedigrees of the seven clans supposedly from Airbertaigh and Cormac makes the findings of Skene suspect.
MS1450, held at the National Library of Scotland as MS72.1.1 was detailed in "A Descriptive Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in the Advocates Library, Edinburgh and Elswehere in Scotland" written by Donald Mackinnon, M.A. in 1912, and published with the support of John, Marquess of Bute, by William Brown, 5 Castle Street, Edinburgh. It has also been extensively analysed by Ronald Black, who found that MS1450 was supplemented by details from the Rev. John Beaton's "Broad Book" written c1425 by Adhamh O'Cuirnin. Skene used chemical reagents on the most difficult portions of MS1450 and the resulting brown, green and blue stains, whilst in some cases improving direct legibility, had the unfortunate result of preventing fluorescence under ultra-violet light. The "Broad Book" also had a missing folio and the rest was badly gnawed by mice or rats.
MSS 72.1.1. held by the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh was given a detailed description by Ronald Black, who has revealed that it is actually two documents bound together; The first f. 1-9, is "1467 MS" written in and around that date by Dubhghall Albanach mac Mhic Phail. The second on ff.10-25, is the Rev. John Beaton's "Broad Book", written c1425 by Adhamh O'Cuirnin. Unfortunately "1467 MS" is so badly damaged that Skene seems to have supplemented it by adding information that was accepted in the 19th century from other sources, possibly of a dubious nature.
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