Clan Gunn (Scottish Gaelic: Na Guinnich) is a Highland Scottish clan associated with lands in northeastern Scotland, including Caithness, Sutherland and, arguably, the Orkney Isles. Clan Gunn is one of the oldest Scottish Clans, being descended from the Norse Jarls of Orkney and the Pictish Mormaers of Caithness.
The traditional origin of the Clan Gunn is that the progenitor of the clan was one Gunni who came to Caithness at the end of the 12th century when his wife, Ragnhild, inherited the estates from her brother, Harald Maddadsson who was the Earl of Orkney. His wife descended from St Ragnvald, who was the founder of the St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney. Gunni, whose name meant war, was allegedly descended from Viking adventurers and his grandfather was Sweyn who was killed in a raid on Dublin in 1171. Smibert however states that the Gunns were of Gaelic origin. Further information on the Norse origins of Clan Gunn can be found in an article written by Michael James Gunn, quoting Sir Robert Gordon's A Genealogical History of The Earldom of Sutherland from the 17th century: "Sir Robert Gordon, in researching genealogies for his work interviewed many of the heads of families in Sutherland, among them Alexander Gun of Kilearnan and Navidale, 4th Mackeamish, who died in 1655. From him he learned that Mackeamish’s family are called Clan-Gun from one called Gun, whom they alledge to have been the king of Denmarke his sone, and came many dayes agoe from Denmark, and settled himself in Catteynes. The significance of this statement is made clear when it is remembered that, in Sir Robert Gordon’s time, the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were united under the Danish crown. However, the ancient Gaelic sennachies described the Gunns as Lochlainnach, or Norwegians, not Danes, because at the time of their forbear’s arrival in Orkney and Caithness Norway was a separate kingdom and not united with Denmark until the Union of Kalmar in 1391.
The first 'chief' of the Clan Gunn to appear in historical records definitively was George Gunn, who was the crouner or coroner of Caithness during the 15th century. The later Celtic patronymic of the Gunn chiefs may have been MacSheumais Chataich, however 'George' Gunn was widely known as Am Braisdeach Mor which means the great brooch-wearer. This was due to the insignia that was worn by him as coroner. George is said to have held court at his Clyth Castle in such splendor that it would rival any Highland chief.
The Gunn's traditional enemies were the Clan Keith, who from their Ackergill Castle, challenged the Gunn chiefs for both political needs and for land. In one such feud it was claimed that Dugald Keith coveted Helen, daughter of Gunn of Braemor. The girl resisted Keith's advances but on learning that she was to be married to another man, he surrounded her father's house, slew many of the inhabitants and carried the girl to Ackergill Castle where she threw herself from the tower, rather than submitting to her kidnapper. The Gunns retaliated and repeatedly raided the Keith's territory; however they suffered defeat in 1438 or 1464 at the Battle of Tannach. Both sides having suffered considerable losses agreed to meet and settle their differences in what is known as the Battle of Champions, where each side was to bring twelve horse. However the Keiths arrived with two warriors on each horse and slaughtered the outnumbered Gunns. This was in turn avenged by the chief's remaining son James who killed Keith of Ackergill and his son at Drummoy.
Alistair Gunn, son of John Robson Gunn, had become a man of much note and power in the North. He had married the daughter of John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland and for this reason "he felt entitled to hold his head high amongst the best in Scotland". His pride, or perhaps his loyalty to the Earl of Sutherland, led to his undoing when in 1562, he led Gordon's retinue and encountered James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, and his followers on the High Street of Aberdeen. The Earl of Moray was the bastard half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as the son-in-law of William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal, chief of Clan Keith. It was the custom at the time to yield thoroughfares to the personage of greater rank, and in refusing to yield the middle of the street to Stewart and his train, Alistair publicly insulted the Earl. Stewart soon afterwards had him pursued to a place called Delvines, near Nairn. There he was captured and taken to Inverness, and following a mock trial, he was executed.