I know I have written on this elsewhere on this site, but the following is much more tightly argued....
Clan Gunn has no Orkney origin
‘Chief’ Snaekoll Gunn
'Despite his part in the murder of the earl Snaekoll was not condemned to death at the trial in Bergen but "remained long with earl Skuli and King Hacon" … and there is no evidence that he ever returned to Orkney or Caithness … Despite the claims of Clan Gunn to be descended from him…’
Snaekollr Gunnison who went to Bergen in 1232 to claim Earl John's inheritance (but never seems to have come home again)'
These quotes are by Barbara Crawford who ‘is Honorary Reader in History at the University of St. Andrews having spent over thirty years as a teacher in the Dept. of Mediaeval History… Dr. Crawford is a Member of the Norwegian Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She was a Commissioner of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland from 1991-2001, chaired The Treasure Trove Advisory Panel for Scotland from 1993-2001, and was President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 2008-2011. She was awarded an OBE in 2011 for services to history and archaeology, and has recently been awarded an Honorary Professorship at the University of the Highlands and Islands.’
Traditional Clan Gunn 'history' states that Clan Gunn Chiefs (and, by implication, all of the Clan Gunn) came from the Orkney Islands. This is just not true.
The main problems with the supposed link to the Orkney Islands are -
· ‘Chief’ Snaekoll Gunn who lived c.1200-1240. There is no evidence to support the idea that he married or had children. His death was probably in Norway where he was in exile for many years. Without Snaekoll having children the Clan Gunn link to the Orkney Islands disappears.
· ‘Chief’ Gunn, who was Coroner in Caithness in the early 1400s (he was never ‘George Gunn, Crowner’ although he is often so called). There are no proved family links from him back to Snaekoll Gunn. Academic evidence is needed to support Clan Gunn origin, not mythology.
· Surnames. These did not become fixed in Scotland until many hundreds of years after Snaekoll Gunn’s death so why would the Gunn surname have become fixed so much earlier than other Scottish surnames? As well, why would the Gunns have so radically rejected the social mores of the time and broken the Scandinavian changing surname pattern? If ‘Gunn’ does not derive from the Orkney Islands then this surname issue may not be a problem.
The key person is ‘Chief’ Snaekoll Gunn. He was born in the Orkneys; his mother had much land and was from the ruling family. His father was Gunni Andresson. (The Gunn Chief line is meant to start with this Gunni, but there is no reason why the Clan Gunn would be named after an anonymous man whose sole famous act was that he married well. Snaekoll’s great-grandfather was the noted pirate Sweyn Asleifsson. He was the man after whom a clan would claim descent if one accepted romantic tradition.)
Snaekoll Gunn was a ‘very naughty boy’; he killed Earl John in Thurso in 1230 which obviously caused problems as killing an Earl is not an approved hobby at any time. After the murder Snaekoll fled back to the Orkney Islands. A long siege ensured solved only when Snaekoll was compelled to go to King Haakon (occasionally Hacon) of Norway in 1232. King Haakon was ‘disposed to give a patient audience to the Earl’s friends, but so enraged at the cruelty of the murderers, that he put some of them to death’. So Snaekoll Gunn was in the wrong and lucky not to have been executed.
But Snaekoll was well known; his life and times (until his Norwegian exile) are detailed in the Orkneyinga Saga and this includes where he lived and with whom. Importantly, in the Saga, there is no mention of a marriage or any children for him and there would have been if such had occurred as Snaekoll was important in his own right and, as an Earl killer, was too newsworthy to ignore. Omission, here, means that marriage and children just did not happen for Snaekoll in his Scottish period.
Snaekoll arrived in Norway in 1232 and remained there until his disappearance from the records – and his time was mainly spent near Bergen. So how did he spend his time? We know that ‘Snekoll was long afterwards with earl Skuli (Bardsson) and (King) Hacon’ to at least 1239 and possibly 1240. Snaekoll was a poet; and a poem by him is known in the highly complex Scandinavian skaldic form. Due to the complexity of it many other poems would have had to be written to achieve competency. The date for its composition was 1239.
But Snaekoll spent the latter period of his Norwegian life with Earl Skuli, the father in law of King Haakon. Earl Skuli rebelled against Haakon; the rebellion started on 6 November 1239. Snaekoll actively participated in the rebellion - he ‘was one of Skuli Bardarson’s district chieftains … who were captured by the Birkibeinar (King Haakon’s military force) in 1239’. The rebellion ended on 2 May 1240 when Skuli Bardsson was put to death. It is highly probable that was also Snaekoll’s fate as King Haakon ‘crushed’the rebels which makes Snaekoll’s death seem likely. (Major rebels are rarely kindly treated, especially given Snaekoll’s previous behaviour in murdering Earl John of which, as already mentioned, the King disapproved.) Another view is more sure about Snaekoll’s end - ‘when he was arrested by the king’s men as a rebel in the active service of the rebel Duke Skuli … (he) probably paid the same penalty as his companions… With Snaekoll, the line of Erland became extinct.’
The key Norwegian document for this time is Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar (The Saga of Haakon Haakonarson). Section 208 is of importance. In essence this section says - King Håkon (Haakon) sent some of his men, in twenty-five ships, to Borgund (Sunnmøre near Ålesund) where they defeated Skuli’s forces which included ‘Snekoll’ and some of the defeated forces were killed and some were freed. The text, annoyingly, does not clearly state what happened to ‘Snekoll’.
But this saga is the Norwegian ‘official’ history so it has King Haakon as the hero. If Snaekoll Gunn did not die in the battle (a one in two chance if you like) then he was freed. But he was not given any Orkney / Scottish land, or any wealth, as that would have been mentioned in the saga to show the generosity of Haakon. Equally it's logical that he wouldn't be given it. Why would a King reward a rebel, let alone a serious rebel? The renowned and extremely well-born Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson also supported Skuli in the rebellion, although he did not actually participate in it. Sturluson was later put to death in Iceland, by the King’s emissary, for this participation. This execution adds support to the idea that it would be extremely unlikely for King Haakon to have pardoned, rewarded and then allowed Snaekoll Gunn to return to Scotland as is required by traditional Gunn history.
It is, therefore, logical to assume that ‘Chief’ Snaekoll Gunn died in the rebellion or later died in far Norway. And, I suspect, if he did not die in the rebellion he died soon thereafter – given Snaekoll’s track record he would have turned up in the historic records again if he had lived for any length of time.
There is a supposed son for Snaekoll; ‘Chief’ Ottar Snaekollson. It is from this Ottar that the Gunn ‘Chief’ line is meant to descend. The problem is Ottar is a case of mistaken identity as the one academic record used in Gunn 'history' to support his existence requires Ottar to be going to Norway by himself when aged about four whilst his theoretic father Snaekoll Gunnison was a free, unmarried young man in the Orkneys in 1224. The actual Ottar Snaekollson of the record is a Sudreyan Chief from the western side of Scotland; ‘Chief’ Ottar Snaekollson needs to be removed from the Gunn historic record.
So both major Sagas discuss Snaekoll Gunn but have no mention of a marriage, children or a return to Scotland from exile in Norway; such omissions mean these events did not happen as Snaekoll was too important to ignore. Without such events Clan Gunn Chief descent from the Orkneys is impossible.
The next problem for a Clan Gunn Orkney Islands origin springs from the well-known Gunn Coroner of Caithness (as earlier said, not ‘George’ Gunn Crowner); we don’t even know who this Gunn’s parents were, let alone have proof for earlier generations as the near random names of the ‘Chiefs’ before Gunn Coroner are very questionable. This point alone calls into real question the origin of the Clan Gunn – Gunn Coroner comes out of the historic mist of a non-verifiable past.
The final problem for Clan Gunn descent from the Orkney Islands is having a fixed surname starting in the 1200s. Lord Lyon suggests fixed surnames started in Scotland in the 1600s. So, according to traditional history, the Clan Gunn had a fixed family name four hundred or so years earlier than other Scottish families. This is just too unlikely a possibility for it to be true. And even more awkward is that the Clan Gunn in the 1200s would need to go against the dominant Scandinavian naming system (the Scandinavian surname was the father’s first name plus an affix) and use the word Gunn as a fixed surname. It just would not be possible to think so far outside the linguistic and social box to create, and then maintain, such a unique surname.
Overall, therefore, the Clan Gunn’s supposed origin from the Orkney Islands is so unlikely it must be rejected. Smibert (1850) offers a much more logical Clan Gunn origin -
‘The (Gunn) name seems to be Gaelic or Celtic ... The word in the Erse tongue has certain meanings, rendering it not inappropriate as a name for a wild tribe of mountaineers in the old days. As a substantive, guin signifies “fierceness,” and also “pain,” “a wound,” “a sting,” “a dart;” while, as a verb, it means “to wound, pierce or sting;” and, as an adjective, framed from the same root it has the sense of “sharp, keen, bitterly malicious.” So say Drs Norman Macleod and Daniel Dewar in their Gaelic dictionary. It therefore seems likely that guin was a generic term applied to some of the rudest and most northerly of the Scottish Highlanders in very early times, as well as to the hillmen of Wales ... In short, we repeat our belief that the name of Gunn had a generic origin, indicating a “fierce” tribe; and that they had been so christened by those around them ... Such native stories as that of ‘Gunn the Dane’’ cannot stand, in our eyes, against the more common-sense view of the subject ... ’
Smibert’s view is not unusual; Clan Chattan seems to be derived from earliest inhabitants of Caithness so it would not be illogical for a clan from Sutherland / Strathnaver to also have a name which derived from the original inhabitants of an area.
Overall Clan Gunn is best viewed as a non-kindred Picto-Celtic tribe of original inhabitants of Northern Scotland. It is certainly a much more sensible – although less romantic - idea than Clan Gunn descent from the Orkney Islands!
 Page 8, B.E. Crawford, The Earls of Orkney-Caithness and their Relations with Norway and Scotland:1158 – 1470, Ph.D. thesis submitted at the University of St. Andrews, 1971. http://hdl.handle.net/10023/2723
 Page 8, B. E. Crawford 'Medieval Strathnaver' in ed. John R. Baldwin, The Province of Strathnaver, The Scottish Society For Northern Studies, 2000.
 http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/staff/barbaracrawford.html accessed 4 December 2014.
 In some texts his first name is Snaekollr. Other name varieties are known.
 He was never ‘George’ – far north Scotland was not the place for English speaking in the early 1400s, let alone naming a child with the Hanoverian George. For the ‘coroner / crowner ‘ issue see http://clangunn.weebly.com/who-was-before-crowner--coroner-gunn-and-is-it-crowner-or-coroner.html
 Page 181 George Barry, The History of the Orkney Islands; in which is comprehended an account of their present as well as their ancient state; together with the advantages they possess for several branches of industry, and the means by which they might be improved, Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh, 1805.
 Some people float the idea that Snaekoll may have had children - Johanna ‘of Strathnaver’, Matilda and a son. The possibility is extremely unlikely as Snaekoll was too well known; the Orkneyinga Saga would have had a record of children of any marriage. In any case it does not matter as the Clan Gunn does not claim origin through this line.
An alternative Norwegian life is; Snaekoll ‘was imprisoned in the Royal castle of Bergen. Shortly after he was released into the guardianship of the King’s father-in-law Skuli Bardarson. Duke Skuli was plotting to take the throne from Hakon and with Snaekol he went north and reformed the warband known as the Wolfcloaks. Snaekol was made a captain or steward of the Wolfcloaks but was captured by Hakon’s loyal guard, known as the birchlegs, on the island of Borgholm in 1239 (possibly the Fortress of Borgholm on an island in what is now Sweden). After the defeat and slaughter of the Wolfcloaks (Varbelgs) at the battle of Oslo in April 1240 he was executed.’ http://www.caithness.org/caithness/castles/freswick/ accessed 5 February 2013; author Michael J. Gunn.
 Page 158, George Webbe Dissant, Icelandic Saga and other Historical Documents relating to the settlements and descent of the Northmen of the British Isles, Volume 4, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
 ‘The last sole heir-male of the line, Snaekoll Gunnason ... is last heard of in Norway in 1239.’ Page 168, Old-lore Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland, Volume 10, Parts 3-5, The Club, 1938.
 Ascribed by Finnur Jόnsson; see pp 188-189. Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy; The role of Skaldic Verse in Icelandic Textual Culture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, University of Toronto Press, 2001.
 Page 654, Kari Ellen Gade, Poetry from the kings’ sagas Volume 2, Brepols, 2009. She is Professor of Germanic Studies and Graduate Studies and adjunct Professor of English at Indiana University. See also https://www.abdn.ac.uk/skaldic/db.php?id=184&if=default&table=skalds&val=&view= accessed 21 February 2014.
 Page 295, R. K. Emmerson (ed), Key Figures in Medieval Europe; An Encyclopedia, Routledge, 2006
 Snaekoll was, after all, a district chieftain.
 Page 186 Old-lore Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, and Sutherland, Volume 10, Parts 3-5, The Club, 1938.
 ‘This saga is an Old Norse kings' sagas, telling the story of the life and reign of King Haakon Haakonarson of Norway. The saga was written by the Icelandic historian and chieftain Sturla Þórðarson, in the 1260s. Sturla was at the court of Haakon's son Magnus when he learned of his father's death, and he is said to have immediately commissioned Sturla to write his father's saga. It is the main source to Norwegian history for the period of 1217 (Haakon's accession) to his death in 1263.’ From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A1konar_saga_H%C3%A1konarsonar accessed 5 December 2014.
 The traditional view of ‘Gunn’ Ottar is put forward on pages 31-31 of Mark Rugg Gunn’s History of the Clan Gunn; ‘Ottar is mentioned twice in Eirspennill’s Hakon Hakon’s Son’s Saga… The first occasion is when he visited Norway. ‘After that King Hakon went to Bergen. There Gillechrist and Ottar, Snaekoll’s son, and many Hebrideans, came to meet him there from the west beyond the sea and they had many letters concerning the needs of their lands. It is not at all clear what lands Ottar held, or his relationship to the King of Norway. Snaekoll had retired to Caithness to lands outside the King’s immediate jurisdiction, and it is possible that Ottar was attempting to claim some of Snaekoll’s former property’’.
 See Page 88, R. Andrew McDonald, The Kingdom of the Isles Scotland’s Western Seaboard c. 1100 – c. 1336, Tuckwell, 1996.
 See Page 181 of Thormudus Torfaeus, Ancient History of Orkney, Caithness & the North, translated, with copious notes by the Rev. Alexander Pope, Reay Wick, Peter Reid. 1863.’
 Lord Lyon writes 'When surnames were generally adopted in Scotland in the 17th century...’ Page 4, Lord Lyon booklet 'Coats of Arms and Crest Badges'.
 ‘Campbells – In Gaelic they are called Clan Guin...’ Page V of the Appendix to Col. David Stewart, Sketches of the Highlanders of Scotland Volume 2, Constable, 1825. The idea is also picked up on page 11 Scottish Studies, Volumes 17-19, University of Edinburgh, 1989. So perhaps Campbells could be seen as a tribal group whose name originally was that which became Gunn.
 Pages 170-171, ed. Thomas Smibert, The clans of the Highlands of Scotland; being an Account of their Annals, Separately & Collectively with Delineations of Their Tartans and Family Arms, Edinburgh, James Hogg, 1850.
 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chattan_Confederation accessed 1 January 2015.