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Clanship and Feudalism


By Peter Lawrie, ©2017
Clanship and feudalism are often confused. Both are systems for the control and exploitation of land-based resources. The clan (Gaelic clann - family) derived from tribal society and was led by a kin-based chiefly group, but many non-related peoples who happened to live on the land controlled by the ruling kindred of the clan would be regarded, and regard themselves, as members of the clan. Essentially, the land or duthchas was perceived to be the property of the entire clan and held in common. The clan was in that sense a 'bottom-up' organisation, the chief and his immediate family owed their position to the continuing support of the clansfolk. These bonds might be celebrated by "hosting and feasting", whereby the surplus product of the land was redistributed.

It has been argued, by Gibbon and others, that the growth of the great estates or latifundia in the hands of fewer and fewer extremely wealthy men led ultimately to the collapse of the Roman Empire as the mass of the population became deprived of any stake in the resources of the empire. When the Empire in the West collapsed at the end of the 5th century, new peoples colonised much of Europe re-introducing tribe-based control of land resources. Kin-based networks of service and protection became the norm.

As larger polities, such as the Carolingian empire, grew in the 8th and 9th century to dominate large areas of Europe, a system was developed whereby the rulers could control the mounted cavalry essential for their dominion. This was the genesis of the feudal system which, in its various forms, usually emerged due to the necessary decentralization of the empire. The growing empire made the leaders of the tribal kindreds into feudal lords who owed their position both to the leadership of their own tribes and also to support of the king/emperor. Mounted soldiers began to secure a system of hereditary rule over their allocated land and their power over the territory came to encompass the social, political, judicial, and economic spheres. Only with the infrastructure necessary for the exertion of centralised power — as with European monarchies in the late middle ages — did feudalism begin to yield to these new power structure and eventually disappeared.

The classic version of feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs. A lord was in broad terms a noble who held land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the use of the fief and the protection of the lord, the vassal would provide some sort of service to the lord. There were many varieties of feudal land tenure, which while initially requiring military service, also included non-military forms of service - especially from religious establishments. The obligations and corresponding rights between lord and vassal concerning the fief form the basis of the feudal relationship. Fundamental was the obligation to support and provide service to one's superior in return for his protection and, in turn, to expect the support and service of one's own vassals. Thus the monarch could summon his great lords who, in turn, could expect the service of their chief tenants. The system was based on law and the law could be used to enforce it and punish the recalcitrant or deprive them of their holdings.

In Scotland, feudalism was effectively introduced by David I at the start of the 12th century when he imported Norman knights in emulation the system he found in England. Unlike in England where William the Bastard (aka the Conqueror), replaced the native Saxon aristocracy almost entirely with his own followers, in Scotland the incoming Normans merged with the native lords. Thus, as an example, Robert de Brix, a scion of the de Brix Lord of Brember in Sussex, had been brought to Scotland by David I and married to Agnes de Annandale to become Lord of Annandale. His descendant, Robert de Brus (known as "the competitor" and 5th Lord Annandale) married the widow Marjorie of Carrick in 1274 to become the Earl of Carrick. His grandson, also Robert, was crowned King Robert I in 1306. [1]

The earliest entries in the "Register of the Great Seal of Scotland" date from 1306. The register, or "Registrum magni sigilli regum Scotorum : A.D. 1306-1668" was published in 1882 by the General Register Office (Scotland) and includes all the charters issued under the Great Seal, consisting mainly of royal grants of lands and confirmations. The registers also contain patents of nobility, commissions to major offices, letters of remission (or pardons), naturalisation and legitimation, and charters of incorporation, patents (until 1853) and licences to print money. Although the first crown charters were issued in the 11th century, many of the early charters and charter rolls have been lost. The earliest surviving roll is from the reign of Robert I, 1315-21 but there are many gaps until 1424 when the registers in volume form begin. The possession of a royal charter under the great seal made the holder a tenant-in-chief of the crown. Feudal lords, in turn, employed legal agents, usually churchmen, who would write charters detailing sub-infeudations.

Feudalism is essentially a "top-down" land-based system whereby often unrelated people were joined in a superior-vassal relationship, involving formal vows of allegiance, fealty, homage, vassalage etc. All landed resource was regarded as being in the gift of the monarch who would allocate lands to his immediate followers, the nobility of the kingdom, in return for their homage and knightly service. In turn the nobility would infeudate their followers, the knights and barons, and so on down the tree to the lowest level of landholder. Feus might be for limited periods, the life of the holder or heritable, subject to the superior's approval and usually a payment at each transfer between the generations.

Legally speaking, all land in Scotland would be, from the 12th century on, held under feudal tenure. The extent to which feudal ownership could be enforced, however, often depended on the degree of remoteness from the power, such as it was, of the state in medieval Scotland. In much of Highland Scotland the old tribal structure of clanship persisted, in a much altered form until the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions in 1747 after Culloden. The difference in the adoption of feudalism between England and Scotland was the almost complete 'clean sweep' whereby Norman strangers became feudal superiors of large areas of the country, which in most cases they had to subdue by erecting strongpoints. The changes in Scotland were not as clear cut.

The introduction of feudalism into Scotland had some unique characteristics. The earlier Gaelic territorial mormaers transitioned into feudal earldoms. Wormald exemplified the earls of Badenoch and Sutherland who “fitted comfortably into the role of Highland chiefs, wielding a more or less traditional hegemony over largely Gaelic-speaking clients.” [2] The chiefs of Clan Campbell (Clann Diarmaid) styled themselves MacCailein Mor (son of Colin the Great), but participated as feudal Earls of Argyll in the government of the Scottish state. Although many Scottish tribal leaders did become feudal lords, there were similarities to England, in that those tribal leaders who refused to accept the changes brought in by the monarchs from David I onwards would be replaced by Norman incomers.

The conflict which could grow out of such contradictory systems can be imagined. Elements of feudalism existed from the late 11th century but it was never a formal system as in France (by development) and England (by conquest) Clanship and feudalism fused - just as much in the Lowlands as the Highlands during the 12th to 14th centuries. Thus evidence of swearing allegiance to a chief demonstrated the feudal land-based power of a chief rather than an aspect of clanship.

Women could inherit feudal fiefs but it was assumed that they needed protection and hence the superior usually had the gift of marriage. The situation of a widow in feudal society could be interesting, but it was normally assumed that she would re-marry if she had significant possessions in her own right. Clans often got into difficulty when the line terminated in an heiress. The Campbells and others had a practise of always marrying heiresses back into the kindred, but where possible male Campbells took their dowried brides from outwith the kindred, thus bringing new lands into the growing Clan Campbell.. They acquired the barony of Cawdor by kidnapping a young heiress and holding her until she was old enough to be married to a Campbell. The kin group thus deprived of their chief were hit by a ‘double whammy’. First they had to select the next eligible leader out of the kin-group - perhaps a far-out cousin and that could cause damaging conflict. More importantly, the link between kin-leadership and feudal ownership of the duthchas was broken. Clans usually disintegrated when deprived of land. In the 13th century the ancestors of Clan Gregor found themselves in such a spot. The leader of Clann Ailpeinach in Glen Orchy left only a daughter when he died in the Wars of Independence. That daughter Mariota, married Campbell of Lochawe taking with her the feudal inheitance of the clan lands which was explicitly stated in the charter of David II to the Lord of Lochawe. Mariota's cousin, Gregor, became progenitor of clan Gregor and thus a vassal of the Campbell Lords of Lochawe from the beginning. The relationship appeared to have been benign for the following two centuries as both kindreds expanded, but this explicit feudal vassalage existed from the beginning. [3]

Not everyone in Scotland during the late Middle Ages lived in a tribal society. There were two main regions in Scotland where, during 14th to 17th century, a tribal system prevailed: the Highlands and the Border zone with England. From 1603, James VI redefined the Border zone as the Middle Shires and went to considerable lengths to control violence and end the power of the Border Clans. The Borderers were Scots-speaking and in other ways distinct from the Gaelic speaking Highland clans. The Highlands, north of the Forth and Tay, but excluding the NE coast from Dundee to Aberdeen and Buchan, were defined by difficult communications and the Gaelic language. By the 14th century, Gaelic had retreated from being the language of the whole of Scotland except the Lothians, to being marginalised in the Highland zone. Indeed, "Scots" originally referred to the Gaelic language, but by the end of the 15th century, English/Scots speakers referred to Gaelic instead as 'Yrisch' or 'Erse', and their own language as 'Scottis'. [4] Unable to exert their authority in the Highlands, successive Stewart Kings delegated authority to the "well-affected" clan chiefs by means of heritable jurisdictions. The Earls and Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell, not only had legal authority over their own clan, they also achieved the hereditary justiciarship of Scotland - which they frequently used for their own benefit.

The word clan from the Gaelic clann means “children or descendants of”. It can be loosely synonymous with the word “family”. Yet in the context of the Scottish clans it means something more than that. In Scotland, "clan" refers to a unit within a tribal society where blood kinship carried with it a deeper sense of identity and obligation than it did in a non-tribal society. At the head of a clan was a chief. His paternalistic duties extended much farther than his own children and grandchildren. He shared a sense of kinship with the whole clan, which in some cases could number in the thousands. As the head of a clan, the chief had a duty to serve his clan, specifically in areas of economy and protection. Members of a clan, likewise felt certain duties to play their role within the clan. They could be summoned to fight for their clan and territory with the chief, or near relative, at the head of the force. Admittedly this behaviour could be similar to that of feudal lords in earlier times, but it did largely distinguish clan leadership in the Highland zone from that outside, especially as it survived, to an extent, up to the 18th century.

True clanship was a kin-based system. Kinship and the degree of connection to the chief were paramount in determining relationships. Formal oaths were therefore superfluous in establishing loyalty. "Swearing on dirks", popularised by Hollywood fantasies, or any other form of oaths were not necessary to establish a relationship with one's chief but such oaths of allegiance would be more significant in circumstances not directly connected with the chief-clansman relationship. Recruiting unrelated clansmen could involve a formal commitment, termed calp - literally promising one's best cow at death. Calp was an acknowledgement of a relationship that might not be clear from any kin connection.

In Clanship, disposing of the ancestral duthchas was unacceptable and good grounds for a clan to kill its chief! Oigreachd in clan society could refer to lands acquired that did not form part of the duthchas and which the chief in his role as a feudal lord could then dispose of. The feud between Macintosh and the Camerons was a good example. Macintosh received a feudal grant of lands occupied by Camerons and regarded by them as their duthchas. Over many years, several generations and considerable violence the Macintoshes failed to remove the Camerons from the land. When the dispute was finally resolved the Macintosh chief was able to part with the land with relatively minor consequences from his own people. [5] The Cameron chief could not concede the issue for fear of his own people's reaction to the loss of their duthchas. That is a somewhat simplistic summary. Anglicised chiefs in the 18th and 19th century regarded any such duthchas land as personal estates from which they were entitled to maximise their income. Their people’s inability to understand this lay behind the tragedy of the clearances.

There were a number of bonds other than kinship that defined relationship. Most important was fosterage. Leading families in a clan competed to offer to foster a chief's son. The foster child was entitled to inherit a share in their foster-parents estate. The bond between dalta or foster kin was regarded as stronger than simple kinship. Kinship itself came next. Marriage might unite groups but such bonds were the least strong and easier to set aside. Mother-child bonds were of course different.

Clan chiefs were under nearly a sacred obligation to defend the borders of their respective territories from any incursions from other clans. The concept of duthchas was one of a people belonging to the land, rather than land that belonged to a particular person. Duthchas not only referred to the land of a clan but the resources of that land as well. The steward of the land resources was the clan’s chief. Clan chiefs were obliged, not only to defend their territory, but also the inhabitants of that territory.

From charters in the early 14th century, the Clan Gregor chief had been explicitly defined as vassals to the Campbell chief. According to Martin MacGregor, this had been a relatively amicable relationship, as both clans expanded at the expense of weaker kindreds, but it broke down in 1550, when the Campbell laird of Glenorchy (later Earls and Marquesses of Breadalbane) attempted to reduce the status of the Clan Gregor in a bitter conflict which culminated in the proscription of the MacGregors by the state. [6]

In other instances of such reduction in status, such as the Clan MacCairbre in Glen Lochay, the clan so affected and deprived of their duthchas would collapse. [7] The chiefs of Clan Gregor refused to accept this reduction. In terms of the feudal law of Scotland, Glenorchy had legal "right" on his side and used his connections at court to enforce it, while the Clan Gregor emphasised their tribal solidarity and rights to duthchas.

While outside observers might decry "pretense of blude" in mocking the claim of the poor cottar with his one cow to kinship with a peer of the realm, in many cases that kinship, while remote, was real and could be recited by the seannachie. While a peer in Scotland, who was also a "clan chief", might in the eyes of the law and his equals be little different from an English peer, the difference lay in the perception of him by his tenants from the top of the social tree to the bottom. Robert Dodgshon wrote "That the kin ties of a clan could be based as much on putative or assumed links as on genuine ties of consanguity has long been accepted. An Act of Parliament passed in 1587 expressed official perceptions when it spoke of them as integrated by ‘both pretense of blude’ and ‘place of thair duelling’. Though there is an element of ambiguity about precisely what is meant by these phrases – whether, that is, they qualify or supplement each other – they leave no doubt over the essentially synthetic character of clans as kinship groups." [8]

The Clan Gregor Society has found that more than half of the men bearing the MacGregor name who have been tested by DNA analysis have been shown to have a high probability of descent from the 14th century founder of the clan. Due to the vicissitudes of the MacGregors in the 17th century, this proportion is considerably higher than is found in most, especially the "successful" (ie. land-grabbing) clans such as Campbell and MacKenzie. However, when called upon clansmen, whether their connection was real or imagined, would take their weapon, assemble, fight, and possibly die, for the chief and the clan. By the time of the '45, however, it is clear that change was coming, for example from the testimony of MacGregors, living on the estates of the Duke of Montrose, who claimed to have been forced out by MacGregor of Glengyle and had deserted at the earliest opportunity.

Quite separate from the obligation owed by a clansman to an undisputed chief was the obligation on the chief (and this existed lower down the pyramid as well) to prove his fitness. Such proof of leadership and manhood might be a cattle raid or some notable martial deed. Failure to perform could result in the chief by right of birth being deposed. (Forced into the church, exiled, or more commonly assassinated). The obligation was therefore on the chief to prove himself in addition to his right of birth.

This obligation to the kindred lay behind the violent reaction of the Clan Gregor chief, Griogair ruadh, when he came of age in 1562 against Cailean liath (Grey Colin Campbell of Glenorchy), a conflict which culminated in the execution of Griogair ruadh by Cailean liath in 1571. [9] Subsequently his son, Alasdair ruadh at a Gathering in Balquhidder in 1586, took responsibility with the whole of the clan for the killing of Drummonernoch and against the ongoing attempts of Donnchadh dubh (Black Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy) to reduce the clan to dependence upon him. [10] There was not a corresponding obligation on the clansman to overtly swear allegiance - that was accepted and understood as the norm - it was a kind of treason if he did not show allegiance by deed. This obligation to prove fitness to lead one's kin in often violent exploits is a reason to doubt the likelihood of female chiefs.

A way of demonstrating prowess and clan leadership was through cattle raids. The Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) is an ancient Irish tale concerning a cattle raid by queen Medb of Connacht and her husband Ailill, aimed at stealing the stud bull Donn Cuailngea from Dáire mac Fiachna of Ulster. [11]

In the introduction to the Wardlaw Manuscript, William MacKay points out that in the Highland tradition, cattle lifting, as it is often referred to, was not regarded in the same way as petty theft. It was a noble endeavour, different from the larceny of common footpads or Border mosstroopers. [12] The Daoine Uasal, or clan gentry, usually made up the raiding party, which could be a mere dozen men or hundreds. The leader had the opportunity to prove his worthiness to lead. Raiding had such significance that Cathcart described it as “an integral part of the clan structure itself.”

In most descriptions of cattle raids, some homes might be burned and portable goods taken; resistance could lead to some deaths too. The chief of the despoiled clan would be perceived as weak if he did not respond, not only by his own clansmen, but also by the aggressors, who might then see an opportunity for further aggression. Thus, raiding was seen as both testing the strength of rival clans, while also demonstrating the necessary prowess to maintain the duthchas and earning the respect of clansfolk. This tit-for-tat, usually low-level violence, meant a continual state of feud existed between neighbouring clans in the Highlands.

The Clan MacFarlane were particularly notorious as cattle raiders in a region known for cattle raiding. In his History of Clan MacFarlane, James MacFarlane relates the details of a feud between the MacFarlanes and the Colquhouns of Luss. Humphrey Colquhoun sued in court for forty oxen, sixty cows, and ten horses. [13]

On a later occasion, in July 1592, the MacFarlanes allied this time with a band of MacGregors descended on the lands of Luss. This raiding party seems to have been larger than the previous night-time raid. Humphrey Colquhoun assembled his own clan to repel the invaders but they were outmatched. Sir Humphrey fled to his stronghold of Bannachra, pursued by the MacFarlanes and MacGregors, where he was killed. They also killed some of his allies and set fire to his castle.

Iain dubh nan lurach, brother of Alasdair ruadh, chief of Clan Gregor led a major raid "stealing and away taking furth of Glenfynles of a great heirschip of cows and oxen pertaining to the Laird of Luss and his tenants, and slaughter of umquhile John Reid webster and Patrick Lang servant to the Laird of Luss committed upon the said lands of Glenfinles in the month of December 1602". [14] The raid had been intended to cause financial embarassment to Colquhoun, due to the consequent inablility of his tenants to pay their rents, and thus indirectly affect his feudal superior, and Argyll's rival, the Earl of Lennox

In 1601, Gillespic Greumach, Archibald the Grim Earl of Argyll, had been awarded full powers of Lieutenancy over the Clan Gregor by King James, with the object of bringing the Clan to ‘gude rewle and the Kingis pece’. In fact, Argyll as hereditary Justice General had his own feud with the Earl of Lennox to prosecute and in the context of intense royal disapproval of violence it was far too dangerous for him, a member of the Privy Council, to be implicated in feuding.

Under pressure from King James to end the violence, Argyll ordered Alasdair, the chief of Clan Gregor, to meet with Colquhoun to settle the dispute. But, failing to resolve their differences, Colquhoun himself resorted to violence, using superior numbers hidden in a planned ambush. In the resulting Battle of Glen Fruin, despite being outnumbered two to one, the Clan Gregor and their allies killed around 140 of Colquhoun's party with the loss of just two of their own. Thereafter driving off all the beasts in the glen - to be reset among the Campbell gentlemen in Argyll. When the King reacted with great anger at the news of these raids and the conflict of Glen Fruin, Argyll switched from protecting to becoming the leading persecutor of Clan Gregor.

In one of King James's last acts before assuming the throne of England, in March 1603 he proscribed the entire Clan Gregor, in an almost unique act by the Scottish state. Alasdair ruadh and most leading men of the clan were executed or hunted down in the hills. [15] This proscription against the very name Gregor and MacGregor lasted, with a break between 1661 and 1693 until 1774. Of course, by 1774 the old ideas and loyalties of Clanship had largely disappeared, but the failure of the intention of King James is illustrated by the large number of MacGregors to be found around the world.

Raiding had a financial significance which was more significant at the elite level. Most Highland chiefs were deeply indebted. In many cases the debts were owed to the gentlemen of the clan, the duine uasail, and might not be repaid for generations, if ever. However, external debts could be used by rival clan chiefs to weaken or even dispossess their target. Thus the laird of Glenorchy bought up the debts of the chief of MacNab, ultimately taking over the MacNab lands in Glen Dochart. This had also been the logic behind the Earl of Argyll persuading the Clan Gregor to raid the Lennox.

A later cattle raid had serious consequences for the raiders. Following the battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, the Clan MacIain from Glen Coe returned home helping themselves on their way to a great spreagh of livestock and portable loot from Glen Lyon. As a result, the nearly bankrupted Robert Campbell of Glenlyon had to rejoin the army despite being around fifty years of age. In late January 1692, it was the same Captain Robert Campbell who was ordered to billet 120 men from the Earl of Argyll's regiment of foot on the Clan MacIain in Glen Coe. He carried orders for 'free quarter', an established alternative to paying taxes. Following orders to make an 'example' of the MacIains which originated from King William through his secretary for Scotland, the Earl of Stair - in the early hours of 13th February Glenlyon's men began to kill their hosts, although the troops failed to kill all of them as ordered. It has been estimated that 25 may have been killed while some fugitives may have died of exposure in the hills. MacIain's wife was a daughter of Donald Glas MacGregor in Glengyle and thus a sister of Rob Roy, that made her Robert Campbell's niece, as he was their mother's brother. Thus, his orders meant the killing "under trust" of people including his own niece. Later that year, the Argylls were posted to Flanders where Robert Campbell would die in 1696. This killing of one's hosts 'under trust' was the breach of honour which has made the 'Massacre of Glencoe' memorable, while the 1689 raid, whether or not it may have resulted in death or injury of Robert Campbell's tenants in Glenlyon has been long forgotten.

Manrent developed in late 15th and 16th century Scotland. Essentially it was a formal, usually written contract whereby one person gave their bond of manrent to another. There was usually no land-based contract as in feudalism. In many cases kinship links existed, often between powerful lords and their more far-out kin who possessed land in their own right (perhaps direct from the king) - to explicitly define clientage when feudal vassalage did not. Sometimes manrent established relationships between unrelated equals which was aimed at building political blocs. More commonly it was a means by which a lord who had recently acquired territory by feudal charter, would then establish relationships with the leaders of unrelated groups on his new territory or with neighbouring groups. The latter is the reason for most of the bonds issued by Grey Colin and Black Duncan.

Another difference between feudal lordship in England and Scotland was the level of social mixing. The elite in England were usually jealous of their name, thus most English aristocratic names are exclusive, while the descendants of the peasantry bear occupation names (such as baxter, cooper or smith) or location names such as the name of the village in which their ancestor lived when surnames came into use. In Scotland, personal names predominate, often the names of the great nobles of seven hundred years ago, perhaps the names of Norman lords such as Fraser, Bruce, Cumming; or a name derived from the Gaelic founder of the clan such as MacDonald or MacGregor - whether or not the bearer has a genetic relationship to them.

In Scotland and Ireland the early Norman lords often "went native". The De Burgh family, settled in the 13th century as Earls of Ulster gave rise to the Clanricarde or Burke clan, one of the most populous in Ireland. In Scotland, the Frasers descend from an initial settlement of a Norman knight in Tweeddale in the time of David I - by the early 15th century his descendants had acquired lands by marriage to the west of Inverness and Simon, the Fraser chief, became Lord Lovat. In 1745, MacShimi, Lord Lovat, was able to call on 700 clansmen bearing his name. Similarly the Gordon family was founded by a 12th century Norman, gaining territory in Aberdeenshire under Ribert I and ultimately their chiefs became Earls of Huntly and Dukes of Gordon. In both cases, there are very many people in Scotland today and around the world, bearing the names Fraser or Gordon.

In England, feudalism began to decline in the late 14th and 15th centuries being replaced by a cash economy. Until then, there had been an understanding that land could not be owned individually and was a communal asset, subject to duties and obligations. However, in a radical innovation in 16th century England, land became defined as a commodity which could be owned, like any other form of property, by individuals. This idea transformed rural England during the next three hundred years as successive waves of enclosure deprived the peasantry of access to common land.

The elite level of society in Lowland Scotland adopted this revolutionary change more slowly, but increasingly land would be acquired and disposed of, often for monetary consideration rather than service, along with the people on it. The reorganisation of the land beginning in the late 17th century has been called "The Lowland Clearance". Its effects on the population have been largely undocumented, but it is clear that it resulted in increased agricultural production and growing wealth in the hands of the elite. During the course of the 18th century and 19th centuries nowhere else in Europe underwent such rapid urbanisation as the population was brutally cleared from the countryside. With few exceptions, this process would not begin in the Highlands until the late 18th century when a process which had taken two to three hundred years in England and somewhat less in Lowland Scotland, overwhelmed traditional societies in barely a generation. Today, in England and Lowland Scotland, the trauma of enclosure and clearance has been largely forgotten, while the emptiness of the Scottish Highlands speaks for itself.

While Adam Smith could justify the self-interested pursuit of wealth by individuals as producing the greater good of Society, even Dr Johnson would lambast the greed of landlords and the ensuing poverty of the people which he witnessed throughout the Highlands and Western Isles in the 1770s. The contrast with the rest of Europe was striking. T.M. Devine contrasted the changes in Scotland with Denmark where agricultural reorganisation, every bit as far-reaching, was managed very differently with "a degree of social benevolence which ensured social stability with funds to help the transition."

According to the late Dr Alasdair MacGregor Hutcheson, an appreciation of the Concept of Kinship with the Land, i.e. with a particular place or area, is essential towards understanding the fabric of human society in the Highlands. Occupancy of land was claimed by hereditary customary right. The claim of immemorial occupancy, also expressed as ‘since before the memory of man’, is believed to have had its origin as far back as Neolithic times, i.e. the New Stone Age, around 5,000 years ago or more depending on location, when man, thanks to the practice of agriculture, first began to settle land on a permanent basis.

There was a widespread belief that the prolonged occupation of land gave right of kindness, or kindly tenancy, implying a right of permanent occupation (not possession – land was believed to belong to all). Symbolically their own area of ground was the Earth Mother and, as children of the Earth Mother, such kindly tenants felt a very special and strong sense of belonging to the land on which they lived and worked. There was no general principle as to the length of time required to acquire this right and the clear definition of claim varied between districts. This spiritual link between people and land is a world-wide concept. Today it underlies what environmentalists call green consciousness.

Belief in the right of kindness remained strong throughout the clan period despite the fact that land ownership, established by legal charter and backed by laws that were feudal in character, had become established in the Highlands by the 14th century. For this reason it was only occasionally that rights of kindness were recognised in law. For instance, when MacGregors were dispossessed of their lands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, they vainly claimed their rights of kindness. Consequently the trauma of being declared landless not only caused great physical hardship but was also deeply felt spiritually by the Clan.

More than a century later, in the wake of Culloden, a once proud people were to witness the lands of their kindred being sold for monetary gain and they themselves treated as mere pawns in such business transactions. People were cleared, often cruelly evicted, from the lands of their ancestors. Is it any wonder that ordinary folk felt a deep sense of betrayal and demoralisation? The North Uist bard, John MacCodrum (1693-1779), gave expression to such feelings when he wrote:

Seallaibh mun cuairt duibh   Look around you
Is faicibh na h-uaislean,   And see the nobility
Gun iochd annt’ ri truaghain,   Without pity for poor folk,
Gun suaiceas ri dàimhich:   Without kindness to friends:
‘S ann a tha iad am barail   They are of the opinion
Nach buin sibh do ‘n talamh   That you do not belong to the soil,
‘S ged dh’fhàg iad sibh falamh,   And though they have left you destitute,
Chan fhaic iad mar chall e.   They cannot see it as a loss.


This sense of belonging is also expressed in other ways. When we say “I belong to . . .”, we perpetrate this ancient sense of belonging and, unwittingly, its associated symbolism. Likewise it was, and still is, common in the Highlands to refer to a person, not by surname, but by territorial designation, e.g. 'Johnnie Gart' (John, the tenant of the farm named 'Gart'); 'Glengyle' (in reference to, for example, Gregor MacGregor, the Chief of the MacGregors of Glen Gyle); 'Montrose' to refer to, for example, James Graham, various of whom were Earls, Marquesses or Dukes of Montrose.

Beginning in the later 17th century, but especially in the 18th and after 1745, the tribal concept of rights and responsibilities between the lord and his people broke down. Scots Law held that the lord was the landlord with total control of the resources on his property. His clansmen held tenure solely at his pleasure and thus became sub-tenants, cottars, fishermen and kelpers whose role the landowners came to regard solely as his personal wealth-creators and among resources to be maximised. Increasingly landlords found that their appetite for consumption could not be met from their estates, so factors and agents were introduced in order to maximise the revenues. Thus the old order disintegrated. Gaelic speaking Highlanders were doubly disadvantaged by a language barrier between them and the generation of lowland educated descendants of their former chiefs. Prosperous native cattle farmers were cleared from the inland glens to miserable strips of infertile land on the coast, so that incoming sheep-farmers could profit from the stored fertility built up over generations. A generation or so later, once that fertility had declined due to overstocking, the shepherds, in turn, were cleared to create playgrounds for the rich to exploit, the hunting and fishing crew. Today, we can look enviously to Denmark and Norway where the law in past centuries had tended more in favour of the peasant than the lord, so that their valleys and glens are not devoid of human population.

Feudal tenure may seem to be one of those hoary ideas from the dim and distant past, but in fact "The Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000" was a long-overdue land reform enforced by an Act of the newly restored Scottish Parliament which received Royal Assent on 9 June 2000.

The Act officially brought to an end annual feu duties, a vestige of feudal land tenure, on 28 November 2004 (that is, Martinmas, as the Act required the "appointed day" to be one of the Scottish term days). After that date, the former vassal became, in law, the sole owner of their land, while the former superior's rights were extinguished.

However, the abolition of feudalism in Scotland did not end the consequences of our feudal past. Even today, half of Scotland is "owned" by less than 500 individuals, many, if not most of them foreign domiciled and hiding behind opaque corporate structures. While many of these individual or corporate owners can trace their ownership back to more recent purchases, some of the old feudal owners still possess substantial estates which, it may be said, were acquired in the most dubious of circumstances.

The medieval concept of feudalism placed the monarch, for which we can substitute 'the state' at the pinnacle of power, surrounded by courtiers, aka 'politicians' and the mass of the people at the base of the pyramid, to be lied to and consulted only when it suited the politicians. The concept of the tribe, which may be equated to the "kindred of the clan in the locality" placed power in the hands of 'the people', loaning that power of decision to the leaders of the state. I do not suggest that the ancient clan system was perfect and most certainly not 'democratic'. Today everyone is entitled to have their democratic say once in a while, even if their decision-making ability may be warped by the lies told by wealthy foreign media barons and dubious payments by obscenely wealthy hedge-fund owners. This concept of the bottom-up approach underlies the 14th century declaration of Arbroath and the modern 'Claim of Right' in Scotland.

In contrast, Westminster, the successor of absolute feudal English monarchs, despite the modern veneer of elective democracy, remains a 'top-down' system. Today, the mad 'brexiteers' in Westminster claim they are entitled to use 'Henry-the-Eighth' absolute powers in order to force through their post-imperial delusions.

In a sense, the 17th century structure of the presbyterian Church of Scotland is the closest to the ideal of a state based on the localism of the 'tribe' or 'clan'. The congregations, represented by their elders in the Kirk Session, send delegates to the presbytery, who in turn delegate to the Synod and finally to the General Assembly. Decisions were made at the lowest feasible level in the hierarchy. Local decisions about local issues would not normally be overturned further up the tree. More general principles would be referred up to the appropriate level for deliberation and decision. The monarch or secular state, in the eyes of the Scottish reformers (1560-1688), should have no power over the Kirk. Well, that was the theory, but it led to bloody civil war when the 'state' in the person of Charles I and his son Charles II refused to accept it. The monarch is the titular head of the Church of England church, with power delegated to the archbishop (actually two of them), supported by bishops with seats in the house of Lords, thus the spiritual realm is arranged to mirror the secular.

Once the Kirk had finally succeeded in their presbyterian goal in the 1689 settlement and had their success explicitly confirmed by clauses in the 1707 Treaty of Union, among the first Acts of the post-Union state affecting Scotland, was the 1712 decision of the House of Lords to allow landowners to 'present' their choice of minister to churches on their estates, over-riding the decisions of the congregation. This led to a series of secessions from the established Kirk of Scotland and ultimately to the Disruption of 1843. Westminster just cannot help itself! Having a dependent kirk minister in his pocket made Highland clearance so much easier for the landlords. While today, Kirk membership is a barely relevant, minority interest in Scotland, perhaps the presbyterian model could serve as a template for a future sovereign Scottish state and avoid micro-management by bureaucrats at the centre.

The very idea of devolution from Westminster to Holyrood is fundamentally feudal, since the state represented by Westminster has consented to devolve or hand down some limited powers to Holyrood. Holyrood in turn has been reluctant to devolve any serious autonomy to local authorities and communities, instead hypothecating cash grants for particular purposes. In the spirit of clan-dominated early Scotland, true authority should lie with communities whose representatives take local decisions. These communities should have their own significant tax-raising and planning powers; and would agree to allocate some of the money raised to Regional authorities - which might run general hospitals, for example - finally regional representatives would relate to our National Parliament in Edinburgh. This is not a subject which can be dealt with in a paragraph, but the emphasis should be on the local community lending some of its authority to the centre rather than the other way around.

[2] Jenny Wormald, Scotland, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005): 58.

[3] M.D.W. MacGregor, ‘A Political History of the MacGregors before 1571’, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1989), 18-20

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Gaelic and
Mackenzie, Donald W. (1990–92). "The Worthy Translator: How the Scottish Gaels got the Scriptures in their own Tongue". Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. 57.

[5] Cunningham Audrey, 'The Loyal Clans' Cambridge University Press, 25 Jul 2014, 41

[6] M.D.W. MacGregor, ‘A Political History of the MacGregors before 1571’, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1989), 90-92

[7] M.D.W. MacGregor, ‘A Political History of the MacGregors before 1571’, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1989), 63

[8] R.A. Dodgshon - ‘Pretense of blude’ and ‘place of thair dwelling’: the nature of highland clans, 1500–1745 Edited by Robert Allen Houston, University of St Andrews, Scotland, Ian D. Whyte, Lancaster University, Publisher: Cambridge University Press, pp 169-198

[9] M.D.W. MacGregor, ‘A Political History of the MacGregors before 1571’, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1989), 115

[10] MacGregor, A.M.M. History of the Clan Gregor, vol 1, ch 18, p 204-220
online here http://glendiscovery.co.uk/amelia-vol1-chap18.html

[12] William Mackay and James Fraser Chronicles of the Frasers : the Wardlaw manuscript entitled 'Polichronicon seu policratica temporum, or, The true genealogy of the Frasers', 916-1674 Edinburgh : Printed at the University Press by T. and A. Constable for the Scottish History Society, 1905

[13] James MacFarlane, History of Clan MacFarlane, (Glasgow: David J. Clark Limited, 1922): 72.

[14] MacGregor, A.M.M. History of the Clan Gregor, vol 1, ch 31, p 402
online here http://glendiscovery.co.uk/amelia-vol1-chap31.html