Version classiqueVersion mobile

Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

 | 
Christian Auer

VI. The Highlands

VI. The Highlands

Texte intégral

  • 1 The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Highlands as «the mountainous district of Scotland which (...)
  • 2 A tack is a lease.

1The Highlands1 were distinct in culture and society from the rest of Scotland. As regards social organisation the greatest distinction between the Highlands and the Lowlands was the clan, a social structure based on real or fictitious kinship. Clansmen showed respect and affection for their chiefs, who were expected to defend and protect the members of the clan. The chief was an extremely powerful figure both in times of war and peace. Below the chief there was the tacksman,2 who was often the close kin of the chief and who was in charge of the estate. Chiefs and tacksmen rented the land to tenants, pastoral farmers who kept animals to pay the rent. The tenants rented parts of their lands to sub-tenants called cottars or mailers.

2One of the other differences between the two regions was language, for most Highlanders spoke only Gaelic. There were also wide differences in religion. In the early eighteenth century Episcopalianism was a major religious presence in the Highlands. Presbyterianism existed only in some parts of the region (such as Easter Ross and parts of Sutherland and Caithness). Other areas like the isle of Barra (where there were only forty Protestants and more than 1,000 Catholics in 1760), the isle of South Lewis and Lochaber were Roman Catholic. The parishes were so immense, on average 400 square miles in area, that most Highlanders however never saw a priest or a minister.

  • 3 The SSPCK had 5 schools by 1711, 25 by 1715, 176 by 1758 and 189 by 1808, by then with 13,000 pupi (...)

3It was the Jacobite Risings, especially that of 1745, that gave the government the opportunity to destroy the independence of the Highland chiefs. Immediately after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746 the authority of the State was asserted as it had never been before: the hereditary judicial powers of landowners were abolished and a committee was constituted to administer the estates that were taken from the Jacobite leaders (the estates were to be returned to the original owners or their heirs in 1784). These measures were intended to destroy the system of clanship, to “civilize” and domesticate the wild Highlanders, to teach them habits of order and industry and to promote the Protestant religion. The government’s economic and educational schemes were reinforced in every part of the Highlands by bodies such as the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The main ambition of the Society, which had been formed by royal charter in 1709, was to found schools3 in the Highlands to counter the influence of the Roman Catholic Church:

  • 4 Quoted in C. Prunier, «La discussion ou la soumission? Les rôles contradictoires de la Society in (...)

If there are any who imagine that the sole, or even the great object of the Society, in appointing schoolmasters is to teach the children to read English, to write, and keep accounts […] such persons are most widely mistaken. The grand and important end which the Society do, and always have proposed to themselves by their appointments, is the salvation of souls.4

4If we judge by Samuel Johnson’s following comment, these measures had a significant impact on the social structure of the Highlands:

  • 5 S. Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), London: Wallis, 1800, p. 96.

There was perhaps never any change of national manners so quick, so great, and so general, as that which has operated in the Highlands, by the last conquest, and the subsequent laws. […] The clans retain little now of their original character; their ferocity of temper is softened, their military ardour is extinguished, their dignity of independence is depressed, their contempt of government subdued, and their reverence for their chiefs abated. Of what they had before the late conquest of their country, there remain only their language and their poverty.5

5From the 1760s onwards the rate of social change accelerated and transformed the traditional Highland way of life. There was an increase in the demand for Highland produce such as cattle, kelp, whisky or mutton. One of the changes that had the most dramatic consequences for the Highland peasantry was the introduction of large sheep farms. In some parts of the Highlands the increase in the number of sheep was considerable: between 1790 and 1808 two of the sheep-grazing parishes in the county of Sutherland saw the number of cattle fall from 5,140 to 2,906 while sheep increased from 7,840 to 21,000.

  • 6 B. Lenman in R. A. Houston, W. Knox (eds.), The New Penguin History of Scotland: From the Earliest (...)

6There was also a profound change at the highest level of the clan structure. Traditional chiefs, who had in the past tried to protect their clansmen, were replaced by sons who had been educated in the Lowlands or in England and who saw their clansmen as backward and uncivilised. This new generation of chiefs (“the gravediggers of traditional society”6) undertook the task of civilising their peasants. They were also much more interested in making profit than their forefathers: rents were raised to such high levels that the local peasantry accumulated huge arrears. Campbell of Knockbuy’s rents went up 400 percent between 1728 and 1788. Mac Donald of Glengarry put up his rents by nearly 500 percent between 1768 and 1802.

Notes

1 The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Highlands as «the mountainous district of Scotland which lies north and west of a line drawn from the Firth of Clyde through Crieff to Blairgowrie and thence north and north west to Nairn on the Moray Firth; the territory formally occupied by the Celtic clans».

2 A tack is a lease.

3 The SSPCK had 5 schools by 1711, 25 by 1715, 176 by 1758 and 189 by 1808, by then with 13,000 pupils attending. At first the SSPCK avoided using the Gaelic language but in 1767 it changed the language of instruction in their Highland schools from English to Gaelic.

4 Quoted in C. Prunier, «La discussion ou la soumission? Les rôles contradictoires de la Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge dans les Highlands d’Ecosse au XVIIIe siècle», p. 169-180 in Etudes Ecossaises, no 8, 2002, p. 172.

5 S. Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), London: Wallis, 1800, p. 96.

6 B. Lenman in R. A. Houston, W. Knox (eds.), The New Penguin History of Scotland: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day, London: Penguin, 2002, p. 292.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search