Angus Macdonald.

The clan Donald (Volume 3) online

. (page 12 of 48)
Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

As shewing the wealth and social position of a
tacksman in ])osse.ssion of an ordinary-sized holding,
we may adduce an inventory of the efi'ects of
Alexander Macdonald of Paiblisgarry. who died in
I ().")7. According t(j this statement, he possessed at
his death 44 great cows, 40 year-olds, 36 work
horses. 1*2 mares, 3 colts, 5 year-old horses. 30 pigs,
120 sheep, 72 bolls barley, 20 bolls oats. 20 hoUs
rye, 200 bolls of the year's crop, 22 pewter dishes,


2 quart stoups, 1 silver cu]), 1 acjiia \ite pot, vvitli
the fleck. The rest of the utyncils doinicells in-
sight and household plenishing with armour and the
abuliemente of* the defunct's body is estimated at
X656 16s Scots.

Wadsets — tliat is the setting of land in ])leclge
for money advanced — were a variation u})on the
ordinary tack. They dift'ered in two main respects ;
first, inasmuch as the cash })ayable to the superior
was, in the case of the wadset, paid in one sum,
with a small annual payment in name of feu-duty ;
while secondly, the agreement could be terminated
by either side at Whitsunday on an indnciae of 40
days, by the Chief insisting on redemption by
repaying the advance, or the wadsetter demanding
its repayment. Practically, however, these wadsets
were of long duration, though for the tenant the
holding was, in theory, precarious. The Chief was
seldom in funds sufficient to redeem, and the vassal
was satisfied with his security. According to the
terms of the wadset-right, the superior, on pay-
ment being made to him of a capital sum, " sells
annualzies, and dispones " to the w^adsetter so many
pennylands for the yearly payment of £40 Scots, or
some such nominal sum during the non-redemption
of the lands, to be held of the superior " as freely in
all respects as he holds the same himself," with
power to him to uplift duties and input and output
tenants. He is to reHeve the superior of all King's
mails, ministers' and readers' stipends, and all other
public burdens, on account of his wadset lands —
burdens which were also usually laid upon the
tacksmen. He is to appear at the Court of the
Barony once a year, and at other Courts as often as
he shall be required. The superior reserves to him-


self the holHiii^' of Haron Courts and the relative
finsR. To this there were, at any rate, some
exceptions, a.s in the contract nt" wadset between
Sii- James Mac<lonald of Sleat and his brother,
Archibald Macdonald of Borniskittaig, in 1GG7,
when the Chief, while reserving to himself the
Baron Courts, leaves to his vassal the half of the
fines " and the half of the haile horses and sheep."
In some contracts the feu-duty was doubled at the
entry of each heir during the non-redemption of the
wadset, while the chief ol)liged himself to receive
the heirs (jf the wadsetter as vassals for the payment
of one shilling Scots for each.

Besides the wadsetters and tacksmen, there were
those wIkj held in Je" tnmi from the chief. An
instance of this species of tenure was Ranald Mac-
donald of Bornish. who obtained a grant in feu farm
fiom Donald Macdonald of CHanranald in 1(572.
These 7^ penny lands of Bornish were formerly held
in feu farm by his father, l)o\igal. and now they are
to Ix" held 1)V Ranald, and John, his son. and his
heirs after liim. foi- the sinn of six score merks of
silver duty, with H bolls meal. (J stones butter, and
f) stones cheese yearly. After the death of Ranald
Mnd John, their heirs are to pav eight score merks
of silver duty, with 12 bolls meal. 10 stones butter,
ajul 5 stones cheese yearly, 200 merks to be paid at
the entrance of each heii". Clanranald appoints
Fiftnald Macdonald his heritable bailie over his
whole lands of I'ist. with full power to hold courts.
aj>point clerk, officer, and (lemj)ster of the same,
punish all and sundry persons guiltv of any crimes,
small or (rreat. anrl censure and fine all manner of
transgressors. Clnnianald fnrthcM- grants full power


to his bailie " to collect and receive tua aimers out
of each peine land in Ulst, one yeuld cow out of
each theft that sliall happen to be proven a<^;iinst
any person, witli ane sheep belonging- to llir said
thief with nnlnoken stack of corn tliat sliall happen
to l)elont;- to iiini and tna pait of his household
plenishino-."" There is a similar contract between
Clanranald and Rorie Macdonald of Glenalladale in
1(574. by which the latter is oranted the 2 merk
lands of Glenalladale and the 80 shillinj - lands of
Glenfinan. Borie is bound to relieve Glanranald of
the services and furnishing of men wherein he
stands obligefl to the Earl of Argyll, his su])erior.
He is obliged, accordingly, to furnish a sufficient
galley of 16 oars, sufficiently appointed with men
and necessaries for the space of 14 days yearly,
between the Point of Ardnannu'chan and Assynt
when required. He is further obliged to su})])ly
100 men, if required, to assist the Earl of Argyll on
" his lawful occasions and business."

There were instances here and there of sub-
letting on the steelbow system, whereby the
tacksman provided the ground with stock and
seed corn, on condition of receiving from the
tenant a moiety of the profits. At the end of the
tack the stock, with the land, reverted to the lord.
The practice can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon
times, to a state of society when the husbandman
was a man without projjerty — a native man or
servile tenant. It is found in the eisern rich of
Germany, and the beste de fcr-bestia fen in French
and old Latin. In the case of lethchois — the Hiirh-
land variety of this type of tenure — the possessor,
generally a small tenant impoverished or without


facilities for working: the land, often furnished the
land and seed corn, and the other cultivated it. the
produce heing divided equally between them. There
have been instances of it in oui- own day.

The small ttMiants, or crofters, appear very little
in evidence before the be^iiuiini:; of the 18th century.
Thev were tenants at will under the tacksmen and
wadsetters, but practically their tenure was secure
enough, in some cases the proprietor aftords pro-
tection to the sub-tenant against the middleman.
In \(\\)\) Allan Macdonald of Clanranald granted
;i wadset of lands in Eigg to John Macleod of Tal-
lisker, the latter bindinii' himself not to remove
tenants, nor laise their rents, which the proprietor
had fixed. Under another wadset of the same
lands, granted 30 years later to the son of the same
wadsetter, leases were given to sundry tenants ; but
this practice does not seem to have been common in
the Isles. In the earlier tacks assignees, as well as
heu-s, are included, thus givhig the tacksman the
right to sub-let the whole or any portion of his
holding to sub-tenants, but this freedom was in
iater times withheld. The earliest evidence we can
find of small tenants holding directly of the pro-
prietor is in a rental ot" the estates of Sir Donald
Macdonald in Skye and North Uist of the year
1718. According to this rental, a large proportion
of the lands of North Uist was in the hands of small
tenants, the relation to the amount of lands held by
tacksmen beinjj: much in the same ratio as it has
l)een in om- f)\vii time. The small tenant })ai(l rent
to the proj)rietor direct, both in money and kind,
besides the usual bmdens and services, which latter
were oppressive imposts. The rent paid by the


possessor of a farthing- land at this time may here
be ffiven : —


Mone}' Rent £17 1 8 Scuts.

1 Stone Butter 3 U

6 Ells Blanket 3 12

Carriage Money 10

One Hen 3 4

I Peek Horse Corn 3

Ford Money 3

None of the small tenants had leases, hut they
were in a better position than the sub-tenants in
holding directly from the proprietor, whose interest
it was in those days to cultivate friendly relations
with them. The Tacksman's lease afforded no pro-
tection to the sub-tenant, nor was theie a limit set
to the rent or services to be exacted. In these
circumstances chere must ha,ve been instances of
opj)ression, but probably the o-reatest grievance
under which the sub-tenant laboured was the
multitude of services imposed upon him. especially
in the seasons of spring and harvest, leaving him
little time for the cultivation of his own land and
the securing of his crop. Yet, notwithstanding all
thai has been written by various authors — strangers
to the people and their language — as to the social
economy of the Islands, and the " tyranny, oppres-
sion, and unmerciful exactions" of the Tacksmen,
such sweeping charges must be taken earn (prnw
sails. The unvarying tradition of the Isles is that
on the wdiole they were kind and considerate to
their dependants. Men of good birth and education,
as a rule, they were not likely, as native men, to be
unkind to their own countrj^men, while lavishing
hospitality on strangers in a manner that has become
proverbial. Undoubtedly the social relations between


the different classes in the Isles, from the chief down
to the cottar, weie lu those days hetter and moi'e
friendly than they have heen any time within the
last hundred years. Hugh Macdonald of Kilpheder,
a seanachie of re})ute in the Isles, in his evidence in
favour of the authenticity of Ossian, dvrells witii
much emphasis on the irood relations tliat subsisted
between the different classes of society in earlier
times. The Rev. Donald Macqueen of Kilmuir,
writing 80 years earlier, speaks in similar terms, and
reproaches the chief himself with altering the tone
of society in the Isles, "at the instigation of luxury,
and the ambition of cutting an unmeaning figure in
the Low country."

Two circumstances occurred in the course of the
18th century which had a profound effect upon the
material and social welfare of the people, these being
the commencement of tlie kelp industry and the
introduction of the potato. The second of these
may be referred to in a sentence. The potato was
for the first time brought by Clanranald from Ire-
land, and taken to South Uist in 174:1 His tenants
at first, with characteristic conservatism, refused to
plant, and when compelled to do S(^ declined to eat
the unknown root. In a sliort time, however, their
attitude changed, and soon the potato can)e to be
the staple food of the whole population during a
great part of the year.

Tjie manufacture of kelp, wl'ich proved a great
source of wealth in tl^e Isles for generations, was
iiitioduced into North Uist as early as 1726. At
first it was not received with favour, but when the
price advanced from 18s or 20s to £3 10s in 174G,
and even to t!20 per ton in 1772. the industry was
eagerly pursued by all clivsses of the community.


At last a change came which proved a grave econ-
omic reverse to the Islands. In response to the
agitation by the sonp boilers and glass manufacturers,
the duty on Spanish barilla was so much reduced
that the price of kelp fell from £20 to £2 per ton.
All classes suffered from the failure of the kelp
industry. As a source of wealth it had not been an
unmixed blessing. While it increased the peoj)le's
comfort, they failed to see that it was but a tem-
porary source of income, and hence the staple
industry, the cultivation of the land, was very
much neglected. The inducements which the kelp
industry held out to early marriage were the mearis
of rapidly increasing the population, and when it
failed no means of livelihood were left to many of
them. The proprietors, whose income this industry
greatly increased, neglected the permanent improve-
ment of their estates, in the belief that kelp would
never decrease in valus. Living up to their income,
many of them, consequent on the kelp failure,
became greatly embarrassed, and were finally obliged
to sell their estates. The only class in the Isles
whom the kelp industry actually benefitted in a
permanent way were the Tacksmen, many of whom
acquired through it sufficient wealth to purchase
considerable estates which the}^ transmitted to their

A survey of the social condition of the Isles
during the period under review would be incomplete
without Some consideration of the intellectual devel-
opment of the })eople. It is difficult to trace the
extent of island culture at this period. If we are to
guage it by the educational status of the barons of
the Isles in the time of Donald Dubh's rebellion in
1545, it appears to have been extremely limited.


Not one of the 17 heads of famihes who formed the
Council of the Island claimant could write his name.
But a man is not necessarily illiterate because he
cannot write, and there are many jDersons now in
the Western Isles who can read their native language
though never tauglit to write. In 1545 tliere were
few printed books, and none at all in Gaelic. There
were, however, Gaelic books iri manuscript, many of
which found their way into the houses of the men
who formed the Council of Donald Dubh. There
were also the monastic hbraries, of which the High-
land chiefs may to some extent have availed them-
selves. The hereditary bards, seanachies, and
physicians of the Isles were educated men, and there
were monastic schools planted at different centres
throughout the Highlands and Islands, to which the
younger sous of fannlies of the better class resorted
for their education. Carinish in North Uist pos-
sessed a college to which many of the youths of the
Hebrides were sent for instruction. In view of all
this, it is puzzling to find so many of the Highland
chiefs unable to write their own names in 1545.
Evidently, whatever culture they possessed, they
did not consider the art of writing a manly accom-
plishment, and relied on others to act for them on
the rare occasions that they were called upon to put
pen to paper. For the most part they used seals.
The island chiefs were not all present at the Council
of Donald Dubh. .lame? Macdonald of Duruiyveg
and Donald Macdonald of" Sleat being represented
by deputies. James had been educated at the
Scottish Court by Dean Henderson of Holyrood,
but we know from other sources that Donald
Grormeson could not sign his own name. It is
worthy of note that although the redoubtable


Captain of Clanranald could not write, his prede-
cessor Dougal signs with his own hand a bond to
the Earl of Huntly as far back as 1510.

An indication of the extent of Gaelic culture in
the Isles may be gleaned from the first book printed
in the Gaelic language, and which was published by
Bishop Carsewell in 1567. In his epistle to the
reader, Carsewell apologising for any defects that
may be found in his manner in writing Gaelic, says
that "there are very few who know the Gaelic
correctly, either in Albyn or in Eireand, unless it be
a few learned men skilled in poetry and history, and
some good scholars ; and hence if any learned men
find any fault in the writing or composing of this
little book, let them excuse me, for I never acquired
any knowledge of the Gaelic except as any one of
the people generally." From this it is evident that
the bishop would have many readers, and that there
was a considerable amount of Gaelic culture in
Argyll and the Isles in his day. The close con-
nection between the literary men and the bardic
schools of Ireland, and those of the Isles, which had
kept the lamp of learning aglow for centuries, was
to a large extent interrupted at the Reformation,
and instead of progress there was actually retro-
gression during the remainder of the 16th centiuy.
The Act of 1496, which made it incumbent on all
barons and freeholders to send their sons to granmiar
schools from 6 to 9, " until they be competentlie
foundit" and learned ='perfite Latyne" under a
penalty of £20, was practically inoperative in the
Highlands. When we speak of the progress of
letters, or the want of it, among the higher classes
in the Isles in the 16th century, we are only on the
surftice of the inner life and culture of the people as



a whole. The Book of the Dean of Lismore, though
representing what Hoated in oral tradition at the
beginning of the Kith centnry, is equally repre-
sentative of the mental culture of the Islanders for
till* next two or three hundred years. Whole cycles
of mytholoc-v lived and Hourished under the shadow
of the (jhristian Church, It was the oi)inion of
Bishop Carsewell that the tjdes of the Tvaf/ia de
Danaan, the Sons of Milesius, and the Fingalian
Saga, whose origin and development were on purely
Pagan lines, had a stronger hold upon the minds of
the peo|)le than the contents of the liturgy of which
he was issuing a (raelic translation. Wiiatever the
effects, ethically, of this particular type of mental
culture, and we cannot believe that these were
entirely deleterious, the tales of Cuchullin and the
Feinn, and the fireside lore which survived far into
the 19th century, must have been in full flood
during the IGth and 17th centuries.

We do not propose to enter fully into the
educational programme of the Scottish Government,
which was embodied in the Statutes of I Cohnukill.
The policy a(lo})ted, by which schools were to be
supported in every parish, was very consistently
evaded. It was largely devised and directed by
Bishop Knox, but it lacked the practical breadth
and statesmanship of Carsewell's policy in the lOth
century. Carsewell's Gaelic Prayer-book was a
practical acknowledgment that the intellectual and
spiritual welfare of the people of the Isles must
be advanced through the medium of tlieir own
language. One of the avowed objects of the Act of
IGIG was that " the Irish language, which is one of
the cheiff and princi})all causes of the continuance
of barbaritie and incivihtie among the inhabitants


of the Isles and Heylandis, may be abolish it and
removit." When this unsympathetic and narrow
spirit was at vvork in the high places of Govern-
ment, and continued so long to influence those in
power, it is not strange that for many generations
educational reform was neither populai- nor success-
ful ill the Isles.

While education with difliculty penetrated to the
lower strata of society, those of the Tacksman class
in the Isles found ways and means of emulating the
Chiefs, whose sons could not now be served heirs to
their fathers, unless they had been taught to read
and write. In the i7th and 18th centuries Tacks-
men combined to engage a common tutor, often a
student of divinity, who wished to utilise his
vacation, and who itinerated from group to group
of those gentlemen farmers, teaching their families,
not only the elements of English, but allso the
classics and other advanced branches of learning.
Hence it was that the gentry of the Isles during the
16th century were probably the best educated in
the world. Young ladies could quote Latin and
Greek, and gentlemen, who tuned their lyr*^s to
strains of poesy, composed in the tongue of Horace
rather than in that of Ossian. Donald Hoy Mac-
donald of Baleshare, who was wounded in the foot
at the battle of (JuUoden, composed a Latin ode to
the wounded limb, faultless both in diction and

So much space has been occupied in depicting
the social condition of the Isles from a domestic
standpoint that only a brief indication can be given
of the attitude of the Islesmen towards the Crown
and towards other clans, as well as the reflex action
of this upon their own condition. The fall of the


island lordship meant th? removal of a central con-
trollinor authority in those regions, but it was an
unwise |)(>licy to delegate the management of atlairs
in tlie Hiixlilands and I'^lands to a succession of
lieutenants, whose aim too often was to enrith
themselves and their families by sowing dissension
among the Clans. The Earls of Huntly and Argyll,
to whom the task of civilisiiiuf the bai'barous liiii^h-
landers was committed, were themselves the greatest
obstacles in the way ot social progress. The Clans,
it is true, may have resorted to barbarous methods
in defending themselves against the encroachments
of these unscrupulous noblemen upon their terri-
tories, as v\ell as upon their liberties, but if they did
so, and broke the pledges extracted from them to
keep the peace, all this is not infrequently ^.o be
traced to the machinations of the Kintr's lieutenants.
The interference of these officials in the internal
affairs of the Clans was certainly not calculated to
promote peace and harmony among them. Bishop
Knox, writing to King James in 1G08, gives a
gloomy picture of the state of the Isles, and informs
His Majesty that the " Islesmen are void of the true
knowledge of God, ignorant of your Majesty's laws,
and their duty towards you.' The feuds between
the Macdonalds and Macleods had l^roucjht both
Clans to the brink of ruin. Tiie King himself in
his wisdom ho,d already solved the island problem,
by proposing to extirpate the whole jteople of the
Isles, and tiie Marcpiis of Huntly accepted a com-
mission for carrying out his sovereign's wish.
Milder measures, however, had to be adopted.
Various expedients, more or less unsuccessful,
terminated in tlie drafting of the statutes of
I Columkill, which were followed up by a bond



signed by the Islesiuen, in which tliey professed
tiie Protestant religion, and oljliged themselves to
carry out the reforms suggested in tlie statutes.
Notwithstanding these eftorts, the evolution of civil
order and political restfulness among the Clans, as
items in the Scottish Commonwealth, appears to
have made very little progress, even well on
towards the middle of the 17th century, when
the civil war broke out. The change of attitude
at this time on the part of the Islanders towards
the reigning family, which may be said to have
formed an epoch in their history, has been variously
explained, though the real motive seems to have
been generally overlooked. There could hardly
have been much loyalty among the Islesmen
towards the son of a King, who, in his Basil icon
Dor 011, advises that son to think no more of the
Islanders than if they were " wolves and wild
bears." The Islanders supported King Charles I.
because his enemies were their tiaditional foes,
namely, the Campbells and all their kind, and
when the IloycJ Standard was ra'sed, they rallied
round it, tliinking it a good opportunity to strike a
blow in revenge for their wrongs. On the Restora-
tion of Charles II., their old attitude towards the
Government was resumed. llace prejudices and
the incompatibility arising from ditferent languages
and opposite types of culture and institutions
account, to a large extent, for this attitude. When
the next Stuart King appeals to them, they are
ready, as of old, to rally round tV^e Royal Standard,
but it is again to fight against the same old foes.
The vindictive policy of the Government, added to
native antipathies, fanned the flame of exasperation.
Its severe measures and oppressions would have


goaded a less Impulsive people into rebellion.
Garrisons of English soldiers were stationed in
different parts of the country to overawe them,
and tht* Independent Companies, as they were
called, were established at different centres to harass

The legislation of 1748 followed Culloden as a
natural secpience. As the rising of 1745 was the
last blow struck by Highland sentiment against
Lowland aggression still more than a dynastic
movement, so was the abolition of the heritable
jurisdictions tlie dividing line between the Gael of
ancient and modern times. The Disarming Act of
1715 was re-enacted and strictly enforced, and it
was sought still more to break the spirit of the
people by proscribing the use of the Highland garb.
The universal feeling of resentment which this
enactment created is reflected in tlie poetry of the
time. MacCodrum, the Ixird of North Uist, gives
expression to this feeling in the most scathing
terms : —

" Molachd iiii- an righ thug am bieacau dliinn
Guidhenni air beul sios blio 'ii a «hin e 'n t-osan."

The abolition of tlie heritable jurisdictions and
the appointment of sheriffs responsible to Govern-
ment completed the destruction of the outward
framework on which the clan system rested. Some
reservations were made which affected the lower

Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 48)