Angus Macdonald.

# The clan Donald (Volume 3) online

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 Font size 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, SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAN DONALD. 1 .S7 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- 138 THE CLAN DONALD. 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 Macpoint 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 SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAN DONALh. \:i9 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 140 THE CLAN UONALD. 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 SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAN DONALD. 141 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 142 THE CLAN DONALD. 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. SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAN DONALD. 143 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 descendants. 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. 144 THE CLAN DONALD. 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 SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAN DONALD. 145 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 10 14G THE CLAN DONALD. 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 SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAN DONALD. 147 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 metre. 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 148 THE CLAN DONALD. 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 I SOCIAL HISTORY OF CLAX DONALD. 14!) 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 150 THE CLAN DONALD. 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 them. 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)