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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - Jun/Jul 2002
Lowlands of Scotland


by Judith Lloyd, President of the Scottish District Families Association

I've had some remarks on my first article. A couple were from lowland Clan members, one of whom mentioned that when they think of lowlanders they immediately think of clans, but that he would concede the fact that not all Scots were members of nor associated with clans. For those of you who are part of the Lowland Clans, I welcome any information on your clan if you would like it incorporated into this column. We started this to give you and others a chance to let others know about those Scots who did not live in the Highlands.

The first people known as the Scots (those who came from Ireland and other areas) were actually Lowlanders. The Picts were mainly in the upper portion of Scotland. Kenneth MacAlpine, combined some of the area settled above the Firth of Forth and the area of the Clyde by the Picts with the lowland areas settled by the Scots to create his Kingdom of Alba. This essentially made him the "first" Scottish king. He ruled from Scone (in the district of Perthshire just above the River Tay) and during his reign divided his kingdom into districts, many of which remain today. Later in history the inauguration of Alexander II at Scone was witnessed by the Earls of Strathearn, Buchan, Angus, Fife, Menteith, Atholl and Lothian. These are all districts and cities today. During and after William the Conquerer defeated England many of the English nobles fled into lower Scotland. Some of these stayed even after it was safe to return to England.

In the Highlands there were no close villages like those that were found all over the lowlands. It also was much harder to travel about in the highlands than in the lowlands. It is only 12 miles between the southwestern shores of Scotland and Ireland, making it very easy to row or sail back and forth between the two countries. All of these factors combined to create in the Lowlander a Scot with language, dress, and customs more like those of England than the inhabitants of the northern mountains of Scotland who remained relatively isolated, mostly Gaelic speaking, and considered to be heathens by the people of the Lowlands. This attitude existed even in the time of William Wallace whose birth status influenced the support of nobles for his fight. Today there is a complete turn around. It is the Highlander descendants who are in high regard and the Lowlander descendants who must "prove" that they too are as Scottish as the Highlanders.

When I say that the Scots in the lowlands were more like the English in culture that is not to say that they were very like the English. Scots usually had much more association with the peoples of Europe than they did England. They never warred with anyone except England (and themselves). England, of course, could not say the same. It seems they fought with almost everyone at some point in their history. When the Scots needed assistance they were often backed by European countries, especially France. So though the Lowlanders were more like the English than the Highlanders they were truly more European than English. The Norman, Angles, and Saxon had a great influence on the early Lowlanders and made their language even more "English". The language of the Lowlanders, Scot, was actually called Inglis by some.

In another dichotomy the nobles and especially people of the Lowlands with any moneys would not have worn wool since it was the cloth of the poor. They would have more likely dressed as the European and English dressed. You can see this in the early portraits done of Scots. Since the mid 1700's however the wearing of the kilt by even the nobles of Scotland (and England, for that matter) is considered very fashionable. However, one of my friends who spends much time in Scotland once said if you see someone in a kilt in Scotland, he is more likely to be an American than a Scot. And in another turn the wool kilt is far more expensive than one of cotton or synthetic material.

Today the Highlander is much more intriguing to people with their history of warring, ability to survive in the harsh environment of the Highland mountains, the image of men fighting in tartan, and, of course the movies The Highlander, Rob Roy, and Braveheart. As "we" Lowlander and district descendants make the world more aware of us and our ancestors' contributions to Scotland we will see less often the crestfallen face of someone inquiring on the origin of their name and finding it is not associated with a Highland Clan, but instead is associated with a Lowland Clan, or "worse still" a district or city in Scotland and no clan association at all.


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