Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Scottish Gael
Chapter V
Customs in war and military tactics

WHEN the Celtre had determined to engage in a war, the various
states in confederation assembled in arms, to deliberate on the mode of
conducting the campaign, and to arrange the plan of operation, and this
meeting was reckoned the commencement of hostilities. No measures
were necessary to compel the attendance, at this convention, of any who
were able to carry arms, which was nearly the whole population, "every
age being most meet for war." Both the old men and the youth took
the field with the utmost promptitude and enthusiasm, the only anxiety
being to arrive first at the place of meeting. When Caractacus went to
battle, "none would stay at home; they followed him freely, and main-
tained themselves at their own expense."* No Gaul was ever known
to cut off his thumb, as was done by others, to prevent his going to the
wars, a practice for which the parties received the appellation Murcos.
There is an instance of a Welsh prince going to war at the earlv age of
ten years; and in the Scots' rebellions, mere boys are celebrated for a
display of bravery that would have done honor to veteran soldiers.

The Germans seem to have been less punctual in their meetings; the
second, and sometimes the third, day elapsed before all had assembled,
an evil that apparently arose from the liberty they enjoyed, in not being
compelled to attend otherwise than from inclination. Like the Gauls,
they transacted nothing without being armed. They sat down where
they chose, without any distinction of persons; and when all had as-
sembled, the priests enjoined silence. The king was first heard, and
all others according to precedence in age or nobility, in warlike renown
or in eloquence. If a proposition displeased the assembly, it was re-
Triad, 79. ap. Robert's early Hist, of the Cvinri.


jected by a slight murmur; if pleasing, it was received by the brand-
ishing of javelins and by the rattling of their arms, which was the most
honorable expression of assent.* It was customary, when a chief had
stated his determination to lead an expedition, that those who approved
of it, rose up before the assembly, and pledged themselves to follow him;
and to break such an engagement was to lose their honor, which they
could never afterwards regain."]"

JVo affair of moment could be decided without this general assembly
of the people. The Belgse held a council to advise on the means of
opposing Caesar, and on his advance other great assemblages took place.

It was a hazardous attempt for the Celtic chiefs to engage in war
without the sanction of their people, notwithstanding the strength of the
clannish attachment, and power of the nobility. An expedition into
Italy being undertaken in this irregular manner, a mutiny ensued, when
Gallus and Etas, two of their kings, lost their lives in the tumult. J
Lord Murray raised one thousand men on his father and Lord Lovat's
estates, under an assurance that they were to serve Jarnes, but, in fact,
to use them in the service of King William. Having discovered this,
while Murray was reviewing them, they suddenly broke from their
ranks, ran to an adjoining brook, and, filling their bonnets with water,
drank to King James's health, and marched off, with pipes playing, to
join Lord Dundee. ^

The public assemblies were convoked, and an army raised with aston-
ishing expedition. Information was speedily conveyed throughout the
provinces of Gaul; for, when an event was learned by one state, it was
immediately imparted to the others, a system eminently beneficial during
war, and for which their swiftness of foot was well adapted. An action
that took place near Genabum, at sun rise, was known at Arverui, by
nine o'clock at night, a distance of 160 miles! This telegraphic rapid-
ity has a parallel only in the methods by which the Celtic nations of
Britain roused the various tribes to arms, while the ancient system re-
mained entire. Fire was a ready and effectual method of arousing the
inhabitants of a district, and the practice continued among the High-
landers until recent times. The crest of the Mackenzies is Tullach ard,
with "the warning flame" on its summit, being the beacon whence the
clan was apprised of danger; but the most remarkable practice was by
the Croish or Cran-taraidh, the cross or beam of gathering of the High-
landers. When the chief was aware of the approach of an enemy, he
immediately, with his own sword, killed a goat, and dipping in the blood
the ends of a cross of wood, that had been half burned, gave it, with the
name of the place of meeting, to one of the clan, who carried it with the
utmost celerity to the next dwelling, or put it in the hands of some one
he met who ran forward in the same manner, until, in a few hours, the

*Tac. de mor. Germ. He elsewhere says it was also customary with them to beat
the ground with their feet. t Bello Gall,

t Poljbius, lib. ii. Dalrymple's Mem. part ii. b. i. p. 45.


whole clan, from the most remote situations, were collected in arms at
the place appointed. In delivering the Cran-taraidh, the place of meet
ing, which was generally some well known spot peculiar to each clan,
was the only word that was spoken, the symbol itself was familiar: it
threatened fire and sword to those of the tribe who did not instantly re-
pair to the standard of the chief. The last time this singular custom
was practised, was during the rebellion of 1745, when some disaffected
person sent it through Braidalban, when it is said to have passed over
thirty-six miles in three hours.

The Northern nations had a similar instrument, one end of which was
burnt, and to the other was fastened a cord, to denote that those who
disobeyed the summons should be hanged. It appears to have been
sometimes hung on a ship's mast, which corresponds to the custom
among the ancient Gael of suspending a shield sprinkled with blood,
in like manner, when requesting assistance.*

It was also usual to convey intelligence, by one or more persons as-
cending an eminence, and there raising a loud shout, which being heard
at a distance by others, was repeated to those who were farther distant,
and in this manner information was transmitted with surprising expedi-
tion. This practice was continued among the Irish and Welsh until late
times, and was called the Hubub. In Wales " when any thing happens,
a person goes to an eminence and there cries the Houboub; those who
hear it do the same, and the country is speedily in arms.""] Bub, in
Gaelic, is a yell.

The Piobrach, among the Highlanders, did not supersede the use of
the Cran-taraidh. Although this species of pipe music is strictly appro-
priated to war, and was played when the forces were rising, yet it is
evident the notes of that instrument, loud as they are, could not answer
the purpose effectually. Among the old Caledonians, to send an arrow
to any party was a signal of war. A symbol by whicti they conveyed a
wish for immediate conflict was a spear having some burning matter at-
tached to it.J The war cries were also used for gathering the respective
clans, and will be hereafter noticed.

Ammianus notices the facility with which the Germans could renew
their armies. Some of these nations had moreover a regular system of
recruiting, for he tells us that every village sent one hundred men, and
hence arose the name amongst them, of" those of the hundred band."'

It was not unusual to engage tribes who were otherwise uninterested
in the war, to serve as mercenaries, but it was more generally the case
that these auxiliaries assisted their friends "for the like service when,
they required it."jj The Arverni hired upwards of one hundred thou-
sand Germans in their wars with the JEduans.lT The Irish and Scots

* Oiaus Magnus. M'Pherson in Osaian. Fosbrooke's Encyc. of Ant.

I Edmond's Transl. of Caesar's Commentaries, p. 154, &c.

t Ossian. Lib. xvii. || Amm. Mar. xv. 10.

H Bello Gall. i. 33. In Cassar's time, Gaul was divided into these two factions.


reciprocally assisted each other. Thus, Tyione, in 1536, sent troops to
Angus MacConnal of the Isles, on condition of receiving a like return;
and many traditional stories are current in the Highlands, of chiefs hav-
ing lent their men to their neighbors, for stated periods of service.

At the great assemblies of the Gauls, it was decided to what chief the
supreme command should be given, and whoever was thus appointed,
his nation took the lead, and gave name to the whole confederation, and
the election was the free choice of the meeting. The Bellovaci, aware
of their superiority in numbers and renown, asked the command of the
Belgic forces that were about to take the field against Cassar; but Gal-
ba, son of the famous Divitiac, who had raised the Suessiones to so
great power, was unanimously voted the command, from a sense of his
justice and prudence. There was usually a single leader appointed to
conduct the war; but, latterly, two or more were sometimes vested with
equal authority.* It is likely these elections sometimes occasioned dis-
putes. Trenmhor, the Caledonian king, to reconcile the chiefs who
were contending for the honor of leading the attack, bade them take the
command by turns. Among these tribes we learn that the different
chiefs, standing apart, struck their shields, to determine who should
have the honor of leading the war. The bards, who here seem to have
come in place of the Druids, attending in a proper situation "marked
the sounds," and the owner of that which they found to ring loudest,
obtained the appointment. "f The practice among the ancient Irish is
thus represented. Before entering on an expedition, the Ard Riah, or
provincial chief, summoned all the people, who met on the raths in
arms, and as many as chose to engage in the enterprise selected a
leader, on condition of a mutual division of the spoil, and, as may be
supposed, their choice generally fell on the Ard Riah. He then com-
municated the decision to subordinate Riahs, and they to the Aireach,
who informed the lower officers in the Rath, until all were apprised of
the intended war. The equal division of the spoil was strictly observed.
It is related of Clovis, that having requested on one occasion a certain
vase, was answered that he should receive nothing but what by lot he
had a right to, and indignantly struck the vessel to pieces with his axe.

On the election of a commander, he was carried about, seated on
a shield, carried on men's shoulders. Brinno, a Caninefatian, being
chosen, was thus borne in procession, according to the ancient custom. J

A council of officers, or subordinate commanders, was appointed to
these Generals, who are poetically styled " rulers of the war " by the
Caledonian bards, and, although, as commanders in chief, they were in-
vested with a supreme power, yet they were so controlled by the popu-
lar constitution of their tribes, that they dared not abuse their authority.
They were, in fact, accountable to the people for their conduct, and, not-
withstanding the ties of consanguinity, by which the chief was linked to
his followers, he was sometimes impeached, and even put to death. We

* Amm Mar. xvi. 10. t Catholda. t Tacitus



find the Gallic leaders, after the loss of a battle, of a town, or suffering
any other disaster, very anxious to vindicate themselves to their constit-
uents from the charge of mismanagement. The Burgundian King, who,
by a general name, was called Hendinos, was deposed, if a war under
his direction turned out unsuccessful.*

If the troops had sufficient power to control the chief, he had gener-
ally the prudence to yield to their desires. The German soldiers, on
occasion of a battle with the Romans, obliged their leaders to alight from
their horses and fight in the ranks with their men, that they might have no
advantage over them, or, in case of defeat, might be able to make their
escape. The Princes instantly complied with the wish of their troops,
and, charging at their head, cut their way to the main body of the ene-

The Gallic Princes are always found in the field of battle, and usually
where the fight was hottest. It was, however, a singular custom among
the Caledonian chiefs to retire a little distance, and not join in the com-
bat, unless on pressing occasions, when their immediate presence was
necessary to inspirit and rally their troops. "When mighty danger rose,
then was the hour of the king to conquer in the field." J

It was customary 'for the Celtas to confirm their decisions by oath, and
their most sacred obligation was swearing before or under their stand-
ards, but several other forms of asseveration are preserved. The In-
subrians swore they would not unloose their belts until they had sacked
Rome. On another occasion, the Gauls, who had taken up arms, unan-
imously emitted a prayer, that the Gods might never more suffer them
to return to their homes, if they failed in prosecuting the war with due
ardor, and that they might be no more acknowledged by their wives,
their children, or their relations. || The Germans sealed a truce, with a
form of oath according to their own fashion. IT When Caractacus re-
ceived the command of the Silures, they all took a most solemn vow
" never to yield to arms, or wounds, or aught save death."** The Cale-
donians under Galgacus confirmed their engagements with sacrifices and
the immolation of victims ;"|"f and from the work of an ancient Bard we
find that swearing by the sun was the most solemn oath of these moun-
taineers. It is related of Manos, in an ancient poem, that having sworn
on his shield, and broken his oath, he was universally despised. 1

The Gaelic chiefs also, as a bond of indissoluble friendship, sometimes
drank a few drops of each others' blood; and to violate this sacred pledge
was infamy through life. The Irish had a similar custom, but accom-
panied with many superstitious observances. They went to a church,
where they were carried on each other's back a few paces in a circular
form, kissing the relics, &c.; then each drawing a little of his blood, it

* Amni. Mar. xviii. 12. t Ibid. xvi. 10. J Ossian.

Bello Gall. vii. 2. || Bello Gall. vii. 29. IT Amm. Mar. xvii. 1.

** Tacitus, Annal. xii. ft Tacitus. tt Smith's Gallic Ant

Martin's West. Islands, p. 107.


was mutually drank.* In the worship of Hertha, the Northern nations
swore fast brotherhood by cutting a long strip of green sod, leaving one
end attached to the earth, when the other being raised on the top of a
spear, they passed under it, wounding themselves and mixing the blood
and earth together. The ceremony was completed by fal ; ng on their
knees, and solemnly pledging themselves to inviolable friendship. | The
common form of swearing among the Highlanders was upon a drawn
dirk, which they usually kissed. Martin tells us it was reckoned a great
indignity to assert any thing by the hand of a father; but if to this, one
were to add that of a grandfather, the answer to be expected was a
knock down blow. Each clan appears to have formed an oath for itself.
The name of the chief seems to have bt en in this respect highly vene-
rated, and many do not appear to have thought swearing on the Gospels
more binding. It is related of a Highlander, that readily offering to kiss
the bible, the prosecutor shrewdly suspecting the reason, tendered the
clan oath, which the witness absolutely refused to take. When a High-
lander took an oath on the sacred volume, he did not kiss it, which in-
deed is not the practice in Scotland, but held up his hand, and said to
this purpose: " By God himself, and as I shall answer to God at the
great day, I shall speak the truth: if I do not, may I never thrive while
I live; may I go to hell and be damned when I die; may my land bear
neither grass nor corn; may my wife and bairns never prosper; may my
cows, calves, sheep, and lambs, all perish, &c."J The Irish, before an
attack, swore on their swords, with which they made a cross, and, mut-
tering charms, stuck their points in the ground. In 1578, nineteen of
the Earl of Desmond's followers forswore God if they spared life, land,
or goods, in enabling him to resist the lord-deputy. || To swear by the
hand of their chief, was a most solemn oath. If found to have made a
false asseveration, and such a case is not impossible, the landlord, we
are told, made them pay soundly for it. O'Neil's peculiar oath was by
Bachull Murry, or St. Murran's staff, which is said to be still preserved
"By the blessed stone!" is an expression of the present Irish. To
swear on the black stones, was a solemn oath of the West Islanders.

The Celtic chiefs took great pride in being surrounded by a numerous
band of choice troops as guards. These were his own relations and
clients, who were devoted to his service, and were the finest men of the
tribe. The body guards of Brennus, as they stood around him at Del-
phos, were remarked as the tallest men of all his army. IT The Germans
were no less emulous in the number and appearance of their followers
than the Gauls. It was their pride to be surrounded by a company of
chosen young men for ornament and glory in peace, security and de-

* Gir. Camb. ap. Campion. > The Scythians, to bind their contracts, pricked them-
selves in the arm, and drank each others' blood. Herodotus. t Dr. Hibbert.
f Birt. The Irish thought the bigger the book was, the greater the oath.
Spenser. || Desiderata curiosa Hibernica.
If Pausanias, x. 23.


fence in war. In battle, it was a shame for the Prince to be surpassed
in feats of prowess, and scandalous for his followers not to equal their
chief; and it was lasting infamy for them to return from the conflict
when their leader was slain.* Such a body was the Soldurii of the
Gauls, " sworn friends," who never survived their commander. Adcan-
tuan of Aquitain had six hundred of these followers.

The Luchdtachk of the Highlanders was an exactly similar body in
organization and devotion to their chief, and it was composed of young
men of the best families in the clan, who were expressly educated for
the service. They were anciently armed with darts and dirks, and their
special duty was to attend the person of their chief. Their favorite
amusement was wrestling, at which they were most expert; and when
the chiefs were visiting each other, it was usual for their followers to
begin this exercise, which they did with great emulation, often, when
not prevented, resorting to downright fighting. This company was
usually selected by the heir, or Tanist, who was himself obliged to de-
monstrate his right to command them, and his claim to the chieftainship,
by giving a specimen of his valor. It was, therefore, customary for him
to lead them on some desperate foray, from which they were expected to
bring home a prey of cattle or other spoil, or die in the attempt. After
this exploit, if successful, the fame of the young chief and his associates
was fully established. These companies were called Catharn, a word
signifying fighting bands, otherwise pronounced Cearnachs and Kerns.

As it must have been the ambition of all the young men to enrol them-
selves in the Catharn, they were most likely in some cases numerous;
but, except in actual war, the chief carried no more attendants with him
than those who composed his regular retinue, or tail; an establishment
by no means scanty, for it comprised ten or more persons, besides sever-
al others, who found some pretext or other for their presence.

A company of soldiers like the Catharn required to be kept in action,
and as the tribe could not be always at war, they undertook expeditions
to revenge old injuries, and procure booty, or exalt their military fame;
but the favorite recreation with these warriors was to make a foray on
the Lowland plains, and enrich themselves by a valuable creach. Hence
the name of Cearnach was reckoned honorable, and was applicable to
those chiefs who distinguished themselves; as Rob Roy 3PGregor,
Mac Donald of Barisdale, Gilderoy, and others, have done. These
men were far from thinking so meanly of themselves as their Lowland
countrymen did, who had often too much reason to dread the visits of
"the Catrin."

The Lusitanian young men associated in bodies in the mountains,
which they occupied as if it were formed by nature solelv for themselves,
and from whence they made incursions into Spain and amassed great
riches by their robberies; and, although the Romans checked, they were
unable to put an end to these inroads.

* Tacitus de mor. Germ.


The following character may compare with Mac Gregor or Wallace
himself, and is a curious specimen of an ancient Celtic Cearnaeh. The
account is extracted from the preserved fragments of the lost books ol
Diodorus the Sicilian. Viriathus of Lusitania, a captain of those rob-
bers, was of incredible sobriety and vigilance. He was just and exact
in dividing the spoil, and rewarding those who had behaved themselves
valiantly in battle; and in its distribution he never took a greater share
to himself than what was assigned to others; nor did he ever convert to
his own use any of the public moneys, and therefore his men never shrunk
from any undertaking, however hazardous, when he commanded and led
them on. In his leagues and treaties he was exactly faithful to his
word, and always spoke plainly and sincerely what he intended. When,
at his marriage, many gold and silver cups, and all sorts of rich carpets,
were set forth to grace the solemnity, he held all on the point of his
lance, not with admiration, but rather with scorn and contempt. When
he had spoken for a considerable time with much wisdom and prudence,
he concluded with many apposite and forcible expressions, particularly
with this very remarkable one ***** By this saying, he meant to
show that it was the greatest imprudence to trust in the uncertain gifts of
Fortune, since all those riches, so much esteemed by his father-in-law,
were liable to be carried off by some one, on his spear's point. He far-
ther added, that his father-in-law ought rather to thank him, who was
lord of all, for taking nothing of him. Viriathus, therefore, neither
washed nor sat down, although entreated to do so, nor did he partake of
the rich dishes of meat, with which the table was plentifully spread, but
took and distributed some bread and flesh among those that came along
with him. After he had little more than tasted the meal himself, he order-
ed his bride to be brought to him, and having sacrificed in manner of the
Celtiberians, he mounted her on horseback, and straightway carried her
away to the mountains; for he accounted sobriety and temperance the
greatest riches, and the liberty of his country, gained by valor, the sur-
est possession. For eleven years he commanded the Lusitani, \vh<>,
after his death, were broken and dispersed. He was buried with great
pomp and state. Two hundred gladiators were matched singly with as
many more, and fought duels at his sepulchre, in honor of a man who
was so remarkably valiant and just. ""j"

The Gauls are said to have sat down when they were drawn up in
order of battle. J The passage is thought by some to be corrupted; by
others, it is explained as meaning that the troops rested on their fas-
cines or baggage, of which they always carried a great quantity, arrang-
ing the wagons around the camp as a sort of entrenchment, behind
which they made a most obstinate defence when hard pressed. The
fascines were sometimes set on fire, and an army effected its retreat
under cover of the dense smoke.

* This part is unfortunately lost.

t Diodorus Sic. Fragmenta Valesii, lib. xx. 93, IX), and 108. | Bello Gall. viii.


The Germans pitched down their standards immediately on halting or
taking up a position.* It does not appear in what order the Celtic ar-
mies marched. When the Caledonians passed through the territories
of a friendly tribe, they reversed their spears, carrying the points he-

Both Gauls and Germans were invariably drawn up in different batti-
lia, the disposal of which appears to have been so well determined from
ancient times, that the chief in command dared scarcely venture to make
any variation. Each tribe fought under the immediate direction of its
own chieftain, and was, if possible, assigned that position, which, ac-
cording to order and precedence, had been long settled. Vercingetorix,
a celebrated Gallic chief, " disposed his army according to their seve-
ral districts."! In the British army, under the renowned Caradoc, or
Caractacus, whose fame had excited a universal desire in Italy to be-
hold so noble a warrior, we find "the troops of the several countries
stood in front of their fortifications; " and when the unfortunate Bondiu-
ca fought her last disastrous battle, the warriors stood in separate bands.
A common mode of drawing up a British army, in the fifth century, was
in nine divisions, three of which were in front, three in the centre, and
three in the rear.J

The right of certain situations in a field of battle was accounted a
point of extreme importance among the Celts. At the battle of the
Standard, 1 138, the Picts contended for their right to lead the van of
the Scots' army, and their claim was allowed. On that occasion, the
third line was formed of the clans under the command of their different

The Highlanders have always been most jealous of their accustomed
right to certain positions in the line of battle, and rather than submit to
the indignity of being placed in any other situation than that to which
they were entitled, they would allow their army to be disgraced by .de-
feat. A fatal omission on the part of Prince Charles, in 1745, occasion-
ed him the loss of that battle, which finally terminated the hopes of his
family. On the field of Culloden, the Mac Donalds were unfortunately
placed on the left instead of the right wing, to which they asserted an
ancient right, and not a man but the heroic Keppoch would draw a
sword that day. An officer of that division thus writes concerning the
conduct of his clan. "We, of the clan Mac Donalds, thought it omi-
nous we had not this day the right-hand in battle, as formerly, and as we
enjoyed when the event proved successful, as at Gladsmuir and Falkirk,
and which our clan maintains we had enjoyed in all our battles ana
struggles in behalf of our royal family, since the battle of Bannockburn,
on which glorious day Robert the Bruce bestowed this honor upon An-
gus Mac Donald, Lord of the Isles, as a reward for his never-to-be-
forgot fidelity to that brave prince, in protecting him for above nine
months in his country of Rachlin, Isla, and Uist. This right we

* Amm. Marcel, xxvii. 9. t Bello Gall. vii. 18. * Vegetius ii. V.


have, I say, enjoyed ever since, unless when yielded by us out of favor
upon particular occasions, as was done to the Laird of Mac Lean,
at the batt'e of Harlaw; but our sweet-natured prince was prevailed
on by L. and his faction to assign this honor to another on this fatal
day, which right, we judge, they will not refuse to yield us back again
on the next fighting day."* These Mac Donalds were not of the
opinion of an ancient lord of that name. He had, by some mistake,
at an entertainment, been prevented from taking his place at the head
of the table, which occasioned several recnarks among the guests.
On being told what engaged their attention, he exclaimed aloud,
" Know, gentlemen, that where Mac Donald sits, that is the head of the

The Saxons retained the ancient custom of arranging their armies by
tribes, the head of a family leading all the members to battle. The
Tricastines, a people who lived about Troies, assaulted the Empe-
ror Julian's army by troops, while their main body was drawn up with
strong wings and flanks, close together.! Amrnianus describes an
army as being led by two kings, who were joint commanders, next to
whom were five princes, second in rank to the kings and the princes
of the blood royal. J The Caledonian kings were accustomed to retire
to an eminence the night previous to a battle, apparently for the purpose
of obtaining, by visions from their ancestors, a knowledge of the result
of the impending conflict. The Scandinavians appear also to have used
this custom. $) The German battalions were formed sharp in front, or
drawn up in a triangular figure. Tacitus,sspeaking of the Batavi, says,
this body was impenetrable on every side, and in advancing it pierced
through the firmest legions. || The army of Donald of the Isles, at the
battle of Harlaw, was drawn up in the cuniform order, and old Highland-
ers sometimes even now speak of Geinneach-catb, the wedge form,
without appearing to know its meaning. The name of a Pictish cohort
seems never to have been understood. It was called Geone, and was
no other than the wedge-formed battalion. IT

The old Irish are represented as marching forward " with three and
three in ranckes beset," and crowding together when on the point of
engaging.** Their armies had also many ''loose wings." The High-
landers were accustomed to arrange themselves three deep, and, by sim-
ply facing about, the regiment was in marching order. When the Gauls
were drawn up ready for battle, they indulged in the most opprobri-
ous and provoking language towards their enemies. In " a letter from
a soldier in Ireland, 1602," Tyrone's men are represented as advancing
within sixty paces of the English horse, and then stopping after their
fashion, shaking their staves, and " railingly vaunting." Arrian notices

* Note in Memoirs of Chevalier Johnstone, quoted from Lockhart's papers, ii. 510.

t Amm. Mar. xvi. 1. t xvi. 10.

Ossian. || De mor. Germ.

H Adomnan, i. 33. ** Derrick's Image of Ireland.


how grievously provoking the Celts were, and .ZEIian has* a chapter on
their audacity. The practice of using scornful and contemptuous lan-
guage on such occasions was not, however, peculiar to the Celtte. The
refined Greeks did not hesitate to use reviling language in battle.*

Before an engagement, it was usual for some to step out, and, brand-
ishing their weapons, challenge the stoutest of their opponents to single
combat. If any one accepted the challenge, the Celtic warriors sang
loudly in praise of the valor of their ancestors and their own virtues,
vilifying their adversaries, and insulting them for want of courage and
military renown. "f"

From the success of the parties, they anticipated victory or defeat
in the general engagement. Another method was to get hold, by any
means, of one of the enemy, with whom they set one of their own men
to fight, each armed in his own way, and from the fate of the combatants
a presage of the war was drawn. It was, perhaps, from this, that the
anxiety of the Caledonians, to draw the first blood in any military expe-
dition, arose. It was not necessary that it should be that of an enemy;
to make sure work, the Highlanders, from time immemorial, never failed
to sacrifice the first animal that came in their way; and, anciently, they
used to sprinkle the blood on their colors, to prevent mistake as to
priority. The detachment of rebels under Lord Lewis Gordon, who
defeated a party of the king's forces at Inverury, in 1745, ripped up a
sow with young, that presented itself, as, in the morning, they passed
by the mill of Keith Hall.

The attack of the Celts was made by a deafening shout from the whole
army, which was returned by the women and children, who were gener-
ally close in the rear. In night assaults, the greatest silence was pre-
served until the moment of "onslaught," when an appalling cry was
raised, adding much to the alarm of the enemy. The practice of shout-
ing was common to all Celtic nations. The Irish, we find, made "a
most terrible noise of crieing." It appears to have been the Prosnacha-
cath, or incentive to battle, of the Caledonians, which afterwards became
a regular song or piece of music among these clans, and is allied to the
Gaelic cath ghairm, or gaoir catha, a war cry, and the Slagan of the Low
country. The battle-shout called Barritus, says Ammianus, xvi. ii. be-
gins in a slight humming, and rises higher, like beating of waves.
This cry seems to have been used by the old Romans.

The first assault of a Celtic army was tremendous. They ran on with
such fury that they made whole legions recoil ;J but it has been also ob-
served that they were always most vigorous in the first onset, their ardor
gradually subsiding if unsuccessful, for their best qualifications were
strength and audacity. The strong resemblance of the Celts of modern
times to their remote ancestors, in this respect, is remarkable. The
Highlanders of 1745 retained all the bravery and heroism of the race,

Pausan. iv. 8. t Diod. t Appian. Strabo.


but " the chiefs knew no other manoeuvre than that of rushing upon
he enemy, sword in hand, as soon as they saw them."* At Floddtm

" The Highland battalion so forward and valiant,
They broke from their ranks and rushed on to slay ;
With hacking and slashing and broad swords a dashing,
Through the front of the English they cut a' full way."

And at Prestonpans the rebels advanced with a swiftness not to be con-
ceived.t Dio describes the Caledonian infantry as swift in running and
firm in standing. An old writer, describing the Irish, says they were
impetuous in their first onset, clashing their swords as they advanced;
but, if repulsed, they speedily retreated to the bogs.

The Germans, on one occasion, are described, when engaging the
Romans under Constantius, as in the greatest heat. At the most early
dawn of day they were seen running up and down, brandishing their
swords, grating their teeth, and pouring forth dreadful menaces. J This
was surely a most useless way of exhausting themselves, but it was quite
characteristic, for they are again represented as raging about, with hide-
ous gnashing of teeth, and eyes darting fury, until they were puffing
and blowing hard, as they well might, from such insane exertion. The
Gauls are allowed to have made a most furious onset; but after the first
heat was over, they generally became disheartened. They seem to
have, in the first place, aimed at securing victory by an overwhelming
assault, and, on its failure, to have resorted to stratagem. Tacitus ob-
served this practice among the Germans, who did not reckon it dishon-
orable to retreat when the battle was unfavorable. It was esteemed
good policy to retire, that they might renew the fight with more advan-
tage. |j A French writer, in 1547, characterizes the Scots as " plus
propre a faire des courses qu' a combattre: bons pour un coup de main
ou pour une surprise." Better is a good retreat, than a bad stand, says
the Gaelic proverb.

Neither Gauls nor Britons depended entirely on their strength and
valor for success. Their favorite military tactics were those of strata-
gem and surprise, to which the nature of the country, the state of society,
and predatory character of their wars, were adapted. They were most
expert in these arts, and possessed such consummate skill in retreat and
desultory attack, that the Roman Generals were extremely perplexed
and annoyed by this system of warfare. It was certainly the wisdom of
these nations to avail themselves of all means of harassing and weak-
ening so formidable an enemy as the veteran and well provided legions
of Rome.

Whenever the Britons found a party of the enemy at a distance from
the camp, employed in foraging or otherwise, they fell suddenly upon
hem, and often cut them entirely off. They sometimes cut down the

* Mem of Chev. Johnstone. t Col. Whitefoord's Evidence.

J A mm Mar. xvi. 3. Ibid. xvi. 10 || De mor. Grm



woods to retard pursuit.* It was also usual for them to feign a retreat,
for the purpose of drawing a party from the main body, when, being
enticed into the woods or other fastnesses, they were, by a furious as-
sault, put to the sword. So much did 'the Roman army suffer from these
disasters, that Csesar was obliged to issue strict orders that none should,
on any pretence, leave the camp. These ambuscades were not to be
detected: parties were suddenly surprised and annihilated, when the
vicinity of an enemy was not suspected; and when a body of troops were
sent in pursuit of the assailants, they were nowhere to be found. Often
when victory seemed secured to the Roman arms, the Britons, retreating
to marshes and fastnesses, unexpectedly rallied, and, with a desperate fury
and an impetuous onset, they would check the foremost pursuers, throw
them into confusion, and compel them to retrograde with the utmost
celerity. Numbers suffered in this manner after the battle of the Gram-
pians, and on many other occasions. The Gauls, who, in the time of
Asdrubal, invaded Italy with an army of 70,000 men, gained their first
battle with #milius by feigning a retreat. f The Morini, a people who
inhabited the country about Terouenne, suddenly attacked Csesar from
the woods into which they had decoyed his troops, and, having put most
part to the sword, made good their own retreat. J It was a well planned
attack, or a most luck^ turn of fortune, that enabled a body of 800 Ger-
man horse to surprise and completely rout a detachment of 5000 Roman
cavalry. J

It was usual with the Gallic nations before an engagement, or during
the heat of war, to remove their women, their children, and their aged
men out of the way of danger. They were placed in the fastnesses of
the country, or in their regular strong holds. The Nervii having taken
the field with an army of 60,000 fighting men, before engaging the Ro-
mans, placed their old men, women, and children in the bogs;^ and the
Caledonians, before the battle of the Grampians, sent their wives and
children to places of safety. ||

But the Gallic ladies were not always accustomed to shun the dangers
of the field. They were in the practice of sharing the fatigues of the
chase, and they frequently lent their vigorous assistance in the turmoil
of battle, undismayed by the horrors of the fiercest encounter. When
the Cimbri engaged the Romans, " the women attacked them with swords
and axes, and, making a hideous outcry, fell upon those that fled, as well
as their pursuers, the former as traitors, the latter as enemies; and mix-
ing wilh the soldiers, with their bare arms, pulled away the shields of the
Romans and laid hold of their swords, enduring the wounding and slash-
ing of their bodies to the very last with undaunted resolution. "TT The
Northern nations had their skiold moer, or shield maids, who went into

On a certain occasion we find the Gaulish women exerting themselves

* Amm. Mar. t Polybiua, ii. t Bello Gall.

Bello Gall. ii. || Vit. Agrie. fl Plutarch de Bello Cimbrico


most strenuously to animate the soldiers and excite them to the combat
They ran about with dishevelled hair, and other appearances calculated
to rouse the army to the utmost rage.* When the Druids were attacked
in Anglesea, their sacred asylum, by the Romans, the women did the
same. The illustrious Queen of the Jceni is an instance of the heroism
of British females. I am not aware that any of the ladies of Scotish
chiefs actually fought, but many of them have on various occasions
raised their followers, and led them to the field.

The Germans placed their wives and children in the immediate vicini-
ty of the field of battle, who before an engagement set up loud bowlings,
which were answered by the chantings of the whole army, both together
making an astounding noise. The troops beng thus under the notice of
their dearest relatives, were stimulated to the most obstinate and san-
guinary resistance.

It was highly creditable to the humanity of the Gauls, that during the
continuance of a battle they carried their slain and wounded off the
field, where the affectionate females were at hand to afford relief and
assistance. They administered refreshment, dressed the wounds, and
even sucked the bleeding sores of their fainting relatives ."f

The great respect which the Celts paid to their women was due to
many amiable qualities, and the estimation in which military acquire-
ments were held by these people gave an incredible weight to the author-
ity of a heroine. Veleda, in the Batavian war, had the address and
energy to combat and to govern the fiercest nations of Germany; and
before her, Aurinia and several others had arrived at a similar height of
power. Such courageous and dignified females were believed to be en-
dowed with supernatural gifts, and in the name of the Deity they gov-
erned the people. The influence of the intrepid Bondiuca over the
British tribes, is a striking proof of the veneration paid to these exalted
characters, who were believed to be the interpreters of the Divine will.

The German women had the honor of turning on many occasions the
doubtful scale of victory; and "fainting armies have more than once
been driven back upon the enemy, by the generous despair of the women,
who dreaded death much less than servitude. The sentiments and con-
duct of these high spirited matrons may at once be considered as a
cause, as an effect, and as a proof of the general character of the na-
tion." J "We find that it was referred to the Gallic women, by soothsay-
ing and casting lots, to determine when it was proper to fight.

It was the peculiar duty of the Bards to animate the Celtic warriors;
for which purpose they always attended the armies in considerable num-
bers, and their persons were held sacred. "They were not only res-
pected in peace, but also in war, and by enemies as well as by friends;"
and so great was the influence of this order, that "they would often step
between armies prepared to engage, their swords drawn, and spears

* Bello Gal. t Tacitus de mor. Germ. J Gibbon. Bello Gal


levelled;" their inte, position having the immediate effect of stopping the
impending conflict, and allaying the fury of the troops, as if they were
"wild beasts tamed by some charm."* Amongst the Scotish Gael, the
Druid, placing himself on an eminence, harangued the troops who stood
around him, reminding them of their former glories, exhorting them to
exertion on the present occasion, Sec., and invoking the divine blessing
on all. At the conclusion, the army gave a loud shout, and felt quite
prepared for immediate attack.

The respect paid to the Bards, who survived the fall of Druidism,
continued, until recent times, among the Celtic inhabitants of Britain.
They are noticed as possessing a similar influence over the Irish in the
seventeenth century, as they did over the Gauls 2000 years ago.| Their
military duties were those which afterwards devolved on the heralds, but
their religious character did not prevent them from taking a more active
part in the conflict. The Bards were certainly armed, as we find from
Talliesin, who was himself of the order. Carril, a bard of Fingal's
time, appears fighting; and Ullin, another, is mentioned as carrying the
spear. But they were of most service in animating the people by the
Prosnacha cath, or incentive to battle, which was either hereditary or
extempore, and was chanted both before the commencement and in the
heat of battle. These war songs were composed in a quick measure,
were rapidly repeated, and had a most spirit-stirring effect, for " the
strife was kindled by the songs of the Bards. " The Welsh had also a
war song,J called Arymes prydain; and several are found in the works
of the Bards. That of Gaul is a good specimen of the ancient Celtic
poetry and style of the battle song. It is taken from the copy which the
Rev. Mr. Gallie, of Kincardine, in Ross, communicated to the Highland
Society from memory. It may be found in the 4th book of Fingal,- as
translated by Macpherson ; but the present copy seems to be preferable.

A mhacain cheann, Offspring of the chiefs,

Nan cursan strann, Of snorting steeds, high bounding!

Ard leumnach, righ n'a'n sleagh ! King of spears !

Lamh threin 'sguch cas Strong arm in every trial ;

Croidhe ard gun sea. Ambitious heart without dismay.

Ceanii airm nan rinn gear girt, Chief of the host of severe sharp pointed weapons^

Gearr eios gu has, Cut down to death,

Gun bharc sheol ban So that no white sailed bark

Bhi snamh ma dhubh Innishtore. May float round dark Innistore.

Mar tharnanech bhavil Like the destroying thunder

Do bhuill, a laoich ! Be thy stroke, O hero !

Do shuil mar chaoir ad cheann, Thy forward eye like the flaming bolt,

Mar charaic chruin, As the firm rock,

Do chroidhe gun roinn. Unwavering be thy heart.

Mar lassan oidhch do lann. As the flame of night be thy sword.

Cum suar do scia Uplift thy shield

Is crobhhui nial Of the hue of blood.

* Diodorus. t Barnaby Riche. J Cambrian Register.


Mar chin bho reul a. bhaish, As a

A mhacain cheann Offspring of the chiefs

Nan cursan strann, Of snorting steeds,

Sgrios naimhde sios gu lar. Cut down the foes to earth.

Many war songs of later times are extant. The Proanacha cath
Garaich, composed by Lachlan Mac Mhuiroach,"]" the Bard of Donald
of the Isles, to animate his troops at the battle of Harlaw, fought in 1411,
is another curious production. It consists of eighteen stanzas of unequal
length, corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, and the epithets in
each begin with the respective letter. The following specimen may be
thought interesting.

A chlanna cuinn, cuimhnichidh Race of Conn, be hardihood

Cruas an am na h'iorghuil Remembered in the day of strife,

Gu arinneach, gu arronntach, Repeatedly thrusting confidently,

Gu arach, gu allonnta' Strongly, nobly

Gu gruamach, gu grinnail, Sternly, elegantly,

Gu grainail, gu gaisgail, Terribly, heroically,

Gu gleusda, gu geinnail, Eagerly, in a wedge-like column

Gu gasda, gu guineach, Gallantly, keenly,

Gu galghaircach, gu griongalach, Causing lamentations, ardently,

Gu griosnamhach, gu gairlamhach, Inveterately, with sounding blows,

Gu glansgathach, gu geurlannach, &c. Lopping off limbs, with keen swords.

The poem is more remarkable for the alliteration, than the strength or
beauty of the words. This species of recitation was retained until re-
cently. Many poems of this kind were composed in 1715 and 1745;
but the spirit of Celtic poetry declined among the Bards, for most of the
modern productions, as Macpherson remarked, consist chiefly in groups
of epithets, with little beauty or harmony.

Besides the animation of the war song, the Highlanders were subject
to the influence of something like that feeling which leads the Eastern
nations to " run a muck." When the party was observed to be in immi-
nent danger, and nothing but a most desperate effort could turn the fate
of the day, or save the lives of their friends and foster-brothers, the
Gael was seized with the Miri-cath, or madness of battle, which, as Al-
exander Macdonald, in his panegyric on the clan, observes, required no
Prosnacha. The Celtae, when warm for battle, expressed their impa-
tience by striking their shields, and otherwise rattling their arms. The
German Kings used, from ostentation, to be surrounded by their troops,
who made a great noise in this manner with their arms. It was the usual
practice among all these nations to express their desire for action; but
it would not seem to be peculiar to the Celta3, for the Romans were used
likewise to strike their shields with their spears, to indicate their readi-
ness to fight. To hold up a shield was anciently a signal of battle.

* The words are said to be now unintelligible ; they plainly signify, " Like the hav-
oc from the star of death." t Pronounced Vuireach.


Herodotus mentions it, as formerly the practice to give this signal, by
a torch-bearer, who was sacred to Mars, and whose person was inv ola-
ble. Proceeding to the space between both armies, he dropped his
torch in the middle, and instantly retired. We find from Ossian, that
" rolling a stone " was " the sign of war," by which must be understood,
I apprehend, its being dashed against some sonorous body. A more
usual signal to commence an engagement was, by the raising up or un-
furling the royal standard. Fingal's standard, from its beauty, was call-
ed the sun-beam; and hence, in old composition, to begin a battle is
expressed by the "lifting of the sun-beam." Striking the shield was
another signal to commence an engagement. The military operations
of the Celts, like their domestic affairs, were influenced by the peculiar
system of polity, which governed the whole race, and which so long
preserved the remains of this aboriginal people, distinct from the other
nations of Europe. This state of soci'ety has been styled the Patri-
archal: it is more usually denominated Clanship. In Scotland it existed
eighty years ago, in as great strength and purity as it, perhaps, had ever
done in the most ancient times. In this country the affection with which
the people cherished their primitive institutions, distinguished the High-
land tribes from all others known in the history of mankind.

CLANSHIP was the junction of feudal and patriarchal authority, pass-
ing from chieftain to chieftain; but the simplicity of this government
was corrected by regular division of landed property, by many salutary
customs, and by a degree of steady refinement and civilisation. At the
period when the Romans became personally acquainted with this, coun-
try, the inhabitants were considerably advanced beyond the simple pat-
riarchal state, that only exists in the very infancy of society, before fami-
lies become united in large communities, and are formed into tribes
closely allied and attached to each other. The first is a step above the
savage life; it is a still farther advance in civilisation to arrive at the art
of domesticating cattle, and society will long exist by so doing before
its members begin to cultivate even a small portion of the earth. These
changes naturally succeed each other, in the progress of all people, from
the rudeness of savage life to the social state.

In the infancy of society, mankind are almost solely occupied in hunt-
ing and warfare. The first pursuit is necessary for their subsistence,
the second is unavoidable among savage tribes, for the members of an
early community are obliged to be constantly on their guard, to protect
themselves from the aggressions of their neighbors. The small associa-
tions are firmly united and linked together, and the bonds of friendship
are strengthened by time, whilst the little intercourse that takes place
with other people preserves that attachment which the members cherish
towards each other. It is in this primitive condition of mankind, that
the peculiar system of Clanship originates, which, from particular cir-
cumstances, becomes variously modified.

An early society is obliged to be always in a posture of defence, in


order to preserve its very existence, and is continually engaged in mili-
tary enterprises, either to gratify the passions of enmity and resentment,
to avenge former wrongs, or to indulge in a natural propensity to supply
its necessities by the plunder of others. This state of existence points
out the advantage of the members putting themselves under the guid-
ance of some individual, who is considered best able to direct their
operations. The necessity of a regulation, by which the proceedings of
a body shall be superintended and controlled by a single head, seems to
be acknowledged in all countries, and naturally arises from the obedience
that a family yields to the authority of a father. When men are in this
primitive state, there are no distinctions in rank, and the only recom-
mendations arise from personal qualifications. Strength, courage, dex-
terity in managing the implements of war, a superiority in the perform-
ance of athletic amusements, and other similar accomplishments, will
point out an object for choice; and when a person is selected for the
important station, and performs its duties satisfactorily, the community
becomes attached to him. His achievements are boasted of, his exploits
are magnified, and, from a natural feeling, the honor of the whole body
is intimately connected with him. The more fortunate he is, the more
do his followers esteem him, and the more solicitous they are to deserve
his good opinion, by their fidelity and emulation to distinguish them-
selves. The chief, accordingly, acquires more weight in the manage-
ment of their affairs, and he is too fond of the power with which he is
invested, to commit those actions which would lead to a deprivation of it.

When the art of war becomes more refined, military skill and experi-
ence are preferred to mere strength and agility, in the election of chief,
without wholly disregarding those latter qualifications; hence the respect
that is paid to old age, from the wisdom which is acquired in a long life.
The individual who, in a pastoral state, has become rich in numerous
herds, becomes proportionally powerful. He is able to support those
who have nothing themselves, and who therefore become his dependants,
and cheerfully contribute to that affluence which is readily bestowed on
his friends. He is treated with respect and submission by his retainers
and less fortunate relations, and enjoys a pre-eminence from the abili-
ties, which have been exerted in the accumulation and management of

Personal qualifications cannot always be continued in a family, but
wealth can be transmitted through generations; and the influence of
ancestors, instead of expiring with them, becomes, in some measure,
added to that of the successors. This possession of property gives rise
to hereditary chieftainship, and therefore the leader or governor of a
tribe is often very young.

When agriculture begins to be practised, there is a new source of
influence, extremely favorable towards strengthening the authority of a
chief or head of a village. The ground is at first cultivated in common,
arj4 during this period the chief has a power of superintending the


labor, and apportioning the produce of the fields. When the land is af-
terwards divided into certain properties, he is by common consent allow-
ed an extent of territory for himself, equal to the rank he is obliged to
support, and is empowered to assign to others suitable allotments: he
thus becomes sole proprietor of the soil, and acquires a complete au-
thority over the members of his little community. His military duties
are also increased, as he is more interested in the defence of the tribe,
which now requires additional exertion. The members obey him with
less hesitation; they revere his command, and become so strongly at-
tached to his person, that they are ready to support him on all occa-
sions. To fail in this duty, would draw on them his resentment; theii
faithful service procures his kindness and protection. The chief nat-
urally becomes their legislator. At first he reconciles their differences
by persuasion, to which a respect for his experience and judgment will
induce the parties to attend, but he soon acquires power to enforce his

The authority of a chief is very limited in a nation which has not
advanced far in the pastoral state, but it is almost unlimited when it has
become rich in flocks and agriculture, and the influence of subordinate
heads of families is always proportioned to the extent of their posses-
sions, and indicated by the number of their retainers.

The Gallic chief had the direction of all the warlike affairs, and the
great mark of nobility consisted in the number of vassals by which he
was attended, who were always proportionate to his estate and quality.*

After the formation of a settled community, the military and other
services of the vassals, rendered for the enjoyment of the portion of
land originally assigned for their subsistence, constitutes the bond of

The improvement in agriculture, and consequent increase of popula-
tion, occasions the formation of separate villages, composed of colonies
branching from the original tribe. These are situated at considerable
distances from each other, and in time become distinct, and in some
degree independent, at least in their internal government; but they re-
semble each other in manners and institutions, and continue to acknow-
ledge their common descent. The enlargement of their possessions sub-
jects them to more frequent attack and molestation from their neigh-
bors, and their mutual interest induces them to associate for their better
security. This will be sometimes the case with contiguous tribes of
different origin, arid is likely to occur in the coalition of a weak clan
with one more powerful. Such associations are not unknown to the
shepherd state, but are more frequently formed in agricultural commu-
nities. In this manner society becomes enlarged and cemented by in-
termarriages and mutual hospitalities. From this cause, also, will lesser
tribes merge in those larger associations, under whose protection they
have placed themselves. They will be regarded as an inferior division

Bello Gall. vi.T~


only, their particular name will cease to be mentioned separate y, and
in time will be only preserved among themselves.

In exchange for this sacrifice they will share in the glories acquired
by the people to whom they have ceded their independence. They will
still retain their own chieftain, who will continue to possess the power
of governing his immediate dependants, and only submit at first to his
superior in general affairs. In military transactions he will have the
immediate command of his own troops, and be only subject to the chief,
who is supreme leader.

This arrangement, or mode of conducting military operations, is a
striking part of the Celtic system of polity, which is thus seen to derive
its origin from the most early associations, that are formed by mankind.

In this view of the system I am obliged to differ in opinion from Sir
David Stewart, who thinks, that on the transfer of the government from
the Highlands, and consequent impoverishment of the country, the in-
stitution of Clans arose.* Scotland is naturally well adapted for the
preservation of the inhabitants in a state of distinct and independent
clanship. Divided into valleys, surrounded by lofty, and in many cases
impassable mountains, the various tribes were separated by permanent
and well known boundaries.

Hills are better divisions than rivers, which are generally fordable,
and in a mountainous country, the bed of a stream is sometimes filled by
the most impetuous torrent, and at other times becomes only the channel
of a rippling brook; but the heights around a valley, and the extended
ridges embracing a larger tract, divided Celtic Scotland into Countries,
before it was laid out in parishes or in shires. From the introduction
of Christianity arose the first; the last were introduced with other Saxon
innovations, in the middle of the eleventh century. These alterations
were deemed sufficient. Tythings, hundreds, and other institutions,
were never established in Scotland."!" To the inhabitants of a valley, all
within the visible horizon was a country. The great contention was
always for "the sky of the hill,"J and long as it is since this Celtic
division has been politically unknown, the districts inhabited by certain
clans are still called their Countries.

This separation of territory was, however, too indefinite. Without
some established marks, the exact extent of different properties could
not be well determined; and in hunting and on other occasions, infringe-
ments would occur, which nothing but a war could requite.

Stones, like the Roman Termini, marked the boundaries of the terri-
tories of the Germans and Burgundians, in the time of Julian,^ and it
may be safely presumed that many of the rude obelisks to be found all
over Scotland were raised for this purpose. In the Isles and other parts
of Scotland, burnt ashes, or chaff, were laid under stones for the better

* Sketches of the Highlanders.

t Caled. It was not until 1584 that Ulster was laid out in shires,
t Skene Keith. Ammian Mar.



preservation of these marks; and a practice, which is well known at the
perambulation of English parishes, was in use as a farther security, that
the march should not be afterwards mistaken: boys were taken to the
spot and r.eceived so sound a flogging, that it was by no means likely
they should, while they lived, forget the place of execution.*

Trenches, or earthen mounds, were also formed as boundaries, and
were sometimes carried to a considerable length. They are common
in England, particularly in Wiltshire, where the Wansdike, running
through Somersetshire to the Severn, the most wonderful remain of
British earthwork, is still distinctly seen. In Scotland, also, particu-
larly in the Southern counties, are still to be traced the vestiges of mauy
extensive boundary lines, for which the unsettled state of these provinces
in early ages rnay account. Here also were constructed those walls
which the Romans, evidently in imitation of the Celtic mode of castra-
metation, intended as the boundaries of their overgrown empire.

But, leaving the theory, let us more particularly trace the progress
of Clanship, and pursuing its history, observe its effects among those
nations where it was most tenaciously adhered to. The whole institu-
tions of the Celtoe were affected by this singular system. All the Gauls
were regulated by this mode of government, and the Romans found it in
full force among the Britons, whose descendants so long retained their
ancient policy. *

This curious social compact comprised the patriarchal with the feudal
authority. Its grand characteristic was obedience to the chief by the
whole clan, with the respect that the members of a family pay to a fath-
er, like whom the chief exerted his authority over all his followers. The
claims of consanguinity were spread over the whole community, and all
were distinguished by a common name.

The chief, as head of the tribe, being in a certain sense, proprietor 01
the whole territory, he managed it for the public good, and endeavor-
ed to divide the lands so as to accommodate all his followers. In the
later periods of their history the chiefs did hold great portions, if not, in
some cases, all the land as their own, which enabled them to increase
their power, and provide for their immediate relations by grants, some-
times in wadset, sometimes in perpetuity, and sometimes for a limited

Amongst the ancient Celtre, however, the prince or jfing had nothing
actually his own; but every thing belonging to his followers were freely at
his service, "of their own accord they gave their prince so many cattle,
or a certain portion of grain." It seems probable that the Celtic chief
held the public lands in trust for his people, and was, on his succession,
invested with those possessions which he afterwards apportioned among
his retainers. Those only, we are told by Caesar, had land, "magis-
trates and princes, and they give to their followers as much as they
think proper, removing them at the year's end." The king of the He-

* Martin.


budre, we find, was not allowed to possess any thing of his own, lest
avarice should divert him from truth and justice.* In Ireland, the tenants
gave common spendings for rent, from which came the expression " spend
me and defend me."

Perhaps when Malcolm, in 909, resigned all his lands to his nobles,
reserving nothing to himself but the royal dignity and moot hill of Scone,
a circumstance that has excited much astonishment, he did no more than
acknowledge, according to the Celtic system, that it was from his peo-
ple he received his possessions.

The following are the words of Dr. Johnson, when speaking of Clan-
ship arnrms the Scots Highlanders. " The Laird is the original owner
of the land, whose natural power must be very great where no man lives
but by agriculture, and where the produce of the land is not conveyed
through the labyrinths of traffic, but passes directly from the hand that
gathers to the nouth that eats it. The Laird has all those in his power
that live on his farms. This inherent power was yet strengthened by
the kindness of consanguinity and the reverence of patriarchal authority.
The Laird was the father of the clan, and his tenants commonly bore his
name; and to these principles of original command was added, for many
ages, an exclusive right of legal jurisdiction. This multifarious and
extensive obligation operated with a force scarcely credible: every duty,
moral or political, was absorbed in affection and adherence to the chief.
Not many years have passed since the clans knew no law but the Laird's
will; he told them to whom they should be friends or enemies; what
kings they should obey, and what religion they should profess."

Next to the love of the chief was that of the particular branch whence
they sprang; and in a third degree to those of the whole clan. The
Highlanders also owed good will to such clans as were their friends, and
they adhered to one another in opposition to the Lowlanders.

The simple principle of Clanship may be reduced to the patriarchal
authority of a father over his family, and the affectionate obedience which
a clansman paid to his chief as the father of the tribe. Nothing could
cancel the paramount duty of allegiance. The members of one clan
might reside on the lands of another proprietor, but their service was
due to their lawful chief only, whom they were bound to follow. If any
individual had the temerity to disobey the commands of his superior, it
may be presumed his situation became not very enviable. If he per-
sisted in his opposition, he was expelled the clan, for no individual could
remain in the territory after setting himself above his chief; but few
instances of such conduct ever occurred.

The law of Kincogish, by which a chief was answerable for every mem-
ber of his clan, was a truly Celtic institution. It existed in South Britain
in the time of Alfred, and was found so useful, that it was embodied in the
statutes of both Ireland and Scotland.

Solinus, c. 22.


The whole clan, however numerous, were supposed to be related to
each other; and although it is not easy to conceive so large a family,
yet, as the members continued to intermarry, they were actually in a
certain degree related, not excepting the chief himself, whose blood each
individual believed, with feelings of pride, circled in his own heart.
The superior orders in the tribe, the chieftains and Duine-uasals more
familiarly known in latter times as the Tacksmen or Goodmen, were ac-
knowledged relations of the Laird, and held portions of land suitable to
their consequence. These again had a circle of relations, who consid-
ered them as their immediate leaders, and who, in battle, were placed
under their immediate command. Over them, in peace, these chieftains
exercised a certain authority, but were themselves dependant on the
chief, to whose service all the members of the clan were, submissively

As the Duine-uasals received their lands from the bounty of the chief,
for the purpose of supporting their station in the tribe, so these lands
were occasionally resumed or reduced to provide for those who were
more immediately related to the Laird; hence many of this class neces-
sarily sank into that of commoners. This transition strengthened the
feeling which was possessed by the very lowest of the community, that
they were related to the chief, from whom they never forgot they ori-
ginally sprang. "There is.,, no part of France," says Marchargy,
" in which the spirit of family connexion is stronger than in Brittany:
relationship is carried to the twelfth degree, and passes from genera-
tion to generation."* About this simple plan of government much
has been written. It is evident that it must have produced features
very peculiar and very different from those to be found among any other

The practice of fosterage, by which children were mutually exchang-
ed and brought up, was a curious feature in the system, and a most
powerful cement to clanship.

The son of the chief was given to be reared by some inferior member
of society, with whom he lived during the years of pupilarity. The ef-
fect of this custom appears to have been astonishing. It often prevented
feuds, and it seems calculated sometimes to produce them. The attach-
ment of foster-brothers was strong and indissoluble. The Highlanders
say, that " affectionate to a man is a friend, but a foster-brother is as
the life blood of his heart." No love in the world, says Camden, is
comparable by many degrees to it. "f That of foster parents was equally
strong, and many traditional anecdotes are related of their mutual regard.
Spenser relates that he saw an old woman who had been foster-mother
to Murrough O'Brien, at his execution suck the blood from his head,
and bathe her face and breast with it, saying it was too precious to fall to
the earth.

* Hist, of Brittiny, Lit. Gaz. 1825, No. 450.

t Coalt is a foster-brother ; Dalta, a foster-son ; Old, a foster-father


It appears that fifteen were usually fostered by a chief,* but Fungal
had sixteen foster-brothers. J

It was accounted a high honor to obtain the fosterage of a superior.
"Five hundred kyne and better," were sometimes given by the Irish,
to procure the nursing of a great man's child J The trust was so far
from being deemed a service, that it was reckoned a very high honor.
and hot contentions arose among the vassals for the preference. The
foster family were particularly respected by the chief, and raised to
much consideration among their neighbors.

The foster-brothers were generally promoted to some office near the
person of the chief. The family, at all events, received some adequate
reward, and the terms were regularly settled.^ These were not the
same in all places. " In Mull, the father sends with his child a certain
number of cows, to which the same number is added by the fosterer ;
the father appropriating a proportionate extent of country, without rent,
for their pasturage. If every cow bring a calf, half belongs to the fos-
terer and half to the child; but if there be only one calf between two
cows, it is the child's; and when the child returns to the parents, it is
accompanied by all the cows given both by the father and by the foster-
er, with half of the increase of the stock by propagation. These beasts
are considered as a portion, and called macaladh cattle, of which the
father has the produce, but is supposed not to have the full property,
but to owe the same number to the child, as a portion to the daughter,
or a stock for the son." ||

Among a people so knit together by consanguinity, it naturally follow-
ed that an injury done to an individual was resented by the whole clan.
Tacitus observes of the Germans, that they adopted all the enmities as
well as friendships of their particular houses. " Men in a small district
necessarily mingle blood by intermarriage, and combine at last into one
family. Then begins that union of affections and co-operation of endeav-
ors that constitute a clan. "11 The Celtic princes were attached to their
followers by relationship as well as policy. They were mutually bound
by the closest ties, and their ambition was to emulate each other in acts
of heroism. A numerous retinue was the greatest pride of the Celtic
warriors: those of Italy strove which should purchase most friends, for
they highly esteemed a man that was honored by many.** The Scyths
also instilled into their children to make numerous friends. ft It was the
delight of both Gauls and Germans to be surrounded by numerous bodies
of chosen men, whose sense of honor was so strong, that they could not
abandon their master, even to save their own lives, without incurring
universal contempt. JJ

* High. Soc. Rep. on Ossia. t Ibid. t Campion.

A deed of fosterage, between Sir Norman Mac Leod and John Mac Kenzie, dated
1645, and written in Gaelic, still exists

|| Johnson's Tour to the Hebrides. 11 Johnpon. ** Polybius.

n Les diff. mceurs des an. peuples, 1670. ft Bcllo Gall. vii. 38.


Those sworn bodies of friends which the Gauls called Soldurii,* lived
on a community of goods, shared in all the misfortunes as well as suc-
cesses of their commanders; and Caesar declares that there was no in-
stance on record of any who ever refused to sacrifice his life with tho ve
who engaged him.f Amongst the Germans, he informs us, that if those
who had agreed to follow the fortunes vof a leader, should break the
engagement, they were branded with inVamy, which could not by any
means be ever afterwards removed.

The enthusiastic Mr. Roderick Mackenzie, \\ho fell into the hands
of the king's troops after the defeat of the rebels at Culloden, is a noble
example of devoted attachment. Bearing a strong resemblance to
Prince Charles, and finding himself suddenly surprised, yet disdaining
flight or submission, lest, in the homely phrase of Dugald Graeme,

" That, like a thief, he should be hanged,
He choae to die with sword in hand ; " $

and attacking the party, he received his mortal wound, exclaiming, as
he fell, " You have slain your prince! " To this generous sacrifice the
escape of Charles is to be chiefly attributed; for the head of Mackenzie
was cut off, and as it 'was believed to be that of the Chevalier, for which
a reward of ,30,000 was offered, the parties who were scouring the
country became less vigilant.

At Glenshiels, in 1719, Munro of Culcairn was wounded in the thigh,
and the rebels continued to fire on him when down. Finding their de-
termination to kill him, he desired his servant to get out of the way, and
return home, to inform his father that he had not misbehaved. The
faithful Highlander burst into tears, and, refusing to leave his master,
threw himself down, and covering the body of his chief with his own, re-
ceived several wounds, and, in all probability, both lives would have
been lost, if one of the clan, who commanded a party, had not seen
their perilous situation. He swore on his dirk he would dislodge the
enemy, and by a desperate charge in the spirit of Miri-cath, he did so. ^

The Luchdtachk of the Highlanders was a body of young men, select-
ed from the best families in the clan, who were skilfully trained to the
use of the sword and targe, archery, wrestling, swimming, leaping, and
all military and athletic exercises; and their duty was to attend the chief
wherever he went. The regular establishment consisted of these per-
sons, who always accompanied him when he went abroad:

The Gille-coise, or Hanchman, who closely attended the person of
his chief, and stood behind him at table.

The Bladair, or spokesman.

The Bard.

The Piobaire, or piper.

* Sold, gorm. stipendium, the evident origin of soldier.

* Bello, Gall. iii. 23.

t Metrical History of the Rebellion. This anecdote is related in the Mem. of the
Chev. Johnstone. Birt, ii. 14. who had it of Clucairn.


The Gille-piobaire, the piper's servant, who carried his instrument.

The GtHe-more, who carried the chief's broadsword.

The Gille-casfluich, who carried him, when on foot, over the rivers.

The Gille-comhstraithainn, who led his horse in rough and dangerous

The Gille-trusarneis, or baggage man.

The Gille-ruithe, or running footman, was also an occasional attend-

Besides these, he was generally accompanied by several gentlemen
who were near relations; and a number of the commoners followed him
and partook of the cheer which was always provided by the person to
whom a visit was paid. These large followings, or Tails, occasioned an
act of council to be passed, prohibiting the Northern Lairds from appear-
ing at Edinburgh with so formidable and inconvenient a retinue. The
tails of the Highland chiefs were, however, sufficiently imposing on occa-
sion of his Majesty's late visit to Dunedin.*

In the laws of Hwyel dha, we find there were fourteen men in the
palace. The heir apparent, the priest, the bard of presidency, the do-
mestic bard, the physician, the judge, the master of the household, the
master of the hawks, the master of the horse, the chief huntsman, the
smith of the court, the torchbearer, the crier, and the foot holder. All
these sat at table according to certain rules of precedence that will be
detailed in another part of the work.

The order observed in the armies of the Highlanders, before the abo-
lition of their heritable independence, was this: every regiment or clan
was commanded by the chief, if of sufficient age, who was consequently
the colonel. The eldest cadet was lieut. -colonel, and the next was
major. Some clans, in 1745, had the youngest cadet, lieut. -colonel;
but this was unusual, and held to be an innovation on the established
principle. Each company had two captains, two lieutenants, and two
ensigns, and the front ranks were composed of gentlemen who were all
provided with targets, and were otherwise better armed than the rear.
In the day of battle, each company furnished two of their best men as a
guard to the chief, and in their choice, consanguinity was always con-
sidered. The chief was posted in the centre of the column, beside the
colors, and he stood between two brothers, cousins-german, or other
relations. The common men were also disposed with regard to their
relatives, the father, the son, and the brother standing beside each other.
The effect which this "order ofnature"f must have had in stimulating
the combatants to deeds of heroism, can be easily perceived. It did not
escape the notice of the intelligent Tacitus. Alluding to the practice
among the Celtic tribes of the Continent, and the inhabitants of the
British Isles, who always fought in parties, or by clans, under the com
mand of their immediate chiefs, he says, that this disunion, preventing

* The Gaelic name of Edinburgh.

t Home's Hist, of the Rebellion, 1745, &c.


any general confederacy, was highly favorahle to the Romans, who
were thereby enabled to subdue " a warlike people, independent, fierce,
and obstinate."* We, however, find that it did not always prevent a
general coalition, as was so strikingly evinced on the invasion of Gaul,
and on the advance of Agricola into the regions of Caledonia. Caesar,
who was surely a competent judge in this matter, thought his troops
fought to much disadvantage against these parties, who stood with firm-
ness, and were constantly relieved by fresh men. Tacitus himself, in
his Annals, expresses his decided approbation of this mode of drawing
up an army; and also says, "what proves the chief incentive to their
valor, is, that the battalia are not formed by a fortuitous collection of
men, but by the conjunction of whole families and tribes of relations."^
Csssar observes, that this Clannish system was introduced among the
Gauls in ancient times, so that the most obscure person should not be
oppressed by the rich; for each leader was obliged to protect his follow-
ers, else he would soon be stripped of his authority. J It is apparent,
from the constitution of Celtic society, that a chief could never become
despotic. The government was radically democratic.

It has been remarked that the divisions of tribes and nations were
rather an obstacle than assistance in the conquest of Gaul, for the
reverses of one tribe had no effect on the state of another. When
Bondiuca had been defeated with the loss of 80,000 of her troops, the
Britons were found still in arms.|| Although the Nervii 4ost 60,000 in
one battle, and on another occasion 53,000 other Gauls were sold for
slaves, these disasters had not any visible effect on the general proceed-

Their mode of fighting was extremely well adapted to the particular
state of those people. They possessed a large extent of territory, and
the loss of a general battle would have been peculiarly unfortunate; the
population being so widely spread, an army, when dispersed, could not
have been easily brought again into the field, except by the subdivision
of authority; and before the forces could have been collected, the enemy
would have completely overran the country. The influence of the
chiefs over their respective dependants enabled them to execute plans
with a celerity unknown under other systems; and the various opera-
tions being distributed among so many, the whole army was organized
with great facility. The immense hosts that were embodied could not
have been raised among a semi-barbarous and roving people but through
the strong influence of the chiefs, who were perfectly free and indepen-
dent in the regulation of their own tribes.

It is evident that each clan being so constituted, and there being no
more general connexion than a common language and similar customs,
there could never arise any power able to raise itself to a great superi-
ority over the others. One tribe might predominate for a time; but the

* Vita Agric. xii t De mor. Germ. J Bello Gall. vi. c. 7.

Edraond'a Remarks on Caesar's Commentaries. || Tac. Annals, xiv.


subjected people could not forget their allegiance to their natural chief,
or feel a cordial attachment to their new lord. This state of things
would be, besides, too hostile to the spirit of clanship to exist long; and
we therefore find, that whatever successes one nation might obtain over
others, the balance of power was, on the whole, preserved among the
Gauls, and no one or more of the tribes were ever able to erect any
thing like a powerful kingdom. They are governed, says Diodorus, by
kings and princes, who, for the most part, are at peace with each other.
In Britain, Dio informs us, the people, for the most part, had the gov-
ernment. Their constitutions were certainly democratic.

It was not, indeed, unlikely that small tribes should pay deference to
those who were more powerful. The advantage of protection, and the
honor of a noble alliance were powerful inducements to allow a slight
interference in their internal affairs, which was not entirely incompatible
with Celtic policy; but the individual rights of a chief could not be
relinquished, without the consent of the whole tribe. However, from
motives of prudence, or from necessity, a chieftain might be induced to
humble himself to his more powerful neighbor, they were both equal in

Clanship was admirably adapted to preserve the national liberty of
the Celts, and it was no dishonor to their arms that they ultimately were
subdued by Roman valor. The various and unconnected tribes of Gaul
could not have been well governed by a single monarch, and it may be
doubted whether the Highlanders of Scotland could have retained their
independence so long, had they been under regal government.

The dignity of chief was properly hereditary, but was not always so,
especially on the Continent. Among the Scots the form of government
remained more purely patriarchal, and the regular succession was sel-
dom interrupted: hence it has been inferred, that Clanship could not
have been derived from the continental Celts, among whom power seems
to have been elective. It must be recollected that these were in a dif-
ferent situation from the British tribes, whose manners had suffered less
change, and who, when visited by the Romans, apparently retained
those maxims which their forefathers had brought into the island. But
however altered, the succession of the princes of Gaul was not elective
in the general sense of the word. It has been shown that a general as-
sembly of a nation made choice from the nobility or royal family of a
general who should lead them to war, a regulation that was extremely
judicious, for the chief might have been a minor, or less able to conduct
the army than many of his experienced nobles, and his death in battle
might have produced very unpleasant consequences. Tacitus says,
that the generals were chosen for bravery, but the kings from splendor
of descent, so that even striplings had sometimes the supreme command.
A new chief required the sanction of his people before he assumed his
title, and acknowledged that his power was derived from their suffrages
In this sense it was a free election; but, like a conge d'elire, the choice



of the people usually coincided with the wish of the chief, and the per-
son who had the best right to the situation was elected. He was, in
fact, the heir, by right of primogeniture; for, among all the Celtic
nations, the chieftainship was preserved in a particular family or royal
race, as among the Picts;* and the Welsh, who had five royal and
fifteen special tribes, instituted by Gryfyd ap Cynan.| This is the very
characteristic of a patriarchal government, and it must have been only
in consequence of an insurrection, or some calamity, that the succession
could have been altered.

It was most dangerous to attempt to obtain the sovereignty of a tribe
or nation against the public consent. Celtillus, who had presided over
Celtic Gaul, lost his life for aiming at this illegal power. J The Helvetii
had a law by which one who had been found guilty of such an attempt
was condemned to be burned alive. By the custom of the country he
was allowed to defend himself, but, during the trial, he remained bound
in chains. Orgetorix, having committed this crime, assembled all his
friends and followers, to the number of 10,000, and all his dependants
on the day of trial, for his rescue, if found guilty. $}

Kings constituted, by the regular rules of succession, although enjoy-
ing a complete influence over the tribe, could not with impunity act
arbitrarily, or degenerate into tyrants, for the people, who confirmed
their authority, could also check their severity, and even strip them of
their power. They were controlled by the opinions of both chieftains
and Druids, and were also bound by acknowledged laws; but they gov-
erned more by example than authority, for to none but the priests was
the power of correction submitted. || It was only when engaged in war
that the Germans invested their generals with power of life and death,
the subordinate chiefs appearing, for the time, to have resigned their
individual power of deciding controversies. IF Tacitus says, the influ-
ence of these princes arose from their ability to persuade, not their
power to command; and observes it as an unusual instance that the
Suiones, in his time, were governed by an absolute chief. The ancient
kings of the Hebudae islands were bound to equity by known laws,** of
which more shall be said presently. The Highland chiefs, although
they retained full power over their respective clans after the establish-
ment of the Scots' monarchy, usually introduced in the bonds of Man-
rent, or deeds whereby they agreed to afford each other mutual support,
a covenant excepting their allegiance to the sovereign.

The connexion of the Gaelic chief and his people was not the rule of
the strong over the weak; it was maintained by reciprocal advantages
and kindnesses. All the members of a clan were connected with each
other, and their common safety depended on their united fidelity and co-
operation. Tyranny and injustice on the part of a chief could not fail to

* Adomnan. t British Antiquities, p. 44. J Bello Gall. vii. 7.

Bello Gall. i. 3. || Tac. de mor. Germ. IT Bello Gall.

** Solinus, c. 22.


weaken his influence, and, finally, estrange his kindred and his friends.
The chief and his followers were mutually devoted to each other; and
those who, from accident, old age, or otherwise, became unable to support
themselves, were provided for by their generous leader, as the Mac iNiels
of Barra, whose chief always made up the loss which his tenants sustained
through misfortune.* The whole members again cheerfully contributed
to the support of their chief, who moderated his expenses to suit the
circumstances of his people. In Ireland, there indeed appears to have
been exactions that were by no means light. Coyny and livery, or meat
for men and horses, are said to have been first introduced by Fitzmorris,
Earl of Desmond, who had not 1000 marks yearly rent independent of
his "Spendings," which Queen Elizabeth took, as they were the best
part of his income."]' These last payments were, perhaps, what is other-
wise called black rents; other taxes were bonnaght, fowey, kenelagh,
cuthings' cuddery, coshering, shragh, sorehin, carraghes, bonnagh-
beg, bonnagh-burr, barnes, Sec. &c. A singular custom prevailed in
Wales; the three indispensables of a gentleman his harp, his tunic,
and his kettle were, it appears by the Triads, paid by a general con-
tribution. So much was the honor of the whole clan concentrated in
the chief, that the greatest provocation was to reproach one with his
vices or personal defects; such an insult was sufficient to lead to mortal
combat. J

The system of Clanship has been represented as intolerable oppression
on the part of the chiefs, and abject slavery among the commons. It
would, indeed, appear from Adomnan, ii. c. 34., that the Picts had Scot-
ssh bondmen; but we most probably misunderstand the passage. That
the lower orders in a clan were so degraded is false, for they enjoyed a
degree of consideration unknown to other systems of government; and
it is impossible to believe, that if they were so cruelly treated, they
should have so enthusiastically devoted themselves to their masters. To
the Highlanders, the name of slavery is unknown. Among their conti-
nental ancestors, those who were called slaves had each a house and
certain ground, for which he paid a quantity of grain, cattle, or cloth,
and thus far his subserviency extended. For any to beat, put in chains,
or doom a slave to severe labor, was scarce known; the strongest mark
of inferiority appeared when the chief happened, in his passion, to kill
one: he was not held liable to punishment. In other respects, the slave
and the freed man were nearly on an equality.

The singular custom of electing an ancient Celtic chief, or rather
admitting the legitimate heir, was known among the British tribes as the
Dlighe Tanaiste, which, although the source of lamentable discords and
bl >odshed in Ireland, convulsed by ambitious factions, continued long to
be followed in Scotland with less mischief. The law of Tanaistry not
only regulated the government of the clans, but determined the succes-

Martin. t Present State of Ireland, 1673. Desid. cur. Hib

J Birt's Letters, ii. 9.


sion of the kings of Scotland during the Celtic dynasty, or until 1056,
and pervaded the constitution to a much later period. It is not, says
Dr. Mac Pherson, above 200 years since this custom prevailed in the
Highlands, and some instances have occurred later.*

During the life of a chief, he generally appointed his successor from
the members of his own family, for the descent by Tanaistry was to the
oldest and mosfc worthy of blood and name;! but, like the Gauls, he was
obliged to obtain the consent of the clan,J who, previous to confirmation,
required satisfactory proof of the military abilities of their future com-
mander. The person so chosen was denominated the Tanaist, or Tan-
istear, a word which signifies second person.

The appointment of a Tanaist was evidently intended to prevent the
danger of an interregnum or minority, for an experienced person, in the
maturity of life, was always preferred to one more youthful: and a male,
although illegitimate, was elected, to the exclusion of females; agreea-
bly to which practice, the Galwegians, in the time of Alexander II.,
unanimously rose in support of a bastard son against three legitimate
daughters. An uncle was also preferred to a nephew, whose grandfather
survived the father.

It was probably from a feeling of the relationship of all the members,
and a sense of equality, that this singular mode of election was admitted.
The custom did not, perhaps, work very well with turbulent people,
among whom nothing can prevent occasional insurrection. At the same
time, the practice, it must be confessed, appears but too well calculated
to produce disorder. An elective government has ever been a source
of contention; and, however well the Gauls regulated it, evils were
sometimes the consequence. In Scotland, where Clanship became so
much refined, it lost many of its inconveniences. Any tendency to
misrule was checked by the people, whose influence a chief dare not
contemn; for, according to a Celtic saying, " stronger than the Laird
were the vassals."

Strabo says, that the Gauls were anciently accustomed to elect a
prince and a captain-general every year. 5) There were some instances
of two kings reigning jointly; but it was very unusual. Among the
^Eduans, it was not lawful for two of the same family to enjoy this dig-
nity, or even to sit together in the public assemblies. ||

The duty of the Tanaist, when appointed during the life of the chief,
was to lead the army. He was the captain of the clan, and hence he
appears to me to have been denominated the Toshich, which I do not
find is intended for a different person. Tos and Toshich, in Gaelic, sig-
nify the beginning or first part of any thing; so Toshich came to denote
the general, or leader of the van: and the Mac Intoshes derive them-
selves from Macduff, who obtained this right from Malcolm Ceanmorc

* Diss. xiii. It even prevailed among the Saxons. He says, before the conquest of
Ireland, Tanaist became obsolete ! t Davis's Reports on Tanaistry.

* Caledonia i. 306. Lib. iv. || Bello Gall vii. 89.


Dr. Mac Pherson says, the Tanaist and Toshich are different, which
may be true in this manner: the one was the nomination of the chief and
his blood relation, the other the choice of the people or the appointment
of the king.

A charter of David II. to John Mac Kennedy, the captain of Clan
Muntercasduff, authorizes James Kennedy, who had married Marv
Stewart, the king's daughter, and the heirs male, to exercise "the capi-
tanship, head and commandment of his kin;"* and another charter of
the same reign is " anent the clan of Clenconan, and who should be cap-
tain thereof." j A charter of Nigel, Earl of Carrick, to Roland de
Carrick and his heirs, of the chieftainship of his clan in all affairs of
Kinkynell,'or the right of leading the clan under the chief, was confirm-
ed in 1241, and reconfirmed by Robert the Second. J The Saxon word
Thane, the Taini of Domesday-book, is assuredly derived from the Cel-
tic Tanaist.

Women were excluded in general by the Tanaist law, but cases occur
where they held the sovereignty of the clan by hereditary right, and
sometimes acquired great influence. It is true that Veleda, who be-
came so renowned, bore the character of a prophetess; but the heroic
Bondiuca and Cartismandua, who became so powerful in Britain, were
legitimate princesses. The Sitones, in the days of Tacitus, were gov-
erned by a female.

The title Rhi, a ruler, or king, was not the highest in Celtic prece-
dency. Tierna, spelled Tighearna, literally signifies a lord or judge, and
is applied to all great men. Even the Divine Being does! not receive
any other appellation, a proof that the people had no idea of any higher
power, than what was possessed by their chiefs. The Rex of the Romans
is apparently derived from the Celtic Rhi, as the Greek Tyrannos, a
name originally applied to princes, both good and bad, and is from Tierna.
This word which, in Welsh, is Teyrn, has been derived from ti, one,
eren, land, as implying a landed gentleman.^ From this title comes
. Ochiern or Oigthierna, latinized Ogetharius in Scots law, a term ap-
plied to the heir apparent of a l6rdship, and composed of Oig, young,
Tierna, Lord. Mactiern is an ancient dignity among the Bretons.

lar Fhlath, from lar, after, and Fhlath, a prince or commander, is
pronounced larla, signifies literally, a secondary chief, and is the origin
of the Saxon Earl, to which the Welsh larll arid the Cornish Arluth are
analogous. ' Other dignities were the Maormor, i. e. Maor, steward,
officer or one who guarded, and more, great, || a person who had the gov-
ernment of provinces, and whose title was equivalent to the earls of after
ages. Moar, in Manx, is a collector of manorial rents.

Toscheoderach, in Gaelic, Toischuachdarach, i. e. a chief officer, is a
term that frequently occurs. Niel Mac Niel sold to James Mac Niel

* Robertson's Index of Charters, p. 149. No. 57. t Ibid. p. 57. No. 27.

t Robertson's Index, p. 134. Crawford's Officers of State. 21.

Dr. Mac Pherson. * || Mawr, is great in Welsh. Cornish, and Armoric.


the lands of Gigha, with the Toschodairach of Kyntyre;* and Robert
the Third*confirms a charter, in which John Lachlanson, of Durydarach,
grants to Duncan Dalrumpil, the office of Toscheadaroch, in Nithsdale

In Ireland, the Tanaist had certain " cuttings and spendings on all
the inhabitants." His lands descended to the eldest and most worthy of
his blood and name, and his daughters received a certain number of
cattle for their dowry. In the Isles, the Tierna's brother claimed Trian-
tiernis, or a third part of the estate during his life, by right of immemorial
custom.t Amongst the Germans, the children were their father's lawful
heirs; and in default of issue, the nearest of kin succeeded. Amongst
the Tencteri, one of their tribes, who were celebrated equestrians, the
horses were heritable, yet did not descend to the eldest son, but to the
one who had most signalized himself by deeds of valor. J

The custom of Gavel-kind, a mode of succession still existing in dif-
ferent parts of Britain, and accounted the common law of Kent, where
the people have been always remarkable for their tenacity of ancient
practices, was well known in Brehon law. By the Irish practice, le-
gitimate and illegitimate, male and female, received an equal portion on
the death of a parent: and if one of the family died, the chief or judge
made a new partition of the whole; for the share of the deceased did
not go to his children. By the Custumal of Kent, the fire hearth, and
forly feet around it, remained with the youngest son. A husband, sur-
viving his wife, was entitled to a moiety of her gavel-kind lands, so long
as he remained unmarried; and a widow had a similar right, if she re-
mained single, and "took diligent heed that she was not found with
child." A proof of infidelity we find, was by the child being heard to
cry after its birth, and by the attestation of the people, assembled by hue
and cry. || Like the practice in Scots' law, property at death was by this
usage divided into the dead's part, the wife's part, and the bairn's part
of gear.

The inhabitants of Kent preserved the freedom of their Celtic ances-
. tors. In the thirtieth of Edward the First, it was declared, that in this
country there were no villains, and that the son of one born there be-
came free. IT Among other valuable privileges, the men of Kent claimed
a right to a position in the vanguard of the army; hence, Drayton says,

" Of all the English shires, be thou surnamed the free,
And foremost ever placed, when they shall reckoned be." **

A conviction for felony, or any other serious crime, did not occasion a
forfeiture of the lands, the heirs never being affected by the deeds of
their parents, according to the adage. " The fader to the bond, the son

* Caled. i. 451. t Dr. Mac Pherson says he was also called Armin

t Tac. de mor. Germ.

Present State of Ireland. Before the time of Solon, property descended equally to
all relations, but he permitted the Greeks to leave it by will to whom they chose.
|| Lambard's Perambulation. 1f Robinson on Gavel-kiad.

** Polyalbion, Canto xviii.


to the fond." In Scotland, fourteen is the age at which pupilarity ter-
minates. An heir of Gavel-kind became of age at fifteen. This mode
of succession was abolished in Wales 35th Hen. VIII. and by the 3rd
of James I., it was declared illegal in Ireland, but Papists were after-
wards excepted! Considerable difference of opinion exists respecting
the derivation of Gavel-kind. Whittaker gives Gafael, Kinead, British,
the family estate. Ghabhail, in Gaelic, is a receiving, and also a ten-
ure; cine is kindred.

The Udal inheritance in Orkney resembles Gavel-kind, but the
brother received double the portion of a sister. The kindly tenure in
the vicinity of the royal castle of Lochmaben, where the tenants hold of
the king, and transmit simply by possession, is a vestige of the Celtic
system of common holding, and seems much older than the time of
Robert Bruce, by whom it is thought to have been first granted.

" The tenure by the straw," a customary freehold peculiar to the Isle
of Man, is also a relic of this ancient usage. The possession descends
by rjght of primogeniture, and extends to females, with certain reserva-
tions to widows, &c. The Earl of Derby having in the seventeenth
century prevailed on several of the inhabitants to surrender this right
for tenantcies at will, a prophecy embodied in an old song, foretelling
that none who were accessary to this alienation of their right should be
able long to retain an acre, is said to have been duly fulfilled.

By the old Scotish practice, in giving a farm to a tenant for a long or
short period, he was presented with a stick and some straw, which he
immediately returned to the proprietor, and they were mutually bound.*
Lands continued to be held in the Highlands, without the formality of
writing, according to the ancient practice in Scotland, until the middle
of the eighteenth century .|

The right of primogeniture among the Celtic race was, however,
obliged to give way to superiority in military abilities. The anecdote
of the young chief of Clanrannald is well known. On his return to take
possession of his estate, observing the profuse quantity of cattle that had
been slaughtered to celebrate his arrival, he very unfortunately remark-
ed, that a few hens might have answered the purpose. This exposure
of a narrow mind, and inconsiderate display of indifference to the feel-
ings of his people, were fatal. " We will have nothing to do with a hen
chief," said the indignant clansmen, and immediately raised one of his
brothers to the dignity. So highly did the Highlanders value the quali-
fications of their commander, that in the deposition of one whom they
deemed unworthy, they risked the evil of a deadly feud. On this occa-
sion, the Frasers, among whom young Clanrannald had been fostered,
took arms to revenge his disgrace; but they were, after a desperate bat-
tle, defeated with great slaughter, and the unhappy hen chief perished
on the field.

It has been doubted whether the Gaelic chiefs ever consulted with tho

Martin. t Lord Kames.


elders, or, if they did so, whether it was otherwise than as a council of
war. It appears to me that they had a regular senate, whose advice
thoy availed themselves of on all occasions. The Pictish kings had such
an establishment, as we learn from Adomnan, and " the chiefs of the Yles
chose a king, and adjoined to him ane counsel of the wisest."* This
counsel was formed, perhaps, of those, who also acted as judges. Near
Isla, says Buchannan, is Ilan na Covihaslop, or the island of council,
where fourteen of the chief men sat daily for the administration of jus-
tice. "f From the Regiam Majestatem, it appears the chiefs had twelve
counsellors, who sat in deliberation with them; an establishment to which
I have seen reference in an old poem, and which is believed to have
been introduced in the Hebrides by the Norse men. It was, however,
common to all Celtic nations, the people always maintaining a right to
advise, and even a power to control their rulers. In a Gaelic poem
dedicated by Mac Dary, to O'Brian, of Thomond, it is said, "that it
was every man's duty to possess the ear of his sovereign, with useful
truth's." The declaration made in 1309 by the Scots nobility, is a strong
proof of the limited nature of the monarchy. It is there stated, that the
title of King Robert Bruce was conferred by the people; and that, be
ing advanced by their authority to the crown, he was thereby made King
of Scotland.J

The public meetings of the Celts were frequent, for nothing could be
done but by popular consent: the nobles met occasionally by themselves.
On Caesar's advance. into Gaul, he says, a great council of princes was
held. Polybius also notices these assemblies. When practicable, they
were held on certain days, the full or change of the moon being reckon-
ed most fortunate. The people never met without being armed, delib-
erating, as Nicholas Damascenus expresses it, on the affairs of state,
" girded with iron." When the Suevian monarchy had under the Ro-
mans become absolute, the arms were deposited in a public arsenal,
" guarded by slaves," for it did not suit, says Tacitus, " the interest of
an arbitrary prince to trust the power of arms with any but a slave."
In the public assemblies were chosen the chiefs who administered justice,
to each of whom were assigned one hundred persons, chosen from the
people, to accompany him and assist him with their counsel and authori-
ty. || The chief magistrate among the JEduans was elected annually.
He was called Vergobretus, and had the power of life and death, but
was not allowed to go out of the kingdom. 11 Fear gubreath, the man
to command, or the person who judges, is a well known Gaelic appella-
tion. The Germans have Werkober;** and the Mayors of Autun, the
capital of the JEduans, are still called Vierg/ft

In these assemblies it was allowed to present accusations and prtse-

* " Manner of choosing the Kings of Scotland of old." MS. in Brit. Museum.
1 Lib. i. \ The Right of the House of Stewart to the Crown considered, 174(5.

Ap. Stobseus. 470. || Tac. de Mor. Germ. II Bello Gall. i. 14. 31.

** Werk, opus. Ober, supremum. tt Diss. Historique sur divers sujets, 170G


cute capital offences On small affairs, the chiefs decided; but on those
of greater moment, the whole nation deliberated. The king's influence,
like that of any other member, arose from his ability to persuade, for he
possessed no individual authority to command, and had only the privilege
of speaking first. All those matters on which the people decided, were
afterwards examined and discussed by the chiefs.* Here are the Celtic
houses of Lords and Commons.

At their feasts, which were frequent among all the Celtae, the Ger-
mans deliberated about choosing their princes, reconciling parties, form-
ing affinities, and discussed the questions of peace and war. They
reckoned this the most proper time for considering those subjects, the
heart being opened, and the mind fired with great and bold id^eas, for
these people were nowise subtle or politic, but disclosed to each other
their most secret thoughts. But they did not rashly decide on any mat-
ter, for they met next day, and coolly revised and canvassed the various
opinions of the preceding evening.* " They consult," says Tacitus,
" when they know not how to dissemble; they determine, when they can-
not mistake."

This, indeed, appears a little at variance with what Coesar has said of
the Gauls, that it was not permitted to speak of public affairs, but by
permission of the council, a regulation necessary to prevent the mischief
which occurred, in consequence of the credulity of the people, who held
slight reports as if they were a matter of experience."}" The excessive
curiosity of the Gauls, so similar to that of the present Highlanders, led
them to stop passengers, and oblige them to tell all the news they had
heard, before they were suffered to proceed; and any vague rumour
affected them as if it were certain information. It was, therefore, a law
with some, that those who had any news, should communicate with none
until the magistrates had been informed, who, to prevent any commotion,
were wont to conceal some things, and only impart to the public that
which it was necessary should be known. J Spenser relates an anecdote
of a Frenchman who, struck with the curiosity of the Irish, having met
with one on the continent after many years' separation, asked him if he
had ever heard the news about which he so anxiously inquired when in
Ireland. If you meet one in the Highlands, this thirst for information
will be very apparent; the answer to any question you may ask, is like-
ly to be, " Where may you have come from?" " You are going south, it
is likely;" " You come from such a place, perhaps;" or so on.

Among the ancient Celts there was no distinction of seats in places
of assembly, but each sat where he pleased. Every one was heard with
attention, and a singular custom prevailed in order to preserve order;
if any one interrupted the person who was speaking, an officer came
with a drawn knife, and, with threatening, ordered him to desist. This

* Tac. de Mor. Germ. t Bello Gall. vii. 4.

t Ibid. w. 5. In Iceland, the chief men, by law, had the privilege of first convers
ing with the crew of a vessel that had newly arrived.



he repeated a second and a third time; and if the party still continued
refractory, the messenger cut off as much of his garment as rendered
what was left useless.*

When the Highland chief entered on his government, he was placed
on the top of a cairn, raised in the form of a pyramid, and around him,
but lower, stood his friends and followers. One of the principal persons
then delivered him a sword and a white wand; and the orator, bard 01
Druid, recounting his pedigree, enumerated the exploits of his ancestors,
and exhorted the young chief to emulate their noble example. | By the
Tanaist law, in Ireland, when the chief was elected, he stood on a stone
placed on a hill, and took an oath to preserve all the ancient customs
inviolate,^ and deliver peaceable possession to his successor. He, like
the Highland chief, received a wand, and, on descending from the stone,
he turned thrice round backwards and thrice forwards. The Tanaist, on
his election, performed the same ceremonies, but set one foot only on
the seat of inauguration. The stone on which the Lords of the Isles
were crowned, bearing the marks of the feet, still exists; and near the
cathedral of Cashel is one used by the Kings of Munster for a similar

The practice of crowning a king upon a stone is of extreme antiquity.
The celebrated coronation chair, the seat of which is formed of the slab
on which the kings of Scotland were inaugurated, is an object of curios-
ity to those who visit Westminster Abbey. The history of this stone is
carried back to a period far beyond all authentic record; and the Irish
say that it was first in their possession. According to Wintoun, its
original situation was in lona. It was certainly in Argyle, where it is
believed to have remained long at the castle of Dunstaflnage, before it
was removed to Scone, the place of coronation for the kings of Scotland,
whence it was carried to London by Edward the First. This curious
relic is of a dark color, and appears to be that sort found near Dundee.
It was looked on with great veneration by the ancient Scots, who believ-
ed the fate of the nation depended on its preservation. The Iri*h called
it Cloch na cinearnna, the stone of fortune, and the Scots preserve the

following oracular verse:

Cinnidh Scuit saor am fine,

Mar breug am faistine :
Far am faighear an lia-fail,
Dlighe flaitheas do ghabhail.

" The race of the free Scots shall flourish, if this prediction is not
false vv*herever the stone of destiny is found, they shall prevafl by the
right of Heaven." Its possession was considered of so much impor-
tance, that its restitution was made an express article in a treaty of
peace, and the subject of a personal conference between David the Sec-

* Strabo, iv p. 197. \ Martin's Western Islands, 102, &c.

t Spenser's View of the State of Ireland, 1633. Some of these stones bore the <m
pression of a foot mark.


end arid Edward.* The office of placing the king on this stone was the
hereditary right ef the Earls of Fife.

Saxo Gratnrnaticus, lib. 1, says it was the ancient custom in Denmark
to crown the kings sitting on a stone. In 1396, in the circle called Mo-
rasten, near Upsall, this ceremony was performed. It is curious to find
this Celtic practice retained in the kingdom of Britain, and to find its re-
vered monarch a descendant of the ancient kings of the " free Scots."

These inauguration seats were always placed on eminences. On
Quothquan Law, a beautiful green hill in the ward of Lanark, is a stone
artificially hollowed, on which it is said that Wallace sat in conference
with his chiefs.

The famous coronation chair was placed upon the moot hill of Scone,
snd, seated on it, the kings of Scotland promulgated the laws, as is
recorded of Kenneth MacAlpin, about 850, of Malcolm II. 1006, and
Robert the Bruce, who, the day after his coronation, 1306, sat " super
montern de Scone." The Gaelic moid, from which the Saxon, moot,
Swedish, mote, &.c. are derived, signifies a court or place of meeting;
and these picturesque knolls are found all over Scotland and Ireland.
The Tinwald of Man is a singular object of this nature. On this mount,
the ancient kings were crowned, and the name signifies the place of
convocation; a term applied to the ancient Irish parliament. |

The learned Whiltaker says, Feudal tenures are coeval with the
plantation of the island; and from all that is preserved concerning the
Celtic form of government, he is warranted ia the assertion; n >t that
the system, as it appeared when refined by the Normans, prevailed in
the first ages, but those usages on which it was founded originated with
the Celts. Another writer has declared that feudism extends from the
earliest ages, and the rudiments of it may be clearly perceived in the
institutions of clanship. J We have seen the freedom of this mode of
government, and observed that the customs of the people were regulated
by certain rules of immemorial practice. It has, indeed, been stated
that there being but twu dulses, the nobles and villains, among the
British tribes, it was impossible for the feudal system to exist in that
state of society; but the latter class were not debased in those early
periods: in Kent, where the Celtic manners long remained, villainage
was unknown.

The followers of a Celtic chief were treated with a degree of respect
unknown in those countries where the laborers were considered as the
live stock of a farm, and were regularly sold with the land whereon they
lived. The lowest members of a clan were of some consequence in the
community, and felt a lively interest in all the quarrels in which the
tribe might be engaged. They followed their leaders, not from com-
pulsion, but from a-sense of the justice of the cause, and from a venera-

* AylofFs Cal. of Charters, Introd. p. 58.
t See Johnstone's Ant. Celto Normannia.
1 Dr. Mac Pherson's Diss p. 140


tion to their supenois, their natural chiefs. With them "the power of
a father was the prerogative of a sovereign; and the obedience of a son
the submission of a subject."* The rude plenty of the chief's hospita-
ble board was the only pay that he could bestow, or the clansmen ac-
cept; the gifts which the warriors received, being accepted, as they were
bestowed, without being considered as obligations;"!" an( ^ ^ n ^ s m de of
life, " however it might accidentally weaken the several republics, in-
vigorated the general character." J

It is a fact that many Highland chiefs had no better proof of title to
their lands than having possessed them from time immemorial, and were
much alarmed when Bruce required them to exhibit their charters. It is
even related of some, that, at a much later period, they felt most indig-
nant that they should be required to hold by a roll of parchment what
their ancestors had acquired by their sword, and held so long by no
other tenure.

Mac Donald of Keppoch, disdaining to hold by a sheepskin the lands
of Glenroy, in 1687, asserted by arms his right, against Mac Intosh, who
had obtained a crown charter of the disputed territory, vanquished and
took him prisoner, in a desperate battle, and then compelled him to re-
nounce his acquired claim. In requital for his temerity, Keppoch's
lands were laid waste, with fire and sword, by a strong body of regular
troops. The ancestors of Lord Ree had no charter for their lands until

The Lords of the Isles, in conveying lands to their followers, used a
very simple form of charter, drawn up, according to the curious ancient
practice, in rhyme, and running in this form: "I, Donald, chief of the
Mac Donalds, give, here in my castle, to Mac Kay, a right to Kilma-
humag, from this day till to-morrow, and so on forever." Kneeling on
the "black stones," he confirmed these grants.

Camden, Spehnan, and other learned authors, consider knighthood to
have been derived from the public investment of youth with arms, 5 a
practice, as already described, that biiais a u iking resemblance to that
offeudism. This system was decidedly military, and the whole institu-
tions of Celtic policy were of a similar character. The military expedi-
tions of the Celtic warrior, the probation of his virtues and abilities, were
like those of the knights of later times, who, when there was no field for
exertion at home, set out in quest of adventures, and, by constant exer-
cise, preserved their warlike prowess. Chivalrous individuals in the
Highlands were accustomed to go about like knights errant, and if not
propitiated by a certain tribute, they asked a fair battle without favor.
Dr Mac Pherson found, some persons who had seen these champions.

Ca3sar says the robbery of other tribes was encouraged among the
Gauls, to prevent effeminacy. Military virtue must have been highh
valued where it was the sole safe-guard of national independence.

* Whittaker. t Tac. de Mor. Germ. c. 21.

t Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, c. 12.
See also Dr. Mac Pherson's Diss


" Treacherous," exclaims the eloquent Tacitus, " is that repose which
you enjoy amongst neighbors that are powerful and fond of rule and
mastership; when the sword is drawn, quietness and fair dealing will he
in vain pleaded by the weaker."*

Careful as the Celts were to cherish a warlike spirit, they did not live
in that turbulence and anarchy which some have supposed. They fought
desperately in a cause of quarrel: but valor was not more esteemed than
fidelity to their fiends and hospitality to strangers, two characteristic
virtues of the age of chivalry. To kill a stranger, was death; exile the
only punishment for the murder of a native, "f

The Ligurians and Iberi guarded those who were passing through
their respective countries, whether Greeks or Celts; and a fine was ex-
acted from the people in whose territories a traveller might receive an
injury. J

Distracted with inveterate feuds, often promoted to accelerate their
destruction; living distinct from the Lowlanders, and obnoxious to their
laws; yet the state of the Highlanders appears at no time to have been
so bad as that of the people on the borders of the two kingdoms, where
the government was often unable to repress the greatest outrages.

The Highlanders made their Creachs ^ on hostile tribes only, or car-
ried their hariships into districts of the low country; where the inhabitants
were inimical to their welfare, and were taught to consider the moun-
taineers as " barbarous, ethnick," and opposed to all social order.

Their forays were only a retaliation for recent injuries, or in revenge
of former wrongs, for they were careful of offending a clan with whom
they were in amity. The Camerons having, by mistake, attacked the
Grants of Moynes, the chief complained severely to Lochiel of the out-
rage, who sent an immediate apology, regretting that, through ignorance,
they had attempted to plunder the lands of their friends, and offering to
submit the adjustment of their respective losses to arbitration. He had
not much reason to dread the award, for the Grants had defeated the in-
vaders; and their chief complains that he had eight dead and twelve un-
der cure, " vvhilk he knew not who should live or who should die."

They did not engage in these raids from a mere pleasure in robbing
their neighbors. There is reason to believe that they submitted to many
grievances before they resorted to arms. A scarcity made them bethink
themselves on whom they could levy a contribution. A hint from a
clansman, who was obliged, from hunger, to gnaw a bone, induced his
chief to undertake a foray which is still celebrated as creach an aisne,
i. e. of the rib; but it is absurd to suppose they would, on any consider-
ation, rob a friendly or unoffending tribe. When they carried off cattle,
or other spoil, it was with the consciousness that their own herds were
exposed to the risk of being appropriated by others. Rapine and mutual

* De Mor. Germ. Gordon's Trans.

t Nich. Damascenus, ap. Stobaeus, 470. t Aristotle.

Creagh, a prey. The same word in German is war.


aggression were, in some degree, unavoidable consequences of the stato
of society; but the evil was not so serious to the inhabitants as might be
supposed. "The creach," says a Gaelic proverb, " is not so bad, from
which the half is recovered; " and again, " What the worse is one of the
foray, if it lessen not the race; " property, it has been observed, must be
perfectly established before the loss of it can be felt. There was no pc
culiar pleasure in eating cattle that were not^their own. Derrick, in-
deed, says of the Irish, that,

" The stolen horse, the mutton, and the beef,
Which things to want, who holds it not a grief."

But the Highlander knew that a rupture with his neighbors placed his
own flocks in peril; while, if the war was not successful, hunger and
misery was certain to ensue.

The Highlanders had a peculiar faculty of tracing the cattle which
had been lifted or carried off. They were able not only to trace their
foot-marks on the grass, but even to distinguish those which were merely
straying from others driven along by the enerny.

When the track of the cattle was lost, the person on whose property
it might happen;, became liable either to recover the trace, or make res-
titution to the amount lost. This wholesome regulation acquired the
force of law. It was a no less salutary regulation which made a chief
answerable for the deed of his clansman, and obliged him to deliver up
an offender. This was called cincogish, from cine, a tribe, and congish,
affinity. Alfred had a law of this kind, and it was embodied in the stat-
utes of Scotland.

Tasgal money was a reward offered for the recovery of stolen cattle;
but the Highlanders were so averse to a system by which they were lia-
ble to get into awkwar,d circumstances, that it was unanimously discour-
aged; some clans, as the Camerons, bound themselves by oath never to
accept such a bribe, and to put to death any individual who should do

Their dexterity in plundering induced the people of the low country,
and even borough towns, to agree with certain parties for protection, on
condition of their paying a stipulated sum under the name of black mail.

These agreements were for a certain extent of country and a limited
time. If the mail was not punctually paid, the Highlander had little
difficulty in liquidating his own claims; and if the cattle were stolen by
others, he made good the loss. It was usually stipulated that, in case
of civil commotion, the parties should be released. If one had a claim
on another, and could not get payment, he might carry off as many cat-
tle as were sufficient to cover the amount, provided he sent notice that
he had done so, when out of the reach of pursuit, and intimated his wish
to return them if his demand were satisfied.

The chief received two-thirds of the spoil acquired in a foray, or its
produce; and the other third was the share of the captors.* It was.

* Bin.

^f c -/

, yn- /

LAWS. 143

besides, customary to pay a certain number of cattle, or amount of othei
booty, to a chieftain, through whose lands the party might be obliged to
pass. About 1341, John Munro, tutor to the laird of Foulis, having, in
revenge of certain injuries, carried off a prey of cattle' from Strathardale,
in Perth, was asked by Macintosh, in passing Moyhall, for part of the
spoil, according to custom. A reasonable portion was offered, but Mac-
intosh insisting on the half, collected his vassals, and, pursuing the
Munros, overtook them at Clach na harry, who, rending the booty to a
place of safety, stood to their arms and overthrew their assailants, most
part of whom, with the chief, were slain.

LAWS are valuable materials in the history of nations: they arc true
evidences of the domestic state of society, at the periods when they
prevailed. Laws are at first traditionary, and in this state they existed
among the Celtic nations, long before they were written. Uniil the
kingdom of Scotland was firmly consolidated, the tribes were governed
by their traditionary customs and local usages.

The Scotish law was undoubtedly indigenous, and appears compose**
of the unrecorded practice of the Celts, and much of the statute lar
which prevailed in England, and must have been equally derived fror
ancient British customs. Much of the existing common law of the Ian'
is to be deduced from the era of Druidism, and Montesquieu shows, tha
the English constitution itself emanates from a pastoral state of society
The old terms in Scots law being Gaelic, and the laws themselves dis-
tinctly pointing to the customs of those nations, it must be inferred tha'
the system of jurisprudence existed before it was embodied in the
"Regiam Majestatem." To the Celtic institutions of our ancestors,
are assuredly to be referred most of the national statutes, and the ancient
usages of Scotland, which Lord Stair declares to be a common law.

A very ancient body of laws, called the Malmutin, from their author,
was translated from Celtic into Latin by Gildas Albanius, and rendered
into Saxon by King Alfred.* Fingal is celebrated by the Irish for his
wisdom in making laws, some of which, O 'Flaherty says, were extant
in his own time. Adomnan, who lived in the end of the seventh century,
propagated the Macentian code; and Aodh, or Ethfin, enacted laws
that are noticed in the Pictish Chronicle, as those of Edi. They were
renewed by Kenneth Mac Alpin, the celebrated king and legislator.
The Welsh laws, although of high antiquity, were not recorded until
the time of Hwyel Dha, in the tenth century. That those of Scotland,
in the beginning of the fourteenth century, were different from the
English, we learn by the attempts of Edward the First, to abolish the
" usages and customs of the Scots and Brets." In Galloway, they were
confirmed by Robert the Bruce and David the First, | and remained in
force longer than in other parts of the kingdom. In Ireland, they exist-
ed within these two hundred years.

The Druids combined the offices of priest and legislator, and decided

* Dempster's Hist Ecclesia^t. vi. 1 Robertson's Index of Charters.


according to maxims traditionally handed down from the most remote
periods. Law and religion are closely connected in primitive society,
and not entirely disjoined in periods the most refined. The Celtic priest-
hood possessed the highest power; but, during war, they shared it with
the chiefs, who, in peace, were also permitted to decide in minor affairs.
The Feargubreath was, most likely, of the druidical order. The office
was anciently elective on the continent, but in these islands the judge
was hereditary. He was styled the Brehon or Brithib, and gave name
to the laws by which he decided. In Man they are still called Breast.

These judges had a good farm assigned for their support, and were
besides entitled to the eleventh, twelfth,* or thirteenth,! of the fines
imposed. In the Isle of Man, the Keys, who were anciently called
Taxiaxi: the Deemsters, the Coroners, and all officers pf justice, for-
merly lived at the king's expense. The judge had the assistance of a
council of twelve or fourteen, who, in the Western Isles, sat daily for
the administration of justice. J He had no power of legislation, for the
king himself could not abrogate or enact a law without the consent of
the people. It does not appear that in early ages there was a- regular
jury. In the twelfth century, the people of Galloway decided without
one. The Northern nations we, however, find had anciently twelve
compurgators; and in some parts of Norway the peasants are at this
day tried by a jury of themselves, whose decision is final, and who pro-
portion the punishment with strict regard to the guilt of the parties. To
dispute the award of this rustic tribunal, is to become an outcast from
society. 5) In Man, twelve men from each sheading were summoned to
attend the Alting; but this number, being a total of seventy-two, from
whom the doomers were chosen, was reduced by Sir John Stanley to
twenty-four, who are now self-elected.

The Brehon required no clerk to register the proceedings. In Scot-
land, he sat on the top of a hillock, and sometimes placed himself on the
middle of a bridge. In Ireland, we are told, he " sitteth him downe on
a banke, the lords and the gentlemen at variance round about him."
David the First, of Scotland, sat on certain days at the door of his pal-
ace, to hear and decide the causes of the poor.|| The practice of hold-
ing courts in the open air, which so long prevailed in Britain, was a
relic of Druidism, which subsisted in most European countries. The
court of Areopagus, at Athens, sat in the open air; and Pliny informs
us the Roman senate was first so held. 11 That circular enclosures of
stone were used as courts of justice, and places for trial by combat, is
well known.** In Scandinavia, they were long so appropriated; and in
Shetland and Orkney the practice continued to very late times. In

* Dr. Mac Pherson t Highland Soc. Rep. on Ossian's Poems,

t Buchannan. Conway's Journey.

|| Scotichron, v. 20. II Lib. viii. c. 45.

** One of these on the hill of Tyrebacher, Aberdeenshire, is represented at the end
of this chapter.


these last places they were called Ting, which, according to Dr. Mur-
ray, originally signified to surround, and is therefore of similar import
with the Gaelic cearcail, the Circus or round temple, which seerns to
have been the place where laws were originally enacted and promul-
gated: the Tings being, at first, judicial only, but in process of time
they became also legislative.

On the abolition of Druidism, the courts which had been held in the
circles, were transferred to the church; but the practice being deemed
incompatible with Christianity, it was prohibited by an express canon.
It appears to me, that from this originated the Moothills, or eminences,
on which law courts were afterwards held. The most remarkable object
of this kind is the Tynwald, in the Isle of Man, represented in the
vignette to this Chapter, upon which the Duke of Athol, as descendant
of the ancient kings, annually presides. In 1417, Sir John Stanley,
then king, was thus instructed in the regal duties, and official practice,
which are almost the same in the present day. He was to sit in his
robes of state upon the hill of Tynwald in a chair, his face to the east,
and his sword before him, held with the point upwards; his barons in
the second degree sitting beside him, his beneficed men and deemsters
also sitting before him; his clerks, knights, 'squires, and yeomen being
around him in the third degree. The commons, with three clerks in
their surplices, stood outside the circle of the hill. The deemsters called
in the coroners, who carried their rods in their hands, and their weapons
about them, either sword or axe. The Moars of every sheading came
also, and the coroner of Glenfaba made a fence with much solemnity,
prohibiting all from making disturbance, under the pain of hanging and
drawing, while the king opened the court, promising to decide as up-
rightly as the stajfin his hand.

The Godordsman, Gode, or priest, summoned the inhabitants by a
stick or stone. The token of the kings of Man, and of his deemster,
was a small slate, on which their initials were inscribed, and it was a
penalty of 3 to falsify it. These simple warrants were only prohibited
in 1763. When a person was murdered, an arrow was sent to assemble
a Ting. In Ireland, when any one was wronged, he sat on an ox's hide
in a public thoroughfare. All went armed to these meetings, and within
the limits of the ting no one was admitted without permission, the defend-
ants in a trial being obliged to stand extra circum.* In Ireland, the
moothills are called raths, and sometimes mota. In Scotland they are
usually on the margin of a river, and in the immediate vicinity of a reli-
gious edifice, forming an interesting object in the landscape. The one
here represented is situated close to the ancient site of the church of
Inverury, in Aberdeenshire, and is denominated the Bass, probably from
bas, death or judgment. f

* Dr. Hibbert, in Trans, of Society of Ant. of Scotland.

t See Sir J. Munro, of Foulis, on the Hills of Dunipace. Trans, ut sup.



The Celtic laws were remarkable for favoring an equality of right, and
the state of civilisation was strongly conducive to the preservation of a
community of property and labor. Agriculture was pursued by the assist-
ance of a whole tribe, and every other occupation of general importance
was executed in a similar manner; the labor of every individual being
given to a work of which all received the benefit. In private affairs this
principle was not overlooked. Among other instances, by the Manx
law, any one in want of stone or lime may dig in his neighbor's land foi
it, paying only a reasonable satisfaction for breaking the ground. In
the Western Isles, all fishing-lines were required to be of an equal
length, to prevent any thing like an unfair advantage.*

Among the Celtae almost every crime was expiated by a payment,
made either to the party injured or to the chief. Tacitus found it "a
temper wholesome to the commonwealth, that homicide and lighter trans-
gressions were settled by the payment of horses or cattle, part to the
king or community, part to him or his friends who had been wronged."
The Germans hung traitors and deserters on trees; cowards, sluggards,
and the depraved, were smothered under hurdles in mud and bogs, to show
thereby that glaring iniquities ought to be punished openly; effeminacy,
and those crimes which are less obvious, but destructive to morality,
and hurtful to the state, ought to be removed from sight and from the
face of the earth.

The law of Scotland allowed this mode of compensation for crime in
most cases, the fine or mulct being termed Eric, a reparation. Accord-
ing to O'Conner, this law was first promulgated in Ireland, anno 164, by
which, says Dr. Warner, the Irish were brought to more humanity,
honesty, and good manners, than had ever been before known. In his
nemoirs of Sir Thomas More, he continues, "we too far infringe on
God's commands, by taking away the lives of men for theft anfl robbery.
[t is not only a pernicious error, for extreme justice is extreme injury,
but a national abomination. The wilfulness of the crime is no sort of
excuse for making the punishment far exceed the heinousness of the
transgression." Roderick, the last king, exacted 3600 cows as an eric
for the slaughter of Murcertach O'Brian, King of Munster, in 1168.f

* Martin. t O' Conner's Diss.


When (he Lord-Deputy told Mac Guire that he was to send a sheriff
into Fermanagh, lately made a county, " he shall be welcome," said the
chief, " but let me know his eric, that if he lose his head I may put it on
the country."*

Cro, a ransom, by metonymy, signified both blood and death. The
cro of a villain was 16 cows, of an earl's son, or thane, 100, of an ear
140, and that of the king of Scots was 1000 cows.| Asythments in
Scotland were anciently paid in cattle, and the terms prove that the law
originated in pastoral society. J

Kelchy or Kelchyn, " ane penalty enjoined to a man who confesses
his fault," is from the Gaelic gial, a pledge, cine, kindred, or, perhaps,
cean, head, the price of one, or a fine for manslaughter. An earl paid
for this 66 1 cows, his son, or a thane, 44 cows, twenty-one pence and f
of a bodle. This fine belonged to the kinsman of the person slain; but
if the wife of a rustic was killed, the lord had the kelchyn, and the pa-
rents the cro and the calpes.

Enach is a bounty, and sometimes means a ransom.

Calmes, according to Dr. Mac Pherson, comes from gial, a pledge,
and meas, an estimate; but it seems, rather, caelmeas, the price of a gae'l.

The Calpich was a payment made to the chief, and is derived from
calpa, a cow, in many cases the only article that could be given. The
Irish revenue was always paid in cattle, and in Scotland it was the same,
even in the time of Bruce. || Martin says that a tenant was bound to
make payment whether he resided on the estate or not.

Cane signifies rent, and cean-mhath, or cunveth, was a payment of
first fruits; not, however, peculiar to the clergy, for in 1186 it was
awarded by a jury to the king, out of Galloway. IF Gane duties are, to
this day, exacted on many farms. The "Mails" of Scotish law is an-
other Celtic term, and signifies rent, or tribute.

The usual services are labor in seed time, hay and corn harvest, and
the " casting and leading" of peats, or turf, certain quantities of spin-
ning, payment of lambs, fowls, eggs, butter, &c. &,c. A laird in north
Knapdale had a servitude of a night's lodging on one of his vassals, and
in the proof taken of the value of his estate, there occurs "Item, for
cuidoich 20s.**

A tenant in Caithness spun a certain quantity of woollen yarn, and so
much of lint, paid a quantity of oats to feed the laird's horses: trout, if
near a river or lake; and, if in the vicinity of a wood, a certain number
of nas/cs, i. e. binders of birch, to secure the laird's cows.

In Man, the swine of felons belonged to the king, the goats to the
queen. ||

* State of Ireland, 1673. t Regiam Majestatem.

| In all Gaelic dialects are terms of a similar signification.

Skene's Auld Laws of Scotland. || Caledonia.

U Regiam. Maj. ** Agric. of Argyle. ft Sacheverel.


According to Diodorus, the Celts impaled on stakes and lurnerl on
lofty piles those who were guilty of any great crime, after a close im-
prisonment of five years; and in like manner he says they used their
captives, some cutting the throats, burning or otherwise destroying both
men and beasts. Among the ancient Caledonians, malefactors who were
sentenced to death were burnt between two fires, from whence is deriv-
ed the saying, " edir da teine Bheil," he is between the two flames of
Bel. The Breith-a-nuas, still used for a judge's decision, points to the
era of Druidism.

The sacrifice of captives, which was considered, in certain cases, ne-
cessary for propitiating the deity, may be here noticed. The Celts were
naturally humane, and willingly acknowledged bravery in an enemy; as
in the case of the Cimbri, who released a part of the Roman army when
captured, from admiration of their courage; but they also, at times,
committed great atrocities. A general, being returned from the pursuit
of an enemy, picked out from among the captives the choicest and
strongest young men, and sacrificed them to the gods: the rest he shot
to death with darts, most of whom he had long known, but former friend-
ship was no argument to spare a man of them.* This severity was,
however, unusual, for they appear to have generally behaved with mod-
eration when victorious. When they had slain their enemy, we are told,
they hung his head about the necks of their horses, and delivered the
spoils, .besmeared with blood, to their servants, to be carried before in
triumph, themselves following and chanting the paean of victory.

The state of Celtic society may be farther elucidated by viewing the
condition of the females, for civilisation is marked by the station which
women hold in society. Among savages, the intercourse between the
sexes is regulated by no principles of morality, and the females are al-
' ways degraded. Refined nations treat them with the nicest honor and
most punctilious respect. t

Caesar has, in his fifth book, left a record which is extremely unfavor-
able to the Gaulish and British character. The former are said to have
despised their females, and the latter are represented as indulging in a
community of wives. Sir William Temple gives specious reasons for
the existence of this barbarous and disgusting practice: Drs. Henry,
Mac Pherson, and others, have taken much pains to vindicate our an-
cestors from an imputation so injurious and so incredible. That such a
custom did exist, is extremely doubtful; but under "Marriage" the
subject will be resumed and more fully investigated.

Tacitus does not countenance the reproach of Ca3sar, and the charge
of immorality brought against the inhabitants of the continent has been
repelled by Gibbon, with forcible arguments. The Celts allowed their
wives to assist in councils and in settling controversies with their allies,
submitting, with suitable deference, to their just decisions.

* Diod. Fragm. xxvi. p. 65. t See Millar's Distinction of Ranks.


The influence of the sex, and the high respect in which they were
held, are acknowledged proofs of polished manners, and are most re-
markable in the age of chivalry. This age continued among the Gael
while their primitive institutions remained entire. There is no country
in Europe, where women are more esteemed than in the Highlands of
Scotland: "an unfaithful, unkind, or even careless husband is there
looked upon as a monster."*

The Celts are said to have had power of life and death over their wives
and children; and when a husband, in a respectable family, died, his rela-
tions held an inquest, and strictly interrogated the widow. If she were
found guilty of having been accessory to his death, she was executed
with fire and torments."!"

The Germans cut off the hair of an adulteress, and, in the presence
of her kindred, expelled her naked, pursuing her, with stripes, through
the village; for no pardon was ever granted to a woman who had prosti-
tuted herself. "However beautiful she be," says Tacitus, "however
young, however abounding in wealth, a husband she can never find.'

By the Welsh laws, a man was not allowed to beat his wife, but for
three causes: for wishing disgrace to his beard, attempting to murder
htm, and for adultery.

The barbarity of the Scots has been inferred from the existence of the
merched mulierum. a custom that has been understood to mean the right
of the lord to the first night of a newly married vassal's wife. Much
has been written on this abstruse term,J and many etymologies have been
given in proof of the revolting custom. Its import is clearly the fine
that was paid fbr liberty to marry; which was exacted in Scotland within
these 200 years. A superior could demand a sum, as marriage right,
from a male as well as female heir, and women were entitled to receive
it. The merched for an earl's daughter was twelve cows, the queen
having the perquisites, and for a thane's, one cow. Boece says it was a
silver mark; Buchannan the half of one.

It is scarcely possible for us to conceive that a custom so repugnant to
the natural feelings of mankind, could exist in any society at all remov-
ed from the lowest barbarity. Marriage altered the state of the parties,
and their relation to the chief. Neither widow nor single person was
permitted to marry without consent of her superior, and the highest of
the nobles were not exempted from the fine.

The Scots are characterized as very litigious, contending strenuously
for what they consider a right, although it may be of no advantage;
like a substantial farmer, well known in Edinburgh, who utterly ruined
himself in prosecuting his claim to the site of a dunghill; but they ap-

* Jamieson's Notes on Birt's Letters, ii. p. 46. t Caesar, vi. 17.

t See an Essay by Lord Hailes. Whittaker's Hist, of Manchester, an excellent pa-
per, by Mr. Anderson, W. S. in the Trans, of Scot's Ant. &c.
Letter from a Gentleman in Scotland, 1746.



pear formerly to have adopted a summary mode of settling disputes. Sir
Anthony Weldon thought, in the time of King James, that "their
swords were their judges, by reason whereof they had but few lawyers,
and those not very rich."

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus