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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XIII. - The Highland Landlords


MAITHEAN NA GAELTACHD mustered in full array to give George IV. a superabundantly loyal welcome on his visit to Edinburgh in 1822, and, with hardly an exception, the Highland nobles, chiefs, and landlords who put in appearance on the occasion, represented families who owned land and held sway in the same districts 250 years before then, and in not a few instances twice as long as that. Between 1560 and 1822 there had been many broils, forfeitures, and temporary displacements, followed by changing back, first after the Revolution of 1688, and finally by the restorations of their estates to the families who had lost them after Culloden. As a political force and factor for keeping the Highlands separate from the rest of the country, Jacobitism was killed long before the death of Prince Charles. It was persistently assailed by the now dominant Church of Scotland, and undermined by the teaching given in the schools. Chatham's bold scheme of raising the Highland regiments for national defence gave rise to a welding imperial pride which never existed among the Highlanders before, and which from the military quarter co-operated with the spiritual power in changing the situation. From Fontenoy and the capture of Quebec to Waterloo, Highland soldiers had pre-eminently distinguished themselves for valour, discipline, and endurance. They were proud to call themselves Breatunnaich *The aristocracy of the Highlands", (Britons), and to have done good service in defence of the British Empire, and sustained the martial fame of their ancestors. George IV. was not a bad Constitutional King, although as a man he might be said to well deserve all the contempt poured on him by the Whig writers down to Thackeray, from the time he had ceased to rattle dice with Charles James Fox, their belauded, awfully-debauched and debauching leader. George IV. was not personally liked by his Highland people. They had heard stories about his bad conduct to his wife, and of his relations with other women, including, what they could not forgive, other men's wives. They could be and were far more tolerant than their ministers and kirk-sessions about sexual immorality between unmarried sprigs of the upper classes and peasant girls, but they ground their teeth against adultery, which was indeed an exceedingly rare vice among themselves. What they felt due to George IV. was a modified loyalty as the headman of the British Empire. Had George III. come to Scotland after the restoration of the forfeited estates, he would have received from all classes of Highlanders as heart-felt a "ceud mile failt" welcome as was given to his grand-daughter, Queen Victoria, at Blair-Atholl, Taymouth, and Castle Drummond. Farmer George, the "born Briton," through the reports of homely virtues which reached them, obtained a real hold on Highland loyalty. He was the first of his race who did so.

I was present at the Taymouth gathering in 1842, and cannot yet recall without emotion how we all, gentle and simple, old and young, were carried out of ourselves, and thrilled into unity by enthusiastic loyal and chivalrous devotion to our young Sovereign Lady. His countrymen, forgetting recent evictions and well-grounded fears of more to come, were exultingly proud of the Marquis of Breadalbane that day. He spent his money and dispensed his hospitality lavishly, created fairyland effects by flags and coloured lamps, and managed the whole procedure connected with an unusual event with organising skill and grand success. But when criticism succeeded enthusiasm it was pointed out that, compared with that of 1822, the impressive muster of 1842 exhibited gaps which showed that in the conflict between the old and the new land systems the new was steadily gaining. Ross-shire, Atholl, and Breadalbane gave excellent illustrations of how incoming feudal magnates established their charter rights, and infused a clannish spirit in native tenants of many surnames. Until the Macdonalds, Lords of the Isles, and Earls of Ross, were suppressed, the Mackenzies of Kintail were their vassals, and hardly reckoned among their chief vassals. They made the most of their opportunities on the fall of their over-lords to enlarge their influence and possessions, and the Reformation turmoils later on enabled them to lay appropriating hands on ecclesiastical and old Crown lands in Easter Ross. How did they secure their new pos- sessions? By planting out as little lairds or chief tenants all the cadets and near kinsmen of the house of Kintail. The Earldom of Atholl a much smaller affair than the County of Atholl, which embraced all the regions above Dunkeld between the Garry and the Strathearn border was, from the reign of King Duncan, the father of Malcolm Ceannmor, an appanage of the Royal family. It passed through many owners ere it was bestowed on the half-brother of James II. What did the wise son of the Black Knight of Lome do? He strengthened the Wolf of Badenoch Stewart element he found in Atholl by bringing in Appin kinsmen of his own and giving them small properties. He also, I think, instituted the policy, which his successors long followed out, of acquiring superiorities by buying or otherwise obtaining estates held of the Crown, and then of selling them on subinfeudation terms. He gave his daughters in marriage to the smaller barons of his district, and by those wise devices, Huntly was prevented from laying grasping hands on forfeited Garth and other lands south of the Grampian boundary. When the present Duke of Atholl's father, then Lord Glenlyon, gave a most hearty Highland welcome to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842, he was still surrounded by many of the lairds of old lineage who had formed his predecessors' Comhairle Taighe, or provincial court and family council, and were in war times the officers of their host. The estates of these lairds are now, with very few exceptions, owned by proprietors who cannot, however good, as aliens in race, surnames, traditions and language, fill the places of the vanished families. But in the ducal domains the old kindly relations between the Castle and the farmhouse and cottage, have been throughout the whole long period of mutation and desolation so well maintained, that an old Highlander like myself in visiting Atholl feels himself taken back to the good old days, and is warmed by a glow of admiration which is in contrast to the cold shudder he has to endure in much depopulated and much un-Celticised districts of his native land.

"Black Colin of Rome" and his descendants invaded Breadalbane from Glenorchy, much in the same manner as the Kintail Mackenzies invaded the Black Isle and Easter Ross. The Glenorchy Camp- bells began their "bris sios" or eastward progress when, as a whole, the wide regions they were in due time to acquire were King's lands, and monastic lands belonging to the Abbot of Scone, and to James the First's newly introduced and profusely endowed Carthusians of Perth. By public services, Court favour, and purchase, the Glenorchy Campbells, who were not only sturdy warriors, but men wise in council, and educated beyond the greater number of their aristocratic contemporaries, first got the management and part-possession of the King's lands, and forthwith commenced to lay the firm and broad foundations of their future principality, by giving out Lawers and Glenlyon to younger sons, and using their influence to give their own followers foothold on the lands of King and monks. To the Glenorchy Campbells, as well as to the Mackenzies of Kintail, the Reformation afforded a grand oppor- tunity for adding Church lands to their already considerable possessions. Infamous Hepburn, the Abbot of Scone and Bishop of Moray, laden with the burden of his sins and fearing coming events, sold his Breadalbane monastic lands at a low price and ready money to Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy the "Cailean Liath" or Gray Colin of local songs and stories but after Sir Colin's death, his son, Sir Duncan "Donnachadh Dubh a Churraichd," "Black Duncan of the Cowl," had, under the revocation law, to pay another purchasing price to King James. I think this same thing happened to the lands of the Carthusians. Donnachadh Dubh and Kenneth of Kintail were contemporaries. They were much alike in policy and character, although Kenneth was illiterate, and Sir Duncan was able to read arid speak in so many languages that he gained the reputation of being a formidable wizard. Both these men were good to their own people and oppressive to their neighbours and rivals. Besides building castles and bridges, making roads, improving on the very good estate regulations issued by James V., King of the Commons, to his Breadalbane tenants, and introducing stallions of two sorts from England to improve the native breeds of Highland horses, Sir Duncan, without wronging his eldest son and heir, Sir Colin, gave out estates to his host of sons, legitimate and illegitimate; portioned his daughters, legitimate and illegitimate, and by the marriage of his sons and daughters with the sons and daughters of other houses, or even chief tenants, organised a semi-clannish league which once formed should in perpetuity make the heads of it great chiefs. But Sir Duncan was only fourteen years in his grave at Finlarig when Montrose burned the whole of the Glenorchy property from the junction of the Lyon with the Tay to Lismore, without, how- ever, having been able to take any of its places of strength, Taymouth, the Isle of Loch Tay, Finlarig, Isle of Loch Dochart, and the Castle of Glenurchy, etc. A few years later Cromwell's soldiers, under Monk, had seized on all the strengths, but did not, like Montrose, ravage or oppress the country. No military rule could indeed be milder or more justly administered. But then and on two or three other occasions there was no little danger of collapse for the Glenorchy chiefs and their possessions. Yet Restoration, Revolution, and the two eighteenth century Jacobite Rebellions, finally left them with widened possessions and well surrounded with satellites of their own blood and name, and the other small proprietors connected with them by ties of affinity and custom. Time, of course, had brought about some changes. The Lairds of Lawers, having become Earls of Louden, sold Lawers to the Chief of their house, and Breadalbane knew them no more. Two or three other cadet branches had become extinct. But in 1782 when John Campbell of Carwhin succeeded his kinsman as Fourth Earl of Breadalbane, he found himself surrounded by a large provincial court or assembly of landed kinsmen and allies, and his tenant communities, in winter-towns and shealings, living under the land settlement system of James, which Black Sir Duncan had revived and vastly improved. This Fourth Earl was a truly kindly and thoroughly Highland-hearted man, and a patriot who raised three fencible regiments during the war with France. He resided very constantly at Taymouth, was a Whig and a Presbyterian, and spent much money on wood-planting and other improvements. He was made a Marquis in 1831. During his longer than half-a- century of sway he saw, as if stricken by a strange fatality, his house council satellites diminishing rapidly to the vanishing point. Although he kept a hospitable house, was a free hand giver, and added to and improved his vast property, from living so much at home among his people he accumulated much wealth, which he divided among his three children, to wit, his son and successor, and his two daughters, Lady Elizabeth Pringle and the Duchess of Buckingham. He was not, like his son, a Manchester-school political-economist, and in sheer kind heartedness he committed the blunder of making holdings, which the changed conditions of farming and the contracting value of domestic industries had made already too small, more congested still by finding "rooms'" for such of his fencible men as were not the eldest sons of tenants. Had the circle of smaller lairds attached to his house not ceased before then to exercise the functions of informal yet very practical family council, he would surely have been advised by them to leave Black Duncan's land-settlement alone, or if he meddled with it at all, as opportunities offered to increase instead of diminishing the size of the holdings. The old Marquis lived and died as a great and much-honoured Highland magnate. His son was in personal conduct as good a man as his father, and admittedly the abler man of the two, but he never was the man for Gaeldom. In 1842 he made a brave and, for the moment, a successful show of being that man, and years afterwards, at the first review of Volunteers in Edinburgh, he did, at the head of his Breadalbane Volunteers, appear to be a great Chief to people who did not know what an isolated magnate lie was in his own country, and how he had alienated the affections of his own folk. It was no fault of his, indeed, that very few four or five at most representatives of the thirty or forty cadet lairds of his house, and affinity lairds of other surnames who surrounded his father in 1782, were about him to receive the Queen in 1842. The disappearance of these landed families, some by natural extinction, and some by having got into money troubles which compelled selling out, may, however, be taken to account in some measure for the line of estate management he deliberately adopted. He believed in the new political economy principles, and consistently carried them out until he died a lonely man and sad, although rich beyond the dream of ordinary avarice, at Lausanne in 1862.

To the heads of noble houses, the small lairds of their name and lineage, and those who were connected with them by affinity or feudal ties, were bodyguards or criosleine (literally shirt girdles). They were then the connecting links with the common people, and their advisers in the matters which concerned the well-being of the whole community within the bounds of their lords' and their own possessions. The magnate only gained mere isolation when he acquired estates by honest purchase of small estates which old bodyguard adherents of his family found themselves compelled to sell. Factors could not, and those of them who could, would not, inform him so fully about matters he ought to know, as the lairds who were in close touch with the people, spoke their language, and thoroughly understood their circumstances and feelings. On the other hand the magnates used their influence and patronage to open careers in the Army, Navy, and Civil Service, and in the Church, and legal and medical professions, to the sons of the small lairds, and the sons of their own tenants, crofters, and cottars. The unruly spirits among the sons of the mansion-houses, who while sowing their early wild oats at home, caused vexation to parents and strict ecclesiastical disciplinarians, in many instances illustrated the truth of Burns's lines:

"Yet oft a ragged cout's been known
To mak' a noble aiver,"

by blossoming out into sturdy warriors and pioneers of empire abroad, or by turning over new leaves at home, and setting themselves resolutely and doucely to useful pursuits. The lairds and their families made life in the country attractive to the magnates and their families by furnishing them with a far less pleasure-jaded society than they were accustomed to in London. The lairds were the acting Justices of the Peace, and in some large parts of the Highlands, as far as the common people were concerned, almost the sole representatives of civil power, while ministers and kirk sessions represented the spiritual power. For fifty years after the restoration of the forfeited estates these two powers, working amicably together, preserved good order at small cost, and reduced crimes which had to be dealt with by Sheriff and Assize Courts to a minimum. Most of the then Highland lairds were Presbyterians, and not a few of them elders of the Church of Scotland. Only a few old Jacobite families stuck to Episcopalianism as the pathetic badge of a lost cause. Highland nobles, who were Church of England people in England, when at home in their Highland castles worshipped contentedly in canopied pews in their parish churches. Political and caste causes which, after the passing of the Reform Bill, spoiled the previous harmony by degrees, had yet to arise, and, practically, Highland depopulation and the annual invasion of English sportsmen and buying out of Highland proprietors had almost yet to begin. Despite the invasion of Lowland sheep, shepherds and renters of shealing grazings, and disforested old deer forests, the general situation to the superficial observer remained unchanged, say up to 1832.


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