Change in the policy of
the Highland proprietors subsequent to the Rebellion in 1745
The change which this state
of society underwent after the rebellion in 1745, was great and sudden.
The final issue of that contest annihilated the independence of the
chieftains; and the vigorous measures by which the victory of Culloden was
followed, gave to regular government an authority which it had never
before possessed in that part of the kingdom. The country was disarmed,
and a sufficient force stationed in it to prevent any great and daring
violation of the law.
The chiefs now ceased to be
petty monarchs. The services of their followers were no longer requisite
for defence, and could no longer be made use of for the plunder of a
defenceless neighbour. They were reduced to the situation of any other
proprietors: but they were not long in discovering, that to subsist a
numerous train of dependants was not the only way in which their estates
could be rendered of value; that the rents they received were far below
those given for lands of equal quality in other parts of the kingdom.
For a few years after the
power of the chieftains was broken, the influence of old habits seems to
have prevailed, and it was some time before any great change took place;
but, by degrees, the proprietors began to exact a rise of rent. Though the
first demands of this kind were extremely moderate, the rents being still,
far below the real value of the lands, yet the circumstance was so
unprecedented, that great dissatisfaction ensued; and the removal of some
of the tenants, who refused to comply, excited still more indignation.
Accustomed to transmit their possessions from father to son; as if they
had been their property, the people seem to have thought, that as long as
they paid the old and accustomed rent, and performed the usual services,
their possessions were their own by legal right.
The discontents which arose
from these causes, were for a time but partial; for the progress of
raising rents was slow. The gentlemen who had been educated amidst the
habits of the feudal times, could not at once relinquish all the
sentiments of their youth. The attachment of their people was of so
flattering a nature, that it was often preferred to pecuniary advantages;
and little alteration seems to have been made, till the generation of old
proprietors was extinct. Gradually, however, men educated under different
circumstances came forward, and feeling more remotely the influence of.
ancient connexions with their dependants, were not inclined to sacrifice
for a shadow the substantial advantage of a productive property. The more
necessitous, or the less generous., the example; and one gradually
followed another, till at length all scruple seems to be removed, and the
proprietors in the Highlands have no more hesitation than in any other
part of the kingdom, in turning their estates to the best advantage.
There are still, indeed, a
few chieftains who retain so much of the ancient feudal notions, as to be
unwilling to dispossess the old adherents of their families; and, from a
tenderness towards them, submit to considerable loss. There are many
others who, from vanity, are desirous of counting a numerous tenantry, and
would willingly preserve the population of their estates, if it could be
reconciled to their pecuniary interest. These motives, though now wearing
fast away, have however had great effect till of late; so that,
notwithstanding the length of time that has elapsed since the year 1745, a
very considerable proportion of the Highlands remains under circumstances
directly arising out of the feudal state, or is at this moment in the
crisis of change. But the causes which have hitherto retarded the change
are so much enfeebled, that they cannot long continue to have a
perceptible effect; and, as an unavoidable consequence, the Highlands in
general must soon fall into that state which is most conducive to the
pecuniary interest of its individual proprietors.