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Social History of the Highlands
Loyalty of the Clans


The reciprocal ties which connected the chief and his clan were almost indissoluble. In return for the kindness and paternal care bestowed by the former on the latter, they yielded a ready submission to his authority, and evinced a rare fidelity to his person, which no adversity could shake. Innumerable instances of this devoted attachment might be given, but two will suffice. In the battle of Inverkeithing, between the royalists and the troops of Oliver Cromwell, 500 of the followers of the Laird of Maclean were left dead on the field. Sir Hector Maclean being hard pressed by the enemy in the heat of the action, was successively covered form their attacks by seven brothers, all of whom sacrificed their lives in his defence; and as one fell another came up in succession to cover him, crying, "Another for Hector." This phrase, says General Stewart, has continued ever since a proverb or watchword, when a man encounters any sudden danger that requires instant succour. The other instance is that of a servant of the late James Menzies of Culdares, who had been engaged in the rebellion of 1715. Mr. Menzies was taken at Preston in Lancashire, was carried to London, where he was tried and condemned, but afterwards reprieved. This act prevented him from turning out in 1745: but to show his good wishes towards Prince Charles, he sent him a handsome charger as a present, when advancing through England. The servant who led and delivered the horse was taken prisoner and carried to Carlisle, where he was tried and condemned. Every attempt was made, by threats of immediate execution, in case of refusal, and promises of pardon, on giving information, to extort a discovery from him of the person who sent the horse in vain. He knew, he said, what would be the consequence of a disclosure, and that his own life was nothing in comparison with that which it would endanger. Being hard pressed at the place of execution to inform on his master, he asked those about him if they were really serious in supposing that he was such a villain as to betray his master. He said, that if he did what they desired, and forgot his master and his trust, he needed not return to his country, for Glenlyon would be no home or country for him, as he would be despised and hunted out of the glen. This trusty servant's name was John Macnaughton, a native of Glenlyon in Perthshire.

The obedience and attachment of the Highlanders to their chiefs, and the readiness they displayed, on all occasions, to adopt, when called upon, the quarrels of their superiors, did not, however, make them forget their own independence. When a chief was unfit for his situation, or had degraded his name and family, the clan proceeded to depose him, and set up the next in succession, if deserving, to whom they transferred their allegiance, as happened to two chiefs of the families of Macdonald of Clanronald and Macdonell of Keppoch. The head of the family of Stewart of Garth, who, on account of his ferocious disposition, was nick-named the "Fierce Wolf", was, about the year 1520, not only deposed, but confined for life, in a cell in the castle of Garth, which was, therefore, long regarded by the people with a kind of superstitious terror. The clans even sometimes interfered with the choice of the chiefs in changing their places of abode, or in selecting a site for a new residence. The Earl of Seaforth was prevented by his clan ( the M'Kenzies) from demolishing Brahan castle, the principal seat of the family. In the same way the laird of Glenorchy, ancestor of the Marquis of Breadalbane, having some time previous to the year 1570, laid the foundation of a castle which he intended to build on a hill on the side of Lochtay, was compelled, or induced, by his people, to change his plan and build the castle of Balloch or Taymouth.

From what has been stated, it will be perceived that the influence of a chief with his clan depended much on his personal qualities, of which kindness and a condescension, which admitted of an easy familiarity, were necessary traits. Captain Burt, the author of 'Letters from the North', thus alludes to the familiarity which existed between a chief and his clan, and the affability and courtesy with which they were accustomed to be treated: "And as the meanest among them pretended to be his relations by consanguinity, they insisted on the privilege of taking him by the hand whenever they met him. Concerning this last, I once saw a number of very discontented countenances when a certain lord, one of the chiefs, endeavoured to evade this ceremony. It was in the presence of an English gentleman, of high station, from whom he would willingly have concealed the knowledge of such seeming familiarity with slaves of wretched appearance; and thinking it, I suppose, a kind of contradiction to what he had often boasted at other times, viz., his despotic power in his clan."

From the feeling of self-respect which the urbanity and condescension of the chiefs naturally created in the minds of the people, arose that honourable principle of fidelity to superiors and to their trust, which we have already noticed, "and which," says General Stewart, "was so generally and so forcibly imbibed, that the man who betrayed his trust was considered unworthy of the name which he bore, or of the kindred to which he belonged."

From this principle flowed a marked detestation of treachery, a vice of very rare occurrence among the Highlanders; and so tenacious were they on that point, that the slightest suspicion of infidelity on the part of an individual estranged him from the society of his clan, who shunned him as a person with whom it was dangerous any longer to associate. The case of John Du Cameron, better known, from his large size, by the name of Sergeant Mor, affords an example of this.6 This man had been a sergeant in the French service, and returned to Scotland in the year 1745, when he engaged in the rebellion. Having no fixed abode, and dreading the consequences of having served in the French army, and of being afterwards engaged in the rebellion, he formed a party of freebooters, and took up his residence among the mountains on the borders of the counties of Perth, Inverness and Argyle, where he carried on a system of spoliation by carrying off the cattle of those he called his enemies; if they did not purchase his forbearance by the payment of Black mail. Cameron had long been in the habit of sleeping in a barn on the farm of Dunan in Rannoch; having been betrayed by some person, he was apprehended one night when asleep in the barn, in the year 1753, by a party of Lieutenant ( after Sir Hector ) Munro's detachment. He was carried to Perth, and there tried before the court of justiciary for the murder alluded to in the note, and various acts of theft and cattle-stealing. Being found guilty, he was executed at Perth in 1753. It was generally believed in the country that Cameron had been betrayed by the man in whose barn he had taken shelter, and the circumstance of his renting a farm from government, on the forfeited estate of Strowan, on advantageous terms, strengthened the suspicion; but beyond this there was nothing to confirm the imputation. Yet this man was ever after heartily despised, and having by various misfortunes lost all his property, which obliged him to leave the country in great poverty, the people firmly believed that his misfortunes were a just judgement upon him for violating the trust reposed in him by an unsuspecting and unfortunate person.

Such were some of the leading characteristics of this remarkable race of people, who preserved many of their national peculiarities till a comparatively recent period. These, whoever, are now fast disappearing before the march of modern improvement and civilization; and we are sorry to add that the vices which seem almost inseparable from this new state of society have found their way into some parts of the Highlands, and supplanted, to a certain extent, many of those shining virtues which were once the glory of the Gael.

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