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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


U, Page 114. Lord President Forbes

Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Session, was one of the most enlightened men of his time; Born in the Highlands, he lived much among his countrymen, gained an intimate knowledge of their habits, and, by his virtue, wisdom, and probity, obtained an influence over them almost incredible. His "pen and ink, and tongue, and some reputation," as he himself expressed it, contributed more than any other means to the suppression of the Rebellion,óbreaking the union of the clans, overawing some, crossing and checking the intentions of others, and retarding and preventing their rising en masse, to which they had every inclination. That such services were neglected and slighted by Government, must remain an indelible stain on the memory of the men in power at that period. It is said, that when this great and good man was recommending clemency and moderation in the punishment of the misguided men about to suffer for their infatuation, and stating his services as a claim to be heard, he was contemptuously asked, "What were his services, and what they were worth?" "Some think them worth three Crowns," was the answer.

An idea of the importance of his services and of his influence may be formed by looking over his Memorial, already given in the Appendix, of the State and Number of the Clans, whose rising he prevented, or whose exertions he paralyzed. It has been thought by some, particularly by Jacobites, that those Chiefs who were persuaded by Culloden to relinquish, on the day of trial, the cause to which they were secretly attached, showed duplicity, if not cowardice, in so doing. This was not at all the case. The President knew too well the character of the persons he addressed, to endeavour to change their opinion, or induce them to dissemble. The arguments by which he prevailed on so many to remain neutral, while others risked all in a desperate cause, were drawn from his knowledge of the world, and of the resources and views of the opposite parties. He attempted no sudden conversions, but merely represented the folly of sacrificing their lives, and what was dearer to them, their clans, in a rash and unsupported enterprise, in which they were deceived by their French allies, deserted by many whose courage evaporated in drinking healths, and more particularly by the English Jacobites, who promised every thing and performed nothing. It was by a statement of obvious facts, and not by an attack on established principles, that he succeeded in rescuing, by persuasion, so many families from the destruction in which the inconsiderate and rashly brave were so suddenly involved. The sound arguments that prevailed with the Chiefs, who could comprehend them, had no influence on their followers, who were, in this instance, more inclined to follow their feelings than listen to reason. Of this, the behaviour of the clan Grant was an instance. Eleven hundred men pressed forward to offer their services, on condition that their Chief would lead them, to support, what they styled, the cause of their ancient Kings. Afterwards, when it was found necessary to pay a compliment to the Royal General, by meeting him at Aberdeen, all the Chief's influence could only procure ninety-five followers to attend him; a Chief, too, much beloved by his people.

In the Isle of Skye, likewise, Sir Alexander Macdonald, (father of Chief Baron Macdonald), and the Lairds of Macleod, Rasay, and others, had 2400 men ready, when expresses arrived from Culloden. Macdonald remained at home with his men; Macleod obeyed the summons of the President, but Rasay indulged the inclination of his people to join the rebels, contrary to the views and injunction of the chief. Though Macleod is described by this great law officer as the only man of sense and courage he had about him, his influence over his followers failed so completely, when they discovered that his opinion was opposite to their own, that he could not command the obedience of more than 200 men, although upwards 1500 men, consisting of his own people, the Laird of Rasay's, and other gentlemen, were ready at Dunvegan Castle. These, and many circumstances which occurred at that period, are of themselves sufficient to prove, that the Highlanders were not those slaves to the caprice and power of their Chiefs they have been supposed; and that, on the contrary, as I have already noticed, the latter were obliged to pay court, and yield to the will and independent spirit of their clans. These facts also refute a general opinion, that those who engaged in the Rebellion were forced out by their Chiefs and Lairds, and that indeed on all occasions the principles or caprice of their Chief guided those of the clan, and that whatever side he took they followed. In Lord Lovat's correspondence with Culloden, he is full of complaints against his clan, whose eagerness to fly to arms he could not restrain. Although his is not the best authority, I have had sufficient evidence of his correctness in this instance from eye-witnesses. We learn also from the President, that Lord Lovat's eldest son (afterwards General Fraser) "put himself at the head of his clan, who are passionately fond of following him, and who cannot be restrained by my Lord's authority from following the fortunes of the Adventurous Prince, which not only may destroy the Master [In Scotland, the eldest son of a Lord or Baron of the House of Peers was styled Master. Thus, the Master of Gray, the Master of Rollo, the Master of Blantyre, &c.] and the family, but bring his own grey hairs with sorrow to the grave." [Culloden Papers.]

To this same independent spirit we may ascribe the preference which the people now manifest for emigration to a foreign land, to remaining in the degraded state of cottars and day-labourers, to which the late changes have reduced such numbers of the once independent tenantry. When they have once resolved to remove to a foreign country, a set of "illiterate peasants," says Mrs Grant "have gone about it in a systematical manner. They have themselves chartered a ship, and engaged it to come for them to one of their Highland ports, and a whole cluster of kindred of all ages, from four weeks to fourscore years, have gone in mournful procession to the shores; the bagpipes meanwhile playing before them a sad funeral air."

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