« AnteriorContinuar »
THE CLAN SYSTEM.
Professor Blackie has issued in pamphlet form his excellent inaugural address recently delivered by him as Chief of the Gaelic Society of Perth. He wails over "the sad sequence of misfortunes and blunders which abolished the clan system with all its admirable social steam and social cement, without substituting anything in its place, rather leaving a void where there had bden fulness, and inoculating with virus of a systematic selfibhnesa the veins of a society which had been bound together by the strong ties of mutual esteem and regard," and then proceeds—Let us ask what the clan system was, and wherein consisted the great virtue which enabled it to maintain a numerous, sturdy, and serviceable population in districts where not a single human being is now to be found, except a gamekeeper for some English aristocrat or London plutocrat, or a shepherd or a dairymaid to represent a Titanic dealer in wool and mutton living in Dumfries or Kirkcudbright. The word clan means a child; so the clan system was simply a typo of social organism in which the members of society were bound together, as brother to brother, under the leadership of a common father. This idea is, as you will lightly see, a legacy from the patriarchal times; and not bad times these were—though without gas and steam-engines, and telegrams and cash accounts—as the names of Abraham and Job and not a few other mighty men in Bible history largely testify. In fact, the clan system, as a form of government, was not only not a bad system, but, in respect of the moral cement which held the dilierent classes of society together, it was the best possible system that ever has been or ever will be devised. Of course, those who are accustomed to look back on what they call the dark ages with contempt, and who believe blindly in the modern commercial system, and the progress of the world by mechanical dexterities and material accumulations, will not accept this; but it is true nevertheless. The moral element in society is the blood, and the blood is the life. Every society is progressive or retrogressive—in the highest sense of the word progress—only in proportion as the moral bond which holds the different classes together is becoming stronger or weaker; and this is a bond with which cash payments and bankers' accounts have nothing at all to do; love and mutual esteem growing out of kindly social relations are the only elements of which this moral bond can consist. Now, as it is a matter both of public history and of personal experience that this bond did exist and assert itself under the clan system by deeds of devotion and fidelity, generosity and self-sacrifice, unsurpassed in the annals of the human race, it follows plainly that, so far as this one true cement of the social edifice is concerned, the clan system, within its own limits, was the best possible. One only defect it had; it had a tendency to weaken as the circle of its action widened, and was thus less fitted for a great kingdom than for a small province. It is remarkable, however, and greatly to the honour of the clan system in Scotland, that, though the clansmen sometimes preferred the private interest of their chief to the public service of the Sovereign, under common circumstances, as ample pages of history show, their loyalty to the Crown was as remarkable as their fidelity to their chiefs.
Other objections so largely brought against the clan system are worthless —as that it fostered perpetual wars, jealousies, and strifes; and that revenge and robbery were practised on a large scale, both by the clans amongst themselves and in their raids against the Lowlanders. The feuds which were kept up among the clans were the natural product of the times, and as such neither more nor less reprehensible than the great wars between the nations of Europe which prevailed at the same time; and, when we consider what false and lawless men sometimes held the helm of State in those days, and how apt to be partial to the party who got the car of the king, we shall not be inclined to pass a severe censure on men who had learned to hold their estates by the right of their good swords rather than by the parchment of a juggling lawyer, or the word of honour of a dishonourable king. As little am I disposed to find fault with the absolute authority the clan system placed in the hands of the chief, or the father of the family. This authority, no doubt, might be abused sometimes; but in the main it was beneficially exercised, and, like the patria potestas of the ancient Romans, was the mother of an admirable discipline and a firm consolidation. One great merit of the clan system deserves special prominence. The feudal system and our modern commercial system combined, place the peasants of the country altogether at the mercy of a proprietor who knows no social ties between the holder and the cultivator of the land—a person to whom the idea of loving his people is simply a phrase of silly sentimentality, and who acknowledges no duty in a landed aristocracy but that of gathering in rents in the easiest possible way, and with the least possible regard to the happiness of the human beings who may happen to be under his wing. To the clan chief the idea of dissociating the land from the people who lived on it was as strange as to a father would be the idea of disinheriting his children. The spirit of the family system taught that the members of the family had a right to be supported by the head of the family, or, at all events, to be allowed to support themselves by honest labour on the part of the family inheritance. By the clan law, iudeed, the class of persons whom we now call small tenants or crofters, were, in a sense, co-proprietors—that is, though they paid dues or services to the chief as men now pay rent, they could not be dispossessed, or at least as matter of fact very rarely were dispossessed. By the consuetudinary law of the district they were perpetual tenants of the land which they cultivated, and which they had gained for the chief by the strokes of their good claymores. Hence, though there might have been in these times occasional misery from bad seasons and bad management, conjoined with over-population, such monstrous unsocial and inhuman proceedings as wholesale clearances and depopulations and ejections of independent men for the sake of the culture of wild or tame beasts were never heard of. No doubt, therefore, whatever might have been the special defect of the clan system, or the general evils of the mediaeval period, the state of the Highlands in the days when the Macdonalds and the Macgregora were mighty in the land, was a paradise compared with the state of desolation in which it now for the most part lies.
What has become of the Annual Transactions Of The Gaelic Society Op Inverness, due in July last, and of the usual ordinary meetings held at this period
of the year J
Conducted by ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, F.S.A. Scot No. LXni. JANUAEY, 1881. Vol. VI.
HISTORY OF THE MACDONALDS,
THE LOEDS OF THE ISLES.
XV. Is 1608 Andrew Stewart, Lord Ochiltree, and Sir James Hay of Kingask proceeded to the Isles armed with powers to confer and come to certain terms with the Island chiefs. At Maclean's castle, Aros, Mull, he met Angus Macdonald of Isla, Maclean of Duart, Lachlan his 'brother, Donald Gorm Mor of Sleat, Donald MacAUan, captain of Clanranaldj Euairi Macleod of Harris, Alastair his brother, and several others. Here these proud lords agreed to the following humiliating conditions :—" That they should forthwith give security for the regular payment of his Majesty's rents; deliver up their castles and strongholds, to be at the disposal of the King; that they should renounce all the feudal priviledges claimed by them; submit themselves wholly to the jurisdiction of the laws, and be accountable that others dependent on them did the same; that they should deliver up their biorlinns, galleys, and all vessels of war to be destroyed; that they should, finally, send their children to the seats of learning in the Lowlands to be educated under the protection of his Majesty's Privy Council as became the children of barons and gentlemen of the land." They, however, soon suspected that Ochiltree was not altogether to be depended upon in his "fair words, promising to be their friend, and to deal with the King in their favour." Angus Macdonald of Isla, having agreed to everything, was permitted to go home; but finding the others not quite ready to do Ochiltree's bidding in the end, he invited them on board the King's ship Moon to hear a sermon preached by his chief counsellor, Bishop Knox of the Isles, after which they were to dine with him. Euairi Macleod, shrewdly suspecting some sinister design, refused to go aboard the ship, and his suspicion proved only too true; for immediately after dinner Ochiltree informed his guests that they were his prisoners by the King's orders, and, weighing anchor, he at once set sail with them to Ayr, and thence proceeded, taking his prisoners along with him, to Edinburgh, where they were confined, by orders of the Privy
Council, in the Castles of Dumbarton, Blackness, and Stirling. The imprisonment of these chiefs induced many of their followers to submit themselves to the King's representatives, and the arrangements ■which were afterwards made became a starting point for a gradual and permanent improvement in the Highlands and Western Isles. In 1609 the famous "statutes of Icolmkill" were entered into by the Island chiefs who had meanwhile been set at liberty, with the Bishop of the Isles, among the rest Donald Gorm Mor. The statutes are summarised as follows by Gregory: —The first proceeded upon the narrative of the gross ignorance and barbarity of the Islanders, alleged to have arisen partly from the small number of their clergy, and partly from the contempt in which this small number of pastors was held. To remedy this state of things, it was agreed that proper obedience should be given to the clergy (whose number, much diminished by the Reformation, it was proposed to increase); that their stipends should be regularly paid; that ruinous churches should be re-built; that the Sabbaths should be solemnly kept; and that, in all respects, they should observe the discipline of the Reformed Kirk as established by Act of Parliament. By one of the clauses of this statute, marriages contracted for certain years were declared illegal; a proof that the ancient practice of handfasting still prevailed to a certain extent The second statute ordained the establishment of inns at the most convenient places in the several Isles; and this not only for the convenience of travellers, but to relieve the tenants and labourers of the ground from the great burden and expense caused to them through the want of houses of public entertainment. The third statute was intended to diminish the number of idle persons, whether masterless vagabonds, or belonging to the households of chiefs and landlords; for experience had shown that the expense of supporting these idlers fell chiefly upon the tenantry, in addition to their usual rents. It was therefore enacted that no man should be allowed to reside within the Isles who had not a sufficient revenue of his own; or who at least did not follow some trade by which he might live. With regard to the great households hitherto kept by the chiefs, a limit was put to the number of individuals of which each household was to consist in future, according to the rank and estate of the master; and it was further provided that 'each ^chief should support his household from his own means, not by a tax upon his tenantry. The fourth statute provided that all persons not natives of the Isles, who should be found sorning, or living at free quarters upon the poor inhabitants (an evil which seems to have reached a great height), should be tried and punished by th© judge ordinary as thieves and oppressors. The fifth statute proceeded upon the narrative, that one of the chief causes of the great poverty of the Isles, and of the cruelty and inhuman barbarity practised in their feuds, was their inordinate love of strong wines and aquavite, which they purchased partly from dealers among themselves, partly from merchants belonging to the mainland. Power was, therefore, given to any person whatever to seize, without payment, any wine or aquavite imported for sale by a native merchant; and if an Islander should buy any of the prohibited articles from a mainland trader, he was to incur the penalty of forty pounds for the first offence, one hundred for the second, and for the third, the loss of his whole possessions and moveable goods. It was, however, declared to be lawful for an individual to brew as much aquavite as his own family might require; and the barons and wealthy gentlemen were permitted to purchase in the Lowlands the wine and other liquors required for their private consumption. The sixth statute attributed the "ignorance and incivilitee " of the Islanders to the neglect of good education among the youth; and to remedy this fault, enacted that every gentleman or yeoman possessed of sixty cattle should send his eldest son, or, if he had no male children, his eldest daughter, to school in the Lowlands, and maintain his child there till it learned to speak, read, and write English. The seventh statute forbade the use of any description of fire-arms, even for the destruction of game, under the penalties contained in an Act of Parliament passed in the (then) present reign, which had never yet received obedience from the Islanders "owing to their monstrous deadly feuds." The eighth statute was directed against bards and other idlers of that class. The gentry were forbidden to encourage them; and the bards themselves were threatened, first with the stocks and then with banishment The ninth statute contained some necessary enactments for enforcing obedience to the preceding Acts. Such were the statutes of Ieolinkill; for the better observance of which, and of the laws of the realm and Acts of Parliament in general, the Bishop took from the assembled chiefs a very strict bond This bond, moreover, contained a sort of confession of faith on the part of the subscribers, and an unconditional acknowledgment of his Majesty's supreme authority in all matters both spiritual and temporal, according to his "most loveable act of supremacy."
Shortly after this a proclamation was issued by which the inhabitants of the mainland of Argyle were prohibited from buying cattle, horses, or other goods within any of the Western Isles, but the Island chiefs having complained of this as an oppressive Act which made it impossible for them to pay his Majesty's claims upon them and injure his revenue from the Isles, this harsh order was immediately annulled.
In 1610 six of the Island chiefs, including Donald Gorm of Sleat, attended in Edinburgh to hear his Majesty's pleasure declared in respect of the arrangements come to between them and the Bishop of the Isles as above set forth. They further agreed to concur with and assist the King's lieutenants, justices, and commissioners in all questions connected with the government of the Isles; to live at peace among themselves, and to submit all questions of difference and dispute to the ordinary courts of law; and the consequence was that in the following year, the Isles were almost entirely free from disorders and rebellion.
In 1613 we find the Chief of Sleat on record as having settled with the Exchequer, and "continuing in his obedience to the laws." In the following year he was the only one of the great chiefs of the Isles who supported the Bishop, as his Majesty's Lieutenant, in putting down the rebellion of the Macdonalds of Isla. Few of the clan, however, could be induced to follow their chief. In 1615 he is found plotting with Sir James Macdonald of Isla, who, with the Chiefs of Keppoch, Morar, and Knoydart, visited him at Sleat, where they held a lengthened conference. Donald Gorm did not, however, join them openly, but many of his followers did, with his full cognisance. Later on in the same year he received instructions from the Privy Council to defend'his own estates against the pirate, Coll MacGillespick, for which purpose he was permitted to employ two hundred men. It was confidently stated, however,