At the tail end of last year I published a piece about the meeting of the Scottish Feudal Council which had taken place in Holyrood Palace. The advertised purpose of this event was for the heirs of the clan chiefs to network. The event was hosted by an organisation called COSCA, which stands for Council of Scottish Clans and Associations Inc. The mission of this organisation is to put US citizens in touch with their clan organisations and preserve their Scottish heritage. So far so noble.
Now I called the organisation the Scottish Feudal Council for a reason; the “heritage” which this organisation wishes to preserve is one of a fundamentally feudal nature. It is the relationship between clan chief and clan. They view this relationship through tartan tinted glasses as one which is benign, however the history is somewhat different, so let’s take a look at this “heritage” with a more critical eye.
Scotland has a feudal past, in fact feudalism was only abolished on 28th November 2004 when the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. Act 2000 was brought into force. So what is feudalism? For this we need to look back in time and I am grateful to Andy Wightman for the work he has done in this area which is presented in his book, The Poor Had No Lawyers.
Prior to the reign of the Scottish king, David I, Scottish society consisted of loose family groups who occupied lands which had been won through fighting and marriage. These family groups were headed by a male of the family. The land that they occupied belonged to the family group as a whole but the head of the family determined who would work which bit and the land was shared reasonably fairly. We could call the family group a clan. When the Norman king David I came to the throne he brought with him an idea of feudalism from England. This system would enable him to control the people and to raise money from them, he proceeded to implement this system across the kingdom. In order to aid him he imported Norman knights from France.
The feudal system was a system for structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. A more comprehensive definition is available on Wikipedia. The land still belonged to the clan and the chief still directed who did what, but now the chief owed the king money or men. The people owed the chief their loyalty and the chief was loyal to the clans folk in return. The folk paid the chief what they could; produce, livestock or money. In return the chief was expected to help the folk during hard times. Some of the chiefs acquired more land through fighting with rivals and service to the king. Soon they became wealthy. Soon they adopted fancy titles like Earl and Baron, sometimes even Duke.
The chiefs began to realise that they needed more money to sustain their fancy lifestyles than their poor tenants could afford to pay. There was also still that responsibility to those tenants when times were hard. So the folk of the land, who were kin of the chief, had their rents raised so hight that they couldn’t pay them. Some of the folk had their their leases terminated. The people were driven from the land, their land, to fend for themselves or pushed into unproductive plots beside the sea (known as crofts). Some of the chiefs, MacLeod of MacLeod for instance, sold the folk into slavery in the new world.
Why did they do this? Because they wanted to cover the land with sheep. Sheep made more profit than folk you see. The folk could not believe what their own kin had done to them. Some folk were evicted in the most violent manner, people died. But mostly they had their homes and belongings torched and were left to fend for themselves.
Where did these people go? Some of them made their way to the cities to try to find work. Most boarded ships to colonies, mostly Canada and America. The conditions on the ships were atrocious, many people died. Slave ships were limited in how many unfortunate passengers they could carry. The Scottish passengers were fare paying so they could be packed in even tighter than a slave ship. Many ships sank (34 in one year). These people we now know as the Scottish Diaspora.
What of the clan chiefs, the Dukes, Earls and Barons? Well they held onto the land, making money from sheep. Mostly they lived elsewhere, Edinburgh and London were favourites. They devised new laws so that they could pass their whole land holdings to their eldest son – the law of prigomenture. They passed laws so that the land could not be taken off them if they became bankrupt and to protect their holdings. The results of these acts is that Scotland has the most unequal land ownership patterns in the world today. More than 50% of this country is owned by just 432 individuals. A full 10% of Scotland is owned by just 16 individuals.
So who are these people who own all this land? We don’t know who all of them are but some of them we do. The Duke of Buccleuch holds 268000 acres, he is also the hereditary chief of clan Scott. The Duke of Atholl holds 130000 acres, he is also the hereditary chief of clan Murray. The Countess of Sutherland holds 150000 acres, she is also (unusually for a woman) the hereditary chief of clan Sutherland. The lands of Sutherland were also the place where the worst of the excesses of the highland clearances were committed.
So you can see that the “heritage” to which the Scottish Feudal Council wishes to hold on to is bloody and corrupt, it as a “heritage” of betrayal by the clan chiefs. The very same people to whom this club seems to fawn over. Their ancestors betrayed your ancestors and forced them from their land. Forced them to make the dangerous trip across oceans to carve out new lives. These people don’t deserve your loyalty, you should despise them and all that they stand for.