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Lord Lovat’s memorial to King George I

Addressed to his Majesty George I concerning the State of the Highlands, by Simon Lord Lovat, 1724

lord lovat
Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat

THE Highlands of Scotland, being a country very mountainous, and almost inaccessible to any but the inhabitants thereof, whose language and dress are entirely different from those of the Low – country, do remain to this day, much less civilized than the other parts of Scotland, from whence many inconveniencies arise to his Majesty’s subjects, and even to the government itself.

That part of Scotland is very barren and unimproven, has little or no trade, and not much intercourse with the Low-country; the product is almost confined to the cattle which feed in the mountains. The people wear their ancient habits convenient for their wandering up and down and peculiar way of living, which inures them to all sorts of fatigue. Their language, being a dialect of the Irish, is understood by none but themselves; they are very ignorant, illiterate, and in constant use of wearing arms, which are well suited to their method of using them, and very expeditious in marching from place to place.

These circumstances have, in all times, produced many evils, which have been frequently considered, and many remedies attempted, as it appears from the Scots acts of parliament. Their living among themselves, unmixt with the other part of the country, has been one of the causes that many of their families have continued in the same possessions during many ages, and very little alterations happen in the property of land; there are few purchases, and securities for debts are very uncertain, where power happens to be wanting to support the legal right.

The names of the inhabitants are confined to a small number, partly from the little intercourse they have had with other people, and partly from the affectation that reigns among them, to annex themselves to some tribe or family, and thereby to put themselves under the protection of the head or chief thereof.

These several names of families are respectively associated together in friendship and interest, each name under such person as is, or is reputed to be, the head of the family, who has very great authority over them, quite independent of any legal power, and has, in several instances, continued great numbers of years after that the lands where they live have been alienated from the chiefs whom they serve. There happened two sure prising instances of this at the late rebellion; the one was concerning the Frasers, who, upon the Lord Lovat’s arrival in Scotland, though he had been ane exile for many years, another family, viz. Alexander Mackenzie of Fraserdale, in possession of the estate, who had marched a number of them, formed into a regiment, to Perth, where the rebel army then lay;-yet notwithstanding all this, the moment they heard that their chief was assembling the rest of his friends and name in the Highlands, they got together, and made their retreat good, till they joined Lord Lovat, and others, who were in arms for his Majesty.

The other example was that of the Macleans, whose lands had been vested for debt in the family of Argyle, above forty years before; their chief had not ane inch of ground; but, after living and serving in France most part of his lifetime, had come over to London, where he had been maintained by the charity of Queen Anne. Yet, under all these circumstances, Sir John Maclean got together 400 of these men, out of a remote island in the west seas of Scotland, who fought under him at Dumblain, against his Majesty’s troops, though commanded by their own landlord.

This extraordinary state of the country has, in all times, produced many mutual quarrels and jealousies among the chiefs, which formerly amounted to a continual scene of civil warre; and to this day there remains both personal and hereditary feuds and animosities among them, which have a great influence over all their actions. The law has never had its due course and authority in many parts of the Highlands, neither in criminal nor civil matters; no remedy having proved entirely effectual, and one of the most useful having been disapproved. Schemes of this nature have been often framed, but with too little knowledge of the coun try, or the true rise of the abuses to be reformed, and very often with too much partiality, and views of resentment or private interest; all which tend only to create disorders and discontents, to exasperate some, and too much encourage others, and to make all more proper and reasonable expedients the more difficult to execute.

The families in the Highlands are divided (besides the disputes arising among themselves) in principles between the Whigs and the Jacobites; and that so near an equality, that the authority of the government, by giving countenance or discouraging, and by rewards and punishments properly applied, and all centering in the advancement of the Whig interest, united together, might easily produce a vast superiority on the side of those who are well affected, there being in the country a great party who, ever since the names of Whig and Tory have been known, have been always ready to venture their lives in the protestant cause, But such has been the melancolly circumstances of affairs in Scolland for some years past, that allmost all the considerable gentlemen who took up arms for his Majesty in the time of the late unnatural rebellion, have felt the displeasure of those in power in Scotland. But as this memorialist is humbly of opinion, that it is the duty of all good subjects to seal rather than widen breaches among the well affected, to contend only in zeal for his Majesty’s service; and in consequence thereof, to look forward only in observations of this nature, he will open this scene no farther, than with all humble gratitude to acknowledge the great goodness of his Majesty towards him, in so often protecting and preserving him from impending ruin, which the resentment of his enemies had threatened.

It would, without doubt, be very happy for the government, for the inhabitants of the low country, and, above all, for the Highlanders themselves, that all Scot land was equally civilized, and that the Highlanders could be governed with the same ease and quiet as the rest of Scotland. But as that must be the work of great time, every remedy that can be suggested, though but particular and incomplete, yet may be worthy of the consideration of those in the administration; for whatever tends in any degree to the civilizing those people, and enforcing the authority of the law in those parts, does in so far really strengthen the present government. T’he use of arms in the Highlands will hardly ever be · laid aside, till, by degrees, they begin to find they have nothing to do with them. And it is no wonder, that the laws establishing the succession of the crown, should be too little regarded by those who have not hitherto been used to a due compliance with any law whatsoever.

One of the evils which furnishes the most matter of complaint at present is the continual robberies and depredations in the Highlands, and the country adjacent. The great difficulty in this matter arises from the mountainous situation of those parts, the remoteness from towns, and part thereof consisting of islands, dispersed up and down in the western seas, the criminals cannot, by any methods now practised, be pursued, much less seized and brought to justice, being able to outrun those whom they cannot resist.

The bad consequences of those robberies are not the only oppression which the people suffer in the loss of their cattle and other goods, —but by the habitual practices of violences and illegal exactions. The High landers disuse all their country business, they grow averse to all notions of peace and tranquillity, —they constantly practise their use of arms,—they increase their numbers, by drawing many into their gang who would otherwise be good subjects, — and they remain ready and proper materials for disturbing the government upon the first occasion.

These interruptions of the public peace in the High lands were frequently under the consideration of the Parliament of Scotland, who, out of just resentment of such intolerable abuses, did, during the course of several reigns, pass many laws, but without success. They were very severe, drawn with more zeal than skill, and almost impracticable in the execution. In some few examples, these extraordinary severities took place; but that tended more to prevent than establish the quiet of the country, being sufficient to provok and exasperat, and too little to subdue the disturbers of the public peace.

These evils thus remaining without a remedy, and the protection of the law being too weak to defend the people against such powerful criminals, those who saw they must inevitably suffer by such robberies, found it necessar to purchase their security by paying ane annual tribute to the chieftains of those who plundered. This illegal exaction was called Black Meall, and was levied upon the several parishes much in the same manner as the land – tax now is.

The insolence of those lawless people became more intolerable than ever, about the time of the late happy revolution, when many of the chiefs of the same families were then in arms against our deliverer, King William, who were lately in rebellion against his Majestie. Ane army of regular troops marched into the Highlands, but with little success, even meeting with a defeat by my Lord Dundee, who commanded the rebells. Other methods were taken, which, putt an end to the civil The well-affected Highlanders were made use of to assist the regular troops. Some of the rebell chiefs were privately gained over to the Government, so that partly by force, and partly by severall other artfull manadgements, the quiet of the country was restored, excepting that many of the rebells who had ceased to oppose the government, began to punder their neighbours, and sometimes one another.

The continual feuds and animosities that has always raged among the chiefs of many Highland families, are skilfully and wisely made use of, both to prevent their uniting in the disturbance of the public peace, or their taking any joint measures against the government. There is almost allways good service to be done this way; and in time of the last rebellion, it retarded very much the proceeding of the rebells, and made their army much less than otherways it wonld have been.

The parliament of Scotland impowered King Wil liam to establish particular commissions to proceed against criminalls in those parts, which were ishued with very extraordinary powers, and were executed in ane unlimited arbitrary manner, without any effect for the purposes they were established , so as to creat in all people ane aversion against such courts and judicature, which, even in matters of life and death, were confined by porules of law whatsoever – they made malcontents against the government, and at last were prudently laid aside.

After many fruitless experiments for bringing the Highlands to a state of more quiet, it was at last accomplished by the establishing independent companies, composed of Highlanders, and commanded by gentlemen of good affection and of credit in that county. This took its rise from ane address of the Parliament to the King.

The advantages that arose from this measure were many. These companies having officers at their head, who were gentlemen of interest in the Highlands, and well affected, were a great countenance and support, on all occasions, to the friends, and a terror to the enemies, of the government.

The men being Highlanders, and well chosen for the purpose intended, the whole difficulties which arose in all former projects for preserving the peace of the Highlands, became even so many advantages and inconveniencies attending this measure. The men were cloathed in the best manner, after the fashion of the Higblanders, both for the unaccountable marches these people perform and for their covering at night in the open air. They spoke the same language, and got intelligence of everything that was doing in the country. They carried the same sort of arms, convenient for the Highlanders in their ways of acting. Being picked out for this service, they were the most known, and capable of following criminalls over the wild mountains — a thing impracticable but for natives to perform.

The captains procured their men, in all their proceedings, the assistance of the inhabitants they had under their influence, and of all their friends in the country; and the inferior officers, and even the private men, wherever they came, found always some of their tribe or family who were ready to assist them in doeing their duty, when any part of these companies were upon command, either upon pursuit of criminalls, the getting intelligence, or otherways acting in the service. It gave no alarm, nor discovered what they were doeing; for when it was necessary that they should not be known, it was impossible to distinguish them from other natives.

So that, by this scheme, the very barbarity, the un civilised customs of the Highlanders, and all the severall causes of the wart of peace, came in aid to preserve it till time and more expedients should further civilise the country. ” As the private men of the companies were chosen from among such of the Highlanders who were best acquainted with all parts of that country,—who knew those clans who were most guilty of plunder, with their manner of thieving, and with their haunts,-it was almost impossible for the robbers to drive away the cattle, or hide them any where, without being discovered ; nor could they conceal themselves so, but that they were sooner or latter found out and seized; and in a short time there was such ane end putt to these illegal violences, that all the gangs were taken the most notorious offenders were convicted and executed—and great numbers of others, whose guilt was less, were sent beyond sea into the service, as recruits during the war.

Thus it was that this remedy was so successful; in so much, that about sixteen years agoe these disturbances, even before and at this time so frequent and grievous to the people, did intyrely cease.

After the late unnatural rebellion, the Highlanders, who had been in arms against the government, fell into their old unsettled way of liveing, laying aside any little industry they had formerly followed, and returned to their usual violencies and robberies.

About this time it was thought expedient to pass an act of parliament for dissarming the Highlanders, which was, without doubt, in theory, a measure very useful and desireable; but experience has shewed that it has produced this bad consequence, that those who had appeared in arms, and fought for the government, finding it their duty to obey the law, did accordingly deliver up their arms, –but those lawless Highlanders, who had been well provided with arms for the service of the Pretender, knowing but too well the insuperable difficulty for the government to putt that act into exe cution , instead of really complying with the law, they retained all their arms that were useful, and delivered up only such as were spoiled, and unfitt for service ; so that, while his Majestie’s enemies remained as well provided and prepared for all sorts of mischief as they were before the rebellion, his faithful subjects, whº were well affected , and ventured their lives in his vice, by doing their duty, and submitting to the law, rendered themselves naked and defenceless, and at the mercy of their own and the government’s avowed enemies.

Upon this the plunders and robberies increased; but, upon the breaking of the independent companies in the year 1717, these robberies went on without any manner of fear or restraint, and have ever since continued to infest the country in a publick and open manner. The regular troops not being able to discover or follow them, and all the innocent people are without arms to defend themselves. Thus, then, violences are now more notorious and universal than ever, in much, that a great part of the country has, by necessity, been brought under the scandalous contributions before mentioned; and the rogues have very near undone many people, out of mere resentment, for their distinguishing themselves in his Majestie’s service; and others are rained who dare refuse to comply with such illegal insolent demands.

The method by which the country is brought under this tax is this: That when the people are almost ruined by continual robberies and plunders, the leader of the band of thieves, or some friend of his, proposes, that for a sum of money to be annually paid, he will press a number of men in arms to protect such a tract of ground, or as many parishes as submitt to pay the contribution. When the terms are agreed upon, he ceases to steal, and thereby the contributors are saffe. If any refuse to pay, he is immediately plundered. To colour all this villany, those concerned in the robberies pay the tax with the rest, and all the neighbourhood must comply, or be undone. This is the case (among others) of the whole low country of the shyre of Ross.

After the disarming act was passed, and those companies were broke, there were some other measures laid down for preserving the peace of the Highlands. Barracks were built at a very great expence, and detachments were made from the regiments in the neigh bourhood to garrison them, and to take post in those places which were thought most proper for the repress ing these disorders; but all this had no effect. The regular troops were never used to such marches, with their usual arms and accutrements; were not able to pursue the Highlanders; their very dress was a signal to the robbers to avoid them; and the troops, who were strangers to the language, and often relieved by others, could never get any useful intelligence, nor even be sufficiently acquainted with the situation of the several parts of the country, so as to take the necessary measures for pursuing the robbers when any violence was committed. The effect of all which has been, that the government has been put to a great expence, and the troops fatigued to no purpose.

The officers of the law, for the peace, are the She riffs and Justices of the Peace; and, in time of com motions, the Lieutenants and their deputies; which office, long disused, was revived and re-established at the time of the late rebellion.

It would seem to be highly necessary to the government, that the Sheriffs and Lord Lieutenants should be persons having credit and interest in the shyre they are to govern, — they cannot otherwise have the knowledge necessary, of the gentlemen and inhabitants, for performing the duty of their office, and making it use ful for the advancing of his Majestie’s interest. On the contrary, such ignorance créats many mistakes in the execution of their charge, tending to the interruption of justice, and rendering the people under them discontented and unwilling to act in the service of the government. In these cases, it has happened that, throw misrepresentations of the characters of the persons employed under them, deputy sheriffs have been made every way unfit for their office, -ignorant, of bad reputation, and notoriously ill- affected to his Majesty.

There are two deputies of the shyre of Inverness, both of which were actually in the late rebellion, Robert Gordon of Haughs, and John Bailie, a laté servant to the Duke of Gordon during the rebellion; and both these deputies were prisoners in the hands of Lord Lovat upon that account, who has now the mortification to see and feel them triumphant over him, loading him with marks of their displeasure.

In the shyre of Ross the deputy -sheriff is Colin Mackenzie of Kincraig, who was likewise in arms with the late Earl of Seaforth against the government. The memorialist would not mention the encouragement the gentlemen of the name of M‘Rewin met with in prosecuting bis Majestie’s faithful subjects, least it should have the appearance of any personall resent ment, were it not the publick debate and judgement of the House of Lords this last session, have published to the world, by relieving Mr. George Munro from the oppression he lay under.

It cannot but be a very melancholy scene for all the well-affected gentlemen and inhabitants in those parts, to find the very criminalls whom, a few years ago, they arms and open rebellion in the Pretender’s cause, vested with authority over them, and now acting in his Majestie’s name, whom they endeavoured to destroy, and to whom alone they owe their lives.

The constituting one person Sheriff or Lord Lieutenant over many shyres, has several bad consequences to his Majestie’s service. There is one instance where eight lieutenancies are all joined in one person. The memorialist mentions this only as ane observation in general, without in the least detracting from the merit of any person whatsoever.

From some of those causes it likeways happens, that when several persons are recommended by the Sheriffs or Lieutenants, to be made Justices of the Peace, not at all qualified for that office, without knowledge, mean, and of no estate nor character in the country, or ill -affected to government, and when most or all the well-affected gentlemen are left out of the commission, it naturally produces such confusions and discontents as to frustrat the institution and design of the office, to the disturbance of the peace of the country—to the lessening of his Majestie’s authority, and particularly in all matters of excise, and a surcease of justice, and a vast detriment to the revenue.

The revival of the Justices of the Peace of Scotland, immediately after the Union, was then esteemed a matter of the greatest importance to the government, and interest of the protestant succession. It is, therefore, the more to be lamented, that throwout the whole north of Scotland, there is hardly any regular acting Commission of the Justice of the Peace, whereas, if the considerable gentlemen were appointed, who have estates in their own county, and were all affected to his Majesty, there is no doubt but that office would be execute so as to be very useful to the government, and possibly pave the way for great improvements in the political state of the country: The memorialist, with all humility, submits these observations to his Majestie’s consideration.

(Signed) ” LOVAT.”

Last Updated on 2 November 2022 by Neil Ritchie

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