The burden of Scotland down the ages

The institution of Kingship and royalty has often been a sore curse and a burden to Scotland, as it has been to many nations upon whom it has been inflicted down the ages. It is an institution that has been occupied by various incomers to Scotland, and these incoming sovereigns have been the ultimate cause of the demise of the Gael and the ancient Gaelic language and culture. The Norman descended Stuart line of kings were the final straw that broke the back of the Highlands.

The rot really set in with the invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy, known to his contemporaries as 'William the Bastard'. This ambitious and forceful ruler, the illegitimate son of Robert II and the daughter of a humble tanner in Falaise, landed in England in 1066. 

Along with William came a rag-tag bunch of mercenaries-on-the-make from the continent. This mixed band of greed-driven rascals has often been described by writers as, 'the scum of Europe'. All were seeking plunder and reward if William's armed claim to the English throne proved successful. If it wasn't, their corpses would have fertilised Senlac Hill in Sussex.

A Norman aristocracy

A forerunner of one of these mercenaries was a certain Norman noble called de Bruis or de Bruce. He came to England around the year 1050 with Queen Emma. After her death, these hated Normans fled north from Saxon England to Scotland, with a large retinue of knights and yeoman from Yorkshire. 

After the  Norman invasion of England in 1066, he assisted Duke William in his conquest and plunder of the country. He was handsomely rewarded with many manors and lordships in England. One of his sons married the Scottish heiress of Annandale and received from the Scottish King David I, a charter of her lands. The rise of the Bruce's had begun.

Many Normans also later came to Scotland with Malcolm Canmore, and were soon settled into positions of power and influence. They were the progenitors of many of the clans and noble families we know today. These include the Frasers, Grants, Carlyles, Jardines, Johnstons and Kerrs, to name but a few.

The Normans also imported to Scotland with them the malignant concept of feudalism, which shackled the British Isles for centuries. This system of government dispossessed the Highland clansmen of their ancestral land rights. The adoption of feudalism also coincided with the breaking of the Celtic Church, which began with the second marriage of King Malcolm III in the 11th century. 

His bride, a Saxon Princess, brought Roman Catholicism to the fore. This gradually consigned the traditional Celtic Church based in Iona to the sidelines. The Norman conquest of England ensured that feudalism would be entrenched as a system of governance, as consequently did the rapidly growing influence of Norman nobles settled in Scotland.

The King was very much in favour of feudalism, as it gave him ownership of the land. He could distribute this land amongst those who were loyal to him and who would support and protect him against his enemies. Feudalism was anathema to the Celtic patriarchal system, and land which had once been owned by the tribe or clan as a whole, now became owned by the Clan Chief and ultimately, by the king himself. The king could, and did, seize the lands of those clans or nobles who displeased or rebelled against him.

In 1271, a Bruce married the Countess of Carrick and in 1306, Robert the Bruce (Robert de Bruis) became King of Scotland. In 1314 he won a great victory over the English at Bannockburn, which secured Scotland's independence from English domination.  The ascent of the House of Bruce meant  that another crown in the British Isles had become the possession of another direct descendent of a Norman family.

King Robert the Bruce or de Bruis

Robert the Bruce managed to convince the Scottish people that his fight against the English was for Scottish freedom. Yet when the English were beaten and peace settled upon the land, Scottish land was handed out to his fellow Normans in very generous portion, and the country continued to be run on strictly feudal lines. Where was the freedom for the peasants?

Feudalism is basically nothing more than a polite word for enslavement. A feudal peasant was in essence, the property of his lord and master. He was used like a tool to generate wealth for his master, and fight his masters battles when demanded. 

It is little wonder that the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, which was established by the English Civil War in the 1640's, found the system so distasteful. This was especially true in its most iniquitous form of Heritable Jurisdiction, and Cromwell tried to totally stamp it out in Scotland.

More Normans on the Scottish throne

The Stewarts or Stuarts, to give them the French form of their name, were another set of Norman incomers who managed to grab the throne of Scotland. They, as a family, had a very humble beginning though. 

Amongst the scabrous horde that invaded England in 1066 was a certain Norman menial called Flaad. The familial spawn of this Flaad, a fellow called Walter, decided to try his luck in Scotland. At the time, King David I was welcoming all kinds of mercenaries, who would help him to dispossess the Church of Iona and break its spiritual power.

This freebooting Walter entered the personal service of the king as a 'dish-bearer' or waiter, and gradually rose to the position of Steward, or keeper of the revenue. This was a very important position at the royal court. 

Lands were acquired by the family via various means, and that was the real making of the family. These aspiring Stewards or Stewarts could often be  treacherous. One of their kin having been said to have sold out that great Scottish patriot, William Wallace, for £100 worth of land. Blood money was perfectly acceptable for these advancing dish bearers.

Eventually and inevitably, a Stewart married Princess Marjory, daughter of King Robert I, and from this sprang the Stewart line of kings. From dish-bearers at the court of the king to the throne of Scotland, and a United Kingdom that included England, Wales and Ireland. Not a bad advancement. 

Unfortunately, these dish-bearers were the direct cause of the eventual decimation of the Gael in Scotland. Many of the Highland Clans were hood-winked into following that romantic opportunist, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', in his ill-advised adventure to recover the crowns of the United Kingdom.

Ambitious Stuarts

The Stuarts had originally been expelled from Britain when King Charles I had tried to usurp the position of parliament in England, and impose absolute rule over the country. Parliament and the King fought a vicious civil war in the 1640's that brought anarchy and death to the nation. Charles would not compromise with Parliament and lost the war. Even when in captivity he continued to scheme and plot against Parliament and in the end, he was tried for treason and beheaded in London.

The spelling of the Stewart name changed to 'Stuart' whilst they were in exile at the French royal court, due to the French having no 'W' in their alphabet. Initially the Stuarts had taken refuge at the French court after fleeing England but they were soon sent packing though. 

The French king did not want to offend the powerful Cromwell and his government. The Stuarts moved to the Spanish Netherlands and settled down to a dull exile in Brussels. They were almost broke, and surrounded by other Royalist exiles and nobles in similar embarrassed financial circumstances, all dreaming of a return to England.

The Stuarts were indeed invited back to Britain after the death of Cromwell and the fall of the Commonwealth. The country was tired of war and civil unrest, and wanted a king to be a stabilising influence on the government of the country. By and large, Charles II ruled well. 

Upon his death the crown passed to his catholic brother, James II. He ruled for some time, but was always at odds with the British people. Then, unexpectedly, his seemingly barren wife gave birth to a healthy son. That did not go well. The prospect of another catholic king was too much. Parliament decided to act. They invited the protestant Dutch Stadtholder, William of Orange, to be king instead of the catholic James, and he duly invaded with a strong army.

James fled to France. The French were very important to the Stuarts, and they would be needed if the Stuarts were to regain their British throne. The Pope lent his support to the Stuarts and recognised James as the legitimate king of Great Britain. The Stuarts from their French exile, watched and waited for their moment to re-take the British crown.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, the charismatic and dashing son of James II, was born in Italy and spoke Italian as a native language. He knew no Gaelic and had only a working knowledge of the English language. Charles wanted the British throne not the Scottish one.

Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince Charlie

All this regal Stuart ambition was dressed up in the language of freeing the Scots from the English yoke, yet all along it was about returning a dandy to the throne, where he could rule Scotland by decree from the royal court in London. James I had once boasted that he ruled Scotland from London with a stroke of his pen. Many claim that it was simply a jest, but never has a truer word been spoken.

The Jacobite risings of 1689, 1715 and 1745 all left their marks on Scotland, but at Culloden Moor in 1746, Scotland was torn apart. The last vestiges of the Highland clan system were destroyed. Hanoverian rule was entrenched by the decisive victory at Culloden and remains so to this day. From Normans to Germans, from Duke William of Normandy to the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's, the die of foreignrule is cast once again.

A Scottish tragedy

Thus has been the tragedy of the Scots - especially the Highland Scots, to follow Normans in wars against other Normans, or against Hanoverian Electors from Germany. In the process, the Highland Scots have been driven from their lands and disinherited of their language and culture.

Today times have changed and nobility is merely a shadow of what it once was. We have no particular feelings either way for Kings or Princes, Dukes or Earls, or any of the other petty aristocracy that dot the landscape. They are simply an historical reminder of a real landed power that once existed in these islands, a power that is now no more than a quaint tradition beloved of foreign visitors on the heritage trail. 

Those noble families who in times past gained their titles by intrigue, dynastic marriage, murder, theft, brigandage, court harlotry or outright purchase for money, have faded into irrelevance in the modern age of social advancement, international banking and commerce.

Selling noble titles was a jolly wheeze of kings when they wanted to raise funds. Even parliament got into that particular act, when they later gained the ability to bestow noble titles on favoured individuals. Many a political donation has received its noble reward, even into current times. It does appear that the thrusting and upwardly mobile 'masters of commerce' still enjoy the imagined kudos of a genuine noble title, even a lifetime one, that doubtless provides them with a matching accoutrement for the stereotypical 'old school tie'.

Noble titles and other meaningless baubles and trinkets of desperate social climbing hold no interest for us, except in a historical sense. The pure collective ethic of the ancient Clan is what we hold dear, not feudal relics of the past enslavement of a nation.

Under the old Celtic Clan system the lands were not the absolute property of the Clan Chief, but were the property of the whole Clan. The Chief had no legal right to evict, no legal right to appropriate rents, no legal right to do anything but govern in the best interests of the Clan. 

That is the true essence of a Scottish Clan, not the cloying feudal romanticism that seems to attract so many in modern times. Fortunately amongst the modern Clans things are changing. Chiefs as heads of Clan Associations and Societies are becoming more like their ancient ancestors of the pre-feudal past. This is a welcome development in our more enlightened age and we applaud it wholeheartedly.

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©Copyright - James of Glencarr