Fishing, Roman Concrete and the Lost Horse

The following article was published in the June 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Lewis and Harris; Elgin, Lossie and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

Between 1783-1881, c.150,000 Highlanders were forced from their homes and the period saw increasing populations in coastal villages. Some, like Mallaig in 1840, were created to support the populace. Their industry was fishing, but without efficient transport the industry would fail. The 1st Baron Lovat did not instruct clearances on his Morar estate. Instead he moved his tenants to the coast. This freed up available grazing and also created the opportunity to profit from his people and the fishing industry.

There had always been a reliance on fishing in the Highlands, but in land-locked areas fish was reserved for special occasions. Changes were afoot however, partially due to new roadways which came as a result of the upheavals of the 18th century, including military roads. Fresh, if not salted fish, was transported more quickly to market and became a staple for people from all backgrounds. As a result, the fishing industry developed rapidly.

The growth of a fishing-reliant population in Mallaig and the general increase in fish consumption meant transportation of the catch needed to be addressed. Transport issues were preventing fishing developments in other areas, particularly the Islands. In 1783, five boats left Barra to carry the catch to the Clydeside markets however four of the boats were lost at sea.

Despite efforts by Thomas Telford in 1803 to improve the road to Mallaig, it wasn’t until 1882 that a boom year in fishing put Mallaig on the map politically. This, however, was followed by disastrous years for the port. Records from 1885-1887 show poor return due to lack of shoals and the population suffered.

The decision to support the fishing industry at Mallaig with a railway connection to Fort William in 1897 and the propaganda-style delivery of the plans was a calculated effort by Parliament to take away the guilt of the clearance period and economic decline in the Highlands. Arguably it was misplaced because it was in an area that hadn’t borne the brunt of the clearance episodes. Whilst other areas continued to suffer, Mallaig improved and politicians celebrated their benevolence.

The railway’s impressive Glenfinnan Viaduct was ground-breaking; and slightly Roman! The dome of the Roman Pantheon (113-125 AD) is the world’s oldest and largest unreinforced ‘mass concrete’ dome. This is due to the strength and flexibility of the mass concrete and its strength in compression. But concrete was not introduced here by the Romans. Apart from two Bungalows in the Isle of Wight and an 1879 New Forest folly called Sway Tower, Glenfinnan Viaduct is the next oldest example of the ‘rediscovered’ mass concrete in built structures. It is also one of the largest examples of its use. This led to the structural engineer in charge, Robert McAlpine, being known as ‘Concrete Bob’.

During construction in 1897-9, legend had it that a horse and cart fell into a pillar of the Glenfinnan viaduct and remained there while construction continued. In 1987, Professor Roland Paxton attempted to find the horse with a fish eye camera, looking into two pillars. His search found nothing. Based on local stories, in 1997, Paxton visited Loch nan Uamh viaduct but was again unable to find the horse. What he did find was that the pillars there were filled with rubble. Paxton wasn’t perturbed and returned in 2001 to carry out a scan. This time the remains of a horse and cart were found in the central pillar. To this day the horse and its cart are still there.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail and visit to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

The Roads We Rely On

The following article was published in the May 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Lewis and Harris; Inverness and District; Elgin, Lossie and District; Forres and District; Nairn and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

Throughout the tensions of the early Jacobite period, it was clear that access and manoeuvrability were key issues that needed to be addressed for control of the Highlands and North East.

Readers will be aware of the roads built by General George Wade between 1724 and 1740, but it was Wade’s protégé’s extension of the road-building project from 1747 that had a lasting impact in the North West and South West Highlands as well as into Aberdeen-shire; all key recruiting grounds for the Jacobite army of 1745-1746.

The origin of Wade’s project was the increasing Highland influence in the Jacobite Risings of 1689, 1715 and 1719 and the insecurities which the Hanoverian monarchy and Government of the time of Wade’s command felt in the Gàidhealtachd. Wade was Commander-in-Chief of the forces in North Britain from 1724-1740 and again in September until December 1745 at the age of 72.

Wade’s road-building focused on the Great Glen and Highland Perthshire and consisted of 35 bridges, including the impressive Tay Bridge at Aberfeldy, and 240 miles of road. The Aberfeldy bridge was designed by William Adam and cost £4,095 5s 10d.

An ironic fact is that it was Wade’s road through the Corrieyarrick Pass that aided the Jacobite advance on Edinburgh before the battle of Prestonpans. It is also this pass that my ancestor used to move with a barrow of his belongings from Dores to Blairgowrie 150 years later in search of a sustainable livelihood!

After Culloden in April 1746 and seeing the tests of the network during the ‘45, Major William Caulfeild took over and masterminded the road network extensions. Wade’s protégé had been with him since 1729 and had been promoted by Wade to the position of Inspector of Roads in 1732.

One of the best examples of their joint work is the bridge at Sluggan, an important junction between Wade’s and Caulfeild’s roads. Despite being partly washed away in 1829, it was rebuilt in the original design which is synonymous with Caulfeild’s single-arch bridges. One of the few written records states that the similar 1749 Caulfeild’s Bridge at the Spittal of Glenshee was built for £40.

Caulfeild remained the Inspector of Roads until his death in 1767. By this time he had overseen the completion of over 800 miles of extensions to Wade’s road network and c.600 bridges. This included the road from the Great Glen to Glenelg; roads linking Crieff, Dumbarton, Inverary and Fort William; and a complex road network linking Dunkeld to Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Portsoy, Corgarff, Braemar, Fochabers, Grantown-on-Spey, Forres and Fort George. The project of 1747 also ran alongside the first military survey of Scotland which led to the formation of the Ordinance Survey.

It must be recognized that these roads facilitated the systematic subduing of Gaelic culture in the West and Episcopalian Jacobitism in the North East. It also facilitated the access of the British Army to recruits who, from the late 18th century until today have been involved in virtually every British military campaign. Today, Wade and Caulfeild might also be seen as the facilitators of tourism in the North and as the people who did more for the road networks in the Highlands than anyone since.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail and visit to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.


The Royal Fortification of Auldearn

The following article was published in the April 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Lewis and Harris; Inverness and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

When you think of Royal Castles, you’d be excused for imagining anywhere but a quiet Highland village, particularly one that doesn’t have a castle, or even a ruin!

But don’t let the lack of visible evidence confuse you. Auldearn was once a place of powerful authority. The township was developed around an earth and wood motte, but the origins of it are mysterious. The Highland Council’s Historic Environment Record dates it as c.561(AD/CE) which was the period from which Pictish settlement begins to develop in Morayshire.

Was Auldearn Castle actually a Pictish Fort? That would be difficult to prove, but stonework in the region is a strong indicator that Picts developing territory against Alt Clut, the Anglo Saxons and the Scots from the 4th-8th century are likely to have also developed fortified strongholds there. With higher sea levels, Auldearn may have been a coastal stronghold.

There are many valid theories on the meaning of “Auldearn”. But with the progression of Christian Scots-Gaels coming northwards from Dunadd from the 6th century, and the possibility that Auldearn was a western front for the Picts of the time, the current presumed Gaelic name ‘Allt Èireann’ (stream of the Irish) may signify that the Fort was the limit of the Scots-Gaels’ north-eastern advance.

The development of Pictish fortifications in the Moray area which in later centuries led to the building of numerous castles locally, goes further to prove the tactical importance of Auldearn. Despite some historians claiming that the site is not strategically important, nothing could be further from the truth.

At the crossing point of the geographical Highland line, the south is protected by high moorland, difficult to cross with a fully laden army. To the north the sea would offer protection and tactical opportunity. For an attacking or defensive army, it would provide a well-supplied on-land route, east to west, due to natural harbours and agriculturally productive land.

This may have happened during the unknown battle that appears on the Pictish 7th/9th century Sueno’s stone in Forres. This also happened when the army of Covenanters passed through before meeting Highland levies and doubling back to face the Royalist army in battle in 1645 and both the armies of Charles Edward Stuart and William Augustus of Hanover passed through in 1746.

Some believe that a Norman developed the castle on the motte site during the reign of David I (1124-53), but the consensus is that Auldearn was re-fortified under William I (1165-1214) when revolt threatened Morayshire. It’s possible that the esplanade, now the green on Doocot Road, would have been added then. In 1180, William I signed a charter at “Eren”, as it was known, confirming Inverness as a Royal Burgh.

Despite having been partially destroyed by Donald McWilliam after 1180, in 1308 William, Earl of Ross submitted to Robert the Bruce at Auldearn. The Castle was held by the Dunbars of Cumnock from 1511 and the family developed Boath House (1830s) on the site of another older tower. The motte site became the Dunbars’ 17th century doocot.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail and visit to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.


What it means to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

On the 30th November 2018 I was honoured to be voted in on the ballot at the traditional St Andrew’s Day AGM of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to become a Fellow of the society. The following essay will discuss the history of this 238 year old society and its evolving purpose, as well as what it means to be accepted into its ranks. Being nominated and accepted brings great pride from being one of many Fellows who have displayed FSA Scot (with varying forms of punctuation) as post-nominals over the past two and a third centuries.

I make no secret that conservation and historical accuracy are two huge and robust pillars of what has driven me to setting up my business, Highland Historian: Heritage Consultancy & Bespoke Tour Guiding with Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot (

In pursuing this as a lifelong interest I have seen the best and worst examples – and many in between – of modern attempts to achieve these aims. But one thing has always been apparent to me; the best practices are always developed through sharing and critiquing by those who are driven to improve, without putting up blockades to prevent this improvement. This particularly occurs when personal circumstances seep into development, including visions and emotions that create an impasse. In this I include national organisations, societies, associations and individuals. In all of these there are examples where conservational and academic development has been severely limited due to a particular individual’s vision and the available evidence to suggest another possible pathway being discounted, when there is a conflict of opinion.

In terms of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Society has proven to be a breeding ground for considered historical and wider antiquarian thought, knowledgeable assessment of fellows’ output by their peers, encouragement for deeper research and continued personal improvement. Ideologically, this interaction of interested individuals is a pure form of networking and shared-betterment which is difficult to simulate in other environments. However, as with anything of this nature, it is only as good as the Fellows of any period allow it to be. Currently the society is as strong as ever with a list of over 2,500 Fellows from a wide range of backgrounds and antiquarian interests.

In 1981, the Society published a book through John Donald publishers called The Scottish Antiquarian Tradition: Essays to mark the bicentenary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and its Museum, 1780-1980. This remarkable book is a time capsule of theories in the Scotland-wide development of heritage management and conservation, in the form of a collection of eye-opening essays edited by A.S. Bell. The museum in the subtitle has since developed as part of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where the Society’s offices are now located.

A striking quotation from the Society’s founder, David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan at a meeting on the 14th November 1780, heads Part 1 of the book. In it he refers to a collection of Scottish naturalists and antiquarians from the late 17th Century:

“I suspect that the society… failed on account of their having no house in property, nor any private interests to care for their books, museum, and other necessary appurtanences; and that having met in taverns, their meetings degenerated into convivial and anamolous conversations. All these hazards I mean, with your approbation, to guard against, and ever to exclude.”

[R.B.K. Stevenson, “The Museum, its Beginnings and its Development” in A.S. Bell (ed.), The Scottish Antiquarian Tradition: Essays to Mark the Bicentenary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1780-1980, (Edinburgh, 1981) p.31]

This was clearly intended to be a society which promoted the pursuance of developments in understandings through research. This would be achieved through the recording of that research and the conservation and sharing of items and documents, which held an important role in the understanding of our past. In 1780 this foresight and interest in preservation, conservation and development of knowledge did not exist as it does today. Lord Buchan’s aim must surely be seen as a truly groundbreaking moment in our awareness of the Scottish past.

The issues Lord Buchan cites, and the negative impact of them, is something that I know only too well. We are now on a precipice in Scotland where the conservation of our most treasured, renowned, revered and, yes, profitable, historic sites is under serious threat of complete loss. In 2018 alone, Scotland has seen plans and success in plans to develop or commercially plant on the battlefields of Inverlochy, Killiecrankie, Sheriffmuir, Culloden. Many other sites of historic value are also set to be lost to housing and roadway developments. The opposition to these developments has often not come from the places it would have in the past. This has left a huge void, perhaps unfillable, in the discussions which lead to decisions on these applications in modern Scotland. Lord Buchan, I’m certain, would be appalled at what our generation is currently allowing to become of these sites.

The Society’s website states that the Society’s stated purpose is:

“… to investigate both antiquities and natural and civil history in general, with the intention that the talents of mankind should be cultivated and that the study of natural and useful sciences should be promoted.


This is something I firmly believe in and have put into action in my career. At Culloden I proposed and commissioned a LiDAR scan in 2015 of the entire battle site within the railway line at Drummossie Muir. This was a response to the decision not to purchase land which would have off-set the impending planning applications and given a real chance of the site north of the B9006 being preserved. As is now clear, the development in question has opened up the entire site to potential developments and is a huge loss for conservation. Thankfully the LiDAR scan has at least secured a small fragment of what we are currently losing in a digital format – if only the organisation in possession of it would allow it to be consulted and investigated academically. In a way, this situation and what led to it is a fragment of civil history and of the historiography of the Scottish antiquarian tradition that I intend to write at length about during my lifetime.

Over the past 14 years I have experienced and witnessed the difficulties in obtaining museum status; of independent museums attempting to afford their maintenance budgets; and of the unsuccessful efforts to get support to open museums within various groups, societies or associations. In each case, heritage and antiquarian tradition lost out. One of the situations I struggled with more than any other was to develop an owned collection of items, objects and documents which was intended to be properly preserved and conserved as well as being available to historians and the public. This was against the reality that companies, organisations and charities whom in the past would have leapt at the opportunity to secure items, were no longer interested and left the door open for items to be sold at auction to worldwide bidders. This is a continuing and growing problem for the antiquarian tradition of Scotland in the modern age. We have lost a great deal, as have future generations.

But there is still hope in this area. There are still people who are minded to develop the antiquarian tradition. There are still those who see the value in researching, recording and securing our past; in whatever form that may be. I would strongly argue that many of those are either already, or may yet become, Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. This is very much an historic society with a very modern purpose.

Returning to the title of this essay; what does becoming a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland mean to me? My answer is one that comes from the past, present and future. In terms of the past: I am incredibly proud to become a Fellow in a long line of Fellows who have supported the antiquarian tradition and have developed our ongoing awareness and understanding of the past in their own work and time. In terms of the present: I see this as a development in my pathway to being an accurate historian and joining together with other current Fellows to assist, and be assisted in pursuing betterment of our shared aims to uphold the antiquarian traditions. In terms of the future: I hope I can be part of the change that is needed to ensure that our past survives for future generations to discover – both the fragments of the past we know about and those we haven’t yet found or understood.

Without going into too much detail, hopefully this essay has opened a small window into the Scottish antiquarian world that I have experienced so far in my career. I think in the modern age, Scotland would prosper by being more antiquarian and conservational in all areas; especially in our attempts to preserve and understand our past. I believe that the experiences that I have had can serve as a reminder of the importance of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and its Fellows in ensuring that sites, items and documents should be both preserved and conserved. If we, the current generation, do not ensure that this is possible; in the present, the past will lose its future.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.


IN REMEMBRANCE, 1918-2018:

Of a Scottish population of 4,706,904 (2,308,809 of which were male) in the 1911 census, the Angus Glens lost 10,000 men during the war. Depending on the Historian, the entire Scottish losses were anything between c.100,000 and c.200,000. If we take the lowest prediction, the entire Scottish loss was over 2.1% of the entire Scottish population (over 4.3% of the entire male Scottish population) of the time. The lower number is highly unlikely due to the numbers that can be calculated from village to village across Scotland from the war memorials that have become such an emblem of our remembrance. But a true number is almost impossible to confirm. The higher estimate of 200,000 is also unlikely as that will include men who didn’t return as well as those who died. Approximations have been made of anything between 140,000 and 185,000 as an accurate figure.

The losses in the Angus Glens alone were, of the entire Scottish population, over 0.4%. This area took a greater number of casualties as a percentage of the population than anywhere else in the world during WWI. When you consider that, of the entire male Scottish population, less than 0.075% were involved on both sides combined during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, the impact begins to permeate the quantitative statistics.

(Note: this depends on the areas used for the calculation of percentages, but in official records is unsurpassed except, possibly, by an area in Russia. This, however, is not intended to compare the losses of any populace, only to highlight the intensity of loss in the Angus Glens).

At the battle of Festubert on Monday 17th May 1915, in an attempt to take 500 yards of the enemy lines, more than 16,000 British lives were lost, with estimations that more Highlanders died that day than at Culloden Battlefield in 1746.

In parts of the Angus Glens and parts of Highland Perthshire, c.40% of those men who left were killed, and higher numbers of survivors did not return to their homes. Glen Prosen was a place which experienced these numbers. My own Great Grandfather David Grant McKenzie who had lived in Alyth had already had to leave. The lack of work provided after the Boer War had started an economic clearance in Highland Perthshire which continued long after its origins. But he returned from London especially to join the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch. The more I learn about him, the more it appears that he was incredibly lucky to survive and did return from the Western Front.

After having his Black Watch kilt caught on barbed wire (as well as his skin), he decided to use his bayonet to cut it off and return to be disciplined for returning without it. He was the last of my family to fight in a kilt of any form and had to cut it off to survive – a poignant reminder to me about both the strengths and the dangers of culture and tradition.

But he, as many others had done, left Highland Perthshire again during the inter-war years due to a lack of work and a lack of attention from the MPs and leaders who had sent men to die and made those who returned believe that they would be rewarded for their service after returning, which never materialised; those same leaders who were simply ignorant of the unfolding escalation of economic clearance in many Highland regions which continued well into the 1950s.

This same economic suppression caused my Granda to find work elsewhere having grown up in Highland Perthshire. It is easy to suggest that the jobs they went to were better than the ones they could have found in the Highlands, but therein lies the issue. They didn’t have the option of something equivalent or better to keep them in the Highlands. That is the same situation for many in the Highlands today.

There are many stories across the Highlands and further afield that permeate the constant social media updates at this time of year. The Highlands of Scotland bore an unimaginable sacrifice which saw c.500 men from Skye wiped out, with over 10% of the population of Portree killed during WWI and the same horrifying numbers repeated from village to village across the west, east, north and south of the Gaidhealtachd. Swear words in Gaelic literally became the names of battles themselves.

My own Granda remembers his Granda (David’s father) asking the local Gaelic-speaking mole-catcher in Meigle in the 1920s for a swear word in Gaelic and being given the name of the battle David Grant McKenzie had escaped as the response due to the loss of Gaels there. It is likely that the word my Granda remembers, something similar to “Baile Frezen”, is a Gaelic interpretation of the village of Frezenberg, which was a key objective of the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch at the third battle of Ypres at Passchendaele in July 1917 where a huge amount of Black Watchmen perished; along with Gaelic speakers from the Seaforth, Cameron, Cameronian and Gordon Highlander regiments.

The incredible story that has emerged has become probable beyond reasonable doubt fairly recently. From heroic family tales that I first heard when I was young, my father and I have had long conversations with my Granda to find out more about David Grant McKenzie. His memory of the exact place names and timings is fading, but he remembers the details that were passed to him by his dad after he returned. Those details were that David, after being bivouacked behind the front and used as a “shock troop” (or more accurately “cannon-fodder”, as many Highlanders were used) had been involved in pushing the Germans back following a barrage of shrapnel in order to reach two of their three objectives. In doing so they had reached the enemy positions and pushed into a village where they encountered counter attacks and had a lack of artillery, despite the War Diary recording that a “tank called Challenger” had “dealt drastically” with the German defences. After having to retreat to the village without obtaining their final objective, the German line, they were being looked down upon by the Germans who were now very close and meant they had to escape. It was either in getting back to the village or getting out of it that the kilt being caught happened.

When my Great Granda was recuperating after the activity, an officer marched into the rest area from the front and demanded to know what Battalion the men were because they looked scruffy. The men replied “we’re the battered Battalion”. The conversations with my Granda that have led to this article and their further details have only happened in the past few weeks and have opened up more information to me than I ever knew before.

When cross-examined with statistics, war diaries and an article published in the Courier last week by Dr Derek Patrick, there is an absolutely remarkable comparison of details. There is very little to suggest that the action that my Great Granda described to my Granda was not Passchendaele and the village Frezenberg. It is beyond reasonable doubt, now, that that’s where these heroic storylines that captivated such interest with me in my youth took place. And that makes me shiver knowing the real history that is connected with those places.

In one morning at Passchendaele, there had been 20 ranks killed, 45 missing and 180 wounded. By August 1917 the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch were withdrawn from the front with a total of 252 men. They had lost around 200. (Numbers from D. Patrick’s Courier article).

The photograph shows a young David Grant McKenzie in the earliest photo taken of any of my family members in 1905. He is wearing a tweed kilt and jacket, which, I presume, more than likely belonged to the traveling photographer as a costume. But it is an incredibly apt costume given what we now know of the experiences this boy was to go on and face.

After his experiences of WWI with the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch, David Grant McKenzie went on to work for City of London Transport, a long way from his family, including his wife and children who lived in Meigle during WWII. He had witnessed the horrors of close combat and was now in both the location and the job which led to him experiencing the London Blitz. The historical knowledge of these events and the knowledge I have gained from looking into the surrounding Highland social issues and the movement of population in the inter-war years is nothing short of bewildering. But my Great Granda lived through these things, albeit with a badly scarred leg. Many didn’t.

If this story that is personal to me has inspired your own memory of your family’s stories, please feel free to share them with me or to remember them in your own way. But I hope the memory of them brings a solidified effort to never forget and to pass this cultural awareness on to future generations.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.


Conservationism versus Commercialism: The modern dilemma for Scottish Heritage?

“If we’d called it ‘What were the Whigs and What did they want for Scotland?’ we would have had 10% of the audience size.”

(Professor Christopher Whatley at the inaugural History Scotland debate with Professor Murray Pittock entitled ‘What were the Jacobites and what did they want for Scotland?’)

Commercialism: It appears to be a necessity. It particularly appears to be a necessity when managing built, object and natural heritage which costs hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum to maintain and conserve. There are a number of organisations, councils, bodies and communities in Scotland charged with preserving our past, or what we think is our past. But each of them has to have a commercial plan in some variation of form. The larger, national and predominantly centralised versions of these are now mainly registered as charities, fighting to grab their share of a market which is based on their supporters’ trust and belief in their work. It is a system that has developed mainly in the past 50-100 years but has become increasingly fragile in the past 5-10 years.

Centralisation in heritage management and tourism has been a disaster for Scotland’s true heritage. The very notion of Scotland as a unified nation with a national direction or experience is fairly puerile, even today. Historically it is almost entirely incorrect. We may be able to define Scotland as a singular nation, based on shared causes, best since the Boer War and the two World Wars; but before that the country was a piecemeal patchwork, fragmented into geographical areas based on culture and, the thing we are supposedly trying to preserve; heritage.

Recently, an organisation had a meeting which discussed the notion of heritage. Nobody in the room agreed what the definition of ‘heritage’ was. Each had their own opinion, but no one knew what it could be defined as. This organisation regularly uses the word in its marketing and strap-lines and yet, the lack of knowledge or dictation of what this is supposed to mean in an ever-developing heritage industry is terrifyingly lacking. Perhaps heritage is many things to many people; just like every site of historical interest. But in order to preserve it and conserve it without destroying it by over-commercialising it; the national organisations need to put some real thought into defining what it actually is, if only so that their staff are aware.

The geographical fragments of this nation of mixed heritage might be simple in terms of the particular subject being discussed, such as the Western Isles and the Northern Isles being very different in terms of the influence of Gaelic and Norse naming traditions. The Highlands and the Lowlands is a popular divide which is over-played in many visitor attractions. Clan territories and the colourful tourist maps (some of which date from the 1800s); is a disaster for the understanding of accurate estate boundaries from the 11th-19th centuries. But below these broad brushstrokes, there are distinct differences in culture which, if not understood or worse, ignored, will create an erroneous historical conclusion and an inaccurate conclusion of how to preserve, conserve and present that history.

With centralised authorities taking the lead on these issues, we end up with a mismanagement nightmare which has already led to the complete loss of cultural nuances in many areas of Scotland. The worst thing a centralised organisation can do for the preservation of these nuances is to make the majority of their localised and academically-aware staff members redundant and replace them with people who have little cultural knowledge in the areas in which they do their work. This is a real issue which is alive now, and it may be too late to avoid the negative impact of it. This, however, is only a concern if the aim of the organisation is conservation above or equal to commercialism. If it is the other way around then localised knowledge of heritage is only worth the money that can be made from it. Often in our recent history, the myths perpetuated by commercialised organisations have won the limelight for presentation to the tourist visitors.

The fact is that there is such a thing as ‘Tourist History’. It is rarely academic; it is generally usually accurate to some degree, but certainly not always; it usually distorts the story it is trying to tell which could be seen as bias, particularly towards the “wow factor” which drives the crowds to the attraction where they are convinced to part with their money in exchange for an “experience”. This version of history is being written every day, particularly in company-positive press releases where there are claims made, such as recently, that new discoveries of the site of the 1692 massacre have been found in areas of Glencoe that have been known about by locals since the massacre itself, and discussed with young University students at the bar in the Clachaig Inn in 2006.

Is this manipulation to drive tourism numbers doing a disservice to our academic awareness of heritage and our potential success in conserving it? Well; that depends on many factors, but it is inevitably dangerous and can have unintended, destructive consequences. In the example of Glencoe; at least there is now funding committed to archaeological work which will produce interesting discoveries and at least the story is now becoming public.

But what happens when the commercialism and the conservationism can be combined? This was possible at Culloden Battlefield, particularly in the relatively secure National Trust for Scotland owned area, between 2008 and 2018. This holistic approach should have been the way it was managed and developed; but this was a management planning recommendation which was ignored, rejected and disassembled by centralised management between 2007 and 2018. Was this wrong of them? Not necessarily; they had reasons which fitted into a national agenda which worked for their business model. Was it damaging for Culloden Battlefield, particularly the wider boundary, and its conservation? Definitely; it was also probably damaging to commercial success as an accidental and unintended consequence of a blinkered and centralised view on conservation and commercial matters.

This year we have seen the Inverlochy, Sheriffmuir, Killiecrankie and Culloden battle sites, amongst many other heritage sites, threatened with developments, both built and environmental, which will destroy their conservation entirely. We now stand on a precipice which threatens the very core of the aim to conserve a wide, mixed and fruitful heritage which is renowned worldwide. Housing is necessary; local jobs are necessary; commercialism is necessary. But for academic historians in Scotland, there is now a huge debate which is long overdue. Is it possible to perform the development of commercialism and conservationism side by side?

In the recent past, this was possible in tourism organisations. Conservation projects could be development without a necessity of commercial gain. This has now disintegrated in national tourism companies and the conservation of nationally and internationally important historic sites now largely fall to individuals outside the organisations who have no financial backing and no management plans to work from. At the same time, development opportunities are abundant which destroy the sites which are under-protected.

Whilst this is the case, national organisations do pay lip service to their stated aims of conservation, often with well-timed press releases which aim to appease their concerned members. The strength of these comments, though, is undermined by a lack of action; this has been particularly clear at Culloden Battlefield and the action may have included purchase of land in 2015; archaeological services offered to the Highland Council for pre-assessment; the use of the LiDAR scan which covers the entire battle site and has yet to be investigated by experts. Without such important action, comments in the press are too little too late; and the result is that one housing development will now be built and another large development is potentially ready to be sited where the Duke of Cumberland managed his forces on the fateful day of the 16th April 1746. It is a great shame that the Duke’s management at Culloden was far more successful than that of our current generation who are charged with its conservation.

To bring a positive perspective, all is not yet lost. But we are now in a situation where those with an interest in the history, heritage, and the cultures of our nation are required to make their voices heard and to enter the debate with a meaningful effort to argue for the conservation principles which have presented us with the heritage we have been granted. Once this debate is being openly discussed academically, there then needs to be a push to get the academic view into the board rooms where decisions about our Heritage are being made on a daily basis, but not necessarily with the research and knowledge to give an unbiased resolution which works long-term.

Despite the efforts of academics, which came far too late in the discussion to have an impact at Inverlochy, Sherrifmuir, Killiecrankie, Culloden and others; the discussion is at least beginning and it now needs to develop and bring accountability to those charged with managing our heritage in terms of conservation and commercial activities. Conservation charities, local authorities and other organisations are quite right to seek a commercial line in their industry. Self-preservation of businesses or developments towards potential mergers are entirely plausible ways to develop a business that could not continue as it did in the past. But this leaves a void which, without academic input and the knowledge of those who have skills and interests beyond business management, will inevitably result in the irretrievable loss of a very proud heritage.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


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Kilts?! What about wearing a Gansey?

An alternative look at the Clearances

Leaving aside the non-Highland origins and modern development of the Kilt for another time, this post will look at the item of clothing which, post-clearance, would potentially have been the most worn clothing item in the Highlands.

After a decline from the pre-Jacobite population of the Highlands, there was a general increase in Highland population reported in censuses from c.652,000 in 1755 to c.1,020,000 in 1861, before a decrease to c.1,000,000 in 1951. This loss of 20,000 over an approximate area of 25-30,000 square kilometres is a fairly substantial change in population. Against these figures, the Scotsman reported that, of the Highland population, c.150,000 were forced from their homes between 1783-1881 and c.70,000 emigrated between the 1760s and early 1800s. There was also large scale emigration between the 1880s and 1950s.

It is clear from the quantitative and cultural knowledge that not all who were cleared left Scotland. Also; not all those who left the Highlands during this period were cleared. It seems logical, but this is an important and occasionally overlooked point. In the post-clearance period in the Highlands, several townships were created in coastal settings to support the reliance on the sea by people all over the west and east coasts. Ullapool is a good example of one of these new towns. The older townships also developed, like Gairloch, Nairn and places like Lossiemouth, Buckie and other townships outside the Highland region on the north east coast toward Fraserburgh. Even today all of these towns have a fishing element in their trade. Anecdotally, many Highlanders also moved to Perthshire and Fife as well as the big towns of central Scotland.

There was also clearly population movement in the Highlands previous to the clearances and even Jacobitism which we touched upon in “Clanship”. The evidence for this comes from the Gàidhlig names that suddenly appear in non-Highland settings prior to the Jacobite risings, particularly the ’45. The loss of the pre-clearance and pre-Jacobite population in inland areas has left indelible marks on the landscape which are still as clear today as they were in the 1880s. The straths and glens, which at one time would have had townships and shielings dotted about all over the main body of the Highland mainland, rather suddenly (in the grand scheme of history) became relatively bare.

So, with a mass movement of population to coastal areas in a c.100 year period, the like of which has never been seen before or since in the Highlands, came a development in cultural and traditional practices. The folk ways of Strath na Frithe wouldn’t be entirely applicable to life on the cliff tops of Helmsdale, for example. There are examples of children who had never experienced life by the sea or at cliff edges being tied by a leash around the ankle to stakes in the ground to avoid falling to their deaths whilst playing.

With folk changes and developing ways of eking out a living from the sea rather than the land, clothing began to change to suit. The plaid, which had long been the mainstay of Highland attire for men and women, was now relatively obsolete. It had been ideal for watching cattle and even sheep at all times of year in the hills; and even for sleeping in on forays and journeys. Many observers attribute this apparent loss of popularity to the Act of Proscription, specifically the Dress Act of 1746, but this is something we will debate in another post. In terms of the changes we are discussing, the adaption of a new attire appears to have been mainly due to functionality in a new living environment. Enter the gansey (several spellings are recorded).

The Ganseys of Hebrides and the Scottish Fleet. Traditional Knitting Patterns of the British Isles. (Pearson, Micheal R R)

The gansey was basically a knitted jumper. Whereas a plaid and shirt with a jacket would have been heavy, unwieldy and a great hazard if you fell in the sea, a gansey was warm, even when wet, relatively light, would not be blown about in the wind and left both hands free to do the important activity – fishing.

The gansey appears to have developed from a similar background as historically accurate tartan. Nairn museum holds a collection of gansey patterns which were recognisable as being of the townships from which they were knitted. Each pattern was different and the seamen from each township would proudly wear their town’s version. Every fishing port in the Moray Firth area had a pattern. Ganseys, or variations of them, were also found in Argyll and the North West coastal towns where fishing had become the backbone of the community. There are even examples of very similar clothing items in photographs of the men of St Kilda, although patterns appear to vary.

The gansey wasn’t purely Highland. There are known examples all over the UK, particularly in the North East and North West of England, as well as Devon and Cornwall. They were used in order to, on a basic level, repatriate drowned bodies with their families and villages. But in the Highlands, they fitted neatly into a cultural tradition of clothing and symbolic association.

Now, if you’re reading this blog you may already be aware that modern tartan is heavily influenced by a Georgian event known as the ‘King’s Jaunt’ in 1822. If not, you should be following this blog even more attentively and in future posts this story will appear. Tartan was then completely accosted and manipulated by Victorian romantics who decided that all clans had tartans and this was a way of telling them apart. This couldn’t be more false. But again; another post will deal with this.

What is true about tartan, and of great relevance here; is that there were almost certainly regional variations in patterns and the colours produced by the natural dyes used. It is more than probable that each estate would have a variation that may have been recognisable. A sudden transformation from a random pattern to regimental tartans in the 1720s-1770s seems far-fetched even if there weren’t specific designs of the tartan sett to define a clan. It seems reasonable for us to presume that tartan design techniques would have been similar in certain locales where group dying and weaving were done, i.e. a clan estate; to a different area where a similar process of creativity was taking place. This is exactly what was happening with the gansey from the mid-1850s onwards.

So why don’t we all know about gansays? The reason appears to be that this was entirely a functional outfit and it didn’t have the same treatment as kilts and tartan in the Georgian and Victorian eras. Whilst kilts and tartans were being militarised and romanticised, ganseys were still being used aboard ships for fishing. There weren’t big association dinners in central London where every man in the room was dressed in the most over-played version of a gansey they could create from a non-accurate understanding of Highland culture, unlike the kilt.

The gansey also doesn’t appear in parades in New York and at every Burns Night celebration in countries all over the world. Perhaps this is because it wasn’t developed by those who left Scotland and took their version of a heritage with them; it was developed by a population who clung on to the literal edge of their homeland and was created for practicality, not remembrance and zealous celebration of a presumed cultural past.

But the truth is; the gansey is as much the outfit of our Highland and northern Scottish forebears as the kilt or plaid. It is also a symbol of the ability of Highlanders to adapt holistically to a new environment in order to survive. It is also an emblem of pride in community and creativity to overcome adversity with functionality. The gansey could easily be viewed as a symbol of Highlanders who adapted in order to remain in their homeland.

So, next time you adorn your shortened modern kilt, originally designed by an English taylor in the British army with a tartan created for the King’s Jaunt or the London Scottish Society before heading to a Highland-ised lowland Scottish event like a Burns Supper, all sound tracked by the Egyptian bagpipe; consider putting on a knitted gansey to complete your outfit and celebrate the capability to adapt, shown both by Highlanders and Moray coasters who remained in Scotland; and those who travelled worldwide and relied on the sea to survive.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

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Accounting for the survival of Jacobitism in Scotland between 1689 and 1746

It could be said that the period between 1689 and 1746 was, arguably, the most turbulent and destructive period in Scotland’s history, nevertheless it was a period that shaped the nation and the way we now view its history. Various historians will argue about the intensity of Jacobite influence during this period, but it is clear that to some extent, Jacobitism was either effected by, or was the driving force behind most of what happened in Scotland at this time.

Jacobites, from the Latin ‘Iacobus’, were supporters of James VII & II and the Stuart succession, which was seemingly secured by the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart in 1688. Jacobitism, as a concept, began almost immediately after James VII & II had fled to France for the first time in December 1688 due to William of Orange’s invasion and supposedly unplanned succession to the English and Scottish thrones in February 1689. Jacobitism as a military and political body, however, first emerged at the poorly supported rising of the Jacobite standard in Dundee in 1689. It is true that between this first ‘rising’ and the rising in 1745 that led to what is generally accepted as the decisive end of the Jacobite dream on Drummossie Muir in 1746; support, in terms of men in the field, had ultimately grown for Jacobitism. However, it is also true that previous attempts and failures to regain the British throne for the Stuarts, most notably the rising of 1715 and the attempted rising of 1719, had broken the spirits of, and largely reduced, Jacobite support within Scotland. We must also be aware that many of the fighting men in Jacobite rebellions were only there because they had been forced out by their chief.

The rising of 1689, under John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, was the start of a nineteen month build up to what Michael Lynch calls a ‘revolution settlement’ in Scotland, after the so-called ‘glorious revolution’ in which William of Orange took the throne. William’s revolution may have been an opportunity to ensure that Jacobitism was put down before it had chance to become a real threat when James VII & II was brought back to London but seemingly allowed to escape. Had James been executed, the Jacobite cause would have had little to fight for, but with an adult monarch and an heir abroad, the survival of Jacobitism, it may be said, had already been secured.

The 1689 rising must be seen as a major factor in the history of Jacobitism. The battle of Killiecrankie, which saw the Jacobites defeat the government army in a short, but devastating skirmish, can be seen as having a large effect on the survival of Jacobitism. Although Claverhouse had been killed, the battle proved to would-be Jacobites that there was an element of real threat and a chance of victory for the Stuart cause. It may also be said that, due to this rising never truly being put down by the government army, the notion of Jacobitism was given the chance, once again, to grow in support with little impedance. Having said this, the Cameronians were, at this time, proving themselves to be a difficult challenge for the Jacobites who received heavy losses at Dunkeld in August 1689. This, however, could also be seen as a reason for the survival of Jacobitism, as this gave Jacobites and Jacobite propagandists a religious angle that could be used to remind Catholics of the restoration and killing times between 1660 and 1685.

Jacobitism itself is built up; it seems, from a variety of beliefs and political persuasions, which are not all required in order to make someone a Jacobite. This is a key factor in understanding how Jacobitism came to survive throughout the turbulent times between 1689 and 1746 in Scotland. Again, this is an issue that various historians will differ on in opinion. According to Christopher Duffy, Jacobitism was the result of three main areas of tension; that between Scotland and England; the split between Catholic and Protestant Churches and, within Protestantism, the split between the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches; and finally, different opinions on ‘kingcraft’. If an individual in the late 17th or early 18th century supported or believed in any of these factors, he would be likely to associate with others that held similar, but not necessarily the same, beliefs. These people would be known as Jacobites and this, we can infer, is the most likely reason that Jacobitism survived, due to its adaptation to different situations and the lack of any proper agenda.

A clear example of Jacobitism benefiting from changing opinions and uncertainty is that, in December 1688 when James VII & II was arrested and returned to face William of Orange, he returned to crowds of cheering supporters in London. This, we can surmise, is Jacobitism in support of the Stuart cause. However, when the infamous massacre at Glencoe was carried out in February 1692, it was jumped upon by Jacobite pressure groups and used effectively as propaganda against the Campbell clan and, ultimately the monarchy. The reason for any anti-monarchy feeling, as Christopher Whatley suggests, is more likely to be due to the King’s obstruction of any investigation into the matter than his input into ordering the massacre itself.

It is very difficult to imagine that propaganda didn’t play a major role in this incident. After all, this massacre at Glencoe was of little scale in comparison to most Highland massacres or skirmishes in terms of the number killed at this time or, indeed, throughout most of the history of the Highland region. As Keith Brown states, the ‘orchestrated outcry’ also had the added benefit for Jacobite recruiting agents of moving government attentions away from the area whilst the political unrest settled. Instead of creating Jacobitism in support of the Stuart cause, the propaganda produced around this event created support from what may be described as hatred of the Campbells and the monarchy. This is incredibly significant due to the power of hatred to unite clans in the Western Highlands, thus creating an atmosphere where warfare is potentially imminent. To the Highland clans concerned with warrior traditions, this would undoubtedly have been a big draw to commit to Jacobitism.

To say that times were hard in Scotland during the 1690s would, it is agreed by most historians, be an understatement. This decade saw Scotland decline in its economic state to the extent that, some will argue, left the nation begging for help from wherever it could get it. This, most would agree, had a major impact on the calls for a union with England, but in terms of the survival of Jacobitism in Scotland, we also see a decade which gave Scots plenty of reason not to trust the Whig government who had overseen a country stricken with famine and poverty whilst offering little help and a monarch who showed a disinterest in Scotland throughout his entire reign, even though this was a period when good leadership was, perhaps, most needed. There are differing views from historians such as T.C. Smout, C.A. Whatley and T.M. Devine about the intimate details of the history of the 1690s in Scotland, but it seems certain that there are four separate events which contributed to this bleak period, whether you call them disasters, or merely temporary problems. These four inconveniences were, namely; the nine years war; famine, which some believe lasted up to seven years; the endeavour for better trade links as well as the loss of them; and the resulting Darien disaster. Although Jacobites were suffering like everyone else, we can see that they could easily link these problems in with their hatred of the Whig government.

The Darien scheme set up by the Company of Scotland and paid for by the Scottish nation and its already limited resources is perhaps the best known of these disastrous occurrences. This is also the event out of the four that may have contributed most towards the survival of Jacobitism in Scotland during the 1690s. The Darien scheme was the attempt of Protestants, Whigs and notably anti-Jacobite members of parliament to gain access to trade routes that would virtually encompass the globe through setting up a colony at Darien and spreading across to the western coast in order to link the Caribbean and the Pacific Oceans and gain trade links with Asia.

Another major reason for Jacobitism surviving in Scotland in the early 1700s was resentment of the 1707 Act of Union and the way in which the English government had breached the treaty with such acts as the Treason Act of 1709. This particular act was an attempt to bring Scottish Law into line with English law, even though the Union had stated that Scot’s law would be run independently. Such grievances were taken to heart in Scotland and this lead to years of discrepancy between the Scots and the English, and to which Jacobitism seemed to provide the answer for many Scots. Christopher Whatley in his book, Scottish Society 1707-1830, describes how, although there were no attempts to rise between 1719 and 1745, the Jacobite propaganda continued to be produced, with the Act of Union and the problems caused by it as one of the main focal points. Due to the feeling of disgust and distaste for the English government in Scotland at this time because of the Union of 1707, it is no wonder that the Jacobite cause gained much support by using it as a weapon of propaganda.

The first major Jacobite rebellion, and one with much more threat than the comparatively miserable attempt at a rising in 1689, came in 1715. This rebellion was borne, as much as any other reason, on the back of the widespread dissatisfaction at the Union agreements in 1707 in Scotland. As Daniel Szechi points out, it is also clear that the Jacobite individuals involved in the ‘fifteen’ were still fighting for their uncompromised position that rejected the revolution and supported the overthrown James VII & II. Szechi also suggests that the Tories, who up until this point had been in the grey area between the Whigs and Jacobites in terms of allegiance were now siding with the Jacobites due to the ‘tyranny’ created by the post Union government. This, undoubtedly, would have contributed greatly to the survival of Jacobitism by bolstering support that may have weakened by the long wait for any real action. Szechi’s account of the 1715 rebellion also points out the mythological interests that were at play at this time in Scotland. It seems that a number of French prophets had predicted times of change and one Irish prophet had even predicted the fall of the now King George I. This form of propaganda applies directly to the Gaelic culture that was in existence in the Highlands at this time and had its own seers at work predicting similar events. The fact that the Jacobite army got as far as Preston during this campaign also has a lot to do with the survival of Jacobitism during the years between 1715 and 1746. Although the Jacobites suffered what may be seen as an embarrassing defeat, it is certain that this episode gave hope to Jacobite supporters and even gained the Jacobite cause support in some areas of England amongst those also discontented with the current political situation in Britain.

The fact that so many Jacobites ended up in exile after the fifteen also gives a valuable reason for the survival of Jacobitism. It was these exiled Jacobites that stayed in touch with Jacobites in Scotland whilst, at the same time, drumming up support for the Stuart cause in the countries that they ended up in. Support from outside Scotland proved to be both beneficial and almost disastrous for the Jacobite cause, with the Spanish Catholics being the main force behind the unsuccessful attempt at a meaningful rebellion in 1719. This, however, can still be seen as a reason for Jacobitism surviving in Scotland, as it proved to Scottish Jacobites that it was possible to gain support from abroad. This anticipation of outside support, coupled with the birth of Charles Edward Stuart on 31st December 1720 is undoubtedly what kept Jacobite hopes alive between 1719 and 1745.

It seems that throughout the period of history in which Jacobitism was at its strongest, it was support outside of Scotland, especially in Catholic countries such as France and Ireland in particular, which seems to have induced or reduced support within Scotland most effectively. It is clear that when support in France was high, the Scottish Jacobites felt that a realistic challenge to the Hanoverian monarchy may have been possible and, thus, support rose. At the beginning of the last major rising in 1745, after much propaganda and due to the political climate between England and France, it seems that, especially in the Highlands, the general opinion was that the French were poised to send over a large force of armed men to help the Jacobites. The prospect of French support gave new life to Scottish based Jacobitism after the humiliation and upset of the rising in 1715, which had seen large numbers of powerful Jacobites exiled to the continent. Charles Edward Stuart’s involvement in an attempted invasion of England in 1744 from Dunkirk gave Jacobite propaganda in Scotland much needed fuel. However, this attempt was abandoned due to the weather and French support for Jacobitism dispersed, although the Jacobites in Scotland were not made aware of this. Instead the Jacobite propaganda in Scotland continued and the French defeat of the Duke of Cumberland’s army at the Battle of Fontenoy was enough to raise the hopes of the Scottish Jacobites to the extent that Charles Edward Stuart felt that the time for an invasion had come.

Jacobitism already had a fairly strong base of support in Scotland leading into the 1745 rebellion. However, this was clearly not the kind of support that would end up supplying over 5,000 fighting men to face the Hanoverians on Culloden Moor. Instead much of the supposed ‘support’ for Jacobitism came for a range reasons. Once again, these reasons must surely be seen more as resentment of Hanoverian rule or clan loyalty rather than actual support for Jacobitism.

To conclude, the argument, it seems, is not so much how did Jacobitism survive between 1689 and 1746, but more was it the same Jacobitism, ideologically, that died at Culloden as had emerged in 1688-89. It is clear that throughout the period between 1689 and 1746 Jacobitism took many forms, driven by propaganda, hatred and the hope of support from abroad due to the existence of an exiled King, a figurehead to keep the prospect of Jacobite success alive.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


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The Methods of ‘Cultural History’

Contextualising this Blog

In terms of historiography, cultural history is seen by some as the most important and informative style of history available to us, as modern historians, due to its ability to describe ways of life and present opinions and thought patterns from deep within the past. Others, clearly, would disagree and suggest that it is far more practical and academic to use such theoretical styles of historiography as Empiricism, Marxism and Annales School history. These theories of historiography, however, could be implemented into the way cultural history is studied and written to give a more agreeable approach. It is thus that in this essay we shall look at and analyse the various ways in which cultural histories have been presented and the way they are brought together.

The first thing we must do, when looking at the methods of cultural historiography, is define what we mean by cultural history. Cultural history, as it is accepted by most modern historians, originally came into being during the later nineteenth century when the line between anthropological studies and historical studies was broken and methods from each began being used together. This was, perhaps, made more easily possible due to both disciplines using empirical approaches to their respective topics of study using the principle of a posteriori, basing conclusions on experience.

It seems that it was due to this merging of disciplines that the work of Edward Burnett Tylor, a groundbreaking anthropologist, was brought to light in the historical academic world. With this came his definition of culture, put forward in the late nineteenth century, which suggested that culture is a mixture of potential and customs acquired by being involved in a society based on such things as knowledge, beliefs and morals. Consequently, cultural history is the study into these aspects of society in an historical setting.

As with any academic theory or method of studying a topic, cultural history has gone through many changes and re-incarnations since it was first introduced. It seems that the history of cultural historiography can be simplified into four main time periods, each focusing on a new dimension of cultural history. These time periods, in terms of dates, came in the following order: Late nineteenth century – known as the ‘classic period’; early twentieth century – focusing on the social history of culture; the 1960s – focusing on the history of popular culture; and finally, since the 1970s, we have moved into a new period of cultural history which focuses on symbols and the meanings behind cultural change. Although we can use these dates as a guide we must remember, as Joan Pittock and Andrew Wear remind us, that history and the theories behind it are constantly evolving:

“Like the rest of human activity, the discipline of history is always changing and transforming itself. Cultural history has been written for centuries, but in recent years it has presented novel facets of itself to the world.” (J.H. Pittock & A. Wear, Interpretation & Cultural History, (New York, 1991) p.1)

The first accepted form of cultural history, in the eyes of academic thinkers, came in the late nineteenth century. However, we must not forget that cultural history, in some form or another, had been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Perhaps it is more a post-modernist view, but surely we can see oral tradition and storytelling as an important part of cultural history. After all, it is due to oral traditions that we in Scotland, as well as in other parts of the world, are able to know so much about the lives of our ancestors. As Stuart McHardy, a modern Scottish cultural historian suggests:

“This storytelling tradition covers a long period. In Australian Dreaming, 40,000 years of Aboriginal History, Jennifer Isaacs has shown that oral tradition can carry stories that contain ascertainable facts over tens of thousands of years.” (S. McHardy, School of the Moon: The Highland Cattle-Raiding Tradition, (Edinburgh, 2004), p.11)

These stories may not be the same as modern historians making comments on cultural changes and history. However they were used to educate generation after generation about the history of their ancestors’ culture and this storytelling is therefore a form of study into the history of a society. In this way, they must surely be seen as following the same description of culture and cultural history that was presented by E.B. Tylor in the late nineteenth century.

The form of cultural history which we see in the classic period is, it seems, a very basic form of cultural study, focusing on science, philosophy, literature and art. Due to the empirical background of classic period cultural historiography, it is difficult to criticise one without criticising the other. However, it is clear that the studies from this period were heavily relying on readily available evidence such as classic artworks and literature due to the need to prove everything empirically. This can be seen as a downfall of this particular form of cultural history due to culture and the way people lived within a society not necessarily being written or painted in something that becomes available to the general public.

The early twentieth century saw methods of cultural historiography focus on the social history of culture. The idea behind this was to identify the principles behind the more visible forms of social behaviour. This, therefore means that the unwritten and, in some cases, such as society under dictatorships, we have access to important sources which can uncover heavily censored parts of history. This is incredibly important if we, as historians, are to get anywhere close to discovering historical ‘truth’. Although, perhaps correctly, most would argue that there is no such thing as historical facts or truth, it is essential that we recognise that we are much further from these ideals without cultural insights than we would be with them, which is clearly exemplified in the histories of countries that have been subjected to dictatorships in the way that history is often highly censored or even banned by those in power.

It was during this time that historians began connecting with anthropology when American historians were researching American Indian history in the 1950s. It was during the late 1940s and early 1950s that historians and anthropologists brought together the strong points of both disciplines to create a new discipline known as ‘Ethnohistory’, which made use of evidence from folklore and oral traditionsas well as from more conventional artefacts. This must surely be seen as a huge step in the way cultural history is written, as this opened up many more forms of sources, which were previously not accepted by historians, to be used as evidence.

With the boom in popular culture that came in the 1960s, came more interest in the study of cultural history. It was during this time that, amongst others, E.P. Thompson and Antonio Gramsci were putting forward ideas and developing the way cultural history was created. Due to the political background of the 1960s, cultural history became studied in comparison to economic history and, in such books as Thompson’s ‘Making of the English Working Class’, culture was seen to be based on economy and the economic welfare of society. Although this obviously gives us a very good representation of culture from one particular viewpoint, it is important to address other issues which affect cultural change outside of the economic structure of society.

Most recently, cultural history has gone from strength to strength. We now have available to us more diverse histories from a cultural perspective than ever before. This isn’t necessarily because sources and documents have appeared that weren’t available before, but because, since the 1960s, we have become far more open minded to cultural histories which may have been ridiculed or disregarded by historians in the past. This is due, largely, to the arrival of postmodernism and the controversial idea that any form of historical analysis is as relevant as any other.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Cultural historiography gained a lot of interest due to the cultural awareness and curiosity that had been formed in the 1960s. This was also possibly due to dissatisfaction amongst historians with Marxist history. It was during this period that Clifford Geertz came into prominence as a cultural historian, along with other modern cultural historians, such as Simon Schama, Peter Burke and Natalie Zimon Davies, each of whom have received admiration in their own rights as being skilled in the field of cultural historiography.

It was Geertz that produced some of the most influential ideas in modern cultural historiography. One of these is the idea of ‘thick description’, by which the historian aims to ‘get’ a culture by understanding all of the ingredients from which it has been formed. This means that one must understand the symbols and meanings of actions or dialogue that refer to a deeper cultural or historic meaning. If the idea of ‘thick description’ is used it will also help us in reading against the grain, whereby the historian uses the information he knows about a time period to draw conclusions of what is meant in sources written or created by individuals that lived during the period being studied. This can be seen as a very positive move in the method of making cultural history and is an incredibly important one if we are to try to understand cultures that, in comparison to our own, are very different and perhaps, at first, difficult to comprehend.

One excellent example of this comes from Robert Darnton’s analysis of the source ‘The Great Cat Massacre’ written by a printers apprentice named Nicolas Contat in Paris in the mid 1700s, shortly before the beginning of the French Revolution. In his work, Darnton goes into great detail about the meaning of the worker’s actions in the story, told by Contat, about the massacre of cats, including the master’s wife’s pet cat ‘la grise’. This does, however, bring about one of the most major criticism of this style of history. Instead of making sensible amounts of interpretations on the information given in Contat’s piece, Darnton goes into huge detail about what he thinks the workers were thinking and what they meant by their actions. His ideas, some would say, go into far too much depth and even, perhaps, make the workers out to be far more intelligent than they actually were.

This is clearly one of the great dangers of ‘thick description’, as, when presented as fact, an historians idea of what may have been happening can be blown completely out of proportion in comparison to what we know was happening from other sources of information. Some would even go as far to say that, in Darnton’s case, it is not even clear whether the story he was writing about even happened in reality.

Since the 1980s, cultural history has continued to gain popularity and new historians are constantly publishing articles full of new ideas and directions to take the ever-changing cultural historiography. Today, we see intrigue into such things as everyday practices like the use of swear words in society and how it has changed and the impact of their use has also changed in our society. Another area of great interest today is the impact of immigration on societies and how different cultures can become merged and what affects this has on them. One of the great problems that every cultural historian faces, and will constantly face, is the difference between cultural constructs and material reality. We, as historians must always be aware that what is presented to us in the media and in documents is not always what is happening in reality.

In conclusion, we can see that cultural history is an ever changing and developing notion and the criticisms that could be applied to older styles of cultural historiography may not apply today. On the other hand, with every change comes a new set of criticisms which must be addressed. Having said this, due to the advances made in the 1970s and 1980s, we are now at a stage when cultural history is stronger than it has ever been in the past, with more routes of thought and discovery open to the modern historian.

In terms of this blog and of Highland history, the mix of pure historical research and anthropological research and awareness is vital. To view the traditions of Highland culture in a pure historical form is embarrassingly simplistic and would overlook the entire meaning and understanding of the practices of our forebears. This is a mistake made by many historians and avoided by few. We will never know everything; but we don’t necessarily need to. The aim of this blog is to use an ever-developing style of cultural history to convey an element of a society so driven by oral and cultural traditions that it may never be fully understood.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


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It would be wrong to avoid this topic for too long…

There are many Clan histories of varying qualities and many accounts of what Clanship entailed in historiography. In this account, we will look generally at how Clanship developed.
Clan society has largely been viewed in terms of myths perpetuated in Victorian times for much of the last 150+ years. There is a lot of detail we could discuss on this, but not here. We need to be aware of it, however, because it colours modern perceptions.

Clan society in the early to mid-18th century was already grappling with changes which threatened its very existence, seemingly beginning in the 1680s. These changes saw the mass hand-outs of landed titles to ‘loyal’ clans by the Stuart dynasty – although what loyalty meant then was more political and theoretical than active.

This leads to a problem for us today. The shortbread tin clansman wasn’t invented yet; and the medieval clan warriors were already a thing of the past; so Clan society at the time of Culloden was a delicately balanced perch between the old and the yet to be invented.

Plant badges were the most important thing during times of battle. Plant badges were more than just an emblem of what clan or regiment you were in. They didn’t hold magical powers or were part of Pictish rituals; but they did bring the power of your forebears to the battlefield with you. This point must not be underplayed as it would have meant a great deal to an individual in times of stress (like battle) and still means a great deal for many clans-people today.

Story-telling, in this context, was incredibly important. The folk traditions of a clan and the shared belief in a behaviour style outweighed any political directorship. Clear examples are the Camerons – loyal to one household (the Stuarts) to a fault; the MacGregors – wheelers and dealers who would take opportunity over security and protect each other regardless of the potential for survival; the Mackenzies – political and shrewd with an understanding that power was best won off the battlefield. Each of these examples has stories and traditions attached to them which go back into the early histories of these clans. To think that this didn’t mean something to an ordinary clansman is ignorant of the evidence from Gàidhlig tradition; particularly that of communication styles and nicknames.

The changing face of clanship in the early 1700s saw Clan Chiefs, Chieftains and their households become less involved in day to day clan life than their ancestors had been. This was a gradual process which some families grasped and others attempted to push against. But in very general terms, the connection between clansman and chief became more distant as political unrest in the 18th century grew. Traditions, however, still remained and an inherent loyalty was still present, but again this was fading in some cases.

The notion that all clansmen are related to a chief is both mythological and factual in similar quantities. In many areas it holds truth, but this is due to people not moving far (despite possibly travelling widely) and genetic pools being relatively small – although there were rules enforced back to the 1400s about whom could marry whom. In terms of clan life this suited biologically because strong genes would survive and be passed on which suited the living arrangements of particular clans, also creating the sorts of physical features and genetic dispositions which may have led to nicknames that survive to this day (e.g. Cameron – the crooked nose).

The 18th century also saw the first period in the history of Scotland where people took clan names with them where they went. This breaks with clan naming traditions that went back to the earliest Gàidhlig estate inhabitations in the 12th and 13th centuries. In terms of ‘Clan’ regiments at the Battle of Culloden this leads to the mixture of clan names we see beneath one chief or estate owner of another clan name. This means that in any other period of history those men would not have been known as the ‘clan’ our modern view tells us they are, but would have instead assimilated to belonging of the clan of the regimental commander. This is a myth once perpetuated at sites like Culloden by presuming that a number of men in a regiment constituted the involvement of a clan of their name.

Traditionally Clan estates were the backbone of clan territories. This still existed to and perhaps past Culloden, but was virtually wiped out during the clearance period and then re-packaged by Victorian historians. See any ‘Clan Map’ and this will be the result of that re-packaging for an audience who lacked understanding of its origins, despite the most widely circulated one originating from relatively accurate groupings of estates in acts of parliament passed in 1587 and 1594.

Estates were grouped together under one clan name due to the overall and overarching position of a clan chief, who was usually one of several landed gentry in a family, with his own clan estate to look after as well. The people who lived in these estates whether related to the Chief by blood or not, took on the name of the clan; but not in our modern baptismal way of thinking.

Let’s take the example of a man named John Allan Cameron (Iain Ailean Camshron) who lived in Fassfern at that time on his own clan’s territory at Locheil. He has a father named James (Seumas) and a Granda named Rory (Ruaraidh). He’s well known for his fair hair (Bàn) and his love of the mountains. His correct name would have been something along the lines of “Iain Mac Seamus Mhic Ruaraidh sléibhteoir a’ Am Fasadh Feàrna Camshron a’ Loch Iall”. He would have also had a nickname based on his appearance, a disability or something he’d done which was worthy of note and that would have been his everyday name. Iain Bàn would be appropriate due to his fair hair.

Poor John would probably have had an English translation in the late 18th century too, which could be absolutely anything relating to any of the Gàidhlig names, hence why we have so many names which congregate on one clan today and claim to be ‘septs’. Some translations may have been Ian Jameson; Ian MacRory; John Slettor; John Fearne; Ian Fasey; John Locheil; Ian Ban. Almost certainly John’s name would not have come out of that mix as John Cameron and those that did come out of that period with distinct clan names may have already lost the Gàidhlig naming traditions long before the mass translations of Gàidhlig names in the late 18th century. It is also this misunderstanding of Gàidhlig names that leads to the absolute myth that Mc names come from Ireland and Mac names from Scotland. Both come from the Gaelic or Gàidhlig Mac, meaning ‘son of’. Women at all times would have used Nic (‘daughter of’) before the translations.

In reality, Clanship is a wide and intricate topic which will come in and out of posts on this blog from time to time. But for an accurate principal summary we can view Clanship as the grouping of people both related and unrelated under the guidance of a chief from whom, prior to the 18th century, they would almost certainly have taken their name on top of a day to day nickname. These groups of people would have offered each other protection and security in return for skills and knowledge and a community that was tight-knit and culturally driven was the outcome.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.