The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords, and Rural Turmoil

The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords, and Rural Turmoil

The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords, and Rural Turmoil

The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords, and Rural Turmoil


Storm clouds always gather over the story of the Highland Clearances. The eviction of the Highlanders from the glens and straths of the Highlands and Islands of the north of Scotland still causes great historical dispute more than a century after the event. The Highland Clearances also generated a great deal of contemporary controversy and documentation. The record comes in diverse forms and with radically different provenances, offering excellent material for exercises in historical analysis and selection.


What were the highland Clearances? What actually happened? Were the Highlanders totally evicted? What were the consequences? How much violence was there? Did the Highlanders resist? Were they forced to emigrate? Could it have been different? How did the Highlands compare with elsewhere? Did the landlords gain greatly? What was the mentality of the perpetrators? What happened to the population of the Highlands? How did the Highland Clearances come to be regarded as an act of genocide in Scottish history? How much room for manoeuvre did the landlords possess? Who or what was to blame? Were the clearances really necessary?

These are questions commonly asked about the Highland Clearances. in this account I try to answer them as directly as the historical evidence allows. Because the clearing of the Highlands is one of the most controversial subjects in modern Scotland my answers will not pass unchallenged.

Clearing the Highlands required the ejection of the common Highlanders from the straths and glens and their replacement by cattle, sheep and deer. It was a policy executed over a period of about 100 years by the old and new owners of the great Highland estates. in the process the Highlands were transformed and most of the people reduced to the periphery of the region, and its history then became the byword for landlord oppression and desolation.

Passions about the Highland Clearances still run deep in Scotland and wherever Scottish expatriates think of their homeland. It is also a subject which grips the attention of economists and historians in their efforts to fathom the requirements of economic change in old societies.

This narrative describes the full range of removals that occurred in the region over a century of turmoil. the story easily lends itself to melodrama; this account sticks to contemporary documentation at all points. There can be no denying the essential tragedy of the Highland Clearances and I have no wish to diminish the drama and the distress commonly associated with the events. the main organising notion in this volume is that, in significantly different intensities, the clearances were tragic for almost all parties involved in the great Highland transformation. It was a region . . .

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