The clan system remained in place in the Highlands until the 17th century. Land was held communally. Clan members farmed their land to feed themselves and their families, and a strong sense of loyalty to the clan held them together.
But by the 18th century the clan system had begun to break down under the influence of feudalism. In the feudal system the king owned all the land and could grant it to his followers in return for services. The clan chief became the landlord and began to lease large areas of land to tacksmen, their main tenants. They in turn rented land to sub-tenants. The rest of the people became landless cottars.
As the population rose, the land came under pressure. There was a need to improve farming methods, so more food could be grown. Estates had to become more profitable. As a result, rents were raised. To make way for sheep farming and deer forests tenants were cleared to the coasts, where labourers were needed for kelp (seaweed) harvesting and fishing. The landlords created small plots for this workforce called crofts, but they could also evict their crofters at any time. The failure of the potato crop in the mid 19th century led to famine making things worse. Many were forced to emigrate.
The crofters began to press for legal rights to the land they relied on and their determination led to the passing of the Crofters' Act in 1886. This gave them protection from eviction through security of tenure.
Click to enlarge the image, read the text then answer the following questions.
- What was the main difference between how the land was held under the clan system and how it was held under the feudal system?
Complete the sentences choosing the correct word from the 'word box'.
- The owner of large areas of land in the Highlands was the ......................
- Their main tenant was called the ......................
- The person who rented a small plot of land from the main tenant was a ......................
- A landless person was called a ......................
cottar tacksman landlord sub-tenant