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Scotland Becomes Feudal

The result of the domestic policy of David was to bring all accessible territory under the social and political system of western Europe, “the Feudal System.” Its principles had been perfectly familiar to Celtic Scotland, but had rested on a body of traditional customs, as in Homeric Greece, rather than on written laws and charters signed and sealed. Among the Celts the local tribe had been, theoretically, the sole source of property in land. In proportion as they were near of kin to the recognised tribal chief, families held lands by a tenure of three generations; but if they managed to acquire abundance of oxen, which they let out to poorer men for rents in kind and labour, they were apt to turn the lands which they held only temporarily, “in possession,” into real permanent property. The poorer tribesmen paid rent in labour or “services,” also in supplies of food and manure.

The Celtic tenants also paid military service to their superiors. The remotest kinsmen of each lord of land, poor as they might be, were valued for their swords, and were billeted on the unfree or servile tenants, who gave them free quarters.

In the feudal system of western Europe these old traditional customs had long been modified and stereotyped by written charters. The King gave gifts of land to his kinsmen or officers, who were bound to be “faithful” (fideles); in return the inferior did homage, while he received protection. From grade to grade of rank and wealth each inferior did homage to and received protection from his superior, who was also his judge. In this process, what had been the Celtic tribe became the new “thanage”; the Celtic king (righ) of the tribe became the thane; the province or group of tribes (say Moray) became the earldom; the Celtic Mormaer of the province became the earl; and the Crown appointed vice-comites, sub-earls, that is sheriffs, who administered the King’s justice in the earldom.

But there were regions, notably the west Highlands and isles, where the new system penetrated slowly and with difficulty through a mountainous and almost townless land. The law, and written leases, “came slowly up that way.”

Under David, where his rule extended, society was divided broadly into three classes; Nobles, Free, Unfree. All holders of “a Knight’s fee,” or part of one, holding by free service, hereditarily, and by charter, constituted the communitas of the realm, we are to hear of the communitas later, and were free, noble, or gentle, men of coat armour. The “ignoble,” “not noble,” men with no charter from the Crown, or Earl, Thane, or Church, were, if lease-holders, though not “noble,” still “free.” Beneath them were the “unfree” nativi, sold or given with the soil.

The old Celtic landholders were not expropriated, as a rule, except where Celtic risings, in Galloway and Moray, were put down, and the lands were left in the King’s hands. Often, when we find territorial surnames of families, “de” “of” this place or that, the lords are really of Celtic blood with Celtic names; disguised under territorial titles; and finally disused. But in Galloway and Ayrshire the ruling Celtic name, Kennedy, remains Celtic, while the true Highlands of the west and northwest retained their native magnates. Thus the Anglicisation, except in very rebellious regions, was gradual. There was much less expropriation of the Celt than disguising of the Celt under new family names and regulation of the Celt under written charters and leases.

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