Justice and society in Strathspey: the Regality Court of Grant, c. 1690-1748
Fletcher, Charles Jefferson
Prior to the abolition of heritable jurisdictions in 1748 much of Scotland’s judicial business was handled by courts of barony and regality. Historians have debated the importance of these franchise courts in the everyday administration of the law in Scotland during the eighteenth century; however, no detailed studies of these courts have been undertaken for this period. This thesis explores the work of heritable jurisdictions through a case study of the regality of Grant and its constituent baronies in Strathspey from 1690 to 1748. In doing so this thesis contributes to debates in the legal, social and economic history of Scotland along with Highland history. The thesis’ main findings are that the baron and regality courts played an important role in rural communities such as Strathspey, where they provided an important local utility, offering legal safeguards and local access to the legal system which was valued by all classes of people. The thesis begins by defining the court’s importance in the context of clan society. Following this there is a discussion of the court’s officials and procedures. Thereafter the thesis considers the main areas of the regality’s jurisdiction, allowing for an analysis of the functions performed by a regality court in the Highlands in the early eighteenth century. The thesis demonstrates that the regality of Grant was actively concerned not only with criminal and civil suits but also economic policy, social control, local government and the administration of a landed estate. The jurisdiction of the regality of Grant is shown to be little different from that of a barony. Many historians have held that franchise courts were anachronistic and generally in decline prior to 1748, this thesis disputes these assumptions. Evidence from the Grant court books, supported by material from the Seafield muniments, shows that courts of barony and regality fulfilled important social functions. Peasants, gentry and the laird all used the court to their own advantage and in turn contributed to a vibrant local legal culture. The thesis concludes by arguing that abolition of these jurisdictions was not necessarily advantageous for the people of the Highlands as the courts’ social functions still needed to be performed after 1748.