That barbarous and mountainous country: the Highlands and government 1745-1760
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
This thesis examines the distribution and exercise of power within the Highlands in the fifteen years that followed the Jacobite rising of 1745-6. Critical aspects of the Highlands’ status within the United Kingdom were negotiated during this period, which has often been overlooked in terms of its broader significance. The ways in which the Highlands were imagined helped to determine how its inhabitants were defined, and defined themselves, as a political community within the United Kingdom. The thesis examines how representations of the region functioned as an assertion of power, by comparing a wide range of perspectives which includes: central government figures, military commanders, Highland magnates, Scottish officials, agencies operating in the Highlands, independent travellers, surveyors and Gaelic poets. It argues for a more capacious definition of the Scottish political nation which recognises the role played by these actors, while questioning the usefulness of core-periphery paradigms for understanding the heterogeneous nature of the struggle to control the Highlands. The process was one of negotiation between different parties, in which representations of the region were instrumentalised in the pursuit of sectional aims. Narratives about the importance of improving the Highlands allowed landed interests to consolidate power, while the appropriation of ideas about Highlanders’ ‘villainous’ character enabled prohibitive legislation to be enforced more rigorously against particular parts of the region. Highlanders recognised the importance of such narratives and constructed alternative accounts, contesting their status as ‘rebels’ and the policies which were predicated on this characterisation. These findings point to a new way of understanding developments of this period which fully recognises the complexities of the Highlands’ relationship with ‘the state’, and the levels of interaction between numerous parties. The British state should not be viewed as a coherent and singular agency but as a confederation of interests, including those of Highlanders, between whom power was negotiated. Insofar as it determined control of territory, and influenced constructions of Highland identity, this negotiation shaped significant developments of the second half of the eighteenth century and the one that followed.