The church and the highlands



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1 The " Albanic Duan," a composition of doubtful authenticity, applies the epithet of Aird Riaghla to Indulf, the son of Con­stantino II. One or two other Scottish kings affected this title, though they scarcely enjoyed it. Where there were no under or subordinate kings, there could not well be a high king.

2 O'Curry {Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish) also translates the word, " Lord High Steward." Chalmers {Caledonia) gives "Lord." dignity among the Irish on the hypothesis that, being a Pictish title, its existence among them is therefore not to be expected. " For the manners and customs of early Scotland," he says,1 "Skene goes to Ireland, and transfers the whole social system to Pictavia; so, as the latest example, does Mr Andrew Lang." But surely the Book of Deer ought to have warned them that all this is utterly wrong. The public life outlined there resembles the Irish, but it is not the same. . . . The word Mòrmaor means ' Lord,' but it must be a Gaelic translation of the Pictish word," etc.

Dr MacBain is certainly a respectable authority on the Celtic history of Scotland; but his contention that the word Mormhaor is necessarily the Gaelic rendering of a Pictish appellation, because the former is hybrid, is hardly supportable. It is true, no doubt, that the social system outlined in the Booh of Deer differs considerably from that which obtained in Ireland3 at the time in which the Book was com­posed, and especially would this appear to be so in respect of nobility, of which three grades only are therein mentioned.4 But it should be borne in mind that the name and office of Maor were common to the whole Celtic people,5 there being numerous instances of its occurrence in Ireland, Gaul, Wales and Man ; so that the office or dignity of Mormhaor, or great ruler, was more probably a simple develop-

1 Excursus to Skene's Highlanders of Scotland.

2 History of Scotland.

3 In Ireland there were nineteen grades of nobility. See Appendix to O'Curry's Customs and Manners of the Ancient Irish, where will be found two interesting tracts dealing with this subject.

* Namely—Righ, Mormhaor and Toiseach. 5 For an interesting dissertation on this topic, see O'Curry, Vol. I. (Introduction), p. cxxiv.

ment—peculiar to Scotland, indeed—of a function which was known and practised wherever the Celtic system of government obtained. Moreover, the fact that the word Mòrmhaor is hybrid does not necessarily point to the conclusion that this appellation is a Gaelic translation and has a Pictish original. What is the word Ard-Rìgh (Ard, high, Rìgh, king), which was essentially a Gaelic title, but a hybrid word ? And the same observation is equally true of the Gaelic Oir Thighearna (an under lord), Duirì-uasal (a gentleman or man of noble birth), and of a number of others that could be mentioned. It is more probable, therefore, since the Scots, though conquerors, may be allowed to have imposed some of their manners and customs on the Picts, that, instead of being a Pictish institution, the Mòrmhaor was indeed a Gaelic development; and this theory, it is here worthy of remark, finds singular confirmation in the Book of Deer itself, wherein the only other two grades of nobility mentioned, namely Righ and Tòiseach,1 are unmistakably Gaelic and, therefore, according to Dr MacBain, non-Pictish titles. Strange as it may seem, the Celtic system of government attained a greater degree of stability, and reached a higher stage of development in Scotland than ever it did in Ireland, in spite of the latter country's undoubted superiority in respect of population, laws, art, letters and other concomitants of civilisation; and it is possible that it was during some very early period of comparative peace and prosperity in Scotland, that the development we have referred to actually took place.3

1 Irish Taoisach, Manx Tosiaght- Yoarrey.

2 Celtic Ireland was always a sea of trouble. What might have happened in the way of national unification had King Brian Boroimhe survived Cluaintarbh is useless speculation.

It is curious that the author of Scotland under her Early Kings, who, in his day, did so much to dissipate the idle pretensions and to expose the false chronology of feudal writers, should himself have been at so much pains to discover the Mòrmhaor in an almost purely feudal light. " The Maor, indeed," (he says)1 " was an official familiar to the Gaelic people long before the era of Kenneth and Malcolm; and he probably played an important part in the con­quered provinces annexed by the elder Angus and his successors; but the Mòrmaor—the head of a province ruling as a royal deputy instead of an in­dependent prince—points to a revolution in the tenure of land resembling the changes introduced by Harfager when he cancelled Odal right, whenever he could extend his authority, and levied land-tax by means of his Jarls and Landermen."

"The ancient Scottish Mòrmaor" (he continues) " was evidently a Maor placed over a province . . . who often exercised as a royal deputy that authority which he had originally claimed as the independent lord of the district over which he presided. This change was rendered very popular amongst the aristocracy of the North, from the great increase of wealth they derived through retaining a third of the tribute exacted in the King's name from the classes hitherto untaxed, and similar considerations may have exercised an influence in facilitating the con­version of the semi-independent Gaelic oìr-righ into a dependent, but probably far wealthier, Mòrmaor." Thus it will be seen that whilst assign­ing something of a feudal function and status to the Mòrmhaor, Robertson is careful to distinguish be­tween the " semi-independent Gaelic òir-righ " and a dependent Mòrmaor. His words leave us no room to 1 Scotland under her Early Kings. "Vol. I. p. 104.

doubt but that he regarded the latter as an official appointed by the sovereign, and absolutely depen­dent on him.1 His own statement, indeed, is most clear and emphatic. " In some respects " (he says) " the Irish òir-righ, under-king, resembled the Mdr-maor; but he (the former) was a tributary king, reigning in 'right of blood' ; not a royal official, though in certain cases he appears to have acted as a Maor."Unfortunately for the author of Scotland under her Early Kings, there is no evidence to show that such a revolution as he assumes ever actually took place. At all events, there is no proof of its existence; and the history of the Mormhaor is distinctly opposed to the theory. Robertson was misled by certain functions, suspiciously feudal in their character, which were assigned to the last of the Mormhaor,4

3 and possibly—though there is no evidence to prove this assertion—to one or two others who, in course of time, had been brought to
1 Robertson seems to have forgotten that the king was Mor­mhaor as well as sovereign ; just as in Ireland the Ard-Righ was sovereign of his own territory as well as Ard-Righ.

* Vol. I. p. 105.

3 " One example of the peculiar tenure of the Mòrmaor was still existing in the thirteenth century, in the Earl of Fife; for when the Second Alexander and his ' Parliament' levied fines upon all who had failed in their attendance on the occasion of his expedition against' Donald MacNeil of the Isles,' the earls and their ' serjeants' were strictly prohibited from entering the lands of any tenant ' in capite'—holding directly of the King— to exact the penalty imposed, excepting only the Earl of Fife, who exercised this privilege throughout his district, not as the Earl, but as the Royal Mayor of the county of Fife, to claim his rights, or in other words, to secure his alloted portion of the mulct," Vol. I. p. 105. On grounds so frail and unsatisfactory as these, Robertson constructs his theory of the functions of the " Ancient Scottish Mòrmaor." acknowledge, in a more objective fashion, the power and authority of the King.The fact which weighs most heavily against Robertson's theory touching the functions of a Mormhaor is, that the most powerful and best known of these princes never became "King's men," nor rendered them obedience as contributaries to their power. The Mormhaor of Murray disputed the sovereignty of Scotland with the King of Alba himself, and their hostility to the crown (when it was not in their family), as their independence of it, did not cease until their actual extinction. The Mormhaor of Murray is, by the Irish annalists, frequently styled " Ri Alban," which shows how uncertain and insecure was the position of the King of Scotland proper in early days ; and it is absurd to suppose that a prince, who wielded so great a power and authority as the Mormhaor of old, would have consented to act as "King's man," or would have recognised crown authority in the territory which he claimed as his tribes' and his own. It would, perhaps, be wrong to regard the tenure by which an Earl of Fife held a Mòrmhaorachd or Mormaorship, at a time when feudalism was the predominating

1

1 Bede was the Mormhaor of Buchan (sixth century) who gave Deer to St Columba, as the book of that name expressly states. But in order to "square"this awkward fact with Robertson's theory, Dr Stuart in his Preface to the Book of Deer, published by the Spalding Ciub, has the following, " It would seem probable, on the whole, that Bede, the Pictish ruler of Buchan in the sixth century, was an òir-righ or under-king when he con­ferred on the Clerics the town of Aberdour and Deer with full freedom, as if they were his own property." Such special plead­ing is hardly permissible. The Book of Deer mentions Bede the Pict as Mormhaor of Buchan: the theory that he was òir-righ when he gave the grants referred to is, therefore, a conten­tion which, in the circumstances, savours too much of convenience to be acceptable,

b


18 The Mormhaor and his Function

system in Scotland, as peculiar ' to that Earldom; but the whole history of that ancient institution, its irresponsibility, contempt of control, and central authority points to the conclusion that the Mormhaor was a practically independent prince, a character which that dignity preserved in the persons of its most famous and powerful representatives, even to the last. Moreover, Robertson's theory of the Mòrmhaor's being a " Lord High Steward," in other words a court or crown official, involves the idea of that dignity's existence being dependable on the King's will and pleasure, a state of affairs which is notoriously at variance with the facts. Robertson's interpretation of a Mormhaor as being an official ruling not " by right of blood," but simply in virtue of his crown appointment, shows us clearly that he regarded this " office " as not hereditary, which, as can easily be proved it certainly was.

Setting aside, therefore, Robertson's definition of a Mormhaor as unsound and untenable, for the reasons given above, it may be inquired at this conjuncture, what, then, was a Mormhaor, and what was his function? Fortunately for our purpose, enough has come down to us from the past to enable us to return fairly satisfactory answers to these questions. The Mormhaor was head of a great tribe, inhabitating a great district, and was next in power and rank to the King.1

1 The position of Tàniste, that is, heir to the throne, does not seem to have conferred on its holder the same power and privileges as this dignity was associated with in Ireland. Of course, if the Tàniste was Mormhaor as well as heir, as sometimes happened, his influence would be considerably enhanced by virtue of that circumstance. The elective principle, moreover, seems to have been more firmly established in Ireland than in Scotland : hence, perhaps, the former country's greater troubles and unrest.

19


The Mormhaor and his Function

The Mormhaor, moreover, were the hereditary rulers of those great districts or provinces1 into which Scotland was divided, under her Celtic system of government. " We always find the title of Mòrmaor" (says Skene),2 "associated or connected with one or other of the great districts into which Scotland was at that time divided ; thus the Annals of Ulster mention the Mòrmaor of Murray ; the Pictish Chronicle the Mòrmaors of Angus, Atholl, etc.; the Annals of Innisfallen the Mòrmaor of Marr; and that connection was apparently so intimate as to enable them at times to wage in­dependent war with the King of Scotland himself." The same author further remarks, "Not only were the Mòrmaors so intimately connected with the great districts of Scotland as to show that they must have possessed in them considerable power and extent of territory, but they also appear as the hereditary leaders of great tribes, as well as the hereditary governors of these districts. For in the year 1020 Tighearnach mentions the death of Finlay MacRuairi, Mòrmaor of Cian Croeb, or sons of Croeb, by the children of his brother Maolbride. This is a very important fact, for it shows that the Gaelic population of the North of Scotland was divided into great tribes, corresponding to the territorial divisions of the country; and over each of these tribes the Mòr­maor 3 of the district was hereditary lord; and, consequently, it follows from this fact that the
'Moray, Atholl, Marr, Buchan, Fife, Angus, Mearns, Strathearn, Menteith, Argyll, Ross and Lennox.

2 The Highlanders of Scotland, chap. iv. p. 52 and sequitur.



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