Lordship and Environmental Change in Central Highland Scotland c.1300–c.1400



Oram R & Adderley WP (2008) Lordship and Environmental Change in Central Highland Scotland c.1300–c.1400. Journal of the North Atlantic, 1 (1), pp. 74-84.

Whilst there has been an increasing recognition of the infl uence of natural agency on human society in Scotland in the medieval period, conventional historiography has generally presented the wholesale reconfi guration of structures of secular lordship in the Scottish central Highlands in the 14th century as an essentially political consequence of the sociopolitical dislocation associated with the Anglo-Scottish wars that occurred after 1296. The establishment within the region of militarised Gaelic kindreds from the West Highlands and Hebrides of Scotland has come to be regarded as either a symptom of efforts by externally based regional lords to bolster their authority, or an opportunistic territorial aggrandisement by newly dominant neighbouring lords. Feuding and predatory raiding associated with these kindreds is recognised as competition for resources but generally in a context of projection of superior lordship over weaker neighbours. Evidence for long-term changes in climate extrapolated from North Atlantic proxy data, however, suggests that the cattle-based economy of Atlantic Scotland was experiencing protracted environmentally induced stress in the period c.1300–c.1350. Using this evidence, we discuss whether exchange systems operating within traditional lordship structures could offset localised and short-term pressures on the livestock-based regime, but could not be sustained long-term on the reduced fodder and contracting herd sizes caused by climatic deterioration. Territorial expansion and development of a predatory culture, it is argued, were responses to an environment-triggered economic crisis.

Scotland; Highland; Climate; Ice-core data; Tree ring data; Nobility Scotland History To 1500; Highland (Scotland) History To 1500; Power (Social sciences) Scotland History To 1500; Environmental archaeology Scotland

Journal of the North Atlantic: Volume 1, Issue 1

Publication date31/07/2008
PublisherEagle Hill Foundation

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Professor Richard Oram
Professor Richard Oram

Professor, History