There have been some profound changes in society since 1600. From a predominantly rural population where multiple families lived in joint tenancy farms practicing subsistence farming there are now single owner farms and state-owned forests with the majority of the population living in small towns and villages occupied in tourism, forestry and farming. And yet there is continuity in land ownership; for example, the largest landowners in the present day are descendants of the aristocratic and tacksman class of the past centuries.
What we consider to be the traditional nuclear family is a relatively new phenomena. An important question to ask is how was ‘family’ understood in the 17th and 18th century? How did this relate to the operation of joint tenancy farms and the clan system? Related to these questions is the recognition that gender roles, and particularly the experiences of women, are underplayed in the historical records- making archaeological sources crucial to developing a better understanding.
Does Argyll have its own identity? From its origin in the kingdom of Dal Riata with its links with Ireland to the Lordship of the Isles, to the formation of the modern region, Argyll has had several incarnations with differing boundaries and ethnic makeup. In the 17th century the clan system was still strong although already being affected capitalism and agricultural improvements. In Argyll the Campbell clan were dominant since the medieval period and their chief was the Earls and then Dukes of Argyll who were the main providers of security and justice. The Campbells were Protestant and were on the side of the Crown during the Jacobite Rebellion. These religious and political loyalties were shared by their many septs and lesser clans that sought the protection of the powerful Campbells. The history of Argyll is dominated by stories of clan conflict as the Campbells spread their landownership beyond their traditional clan lands.
As Protestants, the Campbells took a different stance during political uprisings from Catholic Highlanders and the island clans. In the 17th century the effect of the invasion by Cromwell’s and later MacColla’s troops are little dealt with in the histories, as it is the successful rise of the Campbells after the Restoration that has provided the main narrative. The burning of 18 Argyll parishes by the forces of MacCollas army in 1644/5 (see MacColla in 1644/5: case Study) (Stevenson 1980) will have had a profound effect on society and settlement and will certainly have influenced the nature of rural settlement and its survival. The inclusion of Kintyre into Campbell ownership affected the make-up of the tenantry as the Campbells only let lands to their own supporters rather than to the traditional clan members.
Read the related case study Case Study 16: MacColla in 1644/5