A Society in Transition
: Badenoch, 1750-1800

  • David Vaughan Taylor

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


This thesis explores how social and economic change within the the distinctive region of Badenoch compares with similar developments in other parts of the Highlands. It demonstrates that the Highlands were not an isolated periphery by placing localised issues not just within the wider dimension of the British state and empire, but also within the ideological framework that shaped and influenced contemporary thought.
Society in Badenoch was divided into three clearly demarcated but inter-woven ranks: the aristocratic Dukes of Gordon, the gentry and the peasantry. The peasant economy operated at subsistence level, primarily pastoral and heavily dependent on a complex system of transhumance. But there was also a thriving cattle-based commercial economy driven by the indigenous tacksmen, who further demonstrated their entrepreneurship through diversification into agricultural improvement, sheep, textiles and timber. The conflicting demands for land, particularly the hill grazings, inevitably created tensions between the social ranks.
The Badenoch economy suffered badly from climatic problems and fluctuating market prices, with two major famines occurring before the end of the century. These apart, however, the economy, and the lives of the entire community, experienced gradual improvement, not just through increasing commercialism, but also through the government’s military requirements for its imperial and European wars – a massive economic boost across the social spectrum.
Change inevitably caused friction between the social classes over issues like rising rents, the appropriation of land (particularly for sheep) and clearances, which, along with the pressures of commercialism and government policy, had almost completely destroyed traditional clan society by 1800. The tacksman class, however, remained dominant despite the challenge to their traditional authority from both the Dukes of Gordon and the increasingly assertive commonalty.
Date of Award16 Jan 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorDavid Worthington (Supervisor), Marjory Harper (Supervisor), Elizabeth Ritchie (Supervisor) & James Hunter (Supervisor)

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