By Anne Digby, Charles Feinstein

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The peasantry possessed land but did not own it; there were therefore few of the obstacles which restrained seigneurial power in many European societies. The vast majority of the small tenantry had no leases and held land on an annual basis. Below this rent-paying group, and forming as much as one third to one half of the population of some estates in the nineteenth century, was an undermass of semi-landless subtenants who paid no rent directly to the proprietor. Most inhabitants on a typical Highland property were therefore liable to eviction at the landlord's will.

Great accumulations of land and influence had been common in Saxon England also. Gilbert de Ghent succeeded to Vlf Fenisc, Geoffrey de Mandeville to Asgar the Staller, and Count Alan of Brittany to Eadgifu the Fair. Yet, it is doubtful if the proportion of continuity and discontinuity of landholding structures can ever be weighed accurately given the data we have. Domesday Book does not usually record the pre-Conquest holder and, even when it does, it is not always possible to identify him with certainty unless a second name or title is given.

Major structural change did not begin in the Highlands for about two decades or more after Culloden, indicative of the fact that the massive expansion in the markets for northern commodities in the last quarter of the eighteenth century was much more decisive in initiating innovation than political change. Landlord authority was a vital precondition of the Clearances. If, as is often asserted, Scottish landowners were among the most powerful in Europe, the Highland elite was the most absolute of all.

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