January 2012

The Border Reivers

Men of Their Times

In a time or a place without effective government, tit for tat is the law of survival. If your own group is unwilling or unable to inflict harm on others, it will be ruthlessly exploited and victimized by others instead. That is the logic of the “deadly feud,” the state of warfare between rival clans along the medieval Anglo-Scottish Border.

The Radical War

And The Martyrs of 1820

The use of “agent provocateurs” is an ancient tactic, used by governments all over the world to defuse or defeat both potential terrorist groups and genuine popular uprisings. The distinguishing feature of the agent provocateur is that he doesn't just gather information and pass it on to the authorities. Instead, he infiltrates or even creates radical organizations in order to try to talk potential radicals into breaking the law so that they can be arrested or killed.


Forgotten Chapter of Gaelic History

These days, people tend to think of the Scottish Highlands as being the Gaelic part of Scotland, and the Lowlands as being the “Scots” part. “Scots,” however, originally meant “Gaelic,” and sections of the Lowlands were Gaelic in both language and culture until the seventeenth century.


The most significant of these Gaelic holdouts was the area known as Galloway. This region of southwestern Scotland was initially peopled by speakers of Cumbric, a language closely related to Welsh. It became a Gaelic region between the ninth and eleventh centuries, then acquired a Gaelic-Norse aristocracy due to the Viking raids. Galloway was an independent kingdom for a time, but was then absorbed into the kingdom of Scotland, slowly losing its Gaelic identity.

The United Scotsmen

A Forgotten Rebellion

While many have heard of the United Irishmen, far fewer have heard of the United Scotsmen, a similar late eighteenth-century revolutionary organization with two main goals: universal suffrage (the right to vote) and Scottish independence. The United Scotsmen were organized in imitation of the United Irishmen, but both groups were also inspired by the recently successful revolutions in France and America.

Clans of Scotland: The Clan Chattan Confederacy

Ancient Cat Tribe?

One of the most interesting Scottish clans is the Clan Chattan Confederacy of the eastern Highlands, an alliance of several clans under the overall leadership of the Mackintoshes. Their name literally means the “cat clan confederacy,” and their coat of arms features a rearing cat with the slogan “touch not the cat bot a glove,” or “don't touch the cat without a glove.”


Thus, it would be fair to say that the cat functions as a kind of totem animal for the members of this Confederacy, and this is born out by the fact that the cat was seen as a bad omen by all Highlanders except Clan Chattan members, to whom it was a lucky omen.