Today I’m going to talk about the Highland Clearances, the political backdrop to my upcoming release with Silver Publishing.
The Highland Clearances (Scottish Gaelic: Fuadach nan Gàidheal, the expulsion of the Gael) was the forced displacement of a significant number of people in the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th century, as a result of an agricultural revolution (also known as enclosure) carried out by hereditary aristocratic landowners. The changes were seen to be supported by the government, who gave financial aid for roads and bridges to assist the new sheep-based agriculture and trade. The clearances were particularly notorious as a result of the late timing, the lack of legal protection for year-by-year tenants under Scots law, the abruptness of the change from the traditional clan system, and the brutality of many evictions.
In 1807 Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland, touring her inheritance with her husband Lord Stafford (later made Duke of Sutherland), wrote that "he is seized as much as I am with the rage of improvements, and we both turn our attention with the greatest of energy to turnips". As well as turning land over to sheep farming, Stafford planned to invest in creating a coal-pit, salt pans, brick and tile works and herring fisheries. That year his agents began the evictions, and 90 families were forced to leave their crops in the ground and move their cattle, furniture, and timbers to the land they were offered 20 miles (32 km) away on the coast, living in the open until they had built themselves new houses.
To landlords, "improvement" and "clearance" did not necessarily mean depopulation. At least until the 1820s, when there were steep falls in the price of kelp, landlords wanted to create pools of cheap or virtually free labor, supplied by families subsisting in new crofting townships. Kelp collection and processing was a very profitable way of using this labor, and landlords petitioned successfully for legislation designed to stop emigration. This took the form of the Passenger Vessels Act 1803. Attitudes changed during the 1820s and, for many landlords, the potato famine which began in 1846 became another reason for encouraging or forcing emigration and depopulation.
The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.
A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.
Here are a few facts I use in My Highland Love:
Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, and her husband George Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland, conducted brutal clearances between 1811 and 1820. Evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved and froze to death where their homes had once been. The Duchess of Sutherland, on seeing the starving tenants on her husband's estate, remarked in a letter to a friend in England, "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."
According to highlandclearances.com
Nobody pursued the clearance policy with more vigour and cruel thoroughness than Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, and her name is still reviled in many homes with Highland connections across the world to this day.
If we wrote something like this, no one would believe it was possible. Truth is so much stranger than fiction.
My Highland Love will be released from Silver Publishing September 23.
Elise Kingston is a wanted woman. But that won't stop her from returning home to America and exposing the man responsible for her daughter's death. Not even clan chief Marcus MacGregor, who moves her heart, body, and soul will stand in her way.
Until she must choose between his life and her revenge.