Scottish Culture/Clan Power


I was curious if you know what clans were most powerful between 1650 and their fall at Culloden, and perhaps which were most at war with each other.

Dear Meghan

This is a huge subject and really cannot be done justice on a site such as this. You will need to do a deal of reading around to get a feel of the subject, and consider what you mean by power. There were those who could raise many men and could control parts of the western seaboard, but, for example, had little or no representation at court or within political spheres.

A good starting point would be: The Stuarts (various septs), the Campbells (of Argyll especially), the Camerons , certain factions of the McDonalds. The McGregors were notorious, but did not have political strength.

You talk about their fall at Culloden: there were clans fighting on both sides (Jacobite and Government) and those who were on the winning side did rather well - or the chiefs certainly did.

The Campbells were, arguably, the most politically wily of the Highalnd clans, thanks to a number of the chieftans and family heads. This brought them into conflict with many of the others - the Stuarts and the Campbells were often at each other's throats, so to speak.

However, at the same time, the great families of the North-East (the Gordon & the Forbes families for example) were also forces to be reckoned with, and by 1650 certainly, while the Border clans had been brought to heel, thanks to James VI's policy of execution, banishment and land grabbing, during the previous century, the Border clans were as pugnacious as the HIghland ones - and by 1650, Scotland was gripped by a series of Covenanting battles and that struggle (which involved Highland and Lowland people) cast a bloody shadow over the entire country. Check out the Covenanters as that era precedes the Jacobite era and you'll see just how influential some of the clans were - try as a starting point for that.

Hope this helps


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Kaye McAlpine


Lifecycle (birth, marriage, death) customs in Scotland, Early Modern Scottish social customs, modern Scottish social customs, Border March laws and procedures, criminal processes and judicial execution practices, social history in Early Modern Scotland, ephemera printing in Scotland. While I have some knowledge of the clan system and function of the clan society (Highland and Lowland), I am not a an expert in clan genealogy. Having traced back my own family over a couple of centuries, and traced others due to academic research, I do know how the system works, however. This doesn't mean that I'm a genealogist. Please note that I do not speak Gaelic.


Research Fellow (University of Edinburgh). Contributer to various books and journals on ballads, including Scottish Life and Society: A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, The Ballad and History and The Harris Repertoire. Freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. Freelance writer, guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow'. Currently co-director of a media production company

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10, chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (2000, Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture,Sottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (hons)

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