Formalities Observed

A romantic depiction of Highland chiefs, in Stewart and Gordon tartans; J. Logan, The Scottish Gaël, 1831.
A romantic depiction of Highland chiefs, in Stewart and Gordon tartans; J. Logan, The Scottish Gaël, 1831.

Every Heir or young Chieftain of a Tribe was oblig’d in Honour to give a publick Specimen of his Valour before he was own’d and declar’d Governor or Leader of his People, who obey’d and follow’d him upon all Occasions.

This Chieftain was usually attended with a Retinue of young Men of Quality, who had not beforehand given any Proof of their Valour, and were ambitious of such an Opportunity to signalize themselves.

It was usual for the Captain to lead them, to make a desperate Incursion upon some Neighbour or other that they were in Feud with; and they were oblig’d to bring by open force the Cattel they found in the Lands they attack’d, or to die in the Attempt.

After the Performance of this Achievement, the young Chieftain was ever after reputed valiant and worthy of Government, and such as were of his Retinue acquir’d the like Reputation. This Custom being reciprocally us’d among them, was not reputed Robbery; for the Damage which one Tribe sustain’d by this Essay of the Chieftain of another, was repair’d when their Chieftain came in his turn to make his Specimen: but I have not heard an Instance of this Practice for these sixty Years past.

The Formalities observ’d at the Entrance of these Chieftains upon the Government of their Clans, were as follow:

A Heap of Stones was erected in form of a Pyramid, on the top of which the young Chieftain was plac’d, his Friends and Followers standing in a Circle round about him, his Elevation signifying his Authority over them, and their standing below their Subjection to him. One of his principal Friends deliver’d into his Hands the Sword worn by his Father, and there was a white Rod deliver’d to him likewise at the same time.

Immediately after, the Chief Druid (or Orator) stood close to the Pyramid, and pronounc’d a Rhetorical Panegyric, setting forth the antient Pedigree, Valour, and Liberality of the Family as Incentives to the young Chieftain, and fit for his imitation.

—  A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, Martin Martin, 1703.

Author: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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