Roxanne Reddington-Wilde

Yours at Power: Knowing One’s Place in the Early Modern Scottish Highlands (16th-18th C.)

Equality was not a social ideal in the Early Modern Scottish Highlands of the 16th – 18th C.

“Be yours assurit at his command;”(#26) “Your is assuritly att his power;”(#27) “Your Ladyship is to command at service”(#40): Cranky Colin Campbell—Laird of Glenorchy; his universally beloved wife, Kait Ruthven; their Campbell friends… and MacGregor enemies closed letters to each other with these and similar statements. Each knew their place in society’s hierarchy as they manipulated social relationships to their own, personal and clan ends.

The mid-16th C. Campbell of Glenorchy letter collection becomes a springboard to explore how Highlanders understood and expressed their place. Gaelic poetry, Highland architecture and Scottish painting, legal contracts, and English travel writings all expand on the relationship clues found in letters. Why did Highlanders insist on maintaining inequality? Was it ever set aside within family, between friends or husband and wife? Without an understanding of and appreciation for the role of unequal power relations between people, one cannot begin to understand Highland society of the period or the Campbell/MacGregor feud.

Roxanne Reddington-Wilde, PhD, professor of Cambridge College