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The Scots Feudal Structure


The feudal concept of landholding structure was simple with the Crown as the ultimate feudal superior and owner of all the land. This land was divided into baronies and allocated as the crown saw fit. The baron, as vassal, would be liable for a feu service or duty. In the lowlands this was often calculated in a knights service, or mounted men at arms. It could, however, be for any payment or service,practical or whimsical, and ranged from a 40-oared galley to the blowing of a horn during a hunt! A baron could grant a sub-feu of his lands to his followers.

With the introduction of feudalism all ancient titles and privileges were apparently discarded and even the ancient righ had to obtain new charters from the crown. For instance the Earl of Fife ‘by the Grace of God’ at that time the premier earl had a feudal grant of his earldom in 1136.

This landholding structure was an alien concept. At that time there were Kings of England but Kings of Scots the High King of the people, not the land. In England the superiority of the Crown ensured that feudal theory was matched by historical fact, in Scotland this was never the case.

The concept that all land was held of the crown was never fully accepted in Albany (the land north of the Forth-Clyde) and feudalism never replaced the old Celtic dynastic concepts to the same extent as it did in the South. The report of the Napier Commission in 1884 on the state of the Highlands comments in its opening paragraph on how widespread was the belief among the people that the land belonged to them and not to the landlords. The Highlands did not have the wealth to sustain knights, who were in any case not very effective fighting amongst the islands, mountains and forests of Albany.

However, King David swiftly spread his feudal system in the open lowlands where knights were virtually unbeatable. The only effective defence was a castle. Two hundred motte and bailey castles were built for the new Norman knights during the twelfth Century.