Book Review: The Highland Clearances by Eric Richards

“O Caledonia! stern and wild, Meet nurse for a poetic child! Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, Land of the mountain and the flood, Land of my sires! What mortal hand, Can e’er untie the filial band That knits me to thy rugged strand!” ~ Sir Walter Scott

By Catherine Austin Fitts

Eric Richards was Emeritus Professor of History at Flinders University in Australia and previously taught at Stirling University, Scotland. His published work includes an acclaimed biography of Patrick Sellar, which was awarded the prize for Scottish History Book of the Year (1999) by Scotland’s Saltire Society.

Richards’ study of Scotland’s Highland Clearances—the forced eviction of Highland inhabitants in the 18th and 19th centuries—is a serious look at rural depopulation during a period of great economic change. Richards makes the case that the eviction of tenants from Highlands land was necessitated by the hard reality of what it took to make the economics work—with both landlords and tenants subject to a mutual painful reality.

What I wish Richards had looked at was the impact on the Scottish establishment and intergenerational wealth of the failure of Scotland’s Darien colonization effort and the subsequent 1707 Treaty of Union with England. Were the Highlands tenants victims of the draining of capital from Scotland that occurred during the process of England finally asserting political control?

When a country gets pumped and dumped, the poor can suffer for generations. What is important to understand, then and now, is that there is a fundamental difference between an economic takedown and an economic downturn. Sometimes, a bad economy is more than just natural “luck of the draw.”

The Highlands may have exhibited a fundamental failure to look ahead and manage an economic region successfully for all concerned, but whatever those failures, the Highland Clearances are a reminder of what happens when things turn down and people do not own their land and lack a way to build new skills or access family reserves and support.

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Related Reading:

Wikipedia: Highland Clearances

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