Highland Society was based on kinship modified by feudalism and was much less formal a pyramid than the feudal system based entirely on landholding.
The CHIEF was regarded as father of his people, led them in war and peace and was regarded by the Crown as responsible for their good behaviour. It is obviously nonsense today to suggest that all members of a Clan are cousins, even to the twentieth degree, but with constant inter-marriage within an area, many came to share some of the Chiefs blood and all had a common heritage of loyalty to him.
First after the Chief himself were members of his immediate family - his sons and grandsons, who founded CADET families. They held land, often but not always from the Chief, and provided officers for his Clan army and advisers (and sometimes restrainers) in peace time. They inter-married not only with similar families within the Clan but also with other Clans and with professional families. When land became scarce they entered professions themselves. The Cadets granted leases called Tacks to middlemen known as TACKSMEN, who farmed the lands and paid rent to the Cadets, but there was no hard and fast division and some of the smaller Cadets were in fact Tacksmen themselves.
Tacksmen's families frequently inter-married with their TENANTS, who held land from the Tacksmen on shorter leases, and who formed the lowest strata of landholders. In some Clans the custom of fosterage (when children of the Chief and Cadets were brought up for a time in the households of Tacksmen and Tenants) cut across the strata and built strong personal ties.
Below the Tenants were COTTARS, and SERVANTS who owned no land but played an important role in Clan affairs in peace and war, as labourers and soldiers. The Clan was sometimes described in official documents as the Chief with his kin, friends, servants, assisters and parttakers.
Also giving loyalty to the Chief were some who bore a different surname and these are known as SEPTS. Their origin lies in the late adoption of surnames in the Highlands and to the fact that when the Chief was granted lands by the Crown the grant included the people who already occupied that land - perhaps an earlier family group who came to accept his protection in exchange for service.
© 2010 The Clan Munro Association of Canada