1746 On August 1, 1746 the Act of Proscription (19 Geo. 2, c. 39) came into effect in Scotland. This was part of a series of efforts to assimilate the unruly Scottish Highlands while ending their ability to revolt, and the first of the ‘King’s laws’ which sought to crush the Clan system in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of ‘FortyFive. These laws were finally repealed in 1782. The British forces under the Duke of Cumberland had been brutal in putting down any hint of Jacobite resistance among Highlanders, and the Act can be seen as Parliament asserting the supremacy of the Civil Courts over unconstitutional military coercion. It was mainly a restatement of the earlier Disarming Act, but with more severe punishments which this time were rigorously enforced. Punishments started with fines, with jail until payment and possible forced conscription for late payment. Repeat offenders were “liable to be transported to any of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years”, effectively indentured slavery. Dr. Samuel Johnson commented that “the last law by which the Highlanders are deprived of their arms, has operated with efficacy beyond expectations. the arms were collected with such rigour, that every house was despoiled of its defence”. As well as preventing future rebellion this made a rarity of what had been a frequent occurrence of a minor disagreement between two Highlanders, always quick to take offence, escalating into a small battle involving their friends, often ending in deaths or injuries. A new section, which became known as the Dress Act, banned wearing of “the Highland Dress” Provision was also included to protect those involved in putting down the rebellion from lawsuits. Measures to prevent children from being “educated in disaffected or rebellious principles” included a requirement for school prayers for the King and Royal family. Claims that other portions of the Act of Proscription prohibited the playing of bagpipes, the gathering of people, and the teaching of Gaelic (the Highlander’s native tongue) do not appear to be supported by the text of the Act at the link shown below. The Act of Proscription was followed by the Heritable Jurisdictions Act which removed the feudal authority the Clan Chieftains had enjoyed. Scottish heritable sherriffdoms reverted to the Crown, and other heritable jurisdictions, including regalities, came under the power of the British courts.
Act of Proscription
The Act of 1747 came in the aftermath of the ’45, the last Jacobite Rising. It was an attempt by the Hanoverian government to destroy the clan system of society across the Highlands. It was aimed at the Scots that had lately raised and carried on a most audacious and wicked rebellion against his Majesty, in favour of a popish pretender… in a traitorous and hostile manner.
The Act of Proscription banned the wearing of tartan and Highland dress throughout the area, except by the Army.
Government officers were authorised to search houses at will if the occupants were suspected of keeping swords or other weaponry. The Act stated:
…it should not be lawful for any person or persons … to have in his or their custody… broad sword or target, poignard, whinger, or durk, side pistol, gun, or other warlike weapon.
It was not until 1782 that the Proscriptions were lifted, mainly by the efforts of the Highland Society of London
The highland and lowland clearances
– the forced removal of tenants from the land mixed with changes to land use – resulted in disturbances in 1792, 1813 and later in 1820-21. The ‘Highland way of life’ began to break down with the Jacobite http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/humanrights/documents/glossary.htm#jacobitism
defeat at Culloden in 1746. Highlanders were not to meet in public or bear arms. Even wearing tartan and teaching Gaelic were illegal under the 1747 Act of Proscription (repealed in 1782). The clearances took place mainly between the 1770s and 1850s although some evictions continued in the second half of the 19th century.