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The pattern of society in the Highlands had come to differ profoundly from that prevailing in the Lowlands, but these differences have been dwelt upon in modern times rather more lovingly than the historical facts warrant. There was no particular distinction between Highland and Lowland as such in the early days of Scotland's existence. Differences were not fundamental; they developed, in consequence of certain facts of a practical nature, not from any mutual hostility, acts of will or racial distinction. The real point was that the medieval Scottish state and its rulers moved as far towards centralising authority as they reasonably could, but their success was limited by technology. Kings anxious to impose order and obedience could succeed within limited distances from the centre of royal power. At greater distances the task became increasingly difficult. Policing and supervision were more difficult to organise the further one went towards the periphery of Scotland. That is why the exercise of local independence as, for instance, by the Lords of the Isles, was feasible; and why the best that kings of Scots from Alexander II to James VI could do was to mount expeditions from time to time, to reassert the principle that the Highland areas were part of a greater whole. Between such periodic demonstrations however, the facts of time and distance took over, and power in the Highlands reverted to those who were strong enough to claim and exercise it in their own localities.
Even this feature was not unique to the Highlands. Lowland nobles often enjoyed considerable freedom of action in their own areas; and in England too, the further north and west from London one might travel, the more immunity from royal control one would find. What did perhaps make a rather different case of the Highlands was that, unlike Lowland aristocrats in Scotland, or territorial magnates in England, the Highland chiefs are found very seldom playing any significant role in affairs of state or national politics. Of the truly Highland, Gaelic chiefs, only the Campbells of Argyle were consistently involved in such matters. Partly, therefore, indifference to Council, Parliament and state business in general on the part of the chiefs was responsible for the detachment of the Highlands from the rest of the country. Detachment, arising from the facts of geography and the purposes of the chiefs, was reinforced by developments over generations. In particular, English, the language of administration and commerce, came in time to dominate the Lowlands and the eastern seaboard, but Gaelic prevailed elsewhere, and a language border is a very difficult barrier to surmount.
Then, Protestantism gained the upper hand in the country, and, especially after 1690 and the Presbyterian victory, Gaelic became suspect as 'the Irish language' - a description habitually employed by the eighteenth century - and the Irish language was, by many, seen as some sort of adjunct to the Irish religion. The Catholicism of some of the chiefs had become another factor encouraging a sense of division.
In their comparatively isolated territories, the chiefs and their followers had evolved a society whose assumptions and purposes differed greatly from the rest of the country. The chief's power, and his own sense of his power, was measured by the number of followers at his command, not so much because they could be organised to raise produce for his consumption, and deploy skills for his comfort, but because they could be commanded as fighting men. The clan was essentially organised for war, not for commerce.
That is why the legislation after Culloden proved destructive to Highland society. The chiefs now had to maintain themselves as any other landowners had to do, and their lands had to be made to pay. As one observer has put it as a southern socialite the chief needed money, but as a tribal patriarch he could do little to raise it.