General Band of James VI

On this day in 1587 the Scottish Parliament meeting in Edinburgh enacted a General Band (or Bond) For the quieting and keping in obedience of the disorderit subjectis, inhabitantis of the bordouris, hielandis and ilis. This legislation was the first attempt by James VI as an adult to bring these historically troublesome areas under legal control. The Band required its signators to give hostages (to be chosen by the authorities but kept at the expense of their clans) as a pledge against the good behaviour of all who lived on their lands. The penalties listed for failing to apprehend those who misbehaved included being required to make restitution to the victims, being declared rebel against the crown, and if all else failed execution of the signator’s hostage. 

Although the requirements made of the Borderers suggest slightly different issues there, feuding, raiding (theft), and blackmail are specifically mentioned as contributing to the troubles in the Highlands. What’s interesting is that many of those who signed the Band were the very chiefs and lairds whose feuds encouraged the “mischiefs . . . wasting, slaying, harrying and destroying their own neighbours” that they were now required to stamp out.[1] In the southwest Highlands, for example, that Macdonalds of Dunyvaig and the Macleans of Duart were embroiled in a long-running and violent feud over the Rinns of Islay; most of the clans around them had taken sides (Macalister of Loup, Clanranald, Macian of Ardnamurchan, Macleod of Lewis, Macneill of Gigha and Macfie of Colonsay on the side of Dunyvaig; Macleod of Harries, Macneill of Barra, Mackinnon and Macquarrie on the side of Duart), and “the whole of the West Highlands was set aflame.”[2]Lachlan Maclean of Duart was also at odds with Macdonald of Sleat[3], and in addition to his own vendetta against the Laird of Glengarry, the Earl of Argyll at one point illegally imprisoned both Duart and Dunyvaig and proceeded to plunder their lands.[4] Yet the chiefs of all but three of these clans have signed the document (Alexander Macalister appears as the ‘Laird of Lowip’).[5] 

It’s probably no surprise, therefore, that this act of Parliament does not appear to have worked, at least in the Western Highlands. Whether it was not enforced or the signators simply ignored it, it was only a year after the General Band was signed that the king found it necessary to commission a judiciary against the chief of Clan Cameron; the year after that saw Maclean and Dunyvaig arrested in Edinburgh, still pursuing their conflict; and within a decade both Macdonald of Dunyvaig and Macalister of Loup were in open rebellion.[6] 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1587/7/70 (
[2] A. McKerral, Kintyre in the 17th Century, p. 15.  
[3] D. Gregory, The History of the Western Highlands and Islands, pp. 230-2.
[4] Ibid., pp. 216-7. Gregory notes that after 1579, when Argyll was made Lord High Chancellor, “he seems to have paid more regard to the laws”.
[5] I can’t find Macneill of Gigha, Macquarrie, or Macdonald of Sleat among those named to the bond.
[6] This was Godfrey, Alexander’s brother. The bond however was intended to apply to successive lairds.


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