Mary Bavin on the Lords of the Isles and their minions
George Rhind is, of course, quite correct to point out that the lifestyle of the Lords of the Isles is not typical of the experience of the majority in the Islands, or in the world, in the Medieval period. The reality was a life expectancy of perhaps thirty, 20% infant mortality in the first year of life and a further 20% in the next four years. Childbirth was the most common cause of death for women, fertility rates were low due to malnutrition and starvation was not uncommon. Disease and infection which we see as minor today killed and maimed. Medieval life was not easy or romantic. Continue reading.....
Finlaggan was however a major centre of wealth and power in the Middle Ages. Far from being a remote insignificant island, Islay was at the heart of a seagoing empire with trade routes down the west coast to Europe. The Lords were kings in their own right, challenging the Kings of Scots and forming alliances with major European monarchs. By emphasizing power, wealth and trade links the Finlaggan trust challenges the widespread misconception that our forebears were all ragged ***ed, tartan clad savages who painted saltires on their faces.
Of course the poor were subjugated but their overlords were at least of the same race, culture and language. In England, and parts of mainland Scotland, Normans, speaking French, imposed a foreign feudal culture.
Unequal, hierarchical society was the norm at that time. Peasants owed labour and produce to their lords and to the Church. They had few rights, no vote and were effectively property. The Council, or parliament (talking place), of the Lordship was a meeting of the Lord with his military and political elite just as the English parliament was a meeting of the king and his nobles. It was a rule by fighting men. No-one would consider including peasants. That would be as ridiculous as asking the opinion of women!
That is how the medieval world worked. Poverty, disease, inequality and oppression were the norm. The Lordship was no different from the rest of Europe. Finlaggan Trust shows visitors and islanders that Islay was not always at the mercy of Westminster or Edinburgh but was once a centre of power and influence. Letâ€™s celebrate that while remembering the terrible conditions of poverty our ancestors suffered until the last century.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.