The lairds of eighteenth century Orkney
The lairds of eighteenth century Orkney were a kindred, a local filite, whose more enterprising members showed some capacity to initiate or obstruct changes in accordance with their own interests. At first they were usually merchant lairds of Scottish descent and connections, episcopalian and Jacobitein outlook, still feuding among themselves and restive under the lordship of the Earl of Morton who held the Earldom estates of Orkney and Shetland. The highlights of Orcadian politics during the eighteenth century, the careers of the Moodies and of Sir James Steuart, the affray at Graemeshall, the impact and consequences of the '45 rebellion, the Pundler Process, the purchase of the Earldom estates by Sir Lawrence Dundas, the lairds' disenchantment with their new superior and their successful defiance in the election of 1790, all illustrate the transformation of the lairds from troublesome vassals to sophisticated competitors for patronage. Towards the end of the century they were kelp-rich gentlemen, anglicizing their heirs, enjoying the obsequious co-operation of a tamed presbyterian church, increasingly loyal to the British patronage network with its widening opportunities for enrichment by war and empire, and sharing the parliamentary representation in profitable association with Harry the Ninth. The background to the lairds' prosperity was the expansion of the British economy in general and the kelp boom in particular. As always, the success of individuals depended on luck, ambition and personal ability, a 'good' marriage being the swiftest step to advancement. Those wishing to gain outstanding power in Orkney usually found it necessary to leave the islands. A study of the eighteenth century lairds is all the more needed because they and their successors exercised a strong though tacit censorship on the writers and historians of their day.