Scotlands History

Statutes of Iona

In 1609 the Statutes of Iona were passed. It was decreed that Clan Chiefs would send their eldest sons (or failing that their eldest daughters) to be educated in schools in the Lowlands. There, they would be made to learn English instead of Gaelic - ‘made... sufficiently to speik, reid and wryte Englische’ - and would be taught by Protestants.

Protestant ministers were set up in parishes across the Highlands and Gaelic bards were outlawed:

The chiefs not to entertain wandering bards, or other vagabonds of the sort 'pretending libertie to baird and flattir,' and all such 'vagaboundis, bairdis, juglouris, or suche lyke' [vagabonds, bards, jugglers or such like] to be apprehended, put in the stocks, and expelled the Islands.

Bards were the tradition bearers of the Gaelic community - they told the stories and sang the songs of the clans. The Statutes of Iona are widely seen as the first government action to suppress Gaelic culture.

  • Woodcut illustration of a poet and harper at a Medieval open-air feast in Ulster.

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