Settlement and landscape change in the Hebridean archipelago: Late Medieval Colonsay

C Breen, John Raven

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Throughout the medieval period the Inner Hebrides were subject to continual societal change and varying degrees of upheaval. This was a society defined by familial allegiances and bound by the geographies of their local world. Its islands, however, were not peripheral places but were instead situated in a wider seascape, where maritime networks and communication facilitated trade and connectivity. By the 15th century the Hebridean Island of Colonsay was held by the MacDonalds and granted by them to the MacDuffies. The landscape and cultural practices of the MacDuffies were reflective of a wider, confident Gaelic society reasserting itself from the late 15th century onwards. This minor clan did not build any significant castellated structure but did continue to provide patronage to the important monastic establishment on Oronsay. Theirs was a society built on historic memory, the commemoration of their warrior elite and maritime expertise. By the middle of the 16th century this was a place and society under threat from an expansionist Crown in Edinburgh and the ambitions of mainland families. The island community clearly perceive themselves to be under threat and they retreat into the island’s uplands, where their houses are largely hidden. As the century closed the island clans became embroiled in decades of conflict which was to signal the end of the medieval Gaelic order.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-301
Number of pages38
JournalMedieval Archaeology
Issue number2
Early online date22 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished online - 22 Dec 2020


  • Colonsay
  • Scotland
  • medieval
  • Landscape
  • identity
  • Conflict


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