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The Act of Proscription (19 Geo. 2, c. 39) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, which came into effect in Scotlandmarker on 1 August 1746. It was part of a series of efforts to assimilate the Scottish Highlands, ending their ability to revolt, and the first of the 'King's laws' which sought to crush the Clan system in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 'Forty-Five. These laws were finally repealed on 1 July 1782.


The Britishmarker forces under the Duke of Cumberland had been brutal in putting down any hint of Jacobite resistance among Highlanders, and the Act can be seen as Parliament asserting the supremacy of the Civil Courts over unconstitutional military coercion.


It was mainly a restatement of the earlier Disarming Act, but with more severe punishments which this time were rigorously enforced. Punishments started with fines, with jail until payment and possible forced conscription for late payment. Repeat offenders were "liable to be transported to any of his Majesty's plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years", effectively indentured slavery.

The penalties for wearing "highland clothing" as stated in the Act of Proscription were "imprisonment, without bail, during the space of six months, and no longer; and being convicted for a second offence before a court of justiciary or at the circuits, shall be liable to be transported. . ." No lesser penalties were allowed for.


Dr. Samuel Johnson commented that "the last law by which the Highlanders are deprived of their arms, has operated with efficacy beyond expectations... the arms were collected with such rigour, that every house was despoiled of its defence". As well as preventing future rebellion this made a rarity of what had been a frequent occurrence of a minor disagreement between two Highlanders escalating, often ending in deaths or injuries.

Sections of the Act

A new section, which became known as the Dress Act, banned wearing of "the Highland Dress". Provision was also included to protect those involved in putting down the rebellion from lawsuits. Measures to prevent children from being "educated in disaffected or rebellious principles" included a requirement for school prayers for the King and Royal family.

Claims that other portions of the Act of Proscription prohibited the playing of bagpipes, the gathering of people, and the teaching of Gaelic (the Highlander's native tongue) do not appear to be supported by the text of the Act at the link shown below.

The portions that forbade other acts were covered under the generality of this part of the statute: "any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb. . ." The "whatsoever" makes it clear that this was not restricted to "only" traditional clothing. As bagpipes "belonged to the highland garb" and the Scottish Gaelic language could also be thus interpreted, these were used to that effect.

The most severe penalties, at a minimum six months incarceration and transportation to a penal colony for a second offense, made these the most severe portion of this act.

Following Act

The Act of Proscription was followed by the Heritable Jurisdictions Act which removed the feudal authority the Clan Chieftains had enjoyed. Scottish heritable sherriffdoms reverted to the Crown, and other heritable jurisdictions, including regalities, came under the power of the British courts.


  1. Burke's Peerage and Gentry - INTERNATIONAL TARTAN DAY

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