© Walter Jardine 2018

Origins

Tanistry was a Gaelic system of succession for leadership of a clan or nation, which began in Ireland and migrated to Scotland and the Isle of Mann. It was a strictly patrilineal system in that, although a woman could be elected as leader, elegibility was through the male line only. In contrast, the Picts allowed succession via female lines. When the Picts and Gaels merged under a single King, tanistry was the system that survived.

Tanist

The tanist was a deputy chieftain or chieftain-in-waiting. When a chieftain died, the tanist automatically succeeded to the position. There was then a gathering of all those eligible to vote, typically the heads of the families of the clan, to elect a new tanist from those eligible to be chief. Generally the new tanist would be someone deemed a wise man and an able warrior, able to protect the clan and dispense justice. This process operated at the national level too, with regional chiefs, known variously as a king (Righ), earl or mormaer, agreeing on a High King (Ard Righ). The seven Righ of Alba met to elect a new tanist when the Ard Righ died and the previous tanist succeeded to the throne. The new tanist may be one of the mormaers or one of their clan who was of a royal line. Though not necessarily designed to be so, one of the perceived benefits of the system was that no single family dominated the country as a whole. Whilst, in modern thinking, tanistry can be seen as a semi-democratic form of deciding on a leader, it did have the downside of there frequently being so many candidates that it could, and did, lead to strife which in turn led to violence - the power of the ballot box had not yet been established!

Later Tanistry

Ironically, around 200 years after feudalism was introduced by the Canmore kings (Malcolm III onwards), potential candidates to the monarchy from the Bruce and Balliol families, both of Norman descent, used Pictish and Gaelic principles of tanistry to argue their claims to the throne! Echoes of tanistry still exist in Ireland where the Prime Minister is the Taoiseach (chief) and the Deputy Prime Minister is the Tánaiste (heir or deputy).
© Walter Jardine 2018

Origins

Tanistry was a Gaelic system of succession for leadership of a clan or nation, which began in Ireland and migrated to Scotland and the Isle of Mann. It was a strictly patrilineal system in that, although a woman could be elected as leader, elegibility was through the male line only. In contrast, the Picts allowed succession via female lines. When the Picts and Gaels merged under a single King, tanistry was the system that survived.

Tanist

The tanist was a deputy chieftain or chieftain-in-waiting. When a chieftain died, the tanist automatically succeeded to the position. There was then a gathering of all those eligible to vote, typically the heads of the families of the clan, to elect a new tanist from those eligible to be chief. Generally the new tanist would be someone deemed a wise man and an able warrior, able to protect the clan and dispense justice. This process operated at the national level too, with regional chiefs, known variously as a king (Righ), earl or mormaer, agreeing on a High King (Ard Righ). The seven Righ of Alba met to elect a new tanist when the Ard Righ died and the previous tanist succeeded to the throne. The new tanist may be one of the mormaers or one of their clan who was of a royal line. Though not necessarily designed to be so, one of the perceived benefits of the system was that no single family dominated the country as a whole. Whilst, in modern thinking, tanistry can be seen as a semi- democratic form of deciding on a leader, it did have the downside of there frequently being so many candidates that it could, and did, lead to strife which in turn led to violence - the power of the ballot box had not yet been established!

Later Tanistry

Ironically, around 200 years after feudalism was introduced by the Canmore kings (Malcolm III onwards), potential candidates to the monarchy from the Bruce and Balliol families, both of Norman descent, used Pictish and Gaelic principles of tanistry to argue their claims to the throne! Echoes of tanistry still exist in Ireland where the Prime Minister is the Taoiseach (chief) and the Deputy Prime Minister is the Tánaiste (heir or deputy).

Walter Jardine

Gaels

Tanistry

Walter Jardine

Gaels

Tanistry