In the 19th century the Highland lairds were financially broken. A handful of powerful families owned the best lands and controlled local economic, political and legal affairs. These landlords needed money to maintain their position in London society and started charging money rents. They began to disregard the traditional patriarchal relationship that had previously sustained the clans.
Simultaneously, agricultural change was happening throughout the UK. Lowland practise and farmhands were introduced to the Highland agricultural practices. The abrupt change from the traditional clans system meant that year-by-year tenants had no protection under Scots Law.
The Highland Clearances were a result of these changes. Lands were enclosed, so that they could be used for sheep farming, and much of the population of the Highlands were forcibly displaced.
During the Highland Clearances many small settlements were dismantled and their occupants were forced to move to the purpose built villages built by the landowners on the outskirts of the new ranch-style farms. Others moved to the new industrial centres of Glasgow, Edinburgh or northern England. Tens of thousands emigrated to America, Canada or Australia in search of opportunities to farm their own land.
Many that remained in the Highlands were now crofters and lived on very small rented farms with indefinite tenure, raising various animals and crops.