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The Scottish Undertakers





The full implementation of the Plantation project, the confiscation of land by the Government of England and the colonisation of this land with settlers from England and Scotland, depended on attracting wealthy men in England and Scotland who were willing to invest in the scheme.


Individual undertakers required a cash sum of between £500 and £1500 to carry out all the conditions of their Plantation grant. In reality, few of the undertakers could afford even the minimum figure required to develop their new Irish properties. Most of the English undertakers were men of moderate means, with an average income of £200 per annum.


In Scotland, King James I used his influence to persuade a number of prominent Scottish noblemen to become chief undertakers but with an average annual income of £150, the majority of the Scottish landlords had even less surplus cash than their English counterparts. The business men associated with the City of London Plantation lands had more access to capital but they were reluctant to invest it in Irish property preferring the more lucrative potential of the British colonies in north America and the West Indies. Some Scottish merchants expressed an interest in becoming undertakers in Ulster but James rejected their overtures in the belief that landlords would have more of the necessary experience and ideological commitment.

The terms of the Plantation grants were beyond the means of most of the undertakers to fulfil them. This helps to explain why so many of the original undertakers sold their grants and withdrew from the Plantation in the early years of the scheme. It also places in context the failure of a significant number of landlords to build on or develop the commercial potential of their estate.

The main beneficiaries of the financial predicament of the initial undertakers were the servitors who bought up grants of Ulster land very cheaply in the 1610s and 1620s. Little is known of the financial circumstances of this group. Most were English and had served in Ireland in the late 16th century, either as soldiers or in the civil administration and had accumulated whatever money they had through their Irish employment. Some also had property interests in other parts of Ireland and only a small number took up residence on their Ulster estates.

The majority of British tenants on the Plantation were Scottish and were attracted to Ireland for economic reasons. Many were living in poverty in their home areas as an expanding population, rising prices and increased unemployment led to serious economic problems in Scotland, particularly in the 1630s when the numbers of Scottish people coming to Ireland soared. Migration to Ireland offered the possibility of immediate escape from dire poverty and the prospect of future prosperity.

The response of rural inhabitants in Scotland to the Plantation was in sharp contrast to that in rural England where relatively few people opted to move to Ulster. The English tenants who did take up residence came from the northern borders of England or had gone to Ireland to work temporarily on the building programme of the Plantation but had been inveigled to stay on as tenants by landlords desperate to fulfil the tenancy terms of their agreements.


By 1608, almost all of Tyrconnell, Coleraine, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and Cavan were in the King’s hands. This was a unique opportunity for James I to reward the many who had claims on his patronage and it would be a civilising enterprise, which would establish the true religion of Christ among men. Besides, a plantation would quieten Ulster and reduce the risk of native rebellion and foreign invasion.

In 1609, the English mapped out 4,000,000 acres of land. Counties Down, Monaghan and Antrim were planted privately. Counties Derry and Armagh were planted with English. Counties Tyrone and Donegal were planted with Scots. Counties Fermanagh and Cavan were planted with both Scots and English.

The ‘Printed Book’ of conditions for successful applicants for Ulster land was published in April 1610. Separation was the essence of the scheme. The government was determined on sweeping measures and the plantation began in 1609. It was calculated that there were about 510,000 acres of ‘profitable’ land to be planted. The 510,000 acres were to be divided up into blocks of 2,000, 1,500 and 1,000 acres. These estates were to be leased to three different classes of planters.

1) Undertakers –English and Scottish Protestants. They paid a very low rent of £5.6s.8d. per 1,000 acres. However, they were not allowed to take Irish tenants, and they had to build fortified houses and keep men to defend them.

2) Servitors – Mainly Scots. They paid the same low rent as the Undertakers. However, if they took take Irish tenants their rent was increased to £8 per 1,000 acres.

3) The Meritorious Irish –Loyal Irish natives who paid a rent of £10.13s.4d. per 1,000 acres and might take Irish tenants.

Native grants only came to about 58,000 acres out of the total of 510,000 planted. Therefore, the Irish aristocracy became a minority among the landowners in the province and they got little of the best lands, which went to the English and Scots.

All classes of planters had obligations to build stone houses and defensive works. Conditions were laid down for founding towns, bringing in craftsmen, setting up schools and erecting parish churches.


The list that follows was reported in Appendix B of The Scotch-Irish in America by Henry Jones Ford, Princeton University Press, 1915, and it consists of two sections:
1) the first list of applicants, and
2) the final list of applicants.


According to Ford, the first list of Scottish applicants for Ulster land was completed by September 14, 1609, and he cites as his source Volume VIII of the official edition of the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. The applicants were restricted to English and lowland Scots, the Highlanders being excluded because of the clan system which was too similar to the Irish systems of government that King James I and VI was trying to eradicate in Ulster.

FIRST LIST OF APPLICANTS (September 14, 1609)


   surety, Douglas of Pumpherston: 2,000 acres.

DOUGLAS, JAMES, of Clappertoun: (Linlithgow)

   surety, George Douglas of Shiell: 1,000 acres.

DOUGLAS, WILLIAM, son of Joseph Douglas of Pumpherston: (?Linlithgow)

   surety, his said father: 2,000  acres.


This list consists of those Scottish Undertakers who were actually granted allotments in Ulster and were on the final list made up in 1610 by the King and his English Privy Council sitting in London. The
 following schedule is taken from Vol. IX of the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. Some of the finalists had multiple awards. 


DOUGLAS, SIR JAMES (in County Armagh).


See also:

  • Plantation of Ulster



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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024