By now Catholics were reduced to little more than two percent of the population. They were unevenly spread, since their survival depended largely on the lairds and clan chiefs, who enjoyed something close to absolute power over their tenants, including authority in most matter of law. The lairds’ own religious persuasion effectively determined the fate of religion on his estate. Thus, where he was hostile to the Old Faith it was almost impossible for it to thrive. Only where he was himself Catholic, or at least sympathetic, could it prosper and put down firm roots.
In the south of the country two or three small neighbourhoods still hung on in this way, centred on the houses of recusant landowners; in the North East there was a larger community, living mainly on the lands of the Catholic Duke of Gordon; and on several clan estates in the Western Highlands and the Hebrides, where the chiefs and remoteness afforded them protection, almost all the tenants remained Catholic. In these areas the Church had a chance of surviving, and priests could operate with a degree of safety.