Human beings first came to Scotland about 8,000 years ago. It was one of the last parts of the world to be colonized, but Scotland was also one of the last bastions of the Ice Age; habitation followed the glacier fringe as the ice retreated. This late start would be reflected for the next several thousand years, as Scotland was one of the very last places in Europe to see agriculture, bronze, and iron working.
The first permanent settlements in Scotland date back to at least 5000 BC. A notable archaelogical site at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands dates to 2000 BC; these people were also champion monument builders, following the practices that further south would produce places such as Stonehenge.
The modern Scots are stereotypically Celtic, but these early human inhabitants were of unknown type; it is likely that they will never be fully identified. The first Celts came to Scotland about 500 BC and were a Brythonic type, which is to say they were closely related to the Celts of Brittany, and somewhat less related to those of Ireland. The language and culture of the original peoples of Scotland people soon disappeared, and only remains in a few very old place names.
Written history finally reached Scotland during Roman times. After a series of military successes in the south, forces led by Gnaeus Julius Agricola entered Scotland in 79 AD. Resistance by the local population of Caledonians was fierce, and the Romans were unable to pacify the entire country.
A series of invasions failed to remedy this lack, and in 121 AD the Roman emperor Hadrian fixed the border on a line running from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth. Twenty years later the Roman governor Lollius Urbicus built the Antonine Wall (so-named after the Roman emperor at the time, Antoninus Pius) further north, across the Forth-Clyde isthmus. At half the length of Hadrian's Wall, this border was considerably shorter and more easily defended; nevertheless it represented the northern reach of the Roman Empire for only the next two decades. By approximately 160 AD Hadrian's Wall was once again the border, where it stayed until the fourth-century withdrawal of the Romans from Britain.
The failure of the Romans to conquer Caledonia can be seen as a triumph of the Caledonians and perhaps even as a source of national pride. However, the practical consequences were that Scotland was cut off from the main currents of European thought and culture, and thus remained a fringe, backwards nation for almost a thousand years.
In the wake of the Roman withdrawal, Scotland's population could be divided into four main ethnic groups. The Picts were a Brythonic Celtic people of uncertain origin that occupied most of Scotland, north of the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth which was known as Pictavia; the Anglo-Saxons held territory from the Firth of Forth down to the southern border of Northumbria; the Britons were a Roman-influenced native culture with territory from southwest of the Firth of Clyde to the south of Cumbria; and the Scotti were recent Gaelic immigrants from Ireland living in the Western isles and on the west coast in a territory which was known as Dalradia.
Christianity was first introduced to Scotland by the British Saint Ninian. From his base, the Candida Casa, on the Solway Firth he spread the faith in the south and east of Scotland and the north of England. However in the century between his death and the arrival of Saint Columba, the Picts appear to have renounced Christianity according to the writings of Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. The reason is not known. Christianity was re-introduced into Pictish Scotland by the Scotti, gradually pushing out worship of the older Celtic gods. The most famous evangelist of that period is Saint Columba, who came to Scotland in 563 AD and settled on the island of Iona. His (possibly apocryphal) conversion of the Pictish King Brude is considered the turning point in the Christianization of Scotland by some.
The Scotti began their rise to prominence in Scotland at the expense of the Britons and Picts. In the 7th and 8th centuries, Pictavia was subject to invasions by Norsemen, a preoccupation which allowed the Scots King Kenneth Mac Alpin to make himself King of the Picts in 843 by inviting all rival claimants to a banquet and then killing them. The resulting unified Scottish/Pictish Kingdom was called Alba.
At first this new kingdom corresponded to Scotland north of the Rivers Forth and Clyde. Southwest Scotland remained under the control of the Strathclyde Britons and Southeast Scotland was under the control firstly of the proto-English kingdom of Berenicia, then of the Kingdom of Northumberland. This portion of Scotland only fell into Scottish hands in 1018, when Malcolm II attacked the English and pushed the border as far south as the River Tweed. This remains the south-eastern border to this day.
Scotland, in the geographical sense it has retained for nearly a millennium, was then rounded out by the gradual subsumation of the Britons' kingdom of Strathclyde into Alba. In 1034, Duncan I inherited Alba from his grandfather Malcolm II after having been appointed to the crown of Strathclyde some years earlier. With the exception of the Western Isles, which had come under the sway of the Norse, Scotland was unified.
Duncan was defeated in battle in 1040 by Macbeth, the Pictish candidate for the throne whose family had been suppressed by Malcolm II. Macbeth then ruled for seventeen years before being overthrown by Duncan's son Malcolm III, more commonly known as Malcolm Canmore. These events were later immortalized (in a heavily fictionalized way) by William Shakespeare in his play Macbeth.
Malcolm's victory was a harbinger of the first major thread of Scottish history for the next thousand years, however. He had relied on English assistance to return to the throne, and at no time from then on was Scotland very far from the thoughts of England's rulers. The opposite was equally true.
In 1066 the Norman Invasion shook England to its foundations, and one of the claimants of the English throne opposing William the Conqueror, Edgar, came to Scotland. Malcolm married Edgar's sister Margaret, and thus came into opposition to William. When Malcolm died in 1093, his brother Donald III succeeded to the throne, but his son by his first marriage (Duncan) was backed by William as a pretender. With the English behind him Duncan briefly seized power as Duncan II, but was murdered within a few months and Donald returned to the throne. The eldest son of Malcolm's marriage to Margaret supported him, but the next two younger fled to England, and returned supported once again by the English. Donald and the eldest son were imprisoned for life, and the eldest of the two refugees became King Edgar.
Margaret is notable for one other event: the restoration of the Scottish church to the rule of Rome. Scotland and Ireland had been cut off from the bulk of European Christianity by the pagan Norse and Danish invasions in the centuries previous, and had evolved along their own path. Margaret was English, however, and had been raised in the Roman Catholic church. At her instigation, a Benedictine monastery was founded at Dunfermline, and the rites of the Scottish church were gradually folded back into Catholicism from that base.
When Edgar died, Margaret's third son Alexander became king, and when he in turn passed away quickly the crown passed to her fourth son David I. Half-English, David was to a large extent responsible for the partial anglicization of the Lowlands of Scotland, thus introducing the second great thread in Scottish history up until the middle of the 18th century: the tensions between Anglophone Lowlands and Celtic Highlands. David was greatly impressed by the governmental and cultural innovations introduced by the Norman conquerors of England, and he arranged for several notables to come north and take their place within the Scottish aristocracy. With this act, Scotland was finally wedded to the mainstream of European civilization, after being relegated to beyond the fringe as far back as Roman times.
In a mirror of the invitation of the Normans north, David received lands south of the border in fee from the English kings. This meant that the Kings of Scotland were also the Earls of Huntingdon, and that the Earls paid ceremonial homage to the English kings for the lands received. This homage was problematic, however, as Malcolm Canmore as the King of Scotland had paid homage to the Kings of England twice after defeats during his various campaigns against the English on behalf of Margaret's brother. The English maintained that this meant Scotland was subordinate to England.
During David's reign this claim was fended off, but David's grandson, William the Lion was defeated by Henry II and hauled to the English holdings in Normandy. There he was forced to swear fealty in 1174, not as Earl but as King. For the first time, Scotland was formally unified with England. The vow was nullified in 1189 when Richard I accepted a payment from William, needed for Richard's crusade to the Middle East, but the submission hung over the Scottish kings for some time afterwards.
In 1263 the Battle of Largs was fought between Scotland and Norway for control over the Western Isles. The battle was a success for the Scots, and in 1266 the Norwegian king Magnus signed the Treaty of Perth, which acknowledged Scottish suzerainty over the islands.
A series of deaths in the line of succession in the 1280s, followed by King Alexander III's death in 1286 left the Scottish crown in disarray. His grand-daughter Margaret, a four-year old girl, became queen of Scotland.
Edward I of England was Margaret's great-uncle, and he suggested that his son (also a child) and Margaret should be married, stabilizing the Scottish line of succession. In 1290, this was agreed to by Margaret's guardians, but Margaret died before the marriage could take place.
There was now no clear successor to the Scottish throne, and Edward was selected as arbitrator between the various claimants to the crown. He immediately stated that any claimant to the throne would have to acknowledge him as overlord. With a bevy of claimants, it was not difficult to find one who would accept, and Edward selected him. John Balliol was proclaimed king.
Balliol soon tried to back out of the arrangement, largely because Edward put considerable ingenuity into ways of emphasizing that he was the Scottish king's formal overlord. In 1295 John renounced his allegiance, and entered into an alliance with France. This renewed the Auld Alliance first arranged by William the Lion.
Edward invaded Scotland in 1296 and swiftly brought Balliol to heel, moving to establish full English control over Scotland. Into this environment William Wallace came, and raised parts of Scotland into rebellion. Wallace's army defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and for a short time ruled Scotland in the name of John Balliol.
Edward retaliated in 1298 and defeated Wallace, who escaped but lost control of Scotland to John Comyn and Robert the Bruce, the latter a failed claimant to the throne during Edward's arbitration years earlier. In 1304, all Scottish notables were forced into giving homage to Edward. Wallace was betrayed and handed over to the English for execution in 1305.
From this low point, Scottish independence from England was reobtained and reinforced during the first two decades of the 14th century. Robert the Bruce quarreled with John Comyn for unknown reasons in 1306 and stabbed him to death. Facing murder charges in England, he instead opted for rebellion. He was crowned King in 1307, and the country was soon overrun by his forces. By 1314 the English were reduced to holding only Bothwell and Stirling. Edward I had died in the meantime, and his heir Edward II moved an army north to try once again to end Scottish intransigence. Robert defeated that army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, securing de facto independence. The various submissions of the Scottish kings to England were then nullified by an appeal to the Pope by the nobles of Scotland (the Declaration of Arbroath), in 1320.
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During the 16th century, Scotland was caught up in the throes of the Protestant Reformation. John Knox was the primary figure in this battle. A disciple of John Calvin, Knox's fierce battles with the forces of Catholic orthodoxy eventually converted the country to Presbyterianism, a spartan reformulation of Christianity. Only the most distant parts of the Highlands retained a taste for older forms.
In 1603, following the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth I, the crown of England was passed to the Stuart family, then the current rulers of Scotland. James VI of Scotland took the title James I of England, thus unifying the two countries under his personal rule. For the time being, this was the sole connection between two independent nations, but it foreshadowed the eventual union of Scotland and England under the banner of the United Kingdom.
One of the primary differences between the two countries was religious. While both were technically Protestant, they were almost as different as two sects under that banner could be. The Church of England broke with Catholicism primarily for political reasons. Thus they replaced very little traditional Catholic theology, except to substitute the Crown for the Pope as the head of the Church. The Scots on the other hand were primarily Presbyterian, a movement which was the result of a strong theological rejection of certain Catholic teachings. In particular they were skeptical of the authority of the Pope and priesthood generally, which they rejected in favor of the priesthood of all believers. This doctrine was seen by both sides as radically undermining the authority not just of the priestly class, but of the aristocracy.
Inevitably this led to conflict with the Church of England as well as the British monarchs. While James challenged the status quo, he was wise enough not to force the issue when his efforts to promote the Church of England in Scotland were roundly ignored. His son Charles I was not.
Shortly after his reign began, Charles attempted to impose Anglican-style church services on Scotland. Representatives of various sections of Scottish society drew up the National Covenant, asserting their right to worship in the Presbyterian manner. Charles declared war, but lost his nerve on the eve of his invasion, settling for more negotiations. When the Scottish notables continued to stymie his efforts he declared war again, as a result of which he was forced to summon the English Parliament to appeal for funds. This belligerent Long Parliament eventually provoked the English Civil War, and Charles then had more problems to deal with than Scottish obstinacy.
Perversely, towards the end of the Civil War, Scotland was the stronghold of support for the King. The Stuarts were of Scottish descent, after all, and Charles even promised the Presbyterian church a chance to spread into England in return for an alliance. After Charles' execution in 1648, his eldest son was proclaimed King Charles II in Edinburgh. Oliver Cromwell invaded in 1650 to assert the English Parliament's control, and defeated the Scottish army in a series of battles. Charles II fled to France.
From 1652 to 1658, Scotland was an integral part of the puritan Commonwealth. Upon its collapse, nominal independence was returned with the restoration of Charles II to the throne.
Charles largely ignored Scotland for the next two decades, concentrating on extending his power in England. He did, however, continue his father's policy of introducing Anglican worship into Scotland. This eventually provoked another rebellion in 1679. Charles largely contained the rebellion, but made little progress in stamping out Presbyterianism. When he died in 1685 and was succeeded by his Catholic brother, James II, matters came to a head.
When James attempted to introduce religious toleration to his kingdoms, it was widely perceived as the first step towards the reimposition of Catholicism on England. William of Orange -- simultaneously the Dutch Stadholder, the son-in-law of James, and a Protestant -- intervened in England. Facing sympathetic rebellions throughout England, James fled for France with barely a shot fired. While primarily an English event, this "Glorious Revolution" shaped Scottish history for the next several decades.
The Lowland Scots were reasonably happy with the new royal family, but the Highland Scots remained sympathetic to the Scottish-descended Stuarts. The Highlands rapidly developed into the primary hotbed of Jacobitism, and a series of attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne soon followed.
The first was ended in 1691, when William's forces defeated the Scottish Highlanders at the Battle of Killiecrankie. Future strife was hinted at, however, when King Louis XIV of France declared his support for the Stuart family. The English soon stamped out matching Jacobite rebellions in Ireland, then staved off an attempted French invasion, and peace descended on the British Isles for a few decades.
By 1700, the line of the House of Orange was coming to an end with the childless Queen Anne. With no direct heir to the throne, the English parliament passed the Act of Settlement, making Sophia of Hanover next in the line of succession. In Scotland, however, the Scottish parliament passed the Act of Security, which allowed for a Stuart return so long as the heir converted to Protestantism. Rather than risk the possible return of the scion James III, then living in France, the English parliament opened negotiations for the formal amalgamation of the two countries. In 1707, the two parliaments were unified and the succession secured for the Hanoverians. 45 seats in the Parliament at Westminster were secured for Scotland, and the Scottish legal system and church were left intact, but for all intents and purposes, Scotland was subsumed to the United Kingdom.
The Stuarts were not inclined to take this lying down however, and continued their attempts to regain the throne of the UK. An abortive uprising took place in 1708, then a more serious one occurred in 1715.
"The Fifteen", as the second revolt was known, was supposed to be a simultaneous uprising in the southwest of England and in Scotland, but the former failed to materialize. James III landed in Scotland and advanced on Newcastle, but was unable to take the city. England itself and much of Lowland Scotland was staunchly behind the House of Hanover, and James eventually had to return to France.
In 1745, the final Stuart pretender to the throne and son of James III, Charles Stuart (commonly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie"), entered Great Britain via Scotland. Several Highland clans joined his cause, Edinburgh was taken, and the army fought its way south as far as Derby, England. The Jacobite army was over-extended, however, and retreated back to Scotland.
"The Forty-Five" and the last vestiges of Scottish independence were finally crushed with the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Charles hid in Scotland with the aid of the Highlanders until September, when he escaped back to France with the help of Flora MacDonald. He was then expelled from France as part of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, effectively ending any chance of a Stuart Restoration.
In the wake of the rebellion, British authorities were anxious to uproot Highland culture in an effort to prevent yet another rebellion. Numerous legislative attempts were made to stamp out or alter aspects of Scottish society, and were largely successful, though there is reason to believe that the first glimmerings of the Industrial Revolution and a modern money economy had much to do with the final breakdown.
In the years to follow, Scotland's fate was tied to that of the United Kingdom as a whole. Shortly after Culloden, the British fought in the Seven Years War, at the end of which their star was in the ascendant. As a partner in the new Kingdom, Scotland began to flourish in ways that she never had as an independent nation. As the memory of the Jacobite rebellion faded away, the 1770s and 80s saw the repeal of most of the draconian laws passed earlier. Economically, Glasgow and Edinburgh began to grow at a tremendous rate. Helping this growth was a flowering of culture and science, spearheaded by names such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and James Boswell, in the former category, and James Watt and James Hutton in the latter.
Leading the charge in this Scottish Enlightenment, however, was Sir Walter Scott. Scots by birth and a prolific writer of historical novels, he was more or less single-handedly responsible for setting off an English fad for all things Scottish in the first part of the 19th century. His, unfortunately, less-than-accurate portrayals of Scottish life in centuries past continue to have a disproportionate effect on the public perception of "authentic Scottish culture," even though his books are no longer widely read. George MacDonald also influenced British and American views of Scotland in the latter parts of the 19th century.
While Lowland Scotland was charging ahead, the Highlands were in full retreat. Continuing a process that had been taking place all over Europe for the previous few centuries, many of the small Highland farming communities were enclosed and converted to sheep pasture. The consequences for the crofters were dire, as many were specifically removed from their land (the so-called "Highland Clearances") and the population of the Scottish Highlands dropped precipitously. Significant numbers of Highlanders relocated to the Lowlands and elsewhere in the British Empire, particularly Nova Scotia, the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and Upper Canada (Ontario).
As the 19th century wore on, Scotland turned more and more towards heavy industry. Glasgow and the mouth of the River Clyde became a major ship-building center, to the point that Glasgow was briefly one of the largest cities in the world and the second largest city in the British Empire after London.
Tied as it was to the health of the British Empire, Scotland suffered after the First World War as it had gained beforehand. As ship-building and other industrial pursuits came to be more profitable outside of the British Isles, Glasgow and Clydebank slowly decayed and fell into economic depression. Into the 1970s, the economic situation became progressively worse, and only began to turn around after the discovery and development of North Sea oil and gas.
In 1997, the Labour government of the United Kingdom arranged for a referendum on the issue of devolution: the creation of a "provincial" parliament in each of the three major divisions of the UK besides England. All three, including Scotland, voted in the affirmative, reversing parts of the three hundred year old Union of the Parliaments.