A whistle-stop history of Scotland
There are whole libraries of books about Scotland and its history. But what is the essence of the story? Here we attempt the nigh-impossible: a brief summary of the whole panorama of Scottish history from the first human settlements to the present day.
Just click on the the topics below to read each chapter of our story.
- Civil War and the origins of the Jacobites »
- Mary Queen of Scots and the Union of the Crowns »
- Modern Times »
- Parliamentary Union, Culloden and Emigration »
- Scotland emerges »
- The Struggle for Independence »
The 17th century saw civil war in England and in Scotland, the affairs of the two countries now being inextricably entwined. Emigration from Scotland increased, at first to continental Europe where Scottish merchants and soldiers became commonplace. Scots also migrated westwards to Ulster in the north of Ireland and onwards across the Atlantic to America.
The hard-fought civil wars dominated the century, with political and religious differences becoming bitter. In England the Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought the protestant William of Orange to the throne. Most Scots supported him but there were some who remained loyal to the deposed James VII. These were the Jacobites whose periodic rebellions were to end ultimately in failure.
In the sixteenth century dynastic troubles once again created problems for Scotland, this time compounded by religious differences. The defining period is the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic child Queen of a Scotland that was rapidly becoming a Protestant country. The story of her life and execution in 1567 on the orders of Elizabeth I of England is a romantic tragedy.
In a sense, however, whereas she suffered in life she triumphed in death because her son James united the crowns of Scotland and England, when he became at the same time James VI of Scotland and James I of England.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw the Clearances continue, the industrial revolution transformed the country and the spectacular intellectual achievements of the Enlightenment helped shape the modern world. Scots played a crucial part in the success of the British Empire and were affected by its decline as a consequence. Then in the 20th century Scots played their part with bravery and determination in two world wars.
In 1997 a referendum was held on the issue of devolution for Scotland. In line with the wishes of the people of Scotland a devolved Parliament was established in Edinburgh in 1999, the first in almost 300 years.
The Act of Union of 1707 abolished the English and Scottish Parliaments and created a single Parliament of Great Britain. It also confirmed the Protestant Hanoverian succession to the throne, further embittering the Jacobites. Risings in 1708 and 1715 failed. Then in 1745 Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince Charlie - arrived in Scotland to lead a Jacobite rising. After initial successes his young ambition was shattered in the slaughter at the battle of Culloden.
This was a time of agricultural change. The Highland Clearances, driven partly for economic gain but also out of revenge for Highland support of the Jacobite cause, changed the countryside and drove many Scots across the Atlantic in search of opportunity and escape.
Some 11,000 years ago the retreat of the glaciers covering the north of Britain enabled stone age hunters and then farmers to colonise the newly uncovered lands. Over the centuries there followed wave upon wave of migrants: Celts from Europe, Scots, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings.
In the 10th century the Kingdom of Alba emerged from this melting-pot of vibrant cultures, though it was not yet Scotland as we know it today. Described sometimes as the King who made Scotland, David I (1124 -1153) imposed royal power and turned Scotland into a feudal kingdom, modelled in part on its neighbour to the south. Scotland's relationship with England was to dominate its subsequent history.
Dynastic instability within Scotland often provided an excuse for outside interference but an exceptionally serious threat to Scottish independence came in the form of Edward I of England’s invasion of 1296. Championed first by William Wallace and then by Robert the Bruce, the struggle for Scottish independence lasted until one of the defining moments in Scotland’s history, the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Almost 200 years later, in 1512, Scotland’s involvement in European politics and its alliance with France – the Auld Alliance, so fondly remembered – brought disaster. At Flodden Field King James IV, many of his nobles and some 10,000 men were killed in battle against the English.