History of Scotland

The Birth of Scotland

Scotland’s history is long and unique. Many battles and wars have been fought and won in Scotland, and our rich heritage owes no small thanks to Scotland’s colourful history.

Scotland’s recorded history began with the arrival of the Roman Empire. Despite building two impressive fortifications – Hadrian’s Wall to defend the northern border, and Antonine Wall to advance it forward – the Romans never truly conquered Caledonia. Unable to defeat the Caledonians and Picts, the Romans eventually withdrew and over time retreated away from Britain.

The arrival of the Vikings occurred around 800AD as they began migrating from Norway and Denmark, crossing the treacherous North Sea to trade and settle in Scotland. While Vikings began to settle in the west, the Picts were forging a new kingdom; the Kingdom of Alba.

Fighting for Independence

In the 13th century, Alexander II and his son clashed with the Norwegian king, Hakon, at the Battle of Largs in Ayrshire, fighting for territories in the west of Scotland. Three years later, Magnus Hakonarson gave up Scotland’s western coast to Alexander III.

A succession crisis brought unrest to Scotland after the death of Alexander III. England’s monarch, Edward I, believed he should be recognised as overlord of Scotland and his troops marched north in a series of bloody sieges. In 1297, Edward’s army planned to cross the River Forth at Stirling Bridge; the Scots seized the opportunity to attack at the crossing of the River Forth, the Stirling Bridge, forcing the English army to retreat. It was here one of Scotland’s most famous figures, William Wallace, earned his place in the history books forever.

Scotland was yet to win its freedom. Wars for Scottish independence followed, as the Scots attempted to rid themselves of English influence. William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are famous figures in the history of Scottish independence, though the conflicts continued for centuries after the lives of these two figureheads.

The Union of the Crowns

In 1542 Mary is crowned Queen of Scots at just nine months old. Her reign was marked by civil unrest during the Rough Wooing and conflict between the Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. Worried Mary would try to launch a Catholic plot against her, Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary in England until her execution in 1597.

James VI succeeded the throne at just 13 months old after Mary was forced to abdicate. When Elizabeth I died with no children, James VI succeeded to the English throne and became James VI & I – a historic move that’s now known as the Union of the Crowns.

In 1707 The Act of Union brought Scotland even closer to Britain by creating a single Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain at the Palace of Westminster.

Civil Unrest

The Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the final Jacobite rising and the last battle fought on British soil. The Jacobites were no match for the Hanoverian army – the battle lasted just an hour and the army was brutally crushed.

Shortly after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, a period known as the Highland Clearances began. A number of laws were introduced in an attempt to assimilate the Highlanders; speaking Gaelic and wearing traditional tartan attire was banned, and clan chiefs had their rights to jurisdiction removed.

The Age of Enlightenment

The ideas from philosophers living in Scotland during The Age of Enlightenment shaped the modern world. The intellectual movement sought to understand the natural world and the human mind and ranged across philosophy, chemistry, geology, engineering, technology, poetry, medicine, economics and history. Figures like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott are still celebrated for their achievements.

Into the 21st Century

Films like Braveheart and Trainspotting helped to establish Scotland as a cultural powerhouse; authors, artists and musicians from Scotland were enjoying renewed success. J.K. Rowling wrote the global phenomenon Harry Potter in Edinburgh, and in 1997 scientists from the Roslin Institute successfully cloned the first mammal from an adult cell, Dolly the Sheep.

The growth of Scottish nationalism triggered the demand for a devolution referendum. In September 1997 the vote was in favour of devolved powers and in 1999 the Scottish Parliament reconvened for the first time in nearly 300 years, ushering in a new era for the Scottish people.

The devolved government for Scotland is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs and transport.

On the 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland voted in the Independence Referendum. In response to the question, 'Should Scotland be an independent country', 45% voted ‘Yes’ and 55% voted ‘No’.