Landmark Visitor's Guide



Landmark Visitor's Guide

A Brief History


It is impossible to appreciate Scotland without some awareness of its history. There are remnants of the past wherever you visit; therefore lack of background information could lead to frustration. There are several key events that are easy to remember and form the main stepping-stones in the country's antiquity.

Prior to the Ice Age little evidence of man's existence in this northern spur of the British Isles exists. Dating from 7,000BC the remains of brochs, burial chambers and other stone constructions have been uncovered indicating the presence of early nomadic tribes, probably originating from Asia, passing through Europe and eventually coming into Britain and Ireland. They settled in a climate that was several degrees warmer than we know today or continued to travel living in caves or temporary dwellings and hunting the plentiful reindeer, elk and wild boar.

The Neolithic period 4400-2000BC saw settlement along the Scottish west-coast with early travellers using the Atlantic as their main route of transport. Villages such as the remarkably well-preserved Skara Brae in Orkney were probably common throughout the west coast where small groups lived off the land and nearby sea.

The Bronze Age 'Beaker People', so called because of the clay beakers found in their single graves, were responsible for the many 'henges' or groups of upright stones found throughout Scotland. These were often formed into a circle such as the Stones of Callanish of the Western Isles or the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney. Most of these date from around 2,000 BC.

Between 1000BC and 500BC, Celtic tribes arrived from France via Ireland. They also settled the western coasts of Britain establishing new standards in the design of their dwellings and fortifications while their culture and society flourished. With them came the Iron Age and the advent of new weapons such as swords and shields, which subsequently lead to a need for better defensive buildings. The Celts, an enlightened race with fair hair and a rich cultural life as well as talent for metal-working and agriculture, introduced fortified timber structures which were followed by stone hill-forts some of which are still standing.

Romans, Scotti and Vikings

At the time of Julius Caesar's first advance into Britain in 55BC, Celtic tribes or clans had spread throughout Scotland and, as demand for good agricultural land grew, were becoming increasingly fractious with one another. Two principal groups appeared above the isthmus between the rivers Forth and Clyde. The Romans merely called them Picts and North Britons.

Roman rule had brought long-term benefits to conquered nations throughout Europe but the Picts would have nothing to do with it. Major attempts were made to subjugate them around AD80 by Agricola, the Roman governor, but despite victories, the Romans retreated south to build first Hadrian's wall between Carlisle and the Tyne near Newcastle, then later in AD143, the Antonine Wall between the rivers Forth and Clyde. In due course the Romans withdrew entirely to lend their services elsewhere in their troubled Empire, leaving the Picts free to swoop south and cause havoc with lowland dwellers.

In the early fourth century, a Celtic tribe of Scotti migrated from Ireland and established themselves on the Kintyre peninsula calling their kingdom Dalriada. They brought with them the precursor to the Gaelic language still spoken in the north-west today. Close behind them came Christianity. St Ninian, a Briton, established the first Christian church at Whithorn in Galloway. St Columba, a Gaelic speaking Scotti, landed in Iona 150 years later and was the main factor in integrating the different Pictish tribes by bringing them to his religion.

But it was the Vikings who finally brought an end to the Picts. From AD800 the Pictish people began to lose tenure at the hands of raiding Norsemen. Eventually, most of the Northern and Western Isles as well as large sections of Caithness and Sutherland were under Norse rule.

One Country

At the same time, to the south, Kenneth MacAlpine, a Scotti king, in AD843, united Dalriada and Pictland. forming the kingdom of Alba, later to be known as Scotia. He gradually extended his rule to cover the majority of mainland Scotland.

Unification progressed under the rules of Malcolm II and Malcolm III whose pious wife, Margaret, helped bring Scotland's religious life in line with the rest of Europe. It was the son of Malcolm III and Queen Margaret, David I (1124-53) who was responsible for the many monastic abbeys that sprung up throughout the country, especially along the Borders. His motivations were not only religious. His monastic communities, largely made up of imported European monks, helped extend the king's communication system and therefore control throughout the kingdom. David I's reign saw an increase in Scotland's overall stability and prosperity as he prudently granted royal charters to towns and encouraged foreign trade.

Alexander III was known as the last of the Celtic kings and continued to establish Scotland's affluence. At the Battle of Largs, he finally expelled the Norse from the Hebridean islands although the subsequent Lords of the Isles were no real benefit to the national cause, preferring to remain autonomous. Alexander went on to forge stronger trading bonds with his old enemies, Norway and England. His untimely death in 1286 heralded the end of this period of growth and, with no clear heir to the throne, began an era of bitter conflict, mainly issuing from the south.

Conflict with England

Edward I, having already crushed Wales and determined to subjugate his northerly neighbour, commenced a protracted campaign that earned him the title of 'Hammer of the Scots'. He forced Scottish lairds and nobles to sign a 'Ragman's Roll' acknowledging him to be their king and showed little mercy on those that stood against him, exterminating, for instance, most of the population of Berwick-upon-Tweed, then Scotland's main seaport.

It was inevitable that a hero would rise and lead the nation against such tyranny and oppression. William Wallace was a relatively unknown knight who became the leader of the Scottish resistance movement and, in 1297, captured the fragmented country's imagination when he defeated the far superior English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. His determination inspired young Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, who was actually married to Edward I's god-daughter to take up the cause for Scotland's independence. The pair resorted to guerrilla tactics against the might of Edward's army but Wallace was betrayed and horribly executed in 1305. In March of 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland at Scone and almost immediately become a hunted exile.

Edward I died in 1307 and left his son, the less militarily enthusiastic Edward II, to carry on the domination of the Scots but Bruce triumphantly defeated Edward II's army at Bannockburn in 1314 completing his rout of the occupying army. The Scottish Wars of Independence reached an unsteady conclusion in 1320 when eight Scottish earls and thirty-eight barons signed the Declaration of Arbroath, basically a plea sent to the Pope for freedom from English harassment. Although this was a milestone in their efforts, the conflict between the two neighbours continued almost unabated.

The Stewart line of monarchs emerged with Robert II but control over the country was indeterminate leaving a regent, the Duke of Albany, to weald effective power. James II, through ruthless means, gained back control for the crown from the powerful families that had arisen such as the notorious 'Black Douglases'. The internal power struggle continued through the reigns of James III and then James IV who, on trying to lend support to his French allies against the English, was killed at the Battle of Flodden.

James V's daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, on the death of her father, came to the throne when she was but one week old. She instantly attracted the attention of the English King, Henry VIII, who wished her to marry his 5-year-old son, Edward, and bring Scotland under his authority. His aggressive, pre-marital campaign was later dubbed by Sir Walter Scott as the 'Rough Wooing' when much of southern Scotland was destroyed in Henry's attempt to seal the love-match.

Instead, Mary was spirited off to France to marry the dauphin, Francis. Mary, versed in the ways of a Catholic France, returned to Scotland some 13 years later on the demise of her sickly spouse and was faced with a country on the brink of religious transformation.

Religious dissent

Known as the Reformation and based on Lutheran principles and already supported from a converted England, advocates of the new religion such as George Wishart and John Knox attempted to oust the corpulent, hierarchical Catholic Church and replace it with Protestantism. With the Confession of Faith in 1560 the Pope authority was denied and mass outlawed.

The returning catholic Mary Queen of Scots tried to navigate a middle route between the two opposing religions as well as the powerful, land-owning barons whom she relied on for support. But this did little to help her turbulent period of rule and her suspicious cousin, Elizabeth I of England, finally betrayed her. After 20 years imprisonment she was beheaded.

It was her son, James VI of Scotland who brought the two nations of England and Scotland together. In a glimmer of confederacy, the Union of the Crowns in 1603 made him James VI of Scotland and James I of England. Following his coronation he quickly settled his court in London and came back to his native land only once during his reign, leaving Scotland much neglected.

The religious issue remained confused through James VI reign and into his son's Charles I who advocated a form of Catholicism, Episcopacy. The results, when he tried to administer this to his Scottish subjects, lead to one of the most perplexing and ferocious eras of Scotland's history.

The signing of the National Covenant in 1685 was an attempt to thwart Charles' 'Popery' and it raised Charles to war. However the attempt backfired on the monarch so badly that he ended up declaring war on his own Parliament for their reluctance to back his battle plans.

The ambivalence of this period came out when Scots, who largely rejected King Charles' reforms, decided to support him. This lead to the Marquis of Montrose raising an army against the Covenanters. This was of small interest compared to the Civil War that had erupted south of the border with the Covenanters and the Parliamentarians waging war against the crown.

Finally, divisions between factions caused Cromwell to invade Scotland forcing Charles II into temporary exile. His return in 1660 brought the 'Killing Times' where many Covenanters were put to death for practising their beliefs. Scotland's religious wars finally ended with the reign of Mary and William of Orange and the restoration of the Presbyterian Church.

Political unification

The Union of Parliaments, as opposed to the Union of Crowns, came about in a period when Scotland faced bankruptcy and further war. Mounting pressure was being brought to bear on merchants trading across the border and concern abounded that a catholic Stewart king should regain the Scottish crown. To avoid this, the Scottish Parliament voted itself out of existence and elected forty-five Members of Parliament and sixteen peers to sit in the Houses of Parliament in London. The Union failed to bring Scotland any tangible benefits and support for the Old Pretender, James Stewart, exiled in France, grew in both Scotland and England.

The first Jacobite uprising took place in 1715 with the Earl of Mar raising the Stewart standard at Braemar Castle and taking Perth shortly thereafter. Mar did not pursue his military advantage and, with the arrival of reinforcements, the government troops quelled the rebellion. Charles Edward Stewart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, returned to his native land from France in 1745 in an attempt to reinstate his father. With no money and few men to start with, he was in only a short period, surprisingly successful.

The conflict ended at the Battle of Culloden when Hanovarian troops crushed the Jacobite corps, slaughtering most of the wounded and hounding to death any that escaped. The aftermath of Culloden was perhaps worse than the event itself when the Duke of Cumberland's troops humbled the Highland spirit. They sought out any remaining supporters and, with the Proscription Acts of 1746, banned the wearing or tartan, bearing of arms and the playing of bagpipes.

Culloden heralded a major change in Highland life. The lairds and landlords, once dependent on their tenantry for military support found they were no longer able to raise arms. At the same time they realised there was more profit to be had in sheep and sporting estates. The relatively large populations resident in the glens and on the islands of Scotland's west coast were forced off their crofts and given little option other than to emigrate, mostly to Canada and America, which they did in great numbers. It was not until the Crofter's Act of 1886 that Highlanders enjoyed any form of security of tenure. Emigration continued from Scotland up until and throughout the twentieth century.

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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