History of Scotland

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The History of Scotland stretches to prehistoric times, and includes major social, economic, cultural, religious and political themes. Since 1707 the diplomatic history and most of the political history has been part of British history.

Early cultures

A multitude of tribes and invaders occupied parts of Scotland over the century. After the 8th century BC, Celtic culture and language spread into Scotland. The Iron age brought numerous hill forts, brochs, crannogs and fortified settlements. The earliest known inhabitants were the Caledonians or Picts, who occupied most of the land north of the firths of Forth and Clyde. In the southwest were Britons, related to the Welsh. An Irish colony was planted in Argyll about 500 AD, and the Angles reached the southeast from Germany about the same time. Scandinavians came to almost all the shores of Scotland between the 8th and 11th centuries and settled in the north and west. Some Normans and Flemings arrived in the 12th century. There was always some movement between Ireland and Scotland, and a great wave of Irish immigrants came in the 19th century. Likewise, there was always some movement between England and Scotland, and between Scotland and the British Empire, with large migrations to Colonial America and later to Canada and Australia.

Roman Scotland

The first detailed written histories of Scotland began with the arrival of the Roman Empire. In 43 AD, the Romans invaded Britain, and quickly advanced into what is now England and Wales. Gradually, Roman control moved north into the Southern areas of modern Scotland. Agricola became Governor of Britain in 78 AD, and set out conquer the whole of the island the Romans called Albion. In 84, Agricola defeated the Caledonian tribes but the romans failed to conquer the north districts. After Agricola returned to Rome in 85, most of his forts were abandoned and the Romans pulled back to England. Hadrian's Wall marked the boundary. Emperor Antonine advanced the frontier north and in 142 AD built Antonine's Wall; it lasted only 24 years before the Romans retreated to Hadrian's Wall. However, the walls failed to stop raids by the Picts; the Romans responded by forming alliances with many tribes in southern Scotland. By 410 AD the Romans had left the British Isles for good.

Medieval period

Christian missionaries

Although there was some earlier missionary work, the conversion of the Scottish people dates from the arrival of St. Columba in 563 AD. This was part of a major migration of Christian Scots from northern Ireland, where Christianity had been well established for a century. Columba's base was his monastery on the island of Iona. Columba reached beyond his own people the Scots and converted the king of the Picts at Inverness. The Irish style of Christianity differed in organization and liturgy from the English varierty that was working its way northward from Kent. At the Synod of Whitby (663 AD) the king of Northumbria, after listening to the advocates of the rival rites, decided in favor of the Roman rites. The Scots went along, and Iona finally agreed about 720 AD. The substitution of Roman for Irish religious ties had a profound effect on Scotland, for it drew the country more closely into the mainstream of European civilization.


About 840AD the Celtic King Kenneth I (reigned 843-58) united the tribal Picts and the Scots and formed a kingdom in central Scotland. Later kings expanded the realm to include Strathclyde and Lothian. This Celtic monarchy lasted until Macbeth's bloody reign ended (1057); he was killed and replaced by Malcolm III. Under Malcolm and his successors, especially King David I (reigned 1124–53), Scotland became an organized feudal state.

Wars with England

The First Scottish War of Independence, Scotland had to fight against the Kingdom of England and was a defining part of its history. William Wallace defeated English armies in 1297 at the Battle of Sterling Bridge. The war continued and English forces defeated the Scottish Army at the Battle of Falkirk, but they could not subdue all of Scotland. There was a truce in 1304 after the fall of Stirling Castle. Later, in 1314, Robert Bruce defeated and pushed the English out of Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn.


Inspired by theologian John Knox (1510-1572), the Scottish Reformation made the nation Calvinist, with a strong Presbyterian Church. The Protestant Church of Scotland was formed in the mid-16th century by Knox and the Protestant Lords of the Congregation. When Mary I became Queen in 1553 Knox fled to Switzerland, where he was strongly influenced by the Calvinist theology of John Calvin of Geneva; he sent many letters and pamphlets back to Scotland in returned in 1559. In 1560, the Scottish Parliament formally rejected Papal jurisdiction. Until the late 20th century Protestantism—especially of the Presbyterian variety—has been a central value for most Scots, helping shape their identity and way of thinking.[1]

See Church of Scotland.


In 1603, James VI King of Scotland also took the throne of England as King James I of England. He was the first of the Stuart dynasty that ruled England until 1714. With the exception of a short period under Cromwell's Protectorate (1653–58), Scotland remained a separate entity but shared the same king with England.

There was considerable conflict between the crown and the Covenanters over the form of church government. After the 1688 overthrow of the Catholic James II by William and Mary, Scotland briefly threatened to select a different Protestant monarch from that of England. The English responded a stick and a carrot. The stick was the Alien Act of 1705, which provided that estates held by Scottish nationals in England were to be treated as alien property, making inheritance much less certain. It also had an embargo on the import of Scottish products into England and English colonies - about half of Scotland's trade, covering sectors such as linen, cattle and coal. The carrot was a provision that the Alien Act would be suspended if the Scots entered into negotiations. Another carrot was the promise of money to refund Scottish losses on the ill-fated Darien scheme of building a colony in Central America. The Scota agreed, and the Act of Union in 1707 uniting the two countries as the "Kingdom of Great Britain". For the next 150 years Scotland had little voice in British government; it produced one minor Prime Minister, Lord Bute (1762–63).


The deposed Jacobite Stuart claimants had remained popular in the Catholic districts of the Highlands. Two major Jacobite risings were launched from the Highlands in 1715 and 1745. The first failed at once. The 1745 uprising, led by "The Young Pretender", collapsed with the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746.

Precursor to the Industrial Revolution

When Scotland ratified the 1707 Act of Union, it was an economic backwater. Union gave Scotland access to England's global marketplace, triggering an economic and cultural boom transforming a land of only 1.3 million people into a modern society, and opening up a cultural and social revolution. German Sociologist Max Weber credited the Calvinist "Protestant Ethic," involving hard work and a sense of divine predestination, for the entrepreneurial spirit of the Scots. Others credit the educational system, especially its leading universities and medical faculties at Edinburgh and Glasgow. The 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, embodied by such brilliant thinkers as Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith and David Hume, paved the way for the modernization of Scotland and the entire Atlantic world. Hutcheson, the father of the Scottish Enlightenment, championed political liberty and the right of popular rebellion against tyranny. Smith, in his monumental Wealth of Nations (1776), advocated liberty in the sphere of commerce and the global economy. Hume developed philosophical concepts that directly influenced James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and thus the U.S. Constitution. In 19th century Britain, the Scottish Enlightenment, as popularized by Dugald Stewart, became the basis of classical liberalism. At the University of Glasgow, James Watt perfected the crucial technology of the Industrial Revolution: the steam engine. The "democratic" camp meeting found a home in the Second Great Awakening in the United States.

In time, the union resulted in obvious economic benefits. Scottish ports, especially those on the Clyde, began to import tobacco from America, and, in order to meet the demand of the colonists for manufactured goods, Scottish industries, especially linen-manufacturing, were developed. The British monopoly of the tobacco trade came to an end with the American Revolution, but Scottish industrial growth continued. Scotland strongly supported the Empire in the American Revolutionary wars, and in the wars against Napoleon, laying to rest the fears of dissension.

Industrial Revolution

During the and the Industrial Revolution, Scotland became one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses of the British Empire. Beginning about 1790 the most important industry in the west of Scotland became textiles, especially the spinning and weaving of cotton, which flourished until the American Civil War in 1861 cut off the supplies of raw cotton; the industry never recovered. However, by that time Scotland had developed heavy industries based on its coal and iron resources. The invention of the hot blast for smelting iron (1828) had revolutionized the Scottish iron industry, and Scotland became a center for engineering, shipbuilding, and locomotive construction. Toward the end of the 19th century steel production largely replaced iron production. Andrew Carnegie left Scotland as a lad, made his fortune in Pittsburg steel, then spent much of his time and philanthropy in Scotland.

Urban vs rural

For all the romanticisation of Scotland and its misty historic mountain roots by romantic novelists led by Walter Scott, Scotland was already one of the most urbanised societies in Europe by 1800. The industrial belt ran across the country from southwest to northeast; by 1900 the four industrialised counties of Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Dunbartonshire, and Ayrshire contained 44% of the population. The technological climate of the times, embodied in the innovative dynamism of steam power, had special resonance for Scotland, given the dramatic success of heavy engineering by the 1890s. Liberalism emerged from this background, the free-trade sentiments and forthright individualism of entrepreneurs coalescing with the radical emphasis on education and self-reliance as a means of community betterment. Despite political challenges, especially by the 1900s, these distinctive liberal values remained strong.[2]

Agriculture, too, had been much improved after the union, and standards remained high, though after the middle of the 19th century, when Britain adopted a free trade policy, food imports had very adverse effects on local agriculture. The industrial developments, while they brought work and wealth, were so rapid that housing, town-planning, and provision for public health did not keep pace with them, and for a time living conditions in some of the towns were notoriously bad. The traditional landed interests was not overwhelmed politically by the fast-growing industrial middle classes for the electoral changes engendered by reform were less far-reaching in Scotland than in England. The landed interests managed to ensure that the political weight of numbers was skewed disproportionately in their favour. The unequal concentration of land ownership remained an emotional subject, of enormous importance to the vexed question of the Highland economy, and eventually became a cornerstone of liberal radicalism.

20th century

The disadvantage of concentration on heavy industry became apparent after World War I, for other countries were themselves being industrialized and were no longer markets for Scottish products. Within Britain itself there was also more centralization, and industry tended to drift to the south, leaving Scotland on a neglected fringe. The entire period between the world wars was one of economic depression, of which the worldwide Great Depression of 1929-1939 was the most acute phase. The economy reviived with munitions production during World War II. After 1945, however, the older heavy industries continued to decline and the government has given financial encouragement to many new industries, ranging from atomic power and petrochemical production to light engineering. The economy has thus become more diversified and therefore stabler.



  • Donaldson, Gordon and Robert S. Morpeth. A Dictionary of Scottish History. (1977).
  • Donnachie, Ian and George Hewitt. Dictionary of Scottish History. (2001). 384 pp.
  • Ewan, Elisabeth et al. eds. The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women: From the Earliest Times to 2004. (2006)
  • Lynch, Michael, ed. The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. (2007). 732 pp. excerpt and text search
  • McNeill, Peter G.B. and Hector L. MacQueen, eds. Atlas of Scottish History to 1707. Edinburgh: The Scottish Medievalists and Department of Geography, 1996.
  • Panton, Kenneth J. and Keith A. Cowlard. Historical Dictionary of the United Kingdom. Vol. 2: Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. (1998). 465 pp.

General histories

  • Houston, R.A. and W. Knox (eds), New Penguin History of Scotland, (2001).
  • Mackie, J. D., Bruce Lenman, and Geoffrey Parker. A History of Scotland (1984) excerpt and text search
  • MacLean, Fitzroy, and Magnus Linklater. Scotland: A Concise History (2nd ed. 2001) excerpt and text search
  • Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. (2001). 752 pp.
  • Mitchison, Rosalind. A History of Scotland Routledge: 3rd ed 2002, 468pp online edition
  • Paterson, Judy, and Sally J. Collins. The History of Scotland for Children (2000)
  • Smout, T.C., A History of the Scottish People, 1969
  • Tabraham, Chris, and Colin Baxter. The Illustrated History of Scotland (2004) excerpt and text search
  • Watson, Fiona. Scotland; From Prehistory to the Present. Tempus, 2003. 286 pp.
  • Wormald, Jenny, The New History of Scotland (2005) excerpt and text search

Surveys since 1700

  • Devine, T.M. Scotland's Empire, 1600-1815, (2003). ISBN 0-713-99498-3
  • Devine. T. M. The Scottish Nation: A History, 1700-2000 (2001) magistral excerpt and text search
  • Devine, Tom, Clive Lee, and George Peden. The Transformation of Scotland: The Economy since 1700 (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Ferguson, W. Scotland: 1689 to the Present Day (1968), Edinburgh History of Scotland
  • Finlay, Richard J. Modern Scotland, 1914-2000. (2006). 424 pp.
  • McCaffrey, John F. Scotland in the Nineteenth Century (1998) 156pp

Pre-history and Roman period

Midieval ages

  • Armstrong, David. The Kingdom of Scotland in the Middle Ages 400-1450 (Heinemann Scottish History) (2002)
  • Barrell, A. D. M. Medieval Scotland (2000) excerpt and tetx search; online edition
  • Barrow, G.W.S. Kingship and Unity, Scotland 1000-1316 (1981), in The New History of Scotland
  • Barrow, Geoffrey. Robert Bruce: And the Community of the Realm of Scotland (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Brown, Michael. The Wars of Scotland, 1214-1371 (2004), New Edinburgh History of Scotland, vol 4
  • Dickinson, W.C. Scotland from the Earliest Times to 1603 (3rd edition, 1977) online edition
  • Duncan, A.A.M. Scotland: the Making of the Kingdom (1975), Edinburgh History of Scotland
  • Grant, Alexander. Independence and Nationhood: Scotland 1306-1469 (1991), New History of Scotland. excerpt and text search
  • Oram, Richard D. Domination and Lordship: Scotland 1070-1230 (2003), New Edinburgh History of Scotland, vol 3
  • Sadler, John, Border Fury: England and Scotland at War, 1296-1568. (2005). 617 pp.

Reformation to Union

  • Dawson, Jane. Reform and Re-creation Scotland, 1488-1587 (2006), New Edinburgh History of Scotland, vol 6
  • Donaldson, Gordon. Scotland: James V to James VII (1965), Edinburgh History of Scotland
  • Goodare, Julian. The Government of Scotland, 1560-1625. (2004). 342 pp.
  • Marshall, Rosalind K. John Knox. (2000). 244 pp.
  • Nicholson, Ranald. Scotland: the Later Middle Ages (1974), Edinburgh History of Scotland
  • Stevenson, David, The Scottish Revolution, 1637-44, (2003). ISBN 0-85976-585-7
  • Warnicke, Retha M. Mary Queen of Scots. (2006). 304 pp.
  • Whatley, Christopher A., and Derek J. Partick. The Scots and the Union (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Wormald, Jenny. Court, Kirk and Community, Scotland 1470-1625 (1981), in The New History of Scotland excerpt and text search

Enlightenment, 18th century

  • Berry, Christopher J. The Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment (1997) excerpt and text search
  • Broadie, Alexander. The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment (2003) complete online edition; also excerpt and text search
  • Broadie, Alexander, ed. The Scottish Enlightenment: An Anthology (1998), primary sources. excerpt and text search
  • Buchan, James, Crowded with Genius: the Scottish Enlightenment; Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind (2003). ISBN 0-06-055889-X excerpt and text search
  • Campbell, R. H. and Andrew S. Skinner, eds. The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Enlightenment (1982), 12 essays by scholars, esp. on history of science
  • Daiches, David, Peter Jones and Jean Jones. A Hotbed of Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment, 1730-1790 (1986), 170pp; well-illustrated introduction
  • Davidson, Neil, Discovering the Scottish Revolution, 1692-1746, Pluto Press, London, England (2003). ISBN 0-7453-2053-8
  • Devine, T.M., Clanship to Crofters' War: the Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands, (1994). ISBN 0-7190-3482-5
  • Goldie, Mark. "The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment," The Journal of British Studies Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), pp. 20–62 in JSTOR
  • Graham, Gordon. "Morality and Feeling in the Scottish Enlightenment," Philosophy Vol. 76, No. 296 (Apr., 2001), pp. 271–282 in JSTOR
  • Hamilton, H. An Economic History of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (1963)
  • Harvie, Christopher. Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics 1707 to the Present (2004) excerpt and text search online edition
  • Hemingway, Andrew. "The 'Sociology' of Taste in the Scottish Enlightenment," Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1989), pp. 3–35 in JSTOR
  • Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. (2001). 384 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Hont, Istvan, and Michael Ignatieff. Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment (1986) excerpt and text search
  • Hopfl, H. M. "From Savage to Scotsman: Conjectural History in the Scottish Enlightenment," The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring, 1978), pp. 19–40 in JSTOR
  • Howe, Daniel Walker. "Why the Scottish Enlightenment Was Useful to the Framers of the American Constitution," Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jul., 1989), pp. 572–587 in JSTOR
  • Lenman, Bruce P. Integration and Enlightenment: Scotland, 1746-1832 (1993) New History of Scotland excerpt and text search
  • Ottenberg, June C. "Musical Currents of the Scottish Enlightenment," International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jun., 1978), pp. 99–109 in JSTOR
  • Phillipson, N.T. and Mitchison, Rosalind, eds. Scotland in the Age of Improvement, (1996). ISBN 0-7486-0876-1
  • Swingewood, Alan. "Origins of Sociology: The Case of the Scottish Enlightenment," The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 1970), pp. 164–180 in JSTOR
  • Withers, Charles W. J. and Wood, Paul, eds. Science and Medicine in the Scottish Enlightenment. (2002). 364 pp.

Specialty periods

  • Anderson, A.O. Early Sources of Scottish History (2 vol 1922)
  • Breitenbach, Esther, and Eleanor Gordon. Women in Scottish Society 1800-1945 (1992) online edition
  • Burton, John Hill. The History of Scotland: Volume 1 (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Campbell, Alan. The Scottish Miners, 1874-1939. Vol. 2: Trade Unions and Politics. (2000). 433 pp.
  • Campbell, R.H., and J.B.A. Dow. A Source Book of Scottish Economic and Social History (1968)
  • Checkland, O. and S. Checkland. Industry and Ethos: Scotland 1832 - 1914 (1989), New History of Scotland excerpt and text search
  • Ewan, Elizabeth and Meikle, Maureen M., eds. Women in Scotland, c. 1100-c. 1750. (1999). 272 pp.
  • Gordon, William M. Roman Law, Scots Law and Legal History (2007), 352pp
  • Harvie, Christopher. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes: Twentieth-Century Scotland (1993) online edition
  • Laslett, John H. M. Colliers across the Sea: A Comparative Study of Class Formation in Scotland and the American Midwest, 1830-1924. (2000). 314 pp. focus on coal miners
  • MacDonald, Catriona M. M. and McFarland, E. W. Scotland and the Great War. 1999. 200 pp. World War I
  • Smout, T. C., Alan R. MacDonald, and Fiona Watson. A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920 (2007)
  • Weir, Ronald B. The History of the Distillers Company, 1877-1939: Diversification and Growth in Whisky and Chemicals. (1996). 417 pp.

Cultural studies

  • Abrams, Eleanor et al. Gender in Scottish History Since 1700 (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Anderson, R. D. Education and the Scottish People, 1750-1918. Oxford U. Press, 1995. 337 pp.
  • Browen, Ian, ed. The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature (3 vol 2006)
  • Brown, Callum G. Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707. (1997). 219 pp.
  • Burleigh, J.H.S. A Church History of Scotland (1962), short and impartial
  • Daiches, David. A Companion to Scottish Culture (1982) online edition
  • Dwyer, John. The Age of the Passions: An Interpretation of Adam Smith and Scottish Enlightenment Culture. (1998). 205 pp.
  • Ferguson, William. The Identity of the Scottish Nation: An Historic Quest (1998) online edition
  • Glendinning, Miles, Ranald MacInnes, Aonghus MacKechnie. A History of Scottish Architecture: From the Renaissance to the Present Day (1996) online edition
  • Hardy, Forsyth. Scotland in Film 1990 online edition
  • Harris, Nathaniel. Heritage of Scotland: A Cultural History of Scotland and Its People. Facts on File, 2000. 159 pp.
  • Levack, Brian. Scottish Witch Hunting: Law, Politics and Religion (2007)
  • McDonald, R. A., ed. History, Literature and Music in Scotland, 700-1560. (2002). 243 pp.
  • Mackenzie, D.A. Scottish Folklore and Folklife. (1935).
  • McEwan, Peter J. M. Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture. Wappingers Falls, N.Y.: Antique Collectors Club, 1995. 626 pp.
  • McNeill, F. Marion, The Silver Bough (volume 1: Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk-Belief), 1989. ISBN 0-86241-231-5
  • Petrie, Duncan. Screening Scotland. BFI, 2000. 250 pp. on films
  • Porter, James. "The Folklore of Northern Scotland: Five Discourses on Cultural Representation." Folklore vol. 109. 1998. pp 1+ online edition
  • Ritchie, Anna and Graham Ritchie. Scotland: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (1998) online edition
  • Schoene, Berthold. The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature (2007), 560pp
  • Smith, Bill and Skipwith, Selina. A History of Scottish Art. Merrell, 2003. 288 pp.
  • Todd, Margo. The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland. (2002). 450 pp.
  • Walker, Marshall. Scottish Literature since 1707. (1997). 443 pp.
  • Whatley, Christopher A. Scottish Society, 1707-1830: Beyond Jacobitism, toward Industrialisation. (2000). 354 pp.
  • Withers, Charles W. J. Geography, Science, and National Identity: Scotland since 1520. (2001). 312 pp.


  1. Scotland has some Catholics living in remote areas, and some Episcopalians, such as William Gladstone. The arrival of Irish Catholics in the 19th century added a Catholic element.
  2. McCaffrey, Scotland in the Nineteenth Century (1998)