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Last updated : Nov 2009
Scotland History
Scotland History -
Scotland was first populated by hunters who arrived from England, Ireland and Europe some 6000 years ago. They brought the Neolithic Age with them, introducing stockbreeding, trade, agriculture, an organised society and a thriving culture. The remains of passage tombs, stone monuments and domestic architecture, like those found on the Orkneys, reveal that this was indeed a vigorous civilisation. Later arrivals included Europe's Beaker people, who were the first to introduce bronze and weapons, while the Celts brought iron. The Romans were unable to subdue the region's inhabitants, their failure symbolised by the construction of Hadrian's Wall. Christianity first arrived in the guise of St Ninian, who established a religious centre in 397. Later, St Columba founded a centre on Iona in 563, still a place of pilgrimage today.

In the 7th century, Scotland's population comprised a constantly warring mix of Picts and Gaelic-speaking Scots in the north, Norse invaders in the island territories, and Britons and Anglo-Saxons in the Lowlands. By the 9th century, the Scots had gained power over the Picts, whose only visible legacy today is the scattering of symbol stones found in many parts of eastern Scotland. In the south, Anglo-Norman feudalism was introduced, and by the early 13th century an English commentator, Walter of Coventry, remarked that the Scottish court was 'French in race and manner of life, in speech and in culture'. Despite some bloody reactions, the Lowlanders' tribal-based society melded with feudalism, creating enormously powerful family clans.

The Highlanders were another matter entirely. In 1297 William Wallace's forces fought the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, but after a few more skirmishes Wallace was betrayed and executed by the English in London in 1305. He's still remembered as a great hero and the epitome of patriotism of the resistance movement.

Robert the Bruce tried for Scottish independence next, when, a year after Wallace came to his end, he murdered a rival and had himself crowned King of Scotland. In the same year, he went up against the English, but they defeated his forces at Methven and Dalry. He had to wait until 1314, when at the Battle of Bannockburn he defeated the English. This was perhaps the turning point in Scotland's fight for independence. A barrier developed between Highlander and Lowlander, marked symbolically by the Highland Boundary Fault, running between Fort William and Inverness. Highlanders were known as Gaelic-speaking pillagers by the Lowlanders, who spoke Lallans and led a less rigorous and urban existence.

In the 16th century, Scottish royal lineage was blurred by opposing lines of descent and the jockeying of English and French interests. Fierce resistance to the English and monarchic squabbles led to virtual civil war, where very few monarchs managed to die a natural death.

The 17th century also experienced by civil war, spurred by the thorny issue of the religious Reformation. Despite all the anti-English sentiment, the Act of Union of 1707 saw the Scots persuaded to disband parliament, in exchange for preservation of the Scottish church and legal system.

Attempts were made to replace the Hanoverian kings of England with Catholic Stuarts, although the Jacobite cause lacked support outside of the Highlands due to the suspicions of Catholicism. James Edward Stuart, known as the Old Pretender and son of the exiled English king James VII, made attempts to regain the throne, but fled to France in 1719. In 1745, his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Young Pretender, landed in Scotland to claim the crown for his father. His disastrous defeat in 1745 at Culloden moved the government to ban private armies, the wearing of kilts and the playing of the pipes. Coinciding with the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution, the bans caused the disappearance of a way of life and the quelling of the Highlanders.

In the south, the Industrial Revolution brought towns and expanding populations, the creation of industries such as shippingbuilding and cotton, and booming trade. The spread of urban life coincided with the Scottish Enlightenment, as people fed the energy they'd previously spent on religious issues into money-making activities. Literature in particular began to blossom. Life for the privileged became bourgeois, while the poor got poorer, suffering typhoid epidemics and other effects of their overcrowded tenement life. Cities grew bigger following one of the bleakest events in the north's grim history: the Highland Clearances that started in the late 1700s and continued for more than a century. Overpopulation, the potato famine and the collapse of the kelp industry caused landlords to force people from the land. Waves of Scots emigrated to North America, Australia and New Zealand, taking with them their reputation for thrift and hard work. The few who remained were pushed onto tiny plots called crofts.

Industrial prosperity lasted through World War One, but the world depression of the 1930s struck a big blow. Aberdeen was the only city to show prosperity in the 20th century, thanks to North Sea oil and gas discoveries in the 1970s. Economic hardship, unemployment, the depopulation of rural areas and lower standards of health and housing than those experienced in England had led to a loss of confidence.

Strongly Labour, Scotland smarted through the 1980s and '90s under Britain's Conservative government, which had scant regard for Scotland's desire for self-rule. The Labour victory in the 1997 general election resulted in the loss of all Conservative seats in Scotland and the creation of a Scottish Parliament, which first convened in 1999.