History of Scotland in Brief – Guide 2024

The history of Scotland is important to understand in a brief summary the Scottish past and its present . A fascinating land of ancient civilisations. Since the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century, extending the borders of the empire up to the Antonine Wall , reaching Pictish Caledonia . From the Gaelic kingdoms , to the Viking invasions and the Kingdom of Scotland , the country’s history is marked by many wars and clashes between clans . Finally, upon entry into the Kingdom of Great Britain , the country underwent a strong intellectual and economic renaissance. So let’s discover its history together in brief in our summary, better understanding the country during your trip to Scotland!

The History of Scotland

To understand the present it is important to know the past thanks to a summary of Scotland’s history in brief. The first inhabitants of the area were the Picts , followed by Celts , Romans and the Viking invasions . Kenneth I unified the kingdoms in the 9th century , creating that of Alba . Scotland, throughout its history in the summary, repeatedly fights against England for independence . Bloody wars were followed by short periods of peace. Among the iconic figures who stand out during the resistance, we find Robert Bruce and William Wallace , Scottish patriot who inspired the film Braveheart . By winning the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 , the Scots ensured their independence for centuries.

James VI of Scotland ascends the throne of England in 1603 , uniting the crowns. But the kingdoms throughout the country’s history remain separate until 1707 . The United Kingdom of Great Britain was created with the Act of Union . In the 19th century many changes came, bringing cities such as Edinburgh into prominence . The 20th century and two world wars lead the country into decline, followed by nationalism . Even today, the debate on independence is heated, seeing the last referendum in 2014 and the victory of the unionists. Scotland has an identity and culture rooted in Gaelic heritage , such as musical traditions and distinct products, such as the kilt and whisky . A country full of charm and with a complex history, which still shapes its present. Thanks to its cultural and scenic beauties it attracts a large number of travellers.

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The phases of Scottish history

PeriodEpoche Storiche
Prehistoric age8000 a.C – 2000 a.C.
Ancient history700 a.C. – 122 d.C.
High Middle age400 d.C. – 1066 d.C.
Wars of Independence1286 d.C. – 1328 d.C.
Independent Kingdom1460 d.C. – 1707 d.C.
Union with England1707 d.C.
Contemporary Age19th century – 20th century
Scotland Today1997 – …

Scottish prehistory

The country’s history begins during the Mesolithic , with the first settlements coming from continental Europe on various islands or along the coasts . Cultivation and livestock farming began in the Neolithic and there are traces of the first settlements on the islands. From this period we can still visit the site of Skara Brae , in Orkney. Cairns , burial sites such as that at Maes Howe , develop . From the same period we find the circles of megaliths . Such as the Stones of Stenness , the Ring of Brodgar or the Callanish formation on the Isle of Lewis and Harris: probable astronomical observatories .

The construction of these structures is also evidenced during the Bronze Age . Along with hill fortifications, such as that of Eildon Hill , Melrose , from 1000 BC , and the Crannóg : settlements on artificial islands. In the 1st millennium BC of Scotland’s history in brief, Celtic populations arrived from the south. In 400 BC the Celts brought iron and the creation of brochs : circular towers on the coasts. In this period of the country’s history, the territory was divided into warring tribes . Arriving in 55 BC at the arrival of the Romans , who called the population Picts . The term comes from Picti : the local tattoos.

Menhir Orcadi - la storia della scozia in breve
Standing Stones of Stennes, Orkney

The arrival of the Romans

What we know about the first period of the history of the Scots comes from evidence from the Roman era . Although local peoples used written texts only for commemorative purposes . The druidic tradition disappeared with the arrival of the Romans and without writings about it, launching few pre-Romanesque testimonies of Pytheas . In 43 AD , during Scotland’s history brief, the Romans conquer Britain . After a century from the beginning of Julius Caesar ‘s invasions . Gnaeus Julius Agricola becomes governor of Britain in 77 . Roman troops arrived north in 79 , settling Scotland after opposition from the Caledonians from 82 to 83 AD

In 84 Agricola arrives in Orkney and defeats the Caledonian tribes under Calgacus at Mons Graupius in the Battle of Mount Graupius . Agricola expanded the borders of the Empire, reaching the line separating Scotland from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth . The Romans did not arrive in the Highlands , but on the North Sea coast at the Moray Firth , building fortifications. With the dominion of Antoninus the homonymous Wall was erected . Abandoning it in 160 and the Romans left Caledonia in 155 . Only Septimius Severus tried to conquer what is now Scotland between 208 and 211; for the last time.

Antonine Wall UNESCO world heritage site in Scotland
The Antonine Wall, a UNESCO world heritage site

Medieval Scottish History

After the final withdrawal of the Romans, in around 410 , the history of the country was characterized by the Picts . The peoples of Celtic origin and the Britons of British Celtic origin, influenced by the Romans . The Picts in about 500 conquered many islands and the part north of the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth, calling the area Pictavia . Even today in this area in many places we find the prefix Pit ; like Pitlochry . Below the Firth of Clyde lay the kingdom of Strathclyde . While in Cumbria Rheged and the central area, the Scottish Borders, Selgovae and the Votadini. These people spoke the British Celtic languages , derived from Breton and Welsh .

Also in this period in Scotland’s history summary, invading peoples arrived . Like the Scots in the 4th century, who founded the kingdom of Dál Riata . The Angles , from the kingdom of Bernicia who took over the kingdom of Gododdin in the 12th century , leaving the Scots language in the territory. Around 800 the Vikings arrived on Orkney .

mountain Goat Fell isle of Arran - scotland history in brief - scotland history
Goat Fell mountain, on the Isle of Arran

The Vikings and the Christianisation of Scotland

The first Vikings arrive in 793 . Destroying the monastery at Lindisfarne , storming Iona in 794 and arriving on the Hebridean, Shetland and Orkney islands , which became Scandinavian colonies . In the following centuries conflicts between populations were constant. Also caused by land invasions and to highlight military skills . The main castes of the tribes in this period, in fact, were those of the warriors . The frequent invasions also led to reshuffling of the population, becoming a glue between the tribes; but the main one was the arrival of Christianity . Even before the Roman invasion, the Britons were Christians, as was the first Scottish saint: St Ninian , who converted the Picts.

Writings arrived from Saint Patrick , they say that the Picts left Christianity after the saint’s death. It was the arrival of Saint Columba , a Gaelic Scott who arrived in Scotland in 563 , who continued the conversion , starting from the island of Iona. Here, during the history of Scotland summarized, he founded a monastery and laid the foundations for peaceful relations between the Scotts and the Picts. Mixed marriages began and, in 843 , the Scottic king Kenneth MacAlpin , son of the Picts, united Dàl Riata with Pictavia. The union of the kingdoms led to the Kingdom of Alba thanks to mixed marriages, creating in 1034 a territory similar to present-day Scotland. Winning in 1018 at the Battle of Carham , Malcolm II of Scotland took Lothian .

The ruins of Lindisfarne Monastery
The ruins of Lindisfarne Monastery

The Kingdom of Alba

In 1034 the first ruler Máel Coluim mac Cináed died. Furthermore, during the history of the country, he created the system of tanistry . In 1057 Mac Bethad was defeated by Máel Coluim III, who became Cenn Mór : the great chief. This reign was characterized by social changes. Due to his years of him at the English court and his first marriage to a Norwegian princess . Then with an Anglo-Hungarian noblewoman: Margaret Ætheling .

It was she who initiated religious reform , while Malcolm introduced feudalism . Under David I numerous monks arrived and abbeys were founded , such as those of Jedburgh , Melrose and Dryburgh . It was divided into 11 dioceses in 1200 , leaving out the Highlands. Furthermore, in the same period of Scottish history, cities with a particular statute with autonomy and commercial advantages, the royal burghs , were born . Among the most popular are Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh . In this historical period, the difference between the Lowlands and the Highlands was profound. Subsequently leading to problems for the descendants as we will see in Scottish history.

Melrose Abbey - history of Scotland summary - history of Scotland summary
Melrose Abbey

The Scottish Wars of Independence

Under Henry II of England in 1175 , Scotland during its brief history at the end of the 13th century , after the English victories at Berwick and Dunbar , was subjugated. The Stone of Destiny , the stone on which kings were crowned throughout history, is moved to London . John of Warenne is appointed governor of Scotland by Edward I. In the 10 years before the death of Alexander III in 1286 , Scotland’s history is characterized by deaths in its line of succession. Leaving only his infant niece, Margherita .

Edward I of England proposed marriage between her and her son. In 1290 , her guardians agreed, but the child died on the way from Norway to Orkney. John Balliol and Robert Bruce , in 1291 clashed before Edward I. Claiming the throne and Balliol is chosen . However, he was forced to make Scotland a vassal territory . Introducing harassment and seeking alliance with France in 1295 . Thus French artistic and cultural influence came into Scottish history, giving rise to the Auld Alliance .

Scone Palace - Scottish history
Scone Palace

The period of the Auld Alliance and William Wallace

In this part of the history summary, the influence of France is found in the language, legislature, art and architecture. With the Treaty of Corbeil , in 1326, Robert Bruce renewed this phase. Edward I deposed John Balliol in 1296 , when England invaded Scotland. The Scottish people began to rebel , led by William Wallace and winning in 1297 at Stirling Bridge . Wallace retook Berwick and began raiding Northumberland , leading to his appointment as warden of the kingdom in 1298 . He was defeated only in 1298 by Falkirk , and was then tortured, put in prison and hanged , becoming a symbol of freedom for the Scottish people. Robert Bruce is crowned in 1306 as King of Scotland. Defeating Edward II in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn .

In 1320, Pope John XII and some Scottish nobles drafted the Declaration of Arbroath , declaring the independence of Scotland . It was recognized in 1328 by Edward III, with the Treaty of Northampton . A few years after Robert Bruce’s death, however, in 1333 , England invaded Scotland to place Edward Balliol , John’s son, on the throne. Thus began the Second War of Independence in Scottish history .

National Wallace Monument in Stirling
The National Wallace Monument, Stirling

The Second War of Independence

Despite numerous victories by the English, such as that at Halidon Hill , Scotland held out and England failed to place Balliol on the throne. At the same time, the Hundred Years’ War broke out between France and England over dynastic issues and Edward III abandoned the Scottish question. In this period of history, in 1341 Robert I’s heir, David II , returned to Scotland following his exile in France. Edward Balliol , in 1356, gave up his claim to the throne of Scotland.

The Stuart period

During the summary of Scotland’s history in brief, in 1371 Robert II, son of Walter Stewart , ascended the throne . John Stuart followed , taking the name Robert III. After the suspicious death of his son David in 1406 , the king did not hesitate to protect his other son, James . He invaded France, but James was imprisoned for 18 years by the English. With the death of Robert III, the Duke of Albany became regent throughout Scottish history , until the liberation of James in 1424 . James I brought authority back to Scotland. He was succeeded in 1437 by James II, starting a policy of centralization of the monarchy, damaging the local nobles. James III , in 1468 , receives as a dowry from the daughter of the regents of Denmark and Norway, Margaret, Shetland and Orkney .

The Hebrides were also incorporated into Scotland with James IV , ending the independence of the Islands. He married Margaret Tudor in 1503 and in 1512 the Auld Alliance was renewed after Henry VIII’s attack on France. Scotland attacks England, but is however stopped at the Battle of Flodden Field , where James IV dies, who is succeeded by James V. He ascended the throne in 1513 at just 1 year old, entrusted to Margaret Tudor , sister of King Henry VIII of England. In 1524 , James V took power, seeking to begin a strengthening of the local monarchy , by marrying the Frenchwoman Mary of Guise . Relations with the English king worsened, leading to the Solway Moss and Scottish defeat .

Lerwick town hall on Shetland - history of the Scots - Scottish history
Il municipio di Lerwick, sulle Shetland

From 1542 to Mary Stuart

While summarizing Scotland’s history in brief, we continue along the Stuart dynasty . We arrive at Mary Stuart , daughter of James V, who became queen at just 6 days old . It was her mother Mary of Guise who took over the regency during this historical period. After a series of campaigns she drove out the English , officially taking over the regency . Mary, a Catholic, married the Dauphin of France in 1558 . In 1557 some Protestant nobles opposed her marriage to a papist and a pact was negotiated. In 150 , with the death of his mother, the Auld Alliance, which linked Scotland to France, also ended . With the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh, Catholicism was abolished.

John Knox , a former Catholic, was ordained a minister of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh Cathedral in 1559 . He became one of the most influential figures during that period of Scottish history. Returning to Scotland, Mary Stuart, a Catholic , found a Protestant country but she did not want to impose herself on her subjects. During her 6 year reign there were many crises and court intrigues . She arriving in 1567 upon her imprisonment of her in Loch Leven Castle , forced her to abdicate for her son, James VI . Maria fled the castle, trying to regain the throne. But failing her she fled to England to her cousin Elizabeth, becoming an inspiration to the Catholics who conspired against her, hoping to relieve Elizabeth Tudor of the throne . After accusations of treason , Maria was sentenced to death in 1587 .

From James VI to James VII

James VI , after Mary’s abdication in 1567 , became King of Scotland at just 13 months old , growing up in a Protestant country. Following the deaths of Mary and the childless Elizabeth I, the crown of England also passed to him, creating the Union of the Crowns in 1603 . He went to live in England and never returned. United under a single crown, Scotland and England maintained their institutions even following the Protestant Reformation. Most radical in the history of the country, as we will see in the summary. In fact, Charles I wanted to impose a prayer book on the Scottish Church in 1637 . It caused many popular uprisings in the country, such as the Covenant movement , which popularized Presbyterianism .

These, throughout Scottish history, formed an army against religious reforms. In the 1940s they became the de facto masters of the country. They also came to Ireland in Ulster to protect the Protestant settlers, allying themselves in England in the civil war with the Parliamentarians . The Duke of Montrose , in 1644 , gave support to King Charles I. Helping the Irish troops in the Highlands, but meeting defeat in 1646 and in 1649 the king was beheaded. He became King Charles II and Scotland was invaded by the Englishman Oliver Cromwell . He brought the country into the Commonwealth between 1652 and 1660, then returned to the monarchical restoration and borders. Until 1680 , religious uprisings began in the Lowlands and were violently repressed , and in 1685 the king died. We come to James VII , who became Catholic in 1672 and was crowned in 1685 .

Lowland, The Beeches
Scottish Lowlands, from The Beeches Point

The Jacobite Rising

In this paradoxical period of Scottish history, the king was Catholic , but head of the Church of England. With the arrival of William of Orange in 1688 , from the Netherlands, he conquered the English and Scottish thrones, while James VII escaped to France . Those loyal to James who began to fight for him were called Jacobites . The Scottish Parliament, in 1704 , enacted laws banning Catholic claimants from the throne: the Act of Security .

In 1707 , thanks to this act, James Stuart , also known by legitimists as James VIII, tried to regain the throne. With French help , however stopped by the British navy. Thus began the Jacobite revolt in 1715 , stopped by the Duke of Argyll . Charles Edward Stuart was defeated in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden by the English, returning to Italy until his death in 1788 . The London Parliament thus initiated laws to undermine the Scottish clans, their identity and economy with the Highland Dress Proscription Act of 1746. Which was abolished in 1782 .

princes street edinburgh
Princes Street, Edinburgh

The English Union

In the summary of the early 1700s during Scotland’s history in brief, we see the country’s independence from England . There was pressure for the amalgamation of the kingdoms , which was voted in 1707 by the English and Scottish Parliaments. The Kingdom of Great Britain and the Union Jack are born , merging the Scottish cross of St. Andrew and that of St. George. In Scottish history, clans accumulated wealth, leading to a deep division between chiefs and clan members in the 18th century . In the Lowlands , animals as a major source of income – especially blackface sheep – replaced people. In 1785 the clearing of the farmers took place: The Highland Clearances .

Farmers were moved to the coasts , engaging in fishing and growing seaweed used for fabrics. Very profitable especially during the Napoleonic wars , becoming impoverished at their end. The inhabitants of the coasts thus began to see the land, moving to the new industrial areas. Like Paisley and Galsgow , or Ireland, especially Belfast ; others also arrived in North America .

Badbea Historic Clearance Village, Caithness
Badbea Historic Clearance Village, a Caithness

Contemporary Scottish Age

Starting from the 19th century in Scottish history there was industrial development , especially for the textile sector on the west coast. The exploitation of resources such as coal and iron also began, opening the country’s first railway line in 1831 , dedicated to the metallurgical sector . Population growth and emigration also arrived , especially to England, South Africa, America and Australia. In Ireland, meanwhile, the Great Famine began , bringing many Catholics to the country, especially to Glasgow .

The Highlands began to be rehabilitated , thanks also to the work of Scottish writers such as Walter Scott , who speak of the romantic and folkloric soul of the country. Despite the artistic movement that converged here, the Highlands remained a poor territory . Power was still in the hands of a few noble families, mainly in the English classes . In the 1940s, radical religious movements were born , supported above all by those who lived in the Highlands, seeing the preachers as their leaders . After a period of clashes and violence, the government supported the farmers. The British government, in 1886 , issued the Crofters Act and with it compensation for those expelled from the Clearances .

MacLennan Arch Glasgow - Scottish history in brief
MacLennan Arch, Glasgow

The Great War and the Scottish National Party

At the start of World War I , Scotland joined the United Kingdom and local industry experienced strong growth. Ending around 1920 and leading to the revival of Scotland’s nationalism. In 1934 the Scottish National Party was born , whose policy exploited the British system, such as participation in elections, to achieve autonomy . It was also a period characterized by a strong migratory flow . In World War II Scotland was bombed , but the naval and war industries prospered .

During the 1970s, oil was discovered in the North Sea , boosting local industry and financial institutions. After the war the country welcomed many Labor votes as well as independence votes . The SNP gained one seat in 1945 , rising to 11 in 1974 . In 1980 the Scottish National Liberation Army was founded . An armed group that wanted independence, which did not have the same resonance as the IRA . After the 1997 elections , an autonomous parliament was born .

Cathedral of Sant'Egidio edinburgh - scotland history in brief summary
The Cathedral of Sant’Egidio, in Edinburgh

Scotland Today

During present-day Scottish history, in 1999 , after three centuries, the first Holyrood elections were held : the Scottish parliament, obtaining a majority for Labour . As the years passed, the Scottish National Party obtained a majority, arriving in 2007 with the victory of Alex Salmond’s party. The SNP always achieved great electoral success , but divided public opinion. Even today, Scottish independence from London is a much-discussed topic . Although in 2014 the referendum on secession from the United Kingdom saw the victory of the unionists .

Scotland is the most northerly country in the United Kingdom . A wild and wonderful land, with a strong and well-defined cultural identity. Famous throughout the world for the wonderful lands of the Highlands , the uncontaminated mountainous landscapes , lakes and valleys . Ancient legends still live here today ; like Nessie . Plus, Scotland is home to golf , famous castles and stunning cities rich in history and culture. Such as the capital Edinburgh and Glasgow .

A wonderful country is waiting for you!

Castello di Eilean Donan - storia della scozia in breve riasunto
Il Castello di Eilean Donan

Recommended Trips through the History of Scotland

After reading the history of this country, to discover its wonders we recommend the Group Tour: Enchantment of Scotland. An incredible group trip between nature and castles, thus retracing the history of Scotland!

Group Tour: Enchanted Scotland

In short: Scotland tour from Glasgow to Edinburgh between nature and castles.
Itinerary: Glasgow, Arran, Loch Lomond, Skye, Dunnottar, Edinburgh.
Duration: 8 days – 7 nights
Confirmed Departures
Code: SCARCH0801

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