Medieval Scotland: Historical Background

Figure 1.--

The Medieval era can be said to have begun with the recall of the Roman Legions from Britain (409). With the withdrawl of the legions, the Picts intensified y their raids south. It is at this time that waves of migrating German tribes, the Saxons, sweep over Britain. Many Celtic Britons retreating from the Saxon invasions settle in Caledonia between the Firth of Clyde and the Solway Firth which eventually collaseses in to the Kingdom of Strathclyde. To the north at the beginning of the 6th century, Celtic invaders from Ireland establish the Kingdom of Dalriada. The pagan Angles, another invading Germanic tribe settled in what is now northern England founding the kingdom of Northumbria. The Angles in the mid-6th century moved north seizing much of the land south of the Firth of Fourth and east of Strathclyde. Strathclyde and some Picts were converted to Christianity and Columba came to Dalriada froim Ireland (563). He largely converted the remaing Picts. Conflicts develop between the Celts and Picts who fuse into the Scotts on one suide and the Angles in Northumbria. Keneth MacAlpine in the mid-9th century rules over all of Scotland, but faces incessent warfare with the Norse. The conflict between the Scotts and English continues when the the Normon William the Conqueror defeats the Saxons at hastings (1066). Malcomb's son, Edgar, with Norman assistance is crowned (1097). The Anglization of Scotland accelerated during Edgar's reign (1097-1107) and that of his two brothers, Alexander I (1107-24) and David I (1124-53). Edward I also succeeds in annexing Scotland to England, but is thwarted first by William Wallace anf finally by Robert the Bruce. The feuding Scottish nobility, however, prevents the establishment of a strong royal Government. After Robert there is a decline of royal authority and further English encroachments. The Stuart dynasty was founded by Robert II. The Stuarts were unable to overcome the Scottish nobility and impose strng royal authority in Scotland. As a result, Scotland under the Stuarts were unable to resist English encroachments. While the Reformnation was initaited by the English monarchy, in Scotland in occurred in spite of the opposition of the monarchy, although supported by the English. Ironically, although Queen Elizabeth executed her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scotts, her Protestant son James V of Scotland succeeded her as King James I of England, launching the English Stuart dynasty.

Ancient Scotland

Scotland in antiquity was known by the Romans as Caledoinia. Little is known of the early inhabitants of Scotland. Human habitation of cotland appears to date from about 8500 BC. The appear to have been a mixed group of aborigines and unidentified European tribes of the Indo-Euroipean lingistic stock. Some archeologists believe that Scotland was settled by Iberians. The one group which is know is the Picts, a war-like people who were able to resist the Roman invasion. The term Pict is Roman in origin. The Romans called the pre-Celtic people in northern Britain "Pictii", meaning painted people. This appears to have referred the Pict pratice of tatooing their bodies. Roman General Gnaeus Julius Agricola invaded Caledonia in the late 1st century AD and reached the Firth of Forth. The Picts and rebelious Britons pushed north by the Romans appeared to have successfully resisted the Romans in the area between the Firth of Fourth and the Clyde. Resistance was so successful that the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a defensive wall from Solvay Firth to the mouth of the River Tyne which is today known as Hadrian's Wall (122 AD). Another wall was subsequently constructed further north which became known as the Wall of Pius (140s). This wall extended from the Firth of Fourth to the Firth of Clyde. The area between the two walls became the Roman first line of defense against the ancient Caledonians. The area south of the Wall of Pius became partially Romanized and this endured into Medieval and modern times as the Wall of Pius is roughly the dividing line between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. Litte information is available on the clothing worn by the ancient Picts. Macbeth, the Mormaor (Great Steward) of Ross and Moray assasinated Duncan (1040). Macbeth ruled until he was defeated and killed by Duncan's son Malcomb Canmore who returned from exile in England. Malcomb is the beginning of increasing English influence on Scotland.

Rome Abandons Britain (407-10)

Rome comes under increasing pressure from barbarian invaders (360s). The Picts and Scots attack along Hadrian's Wall. The Emperor sends reinforcements to Britain and the attacks are successfully repelled. The Franks and Goths pressure Legionaires along the Rhine. The Goths are being driven west by the Huns. And as a result of the disaster at Adrionople, the military power of the Western Empire is crippled (378). The Emperor begins to withdraw forces from Britain to strengthen defense in more important lovations, especilly Gaul (388). This continues over an extended period. The last Legonbaires depart Britain (409-10). The Emperor Honorious told the people of Britain that the Empire ended its connection and theywould have to take responsibility for their own defeses, The Medieval era can be said to have begun with the recall of the Roman Legions. And with the withdrawl of the legions, the Picts intensify their raids south.

Anglo-Saxon Invasions (450-650)

It is at this time that waves of migrating German tribes, the Anglo-Saxons, sweep over Britain. With the Saxons are the Angles and Jutes. The history of this period is to say the least obscure, with few contemporary sources. With the departure of the legions we no longer have written Roman sources as we hve during the Roman era. The Saxon invasion took place over an extended period, essentially two centuries (450-650 AD). The Germanic tribes which were already pressuing theEmpire's borders on the Continent began arriving in Briain as well. This began after th permanen departure of the Roman legions. There are battles known to history, but few between the Romanized Britoins and the Saxon invaders. These are largely lost to history. Many of the battles known to history are between the kingdoms which gradually developed. North of Anglia were the kingdoms of Deira, and Bernicia, that eventually untied to from Northumbria. Historians describe the era as England's Dark Ages. It is the era from which the Legendary Arthur merges. The primary source for this period is the Venerable Bede, As a result what ocured in northern England in the region of Northumbria is best understood (7th century). Events in the south and during the early period of the Saxon incurions is largely lost to history. But because of the Venerable Bede and his reporting on Nothumbria we have some important knowledge of the Picts. Northumbria bordered on the Pictish Kingdom.

Ambrosius Aurelianus (about 500)

The Britons (Romanized Celts) after he departure of the Legions are unable to create a strong centralized state. Warlords or cheigtans emerge throughout the island, but are unable to unite or repel Pictish invasions from the north. The strongest of the British war lords was Ambrosius Aurelianus. He commanded a British force at the Battle of Mons Badonicus (c490-517?). It is believed to have been a major action in the Anglo-Saxon invsions, but the exact date and location is unknown. The Saxons had pushed the Britons further and further west unchecked until this battle. But the battle only temporatoly stopped the Saxon advance. Ambrodius may have been the inspiration for King Arthur. Centuries later in medieval work comilations. [Nennius] The great victory of the Brittons was attributed to the battle-leader Arthur. Later texts pick up on the Arthurial legend. The only near-contemporary account of Badon does not mention Arthur. [Gildas]

Strathclyde (5th-11th Century)

The extent of British indluence nort of Handrian's Wall is not well documented. It is know that Roman forsts existed in the north. A state began to form in the west north of the Wall even before the Romans withdrew. It began to coalease around the Damnonii tribe centered around Dumbarton. This was just near the Antonine Wall across the Central Belt of modern southern Scotland. The Damnonii was one of the northern tribes mentioned by Ptolemy. And when after the departure of the Legions, Anglo-Saxon tribes invaded Britain, retreating Celtic Britons unable to resist the Anglo-Saxons to the south settled between the Firth of Clyde and the Solway Firth. Here the Kingdom of Strathclyde coalesed. At the same time, sSeveral mostly Anglo-Saxon kingdoms emerged to the east and south. East of Strathclydre Northumbria emerged and to the northeast was the Pictts. Strathclydre was at first known as Alcluith/Alt Clut, a Brittonic term for Dumbarton Castle--'the Rock of the Clyde'. At its peak, Strathclyde extended south and southeast as far as moderm Galloway and Cumbria. Linguists classify the language of the Damnonii as a Brythonic (or Brittonic) a P-Celtic branch of the Celtic languages. At is core was the strath lor basin of the River Clyde . The marker Clach nam Breatann (Rock of the Britons) probably marked the northern boundary of Strathclyde from an early point. Other areas were lost and gained over time in addition to Cumberland which may have had alliances with Strathcylde, but was not conquered. Strathclyde like the Anglo-Saxons was assaulted by the Norsemen. A viking raiding from Dublin force sacked Dubarton Castle (870). The name Strathclyde comes into increasing use at this time. The locus of the kingdom shifted to Gova, now the southwest area of Glasgow. Some sources refer to the kingdom as Cumbria. Christianity was introduced the Scotts by Columba at Iona. The Strathclyde Britons were brought Christianity by missionary named Mungo (dearest beloved). His real name was Kentigern who preached in and around wgat is now Glasgow. Glasgow is still sometimes referred to as the city of St. Mungo. The Britons were reportedly quicker to accept Christianity than either the Picts or the Angles, perhaps because a residual Christianity had survived from the FRoman era. Strathclyde. With the rise of Scots in the northm Strathclyde was conquered by the Kingdom of Alba and becamde part of the new Kingdom of Scotland. It remained a distinctive region well into the 12th century.

Dalriada (5th - 9th Centuries)

Little known about th origins of the Scoti. They first appear in written history when the Romans arrived in Britain. A Roman hisorian reports on constant raids by the Scotti aloing the western coast of Roman Britain. [Marcellinus] Scotia is believed to be the original Latin name for Hibernia (Ireland). Although historical records are limited, Scoti raids appear to have increased as the Roman military power in Britain declined (360s). Rthe Romans report a 'barbarian conspiracy' (367-68), The location and actual nature and frequency of Scoti attacks are largeky unknown. And the origin and identity of the Irish population-groups who made up the raiding Scoti are bivally unknown. The Scoti even before the the wthdrawl of the Legions moved into Argyll, an area in the western Scottlish Lowlands including areas north and south of the Antonine wall. The Scoti may have focused on this area because it was so close to Ireland and because it was north of Hadrian's wall, meaning that the Romans would respond less forcibly thajn attacks south of the wall. The Scoti were thus able to establish a kingdom that emcompased adjacent areas of northern Ireland and southern Scotland. The Kingdom of Dalridia (Dál Riada or Riata) was a Gaelic kingdom that developed after the withdraw of the Legions. The Scoti established their control on both sides of the North Channel north of Stratclyde (5th century). At its peak, Dalriada included northern region of what is now County Antrim in Northern Ireland, part of the Inner Hebrides, and Argyll in modern Scotland. As a result of the Scoti, Argyle.Dalriada had become an Irish area. The Scottish area of Dalriada became increasingly important. The ruling family crossedover from the Irish areas and made Dunadd and Dunolly its principal strongholds. Irish Dalriada subsequently declined. Viking invasions ended the remaining hold on the Irish or eastern territory (early-9th century) leaving only the easrern Scottish holdings. Dalriada remained a relatively small enclave primarily because of the strong Picttish Kingdom to the east checked its expansion. king Kenneth I MacAlpin defeated a Pictt army (9th century). This led to the fusion of Dalriada and the Pictts, essentially creating the Scottish nation although the name Scotland was not yet used.

Christianization (4th-7th Centuries)

The Celts were realtive newcompers to the British Isles (500-300 BC). They were a pagan people. Christianity was brought to Britain by the Romans (1st century AD). It is unclear to what extent Christianity spread to rhge Celtic tribes. Chrisianity became the official religuin if The Empire (4th century AD). It was during the Roman period, St. Patrick began the Chritianization of the Irish after he was captured by Scoti (Irish raiders) and broufght to Ireland as a slave. With the decline of the Empire and withdrawl of the Legions (407-10), culture and learning rapidly declined. It is unclear what became of the Church among the Romano-Celtic people, especially after the ivasion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons (450-650). Even duing the Roman period, Christian influence would have been the weakest in the north beyond Hadrian's Wall. At the same time, Ireland which the Romans never invaded and conquetred, in contrast, became an improtant center of both Christianity and learning. St Ninian, St Kentigern, and St Columba played crucial roles. Saint Ninian was an early missionary among the Pictish peoples and is known as the Apostle to the Southern Picts as well as playing a role in he Christianization ofNorthumberland (4th-5th century) . St Kentigern, and St Columba in the conversion of the Celtic kindoms along the western coast (Strathclyde and Dalridia) (5th and 6th centuries). Dalridia was founded by the Scoti (Irish) and thus may have had Christians even before the arrivl of Irish misionaties. The island of Iona developed as important centre of the early Celtic church in the north. It is associated with Saint Columba (521-597). He was the chief monk at Iona. Conversion of the Pictish élite seems likely to have run over a considerable period (5th-7th centuries). St. Colunba is believed to have played a mnajor role in this process. As a result the reintroduction of Christianity came first in what is now Scotland and northern England by Irish missionaries. Strathclyde and some Picts were converted to Christianity. Columba came to Dalriada from Ireland (563). He largely converted the remaing Picts. Monasteries were founded in these areas by the Irish Celtic church. The Celtic church was well established in the north at the time the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms by the Roman Church began in the south. As a result, tension between the Celtic and the Roman churches. Pope Gregory I sent Augustine and a group of mossionaries to Chriatinze the Anglo Saxons. Augustine arrived (597). He became Archbishop of Canterbury (601). Canterbury thus became the center oif the Anglo-Saxon.Ebgkish church. The Synod of Whitby (664) largely esolved the rivalry between the Celtic and the Roman Church, of course in favor of th papacy and the Roman Church.

Northumbria (6th-9th Centuries)

The Saxons and associated tribes (Angles and Jutes) began settling in the south and east of Englsnd. These were the vest known areas cloest to the North Sea coiasta areas of what is now Germany and the Netherlands. Gradually they ventured to the north and came in contact with the Pictts. The pagan Angles, another invading Germanic tribe settled in what is now northern England. It was the Angles that settled in the north. The earliest state was Bernicia (a stronghold at Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast) and Deira (a little to the south). Aethelfrith (593–616), the chieftan of Bernica defeated the Deira chieftan and created a united kingdom--Northumbria (Northanhymbre). It proved to be a pyrrhic victory. Aethelfrith was subsequently killed in battle by supporters of Edwin, a member of the defeated Deiran royal dynasty. This gave Edwin control of the new Kingdom. Control devolved, however, primarily Bernicia royal lines. Northumbria dominated much of the land south of the Firth of Fourth and east of Strathclyde. Northumbria was primarily a North Sea coastal realm, but at times extenbded west to the Irish Sea in an ara south of Strathclyde (mid-7th century. And sucessful military expecitions extended the borders north to the River Tay. To the south lay Mercia, another major nglo-Saxon Kingdom which prevented expansion in that direction. The Picts defeated a large Northumbrian army near Dunnichen (685). After this encounter there was continuous border warfare, but the Northumbrians maintained their grip on the southeastrn Scotish Lowlands. Northumbria became an was an important military power (7th century). Three Northumbrian kings, Edwin (616–632), Oswald (633–641), and Oswiu (641–670), were recognized by the southern Angl-Saxon kingdoms. The kingdom is best known, howver for a cultural renaisance (late- 7th and 8th century). Northumbria made important contributions to Anglo-Saxon religious, artistic, and intellectual life, sometimes called a golden age. Intelectual activity at the time was a province of the church and conducted largely in the monastaries. The related monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow were especially prominant and even achieved recognition on the Continent. The best known figure of the period was the Venerable Beade (672/73-735). He was a monk at Jarrow who achieved international fame as a thologian and historian. He compiled a notable library, very rateat the time. The monasteries of Hexham, Whitby, and Lindisfarne were also important centers of learning. The Gospel book from Lindisfarne (held in the British Museum) is a masterful work of Northumbrian achievements in writing and illumination. Northumbrian sculptors produced beautiful stone crosses. Fine examples exist at Bewcastle and Ruthwell. Just as the Anglo-Saxons first rrived in the south and est. the Vikings (Danes) first arrived in the north. Northumbria rceived the full force of the Viking invasions. The first Viking raiders struck Lindisfarne (793). The Danish Great Army” captured York (866).

Pictish Kingdom ( -843)

The Romans who invaded Britain when they reached the north first began describing the Calenoni who they almost conquered. The Romans under Agricola reported a major victory over the Caledonii (94). Then Agicola was recalled. This allowed the northern tribes time to recover. we then begin to see other tribes mentioned like the Maeatae/Miathi. Subsequently we begin to see the Romans beginning to refer to the Pict, (from Latin picti or painted”). The Picts dominated eastern Scotland. The origin of the Picts is disputed. Some believe they were descendants of pre-Celtic aborigines. Othrer sources claim a Celtiv linguistic compnent although is difficult to know with any certainty because the language is lost. Increasingly the Picts are being seen as an amalgemn of northern tribes possibly of varying ethnic origin, united by the threat of Rome. The first Roman reference ocurred durung the later Roman period (297). One Roman report decribes the “Picts and Irish [Scots] attacking” Hadrian’s Wall. These attacks during the Romn era wre episodic, but continual. After Agricol there were two more major efforts o subdue the north, but all ultimately failed. And the Picts managed to form a united kingdom which coexisted with the Anbglo-Saxon kindoms that were founded after the withdraw og the Legionaires. There were eras in which civil war raged, but generally the Pictish Kingdom held togeher for some 500 years, something the Welsh failed to accomplish. The Picts had an unusual matrilineal royal sucession. Some historians have seen this as a weakness. It mat, however, been the secret to their survival as a united kindom foe several centuries. The Pictish kingdom is notable for its stylized art forms. It left carved stella stones and with Christinization, crosses. Some of the most important Pict archeological sites are round stone towers known as 'brochs' or Pictish towers. There are also underground stone houses called 'weems' or Picts’ houses, Both seem to predate the united kingdom. A Pictish king Angus MacFergus end a period of internal fishing and conquered Strathclyde and Dalriada and ruled over much of what is now Scotland (731-61). Some call him the first Scottish king, but this probably does not include the Celtic element of modern Scotland. The Pictish dominance brought and era of relative peace until the end of the 8th century. It is at this time that the Norsemen begin raiding coastal towns along the North Sea. The Picts focus on the raiding Norsemen, allowing Strathclyde and Dalriada to reasert their independence. Kenneth MacAlpin, a chieftan centred in Argyll and Bute, defeated the Picts and ansorbed them into Kingdom of Alba king (843). This is generally seen as the foundation of the Scottish kingdom.

The Norsemen

The Norse began raids on the Scottish and English coast in the late-8th century. Unlike England, the Vikings did not succeed in establishing pemanent settlements in mainland Scotland. This is interesting because Scotland like Northumbria was most exposed to Viking raiding parties. The difference appears to ne the potent resistance of the strong Picttish kingdom. The Norse did seize the Scottish offshore islands (Orkney, the Shetlands, and the Hebrides), difficult for the Pictts from their eastern kingdom to defend. .


King Keneth MacAlpin of Dalriada and a descendant of the Pictish royal family obtainted the Pictish crown (844). Many Picts may have supported him hoping for support in their efforts to fend off the Norsemen. The united kingdom was called Alban and included all of Scotland nort of the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Inconclusive wars with Northumbria followed. Mac Alpine and his successors often in alliance with Strathclyde and occassionaly with Northumbria wared against the Norsemen. They prevented pemanent Norse settlements in Dalriada, but the Norse did seize the offshoire islands. Later kings of England would base a claim to Scoland on aid provided by Northumbria to Alban. Alban kings in the 10th century after having finally repulsed the Noesemem escalated attacks on Northumbrian positions south of the Firth of Clyde during the 10th century, but with little success.

Scotland Created

Alban King Malcomb II decisively defeated the Northumbrians, now reduced to a Danish client state, at Carham (1018). Malcomb's grandson Duncan who succeeded him inherited the crown of Strathclyde. With the military victories of his grandfather and his inheritance, the kingdom included all of northern Britain south to the Solway Firth and River Tweed. It is at this time that the kingdom becomes known as Scotland. Duncan engaged in disatrous wars and faced rising internal opposition.

Macbeth (1040-57)

Macbeth, the Mormaor (Great Steward) of Ross and Moray assasinated Duncan (1040). Macbeth ruled until he was defeated and killed by Duncan's son Malcomb Canmore who returned from exile in England.

Malcomb III MacDuncan (1057-1093)

Malcomb III's victory over Macbeth began a new era in Scottish history. Malcom's time in exile had profoundly affected him. Scotland befoire Malcom was an essentially Celtic kingdom. Malcomb began a process of Anglization that chalenged Celtic cistoms and institutions. Alban and Scotland were buiklt around Dalriada which was founded by Irish Celts. Strathclyde included the descendens of many Celts pushed north by the Saxon invasions. There is cinsiderable debate asc to the realtinship between the Picts and Celts, but eben if not of Celtic ancestry, the picts were strongly influenced by the Celts. Malcomb married the Saxon Princess Margaret (1067). She had fled the Norman conquest of England after William's victory at Hastings (1066). As she was a devout commuicant of the Roman Catholic Church, she was a major factor in the increasing Anglization process. Under her influence, the Celtic Scottish Church wasctransformed and the ritual brought into harmony with the Roman Church. There was considerable opposition to Anlization. When Malcomb died there was ooen rebellin (1093). Donald Bane drove Malcomb's son Duncan II, Margaret, and theie English retainers into exile in England.

Malcomb's Sons

Another of Malcomb's sons, Edgar, with Normon assistance defeated Bane. Edgar was crowned (1097). The Anglization of Scotland accelerated during Edgar's reign (1097-1107) and that of his two brothers, Alexander I (1107-24) and David I (1124-53). All three had been heavily influenced by their exile in England as well as their mother's English religious and cultural outlook. The initial changes were ecclesiastical matters but other sectors were gradually influenced as well. The new Church authorities supressed Celtic religious orders. English clerics replaced Scottish monks. Many new monastaries were opened. The English clerics brought the largely Celtic Church into conformity with Roman practice and ritual. English began replacing Gaelic, first in court circles, but also gradually in everyday life in the borders and Lowlands. First in the towns, but gradually in many rural areasas well. David I introduced Norman-style Feudalism to Scotland. Davis abolished the traditional system of land tenure which was essential tribal. Rather David claiming the Crown owned all land granted large tracts in central and southern Scotland to his key supporters, both Anglo Normon and Scottish nobels. David proceeded with a range of judicial, legislative, and administrative reforms essentially based on Normon models. He promoted trade with England and granted privildes to many Scottish burghs (towns). David despite his English outlook, did not maintain good relations with England and even supported efforts to dethrone an English monarch. There were border disputes with Tortumbria over lands south od the Tweed. Northumbria was granted to David's son Henry, but the English revoked that grant in relatiation for David's meddling in English politics.

William the Lion

William the Lion, David's grandson was crowned (1165). He attempted to regain control over Northumbria and supported a rebellion against English King Henry II (1173-74). The rebellion failed and in the ensuing fighting William was captured and forced to sign the Treaty of Falaise (1174). One of the provisions was that William swear fealty to the English monarchy. This in the future was to be another legal basis for English claims on Scotland. The Scotts subsequently enduced Richard II to annul the treaty upon payment of 10,000 Marks of silver.

The Clans

The Scottish clans and the plaids that they adopted are some of the most famous as apects of the Scottish nation. They are, however, relatively recent developmenys in Scottish history. The Scotts as the clans developed tried to develop glorified notions of their origins. Some of the powerful clans chose to tie their origins in with Celtic mythology ating back to ancient times. Clan Donald deeloped teo origin stories. The claimed to be descended from either Conn (a second-century king of Ulster) or Cuchulainn, the legendary hero of Ulster. Political rivals Clan Campbell claimed that their origins were Diarmaid the Boar from the Fingalian or Fenian Cycle. Other clans had equally fanciful tales. Historians report that the clans or their progenitors can with few exception not be traced back with an relability further than the 11th century. And any rel continuity of lineage can not be traced further back than the 13th or 14th centuries when the Scottish kingdom was already well established. Historians speculate that the formtion of the clans was more due to the political turmoil than and shared ethnicity. The pacification of the Mormaer of Moray and the northern rebellions createdconsiderable political turmoil (12th and 13th centuries). The Scottish Crown's campaign aginst the Vikings meant the conquest of Argyll and the Outer Hebrides (13th century). All of the allowed refiinal war lords to impose their dominance over local families who were in need of protection, thus creating clans with varying etnicity. These war lords often called warrior chiefs were certainly not all Celtic, but a mix of Gaelic (Irish), Norse-Gaelic, Pictish, and Britishwho had fled north over time from first the Romans, then the Anglo-Saxons, and finally small numbers of Normans, Anglo-Normans and Flemish. Some of the lans whivhbhave fairly recent admixtures included Clan Cameron, Clan Fraser, Clan Menzies, Clan Chisholm and Clan Grant. Of ourse the clan locations afected the precise mixtures. The final step in the formation of the modern clans occurred during the First War of Scottish Independence. Robert the Bruce drove out the English, but sought to introcuce the same feudal tenures that King Edward I of England attempted to introduce. Robert was seeking to harness the power of the clans. He saw that awarding charters for land could gain support in the national independence cause against the Edward and the English. This was a complicated process. Robert elevated Clan MacDonald above Clan MacDougall even though both clans shared a common descent from a great Norse-Gaelic warlord -- Somerled (12th century). Robert's own Clan Bruce had Norman origins. Thus clanship not only was thus not only a strong tie of local kinship but also a feudal relationship to the Scottish Crown. It is only this feudal component, which became reinforced by Scots law that makes Scottish clanship any different from the tribalism prevalent in aboriginal groups (Australasia, Africa and the Americas).

Alexander I and II

Alexander I succeeded his father William and renounced Scottish claims to northern England (1237). This began a period of realtively harmonious relations. Alexander III following a successful war against Norway recovered the Hebrides for Scotland. Alexander III died without a male heir (1286). His only descendent was Margaret of Norway and infant, but even she died as she was being escorted to Scotland to clain her crown (1290).

John de Baliol and Edward I

Alexander II's death and then the death of Margaret left Scotland in crisis. There were 13 descendents of former kings who claimed a right to the throne. Sone turned t the English for support. English King Edward I taking advantage of the crisis offered to mediate and avoid civil war. The act of mediation involved Edward and the English in Scottish politics and helped to advance his claim of suzerainity over Scotland. The chief claimants were John de Baliol and Robert Bruce, both grandsons of David I. Edward led an army north to establish his overlordship and chose John de Baliol king over Robert and the other claimants. After Edward departed Scotland, John found it difficult to rule because of the growing anti-English feeling. John was induced to sign an alliance with France, which at the time was at war with England, and led a revolt against Edward and the English (1295). Edward moved north again and utterly destroyed John's army at Dunbar (1296). He deposed John, annexed Scotland to England, and governed Scotland by military occupation.

Wallace and the Scottish War of Independence

Scottish resistance did not end with John's defeat at Dunbar. Scottish resistance was complicated because there was no one accepted national leader and many Lowland Scotts had been heavily Anglicized seeing the Highlands, where resistance to the English was strongest, as backward and barbaric. A commoner William Wallace emerged as the center of resistance. Wallace gathered an army and defeated a much larger English army in the famed battle of Sterling Bridge (1297). (The Hollywood blockbuster "Wallace" with Mel Gibson forgot the bridge which played a key element in the battle.) Edward I returned to Scotland oknce agin with aneven larger army and defeated Wallace at Falkirk (1298). Wallace organized a guerilla war against Edward which lasred several years. Edward determined to end the low-level, but costly guerilla war, returned again to Scotland at the head of a large army (1304). Wallace was betrayed to Edward and brought to London where he was tried for treason, convicted, and executed (1305).

Robert Bruce

It was Robert the Bruce who fianlly obtained independence for Scotland and English recognition of that independence. Robert's role in the early phases of the Scottish War of Independence is murky. Robert was the claimant to the Scottish throne that Edward had rejected. Whule opposing Edward, Robert was no friend of Wallace who as a commoner always claimed to be acting in the name of King John de Baliol. Robert had opposed both Wallace and John. After Wallace's execution, important elemenents in Scotland, both the nobility and the clergy, began gravitating to Robert. He was crowned (1306), but his forces experienced a series of defeats at the hands of the English forces in Scotland. Edward I died and was followed by Edward II (1307). Edward II was not prepared to continue the exhausting and expensive military campaigns in Scotland. There were still English forces un Scotland and important elements of the nobility that supported the English. Robert began an incessent guerilla campaign against these forces and systematically reduced or eliminated English garrisons and pro-English nobels (1307-14). Robert was able to succeed largely bcause Edward II, unlike his father, did not bring a large army north. Robert successes enabled him to gradually build a Scottish army so by 1314 hecwas no longer a guerilla commander. Robert not only eliminated English garisons and pro-English garrisons, but he also on occassion forayed into northern England. Finally Edward reacted. He organized a punative camapign and marched north. Robert met Edward's army at Bannockburn and achieved the most stunning Scotytish vicory over an English army in the long history of war between the two nations (1314). Edward refused, however, to recognize Scottish independence and war continued, albeit at low intensity for more than a decade. It was at this time that commoners obtained representatioin in the DScottish parliament (1326). Finally after the death of Edward II, the war was ended. The regents for the young Edward III endorsed the Treaty of Northhampton recognizing Scotland as an independent kingdom (1328). Robert died the next year having achieved his goal (1329).

The Scottish Nobility

European monarchs in the Medieval era faced two challenges to their authority. The first was from the papacy the other was from the nobility. The Fedudal systenm was basedc on land grants by the king to his loyal retainers. This enabled these nobels over time to build power in their owned domains that in some cased rival that of the monarchy or at least made it difficult to compel compliance with royal edicts. Some countries like Poland were destroyed because of the power of the nobility. The nobility and the papacy managed to prevent the creation of a unified German kingdom. In other countries (England, France, and Spain) the monarchy prevailed although in some cases only after protracted war amd internal strife. After Robert the Bruce died, the Scottish nobility made it difficult for the monarchy to govern Scotland let alone resist expeditions by a succession of English kings. In Scotland's case the authority of the Monarchy is further weakened by the continuing power of the clans, especially in the Highlands. Scotland's survival as a nation at this time probably is due largely to the fact that the English monarchy had extensive domains in France more valuable than Scotland. As a result, the Hundred Years War (1347-1453) and English claims to the French throne itself absorbed the energies of the English monarcy.

David II

David II succeeded his father as an infant at a very dangerous time (1329). His reign was troubled by feuding nobels and English King Edward III who ignored the Treaty of Northampton. Edward II supported the claim of Edward de Baliol, John's father, to the Scottish crown. With English assistance, Edward de Baliol marched north, defeated a small Scittish army at Dupplin Moor, and was crowned king (1332). He had virtually no support in Scotland and was soon driven from power. Edward III himself then marched north with a sizeable English army and defeated the Scotts at Berwick-upon-Tweed (1333). The English restablished Baliol on the throne and proceeded to occupy much of southeastern Scotland. It is at this time that the Hundred Years War with France breaks out and Edward III's attention is directed south at the much more valuable possessions in France. He largely abandons Baloil and a now adult David II mananages to retake most of occupied Scotland, including Edinburgh (1341). The English at this time desiring to focus on the war with France try to convince the David to renounce the 1295 treaty with France which is still in force. Instead David invades England to support the French (1346). The English defeated David's Scottish army near Durham and David is taken prisoner (1346). The English proceed to occupy much of southern Scotland. The Scotts paid an immense ransome to free David, but his defeat has further weakened the monarchy (1357).

The Stuarts

The Stuart dynasty was founded by Robert II. The Stuarts were unable to overcome the Scottish nobility and impose strng royal authority in Scotland. As a result, Scotland under the Stuarts were unable to resist English encroachments. While the Reformnation was initaited by the English monarchy, in Scotland in occurred in spite of the opposition of the monarchy, although supported by the English. Ironically, although Queen Elizabeth executed her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scotts, her Protestant son James V of Scotland succeeded her as King James I of England, launching the English Stuart dynasty.

Robert II and III

Robert II, a grandson of Robert the Bruce, succeded David (1371). Robert II founded the Stuart dynasty of Scottish kings. Robert was unable because of the feuding nobility to formly establish royal government or effectively resist the English. When his son Robert III became king (1390), royal authority in Scotland was a fiction.

James I, II, and III

Robert's son became James I, but was at the time a prisoner in England (1406). The English finally released James (1424). His effoirts to establish royal authority succed in some administrative changes adopted by parliament, but James was asainated by a rebel nobel (1437). James II and James III attempted with little success to rstore royal authority. James III through his marriage with a Danish orincess mangaed to recover the Orkney Islands.

James IV

Finally some success in restablishing royal authority was achieved by James IV. This was in part possible because James married Margaret Tudor, a daughter of Henry VII. This was one of the most fateful marriages in English history. The initial impact was that it ushered in a time of harmonious relations with England, allowing James to concentrate on domestic affairs. (In the longer term it was the basis for the Stuart claim to the English throne after the death of Henry VIII's daughter Elizabeth.) The harmonious relations with England began to cahnge after the accension of Henry VIII (1509). Henry joined the Holy League against France (1511). He invaded France (1513). Honoring the treaty with France, James invaded England, but his army was destroyed and he was killed at Flodden Field (1513).

James V

James V succeeded his father as an infant. Despite tghe defeat at Flodden Field and the ibfluence of an English faction, the regents that governened Scotland maintained the French alliance. When James reached his majority he endorsed this policy (1528). His chief adviser was a prelate and future cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, David Beaton. It was at this time that Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church launching the Reformation in England. Henry tried to convince James to carry out comparable religious reforms and end the French alliance. James refused. Even without royal support, the Reformation began to gain ground in Scotland, at first among the pro-English faction. James married a French princess Mary of Guise (1538). The union with a foreign princess was not popular in Scotland and was especially resented by the growing Protestant faction. The growing antagonism with Henry resulted in renewed fighting, but mostly Catholics rallied to the royal banner. The English defeated James's army at Solway Moss and he died soon afterward (1542).

Mary Queen of Scotts

The Scottish crown with the death of James was inheited by his daughter who was born only weeks earlier (1542). The queen's regent James Hamilton, Secind Earl of Arran, immediately ordered the arrest of Cardinal Baton, her father's chief adviser. Hamilton's sympathy with the Reformation couls have meant an aporoachment with Henry VIII. Attroicities committed by English soldiers in southern England (1544-45), however, made this impossible. Hamilton strengthened the alliance with France. Mary of Guise, the queen mother, became regent (1548). Unpopular in Scotland, she was preceived as attempting to turn Scotland into a French colony. This was especially resented by the rising Protestant faction. Mary who was betrohed to the French dauphin was sent to France (1548) and married the Dauphin (1558). The exiled Protestant leader returned to Scotland (1549) and adding to the growing resentment toward the monarchy. When Mary of Guise declared the Protestants heritics thaere was rebellion. Mary og Guise had been supported by England's Catholic Queen Mary. On her death the Scottish Protestants began receiving military and financial assistance aid from Protestant Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth ordered an English fleet to lay seige to Edinburgh (1560). Hostilities were ended with tghe Treaty of Edinburg (1560). It provided for the withdrawl of French and English forces from Scotland and the removal of Mary of Guise as regent. Mary died shoerly after. Scottish Protestants met in a special parliament and voted to abolish the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and adopted a Calvanistic Confession (1560). The Dauphin Francis II, Mary's husband, became king, but died within a year (1561). Catholic Queen Mary after the death of her husband returned to now increasingly Protestant Scotland. Mary was now a central figure not only in Scotland, but also in England. As Cathlics did not recognize the Protestant succession in England, they regarded her as the legitimate queen of England as well as Scotland. She was thus a serious threat to Queen Elizabeth. This eventually led to Elizabeth's execution of Mary and after Elizabeth's death the accession of Mary's son James V of Scotland to the English crown.

The Reformation in Scotland

While the Reformnation was initaited by the English monarchy, in Scotland in occurred in spite of the opposition of the monarchy, although supported by the English.


Beade (The Venerable Beade).

Gildas. De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. Gildas (c. 500–570) was a 6th-century British cleric. He is a well-documented figures of the early Christian church in Britain. He wa renowned for his learning as well as literary style. He became known as the Gildas the Wise (Gildas Sapiens). His best-known work is De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae which descrines the the post-Roman history of Britain, and which is the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near-contemporary.

Marcellinus, Ammianus. Res Gestae .

Nennius. Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons). This is a work that has survived in several versions that describe the the history of the indigenous British people. It appears to have been written about 828. The surviving copies exists in numerous recensions. Printing had not yet been invented. Thus copies id the work are manuscripts that were copies by scribes. This mans that errors were made and some scribes edited the work with theoir own ideas. The earlist copy dates to the 11th century. The document is commonly attributed to a Nennius, a 9th century Welsh monk. Some recensions have a preface with his name. A number of experts have dismissed the Nennian preface as a late forgery and that the work was an anonymous compilation.


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Created: September 10, 2003
Last updated: 3:04 AM 5/23/2016