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The history of Scotland on a single page (plus all the links on the right-hand column? Well, I'd better be brief. So let’s do it by snapshots from the Stone Age to the Highland Clearances. Plus a wee mention of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Wish he’d just stayed away.
Picture yourself at Skara Brae in Orkney. For anyone who is interested in connecting with the unknowably ancient, this is the place to go, in all of Scotland. It’s a must see for a glimpse of the earliest history of Scotland. It’s where you can get closest to the life of folk who lived in this little northern place. And remember the climate was a bit kinder in 3000BC! (Also, there are plenty of Orkney pages on this site, after you've done history!)
(above)You can just see Orkney, honestly - the smudge on the horizon, on the right. That's how near it is to the Scottish mainland. This is the beach at Strathy, west of Thurso. You must stop here. You might have it all to yourself. (Orkney only became part of Scotland in 1472.)
Then, staying in Orkney (because I like the place), fast forward to the Vikings. The climate has gone off and it’s a miserable day, so a bunch of them, looking for treasure, have found their way into a chambered tomb. While waiting for the weather to clear, they scratch a variety of graffiti into the stonework. You can still see the runic (and rude) things they wrote on the walls, as the tomb at Maes Howe is now a surviving example of one of the very finest examples of Neolithic craftsmanship to be seen anywhere.
The point is that you may consider the Vikings to have lived a long time ago. But on a time-line of the history of Scotland, these 12th-century guys were making marks inside a structure that was already 4000 years old!
From the Norsemen, for the moment, let’s fast-forward past the Wars of Independence, the Stewart monarchs, the 17th-century Covenanters (very complicated!). All of these topics are important in the history of Scotland and we can return to them some time. But for the moment it’s the winter of 1745. Let’s go to Glasgow. There are cargoes unloading at the quayside on the River Clyde – tobacco, sugar and rum come in. Linens, woollens, shoes, stockings and metalware go aboard. It’s all heading for the Americas and Glasgow's merchant class is making its fortune.
I had a look through my photo library. Nothing at all on Bonnie Prince Charlie's arrival in Glasgow. So here's a typical Glasgow street scene, above - posh restaurant, posh car. It was like that when Charles arrived (except for the restaurants and cars). I mean they are still busy making money, being entrepreneurial. Glasgow's mercantile outlook was an important part of the history of Scotland. Only a little later after Charlie's departure, they started to make even bigger, heavier things and exported them across the world. That's a detail below of a steam loco in Glasgow's fine Transport Musuem
Suddenly, there’s the sound of bagpipes and a crowd of unkempt and wild Highlanders march in and draw up on the ground beside the river. Oh, great, it’s about the last thing the locals need. Fortunately, the Highlanders are under control as this is Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces, northbound. Having failed to get to London and now heading for disaster, they’re looking to re-equip. (Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at this point, suddenly realising that there isn’t a place any more for their lifestyle. You’ve seen the film, of course.)
The townsfolk are aghast. Charles demands 12,000 shirts, 6,000 coats and 6,000 pairs of stockings for his ragged army from the 'Merchant City' – the heart of this industrial city. While all this is being organised, the Young Pretender goes out to dinner, and reviews his troops on Glasgow Green. The busy folk breathe a sigh of relief as the mob eventually leaves for the north.
Glasgow gets on with the Industrial Revolution, making money and playing its part in building a forward-looking economy. The mad adventure by the reckless and deluded Charles ends in slaughter a few months later, and part of the history of Scotland is gradually created for the Jacobites that concentrates on the romance of it all instead of the anachronism and irrelevance.
(Above) A barely recognisable abandoned village on the island of Skye, by Ardnameachan, near Kinloch. A sad chapter in the history of Scotland. The inhabitants went to Canada. This is looking eastwards to mainland, Ben Sgriol on the horizon.
Finally, let’s go forward another hundred years. There’s a gathering in a kirkyard, high up a remote Highland glen. The people are straggling in, carrying what they can of their personal possessions. They are of all ages. Grandchildren help their elders. Improvised shelters have been rigged up. But it’s not unique. It’s just another eviction in the Highland Clearances. Nowadays we might call it ethnic cleansing. But we know a lot about this particular episode in May 1845 at Glencalvie, because, firstly, the folk scratched messages on a pane of window glass in the church. Secondly, it was witnessed by a reporter from 'The Times' of London.
At the same time as these events were unfolding in Highland Scotland, you could travel speedily and safely, between Scotland’s two largest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, by its first inter-city railway line. It had been open for three years, as a symbol of the modern age.
So what do these little cameos mean? Well, firstly that the History of Scotland goes a long way back. Secondly, that Highland and Lowland Scotland were utterly separate in language and culture for a long time. Thirdly, that Bonnie Prince Charlie should have stayed away from Scotland - full stop – and let the illustrators of shortbread tins find themselves another subject. And thirdly, it’s quite easy to connect with the history of Scotland if you use a little imagination as you visit the many historical sites.
There's more on the Jacobites on the Rob Roy pages. And you can find out about the Scottish kings, especially the Stewarts, on this link. There were a lot of them - and several were very accident-prone or a bit unpopular or had English wives. Just saying....
The right column above is where you'll find lots of links to other bits of Scotland's story. Take a look!
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More on the history of Scotland
- nothing too demanding or over-serious, I promise.
Here are fascinating facts on the early kings of Scotland and the later Stewart dynasty. (Or spell them Stuart, if you are French-influenced.) Find out why if they had had gritting lorries in 1286 the history of Scotland would have been very different.
Here is a story of the Battle of Bannockburn, by the PR people who held the Robert the Bruce account. They would have preferred a more scenic battle-site.
Read about Scotland's Stone of Destiny. Truly fascinating. You know it isn't the original one? And even the copy is, uhmm, a replica....
Later, the most famous of the Stewart or Stuart dynasty, Mary Queen of Scots was born in tempestuous times. She returned from France, widowed, aged 18 to be Queen of Scots and a whole heap of trouble. What did she see in the Earl of Bothwell, for goodness sake?
It was Mary Queen of Scots' great-great-great-grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka Prince Charles Edward Stuart. who came later still and had such an impact on the Highlands in the two years he was in Scotland. (It would have been better if he had stayed in Italy and just brooded.)
The Jacobite bid to change history ended at the Battle of Culloden. Today’s visitor site on the battlefield is a Scottish must see.
And the link between Culloden and the Highland Clearances is complex. But the removal of a native population is still remembered widely today in Scotland. (I can think of one stately home I wouldn’t bother visiting.)
Finally there is a snapshot page on Scotland’s story, with a reminder about the role of the Scottish burgh in the old days. Kings liked burghs as it made money for them.
Scotland in Three Days