Search this site:
Until, say, the 12th century, Scotland history really means a battleground between Picts, Scots, Britons, Angles and Vikings. Few early kings died peacefully at home.
And as for the border, well, the territory of the Picts and Scots was really only north of the River Forth, but hemmed in by the Vikings further north still, who held sway over today’s Caithness and Sutherland from a power-base in Orkney. The Lothians, around and east of today’s Edinburgh, were held by the Angles until 1018, while the kingdom of the Britons in Strathclyde became part of the land of the Scots even later. And it wasn’t until after 1263, when the Vikings were finally defeated at the Battle of Largs, that the nation of Scotland began to take the shape that we know today, and - an important milestone in Scotland history - this included the creation of Scottish burghs, which are explained below. (If impatient by nature, you can jump down, following that link. That way, you'd also miss that awful old joke about the English, given below.)
(Left) Here’s a young man on the Scottish Border. (Actually, it’s my son some years ago.) He’s a Scot who carries the genes of Vikings as well as Scottish east coast fishermen. The sign is at the Border crossing at Norham, (in England) a real off-the-beaten-track crossing within easy reach of Berwick-upon-Tweed, another town that had a part in Scotland history.
Soon the Scottish kings were keeping an eye on that other more powerful kingdom in the south – England - an inescapable fact of Scotland history. Around the same time in the 13th century, I suspect, this dreadful old joke was coined.....
It's the one about the conversation between St Andrew and, uhmm, God, when Andrew says ‘Holy Smoke! You’ve given the Scots whisky, the finest beef and lamb, salmon in the rivers, venison from the hills, beautiful mountains….OK, I might be their patron saint – but isn’t all that too much?' To this God replies: ‘No. Not at all. Wait till you see who I’ve given them as neighbours.’
Scotland history reveals that ever after, the Scottish monarchy, both the Royal House of Canmore, and the later Royal House of Stewart, would often diplomatically marry into English royalty and complicate matters of nationhood greatly – starting with King Malcolm III (Canmore or ceann-mor – ‘great head or chief). He married Margaret, daughter of the English King Edward the Confessor.
And it was their son, King David I of Scotland, who took a look at the feudal system then in place as a result of the Norman takeover of Anglo-Saxon England. (Remember? The Battle of Hastings and all that stuff down in deepest England.) The king liked what he saw, especially the bit about governing the outlying bits of his kingdom through tame nobility who were able to raise a bit of revenue – this often kept them quiet and on-side.
So David, as King of Scotland, found himself a posh Anglo-Norman heiress to give him an English title (the Earl of Huntingdon) by this marriage. Then he proclaimed open house north of the Border for any Norman nobles who wanted a slice of Scotland. This is why (most famously) Bruce, but also Grant, Fraser, Barclay, Sinclair and lots more common Scottish surnames have Norman-French origins.
(Left) The Tolbooth at Forres. Though this tolbooth is much later than the actual burgh charter signing – sometime between 1130 and 1153 - it stands as a symbol of the administrative HQ of the old burgh.
And how did these nobles actually make money, both for themselves and for the king? Simple, they went along with the king’s regime and helped found ‘burghs’.
You’ll see the word on town names even today. ‘The Royal Burgh of…. etc’. A royal burgh had certain privileges granted by the king.
The notion of a burgh played an important part in Scotland history. A burgh could protect itself by walls and gates. It could elect officials to make local laws. Most importantly it could trade – make money through its markets and manufacturing, for which duties and taxes would be paid to the royal coffers.
(Left) The skyline of the old Town House in Kirriemuir in Angus. Dating back to 1604, it now houses the local museum, telling the story of the burgh.
Armies might come and go, political parties and factions would leave their mark, but in the history of Scotland, the burgh system, as the bedrock of day-to-day economic life, thrived for centuries. And though not all burghs survived, many prospered – which is why towns and cities, from Aberdeen to Dumfries, can trace their origins back to the granting of charters in the 12th century.
(Above) The old heart of Perth and the River Tay. Though Perth celebrated the 800th anniversary of the signing of its charter in 1210, which granted it Royal Burgh status, it was a trading place on the river for centuries before that.
Search this site:
Scotland in Three Days