A Ridiculously Short History of Scotland

From the Beginning of Time until the End of the SCA Period

By Mary Elizabeth Eyer*

The character of the Scottish peoples is a curious one that has prompted many stereotypes. It is also one that has very much influenced the character of the American peoples due to the large number of Scotch and Scotch/Irish immigrants who came to America during the development of this nation. They are a people who are proud, self reliant, hardy, sometimes isolationist, thrifty by necessity, well respected militarily, sometimes fatalistic and melancholy, slow to change, but enthusiastic once a new idea has caught them. They have hearty appetites for food and drink and other earthly pursuits; a strong love of their traditional literature, folk stories, music and dance; and an almost contradictory love for their Calvinist Kirk. Although their loyalties may seem fickle to the casual observer of their history, their deep and abiding loyalties have always been with the preservation of their kin, their ancestral lands and ultimately, their own sovereignty. What made these people what they are?


Scotland's history and identity has been shaped by its geography more than anything else. Located at about the same latitude as Denmark and Nova Scotia, it's most Northerly land lies just within the Arctic Circle. It is about 30,000 square miles in size compared to 58,000 of England and Wales. It is stretched out in a long peninsula with more than a tenth of its acreage accounted for in its many islands. It's location far from the cultural centers of the mainland located around the Mediterranean has made it slow to absorb new ideas and fashions from those warmer lands and blunted the influence of the Roman Conquerors. It's proximity to the Scandinavian pirates and settlers of the Viking Area along with its many nooks and crannies suitable for landing parties, especially on its West Coast and Northern islands, along with a lack of a central government to combat their onslaughts, made it a easy target for raids and immigrants. Even within its borders, distinct differences in the geography of various districts shaped the development the peoples that make up modern Scotland. There is the Lowlands to the southeast, the rolling hills between the firths of Clyde and Forth, the soaring heights of the Highlands (Mt Merrick ascends to 2,700 feet - for reference, Old Rag in George Washington National Forest in VA is about 4,400), and the scattered islands sometimes developing as groups and some as little kingdoms all their own.

The climate is generally cool and damp, and downright cold in the most north and at the highest elevations. However, the Gulf Stream bathes the western coast with a mild climate, and in some sheltered coves palm trees and other semitropical plants grow. Overall, with a short growing season, poor soil conditions in many areas and few natural resources, Scotland has been a poor country throughout most of its history.

The Origins of the Scottish Peoples

There is archaeological evidence of stone age peoples in Scotland who built monolithic structures as well as stone forts and burial mounds. Very little is known of these peoples other than their few remaining artifacts. The first written history of Scotland comes from the Roman Tacitus who writes of the defeat of the Caledonians at Mons Graupius in eastern Scotland in AD 83. This is roughly twenty years after Boudica caused a little trouble for the Romans to the far south of Britain.

Four peoples made up the majority of what is now the Scottish people, each contributing to the various cultural and linguistic strains still extant there.

First we have the Picts, an early tribe of Iron Age Celts, artistically similar to the Scythians of Eastern Europe, the oldest inhabitants about whom we have any historical reference other than folk tradition, who were slowly but surely pushed to the extreme North and North East during the first few centuries after Christ. They were named for us by the Romans and that name may be a catch all nickname applied to several tribes, possibly because of their use of body painting or tattoos. There is some considerable archeological evidence about their dwellings and their artifacts, but we actually know very little about their culture. . They lived in tribes who were theoretically and often actually related to their tribal chief. It seems that they chose their chieftains by allowing a counsel of elders pick among the close kin (derbfin) of the deceased chief frequently through the mother's lineage, supposedly choosing the most able male (tanist), not necessarily the most closely related. There was little evidence of class consciousness, with all tribe members except a handful of elite acting as equals. Their treatment of women, although barbaric in some respects to our modern minds, was more liberal than most cultures throughout the SCA period. Like most Celts, slavery as we think of it was rare, and what did exist was of the indentured servant variety, usually due to burdens of debt of punishment of crimes. Prisoners of War were generally either killed or kept for ransom. The Picts spoke a form of P-Celtic, of the Gaulic strain, most similar to those from Wales, Cornwall and Breton. There is some evidence that their elite or priestly class also spoke an ancient Indo-European language, scraps of which remain in some place names, and which may give credence to folk tales of an older race of original inhabitants from far off lands. All of the Pictish tribes were united under Brude, son of Bile in the mid 7th century and by the time of Bede (a hundred years later) had established an ascendancy over other peoples of Scotland under the influence of the clan Fergus.

Next we have the Scots, who were an Irish Celtic tribe from across the Bay who spoke a form of Q-Celtic, the mother language of Scots, Manx and Irish Gaelic. It is important to remember, that the term "Scot" has different meanings at different points in time - in the early days, "Scot" meant a single tribe or group of tribes. A monk named Columba from a noble Irish family is credited with converting Scotland to Christianity in 563, but the conversion of Scotland was more of a gradual change spanning centuries than a clear cut change of heart for all of its peoples. Columba encouraged the Scots tribes to unite against Pict aggression under Aedan of the house of Gabhran, making him the first king of the Scots. However, sandwiched geographically between the Picts and the Angles, the Scots suffered some serious defeats and were slowly but surely assimilated by other tribes over the next few centuries, until in 843 their king, Kenneth MacAlpin, attained the Pictish throne by his maternal line, thus uniting the remaining Scots with the Picts.

The Britons of the Lowlands and Border areas were remnants of the Roman-Celtic world abandoned as that Empire shrank back to its source and then faded altogether. Some place names in those areas retain signs of their Latin source. Of mixed genetic stock and mixed loyalties, their unification as a kingdom was always uncertain, and they were eventually overcome by the more robust culture of the Angles who pushed aggressively north, subduing the Britons under King Aethelfirth in 756, perhaps strengthened by a temporary alliance with the Picts.

The Angles, and perhaps some Friesians, were the main Germanic influence on Scotland and gave us the base of the Doric or Lowland Scots, a language most similar to Flemish, Dutch and Old English. Later, during the Viking era, Scandinavians settled in Scotland, mostly Danes in Pictland and Dumbarton and Norwegians in Shetland, the Orkneys and Caithness, and lent their influence to the language, genetics and culture.

Throughout the era prior to the creation of a united Scottish kingdom, Christianity grew in its influence. There was a split, however, between the Celtic Church and the Roman Church both in style and policy that lasted well beyond the Synod of Whitby (634), with the more administratively oriented Roman influence eventually prevailing. This period shaped an attitude about religion that is uniquely Scots - that the church for a Scotsman, although under the dominion of Rome at this time, would always be the Church of Scotland. This was so strong a conviction that when Saint Margaret came north after the Norman Conquest, she found her neighbors saying Mass 'in some barbarous rite'.

Kenneth MacAlpin was succeeded by his son, Kenneth II who ruled for only 4 years. There had been a long tradition of alternating succession between two strong houses, one by the mother's line, the other by the father's line. This lead inevitably to bloodshed and dispute. In this manner, Kenneth II was succeeded by Malcolm I. Kenneth III was succeeded after a brief and uneventful reign by his slayer, Malcolm II, who conquered Lothian. He, in turn, was succeeded by his grandson, Duncan, ruler of Strathclyde, creating a true King of all Scotland in 1034. The grandchild of the murdered king became wife of MacBeth (of Shakespearean fame) a mormaer (high steward) who had royal claims in his own right. When Duncan was killed by a rival, Malcolm III (known to history as Malcolm Bighead, or Canmore in Gaelic) went to war with MacBeth and having defeated him, was crowned king. This was the beginning of the House of Canmore and a more or less direct, patrilineal pattern of inheritance that lasted from 1057 - 1290 with the death of Margaret, the maid of Norway.

House of Canmore

The reign of Malcolm Canmore was significant for a few reasons. One, he married Margaret, who had a strong influence on the church and the court of Scotland, bringing them more culturally in line with the rest of Europe at that time. Second, he fought the Normans, invading England 5 times, finally submitting to William I. He sent his son (by his first wife Ingiborg) Duncan to William I as hostage, something the son never forgave. His daughter Mathilda became the wife of Henry I of England. Duncan was succeed by his brother, Donald, and the son Duncan II had the distinction of ousting his uncle with English assistance and then being unseated by him and then succeeding him to be crowned Duncan III. He who was twice a king was in turn succeeded by Edgar, his half brother, who also won the crown with English aid and was the first, but not the last, Scottish King to swear fealty to the English king, in this case William II. Alexander I, the next child of Malcolm and Margaret to become king, while not swearing fealty, served in battle under Henry I in a campaign in Wales in 1114, the act of a vassal. He married Henry's natural daughter thus setting in motion the beginning of the English claim to the throne of Scotland. The third brother, David I, married Maud, the daughter of the Earl of Northumbria while he himself was still but an earl in Scotland. This line introduces into the peers of Scotland French names from the Anglo-Norman influence, including the ancestors of John Balliol and Robert de Brus (Bruce). During this time some other leading figures gathered around the throne, including Morville, Soules, Lindsay, and the Breton, Walter the Steward who were prized by David for their expertise in war and administration of government. David made a play for Cumbria and Northumberland through his wife's claim when Stephen succeeded William II of England and after pitching a bitter war with much burning, looting and killing of inhabitants, he was defeated by the English, who reciprocated with similar brutality. The treaty was fairly liberal, however. In exchange for fealty to the English king, the successor of David was promised all of Northumbria. When Stephen was followed on the English throne by Henry I, Henry took an oath to grant David's son all of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmoreland. Henry II did not honor that agreement when David's son predeceased him and David's grandson Malcolm IV came to the throne of Scotland as an 11 year old. When he presented himself to Henry II to swear fealty, he abandoned those lands. In order to support a rebellion against Henry, Malcolm invaded England in 1174, only to lose his army in a fog and fall into the hands of the English, who imprisoned him. In order to win back his freedom, he swore fealty publicly to the English king and submitted to him 5 of his castles as a safeguard: Edinburgh, Stirling, Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Berwick. William, the Lion, Malcolm's successor, purchased back from Richard I these castles promising him 10,000 silver merks which Richard intended to use to finance the crusade. He again indebted Scotland by paying King John 15,000 merks to avert an English invasion of Scotland in 1209. Alexander II, son of William, supported the barons who were attempting to unseat John, whose crown was also in danger from his French relatives. Alexander took Carlisle in anticipation of an invasion by the French, which later failed. After John's death, Henry III defeated King Louis and the rebel barons and Alexander lost Carlisle but regained Huntingdon, and Alexander made peace by marrying the sister of Henry III. Tensions rose again when Alexander's sister, married to the Earl of Pembroke, drew him into a rebellion against Henry III. War was narrowly averted by the intercession of Pope Gregory IX. Alexander formally withdrew his claim to the northern counties and the border was fixed, where it has remained, on the line of the Solway and the Tweed. Another close brush with war, this time because of the aggression of Henry, led to the Treaty of York in 1237 when Alexander's heir, also named Alexander, agreed to marry Henry's daughter Margaret. The marriage was celebrated in 1271 when Alexander III was 10 years old and Margaret was 11. When he succeed to the throne as a minor, Henry began to exert pressure on Scotland, using his concern for his daughter's safety as an excuse. He reorganized the Scottish government, ousting one Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, and putting in place a council of English puppets, in effect giving control of Scotland over to England. Comyn returned to power in 1258 after seizing the person of the king, and making an alliance with the Welsh. A regency was established with representatives from both sides which ruled the country until the boy king reached his majority. Although he swore fealty to the English king Edward I in 1278, he stated publicly that he held Scotland subject 'to God alone'. His daughter, also named Margaret, was married to Eric, king of Norway. This Alexander reigned well and the economy and influence of Scotland improved. Unfortunately, after being pre-deceased by his first wife, his two sons and his daughter, he died when his horse took a tumble on a rainy night. His second wife, had not yet borne a child. The heir to the throne of Scotland was now his grand-daughter, an infant girl, Margaret, living in Norway. Alexander was hardly cold in his grave, and the little Queen was still in Norway when Edward I Plantagenet came forward with the proposal that the little Margaret marry his son. A treaty to that effect was signed and a ship dispatched to get the little girl. When Edward proposed that English troops should be garrisoned in Scotland to protect the child, the Scots rejected his suit.

The Scottish War for Independence

Governance was turned over to a group of "custodes" or guardians to protect the realm from the conflicts of the many claimants to the throne. The custodes, themselves split between support of Robert Bruce and John Balliol, maintained an uneasy peace until the news reached Edinburgh that the little queen, "The Maid of Norway" had died in the Orkneys. Thus ended the direct line from Malcolm Canmore.

At the request of one of the custodes, Edward arbitrated the various claims to the throne, and after hearing deliberations before 80 Scottish and 24 English auditors, declared for Balliol. Edward immediately made terms with John in exchange for his support, terms which proved too much even for the pliant Balliol to accept, amounting to Scotland's subservience to England. Balliol quickly changed directions and made an alliance with France, fearing to stand alone against Edward. Edward mounted an attack within two days. He was met in the border lands by Scottish nobles coming to vow fealty to him, among them Robert Bruce and his father, strong enemies of the Balliols. When he heard this, John Balliol turned over the holdings of the Bruce to his own brother in law, John Comyn. Edward proceeded to sack Berwick and Dunbar, where with the help of the Bruce's he defeated Balliol at great loss of Scottish lives. Balliol renounced the throne, spent three years in the Tower of London and later died in exile in France.

In 1297, a knight from the southwest, one William Wallace, motivated by harsh treatment by English troops occupying Lanark and the execution of a girl who was possibly his wife, raised a rebel force and defeated a large English army at Stirling Bridge. He practiced indecisive guerilla warfare against the garrisoned troops until he was soundly defeated at Falkirk in July, 1929. Although he evaded capture until 1305, he was eventually tried and brutally executed by the British at Westminster Hall. (I just did all of Braveheart in three sentences!!!!)

All seemed quiet in occupied Scotland for several years. The eighth Robert the Bruce, son of the rival to John Balliol, met with John Comyn, presumably to discuss resistance, in 1306 in a Kirk in Domfries. The long conflict between the two families came to a head and Bruce stabbed Comyn and left him for dead in the church. This betrayal of the church sanctuary caused the Pope to excommunicate Bruce. Far from humbled, Bruce went to Scone on Palm Sunday 1306 and had himself crowned King of Scotland. Two days later the crown was placed on his head by Isobel of Fife, Countess of Buchanan, who did so because her brother feared to. Edward retaliated with great brutality, and on June 26 Bruce was soundly defeated, the Countess captured and placed in a cage and his allies, including Simon Fraser were hung, drawn and quartered. Bruce became a hunted criminal. However, he persisted and had his first triumph Palm Sunday of the next year. James Douglas, leading an army for Bruce, took his own Douglas castle from the English and destroyed it. Gradually, Bruce gained the support of more and more powerful Scots nobles, with victories at Glentrool and Loudon Hill. Finally, Edward, now a sick old man, set out himself for Scotland. Edward died 7 July, 1307 at Burgh-on-Sands. His dying wish was that his bones be carried in a sack on the front lines of the army that crushed Scotland, but his son was not capable of carrying out his request. Edward II soon abandoned his father's project and withdrew. By the summer of 1309, after defeating the Comyns and their supporters the MacDougalls, Bruce controlled most of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde. Later that year, he was recognized as king by the King of France, and in 1310 the Church of Scotland declared for him despite his excommunication by the Pope. In the next three years, he drove the English from all the border counties save Stirling.

Finally, Edward II rose to the aid of Stirling, where he found the Bruce waiting for him with a large army. The two met 24th of June, 1314 at Bannock Burn at sunrise. By clever placement of his troops on the uneven terrain, Bruce had the larger, better equipped English force in retreat by noon. By 1318, all of the former lands of Scotland were again under Scots control. Edward petitioned the new Pope to extend the letters of excommunication of Bruce signed by his predecessor, and a group of Scottish nobles sent a document known as "The Arbroath Declaration" to Pope John XXII, declaring their loyalty to the Bruce, saying "We fight not for glory, nor riches, nor honor, but only for that liberty which no true man relinquishes but with his life." The Pope, while short of anointing the Bruce as King, did not renew the excommunication. The war wound down slowly, and a Treaty of Peace was signed in May 1328, at which time the Bruce's son David was married to Edward III's sister Jane. Both where very young children. Bruce died a year later of natural causes at the age of 53.

The daughter of Bruce, Margery, had married one Walter the Steward (later known as Stewart and then Stuart). Their little son became David II in 1331 and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray became Regent. But trouble was not far away, and supporters of Edward Balliol, son of John, urged on by Edward III, formed a rebellion. The Earl of Mar, a nephew of Robert was defeated and killed at Dupplin Moor, Edward Balliol was crowned king and by 1333, having heavily defeated the Scots, Edward III gained the support of a large number of Scots nobles. The lowlands were quickly overrun and garrisoned by the English. The little king and his English wife fled to France and the Regency was transferred to Robert Stewart, who mounted a resistance and with the help of the French, was able to retake enough of his country to ensure the safe return of his king, David in 1341. The Hundred Years War occupied the attentions of the English while the Scots slowly retook their lands. After the French defeat at Crecy, David II invaded England to assist his French allies. He was taken prisoner and stayed in the English court for 12 years while Stuart continued as Regent. When again asked by France, Stuart now invaded England to a better result. After several attempts, Edward III decided to take a political rather than a military attack and asked for a ransom of 100,00 marks for the return of their king. This devalued the Scots currency and the poor outcome of their French allies in the war demoralized the Scots, some of whom counseled for capitulation to the English. David made a pact with Edward to make Edward's son the heir of Scotland, a pact strongly rejected by the Scottish parliament. David died in 1371 and was succeeded by Robert Stuart, his nephew and former Regent, who become the first Stuart King.

The Reign of Stuarts

Robert II stopped making payments on the ransom debt of David II, renewed the former alliance with France, and repulsed advances on his borders by the young English king, Richard II. He was an old man when he came to the throne and depended heavily on his more able brother, the Duke of Albany until his death in 1390. His increasing physical incapacity and the four month gap between his reign and the crowning of his son as Robert III allowed internal rivalries to arise among the nobility of Scotland. During this time the stereotype of the untamed savage formerly given to all Scots, was formed of the Highlander by other Scots and the beginning of class strife between the Gaelic speaking Highlander and the English speaking Lowlander surfaced, a rift that was to continue to one extent or another unto this day.

Robert's son, Robert III, was lame because of a childhood horsing accident and this handicap in a warlike time continued the dependency of the crown on the Duke of Albany, increasing his power. Robert III eventually abdicated the throne due to his health amid continued hostilities between competing factions of the Scottish nobles. The king's eldest son David, Duke of Rothesay was the first regent, but disappeared under suspicious circumstances in 1402 and was replaced by the duke of Albany. In 1406, the second son, James I, was seized by the English while attempting to escape the duke by traveling to France, and he spent the first 18 years of his reign in the English court while regents continued to control Scotland.

Through his sons, Murdoch and Buchan, the Regent now took a role in the competition for control of Scotland going on between two main factions controlled on one hand by the MacDonalds, semi-autonomous "Lord of the Isles" allied to the English, and the Douglas clan, descendants of the Douglas who had fought and died as a hero for the Bruce. A short but brutal civil war broke out between the factions in 1411 when Donald MacDonald struck out across Northern Scotland with the intent of seizing Aberdeen. His advance was stopped at Harlaw, without a clear victor emerging. In this year, the first University in Scotland was founded at Saint Andrews in the style of the University in Paris.

Buchan, son of the regent, and leading 12000 Scottish troops, came to the aid of the French in repulsing Henry V from their lands and thus turned the tide of war. Henry said of the Scots as he lay dying "That is a cursed nation. Wherever I go, I find them in my beard'. Buchan became Constable of France and Commander of the French armies, while the head of the Douglas clan was rewarded with the Duchy of Touraine. The French were impressed by the Scottish soldier's ability at the battle field, but also their ability to consume large quantities of food and drink: they nicknamed the Scots "mouton eaters".

The Duke of Albany died in 1420 and was replaced as regent by his son, Murdoch. James, with the help of the English, took his new wife, Joan Beaufort, herself cousin to Henry VI of England, home to reclaim his throne. Having learned kingship from the strong English monarchy, he lost no time in reversing the erosion of royal power in his homelands. In 1427, he invited the Highland Chiefs to a Parliament and then arrested 40 of them, eventually killing some. Military retaliation by the Highlanders in 1428 and 1431 was effectively put down. In the Lowlands, through imprisonment, forfeiture, exile and reversion over a decade, he managed to reclaim many earldoms to royal control. He held court as befit his station, dressed in splendor and outfitted his residences well. He supported Charles VII and John of Arc against the English. His court was visited by Aeneas Sylvius who later became Pope Pius II, and who said of the Scots women that they were "fair in complexion, comely and pleasing, though not distinguished for their chastity.".

James made much needed social and legislative reform, earning him the name Rex Legifer - King Lawgiver. Although these reforms were needed and aided the economy, changes of old traditions in crop planting, hunting and fishing, and the like did not make him popular, especially among the nobles who had formerly profited from those traditions. On February 20, 1437 he was killed in the presence of his wife by his uncle, cousin and another noble, who all suffered death by savage torture at the command of the Queen. He was succeeded by his 6 year old son, James II and yet another Regency, this time the Earl of Douglas, allowing the nobles to regain power. But in 1439, Douglas died and the regency passed to William Chrichton, keeper of Edinburgh Castle. Chrichton, in an attempt to break the power of the Douglases, murdered the new Earl and his brother, both children, at a royal dinner, and divided up their land holdings. James II took over at the age of nineteen and showed himself to be a strong king, like his father. When the nobles, including the Douglas's, made a dangerous alliance against the crown, James invited the earl of Douglas to dinner in the hopes of winning over his support and when those hopes failed he stabbed him with his own hand. Parliament's judgement was that "The Earl was guilty of his own death by resisting the King's gentle persuasion." At this point, popular support was with the King and the Douglases were finally broken militarily in 1455 and their estates forfeited by Parliament.

While laying siege to Roxburgh in 1460 in support of Henry VI against the usurper York, was killed by misfired artillery. He was succeeded by his nine year old son, James III and the Queen Mother assumed the Regency, which she held until 1462 when control was seized by Bishop Kenney. Kenney died in 1465 and was replaced by Lord Boyd. Boyd arranged a marriage between young James and Margaret, princess of Denmark, whose dowry included the control of the Orkneys and Shetland. When he reached his majority at eighteen, the King's first act was to eliminate Boyd. His style was too intellectual and passive, however, to win the hearts of his nobles, who loved hunting and war. His brothers Albany and Mar were more popular and in 1479, fearing for his crown, he imprisoned them. One died in his bath and the other, Albany, escaped to London, where he claimed to be King of the Scots. In 1482, he attacked Scotland with an English army. James headed out to meet them, but was instead overtaken by Archibald Douglas (who earned the name "Bell-the-Cat"), and taken in custody back to Edinburgh. His brother took over briefly as Regent. Albany was eventually forced into exile by the King's supporters and later died in a tournament in France. In 1488, a fresh rebellion culminated in the battle of Sauchieburn, just south of Stirling, in which James died of a stabbing wound after falling from his horse. His successor was the 15 year old James IV, who was controlled at first by a regency under Archibald Douglas. A letter was sent to the Courts of Europe giving a tactful, almost fictitious account of the Battle of Sauchieburn "whereat the father of our Sovereign Lord Happinit to be slane'. Douglas and his co-conspirators reaped the rewards of their victories, raising the Campbells to power and one Hepburn of Hailes was made Earl of Bothwell and Lord High Admiral for his services.

Undoubtedly the most popular Stewart king and arguably the ablest, James IV was intelligent, charming, well educated. A lover of the arts, he lived in a time when Scottish literature and music emerged as a genre of its own. Also a lover in the usual sense, he fathered an astonishing number of illegitimate children. Either due to his influence, or to the favorable economics of the time, building of fine churches flourished during his reign and the cold, forbidding castles on the landscape were in many cases transformed into elegant residences. Education grew apace with the rest of Europe, its influence deepening and spreading geographically. Scotland's first printing press made it's appearance and more people owned and read their own Bibles. A flourishing trade in wool, hides, salt fish and raw materials grew up, tying the Low Country of Scotland to the Low Country of the mainland, bringing imports of manufactured goods and luxuries into the country. Despite his many amorous adventures, James was religiously orthodox, and mainstream Catholicism held sway in Scotland while religious reforms within the Church were underweigh elsewhere in Europe.

The disturbances caused by the Highlanders continued in his reign, notably the adventures of the brutal Angus Og, Lord of the Isles, a man violent even for his time, who was eventually slain in his sleep by his own harper, and his son Black Donald's rivalry with the victorious Macdonalds and the Macleans. And although James did two things a Scottish king had never done - learn Gaelic and travel to the Highlands - his attempts to peacefully resolve the "Highland problem" were unsuccessful. His later policy of feudal overlordship also failed to keep order. He was more successful in maintaining a balance between his country's old friends and allies the French and the English. He married Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and renewed the "Auld Alliance" with France. When war broke out in Europe, however in 1511, Scotland watched as all of Europe lined up against France, and worried that Scotland's security was only good as long as France survived. His efforts at peaceful negotiations earned him the name of Rex Pacificator - King Peacemaker, but in 1513, he was forced to take military action to assist France, leading the largest and best equipped army theretofore assembled in Scotland across the Tweed into England. After taking 4 English castles in as many weeks, they encountered a large British force near Branxton Hill in a place called Flodden Edge. The battle became a massacre, with the King, the flower of the Scottish nobility, and all of its able military leaders perishing that day, September 9, 1513.

Queen Margaret assumed the regency of the baby king, James V, but forfeited it in 1514 by marrying the Earl of Angus, head of the powerful "Red Douglas" clan. John, Duke of Albany and heir to the throne, took over as regent and renewed the alliance with the French. He put down a plot by Margaret and her husband in 1517 to kidnap the young James and take him to England. Under pressure for Henry VIII, Albany resigned in 1524, and the young king was, in the vernacular of the time "coupt from hand to hand", until in 1526, at fourteen years of age, he was declared by Parliament as ready to govern, although in fact he was practically a prisoner of the Douglases. The Douglases had control of the Lowlands, having defeated their opponents, the Hamiltons in a battle fiercely fought in the very streets of Edinburgh. When James escaped in 1528, he wasted no time in dispatching Angus and his supporters across the border, quickly restoring law and order in that area.

The young king now was the target of match makers throughout Europe hoping to sway Scotland to one side or another of the religious disputes raging on the Continent. In 1537, he married Madeleine, daughter of Francois I of France, but she died before their first anniversary. The next year, he married Marie of the very powerful, wealthy and Catholic family de Guise. She bore him two sons, but both died in 1541. Using the excuse that James was negotiating with Irish chieftains to take the throne of Ireland, Henry VIII proclaimed himself sovereign of Scotland, hoping to bring the nation under the Church of England and thus consolidate his power. James retaliated by attacking England, but found that he had little support from his nobles. After a defeat of his army, lead by Oliver Sinclair, at Solway Moss, the King fled to Falkland sick in mind and body. On the day that he received word of the birth of his daughter, Mary, he died. He is quoted as saying, in reference to the beginning of his house when Margery Bruce married Walter Stewart, "It came with a lass and it will gang with a lass. The lass was named Mary and proclaimed Queen when she was less than a week old, in 1542.

When the heir to the throne, Arran, was appointed regent, he immediately began negotiating a marriage treaty for little Mary with the English, who wanted to join her with Henry's son Edward. B
But Marie de Guise and her advisor Cardinal Beaton quickly had Mary crowned and convinced Parliament to repudiate the treaty of marriage with the English. Henry retaliated by attacking Scotland and in 1544 laid waste to Edinburgh and the Borders, encouraging his soldiers in a campaign of brutality, wasting even the homelands of English allies, and resulting in a sense of hostility for the English that was to endure in Scotland for many generations.

Scotland, Religion and Reformation

It may seem difficult for modern minds to understand why our ancestors would have gone to war to influence another country's religious practices or rioted in the streets because of the reading of a translated version of the New Testament. But if seen in the context of the power structure of the times, a challenge to the Church was also a challenge to the accepted social order, and indeed to the very fabric of society. To read aloud in your own language a "forbidden" bit of scripture and be enriched by its message was to tear away centuries of oppression and turn one's world view on its head.

Over the centuries, the church had so integrated itself into the lives of the peoples that along with royal laws, parliamentary laws, township and guild regulations, Church law also dominated their lives. The Pope could and did wage war, mint money, grant land holdings, play match maker for the royal houses of Europe and influence the electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. Also, because the Pope had "anointed' the crowned heads of Europe, proclaiming in effect that their authority was part of God's plan for the world, those same kings and emperors were loathe to attack the institution that had validated them. However, even they were increasingly jealous of the Church's growing wealth and interference in their affairs.

>Church officials grew rich on indulgences and legally mandated tithing systems while local parish churches could not maintain their buildings or care for their poor. Church offices from the lowest to the highest were openly for sale. The illegitimate offspring of bishops, cardinals and even popes were given positions of wealth and power in courts, armies and even the church itself. The level of education of the clergy was so low that many a parish was led by an illiterate. Every transition in the life cycle from birth to death was overseen by the church and dignified by an often costly ritual. The selling of indulgences and the exploitation of many dubious relics amounted to the church acting as con artists, procuring for a superstitious flock the salvation and forgiveness for which they were all too willing to pay. The legal right of the Church to excommunicate those unwilling or unable to pay church taxes and seize their lands added unjustly to Church coffers, as did laws which transferred to the Church land holdings when inheritance was unclear. Although various efforts at Church reform had been undertaken in the latter half of the 15th century, some instigated from within the Church, little good had come from them and some bad, notably the institution of the Spanish Inquisition.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the church of Wittenburg. He believed that man could only reach salvation by the grace of God, which man received by faith alone, and that no amount of good works could save a soul. He also believed that Jesus, as God, was manifest everywhere, and so was not miraculously drawn into the bread and wine by the pronouncement of the priest during Mass. Rather the Mass was a reminder of the spiritual presence of God in the material world. He refuted the theory behind indulgences; that saints and holy men could "store up" as in a bank their good works which could then be withdrawn by the Church to be dispensed to the unworthy to gain them forgiveness for their sins. Even if this were true, he contended, the Church should distribute these imaginary units of salvation without charge, not sell them to the highest bidder, thus filling heaven with only the wealthy. In short, his sincerely held beliefs were serious challenge to Church authority.

Because of the administrative inefficiency of the Church and his friendship with the Elector of Saxony, Martin Luther was never put to death by the Church although he was declared a heretic. His followers made Lutheranism the official Church of much of Germany and started a chain reaction of social, political and religious change.

Influenced by Luther and the Dutch reformer and Humanist Erasmus, Ulrich Zwingli brought about similar changes in Switzerland, bringing the control of the new Protestant Church into the hands of the meisters of the communes and town halls. Zwingli took things a step further theologically than Luther and in an attempt to wipe out what he considered Papist idolatry, stripped churches of art, statuary and music, often whitewashing the interiors so that there would be nothing to distract the congregation from their spiritual contemplation. Similar movements across Europe resulted in the destruction of many priceless art works as the faithful, called iconoclasts, stormed into churches with hammers and torches, destroying the religious images within.

When in the following decades the Anabaptist movement swept though Europe, a new concept was born: religious freedom. Determined pacifists, they believed, among other things, that in order for religious conviction to bring about salvation it had to be voluntarily entered into, and thus any joining of church and state was an abomination. For them, each congregation should be self administered, whether it consisted of all of the citizens of a town, or only a handful of the faithful. They were consistently and brutally persecuted by Catholic and Protestant alike, and have lived on to this day only in the Amish, Mennonite and Moravian comminutes in remote parts of Europe and in the New World.

Finally, there came on the scene one John Calvin, an Frenchman exiled to Switzerland for his beliefs. Far from being a Humanist, he believed that there was nothing that man could do to bring about his salvation, but rather that salvation or damnation was given by the whim of an all powerful God, predetermined from the beginning of time. While Luther never saw a separation between spirituality and the material world, for Calvin, there was a huge and unreconcilable gulf between the perfect Creator and the hopelessly imperfect creation. .Although salvation and damnation had been decided by God and could not be altered by man, we could determine who was and was not of the elect by certain tests, one of which was the love of the celebration Lord's Supper. The only course of action for a devout Christian, he preached, was to submit to the unfathomable will of God, worship him and follow his commandments. Calvin is also credited with inventing the Protestant work ethic, since he preached that an acceptance of one's station in life was a way of bending to God's will, and that the commonplace callings of shoe maker or merchant were just as pleasing to God if done as well and as diligently as possible and for the greater glory of God rather than for profit.

Calvinism in its various forms became the most widely accepted and international form of Protestantism as it swept its way across the continent and into the British Isles. So strong was the British sympathy with these new ideas that when Henry VIII opposed the Pope to gain his divorce and established himself as the head of the new Church of England in 1534, the majority of the populace was behind him. In 1539, Henry commissioned an English version of the bible which began to make its way across the border into Scotland.

One other effect of Henry's act was to politicize the religious changes at a new, national level. After a brief reversal of the Protestant cause under Bloody Mary, Elizabeth continued in her father's tradition and repulsed offers for marriage from Catholic Spain and France. Spain's Phillip II believed himself to be appointed by God to save Catholicism and he devoted the resources of his vast empire to extinguishing heresy. When Elizabeth supported his rebellious Dutch subjects against him, he brutally put down their rebellion and sent the Spanish Armada to attack England. In France, the Crown, led by the de Guise relatives of Mary, Queen of Scot's mother, waged open warfare against the Huguenot Protestants. This fury culminated in the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24, 1572 which began in Paris when Catherine de Medici plotted to kill the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny who was influencing her son, Charles IX. By accident, de Coligny escaped injured but alive. Fearing a Catholic reprisal, she assassinated many Protestant leaders who had assembled in Paris for a royal wedding. This triggered an outbreak of brutal repression that left tens of thousands of Huguenots dead and thousands more fleeing their homelands for Germany, Holland, England, Scotland and the New World. Protestants from Flanders and Holland, persecuted by the Spanish, also fled to the more tolerant Scotland, bringing their ideas with them.

Scotland was as hard hit by the corruption of the Church as any other European nation, perhaps more so because of a lack of supervision from distant Rome, and the overall poverty of Scotland's commoners. Although the early Protestant ideas spread to Scotland, they did not take hold. One early Protestant martyr was Patrick Hamilton, who after travels to the mainland returned to teach the new theology at St. Andrews. He was burned to death for his beliefs in 1528, and he acquitted himself with such charm, dignity and courage that he moved many.

James V was counseled by his cousin, Henry VIII to do as he had done and seize the holdings of the Church. But James, heeding the counsel of his strong willed cardinal, Beaton, remained a devout supporter of the Catholic faith. The Scottish nobles, however, began to think that they could profit from seizure of Church lands, and with England growing more prosperous and threatening daily, an alliance with Catholic France, which in truth had probably benefited France more than Scotland, seemed more and more dangerous. And with France once again at war with England, it seemed that once again She had more to ask than to give. . By 1560, the Church had amassed holdings in Scotland equivalent to a third of its mass, half of its wealth and all of its libraries. So one can make the argument that the Scottish nobles welcomed and perhaps invited Protestantism into their lands. In 1544, Henry VIII, generously offered a bounty for the murder of Cardinal Beaton.

George Wishart, a friend of the fiery young Protestant preacher John Knox, was arrested for conspiring with England for the murder of Beaton. He advised Knox to go into hiding. He was tried and convicted of heresy was burned in the Cardinal's presence in 1546.

Two months later Beaton was stabbed to death by a band of Protestant noblemen. These noblemen, accompanied by their reluctant confessor, John Knox, were captured by the French and dispatched as galley slaves, English troops arriving to late to aid them. Knox, released in 1549, traveled in England and the Continent, studying for awhile with Calvin in Geneva.

In 1549, according to the treaty of Boulogne, the English withdrew their troops from Scotland. During all of this time the young Queen had been in Scotland, being moved from place to place for safe keeping, but in 1548 she was sent to France to become the bride of the Dauphin. In 1554 Marie de Guise won over the regent, Arran by giving him a French Duchy and she became Queen-Regent. Arran's half brother, James Hamilton, began a program of Church Reform. In 1555, once again in Scotland, Knox wrote directly to the Queen-Regent, attacking her both as a Catholic and as a woman, but in 1556 he returned to Geneva to minister to a group of English Calvinist who had established a community there. In 1557, a powerful group of nobles, called the Lords of the Congregation, drew up a Protestant proclamation which was later called the First Covenant, calling for the expulsion of the Catholic Church from Scotland.

On New Year's Day, 1559, a document penned by mysterious but obviously well educated hand was found posted on the gates of all of the significant religious establishments of Scotland. It was called the Beggar's Summons, a manifesto of the poor, threatening the Church to cease stripping them of their goods without providing them care in return. The downtrodden now found their voice, and Protestant preachers began to reach the hearts of the common man. During that year, John Knox returned from exile. After a speech by Knox, in a Mass held in the parish church in Perth, a minor incident touched off a riot in which the people went into an iconoclastic rampage, first stripping that church and then moving on to other religious houses in that town. The queen-regent Marie de Guise, sent a French army to punish Perth and made it clear that she was willing to put down the Covenanters by force if necessary. The Protestants retaliated by raising an army and inviting the aid of the new Protestant English Queen, Elizabeth. Elizabeth did not take to Knox, especially his opinion that rule by a woman amounted to an affront to God, but her claim to the throne was based upon the Church of England wedding of her father and mother and she needed to break the ties between Scotland and Catholic France. Full scale war lasted less than a year, ending with the treaty of Leith on July 6, 1560. Marie de Guise had died in June of 1560. Within a week, Parliament had passed three acts; the first was to cast off the Pope, the second condemned all doctrines and practices contrary to the Protestant beliefs, and the third forbade the saying of the Mass. Parliament then called for the Protestant members to draw up a statement of faith. This resulted in the First Book of Discipline and the Presbyterian Church became the established Kirk of Scotland.

The Kirk was governed not by a hierarchy of bishops and archbishops, but by local and district Presbyteries, who had the power to ordain ministers. A General Assembly of the Kirk met once or twice a year to settle questions affecting the Church as a whole, and one of their first acts was to establish a national system of education. Through the influence of Knox and Calvin, the Kirk became more and more austere. There werereductions in liturgy in favor of spontaneous prayer, a lack of adornment and musical accompaniment, Christmas and Easter were no longer observed and the influence of parish ministers in every day life became enormous.

In 1561, Mary Queen of Scots returned from the lavish life style of the French court after the death of her husband in 1561, a young, beautiful, impulsive, Catholic woman of eighteen years. She let it be known immediately that while she would not impose her faith upon her peoples, neither would she abandon it. She surrounded herself with Protestant advisers, hoping to rule a nation, not a faction. The Kirk was scandalized that Mass was being said at Holyroodhouse, and that the nobles kept the old Church's holdings for themselves rather than turning them over to the new Church, but the Kirk did not take action against her.

Mary decided to marry in 1565, probably out of love for it was surely not out of logic, her cousin Henry Stewart Lard Darnly, also a Catholic, a man four years younger than she with a notoriously bad character. Within less than a year, jealous over the influence of her Italian secretary Riccio, Darny murdered him with the help of some friends, in her presence. Mary was six months pregnant at the time, and turned away from her husband in an emotional collapse. Darnly withdrew to his home at Kirk o'Field, outside Edinburgh in 1567 to convalesce from a distressing and, some said disgraceful, disease. His house was blown up and his body found in the wreckage, apparently strangled. One James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, a bold, charming and equally disreputable Protestant was implicated. Eight weeks after her husband's death, Mary married Bothwell according to the rites of the Protestant Church. Whatever her motivations and involvement with her husband's death might have been, this hasty marriage turned both Catholic and Protestant against her.

On the pretext of saving the Queen from Bothwell, some Protestant lords succeeded in separating her from her followers and took her into custody. After having been led in shame through the streets of Edinburgh in June of 1567, Mary, still only 24 years old, was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, who was immediately crowned James VI. Bothwell fled to Norway without attempting to assist Mary, and her half-brother James Stuart, Earl of Moray, a bastard of James V, was appointed regent. Mary was kept in a sort of house arrest in Lochleven Castle. She escaped by boat in 1568 with the aid of the Hamiltons, who raised an army for her defense, but she was again defeated. Alone and desperate, she threw herself upon the mercy of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, who immediately imprisoned her.

While James was being strictly tutored by the learned but disagreeable George Buchanan, Scotland was once again under the control of a series of Regents. Moray and his successor Lennox were murdered straight away. Mar died in office. In 1573, the fourth Regent Morton managed to regain some control, but in 1578 he to was overthrown and in 1581 impeached and executed for, of all things, having murdered Darnley. Morton was removed by his successor, Esme Stewart, for whom the boy King had an affection and had made Duke of Lennox. Lennox attempted to make James a Catholic and thus make a play for a Catholic uprising. A group of Protestant nobles thwarted this plan by kidnapping the King in what became known as the Raid of Ruthven and took over the country themselves. Lennox fled to France and died there a few months later. In 1583, James escaped from Ruthven, accompanied by a single servant, and made his way to St. Andrews where he proclaimed himself King in fact as well as name. One of his first acts was to execute one of the principals in his kidnapping one Earl of Gowrie. Despite his odd and upsetting childhood and the disturbing state of the country at the time of his majority, he managed to grow up into a fairly well balanced man of taste and intelligence with a reasonable amount of political skill. One of his strange foibles was a persistent obsession with witches and witchcraft.

He managed to maintain a balance between the religious factions within his kingdom and peace with England. When Elizabeth put to death his mother in 1587 after nineteen years of imprisonment, he made only a formal protest. In 1589, he married Anne of Denmark, a Protestant princess.

James faced a new threat in the Kirk, now headed by Andrew Melville, who succeeded Knox after his death. Melville stated in the Second Book of Discipline, in 1581, that the Church ministers should instruct the civil judiciary, and did not respect the right of Kings. "God's sillie vassal" he called the King to his face. James retaliated by pressuring Parliament to appoint bishops and forbidding the General Assembly of the Kirk to meet unless the King had called them to session.

In March, 1603, Elizabeth of England died and James was declared her heir and James left for London in April to become James I of England.


Scotland A Concise History, Fitzroy MacLean, Thames and Hudson, 1970, ISBN 0-500-27706-0

A Traveller's History of Scotland, Andrew Fisher, Interlink Books,

A History of Scotland, J.D. Mackie, Penguin Books, London, 1964

The Scotch-Irish, A Social History, James G. Leyburn, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1962, ISBN 0-8078-4259-1

The Horizon History of Christianity, American Heritage Publishing Co, Inc. NY, 1964, Library of Congress 64-19638

*Article used with permission from the author.

© 1999 Elizabeth Eyer