Things to see and do - Scotland
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Scotland Leisure tips
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- Prehistoric period: early migrations
- The Romans 1C AD – 4C AD
- Dark Ages 4C - 11C
- Medieval Scotland
- Wars of Independence
- The Stewarts (later Stuarts)
- The Stuarts and the Commonwealth
- House of Hanover
- Scottish Parliament
Prehistoric period: early migrations
4000-2500 BC — Neolithic settlers arrive by the Atlantic route
2000-1000 BC — Bronze Age agriculturalists arrive from the continent
800 BC-AD 400 — Iron Age peoples from central Europe
The Romans 1C AD – 4C AD
The Roman conquest of Caledonia was never fully accomplished although there were two main periods of occupation. The initial one (c 80-c 100), which started with Julius Agricola’s push northwards, is notable for the victory at Mons Graupius . The second period followed the death in 138 of the Emperor Hadrian (builder of the wall in the 120s). His successor Antoninus Pius advanced the frontier to its earlier limits but by the mid 160s the Antonine Wall was definitively abandoned.
55, 54 BC — Caesar invades Britain; conquest begins AD 43
AD 71-84 — Romans push north into Caledonia ; Agricola establishes a line of forts between the Clyde and Forth
84 — Mons Graupius : Agricola defeats the Caledonian tribes
142 – c 145 — Building of turf rampart, the Antonine Wall (39mi/63km long)
End 4C — Roman power wanes
Dark Ages 4C - 11C
The Barbarian invasions of Britain forced the Britons to take refuge in the barren mountains and moorlands of Cornwall, Wales, and even beyond Hadrian‘s Wall in southwest Scotland. It was at Whithorn, in the native kingdom of Strathclyde with its main fortress at Dumbarton, that the Romano-Briton St Ninian established the first Christian community in the late 4C. Over the next centuries, Christianity gained a firm foothold.
The early Scottish nation owed much to its western territories. The royal line descended from the Dalriadic royal house with the accession of Kenneth MacAlpine as king of Alba. Scottish kings had their ancient burial place, Reilig Odhrian , on Iona and the nation took its name from the western kingdom of the Scots.
In the 8C and 9C the first Norse raiders arrived by sea. These were followed by peaceful settlers in search of new lands who occupied the western isles. Gradually the isles became independent territories over which the Dalriadic kings had no power. The kingdoms of the Picts and Scots merged, under the Scot Kenneth MacAlpine, to form Alba , the territory north of the Forth and Clyde which later became known as Scotia , while the western fringes remained under Norse sway. Territorial conflicts with the English and the Norsemen marked the next two centuries.
397 — St Ninian establishes a Christian mission at Whithorn
563 — St Columba and his companions land on Iona . The Celtic Church evolves in isolation until the Synod of Whitby (663/4) when certain Celtic usages were abandoned to conform with the practices of Rome
8C — Beginning of Norse raids. The Western Isles remain under Norse domination until 1266, the Orkney and Shetland Islands until 1468-69
843 — Kenneth MacAlpine obtains the Pictish throne unifying the Picts and the Scots
Under the influence of Queen Margaret, a pious English princess, and during the reigns of her sons, in particular Edgar, Alexander I and David I, the Celtic kingdom took on a feudal character as towns grew and royal charters were granted. Monastic life flourished as religious communities from France set up sister houses throughout Scotland.
In 1098, King Edgar , the son of Malcolm III (Canmore), ceded to Magnus Barefoot , King of Norway (1093-1103), “all the islands around which a boat could sail”. Magnus included Kintyre having had his galley dragged across the isthmus. On the death of Magnus the native ruler of Argyll, Somerled (d 1164), seized power and assumed the kingship of the Isles and briefly of Man, under the tutelage of Norway. Somerled died in 1164 fighting the Scots. Alexander II (1214-49) set out on a campaign to curb Norse rule but he died on Kerrera. It was his son Alexander III (1249-86) who, following the Battle of Largs against King Haakon IV, negotiated the Treaty of Perth in 1266 returning the Western Isles to Scotland.
Relations with England remained tense. In the 12C, after his defeat and capture at Alnwick, William I the Lion paid homage to Richard I the Lionheart. Northumbria remained a contentious issue until 1236 when Alexander II renounced his claim. The country enjoyed a degree of stability during the reign of Alexander III before plunging into centuries of conflict over rival claims to the throne and attempts to gain its independence.
1034 — Strathclyde becomes part of the Scottish Kingdom
1058-93 — Malcolm III ; his second queen, Margaret , introduces the Catholic Church
1124-53 — David I , last of the Margaretsons, reorganises the church, settles monastic orders and creates royal burghs, all of which increase the monarchy’s prestige
1249-86 — Alexander III , the last Canmore king; brief period of peace and prosperity
1263 — Battle of Largs
1290 — Margaret , the Maid of Norway, dies
Wars of Independence
On the death in 1290 of the Maid of Norway, the direct heir to the throne, Edward I was instrumental in choosing from among the various Competitors the ultimate successor. In 1292 John Balliol became king and the vassal of Edward. Following Balliol’s 1295 treaty with the French, Edward set out for the north on the first of several pacification campaigns. Strongholds fell one by one and thus started a long period of intermittent warfare.
The years of struggle for independence from English overlordship helped to forge a national identity. Heroes were born. The unknown knight William Wallace (1270-1305) rallied the resistance in the early stages achieving victory at Stirling Bridge (1277). He assumed the Guardianship in the name of Balliol. Wallace was captured in 1305 and taken to London where he was executed.
The next to rally the opposition was Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), grandson of one of the original Competitors and therefore with a legitimate claim to the throne. Following the killing of John Comyn , who was the son of another Competitor and the representative of the Balliol line, Bruce had himself crowned at Scone (1306).
Slowly Bruce forced the submission of the varying fiefs and even achieved the allegiance of Angus Og, natural son of the 4th Lord of the Isles. The victory at Bannockburn (1314) was crucial in achieving independence but formal recognition only came eight years after the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) with the Treaty of Northampton .
1296 — Edward I‘s choice, John Balliol , abdicates during the first of the Hammer of the Scots’ punitive conquering campaigns in Scotland 1296, 1298, 1303 and 1307
1297 — Wallace wins the Battle of Stirling Bridge ; Falkirk, the following year, is a defeat
1306-29 — Robert the Bruce kills the Comyn, is crowned at Scone, then starts the long campaign to free Scotland
1314 — Battle of Bannockburn
1320 — Declaration of Arbroath ; the Treaty of Northampton (1328) recognises Scotland’s Independence
The Stewarts (later Stuarts)
Following independence, royal authority was undermined by feuds and intrigue as bloody power struggles broke out among the clan chiefs; but the monarchy prevailed. The powerful Albany and Douglas clans were subdued in the 15C. The Scots supported France in its rivalry with England and alliances were forged.
1406-37 — James I ; James takes the reins of power in 1424 after 18 years in English captivity
1410 — Teaching begins at St Andrews University, officially founded 1412; confirmation by Papal Bull 1413
1437-60 — Accession of James II following the assassination of his father at Perth
1440 — Black Dinner at Edinburgh Castle
1451 — Founding of Glasgow University
1455 — Fall of the Black Douglases
1460-88 — Accession of James III following the death of James II at the siege of Rox-burgh Castle
1468-9 — Orkney and Shetland pass to Scotland as the dowry of Margaret of Denmark
1488-1513 — Accession of James IV following his father’s death after Sauchieburn
1493 — Forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles
1495 — Founding of Aberdeen‘s first University (King’s College); Marischal founded 1593
1513-42 — Death of James IV at the Battle of Flodden ; Accession of James V
In the 16C, to punish the Scots for refusing an alliance between the young Mary and Henry VIII‘s son, English troops, led by the Marquess of Hertford, invaded repeatedly and inflicted a harsh treatment on the country. The growing French influence at court was resented by the nobility and the Reformation gained ground. The regent Mary of Guise was deposed by Protestant leaders fired by John Knox’s sermons; monastic houses were destroyed and Catholicism was banned. During her short tragic reign (1561-67) when conspiracies and violence were rife, the young queen advocated religious tolerance but murderous intrigues , probably with Mary’s tacit approval, caused great scandal. Rebellion broke out after her marriage to Bothwell who was suspected of involvement in the murder of Darnley. Her flight to England, after her abdication in favour of her infant son and her escape from captivity, ended in imprisonment and execution by Elizabeth I to thwart the formation of factions around a rival claimant to the English throne.
1542-67 — Mary , Queen of Scots
1544-47 — Rough Wooing or Hertford’s invasions
1548 — The five-year-old Mary is sent to France for safety and affianced to the French Dauphin
1559 — Riot at Perth; the Lords of the Congregation set out from Perth on their campaign
1560 — Reformation ; death of Mary’s French husband, François II
1561 — Mary returns to Scotland as an 18-year-old widow; 4 years later she marries her cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley
1567 — Murder of Darnley; Bothwell becomes Mary’s third husband; she abdicates, and flees to England after the Battle of Langside (1568); executed after 19 years in captivity (1587)
The Stuarts and the Commonwealth
In the largely Protestant Scotland of the 17C James VI attempted to achieve a situation similar to that in England by re-establishing Episcopacy. This implied royal control of the church through the bishops appointed by the Crown. His son Charles I aroused strong Presbyterian opposition with the forced introduction of the Scottish Prayer Book . By February of 1638 the National Covenant or Solemn Agreement was drawn up, which pledged the signatories to defend the Crown and true religion.
In 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant united the Covenanters and English parliamentary cause against Charles I. Many like the Marquess of Montrose were torn between their loyalty to the King and Covenant. In 1644 Montrose pledged to win back Scotland for the King. At the end of a year of campaigning with a largely Highland army he was master of Scotland. Defeat came at the Battle of Philiphaugh (1645) and Montrose was forced into exile. In England the struggle led to the execution of Charles I (1649).
The Covenanters were quick to offer Charles II the throne on his acceptance of the Covenant. Montrose was captured and executed. Cromwell marched north defeating the Covenanters’ army at Dunbar (1650) and Scotland became an occupied country (1651-60) and part of the Commonwealth.
On the Restoration of Charles II, made possible by Monck’s march on the capital, the king rejected his promise and restored Episcopacy (1661). The 1st Duke of Lauderdale ruled Scotland and the Covenanters suffered severe persecution. The years around 1685 were known as the Killing Times with Lord Advocate, Sir George (“Bluidy”) Mackenzie responsible for much of the persecution.
The death of Charles II and the prospect of a new line of openly Catholic monarchs, with the accession of his brother James VII, inspired the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion led by Charles II’s natural son. The two landings, one in western Scotland under the 9th Earl of Argyll and the second in western England under Monmouth, both failed .
The Protestant Mary and William were invited to rule (1689). Viscount Dundee rallied the Jacobites or those faithful to King James VII who had already fled the country.
The initial victory at Killiecrankie 1689 cost the life of the Jacobite leader and the Highland army was later crushed at Dunkeld. The 1690 Act established for good the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
The Act of Union guaranteed the maintenance of the Scottish legal system and church.
1567-1625 — James VI of Scotland reigns as James I of England
1582 — Raid of Ruthven
1600 — Gowrie Conspiracy
1603 — Union of the Crowns with the accession of James VI to the throne of England
1625-49 — Charles I ; Scottish coronation ceremony in Edinburgh (1633)
1638 — National Covenant ; Glasgow General Assembly abolishes Episcopacy
1643 — The Solemn League and Covenant
1645 — Montrose loses the Battle of Philiphaugh
1650 — Execution of Montrose following that of Charles I the previous year
1651 — Cromwellian occupation, the Commonwealth
1660 — General Monck and his regiment set out from Coldstream on 1 January 1660 on the long march south to London which leads to the Restoration
1660-85 — Charles II
1661 — Restoration of Episcopacy
1685-8 — Accession of James VII (James II of England) : Monmouth Rebellion 1685
1688 — James VII flees the country in late December
1689 — William and Mary are offered the crown; Battle of Killiecrankie
1692 — Massacre of Glencoe
1702-14 — Queen Anne
1707 — Union of the Parliaments
House of Hanover
The Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745 aiming to restore the Stuarts to their throne reflected in some measure the discontent of post-Union (1707) Scotland. The rising ended at the indecisive Battle of Sheriffmuir . James VIII or the Old Pretender (1688-1766) not only arrived too late but also lacked the power to inspire his followers. His departure by boat from Montrose was furtive and final. Following this, General George Wade set out to pacify the Highlands with a programme of road and bridge building to facilitate military access.
A generation later, the 1745 rising was led by Charles Edward Stuart or Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-88) born 5 years after the first rising. After landing near Arisaig, the 24-year-old Prince raised his standard at Glenfinnan and with an essentially Highland army won an initial victory at Prestonpans where he routed the government troops under Sir John Cope. At Derby his military advisers counselled retreat which ended in the defeat of Culloden (1746). For 5 months the Prince wandered the Highlands and Hebrides as a hunted fugitive with a bounty of £30,000 on his head. Shortly after this, Flora Macdonald assisted him in escaping from the Outer Hebrides. The Prince embarked for lifelong exile.
The aftermath rather than the failure of the ‘45 was tragic for the Highlands: Highlanders were disarmed, their national dress proscribed and chieftains deprived of their rights of heritable justice. Economic and social change was accelerated.
Eviction and loss of the traditional way of life ensued; this period became known as the Highland Clearances . Mass emigration followed for the many who faced abject poverty. A small number became crofters with no security of tenure. This uncertainty was later alleviated by the Crofters Act . The clearances were complete by 1860.
George IV‘s visit organised by Sir Walter Scott in 1822 made Highland dress and other accoutrements (bagpipes, arms) acceptable again. By making Balmoral Castle a favoured residence, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert later gave the royal seal of approval to the Highlands.
1714-27 — Accession of George I
1715 — Jacobite Rising , Battle of Sheriffmuir
1719 — Jacobite Rising in Glen Shiel
1727-60 — George II
1745 — Jacobite Rising; The Year of the Prince opens with the raising of the standard at Glenfinnan
1746 — Battle of Culloden
1747-82 — Proscription Act
1760-1820 — George III
1790 — Opening of Forth-Clyde Canal
1803-22 — Building of the Caledonian Canal
1822 — George IV State Visit
1843 — The Disruption: Founding of the Free Church
1871-78 — Tay Railway Bridge; disaster the following year
1883-90 — Forth Railway Bridge
1886 — Crofters Act
1906-13 — Home Rule Bills
1928 — National Party of Scotland formed; SNP founded in 1934
1951 — Stolen Stone of Destiny found in Arbroath
1964 — Opening of the Forth Road Bridge; Tay Bridge opens two years later
1964-1970s — Discovery and development of major oil and natural gas fields in the North Sea with the subsequent growth of the North Sea oil industry
1974-5 — Reorganisation of local government; the old counties and burghs replaced by nine regions and island areas
1979 — Referendum on proposed Assembly failed to produce the necessary 40%
1990 — Glasgow nominated Cultural Capital of Europe
1995 — 700th anniversary of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France.
Further reorganisation of local government – election of 29 unitary councils and three islands councils
1996 — After 700 years the Stone of Destiny is returned to Scotland
Since the decline of Scottish industry in the 1930s relations between Scotland and the central government have proved uneasy although the Scots had their own legal and education systems. Economic decline and discontent about the lack of adequate benefits from North Sea Oil fostered nationalist feelings. The remoteness of central government, the imposition of the poll-tax and local government reorganisation were all contentious issues. As direct election of representatives to the European Parliament had given Scotland renewed confidence in its ability to control its own affairs, the 1997 referendum was a resounding vote for devolution. Scotland greeted the opening of the Scottish Parliament with pride some 290 years after the last parliament was dissolved. The new body has 120 members; the Executive consists of a First Minister and a team of ministers and law officers. The Parliament has responsibility over wide areas of Scottish affairs and has tax-raising powers. Among areas which remain under Westminster control are the constitution, foreign policy, defence and national security, border controls and economic policy.
In 2005 the Scottish Parliament moved to the foot of the Royal Mile to take up their new permanent residence in Britain’s most controversial post-Millennium building. Designed by the Spanish architect, Enric Miralles (1955-2000), it arrived four years late and, most scandalously, ten times over budget, costing over £430 million. Miralles did not live to see its completion and tragedy also struck the Parliament in 2000, when its recently elected first ever First Minister, Donald Dewar, died of a heart attack in office. His successor, Henry McLeish, lasted just over a year before resigning over financial irregularities. He was succeeded by Jack McConnell who was in turn been succeeded by the current First Minister., Alex Salmond in 2007.
1997 — Second referendum approves the motion for a devolved tax-raising Assembly.
1999 — Opening of Scottish Parliament in a temporary home in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall
2005 — Scottish Parliament transferred to Holyrood
2008 — Pro-independence Scottish Nationalist Party elected to the Scottish Government, with Alex Salmond as First Minister.