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The  earliest  recorded  people  to  live  in  Scotland  were the Celts and the Picts. The Celts, also known as the Cruithne or “wheat growers,” claimed an ancestry back to Japheth mac Noah at the time of the great flood.  In their attempts to conquer these early peoples, the Romans applied the name Picts because their language used pictures and symbols. The Picts’ legacy can still be viewed today in the many “henges” (groups of upright stones) throughout Scotland. Another hallmark of the Picts was their woven, multi-colored cloth, which other cultures had not yet developed and which evolved into the tartan.

At the end of the 5th  Century, Fergus MacErc crossed the sea from Ireland and took over a small area in what is called Argyll.  This small band of folk was called “Scotti,” a Roman word for raider, because the members frequently came across to pillage the western side of Scotland. The Scotti’s small kingdom was named Dalriada, where they ruled for centuries in peaceful coexistence with the Picts of Alba.

St. Columba, an Irish prince, brought Christianity to the land where his Scotti relatives resided in the 6th century.  He succeeded because he adapted the many druidic practices and celebrations to introduce his Christian religion.   His Celtic Christian Church was the Church of Scotland for the next five centuries.

In  787,  the  Vikings  made  their  first  recorded  raid  on the British Isles.   These raids continued for the next several centuries, prompting priests and monks throughout what is now western Europe to pray, “From the fury of the Northmen, deliver us, O Lord.”   The Norsemen established their rule first in Orkney and Shetland, then in the Hebrides and along the northern and western mainland.   Their assaults on the Highlands in the 8th and 9th centuries certainly influenced the Scottish gene pool, including the Henderson ancestors in Argyll (Glencoe), the Shetlands and Caithness.

When Kenneth MacAlpin became King of both Dalriada and of Alba in 843, an interesting transformation occurred as the Cruithne began to refer to themselves as Scots and to their kingdom of Alba as Scotland. Although the Scotti represented only about 5 percent of the population, from that time forward our ancestral home has been referred to as Scotland.  It is also interesting to note that MacAlpin’s name shows that the prefix ‘Mac,’ which means ‘son of,’ was in use at the time to denote family relationship and affiliation.

Scotland enjoyed affluence and growth under MacAlpin. That growth continued under both Malcolm I and Malcolm III. The latter was also known as Malcolm Canmore (the last name meaning “Great Head” or “Chief”) and he ruled Scotland for some 35 years.

With William the Conqueror ’s defeat of England in 1066, change came to Scotland, including a new language.   The Normans forced many fugitives into southeastern Scotland, helping to spread the English language among the Lowland Scots.   Throughout the Middle Ages, these Lowland Scots referred to their speech as English, because Scottish meant Gaelic to them.  In 1072, William invaded Scotland. Although William never truly conquered the country, Malcolm Canmore was forced to pay homage.

The next ruler of Scotland was Edgar, who became king in 1097.  So began a period of almost two centuries of virtually unbroken  peace  with  England. As  a  result,  the  Lowland Scots copied their neighbors to the south.   Merchants grew in wealth and became cornerstones of the economy.  Scottish homes, churches, even the language in the Lowlands, became the same as their English counterparts.  Although there was a firm border between Scotland and England, it meant little to the Lowland Scots.  They were sort of half-English and half- Scottish, and the various clans had blood ties throughout the borders.

Following Edgar were his youngest sons, known as the Sons of Margaret (for Edgar ’s wife) and the “Normanization” of  Lowland  Scotland  continued  under  them. That  meant the introduction of feudalism, which brought pronounced change to Scotland.  Introduced into Britain by the Normans, feudalism was a social system whereby a man held land from another in return for military service and payment of taxes.

With the death in 1286 of Alexander, the last of Scotland’s Celtic kings, Scotland had no clear heir to the throne. Contending for the right to rule Scotland were Robert the Bruce and John De Balliol, both Scots of Norman heritage. Seizing upon this disarray and confusion was King Edward I of England, who sought to extend English rule to Scotland. Edward was called the “Hammer of Scotland,” a nickname which aptly describes his belligerent attitude toward his northern neighbors and his protracted campaign to subdue them.

Heroes often rise up under such oppression and this period in Scottish history is no different.  William Wallace, a Scottish knight, rallied his countrymen in armed resistance to Edward. Joining him was Robert the Bruce, who, oddly enough, was married to Edward’s goddaughter.   Unfortunately, Wallace was betrayed, captured and executed in London in 1305. Robert the Bruce successfully pressed the struggle, leading to his coronation as King of Scotland in 1306.

Edward I died in 1307 and was replaced by his son Edward II.  Under Robert the Bruce, the Scots soundly defeated the English troops under Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314.  This victory was the decisive battle in the so-called Scottish Wars of Independence.

In 1320, the lords and bishops of Scotland wrote the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter to Pope John XXII in which they requested recognition of Scotland’s independence and the sovereignty of Robert the Bruce. The most-repeated line of the letter is: “For as long as one hundred of us shall remain alive we shall never in any wise consent to submit to the rule of the English, for it is not for glory we fight, for riches or for honours, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but with his life.” It was four years later that the Pope responded, recognizing the Bruce’s title. Conflict between Scotland and England, however, would drag on for numerous generations to come.

With Robert II, the Stewarts came to power in Scotland. Robert was quite young, though, and his lack of maturity eventually led to control of Scotland by the Duke of Albany. James II, using ruthless methods, wrested control back for the monarchy from several powerful families that had emerged in Scotland.  Internal power struggles continued through the reigns of both James III and James IV.  The latter was killed at the Battle of Flodden trying to help Scotland’s French allies against the English.   The close political ties forged between Scotland and France against their common enemy, England, are often referred to as the “Auld Alliance.”

Under James V, Scotland strengthened ties with France. James V married two French women in succession, largely to obtain financial concessions from the Pope. The Protestant Reformation had begun, however, and a number of Scots began to embrace Lutheran ideas. They thought Scotland should ally itself with Henry VIII, who had rejected the Pope’s authority. As a result of James’ actions, Scotland found itself at war with England once again. James died in 1542, shortly after the Scots were routed at Solway Moss.

With  the  death of  James  V,  his  daughter,  Mary  Queen of Scots, ascended to the throne when she was only a week old.   Her right to rule, however, was contested by some in both France and England, as did some Scots.   Henry VIII encouraged  those  supporters  in  Scotland  and  orchestrated the murder of Cardinal Beaton, who had favored Scotland’s alliance  with  France.  Earlier,  Beaton  had  burned  George Wishart, a Protestant preacher who had been an ally of English political deals, as a heretic.  Henry VIII then attempted a very aggressive effort to betroth Mary to his 5-year-old son, Edward. Henry’s efforts were characterized by the great Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott as the “Rough Wooing.”  Mary, however, was sent to France, where she was married to the dauphin.  Thirteen  years  later,  with  her  spouse  dead,  she returned to Scotland.   Trouble awaited her, though, because Scotland, like the rest of Europe, was now fully caught up in the Protestant Reformation.

The roots of the Protestant Reformation arose in central Europe, where Martin Luther in 1517 rebelled against what he saw as corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.  Luther was followed by others, including John Calvin in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland.  Knox was certain he could remove the Pope’s authority and the Catholic Mass from Scottish life, and by 1560 he had introduced a new Book of Discipline, and the Scots Confession of Faith.  (Note that an edition of The Scots Confession was published in 1960 in Scotland by The Right Reverend George David Henderson, 1909-1999!)

Mary, Queen of Scots, a Roman Catholic, tried to steer a middle ground by proclaiming her tolerance of both faiths.  Unfortunately, this didn’t appease either faction or the Scottish noblemen, the latter of whom were critical to governing Scotland.  Mary also claimed that she had a more legitimate claim than her cousin, Elizabeth I, to the throne of England.  Mary married Lord Darnley, another cousin, who was next in line to succeed Mary.  Darnley, however, became estranged from Mary and was murdered. Subsequently, the Earl of Bothwell, who many thought to be Darnley’s murderer, forced Mary to marry him. Armed rebellion followed, and Mary was turned out in favor of her and Darnley’s infant son, James VI.  In 1568, Mary fled to England, where she thought Elizabeth would give her safe haven.  Instead, Elizabeth had Mary imprisoned and ordered her execution in 1587.

Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, then ascended the throne. Also known as King James I of England, he brought Scotland and England together again under the Union of Crowns in 1603.  Much to Scotland’s disappointment and frustration, though, he spent most of his time at the court in London.  He is probably best remembered for his authorized version of the Bible, published in 1611, a seven-year-long project involving some 50 scholars.

Following James was his son, Charles I, who was crowned in 1625, and tried to introduce a Protestant Episcopal form of church government through the Isles.  But, he also alienated many Scottish landowners with the Act of Revocation, which cancelled all grants of crown property since 1540 and all disposition of church property.  Sharp conflicts ensued once again, and yet his desire for a unified religious faith led to the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643.  This was introduced by Scottish nobles both to squash Charles’ effort to establish the new religion and to maintain the Presbyterian Church. (It is to be noted here that the primary Scottish commissioner to this assembly was the Rev. ALEXANDER HENDERSON, who became so dismayed with the British treatment of this document that he died “of heartbreak” in 1646–see a biographical sketch of Alexander Henderson in this website, under History/ Famous Hendersons.)   When civil war erupted in England, the Covenanters who controlled Scotland, allied with the English Parliament against Charles I in return for the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in both England and Scotland. Opposing forces under Oliver Cromwell eventually defeated Charles and his supporters.  Consequently, Charles was executed in 1649.

Although  they  had  no  great  affection  for  Charles,  the Scots were outraged that the English had put him to death. Subsequently, they proclaimed his son, Charles II, as the rightful heir on the condition that he would sign the Covenant, which he did in 1649.  This action, however, prompted an invasion by Cromwell, forcing Charles into exile in Holland.  Cromwell died in 1658.  Shortly after, Charles II was invited to return to Scotland, on condition that he would abide by the Covenant he signed.  He did so and returned, but his reign eventually led to “The Killing Times,” when many Covenanters were put to death.

James VII (James II of England) tried to follow a policy of toleration for Catholics and Presbyterians alike, but Parliament refused to sanction it. The result was the English revolution of 1688, which caused James to flee and, in effect, he forfeited the crown. Some of his supporters, led by Graham of Claverhouse, the Viscount of Dundee, rebelled but were defeated at Killecrankie in 1689.  Their defeat helped to pave the way for William and Mary of Orange (the House of Hanover) to ascend the throne of England.   Their reign put armed conflict over religion to rest for the most part and restored the Presbyterian Church, but, as we will recount later in our history on Clan Henderson, William instigated an action that led to an outrageous massacre of some of our Highland ancestors.

The next epochal event in Scottish history was the legal reunion of the country with England.  Confronted with virtual bankruptcy because of a failed effort to establish a Scottish colony in Panama and the prospect of more armed conflict with England, the Scottish Parliament, under pressure and bribery, voted itself out of existence.  So was born the Act of Union in 1707.  Scotland was allowed to retain its church, its courts and its legal system, but the majority of Scots vigorously opposed the reunion.

The new union brought representation for Scotland in Parliament, but few, if any, real benefits to the country. Support soon grew in Scotland for James Stewart, exiled in France, to return and restore the country’s independence.   Since the revolt led by Graham of Claverhouse, James’ supporters were known as “Jacobites,” from Jacobus, the Latin word for James. Although most Scots chafed under the English government and longed for a return to home rule, many in Scotland, particularly the  Lowlanders,  opposed  the  Jacobites.  Reinstatement  of the Stewarts would have meant a Catholic would once again occupy the throne. Since Protestantism had by this time taken firm hold of both Scottish social and religious life, many Scots would have no part of it.

Under James’s son, Charles Edward Stewart, “The Young Pretender,” the Jacobite rebellion gathered momentum.  Fair- haired and handsome, Charles was more popularly known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.”  He returned to Scotland from France in 1745 to try to reinstate his father on the throne.  Though not extremely large nor well funded, the Jacobites under Charles enjoyed several important military successes. Pressing their battle into England, Charles even had an opportunity take London, but he knew he lacked the troops to hold it.

The Jacobite cause came to a brutal end in April 1746 at the Battle of Culloden (also known as Drumossie Moor) near Inverness.  There, a much larger force of Hanoverian troops, commanded by William, the Duke of Cumberland, defeated some 5,000 Jacobites under Charles.  Known as “The Butcher,” a title of which he boasted, Cumberland gave an order of “no quarter” as his soldiers crushed the already tired, hungry and ragged Jacobites.  Cumberland’s troops shot many wounded were they lay.  Some were burned alive.  More than a hundred were taken back to England, where they were tried and executed, contrary to the rules in the Act of Union, which had called for the sovereignty of Scotland’s courts. Some were even sold as slaves and shipped to America to work on plantations. Still others were sent to English jails, sometimes with their wives and children.

Charles  Stewart  managed  to  escape  death  at  Culloden. He also avoided subsequent capture, in spite of the English government’s bounty of 30,000 pounds on his head. In the five months that he was in hiding, not one Scot betrayed him.  In perhaps his last adventure, he was disguised as a woman and smuggled to the Isle of Skye, where he boarded a French ship bound for Europe, never to set foot again on his native soil.

England’s  punishment  of  Scotland  did  not  end  on  that cold, gray day at Culloden. In the aftermath, the English government sought to make an example of those who had participated in the rebellion, directing much of its wrath toward the Highland clans for their involvement, although it should be noted that Highlanders could be found on both sides of the conflict.  Subsequently, England passed the Proscription Acts of 1746.  The playing of the bagpipes, the wearing of the kilt, even ownership of weapons of any kind all were outlawed. England extended similar policies to Ireland and Wales.  Clan chiefs were stripped of authority and many tenant farmers (crofters) were driven off the lands so that new landowners, with the blessing of the English government, could raise sheep, which brought more income, including more taxes. These actions led to a bleak period known in Scottish history as “The Clearances,” as many Highlanders emigrated to America, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, rather than suffer continued indignities or erosion of their rights.

The anger of the Highlanders toward England continued for numerous generations. In 1854, when the English government tried to recruit Scots to serve in the army to fight in the Crimean War, they found few volunteers among the Highlanders.  As one Highland landowner reportedly replied to his would-be recruiters: “Since you have preferred sheep to men, let sheep defend you.”

  In the centuries that followed, it is reasonable to say that Scotland’s interests became increasingly aligned with England’s. In the 1990s, however, Scotland began pursuing independence with great vigor.  In 1996, England returned the Stone of Scone (pronounced ‘scoon’) to Scotland.  The rock upon which many of Scotland’s kings were crowned, the stone was stolen in 1296 by Edward I, who had it installed in Westminster Abbey as part of England’s coronation chair.  In a landmark decision in 1997, four million Scots voted overwhelmingly to re-establish their own parliament again, giving Scotland authority over its taxes and other important issues.

Learn More: DVD’s on Scottish History