People have been living in what is now Scotland since the retreat of the last ice sheets around 10,000 years ago, and making their mark on the landscape for at least 5,000 of those years. A wide scattering of stone circles and burial cairns, and even a few homes, link us back to our later Stone Age ancestors (from 3000 BC). And as we move forward through the Bronze Age (2000 BC to 700 BC) and Iron Age (700 BC to the Romans) we find more and more evidence of human activity across Scotland in the form of hillforts, brochs, pottery and a very wide range of other structures and artefacts.
But there is nothing in writing from this era, which leads many to consign it to "pre-history", leaving "history" to be defined as the bits we can read about. On this measure, the history of Scotland began with conquest of the southern two thirds of the island we live in by the Romans in the years after AD 43.
Between AD 80 and AD 209 the Romans advanced north on at least three separate occasions, perhaps most determinedly in the campaign that culminated with their victory (according to Roman accounts) at the Battle of Mons Graupius in AD 84. Afterwards they fortified a line between Loch Lomond and Stonehaven to guard the exits from the main highland glens, before withdrawing from Scotland and building Hadrian's Wall in AD 105. In AD 139 they returned, this time to control the area up to a new frontier, the Antonine Wall, which they constructed between the Rivers Forth and Clyde. In AD 170 they withdrew to Hadrian's Wall again.
The Romans were pushed back from Hadrian's Wall by the "Picti", the "the painted ones", as they called their northern neighbours, in AD 367. Thereafter the northern third of this island entered what many call the Dark Ages. Illumination (in the form of the writings of later generations of clerics) started to arrive when, in AD 397, St Ninian founded the first Christian Church in Scotland at Whithorn. Over the following several centuries Christian missionaries worked to convert first the resident Picts, and then other arrivals on the scene.
From AD 500 The Picts' domination began to be challenged: from the west by the formation in today's Argyll of the Kingdom of Dalriada by the Scoti or Scots, inward migrants from what is now Ireland; and from the south by the Britons of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. In the 600s a fourth major player entered the game when the Angles of the Kingdom of Northumbria advanced north, capturing Din Eidyn (Edinburgh) in AD 638.
The first contenders to leave the field were the Northumbrian Angles, defeated first by the Picts at the battle of Dunnichen or Nechtansmere, in today's Angus, on 20 May 685; and then by the Dalriadans at Athelstanford in East Lothian in 750, an event that gave Scotland its patron saint, St Andrew and its flag, the Saltire.
For the Picts, however, the Angles were replaced by an even greater threat from the north and west, when the first (of many) Viking or Norse raids took place, in 795. In 839, the Picts suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Vikings which led to the death of their king and most of their nobility. They were still very weak when Kenneth Mac Alpin became King of the Scots of Dalriada in 843, and he rapidly moved to fill the vacuum by becoming King of Picts as well. The Kingdom of Alba that emerged looked a little like today's "Scotland", though the Norse were in practical control of large parts of the north and west and there was still a separate British Kingdom of Strathclyde.
In 870 the Vikings captured the main British fortress, at Dumbarton Rock. Two years later, King Constantine I of Alba killed the weakened King of Strathclyde and replaced him with his own brother-in-law. As a result Strathclyde became a subordinate kingdom to Alba.
In 937 a new chapter opened with the defeat of the Scots of Alba and their allies the Vikings, by the English at the Battle of Brunanburh. It was the first in a series of wars for territory and power between the Scots and the English which would not end for more than 600 years. 1018 saw another in the series, the Battle of Carham, at which Malcolm II defeated the Northumbrians. This was significant primarily because it gave Malcolm II a pretext to incorporate the Kingdom of Strathclyde fully into Alba.
In 1070 Malcolm III married a Saxon princess, Margaret, part of the English Royal Family fleeing the Normans: and in 1072 his efforts to help the English throw off the Norman yoke led to a Norman invasion of Scotland and the Treaty of Abernethy, whose terms were to give rise to repeated later claims that the Kingdom of Scotland was subservient to the Kingdom of England.
Cross border conflicts continued, but the next really significant development took place far to the north-west when, on 6 January 1156, Somerled defeated the Norse to become King of the Isles, leader of a Gaelic state centred on Loch Finlaggan on Islay. From a Scottish point of view, this helped ease the dominance of the Norse in the west and the north, but replaced it with the spectre of a separate kingdom. In the event, the Kingship of the Isles was not to live beyond Somerled himself, killed at the head of a Gaelic army at Greenock by Malcolm IV in 1164. Though the Kingdom of the Isles died with Somerled, a strong echo emerged in 1329 when one of his descendents, John of Islay took the title of Lord of the Isles. The Lordship of the Isles was never intended to challenge the formal authority of the Kings of Scotland, but after four generations it was nonetheless enough of a problem to them to be suppressed and absorbed by them.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. In 1230, Håkon the Old reasserted Norwegian control over the lands taken by Somerled in the west of mainland Scotland and in the isles. In 1249 Alexander II tried to eject the Norwegians from the west of what he saw as his kingdom, but it took Alexander III's defeat of Håkon IV in late 1263 to complete the job (and it was only in 1469 that Scotland finally took control of Orkney and Shetland).
Alexander III's reign is often regarded as a golden age, and the question of what would have happened had he lived into old age is one of the great "what ifs" of Scottish history. But he didn't. Instead he died at the age of 44 in a riding accident on 19 March 1286. Alexander III was succeeded by his three-year-old granddaughter Margaret, "The Maid of Norway". This brought King Edward I of England onto the scene. Edward agreed to support the Scottish succession if Margaret was betrothed to Edward's son, the future Edward II of England. The Scots agreed, but Margaret then died, still only aged seven, en route to claim her kingdom and her husband in 1290.
Scotland was left without an obvious successor to the throne, and Edward I of England took it upon himself to select the next Scottish King from among the 13 possible contenders. The outcome was the First War of Independence when the arranged succession fell apart, and English troops occupied Scotland. William Wallace then made a brief but memorable appearance as a freedom fighter before his death in 1305, but it was only after Robert the Bruce's victory over Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 that Scotland was once again, albeit temporarily, free of the dominance of her southern neighbour.
War between Scotland and England resumed in 1332, and continued sporadically for more than three more centuries: though there were brief pauses, for example when the Black Death killed 20% of Scotland's 1 million population in 1349 and 1350. These conflicts were given an added dimension by the existence of a mutual defence treaty between Scotland and France called the Auld Alliance. This had first been agreed in 1170 by William I, but its implications were to culminate only in 1513, when James IV responded to French requests for help against Henry VIII of England by leading a Scottish army to annihilation against the English at the Battle of Flodden.
After Flodden, Scotland was left in a seriously weakened position. When,James V died on 14 December 1542 and was succeeded to the Scottish throne by his six day old daughter Mary, the nation had little choice but to accept Henry VIII's demands that the infant queen should be betrothed to his son Edward, and that their children should inherit the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. When Henry VIII discovered the Scots were having second thoughts, he invaded Scotland in what became known as "the rough wooing".
The young Mary Queen of Scots fled to France 1548, where at the age of 14 she married the heir to the French throne, and a year later became the Queen of France. She was to become a widow on 5 December 1560, three days before her eighteenth birthday. Mary had little choice but to return to Scotland, and she arrived in Leith on 19 August 1561.
The Scotland Mary returned to was very different from the one she had left just 13 years earlier. In the meantime the Reformation had overturned the Catholic Church, leaving a Catholic Queen trying to reign over a nation that had adopted a very radical brand of Protestantism. Despite this, Mary would probably have made a good queen, had it not been for her poor judgement when it came to men. Having married an unsuitable cousin, she then conspired to his murder by an even less suitable man, who she also went on to marry. The Scots were outraged, and Mary was first imprisoned and then, on 2 May 1568, forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James VI. Mary escaped, tried to regain power, then fled to England to seek support from her Protestant cousin, Queen Elizabeth I whose throne she had previously laid claim to. Elizabeth had Mary imprisoned, and 19 years later, when presented with evidence that Mary was plotting to overthrow her and restore Catholicism to England, Elizabeth had her executed.
In 1603 Queen Elizabeth I died without children, and James VI of Scotland also became James I of England. He rapidly moved to London and paid very little attention to Scotland thereafter. His son, Charles I came to Scotland in 1633 for his Scottish coronation, causing great dismay by insisting on Anglican rites which, in the eyes of Scotland's radical Protestants, were scarcely distinguishable from the hated Catholicism. Matters become worse when, in 1636, Charles tried to impose on the Kirk in Scotland Anglican forms of worship and government by bishops. Scots responded by drawing up and signing the National Covenant on 28 February 1638. This in turn sparked the start of the Wars of the Covenant, part of the wider Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which were to ravage Scotland, England and Ireland pretty much continuously until 1660.
To put it simply, Charles I's efforts to wage war against the Scots meant he had to recall the English Parliament to seek additional funding. As a result deeply held grievances against Charles's efforts to govern without Parliament spilled over, and the two sides became ever more deeply entrenched. Meanwhile, Charles was challenged by a Catholic revolt in Ireland in October 1641, and in August 1642 he tried to subdue the English Parliament with military force. Which is how the "English Civil War" came to start in Scotland, where it was also continued by opposing forces representing the Covenanters on the one hand, and the Royalists on the other.
The Scottish Royalist forced led by the Marquis of Montrose tended to hold the upper hand in the fighting in Scotland, but in England the King was increasingly coming a poor second to the Parliamentarians. Charles I was eventually captured on 5 May 1646 at Newark, by Scottish Covenanter troops supporting the English Parliamentarians, and then handed over to Cromwell's troops.
The moderate arm of the Scottish Covenanters, having been on the winning side in the first Civil War, then decided to accept a proposal from the imprisoned Charles I that they should support him against Cromwell, in return for assurances about future religious practices. One result was the Second Civil War, in which Cromwell soundly defeated the Scots. A second was the beheading of Charles I. And a third was the return to a radical Covenanter government in Edinburgh.
But even the radical Scots were still royalists at heart, and when England was on the verge of becoming a Republic the Scots declared the exiled Charles II to be King of Scotland. When, in July 1650, Charles II landed in Scotland, Cromwell responded by invading and occupying the country. Charles II returned to exile, and was eventually restored to the English Throne in 1660 following the death of Cromwell.
The Restoration did nothing to end the "Killing Time" in Scotland, the wave of religious violence that carried on where the Civil Wars had left off. This only petered out after 1685, which helped ensure that a tendency for violence and the means to carry it out were still very near the surface when, in 1689, the English Parliament engineered a "bloodless coup" in which the Catholic James VII/II was displaced by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.
The "Glorious Revolution" may have been bloodless south of the border, but in Scotland it led to the first Jacobite Uprising of 1689, and in Ireland to open warfare between William of Orange and James VII/II that culminated in the latter's defeat on 1 July 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. Jacobite resistance in Scotland then subsided, but the efforts of the Williamites to get the largely Jacobite clan chiefs across the Highlands to swear allegiance to William led directly to the Glencoe Massacre of Macdonalds by Government troops on 13 February 1692.
A readiness to become involved in the fight between the remnants of the Catholic Stuart dynasty based in France and Italy (the Jacobites) and the Protestant House of Hanover, based in the Netherlands, was to continue to cost Scots very dear for another century or more. Neither side was in the least interested in the control of Scotland except as a means to the control of England, yet the end result an utter disaster for the Highlands.
Meanwhile, Scotland's economy entered the 1700s in a state of total collapse. This was partly because a large proportion of the nation's wealth had been lost in the failed scheme to create a Scottish colony on the Darien Peninsula, and partly because of the difficulty of trading in the face of tariffs being imposed by the English. The result, on 16 January 1707 was the Scottish Parliament voting itself out of existence by agreeing the the Treaty of Union with England by 110 votes to 67. The Treaty was agreed despite widespread popular opposition: partly because of the objective economic arguments in its favour; and partly because of bribery of many members of the Scottish Parliament by the English.
Dissent in Scotland following the Act of Union made the country even more attractive as a base for operations by the Jacobites, and they responded by making a series of attempts to regain power from the House of Hanover. In 1708 Prince James Stewart "The Pretender" unsuccessfully tried to land a French Army in the Firth of Forth. In 1715 a major uprising took place in Scotland under the command of John Erskine, the 23rd Earl of Mar which could easily have succeeded had it not been for leadership so inept it is tempting to suggest Erskine was actually on the side of the Hanoverians. In 1719 Spanish troops landed in the north-west Highlands. Their aim was to create a diversion away from a major Spanish landing planned in southern England. The landing in England never happened because of bad weather, and the Spaniards who had landed, and the Jacobite highlanders who had gathered around them, were defeated at the Battle of Glen Shiel.
Then, in 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart or "Bonnie Prince Charlie" landed at Glenfinnan, formed an army of willing highlanders, and against all probability captured the whole of Scotland in double-quick time. He then pressed on south, reaching Derby, just 150 miles from London, on 4 December 1745. The closely argued decision of his supporters to turn back at Derby is another of those great "what if" moments of Scottish history, because it seems entirely possible that had the Jacobites pressed on, they would have taken a poorly defended London with little difficulty. But they didn't, and the result was the Hanoverian forces under the Duke of Cumberland destroying the Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746.
The Hanoverians then went on to ensure no repeat would ever be possible, carrying out a campaign of systematic suppression amounting to genocide across the highlands and islands of Scotland. They then secured their hold over Scotland by bringing into the fold of the establishment as many of the clan chiefs as possible. People who had once been the heads of extended families responsible to and for their clan members, suddenly became aristocratic landowners, owing their positions, their wealth, and their allegiance, to the crown.
Meanwhile, wider economic factors were also at work. In the Central Lowlands the increasing exploitation of huge reserves of coal and iron ore drove forward the industrial revolution and resulted in a dramatic increase in the size of Scotland's cities. In the rural areas it was no longer proving possible for large numbers of people to live off the land, as had happened under the clan system. And besides, landowners were increasingly looking for ways to drive up their income to support their increasingly lavish lifestyles. Coupled with the emerging opportunity for individuals to making a new life in the colonies, or in the industries of the cities, the result was large scale depopulation of rural areas as many people migrated of their own free will, and many more were forced to leave their landlords' land in the "clearances" which took place right across the highlands, as well as in parts of the lowlands and southern uplands. Things became even worse when the highly lucrative and labour intensive activity of collecting and processing kelp collapsed at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when cheaper alkalis could be imported from the continent.
The growth of the British Empire in the Victorian era had a profound impact on Scotland. In part this was because it provided the country's railway workshops and shipyards with ready markets around the world, with Glasgow rapidly becoming known as the "Second city of the Empire". But it was also because the Scots played a disproportionately large role as missionaries, explorers, engineers, soldiers and administrators in the running of the Empire.
Scotland's story in the 20th Century started with the disaster of the First World War, in which some 140,000 Scots were killed: mostly young men. The interwar period was one of increasing political awareness, leading to considerable progress by the Labour Party in Scotland and the first glimmerings of Scottish Nationalism.
The story since the Second World War has had two main strands, one economic and the other political. On the economic front, Scotland has seen the almost total loss of its once huge mining and steelmaking industries, while car and truck factories have come and then gone. The shipbuilding yards that once lined the banks of the River Clyde have almost disappeared. On the other hand the country manufactures 7% of all the world's PCs and all of its Scotch Whisky as well as a wide variety of other goods, and oil, forestry, fishing and farming remain important. In large measure Scotland is now a mixed economy, with a growing dependence on the service sector for jobs: especially in the financial sector, in call centres, and in tourism.
On the political front, the story has been one of increasing awareness of the issue of self-determination in Scotland. The theft of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950 was probably counterproductive, but in November 1967 the Scottish National Party took its first ever seat in the Westminster Parliament when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election. The following year the principle of a devolved Scottish Parliament was accepted by the Conservative Party.
In the General Election of February 1973 the Scottish National Party gained 22% of the vote across Scotland and 7 seats, and this rose to 30% and 11 seats in the General Election in November 1973. In 1975 the Labour Party published proposals for a Scottish Assembly. The 1978 Scotland Act provided for a referendum on devolution, but with an amendment that stated that in order to succeed, 40% of the entire Scottish electorate had to vote yes. When the vote took place on 1 March 1979, 51.6% of Scots who voted said "yes" but the turnout was only 63.8%. As a result, only 39.2% of the whole Scottish electorate voted "yes", less than required under the Scotland Act. In response the Scottish National Party tabled a vote of no confidence in the Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, which it won by one vote, triggering his resignation.
The General Election that resulted, in May 1979, led to Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister of a Conservative government. The 18 years of Conservative rule that followed, the first 11 years of it under the autocratic leadership of Margaret Thatcher, was typified in Scotland by the implementation of a range of unpopular policies by a Government that could do much as it wished because it had very few votes to lose here. It was probably the best argument anyone ever made in favour of Nationalism. In response, when Scotland voted in the General Election of 1997 not a single Scottish Conservative MP was returned to the Westminster Parliament from a Scottish seat.
But before that, in 1995, the film "Braveheart" arrived on the scene. Much has been said about the dubious historical accuracy in the film, but that did little to diminish its impact. There is plenty of room for argument about the real historical importance of William Wallace. What seems much clearer is that words written for him in the film by screenwriter Randall Wallace had a real and lasting effect on Scots: probably far greater than the real historical actions of the man being portrayed in the film.
In July 1997 the Secretary of State for Scotland in the newly elected Labour UK Government, Donald Dewar, set out plans for a referendum on devolution. The referendum took place on 11 September 1997 and asked Scots two questions. The first was on the principle of a separate Parliament for Scotland. The second was whether that Parliament should have the power to vary levels of taxation. 74.3% voted yes to the first question, and 63.5% voted yes to the second question.
In 1999 a devolved government was created in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament resumed sitting, after a gap of 192 years, with powers over a wide range of domestic issues. And in 2007, exactly 300 years after the Act of Union, Scots elected the Scottish National Party into power in the devolved Scottish Government. More recently, in 2014, people living in Scotland voted against becoming an independent country by a fairly narrow margin.