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Saint Andrew's Saltire, the national flag of Scotland

Scotland is a constituent part of the United Kingdom consisting of the northern part of Great Britain and its appurtenant islands. To the south lies England. In addition to the mainland, Scotland includes over 790 islands, of which the largest groups are the Hebrides spread out from the west coast and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland.

The Kingdom of Scotland emerged as an independent sovereign state in the Early Middle Ages and its history of the consolidation in single rule of disparate nations has shaped the variety found in Scotland today. In 1603, King James VI acceded to the throne of England also and effectively united Great Britain, though the legal union occurred only in 1707.

Notwithstanding the union, Scotland's distinct legal system continued and continues, separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland. Likewise, the Church of Scotland has been preserved as independent. The continued existence of institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the United Kingdom have contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and particular identity since the Union.[1]

Traditionally, Scotland is divided into the Highlands and the Lowlands, and in times past this was a stark distinction: the Lowlands were the civilised and English-speaking region, in which 90% of the population lived, while the Highlands were wild and empty, where the Gaelic-speaking clans lived under the rule of the clan chiefs, often at war with each other, a land devoid of towns and roads and considered with suspicion or hostility by the Lowlanders. Today the Lowlands are broken in two; the industrialised and urbanised Central Belt in the valleys of the Clyde and Forth from Edinburgh to Glasgow is quite different from the lands to the north and the south.

Chief cities

Edinburgh, the traditional capital and seat of the devolved authorities, is one of the European region's largest financial centres,[2] second only to London in the United Kingdom, and is the largest city of Scotland after Glasgow. Edinburgh was the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, which transformed Scotland into one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses of Europe.

It was once said that "Edinburgh is the capital but Glasgow has the capital. Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, was once one of the world's leading industrial cities and now lies at the centre of the Greater Glasgow conurbation.

The exploitation of the off-shore oil fields of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, the largest oil reserves in the European region, has given Aberdeen, the third largest city in Scotland, the title of Europe's oil capital and has made it a leading centre for heavy engineering.

Names of Scotland

The name Scotland is Old English but derived from the Latin name Scoti, the term applied to the Gaelic people from what is now Scotland and Ireland. The Late Latin word Scotia was initially used to refer to Ireland[3] and in English texts, Scotland meant Ireland at least until the late ninth century. However, by the 10th century Scotland had come to mean the Gaelic-speaking kingdom in the north of Great Britain, north of the River Forth. However as late as 1005, the Irish king Brian Boru described himself as Imperator Scottorum (High King of the Scots). The origin of Scoti is uncertain. Some have suggested a Gaelic word "scuit" meaning "cut-off" or "rejected" to describe piratical Ulster tribesmen, which was them applied by outsiders to the Irish as a whole.[4]

The Gaelic Alba, rendered in Latin and English as Albania or Albany,[5] seems to be an early word for the Highland kingdom of the Picts, absorbed by the Kings of the Scots, though it now refers to Scotland as a whole.


Geographically as culturally, Scotland is dramatically divided into distinct regions, specifically, the southern Lowlands, the Central Belt, the Highlands and the Northern Isles. The Highlands are generally taken to include the Hebrides, which are similar geographically and culturally.

The total area is of all these regions together 30,414 square miles. Its land boundary, with England, runs for 60 miles across the island between the basin of the River Tweed on the east coast and the Solway Firth in the west. Ulster lies only 19 miles from the southwestern peninsula of Kintyre, the closest part of Great Britain to Ireland, or 23 miles from Wigtownshire.

The Northern Isles

Main article: Orkney

Main article: Shetland

Ellibister, Orkney

The two counties of Orkney and Shetland are archipelagos in the northern seas, distinct geographically and culturally from the lands to the south. Orkney and Shetland are almost wholly treeless, with the result that their history from ancient times is spelled out in the stone houses of every age whose remains are often excavated.

Orkney, the closest to Great Britain, is made up of a scatter of low-lying islands, only one of which, Hoy, has the ruggedness associated with the Highlands to the south. Shetland is far further north, more mountainous in aspect though never reaching great heights, the rocky isles sliced by deep voes (fjords). The islands are as close to Norway as to Great Britain, which aspect has shaped their history and culture just as they have Orkney's.

Both Orkney and Shetland were settled by Norwegians during the early mediæval period and remained subject to Norway until the fifteenth century. The legacy of the Norsemen remains in the place-names, the culture, the dialect and the blood of the islanders.

The Highlands

The Dee and the Ballochbuie

Rising to 4,409 feet above sea level, Scotland's highest point and that of the British Isles, is the summit of Ben Nevis, in Inverness-shire. Scotland's longest river, the River Tay, flows for a distance of just 117 miles from the Highlands to the sea.

The Highlands geologically lie to the north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which runs from the Isle of Arran to Stonehaven. The lands north of the fault comprise ancient rocks from the Cambrian and Precambrian, which were uplifted during the later Caledonian Orogeny. It is interspersed with igneous intrusions of a more recent age, the remnants of which have formed mountain massifs such as the Cairngorms and Skye Cuillin hills.

The Highlands are generally mountainous and the greatest heights in the British Isles are found here, rising to a peak in Ben Nevis in Inverness-shire, 4,409 feet above sea level, with Ben Macdhui on the border of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire not far inferior at 4,295 feet.

There are countless freshwater lakes including Loch Lomond and Loch Ness. The coast is deeply indented with sea-lochs and broad bays, in particular on the wild Atlantic coast, and some parts of the coastline consist of machair, a low lying dune pasture land.

The Hebrides off the western coast belong to the Highlands in geography and culture. They are divided between the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides.

Central lowlands

The Clydeside Expressway

The Central Lowlands are a rift valley mainly comprising Paleozoic formations. Many of these sediments have economic significance for it is here that the coal and iron bearing rocks that fuelled Scotland's industrial revolution are to be found. This area has also experienced intense volcanism, Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh being the remnant of a once much larger volcano. This area is relatively low-lying, although even here hills such as the Ochil Hills and Campsie Fells are rarely far from view.

The Central Lowlands are now the leading region; the great majority of the population dwell in its towns and it is the great economic centre of the north of Great Britain. From their overwhelming population, the Central Lowlands dominate Scottish social and politic conversation.

Southern Uplands

Howdales, Teviotdale (Roxburghshire)

The Southern Uplands are a range of hills almost 130 miles long, interspersed with broad valleys. They lie south of a fault line (the Southern Uplands fault) that runs from Girvan to Dunbar.[6][7][8][9] The geological foundations largely comprise Silurian deposits laid down some 4–500 million years ago. The high point of the Southern Uplands is Merrick in Kirkcudbrightshire with a height of 2,766 feet.[10][11][12][13]

Although not as lofty as the Highlands, it is in the Southern Uplands that the United Kingdom's highest village is found; Wanlockhead in Dumfriesshire at 1,410 feet above sea level.


Scotland has 34 counties: Aberdeenshire · Angus · Argyllshire · Ayrshire · Banffshire · Berwickshire · Buteshire · Caithness · Clackmannanshire · Cromartyshire · Dumfriesshire · Dunbartonshire · East Lothian · Fife · Inverness-shire · Kincardineshire · Kinross-shire · Kirkcudbrightshire · Lanarkshire · Midlothian · Morayshire · Nairnshire · Orkney · Peeblesshire · Perthshire · Renfrewshire · Ross-shire · Roxburghshire · Shetland · Selkirkshire · Stirlingshire · Sutherland · West Lothian · Wigtownshire


Dunadd Fort, seat of Dalriada

Foundation of a kingdom

The Kingdom of Scotland was the result of the union over the centuries in the Early Middle Ages of disparate kingdoms in the north.

The Kingdom of the Scots began as Dalriada in Argyll and the Hebrides, drawing its origin apparently from Ulster, from whose kings the Kings of Scots claimed descent. From Ulster too came Saint Columba to convert the Scots and the Picts. In ninth century the King of the Scots, by tradition Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin), took the Pictish throne and joined the two kingdoms.

Pictland had its capital at Fortriu by the 6th century; a state that eventually became known as "Alba", the current Gaelic name for Scotland. Alba itself was the union of several earlier Pictish kingdoms (according to the historical model developed by Peter Heather, it may have been a response to Roman imperialism,[14] or to the much later dominance of the Northumbrians, broken at the Battle of Dunnichen and the reign of Bridei m. Beli (671–693), a Welsh prince brought to rule the Picts, and another period of consolidation in the reign of Óengus mac Fergusa (732–761).[15] The identification of the Picts is uncertain as their language has vanished, but it is believed, through the study of place-names, that it was a branch of the British language or Old Welsh.

The Kingdom of Strathclyde was a Welsh-speaking kingdom, the remnant of the Hen Ogledd (the Old North) after the coming of the English. Its last known effective king was Owen (or Eogain), slain at the battle of Brunanburh, after which the kingdom was absorbed by the Scots.

The Kingdom of the Northumbrians, once dominant in the north, was smashed by the Norwegian invaders in the ninth century. Its northern parts, from the Tees to the Forth, held on as English territory in spite of Norse incursions. Of these farthest English lands, Lothian, the land north of the Tweed, was granted to the King of Scots, according to William of Malmesbury, by King Edgar in the tenth century.

By the 12th century, the kings of Alba had added to their territories the English-speaking land in the south-east and attained overlordship of English / Irish-Gaelic-speaking Galloway and Norse-speaking Caithness and thus irrevocably changed the nature of the kingdom. At the Battle of the Standard in August 1138, King David I mustered an army the Chroniclers described as having Gallowegians, Cumbrians and Men of Teviotdale, Men of Lothian, islanders and men of Lorne in addition to Scots; he also mustered against bodies of "Moravians" and English and French knights, the knights as his bodyguard.[16][17]

Middle Ages

King Edward I, King Alexander III and Prince Llewelyn of Wales at the English parliament

King David I revolutionised the government of Scotland, adopting feudalism and creating shires and burghs, and founding abbeys. The English-speaking Lowlands, their language and culture, became dominant. The kingdom enjoyed relative peace and stability period between the 12th and 14th centuries.

Peace and prosperity ended when Alexander III died in March 1286, and his sole heir, Margaret, Maid of Norway, died on her voyage to assume the throne. The line of Kings of the Scots was at an end and as Margaret had been betrothed to Edward Prince of Wales and so with her died the prospective marriage alliance which would have united England, Scotland and Norway. King Edward I of England arbitrated "the Great Cause" to chose a successor for the crown from distant descendants of former kings, in which John Balliol prevailed; he was pronounced King in the Great Hall of Berwick Castle on 17 November 1292. John had recognised King Edward of England as his feudal superior, but in 1294 he refused King Edward's demands to serve in his army against the French and instead sent envoys to France to negotiate an alliance; the "Auld Alliance" as it became known.

The Auld Alliance turned Scotland from a prosperous kingdom into a land scarred by bloody war for centuries. Edward deposed John for perfidy, assuming personal control of Scotland and there began a rebellion which grew into the Wars of Scottish Independence of 1296 to 1328.[18] The bloody struggles and shifting alliances of the ensuing generations drew a pall of blood across the Middle Ages. Even after the Scottish victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, war with England and civil war between the houses of Bruce, Balliol and Comyn continued for several decades, and peace thereafter was never for long as each clash between England and France placed a lash across Scotland too.

After David II died without heirs, Robert II established the Stewart Dynasty[19][20] which ruled Scotland for the remainder of the Middle Ages and restored if not peace then prosperity from the end of the 14th century through the Scottish Renaissance to the Reformation and it was this dynasty which ultimately inherited the throne of England and brought about the Union in 1707.


Gilbert Scott Building, University of Glasgow

The Education Act of 1496 made Scotland the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496.

In 1561, the Church of Scotland set out a national programme for spiritual reform, including a school in every parish. Education continued to be a matter for the church rather than the state until the Education Act (1872).[21]

The modern era

In 1502, James IV of Scotland signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Henry VII of England and married Henry's daughter, Margaret Tudor, a union which was in time to bring about the long-desired union between the kingdoms. A decade later the French invoked the Auld Alliance, and James followed the ancient treaty, not the new; he was the last British monarch to die in battle, at the Battle of Flodden.[22] Within a generation, the Auld Alliance was ended at last by the Treaty of Edinburgh, France withdrew all land and naval forces and in the same year, 1560, the revolution of John Knox achieved its ultimate goal of removing papal authority in Scotland and reforming the Church.[23] Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate in 1567.[24]

In 1603, James VI King of Scots inherited the throne of the Kingdom of England, and became King James I of England, and left Edinburgh for London. Thereafter the two kingdoms were united under one head, though with the exception of a short period under Cromwell's Protectorate, Scotland remained a separate state. In the seventeenth century, the Covenanters demanded change in the form of church government in England, Scotland and Ireland, which spilled over into civil war in Scotland and triggered civil war in England too; a period known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 saw the overthrow of the King James VII and II by both Parliaments in favour of William and Mary. The revolution gave the Covenanters their desires in Scotland if not England, a Presbyterian church settlement, and constitutional government was established. Peace prevailed and the Union between Scotland and England was achieved 18 years later, under Queen Anne.


Scotland had requested union with England at various times; in the days of James VI, at the Restoration and at the Glorious Revolution, but were rejected. England remained a separate kingdom in which Scotland had no say, and suffered from it. Cut out of English colonial markets, Scottish merchants had a last fling of ambition; in 1698, the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies attempted to secure a trading colony at Darien (on the isthmus of Panama). Almost every great Scottish landowner who had money to spare is said to have invested in the scheme but the beautiful but fetid and malarial swamp where the colonists landed was not to prove Scotland's empire; the mosquitoes and the Spaniards beat them and bankrupted the great men of Scotland.

On 22 July 1706, the Treaty of Union was agreed between representatives of the Parliaments of Scotland and of England and the following year twin Acts of Union were passed to create the Kingdom of Great Britain with effect from 1 May 1707.


A Pipe Major playing the Great Highland Bagpipe

A famous traditional Scottish instrument is the Great Highland Bagpipe, consisting of three drones and a melody pipe (called the chanter), which are fed continuously by a reservoir of air in a bag. The Highland Great Pipe has quite eclipsed the smallpipes, bellows-blown bagpipes, once important in the Middle Shires, either side of the old border.

Elements of popular understanding of Scottish culture tend to be drawn from the colourful element of the Highlands: the bagpipe, the kilt, and the Gaelic tongue, all things popularised from the Victorian Age. Of the Lowland inheritance, the haggis, revered by Burns (and rightly so) was once the food of the poor, but is no lesser for it and finds a place at many a table which seeks to emphasise its Scottishness.

An aspect of particular Scottish culture once revered is the dour and businesslike aspect attributed to the stern strictures of the Kirk, and which oftentimes gave Scots an upper hand over their compatriots when building the British Empire.

Scottish symbols

The thistle, Scotland's floral emblem

The flag of Scotland, known as the Saltire or St Andrew's Cross, dates from the 9th century. Since 1606 the saltire has also formed the basis of the Union Flag.

There are numerous other symbols, both official and unofficial, including the thistle, Scotland's floral emblem and the textile pattern tartan that is taken to signify a particular clan.

Tartan is the parti-coloured pattern of Highland plaid. In the wake of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, the wearing of plaid and tartan was forbidden by the Dress Act of 1747, as a way to break the culture of the Highlands. The repeal of the prohibition in 1782 sparked a growth in tartan patterns and the invention of the concept of clan tartans, unknown before but now an unshakeable invented tradition.


The majority languages of Scotland are English and Scots, though whether they are dialects one of another or sibling tongues derived from the like root, Old English, is debated. Standard English prevails but Scots (which in its day was known as "Inglissche") has provided a rich literature.

The poet and songwriter Robert Burns wrote in the Scots language, although much of his writing is also in English, and in a "light" Scots dialect that is more accessible to a wider audience.

The Gaelic language is spoken in the Highlands, once far more widely than today. It began to be a written language only in the late eighteenth century, but some of the oral tradition survived, less so perhaps than in Ireland, as the Reformation did not take hold in the latter island to drive away superstitious stories of ancient times.


Tartanry refers to often exaggerated or invented aspects of Scotland such as clan tartans, kilts, bagpipes, Scottish Gaelic and Highland culture more generally.

The Highlands were relatively peripheral to wider Scottish culture until the late eighteenth century, but the military tradition of the Highlands created crack infantry regiments wearing Government uniform tartan. The Forty-Five Rebellion brought the "wild Highlands" more to the fore, and in the wake of the rebellion (and notwithstanding that the majority of the clans had remained loyal) many aspects of Highland dress were forbidden except among the Highland Regiments.

The repeal of the Dress Act in 1782 saw a romantic revival of tartan, kilts, bagpipes and Highland traditions, both genuine and imagined, which in time became seen as Scottish traditions, famously celebrated during the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. Lord Macauley wrote of the displays on that occasion that:

The last British king who held court at Holyrood thought that he could not give a more striking proof of his respect for the usages which had prevailed in Scotland before the Union, than by disguising himself in what, before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief.[25]

Scott and the kailyard

Sir Walter Scott proved the inventor of much of the impression of Scotland; his wild, romantic novels of Lowland farmers, reivers and noble Highlanders were popular throughout the Empire and beyond. Robert Louis Stephenson took the theme up with vigour too.

J M Barrie introduced the movement known as the "Kailyard school" at the end of the 19th century, which brought elements of fantasy and folklore back into fashion.[26] This tradition focused on an idealised, pastoral picture of Scottish culture.[26]

Modern novels written by Scots have sought to appear distinctly Scottish while rejecting daft romanticism and embracing gritty realism.

Outside links


  1. Devine, T.M (1999), The Scottish Nation 1700–2000, P.288–289, ISBN 0-14-023004-1 "created a new and powerful local state run by the Scottish bourgeoisie and reflecting their political and religious values. It was this local state, rather than a distant and usually indifferent Westminster authority, that in effect routinely governed Scotland"
  2. "Global Financial Centres Index". City of London. September 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2010. 
  3. The History Of Ireland Stephen Gwynn
  4. John Morris The Age of Arthur (Weidenfeld)
  5. Ayto, John; Ian Crofton. Brewer's Britain & Ireland : The History, Culture, Folklore and Etymology of 7500 Places in These Islands. WN. ISBN 030435385X. 
  6. "Scotfax: Geography of Scotland on Undiscovered Scotland". Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  7. "Southern Uplands". 16 November 1990. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  8. "Education Scotland – Standard Grade Bitesize Revision – Ask a Teacher – Geography – Physical – Question From PN". BBC. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  9. "Scotland Today " ITKT". 28 December 2006. Archived from the original on 6 January 2007. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  10. Keay, J. & Keay, J. (1994) Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland. London. HarperCollins.
  11. Murray, W.H. (1973) The Islands of Western Scotland. London. Eyre Methuen ISBN 978-0413303806
  12. Murray, W.H. (1968) The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland. London. Collins. ISBN 0002111357
  13. Johnstone, Scott et al. (1990) The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills. Edinburgh. Scottish Mountaineering Trust. Page 9.
  14. Peter Heather, "State Formation in Europe in the First Millennium A.D.", in Barbara Crawford (ed.), Scotland in Dark Ages Europe, (Aberdeen, 1994), pp. 47–63
  15. For instance, Alex Woolf, "The Verturian Hegemony: a mirror in the North", in M. P. Brown & C. A. Farr, (eds.), Mercia: an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe, (Leicester, 2001), pp. 106–11.
  16. Ailred of Rievaulx
  17. Henry of Huntingdon has "Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians, Cumbrians, Men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Picts (Gallowegians) and Scots"
  18. "Scotland Regained, 1297–1328". National Archives of the United Kingdom. 
  19. G. W. S. Barrow (2005) [1965]. Robert Bruce & the Community of the Realm of Scotland (4th ed.). Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748620222. 
  20. Grant, Alexander (6 June 1991) [1984]. Independence and Nationhood: Scotland, 1306–1469 (New ed.). Edinburgh University Press. pp. 3–57. ISBN 978-0748602735. 
  21. "Schools and schooling" in M. Lynch (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, (Oxford, 2001), pp. 561–563.
  22. "Battle of Flodden, (Sept. 9, 1513),". Encyclopædia Britannica. 
  23. "The Scottish Reformation,". BBC Scotland. 
  24. "Religion, Marriage and Power in Scotland, 1503–1603". The National Archives of the United Kingdom. 
  25. Macauley: The History of England from the Accession of James the Second chapter XIII
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Scottish Literature". University of Glasgow Faculty of Arts. Archived from the original on 25 September 2003. Retrieved 11 December 2006. 

Further reading

  • Brown, Dauvit, (1999) Anglo-French acculturation and the Irish element in Scottish Identity in Smith, Brendan (ed.), Insular Responses to Mediæval European Change, Cambridge University Press, pp. 135–53
  • Brown, Michael (2004) The Wars of Scotland, 1214–1371, Edinburgh University Press., pp. 157–254
  • Devine, T.M [1999] (2000). The Scottish Nation 1700–2000 (New Ed. edition). London:Penguin. ISBN 0-14-023004-1
  • Dumville, David N. (2001). "St Cathróe of Metz and the Hagiography of Exoticism". Irish Hagiography: Saints and Scholars. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp. 172–176. ISBN 978-1851824861. 
  • Flom, George Tobias. Scandinavian influence on Southern Lowland Scotch. A Contribution to the Study of the Linguistic Relations of English and Scandinavian (Columbia University Press, New York. 1900)
  • Herbert, Maire (2000). "Rí Érenn, Rí Alban, kingship and identity in the ninth and tenth centuries". in Simon Taylor (ed.). Kings, Clerics and Chronicles in Scotland, 500–1297. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp. 63–72. ISBN 1851825169. 
  • MacLeod, Wilson (2004) Divided Gaels: Gaelic Cultural Identities in Scotland and Ireland: c.1200–1650. Oxford University Press.
  • Pope, Robert (ed.), Religion and National Identity: Wales and Scotland, c.1700–2000 (University of Wales Press, 2001)
  • Sharp, L. W. The Expansion of the English Language in Scotland, (Cambridge University Ph.D. thesis, 1927), pp. 102–325;
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh, The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History, Yale, 2008, ISBN 0-300-13686-2