History timeline of Shetland

Quick Finder

Search for Places

Search Accommodation

Room / Property
If booking self-catering accommodation please select 1 room/property for the total number of adults & children.
Advanced Search

Search What's On

Start Date
End Date

Search things to do


Search Food & Drink


Search Scots Agents

  • Broch of Clickimin
    Broch of Clickimin
  • Curator knitting at the Shetland Textile Museum at Weisdale mill, Lerwick
    Knitting at the Shetland Textile Museum, Lerwick
  • Mareel © Phatsheep Photography courtesy of Shetland Arts
    Mareel © Phatsheep Photography courtesy of Shetland Arts
  • The Hams of Roe, Muckle Roe
    The Hams of Roe, Muckle Roe
  • A member of the Uyeasound Jarl Squad with a replica Viking Galley
    A member of the Uyeasound Jarl Squad with a replica Viking Galley

Shetland's fascinating and complex history stretches back at least 5,000 years. Discover a treasure trove of remarkable archaeological remains left behind by the islands' inhabitants, from its first prehistoric settlers to Picts and Viking invaders. Learn about its secret role in the Second World War and how the discovery of oil in 20th century transformed the fortunes of the islands.

Take a look at the fascinating timeline below and learn about the region's history.


3000 BC               Shetland is inhabited by Neolithic farmers, the islands’ earliest known


1st - 8th century

200 BC - 200 AD  Warrior Celts arrive and build massive brochs at Mousa, Jarlshof

                          and Old Scatness. Stanydale Temple may have been the hall of one

                          of their leaders.

700 AD               Christianity is introduced by Irish or Pictish missionaries

800 AD                The Viking invasions begin and Shetland remains in Norse control for

                           the next 600 years. Today’s Shetlanders celebrate their Viking roots

                           at the annual fire festival of Up Helly Aa

15th - 18th century

1450                      Hanseatic merchants from north Germany arrive to trade with local


1468                      Norse rule comes to an end as a result of a marriage treaty between

                             James III and Margaret of Denmark. To raise the funds for her

                             dowry, both Shetland and Orkney are mortgaged to Scotland

1471                      Shetland and Orkney are annexed to the Scottish crown

1564                      The infamous Earl Robert Stewart, half-brother of Mary Queen of

                             Scots arrives. He ignores the Shetlanders’ laws and institutions,

                             increasing  taxation and building the Lairds House at Jarlshof

1577                      700 Shetlanders gather at the old parliament site at Tingwall to

                             complain to Royal commissioners in Edinburgh about the conduct of

                             the Earl’s equally tyrannical successor Laurence Bruce

1593                      The Earl’s son Robert Stewart takes over. He restores the old

                             Norwegian law, appoints Shetlanders as officials and returns the

                              islands to place of relative stability and prosperity

1615                      Robert falls foul of power hungry landlords and is guillotined at

                             Edinburgh for treason

1665                      Fort Charlotte is built by Charles II during the Second Anglo-Dutch

                              War. It successfully fends off an enemy fleet in 1667

1700s                     Landlords make it a condition of their tenants’ tenure to fish for them.

                              Islanders sell their catch to their merchant-lairds in return for essential

                              goods and Shetland. This transaction is known as ‘truck’ and

                              transforms Shetland into a cashless society

19th century

1799-1815             The outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars. During the conflict many

                            Shetland men are coerced into joining the Royal Navy by being

                           ‘press ganged’ or kidnapped by naval officers. At the end of this

                            period, the Shetlanders’ native Norn language effectively becomes

                            extinct with most of the populace conversing in Scots

1860-1880             An estimated 2,000 Shetlanders leave the islands with many

                            emigrating to North America and Australia

1880                     The herring fishing boom arrives. Landowners lease their lands to

                             businessmen who establish new fisheries and purchase catch from

                             local fishermen in return for money. An increasing number of

                             Shetlanders abandon the old ‘truck’ system that had existed

                             between landlords and their tenants in favour of earning cash.

1886                      The British government enacts crafting legislation which makes it

                            impossible for landlords to evict their tenants and greatly reduces


20th century

1914-18              The Great War brings an end to the herring fishing boom which never


1941-45              Shetland skippers collaborate with the British Navy to help transport

                         Allied agents in and out of Nazi-occupied Norway and supply them with

                         weapons, radios and other essentials under cover of darkness. This

                         secret special operations group is nicknamed the ‘Shetland Bus’ and you

                         can learn more about it at the museum in Scallwoay. 

1972                  Oil deposits are discovered in the North Sea which leads to the

                         construction of the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal which generates millions.

                         The islands undergo a period of ecconomic regeneration with the reation

                         of countless new jobs and a much needed modern infrastructure