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  • The Aberlemno Stones
    Aberlemno Stones
  • Culloden Battlefield at dusk, near Inverness
    Culloden Battlefield, near Inverness
  • The Forth Rail Bridge
    The Forth Rail Bridge
  • Looking through the trees to the National Wallace Monument, Stirling
    The National Wallace Monument, Stirling
  • A shipwreck sticks out of the water
    A Churchill Barrier Blockship wreck

The history of Scotland is a complex and engrossing one which stretches back thousands of years. Discover how the Kingdom of Alba evolved throughout the centuries to become the modern, dynamic nation it is today.

The Emergence of Scotland

Prehistoric period The retreat of the glaciers covering the north of Britain allow hunter-gatherers and then primitive farmers to colonise the newly fertile land. The ensuing centuries see wave upon wave of migrants arrive, including Celts from Eastern Europe, Scots from Ireland, Anglo-Saxons from the south and Vikings

1100s The Kingdom of Alba emerges. David I (around 1080 - 1153) is responsible for transforming Scotland into a feudal kingdom, modelled in part on its neighbour to the south. Scotland's relationship with England is to play an integral role in its subsequent history

The Struggle for Independence

1296 Edward I of England invades Scotland.

1297 William Wallace and Andrew de Moray raise forces to resist the occupation. Together they defeat an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

1298 Wallace is defeated by Edward I at the Battle of Falkirk

1305 Wallace is executed by the English for treason, which he denies stating that he had never sworn allegiance to the English king

1306 Robert the Bruce is crowned King of Scotland

1307 Edward I dies

1314 Robert the Bruce and his army defeat Edward II and the English army at the Battle of Bannockburn securing de facto independence

1320 The Declaration of Arbroath is sent to Pope John XXII and proclaims Scotland's status as an independent sovereign state. The declaration is regarded as one of the most important documents in Scottish history and is believed to have inspired Thomas Jefferson when writing the American Declaration of Independence. 

1328 The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton is signed by Robert I and Edward III recognising Scotland’s independence under the rule of Robert the Bruce

The Union of the Crowns

1494-5 King James IV grants a commission to Friar John Cor, a monk at Lindores Abbey in Fife, to make acqua vitae (whisky) - the earliest official record of distilling in Scotland

1513 Scotland’s alliance with France – the Auld Alliance – brings disaster. During the Battle of Flodden against the English army, King James IV's army suffers a devastating defeat with more than 10,00 men killed including the king himself

1559 John Knox delivers his fiery sermon against idolatry at St John’s Kirk in Perth which fans the flames of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland

1560 The Papal Jurisdiction Act is passed by the Scottish Parliament which declares that the Pope has no jurisdiction in Scotland

1587 The Catholic Mary Queen of Scots is executed on the orders of Elizabeth I

1603 The union of the crowns makes James VI of Scotland also James I of England. The kingdoms of England and Scotland become sovereign states with their independent parliaments, judiciary and legal systems

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms

1638 The National Covenant of Scotland is formed in opposition to the religious policies of Charles I. This revolt triggers civil insurrection in Ireland and then England

1639-40 Charles I attempts to impose an Episcopalian system of religious governance upon Scotland. This is rejected by the country’s Presbyterian majority. A series of military and political conflicts ensue which become known as the Bishops’ Wars

1644-45 A Scottish civil war between Scottish Royalists – supporters of Charles I – and Covenanters who have controlled Scotland since 1639 and are allied to the English Parliament is fought. Aided by Irish troops, the Scottish Royalists enjoy a series of early victories but are ultimately defeated

1646 Charles I surrenders to the Scottish Covenanter army in England bringing an end to the first English Civil War

1649 Charles I is executed following a trial for treason, called by a rump of radical MPs

1650 The Kirk Party insists the new king should accept the covenant and establish a Presbyterian church government in the three kingdoms. Charles II is obliged to sign the Treaty of Breda

1651 Oliver Cromwell’s Republican forces defeat the Scots at the Battle of Inverkeithing before terminating the Royalist-Covenanter alliance and eventually defeating the King at Worcester

1651-54 Royalist uprisings spread across Scotland. Dunnottar Castle is the last stronghold to fall to the English Parliament's troops in May 1652. General George Monck garrisons forts across the Highlands to suppress Royalist resistance

1658 Oliver Cromwell dies

1660 Charles II returns from exile and the monarchy is restored

1668 The Glorious Revolution takes place. The catholic James II is replaced by the joint monarchy of his protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William III of Orange.

The Jacobites and the Highland Clearances

1707 The Act of Union of 1707 merges England and Scotland into a single state of Great Britain, creating a single parliament at Westminster. The union put an end to Jacobite hopes of a Stuart restoration by ensuring the German Hanoverian dynasty succeeded Queen Anne upon her death - but the Stuarts still commanded loyalty in Scotland, France and England

1708 James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of James VII, who becomes known as the 'Old Pretender', attempts an invasion with a French fleet carrying 6,000 men, but the Royal Navy prevents it from landing

1715 The Earl of Mar leads the second Jacobite rising which is eventually quashed at the Battle of Preston

1745 The final Jacobite rising begins. Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender, lands on the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. With the support of several clans, he successfully captures Edinburgh and defeats the only government army in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans

1746 The Jacobites are crushed by the forces of the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden. This defeat signals the demise of the Jacobite cause. With the aid of the Highlanders, Charles flees to Skye and returns to France where he spends the rest of his life in exile

Post-1746 The military catastrophe of Culloden heralds the collapse of the clan system. A number of laws are introduced in an attempt to assimilate the Highlanders by eradicating all aspect of their culture, including the Gaelic language and their traditional tartan attire. Highlanders are also prohibiting from owning weapons while their clan chiefs have their rights to jurisdiction removed

1790 onwards The Highland Clearances take place. Highlanders are forcibly displaced by their landlords so that the land can be used for sheep farming. Many Highlanders find themselves now living in cities and England, or being sent abroad to Canada, America and Australia

Scots from the upper echelons of society fare better following the demise of Jacobitism and the Act of Union. Middle and upper-class Scots are able to take advantage of opportunities which were previously closed to them. Thousands of Scots, mainly Lowlanders, assume positions of power in politics, the civil service, the army and navy, trade, economics, colonial enterprises and other areas across the nascent British Empire

1790-1815 The Napoleonic Wars bring economic prosperity to the Highlands. An increasing number of young men join the Armed Services with many choosing to settle abroad after being discharged

The Modern Age

1800 The Welsh social reformer Robert Owen takes over the running of the cotton mills at New Lanark which become celebrated as models of progressive and socially responsible industrial management 

1802 William Symington produces the world’s first practial steamboat using a steam-driven paddle wheel – the Charlotte Dundas – which successfully pulls two 70 ton barges on the Forth and Clyde Canal

1803 The construction of the Caledonian Canal begins bringing much needed employment to the Highlands. It is opened in 1822 and completed in 1847

1807 Henry Benedict Stuart dies in Rome. He is the fourth and final Jacobite to publicly lay claim to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland

1812 Henry Bell runs Europe’s first Europe’s first commercial steamboat service from Glasgow’s Broomielaw to Greenock in the steamboat Comet

1814 One of the most infamous periods in the Highland Clearances takes place on the vast estate of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland. Residents are brutally evicted from their homes, which in many cases are burnt to the ground, between 1811 and 1821

1815 The kelp fishing industry, an essential source of income for many coastal communities in the Highlands collapses at the end of the Napoleonic Wars following greater access to cheaper continental sources of alkalis. The death of this industry forces many Highlanders to emigrate

1819 Inventor of the steam engine James Watt dies

1820 The Union Chain Bridge across the River Tweed opens and is the first major bridge of its kind to be designed for vehicles. It is the oldest surviving iron chain suspension bridge still in use in Europe

1826 The first modern railway in Scotland opens between Monklands and Kirkintilloch

1831 The first passenger railway in Scotland between Glasgow and Garnkirk in Lanarkshire begins operation

1833 The Factories Act regulates the number of hours young workers are permitted to work per week and bans children under the age of nine from working

1834 The Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason Thomas Telford dies

1838 Queen Victoria is crowned at Westminster

1842 The rail service between Glasgow and Edinburgh begins operation

1851 James Young establishes the world’s first oil refinery in Bathgate

1852 James and George Thomson found the renowned shipbuilding business of John Brown & Company Ltd at Cessnock

1861 Prince Albert dies

1872 The Education Act makes schooling compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 13

1879 The Tay Railway Bridge collapses while being crossed by a train resulting in the loss of 75 lives

1882 The‘Battle of the Braes’ takes place on the Isle of Skye. Crofters refuse to pay their rents until landowners agree to return their traditional grazing rights. Attempts to serve eviction notices by the police are met with violent resistance

1887 The Wallace statue is unveiled at the National Wallace Monument in Stirling

1888 The Scottish Labour Party is formed by Keir Hardie

1890 The Forth Rail Bridge opens

1897 The Scottish Trades Union Congress is formed

20th century - today

1901 Queen Victoria dies

1914-18 Scotland plays a significant role in the First World War. 690,000 men are sent to the front. 74,000 die in combat and 150,000 are seriously maimed

Glasgow’s Clydeside becomes the most important centre of shipbuilding and munitions production in the British Empire

1919 The German High Seas Fleet is interned at Scapa Flow in Orkney following the German surrender

1921-31 Emigration from Scotland continues steadily after the end of the First World War. An estimated 400,000 Scots – around 10 percent of the population – leave the country during this period

1925 John Logie Baird, a Helensburgh-born engineer, demonstrates the first working television system

1928 Alexander Fleming, Ayrshire-born bacteriologist and surgeon, first discovers penicillin

1929 The Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression brings an end to mass emigration with the number of Scots choosing to leave falling to just 50,000 a year

1930 St Kilda, the remote island lying 40 miles out into the Atlantic west of the Outer Hebrides, is finally abandoned by its last inhabitants due to the harsh living conditions. St Kilda becomes a World Heritage Site in 1986

1939-45 The Second World War. Scapa Flow serves as an important Royal Navy base and the shipbuilding yards, industrial works and factories in Glasgow once again play a key role in the war effort, sustaining attacks from the Luftwaffe which wreak great destruction and heavy casualties. Shetland’s proximity to Norway leads to its participation in the Shetland Bus, a secret naval operation in which Shetland fishing boats are used to transport Allied agents in and out of Nazi-occupied Norway

1945 The Scottish National Party (SNP) gains its first seat at Westminster

1950 The Stone of Destiny, traditionally used during the coronation of all English and British monarchs, is taken from Westminster Abbey by four Scots students and driven back to Scotland for the first time since it was looted by Edward I's army in 1296. Amid great public outcry, the Stone is later found at Arbroath Abbey and returned to London

1955 Scotland's first nuclear reactor opens at Dounreay in Caithness. This is followed by others at Chapelcross, near Annan (1959), Hunterston A in Ayrshire (1964), Hunterston B (1976) and Torness in East Lothian (1988). At its peak more than half of Scotland’s energy comes from nuclear power

1969 The first major oil find in the North Sea is made with the discovery of the Montrose field. This kickstarts a huge oil boom in northeast Scotland, as infrastructure and support industries expand to meet the pace of offshore exploration. The first oil is pumped ashore in 1975

1970 The Commonwealth Games is staged in Scotland for the first time in Edinburgh. The capital plays host to Games again in 1986

1979 A referendum on Scottish devolution is held but does not achieve the necessary 40 percent of the electorate. The SNP experiences an electoral decline during the 1980s

1984-5 A national miner's strike is staged by the National Union of Mineworkers to protest against pit closures. Increasingly bitter and divisive, the strike lasts 35 weeks before collapsing. Longannet, the last deep pit in Scotland closes in 2002, effectively ending the long history of the industry in Scotland

1989 The introduction of the deeply unpopular Poll Tax by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government helps to revive the Scottish Independence movement

1996 Scientists at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh produce the world's first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep

1996 The Stone of Destiny is formally returned to Scotland by the British Government on St Andrew's Day and put on display at Edinburgh Castle

1997 A referendum is once again held on the issue of devolution for Scotland on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This time successful, a devolved Parliament is established in Edinburgh in 1999, the first in almost 300 years

2004 The new Scottish Parliament Building, adjacent to Holyrood House in Edinburgh, opens

2013 Dunblane's Andy Murray becomes the first Briton to win the Wimbledon men's singles since 1936 and the first Scot in the modern era, following Harold Mahony's victory in 1896

2014 The XXth Commonwealth Games are staged in Glasgow

2014 A referendum on Scottish independence is held, with 55 percent of the electorate voting to remain part of the UK

2014 The 40th Ryder Cup is held in Gleneagles, Perthshire