Scotland Faction History Overview: Scotland (832-1603)


By Andrew Dunn


Scotland before the 9th century was entirely unlike the modern-day nation. Lesser kingdoms divided the country, such as the Picts in the north-east and the Scots of Dal Riada in the west. The Vikings had strong holdings in the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland, while many independent kingdoms (such as Fife) were mostly Briton in nature. This all changed when Coinneach (Kenneth) MacAlpin, united the Picts and Dal Riada under one name - the Scots - in 832.


While the unification was only in name at first, soon enough of the tribes and petty kingdoms were banded together; at least in the Lowlands. In the Highlands, the clans paid little heed to the southern monarchs, and the islanders under nominal Viking 'rule' lived quiet lives on the most part, although Somerled's conquest of the Norse-held islands in the 1130s was a notable event. The scarcity of fertile land outside of the Central Belt led to the most prosperous areas being centred around Edinburgh and Stirling; Glasgow was but a small town until centuries after Medieval times. Indeed, the Highlanders did well to ignore the dealings of the kings as much as possible - civil wars and countless battles meant that many of the early kings died in the saddle.


The 'modernisation' of Scotland began with Malcolm III 'Caennm˛r' (Big Head), ruled between 1058 and 1093. His second marriage to St. Margaret the Exile secured a connection to the House of Wessex and paved the way for the Anglo-Norman feudal system to gain prominence in the north. This cultural shift meant that many of the Scottish nobles became more or less Anglicised - speaking in Norman French primarily, and operating under a new system of land ownership. The old system of 'runrig' (each family having a strip of land or 'croit') survived only in the Highlands and Islands, and did so up until the 19th century. Never a rich country, Scotland appeared primitive to many of the English nobles who had ties to the lords north of the border; this impression was apparently reinforced in 1286.


Scotland was flung into chaos in that year, when Alexander III died without a male heir in a riding accident. His granddaughter, Margaret (Maid of Norway) ruled for 4 years but only in name - she never visited Scotland and died aged 7. Here followed a period of squabbles and feuding between potential candidates for the throne, and King Edward I of England saw this as a prime time to get a stake in the troublesome Scots, who took frequent pleasure in raiding the Northern Marches. He supported John Balliol, one of the three strongest candidates, and placed him on the Scottish throne as a puppet king. Balliol was not happy with this state of affairs, and while he was a very weak king who ultimately let Scotland fall under English rule in 1296, he did forge an "Auld Alliance" with France and Norway which lasted for many years to come.


King Edward's rule in Scotland went mostly unopposed, apart from a rebellion in 1296 by William Wallace, who compromised his position in later years and was captured and executed. The kingship of Scotland, through much backstabbing and excommunication-baiting, passed to Robert the Bruce in 1306. Bruce spent much of his early reign as a fugitive in the Western Isles, and his early confrontations with the English armies ended in disaster. However, his small and inexperienced forces gradually grew, and the tide began to turn shortly before King Edward I's death. With 'Longshanks' gone, the English had only his son, Edward II, as a leader, and he proved to be a most inefficient one.


Bruce's forces beat young Edward's in battle after battle, culminating in the most humiliating defeat the English ever suffered at the hands of the Scots: the Battle of Bannockburn. An enormous mass of knights and men-at-arms broke themselves on the Scottish schiltrons (walls of pikes and spears that were arranged so as to make charging into it like running into a wall of steel points), and the English fled home in disarray. The Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 asserted Scotland's independence - and while peace between England and Scotland was short-lived (leading to a blunderous and little-remembered battle at Neville's Cross, in which the outcome of Bannockburn was more or less reversed), the continuation of Scotland as a nation instead of a province was assured. Many centuries later in 1603, the crowns of the two kingdoms were united under King James VI of Scotland and I of England, but during the Middle Ages, the rivalry between these two countries was at its most intense.