Early Scotland

From the looks of it, early Scots were ardent builders. On the Orkney and Shetland islands and in the Hebrides, the ruins of farming settlements, tombs, and monuments litter windswept, treeless coastal plains. It’s a sobering thought that the Callanish Stones, forming a monumental circle on the Isle of Lewis, were set in place about 2,500 years before the Parthenon began to take shape on the Acropolis in Ancient Athens. 

3000 b.c.e.  Chambered tombs and dwellings are built in Orkney. Skara Brae, a village on the Orkney island of Mainland, dates from 2500 b.c.e.

200 b.c.e.–c.e. 200  Brochs, circular stone towers that might have done double duty as dwellings and defense posts, appear throughout Scotland. One of the most impressive is the Broch of Mousa, in Shetland.

c.e. 82  Romans attack northern tribes, but despite some spectacular bloodletting, they fail to conquer the country. Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, erected in c.e. 122, comes to mark the northern limits of Roman influence. 

200–500  The Scoti, or Scots, from Ireland establish themselves at what is known today as Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, where 800 forts, cromlechs (stone circles), and burial mounds litter their onetime kingdom of Dalriada. Over time, the Scots intermarry with the Picts, or Painted Ones, as the Romans call the northern tribes because of their colorful tattoos. 

Vikings & Christians

Vikings begin settling in the northern islands of Shetland and Orkney in the 8th century, and sail down the coast to the Hebrides and other islands and shores along the western mainland. The monasteries that early Christians establish in these remote outposts are easy targets and ripe for their plunder.

397  St. Ninian, an early Christian missionary, founds the first Christian church in Scotland in Whithorn, on the Galloway Peninsula in the southwest corner of the mainland. 

563  St. Columba arrives from Ireland and establishes a Christian community on the small Hebrides island of Iona. This remote but large monastery helps preserve culture and learning through the Dark Ages. Elsewhere, in 552 St. Mungo, or St. Kentigern, founds a church on the site of present-day Glasgow Cathedral. The Vikings raid Iona in 793 and over the next several centuries launch attacks on other monasteries on the Scottish coast and islands.

843  Scot chieftain Kenneth MacAlpin becomes King of the Scots and King of the Picts, unifying these groups within the kingdom of Alba.

1018  Malcolm II (1005–34) defeats the Northumbrians in a battle near the River Tweed, more or less establishing the modern border between Scotland and England, and further unifying the major tribes of Scotland into one broadly cohesive unit. Duncan I, Malcolm’s son and heir, dies in battle with Macbeth of Moray in 1040—an event that, with much elaborate embellishment, provides the plotline for Shakespeare’s “Scottish play.” “Duncan’s Hall” at Glamis Castle, north of Dundee was for a long time, and quite imaginatively, claimed to be the scene of the murder. 

1070  King Malcolm III (1031–1093) marries Margaret (later St Margaret, 1045–1093), a Saxon princess who takes refuge in Scotland after the Norman conquest and William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Margaret imports English priests into Scotland and makes Saxon the language of the court, laying the groundwork for a common language that eases Scotland’s eventual incorporation into England. She commissions St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle and establishes a monastery at Dunfermline that that grows into a powerful abbey, the remains of which still dominate the town. While in Dunfermline, Margaret often prays in an underground shrine that is now known as St Margaret’s Cave. Margaret dies of a broken heart upon hearing that Malcolm III and her eldest son are killed in battle against the English. 

1124  David I (1081–1153), a son of Malcolm III and Margaret, becomes king and embarks on a lavish building spree that sees the rise of powerful, now-ruined abbeys at Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, and Dryburgh. Under David’s rule, Northumberland and Cumbria in England come under Scot control and Scotland is recognized as an independent kingdom—though neither of these developments withstand the test of time.

1266  After centuries of Norse control and many skirmishes, the Norwegians cede the foggy and windswept Western Isles (also known as the Outer Hebrides) to Scotland. Islanders organize themselves around the Donald (or MacDonald) clan, who rule the islands as an independent state from castles at Dunaverty off the coast of Kintyre, Kildonan on Arran, and Knock on Skye. The honorary title of their chief, Lord of the Isles, is still used on state occasions by Britain’s Prince of Wales. The Museum of the Isles, at Armadale on the Isle of Skye, explores the colorful history of what’s probably the most powerful clan in Scottish history.

1328  The Treaty of Edinburgh and Northampton inaugurates a short-lived period of full independence from England. Many of Scotland’s legendary heroes lead the fight for independence: Sir William Wallace (1270–1305) drives the English out of Perth and Stirling (he’s quite flatteringly portrayed by Mel Gibson in the 1995 film Braveheart); Sir James Douglas, the Black Douglas (1286–1330), repeatedly attacks the English along the borders; and Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), crowned Robert I in 1306, leads the war of independence that results in the truce. In the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling, Bruce leads forces in Scotland’s most celebrated military victory, in which 6,000 Scots force the withdrawal of a 25,000-man English army.

1468  The Orkney and the Shetland islands, Norse strongholds since the Vikings first rowed ashore in the 8th century, come under Scottish rule as part of the marriage dowry of the Norse princess Margaret to 18-year-old King James III (reigns 1460–88). 

A stone of Many Names

After a rocky journey, the legendary Stone of Scone—or Stone of Destiny, or Coronation Stone—is firmly installed in Scotland, at least for the time being. Physically, the stone is a somewhat unprepossessing block of sandstone, measuring 66cm (26 in.) long and 40cm (16 in.) wide and weighing 152kg (336 lbs.). But this is no mere stone: Revered for centuries as a holy relic, the stone allegedly came from the Middle East, and in biblical times Jacob is said to have used the block as a pillow.

In the 6th and 7th centuries, monarchs of the Dalriada kingdom, whose peoples were the first to be known as Scots, sat on the stone for their coronations on the island of Iona and elsewhere. The stone was later moved to Scone, where in 1292 John Balliol became the last king to be crowned there while seated in a hollow carved out of the rough surface. So powerful were the legends associated with the Stone of Scone that Edward I took it to England in 1296, believing possession gave him sovereignty over Scotland. There the stone stayed, positioned under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey in London. In 1328, the Treaty of Northampton, recognizing Scotland’s independence, called for the return of the stone to Scotland, but the revered heirloom was never removed from Westminster Abbey.

Until, that is, Christmas Day 1950, when a group of Scottish Nationalists stole the stone and hid it in Arbroath Abbey, near Dundee, where it was found 4 months later and returned to Westminster. A rumor spread that the retrieved stone was actually a replica, but this claim has never been proved. The Stone of Scone was last used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

In 1996, the Stone of Scone was officially returned to Scotland and installed, with all due ceremony, beside the Scottish Crown Jewels in Edinburgh Castle, where you can see it today. As with most matters concerning Scottish heritage, a few dissenters have stepped forward. Is this not just a political ploy, and is the Queen not merely “lending” the stone to her Scottish subjects and might it be taken back to London for a future coronation? Does the stone really belong in Edinburgh Castle and not in Scone Castle? After all, it’s not called the Stone of Edinburgh, is it? In any case, for many the stone continues to be a bedrock of national pride, and little wonder. As a legend inscribed on a plaque once attached to the stone stated, “Where’er is found this sacred stone/The Scottish race shall reign.” 

Stuarts, the Commonwealth & the Jacobites

The Stuart (or Stewart) monarchs are so-called because the family became powerful as stewards of the English king. They assume the Scottish throne under Robert II in 1371 and in 1603 become the first monarchs of the United Kingdom when James VI of Scotland also becomes James I of England. It would be hard to match the dynasty for sheer drama. Their reigns are marked by battles, uprisings, intrigues, treacherous plots, and cold-blooded murder, set against the religious reformation sweeping across Scotland in the latter years of their monarchy.

1513  The Scots lose 10,000 men out of an army of 25,000 in the Battle of Flodden Field in northern England. Among them are much of Scottish nobility, as well as King James IV (reigns 1488–1513), who, this catastrophe aside, is one of the most capable of the Stuart monarchs. The campaign at Flodden Field remains Scotland’s worst military defeat and marks the last time a British monarch dies in battle. James ill-advisedly launches the campaign not to grab territory but out of allegiance to France, to divert the armies of King Henry VIII from attacks on the French.

1559  John Knox preaches sermons that reflect some of the ideas of the Protestant Reformation underway in England and on the Continent and lays out the basic outline of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. A devoted disciple of the Protestant John Calvin and a bitter enemy of both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, Knox displays a mixture of piety, conservatism, strict morality, and intellectual independence. You can learn more about this fiery reformer at the John Knox House in Edinburgh.

1561 — Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542–87), returns from France to take up her rule but is soon involved in intrigues, foments widespread dissention, riles John Knox and other protestants against her, and is eventually executed in England.

1589  George Jamesone is born in Aberdeen (dies 1644). His self-portrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is the most famous of his many works that launch a tradition of Scottish portrait painting. His portrait of businesswoman and philanthropist Mary Erskine hangs in the Scottish National Gallery.

1603  James VI of Scotland, Mary Stuart’s son (reigns as King of Scotland from 1567), also assumes the throne as king of England, Scotland, and Ireland as James I, successor to Queen Elizabeth I. He dies in 1625 and is succeeded by his son, Charles I.

1642  Parliament strips away much of the authority of Charles I, son of James I, and king from 1625 to 1649. Charles travels north to Edinburgh to organize an army against the Parliamentary forces and civil war ensues, with Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) leading the forces of Parliament to victory. Charles flees to Scotland, but the Scots turn him over to Parliament. In 1649 Charles is convicted of treason and beheaded. Under the ensuing Commonwealth, Cromwell becomes Lord Protector in 1653 and rules England until his death.

1650–60  Cromwell’s forces defeat Scottish opposition at Dunbar and Scotland comes under Commonwealth military occupation. The English found the garrison town of Fort William and build ramparts at Inverness, among other places. 

1689  The English Parliament strips the uncompromising Catholic James II (also known as James VII of Scotland) of his crown, making him the last Roman Catholic monarch of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Parliament imports the Protestant William and Mary from Holland to replace him. 

1707  The Act of Union unites England and Scotland as Great Britain. 

February 13, 1962  In what's known as the Glencoe Massacre, troops slaughter 38 members of the MacDonald clan for their loyalty to James II and alleged refusal to swear allegiance to William and Mary. Many others die of exposure when they flee into the hills.

The Jacobites

The Jacobites (the name comes from Jacobus, the Latin form of James) attempt unsuccessfully to place James II (also known as the Old Pretender) back on the English throne and restore the Stuart line. James II dies in exile in France, where he leads an austere, pious life, and his pleasure-loving son Charles Edward (the Young Pretender, 1720–1788), takes up the cause. Better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles does not share his father’s piety but is ardent in his attempts to regain the crown. Raised in Rome, Charles has never set foot in Scotland until a French ship lands him on the Hebrides island of Eriskay in July 1745.

1714  Anne, niece of James II, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and the last Stuart monarch, dies. Gout ridden and obese, she was astute and immensely popular and won widespread support with her pledge upon her coronation in 1702, “There is not anything you can expect or desire from me which I shall not be ready to do for the happiness and prosperity of England.” She is succeeded by George I (1660–1727), the first monarch from the German House of Hanover. Arrogant and mean-spirited, George wins little favor in London, and certainly none in Scotland, partly because he speaks almost no English and is known to keep his wife, Princess Sophia, prisoner in a German castle.

1745–1746  Charismatic but with an alcohol-induced instability, Bonnie Prince Charlie launches the Jacobite Uprising. A French fleet sent to support Charles is scattered in a storm at sea so he assembles an army among the Highland clans, with whose support he raises his standard at the head of Loch Shiel (west of Fort William); the Glenfinnan Monument marks the spot. The Jacobite army marches on Edinburgh and advances as far south as Derby, just 150 miles north of London. The Jacobites are then soundly defeated in just 40 minutes at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness; you can walk the battlefield and a visitor center fills in the background. Clans that support the Jacobite cause lose their lands, and, until 1782, the wearing of Highland dress is illegal. 

1745–1790 — The Young Pretender’s gambit to regain the throne ends unceremoniously. Charles is smuggled out of the Highlands to the island of Benbecula then the Isle of Skye dressed as a maidservant, assisted by Flora MacDonald, one of the era’s most popular heroines. The pair’s adventures are romanticized in a popular 19th century folk tune, The Skye Boat Song. The Kildonan Museum near MacDonald’s birthplace (marked by a monument) on South Uist honors the local heroine. The Bonnie Prince soon escapes to France and leads a life of dissipation in Paris and Rome, where he dies of a stroke in 1788. Flora MacDonald is captured on Skye, interred briefly in the Tower of London, and later emigrates to the American colonies. She eventually returns to Skye, where she dies in 1790 and is buried in Kilmuir cemetery.

An Age of Commerce & the Arts

Scottish literature blossoms in the 18th century. Joining the literary ranks with ploughman poet Robert Burns are other Scots who produce a spate of lucid and powerful prose. Economist Adam Smith (1723–1790) is best known for his The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. Philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) examines human behavior in Treatise on Human Nature, published in 1739. James Boswell (1740–1795) writes about his friend and muse in the Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791 and considered to be one of the finest biographies ever written in the English language. 

1750–1850  As trade with British overseas colonies and Europe increases, the great ports of Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Leith (near Edinburgh) flourish. The merchants of Glasgow grow rich on a nearly monopolistic tobacco trade with Virginia and the Carolinas, until the outbreak of the American Revolution. 

1759 — Robert Burns (dies 1796) is born in Alloway, Ayrshire. Scotland’s national bard is revered throughout the world, famous for verses and songs (“Auld Lang Syne,” “A Red, Red Rose”) that combine the humor and vigor of Scottish speech with the lilt of Scottish melodies. In Dumfries, you can visit “Rabbie’s” home, favorite drinking spot, and grave; Burns Cottage, his birthplace in Alloway is now a museum. 

1760–1850s — The Highland Clearances force crofters, or small-scale tenant farmers, off their lands in the Highlands and the Hebrides. Among other factors, the Clearances come about as large-scale sheep rearing is deemed to be more economically advantageous than farming, bringing about a wave of forced emigration to America and Australia. Largely as a result of the Clearances, the Highlands and the Hebrides are still among the least populated regions in Europe. As these populations disperse, much of the regions’ Gaelic culture dies out. You can still see the ruins of deserted crofts, farmsteads, and villages all over the Highlands and in the islands.

1771 — Sir Walter Scott (dies 1832), one of the most-read Scottish writers, is born in Edinburgh. His unbridled flair for medieval Romanticism (Ivanhoe) and perceptive description of character and misty, moody locales (The Heart of Midlothian), along with an ingenious knack for storytelling, ensure his place in the ranks of great national heroes. Abbotsford, his estate overlooking the River Tweed, is open to visitors and has been a site of literary pilgrimage since the author’s death. The stone manor, along with Balmoral Castle, are splendid examples of the Baronial Revival style that became a popular choice for architects of country seats, courthouses, libraries, and other public buildings throughout Scotland and the British Empire.

1773  Samuel Johnson and James Boswell tour the Hebrides together, and Boswell recounts their adventurous travels in A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (published in 1785). Johnson publishes his own account, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, in 1775. Boswell is a man of great intellect and sensual appetite. He is famous among his contemporaries for his many liaisons, often with streetwalkers, and frequent bouts of venereal disease, to which he eventually succumbs in 1795, exacerbated by drinking.

1826  The Royal Scottish Academy of Art is established, providing a forum where professional painters can exhibit and sell their works. Among the prominent artists who show at the new academy is Sir David Wilkie (1785–1841), best known for his genre paintings, or scenes of everyday life. The Confessional is one of his many works in the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland. Alexander Nasmyth (1758–1840) is the first of a long line of Scottish landscape painters, and his romantic views of Highland lochs and castles create a moody, scenery-saturated image of Scotland that is still prevalent. The Windings of the Forth and many of his other evocative landscapes are in the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland. His portrait of Robert Burns, perhaps his most acclaimed work, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

1850 — The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson is born in Edinburgh. In his short life (he dies of a stroke in Samoa in 1894), the celebrity author pens such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as poems, many for children. The Stevenson name appears throughout coastal Scotland, as members of several generations of the family, the author’s father among them, were noted lighthouse engineers.

The Rise & Fall of an Industrial Nation

From the mid-19th century, great successes in science and engineering propel Scotland into the forefront of industrial know-how around the globe. Queen Victoria ushers in the era in 1850 when she opens the Royal Border Bridge, carrying main rail lines between England and Scotland across the River Tweed. Scots of the time have given us everything from Listerine to the Kelvin scale, and their technical accomplishments stack up rapidly. Meanwhile, the arts flourish. William McTaggart (1835–1910) brings an Impressionist sensibility to his celebrated paintings of Scottish landscapes and seascapes, many of which hang in the Scottish National Gallery. The so-called Glasgow Boys, and their female cohorts, the Glasgow Girls, break away from tradition to create Impressionistic images of rural scenes and seascapes that are iconically Scottish. Their work can be seen at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. 

1853 — Queen Victoria is administered chloroform during the birth of Prince Leopold. The success ushers in widespread use of the anesthesia to relieve pain in childbirth, as pioneered by Sir James Young Simpson (1811–1870) at the University of Edinburgh.

1861 — William Burrell (dies 1958) is born in Glasgow. He enters the family shipping firm at 14, amasses vast wealth with his remarkable business acumen, and spends his fortune and spare time assembling one of the world’s great art collections. In 1944 he donates more than 6,000 pieces to the city of Glasgow, along with funds to build a gallery to house them (currently being rebuilt).

1868 — Charles Rennie Mackintosh (dies 1928) is born in Glasgow. He and his wife, glass and textile designer Margaret Macdonald (1864–1933), bring a particularly Scottish element to the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. Among their finest creations in Glasgow are the Lighthouse and House for an Art Lover.

1872  Explorer and missionary David Livingston, born near Glasgow in 1813, dies of malaria and dysentery while seeking the source of the Nile. No European has ventured as far into the African interior, and among his lasting legacies is the phrase “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” New York Herald reporter Henry Stanley issues this greeting upon meeting the explorer on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871.

1876 — Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) is issued a U.S. patent for the telephone.

1882 — Oceanographer Sir Charles Wyville Thomas (born 1830), a professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh, dies of exhaustion while compiling a 50-volume account of his 1872–76 expedition aboard the HMS Challenger. Thomas traveled 70,000 miles and recorded 450 new marine species; the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger is named after the ship to commemorate the historic voyage.

1889  The Highland Games, rooted deep in Scottish tradition, gain worldwide attention during a display at the Paris Exhibition. Two of the events, shot put and hammer throw, are incorporated into the Olympics. The games, with rugged sporting matches (along the lines of tossing tree trunks and running up mountainsides), music, and dance, are still held across Scotland from May through September and are staged across the world as well.

1890  Edward, Prince of Wales, inaugurates the 8,000-foot long Forth Rail Bridge, considered in its time to be the Eighth Wonder of the World and still massively imposing.

1896  A.J. Cronin (dies 1981), one of modern Scotland’s most successful authors, is born. Cronin studied medicine at the University of Glasgow and became most famous for a novella, Country Doctor, made into a 1990s television series featuring small-town physician Dr. Finlay.

1914–1919  Scotland loses an estimated 80,000 to 110,000 men in World War I. Many of the troops wear kilts, and opposing Germans call them “Ladies from Hell.” In 1919, German naval officers scuttle their fleet that has been impounded at Scapa Flow, in Orkney, sending 53 ships to the bottom of the sea.

1939–1945 — Just weeks into World War II, on October 14, 1939, the Germans sink the HMS Royal Oak, anchored in Scapa Flow, Orkney. Among the 833 men lost are 120 so-called “boy sailors” between 14 and 18. Clydebank near Glasgow and other cities around Scotland sustain heavy bombing, while factories turn to war production. The Shetland Bus, a clandestine maritime operation that aids the resistance movement in Norway, operates out of the fishing port of Scalloway.

Mid-20th century  The decline of traditional industries reshapes Scottish society. Scotland finds that, like the rest of Britain, aging industrial plants can’t compete with more modern commercial competition from abroad. The most visible decline occurs in the shipbuilding industries; the vast Glasgow shipyards that once produced some of the world’s great ocean liners go bankrupt. 

New Prosperity & an Undercurrent of Separatism

The talk in Scotland these days is all about independence—yes, still, after all these centuries. At issue now is the possibility of a second independence referendum, after voters elected to stay united with the rest of Britain in a 2014 vote. The other big concern is how to maintain a place in European markets after Great Britain voted to leave the European Market—and Scots overwhelmingly voted to stay in. Meanwhile, Scots are seeing signs of newfound prosperity around the country, in such places as the Clyde riverbank in Glasgow, where bold, design-statement museums and exposition halls have replaced shuttered shipyards.

1970 — The discovery of North Sea oil deposits brings new prosperity to Scotland and provides jobs for thousands of workers. Oil has continued to play a prominent role in the Scottish economy. In 1981, the largest oil terminal in Europe opened at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands.

1999  Under Prime Minister Tony Blair’s devolution reforms, Scotland is allowed to elect its own legislature for the first time since its 1707 union with England. A total of 129 Scots are elected to a newly formed Parliament that has the power to tax and make laws, as well as to pursue such matters as healthcare, education, public transportation, and public housing. Scotland is still represented in the main British Parliament in London, and must bow to the greater will of London in matters of foreign policy. In the same year, and perhaps as a symbol of resurgence, salmon reappear in Glasgow’s River Kelvin for the first time since 1852.


2002  Residents of Gigha buy their 1,375-hectare (3,400-acre) island, now administered by a Community Trust. Islanders in South Uist, Benbecula, and Eriskay purchase their islands under similar community ownership arrangements in 2006, and portions of Lewis, Harris, and Rum come under similar administration. As a result, the Hebrides and other islands are undergoing a process of social and economic regeneration.

2014  A Scottish Parliament does not necessarily satisfy the ever-present undercurrent of Scottish separatism. At sporting events, Scots can be heard singing “Flower of Scotland” instead of “God Save the Queen.” The issue comes up for a vote with a referendum on Scottish independence. The “nays” win, with 55.3% of voters saying “no” to independence, with 44.7% in favor. Voter turnout is high, 84.6%. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth inaugurates the controversial new Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.

2016  Britain votes to leave the European Union. Scotland, however, votes to remain in the EU, with 62% of voters in favor of staying and 38% in favor of leaving. In effect, Scotland is being forced to quit the EU against popular will, and the implications of so-called “Brexit” for Scotland remain unclear. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon advocates for protection of Scotland’s place in European markets as well as a second independence referendum.

2018  Restoration of the Glasgow School of Art in the wake of a devastating fire in 2014 is just about complete when a second, more destructive blaze roars through the early 20th-century landmark, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 

Distinctly Scottish

Don’t mention this, say, at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but the bagpipe, that most Scottish of instruments, is not Scottish at all. Romans may have encountered the pipes in the Near East and brought them to their lonely northern outposts. Highlanders took to the bagpipes with relish, and battalions of pipers still show up at any Highland gathering, from weddings and funerals to political rallies and parades. The skirl of the pipes can certainly send a chill down the spine, just as intended, to instill fear in the enemy during times of clan warfare. In those days of yore, as romanticized in Ivanhoe and other novels by Sir Walter Scott, clansmen wore kilts woven in distinctive colors and patterns, to identify each other on the field of battle. The Scottish Tartans Authority has registered more than 5,000 different tartans, each subtly different from the others. Though tartan is used interchangeably these days with plaid, the word “plaid” originally referred specifically to a mantle of cloth draped over the back and shoulders. Woolen plaids, fashioned into kilts, tartans, and all sorts of other garments, are available for sale in shops and markets everywhere in Scotland. Just for the record, though, Queen Victoria long ago authorized only two Lowland designs as suitable garb for Sassenachs (the English and, more remotely, the Americans). And do remember, you should only wear the Balmoral tartan if you’re a member of the Royal Family. 

Mary Stuart, the Soap Opera

When Mary Stuart, also known as Mary Queen of Scots, took her place on the Scottish throne, she had some serious strikes against her. She tried to impose Roman Catholicism on a country that favored Protestantism; she ruled an unruly group of subjects who did not trust her; and she was the great niece of King Henry VIII, making her a legitimate heir to the throne of England, occupied by Elizabeth I, and thus considered to be a big threat. Mary also had lousy taste in men, who, rather than aiding her cause, embroiled her in a thick web of political intrigue. Daughter of Scotland’s James V and Mary of Guise, a French noblewoman, Mary became queen when her father died only 6 days after her birth. With her mother acting as regent, Mary was betrothed to Francis, the French Dauphin, at age 5 and sent to France, where she was well-educated and polished to a high shine in the court of Henri II. She was just 15 when she married 16-year-old Francis and became Queen of France. The two were supposedly passionately in love, but Francis died of a brain abscess two years later. Mary returned to Scotland to take up her royal duties in 1561. She barely remembered Scotland, spoke little English, hated the damp, chilly weather, missed the sophisticated French court, and grieved for her young husband. She found solace in the company of the politically ambitious Lord Bothwell, her closest advisor, and she soon married the tall, dashing, and arrogant Lord Darnley, with whom she was said to be “bewitched.” The marriage quickly soured when Darnley and other conspirators stabbed Mary’s trusted Italian secretary, David Rizzio, to death in front of her, and Mary began describing her husband in letters to Bothwell as “this poxy fellow that troubeleth me.” Murder seems to have been the best way out of the marriage, and, according to reports, it appears that Bothwell arranged to have an explosion set off at a house where Darnley was staying, then had him stabbed and strangled as he tried to escape. Mary was implicated in the murder, then Bothwell abducted her, held her captive in Dunbar Castle, raped her, and forced him to marry him. Or so Mary said, though it’s hard not to imagine she was complicit in the elaborate plot. Mary and Bothwell did not remain together long. Protestant lords denounced Mary as an adulteress and murderess and had her imprisoned. Bothwell went into exile in Denmark and died there after 10 years, reportedly insane. Mary escaped and sought refuge in England but, considered a threat to the English crown, spent the next 19 years in custody. She was beheaded in 1587, under an execution order reluctantly issued by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. You can follow these dramatic events at the Mary Queen of Scots’ Visitor Centre in Jedburgh.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.