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Scotland - Early History

Remote as is her geographical position, Scotland, from the moment it appears in history, was an integral part of Western Europe. Like England, France and other countries she also came under the domination of the Roman Empire, and her history begins with the invasion of Agricola in the year 80 AD. In her case, however (and it is a note of difference at the very beginning of her history), the Roman dominion never passed beyond a military occupation, and, except material remains, left no permanent impression of its presence. the Roman Empire created Scotland when Hadrian's Wall was built across Britain at the approximate location of the current border between England and Scotland. Rome controlled Britain south of the wall and the native Celtic tribes controlled the north.

The next powerful influence that helped to determine the future of Europe was the spread of Christianity, and for this influence Scotland had not long to wait. About the year 563 Saint Columba introduced Irish Christianity into the country north of the River Forth. Christianity was a common factor in the process which led to the formation of the nations of Western Europe, but in Scotland, as in other countries, there were specific conditions that determined the character of her development and permanently influenced the genius of her people. There was first the physical nature of the country, and, second, the fact that peoples speaking different languages divided the land between them. As far as her internal history is concerned, the dominating physical fact was the division of its surface into a Highland and a Lowland country.

The River Forth "that bridles the wild Highlandman", dividing these two territorial sections by a natural line, has been, in fact, a determining factor in the development of the Scottish nation. To the north and the south of the Forth respectively there have existed to the present day two distinct peoples, speaking different languages and possessing different characteristics, partly the result of original racial idiosyncrasies and partly the result of their respective histories. The mutual relations between these two peoples have been of the first importance in the history of the Scottish nation.

In the first quarter of the 11th century the entire mainland of Scotland was nominally consolidated under one ruler, Malcolm II, who came of the Celtic race beyond the Forth. Though territorially consolidated, however, there was little cohesion between the northern and southern sections of the kingdom, and the process in the next stage of national development (1100-1300) was the knitting of the bonds between the different peoples and their gradual subjection to an acknowledged head. In this process, also, there were general causes at work which were common to Christendom, and causes which were peculiar to Scotland herself. The general causes were the introduction of the feudal system, the organization of the Church with Rome as its centre, and the growth of towns and municipal institutions all the result of the general movement among the countries of Western Europe. Peculiar to Scotland itself during this period of her development was the decisive supremacy obtained by the Teutonic over the Celtic peoples in the direction of the national destinies.

The marriage (1068-93) of Malcolm Canmore, a Celtic prince, with the Saxon Margaret marks the beginning of the struggle between the two races which was to decide whether there was to be the Scotland which exists to-day. From that marriage issued a line of kings with Teutonic names, Teutonic sympathies, and with the abiding purpose of Teutonizing the national institutions. The reasons for this policy are sufficiently obvious. The country between the Firth of Forth and the Tweed, which had been acquired through conquest by the Celtic kings of the north, and whose inhabitants were mainly Teutonic, was the most valuable part of their kingdom, and naturally tended to become its political center.

From the death of Malcolm Canmore in 1093 to the death of Alexander III [r. 1249-1286], therefore, the task of the successive Scottish kings was, on the one hand, to defend the southern part of their dominions against the encroachments of England, and, on the other, to hold in check their Celtic subjects to the north of the Forth and in the extensive district of Galloway (also mainly Celtic) in the southwest. By the death of Alexander the task had been accomplished, and Scotland was now a consolidated kingdom, effectually ruled by one acknowledged prince, with Teutonic influences in the ascendant.

The marriage of the fifth and sixth Robert Braces into the royal family of Scotland early in the thirteenth century brought to the Anglo-Norman house the heritage of the Saxon Kings of England and the Emperors of Germany.

At the height of its fortunes and power no royal or noble house ranked higher than that of Bruce. Robert, the Bruce, had in his veins the blood of the most powerful and the most ancient ruling families of Europe, and his children and grandchildren were joined in marriage to other noble and royal houses of England, Scotland, and Europe. On the male line the Bruce stock produced two kings of Scotland, Robert I [r. 1306-1329] and David II [r. 1329-1371] his son. It also gave a king to Ireland, Edward I. On the female side it produced the luckless Stewart dynasty of Scotland and England.

The death of Alexander III's only heir, Margaret of Norway, led to the attempt of Edward I of England and his immediate successors to attach Scotland to the English Crown, and for more than half a century Scotland had to fight for her bare existence as a nation. The results of the struggle were of the highest importance for the future of her people. Successfully maintaining her independence, by the very effort she made for self-preservation she became a united nation with a consciousness of a distinct destiny which had not been present to her even in the "golden days" of Alexander III. By the ordeal they had passed through, moreover, the Teutonic section of her people, who had been mainly interested in the issue of the struggle, acquired that national characteristic "the carl o' hemp in man" that dogged persistence, which the world has recognized as a peculiarity of the typical Lowland Scot. But, as we shall see, there was another result of the struggle for independence which, if it did not affect the national character, powerfully influenced Scotland's laws and institutions, political, social and municipal. In the contest with England she had sought the alliance of France, and for two centuries and a half she was in closer contact with France than with England. Previous to the War of Independence it was from England she had borrowed what she needed; now it was to France that she looked as her model.

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Page last modified: 26-06-2016 13:28:19 ZULU