Scottish History For Dummies
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Scottish history is full of wonderful characters — some good, some not so good — and exciting events, from the bloodthirsty to scientific discovery. This Cheat Sheet gives you the lay of the land, and identifies the leaders and the turning points that made Scotland what it is today.

Historical periods of Scotland

History is divided by historians into a number of distinct, named periods. Here is a rundown of some highlights of different periods of Scottish history.

Ancient Scotland

  • Neolithic Scotland: c.12,000 BCE to c. 2,750 BCE
  • The Beaker people and the Bronze Age: c. 2,750 BCE to 750 BCE
  • The Iron Age and La Tène culture: c. 750 BC to 43 CE
  • Roman Britain: 43 CE to 410 CE
  • The spread of Christianity: c. 400 to c. 600

The Middle Ages

  • The first of the Viking Raids: c. 795 to c. 825
  • The disappearance of the Picts: c. 843
  • The MacAlpin Dynasty: c. 843 to 1290
  • The spread of feudalism: c. 1050 to 1150
  • The Wars of Independence: 1296 to 1357

Early Modern Scotland

  • The Scottish Reformation: 1560
  • The Union of Crowns: 1603
  • The National Covenant: 1638
  • The Wars of the Three Kingdoms: 1638 to 1688
  • The Union of Parliaments: 1707

The Modern Age

  • Jacobite Rebellions: 1689 to 1745
  • Industrialization: c. 1750 to 1850
  • The Highland Clearances: c. 1780 to 1854
  • The Great War: 1914 to 1918
  • The Second World War: 1939 to 1945
  • The Restoration of the Scottish Parliament: 1999

Rulers of Scotland

Kenneth MacAlpin is reckoned to be the first king of Scotland, but his rule extended only to the south and west of the country; great swaths of territory were still in the hands of the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings.

Not until 1460 did what is known today as Scotland exist territorially. The last king of a separate Scotland was James VI, who died in 1625. By that time, he was also king of England and Scotland thanks to the Union of Crowns in 1603. From that point, England and Scotland shared a monarch but not a parliament; they were both independent countries until 1707.

House of MacAlpin

  • Kenneth MacAlpin: c. 843 to c. 858
  • Donald I: 859 to 862
  • Constantine I: 862 to 876


  • Interregnum (no overall king): 876 to 877

House of MacAlpin

  • Aed: c. 877 to 878
  • Eochaid and Giric (probably shared the throne): 878 to 889
  • Donald II: 889 to 900
  • Constantine II: 900 to c. 943
  • Malcolm I MacDonald: c. 943 to 954
  • Indulf: 954 to 962
  • Dubh ‘the Black’: 962 to 966
  • Culen: 966 to 971
  • Kenneth II: 971 to 995
  • Constantine III ‘the Bald’: 995 to 997
  • Kenneth III: 997 to 1005
  • Malcolm II: 1005 to 1034
  • Duncan I: 1034 to 1040

House of Moray

  • Macbeth: 1040 to 1057
  • Lulach: 1057 to 1058

House of MacAlpin

  • Malcolm III Canmore: 1058 to 1093
  • Donald III Bane: 1093 to 1094
  • Duncan II: 1094
  • Donald III Bane (resumed the throne): 1094 to 1097
  • Edgar: 1097 to 1107
  • Alexander I: 1107 to 1124
  • David I: 1124 to 1153
  • Malcolm IV ‘the Maiden’: 1153 to 1165
  • William ‘the Lion’: 1165 to 1214
  • Alexander II: 1214 to 1249
  • Alexander III: 1249 to 1286
  • Margaret, ‘the Maid of Norway’: 1286 to 1290


  • English Overlordship (Edward I): 1290 to 1292

House of MacAlpin

  • John Balliol: 1292 to 1296 (abdicated)

English Invasion and Occupation

  • Edward I of England: 1296 to 1306

House of Bruce

  • Robert I de Brus (Bruce): 1306 to 1329
  • David II: 1329 to 1371

House of Stewart

  • Robert II ‘the Steward’: 1371 to 1390
  • Robert III (John Stewart): 1390 to 1406
  • James I: 1406 to 1437
  • James II: 1437 to 1460
  • James III: 1460 to 1488
  • James IV: 1488 to 1513
  • James V: 1513 to 1542
  • Mary, Queen of Scots: 1542 to 1567
  • James VI: 1567 to 1625 (became James I of England in 1603)

The Stewart dynasty continued to hold the throne until 1689, when James III and VI was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. The throne of Britain was given to William of Orange and his wife Mary. They were succeeded by Anne, who died childless, and she was in turn succeeded by George, Elector of Hanover.

Major events and battles in Scottish history

Following is a list of the main events and battles that played a decisive role in Scottish history, from the arrival of the Romans to the Industrial Revolution and beyond:

  • 84 AD: Battle of Mons Graupius, the earliest recorded battle in Scottish history, in which the Romans, under Agricola, defeated the Caledones.
  • 121 to 129: Construction of Hadrian’s Wall.
  • 410: The Romans leave Britain.
  • 563: St Columba arrives from Ireland to Argyll to found a monastery on the Island of Iona.
  • 685: Battle of Nechtansmere; the Picts under King Bridei defeated the Angles and established Scotland’s southern border.
  • 795: The first Viking raids.
  • 843: Kenneth MacAlpin unites the Scots and Picts as one nation under his rule.
  • 1018: The Battle of Carham. The Scots defeated the Anglo-Saxons and claimed Strathclyde.
  • 1040: Macbeth slays Duncan in battle and begins a 17-year rule, becoming the first Scottish king to make a pilgrimage to Rome.
  • 1069: Marriage of Malcolm Ceanmore (Malcolm III) to Margaret, a union that ushered in a golden age that ended with the canonization of Margaret as Scotland’s only royal saint.
  • 1124: David I ascends the throne and is principally known for initiating the spread of feudalism in Scotland, which led to the settlement of Anglo-Norman families like the Bruces.
  • 1263: The Battle of Largs. The Scots defeat Haaken of Norway and obtain the Hebrides.
  • 1286: Alexander III dies after falling from his horse. The only heir is child ‘Margaret, Maid of Norway’. Scotland plunges into chaos.
  • 1292: Edward I of England selects John Balliol as the King of Scotland and kicks off the wars of independence.
  • 1305: The leader of the Scottish resistance to English rule, William Wallace, is captured and executed.
  • 1314: The Battle of Bannockburn. Scots under Robert the Bruce, with an army half the size of the English one, inflicted the worst defeat suffered by England in the medieval period, resulting in Scottish independence.
  • 1320: The Declaration of Arbroath is drawn up to recognize Scottish independence from England and sent to the Pope.
  • 1332: The Second War of Independence begins.
  • 1371: Robert II, the first of the Stewart kings, accedes to the throne.
  • 1412: St Andrews University is founded by Bishop Wardlaw. It was followed by Glasgow in 1451, Aberdeen in 1495, and Edinburgh in 1582.
  • 1469: Orkney and Shetland Islands acquired by Scotland from Norway. Finalization of the boundaries of Scotland.
  • 1512: Under the terms of a treaty with France, the ‘Auld Alliance’ is established.
  • 1513: The Battle of Flodden. James IV is killed in the battle along with much of the aristocracy and thousands of Scottish soldiers.
  • 1559: John Knox’s sermon at Perth, regarded as the start of the Reformation in Scotland.
  • 1561: Mary, Queen of Scots, returns to Scotland and is executed in 1587.
  • 1603: The Union of Crowns. James VI becomes James I of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland.
  • 1638: The National Covenant is signed at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh, an event that plunges the whole of Britain into civil war.
  • 1649: Charles I is executed.
  • 1653: Scotland is incorporated into the Cromwellian Protectorate.
  • 1660: The restoration of the monarchy. Charles II is crowned king and immediately destroys the covenanting movement in Scotland.
  • 1689: The Glorious Revolution. Presbyterianism is recognized as the official faith of Scotland, but it was also the year of the first unsuccessful Jacobite Rebellion led by John Graham of Claverhouse, also known as ‘Bonnie Dundee’.
  • 1692: The Massacre of Glencoe. Thirty-eight members of the MacDonald Clan are slaughtered by government forces under the cover of darkness.
  • 1698: The first expedition in the Darien scheme, a disaster that almost ruins the governing classes in Scotland.
  • 1707: The Union of Parliaments. A new country called Great Britain is created as the Scots vote to give up their sovereignty.
  • 1715: The Second Jacobite Rebellion. The Jacobites, led by the Earl of Mar, sought to set James Stewart (James VIII), the ‘Old Pretender’, on the throne of Britain but were defeated at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.
  • 1719: The Third Jacobite Rebellion took place with assistance from Spain, but it resulted in defeat at the Battle of Glenshiel. The aftermath of the rebellion marks the beginning of the British government’s policy to pacify the Highlands.
  • 1745: The final Jacobite Rebellion, which culminated in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden – the last battle to be fought on British soil – and defeat of Charles Edward Stewart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’.
  • 1776: Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is published; along with other thinkers and scientists, the Scots invent the modern world.
  • 1793: Thomas Muir and other radicals are arrested and transported to Australia for their fight to end the old system of political corruption and replace it with universal male suffrage.
  • 1807: The Highland Clearances, a systematic policy of clearing people from the Sutherland estates to make way for sheep.
  • 1832: The First Reform Act, which enfranchised the middle classes and increased the size of the electorate by 5,200 per cent. It was followed by further reforms in 1868 and 1884.
  • 1843: The Disruption. The Church of Scotland split over the question of patronage and led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland.
  • 1859: The first Open Golf Championship is held at Prestwick, Ayrshire.
  • 1873: The Scottish Football Association formed, beginning a national obsession with the round ball.
  • 1884: The Crofters’ War. Crofters conduct land seizures and clash with police forces on islands like Skye. It led to reforms favorable to the crofters in 1886.
  • 1888: The founding of the Scottish Labour Party by Keir Hardie. The Scottish Labour Party was the forerunner of the British Labour Party, founded in 1906.
  • 1912: ‘The Outrages’. Suffragettes in Scotland step up their campaign in Scotland for votes for women by acts of civil disobedience. Windows are broken, and houses and railway stations are burnt down.
  • 1912: The formation of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, formed as a combination of Tories and Liberal Unionists. It became known as the Unionist Party in Scotland.
  • 1914: The First World War and industrial unrest in Glasgow creating the image of ‘Red Clydeside’.
  • 1918: The Reform Act grants the vote to women over the age of 30 – but it took another ten years to lower the voting age to 21.
  • 1922: The General Election sees the successful return of ten Labour candidates in Glasgow and creates a political sensation but also coincides with the beginning of the worst economic recession on record.
  • 1924: Ramsay MacDonald is Labour’s first prime minister. His government lasted only nine months, but he was re-elected in 1929.
  • 1931: The fall of the second Labour government. The general election saw the Labour vote almost wiped out in Scotland, but it recovered in 1935.
  • 1934: The founding of the Scottish National Party. Although at this time it was small and insignificant, the party grew into a major political party in the 1970s.
  • 1939–1945: The Second World War. Clydeside becomes a major target for German bombers.
  • 1947: The First Edinburgh Festival of Drama and Music. It went on to become the largest arts festival in the world.
  • 1967: Scottish Nationalist Winnie Ewing wins Hamilton in a by-election. This was Labour’s safest parliamentary seat in Scotland. It sparked off a nationalist revival, and the Scottish National Party won 11 seats in the 1974 general election.
  • 1975: The first oil is piped ashore from the North Sea.
  • 1978: Referendum on a Scottish Assembly. It proved a disaster for the ‘Yes’ campaign, and in the general election that followed, the Scottish National Party lost ten of its parliamentary seats.
  • 1997: The Second Referendum on a Scottish Assembly leads to a 75 per cent majority in favor.
  • 1999: The Scottish Parliament sits for the first time in 300 years.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

William Knox, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer of History at the University of St Andrews, Scotland’s first university.

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