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Scotland History and Facts


Castles are something you easily could spend your entire holiday in Scotland visiting. As many people actually do. Scotland is completely swamped with castles in different stages of decay, or recently restored thanks to the income generated by the castle-tourists. The majority of the castles have some sort of bloody history attached to them, quite naturally since the history of Scotland is marked by numerous feuds. Many of the castles are today used as sets for Hollywood movies. Eilean Donan for example, the castle on this picture, was the background for the film Highlander.

The country´s feuds mainly involve England and Scotland, but through history feuds have also occured between different clans. The clans were not, as usually believed, a group of blood relatives but most often people of different origin and families who bounded together under the leadership of the clan chief. There are known cases of people changing their names moving from one clan to another. The clan chief provided protection for his followers and they would in return fight for him if called upon to do so. The highlander clans wore a simple plaid belted around the waist, but not until the late 17th century were certain tartans associated with certain clans. The perhaps cruellest clanfeud and certainly the most famous is the massacre of Glencoe, which took place in february 1692. The clan MacDonald was well known for their support of the previous ruling dynasty; the Stuarts. The Campbell clan, followers of the protestant king William, visited the MacDonalds in Glencoe and was offered accommodation. After enjoying the MacDonalds´s hospitality for two weeks, the clan chief´s troops stood up in the middle of the night and slaughtered as many MacDonalds as they could. This caused a national scandal, especially among other clans where murder under trust, killing the people offering you shelter, was considered a particularly loathsome crime.

The roman conquest of Britain began in 43 AD and by 80 AD the roman governor decided it was time to begin an invasion of the north. This, however, proved to be the first serious defeat for the mighty conquerors. Everybody who ever read the series about Prince Valiant knows that the Highlands were defended by the ferocious picts. To be able to defeat this violent and frightening tribe the romans built a 40-mile long wall stretching east-west across the country, the Antonine wall, around 150 AD. This was occupied for about forty years but thereafter the romans were forced to withdraw south. They retired to the more famous Hadrian´s wall, the first wall built to seal the frontier against the savages of the north. The romans never conquered the north and the 350 years of roman domination are hardly discernible in Scotland. The picts, a mysterious people whose origin is unknown, eventually disappeared or were united with the scotti, irish-celtic invaders who first arrived in Scotland in the fourth century, and later would give the country its name. The scotti kingdom of Dalriada joined with the picts in 843 AD and became the united kingdom of Alba. Alba was heavily dominated by the scotti whose language pushed the pictish language aside. During this period the vikings conquered the islands and settled in the west and north. Besides the picts, the scotti and the vikings, germanic angles and britons were also struggling for room in Scotland. It is not too much to say that war was not unusual during the first ten centuries AD.

Alba eventually turned into the kingdom of Scotland and was in 1296 conquered by England. Edward I, the ruling english king, had shown little mercy during his cruel conquest, thus provoking a truly national resistance. This was the beginning of a long series of battles between England and Scotland. Scotland turned to France and formed the Auld Alliance, lasting into the 16th century. As a result, England often had to fight a war on two fronts. 1314 Scotland finally declared their independence, following the defeat of a huge english army at the battle of Bannockburn.

The middle ages were characterized by constant feuds between the rich and powerful nobility and the weak royal power of the house of Stuart. Civil war between the royalty and the nobility seriously weakened Scotland´s position. When King Jacob V died in 1542 following an unsuccessful attempt to conquer England, his widow again turned to the Auld Alliance for help. King Jacob´s famous to be daughter Mary Stuart (queen at the age of seven days), was six years old sent to France to eventually marry the future french king. When she returned in 1561, raised as a catholic, Scotland had officially asserted the primacy of protestantism. The scottish nobility opposed the french influence, the religion and the private life of Mary Stuart, which led to her beeing deposed in 1567 and driven into exile in England one year later at the age of 25. Her son, the infant James, was left behind to be brought up a protestant prince. In England Mary eventually was perceived as such a threat to the throne that Queen Elizabeth I had her executed in 1587. James VI, now grown, had despite this a good relation to Queen Elizabeth I and became her successor after her death in 1603. He was then king of both England and Scotland and this contributed to the union of the two countries in 1707. Risings against the union, the greatest led by a Stuart; Bonnie Prince Charlie, was finally crushed at the battle of Culloden Moor in 1746. For a time kilts, bagpipe-music and the carrying of arms were banned. The Highlands were placed under military occupation, forbidding private armies and thus destroying the clan system.

The destruction of the clan system also meant that the nobility no longer had any use for the crofters living on their land. These people had earlier been a great military asset for the clan chiefs but was now seen as a major drawback. The crofters had to go and the Highland clearances began. Some of the land owners offered their crofters free emigration for America, others simply burned down the houses of people not leaving. Starvation was widespread among the homeless highlanders who had to try making their living off of the few barren bits of land available. Mass emigration for America and Canada during the 19th century emptied out the Highlands and resulted in the large uninhabited areas still seen today. Shortage of fertile land became a major problem up until 1919, when the Land Settlement Act finally made provision for the creation of new crofts. During the 20th century though, the population of the Highlands has continued to decline.



Scotland has since 1707 been a part of Great Britain, together with Northern Ireland, Wales and England. The country is 78 789 square kilometres, and consists of nine regions plus the outer islands of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh (pop. 440 000) whereas Glasgow(pop. 685 000) is the largest city. The distance between these two cities is only 50 km, and in this area lives a large share of the country´s total population of 5 million. When it comes to scenery, Scotland is distinguished from the rest of Great Britain mainly by the mountain scenery, the lochs and brooks and the dramatic coastline. Scotland has Britain´s highest mountain (Ben Nevis, 1343 mtrs), largest lake (Loch Lomond, 70 sq km) and deepest lake (Loch Ness, 229 mtrs). Not to mention Britain´s most famous seamonster.

Scotland´s climate is not quite as bad as one would imagine. It´s certainly better than its reputation. On the other hand Scotland is hardly the country to visit if you´re just looking to get a tan… Generally speaking, the west coast is during summer noticeably wetter, breezier and cooler than the rest of the country. On the Western Isles, a yearly average of 250 to 270 days with mist, rain or snow has been recorded. During the winter though, the western parts of the country is favoured by a milder climate due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. Not even the northernmost parts of Scotland can be sure of snow more than a couple of weeks during winter.

The industry was previously dominated by heavy industries such as mining, steelworks and shipbuilding. Like so many other countries Scotland has been forced to restructure their industry due to the decreasing number of jobs in the heavy industry. Today much of the manufacturing industry is aimed at electronics and office equipment. The Northern Sea oil industry has also been a significant source for jobs, but in spite of this unemployment is high in Scotland. Farming is dominated by stock and sheep farming in the Highlands and milk production in the south. Fishery is of great importance and around 2/3 of Great Britain´s total catch is landed at scottish ports. Whiskyproduction and tourism are two of today´s rapidly expanding industries.

The language situation in Scotland is quite complex. Three language varieties exist in the country; to begin with scottish english, which is really an english dialect with a regional accent. This is the dialect we usually hear in BBC-series whenever there´s a scotsman present. Then we have another variety of english with a much older origin. This is scots or lallans which springs from the old Anglo-Saxon. Scots is mainly spoken in the Lowlands around Glasgow and Edinburgh. Up to the 17th century this was the country´s main literary and documentary language, but has since been drawn closer to the southern varieties of english. Many still claim, however, that scots should be described as an independent language and not merely an english dialect.Scottish gaelic finally, is one of four celtic languages to survive into modern age, the others beeing spoken in Brittany, Wales and Ireland. Gaelic was introduced in Scotland around 200BC and expanded more and more up to the 12th century when it was spoken all over Scotland. From that point onwards, gaelic began a steady decline. Today around 2% of the population, that is 80 000 people, speak gaelic, mainly on the Western Isles. Recently gaelic has undergone something of a renaissance, following the introduction of bilingual schools and an increase of the broadcasting of gaelic-language programmes.





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  1. Pingback: New site added « Isle of Harris, Scotland

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