Scotland is believed to have been founded in 843 AD, and eventually expanded its borders to the area of modern-day Scotland. The early history of the new nation was marked with many conflicts with the English, and also the Vikings, who invaded the north of Scotland.
Today, the Shetland Islands retain a strong Viking cultural identity. Another powerful impact on Scotland’s story has been religion. Events leading up to the Scottish Reformation of 1560, including the destruction of the cathedral at St. Andrews the year before, had a strong impact on life in the country, and led to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland taking over from the Roman Catholic Church as the established state religion.
It was a more strict form of Protestantism than the Anglicanism that developed in England, and was influenced by the teaching of Jean Calvin, which had been brought back by John Knox. Religion would lead to many later political and military clashes, such as the Bishops Wars that were part of the wider civil wars in England, Ireland, and Scotland in the seventeenth century.
Scotland & England conflict
Wars with the English would dominate Scottish history for hundreds of years. At least until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. The year when the King of Scots, James VI, inherited the English throne. Only after the death of Queen Elizabeth I (who had executed his mother, Mary I, Queen of Scots). While this inheritance put an end to armed conflict. There were still conflicts between the Scottish and English parliaments on which monarch should succeed. As well as various commercial disputes such as the ill-fated Darien Scheme to establish a Scottish colony in Panama. The disaster of the Darien scheme was due partly to incompetence and partly to interference from England. The English feared competition with its own colonies. Almost a quarter of the money circulating in Scotland at the time was invested in this scheme. Its failure caused an economic catastrophe amongst the nobility of Scotland.
Formation of a Union
These factors would ultimately lead to the Act of Union. Following negotiations, on May 1, 1707, the Parliaments of Scotland and England were united. All of Scotland’s representation moved to the parliament of England in London creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. It would not become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until the forced union with the occupied Kingdom of Ireland in 1800. Scotland and England retained their own religious, education, and legal systems. This is why these systems differ so much today. However, the union was very controversial. Bribery and the promise of financial gain to the members of the Scottish Parliament (who were mostly nobility) dominated discussion.The national poet Robert Burns made the famous claim that Scotland was bought and sold for English gold.
The Union was certainly not popular
There were also many riots as the time, in the wake of a decision that was extremely unpopular with the general Scottish population. Despite this controversy, the Union provided a new stability and a climate in the 18th and 19th centuries, wherein both commerce and new ideas could flourish, leading to a major role for Scotland and its people in the British Empire and the creation of the world we know today. Historian Simon Schama has written that what began as a hostile merger ended in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world. Indeed, the creation of the Empire was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.
The Empire was founded on the growth of commerce and trade. Following the dramatic failure of the Darien Scheme, Scottish merchants learned lessons from its mistakes and became skilled businessmen very quickly. They began to assert that Scotland had become the world’s first commercial nation. From the 18th century, the Scottish Enlightenment saw vast industrial expansion, the rise of the city of Glasgow as a major trading port, and eventually its elevation to the Second City of the British Empire. However, the dark truth was that much of the prosperity of sugar and tobacco merchants, with their lavish houses in Glasgow, was based on slavery in the New World.
Just over two thirds (67%) of the Scottish population reported having a religion in 2001. With Christianity representing all but 2% of these. In Scotland 28% of the population have no religious affiliation.
Since the Scottish Reformation of 1560, the national church (the Church of Scotland, also known as The Kirk) has been Protestant and Reformed in theology. Since 1689, it has had a Presbyterian system of church government, and enjoys independence from the state. About 12% of the population are currently members of the Church of Scotland, with 40% claiming affinity. The Church operates a territorial parish structure, with every community in Scotland having a local congregation.
Scotland also has a significant Roman Catholic population, 19% claiming that faith, particularly in the west. After the Reformation, Roman Catholicism in Scotland continued in the Highlands and some western islands like Uist and Barra, and it was strengthened during the 19th century by immigration from Ireland.
Islam is the largest non Christian religion (estimated at around 40,000, which is less than 0.9% of the population). Scotland also significant Jewish, Hindu and Sikh communities, especially in Glasgow. The Samye Ling monastery near Eskdalemuir, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007. This is the first Buddhist monastery in western Europe.
English and Scottish Gaelic are the official languages of Scotland. English is the everyday language spoken by all.
Scottish Gaelic (Gaidhlig), a dialectical variant, is spoken by only around 90,000 people. Gaelic is spoken mainly in the Highlands (a Ghaidhealtachd) and the Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan Siar). For instance in Barra, where 80% of the population speak Gaelic. Visitors will more than likely hear locals speaking in Gaelic in the Western Isles.
Scots, Ouer ain leid, literally our own language. Although being an officially recognized minority language, is understood by around 80% of the population. The language evolved from Old English. It was the national language of Scotland for most of Scotland’s life before the 1707 union with England. Scots is more or less intelligible to English in written form.
For further information about Tours of Scotland visit the Scottish National Tourism website. Follow this link for more information on Scotland.
Odyssey’s Tours of Scotland
Odyssey offers each year a number of escorted tour packages that include or are focused on Scotland. Typically we have up to 10 scheduled departures with an educational theme. Our Small Group tour of Prehistoric Britain standing stones also explores the wonders of Scotland, in this case through its breathtaking prehistoric sites. We are also offering, for the first time, a specialised program exploring Scottish History in the time of the Jacobites. Other Scottish offerings include the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Odyssey’s Scottish Island holidays remain very popular with 3 scheduled departures a year for this small group tour of Scotland. Follow this link to read more about our Scottish Island Holidays.