The Many Peoples of Scotland

by Donald D. Erwin


The Early Ones – The history of the Scottish people begins in the Northern Isles. There is evidence of human habitation in what is now Scotland as far back as 7,000 BC. Little is known of these early Stone Age people, but it is thought that they migrated from the Low Countries of Europe, and that they were hunters-gatherers.

Around 5000 BC the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) people appeared on the scene. These nomadic tribes lived in caves or rough shelters, and used stone implements. They ate what they could find or catch: deer, eggs, berries, nuts and often shell-fish. Some of their village sites contain millions of shells. Beyond the coasts forests covered much of the land, so they traveled by boat as journeys by foot would have been slow, difficult, and often dangerous.

Sometime around 4000 BC The New Stone Age (Neolithic) people from the eastern Mediterranean area reached Scotland. They may have also emigrated from The Danube Valley and parts of the Ukraine. They settled and made their homes along the western coast, in the Forth and Clyde estuaries, as well as in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. They were farmers who understood how to grow crops such as wheat and barley, and they knew about rearing domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. This new way of life involved clearing some of the land. These new settlers were also hunters and fishermen. They fished in the sea, in the rivers and in the lochs. They used stone and flint tools, utensils and weapons, and they were skilled at making simple forms of pottery, which they decorated with grooved patterns. Their settlements have left little or no trace – other than a few caves – except in Orkney where remains of early Neolithic stone houses can still be seen at Skara Brae and Knap of Howar. These dwellings are made of dry-stone masonry and central hearths. The inhabitants also built elaborate chambered tombs, covered by a cairn of stones, to bury their dead.

About 3000-2500 years BC the Beaker People reached Britain and northeast Scotland. They were farmers, and settled where there was cultivatable land.  

The Bronze Age began in Scotland about 2300 BC when new invaders arrived from the North Sea area. They introduced swords, knives, chisels, buckles, cauldrons and buckets, all evidence of a high level of civilization and creature comfort that would be enhanced by the metal craft of the subsequent Iron Age. These people lived in round houses, which now only survive as hut circles, or indentations, in the ground. The walls were either of sod or stone, and a wooden post held up a thatched roof. A central hearth contained a fire for cooking and warmth. Remains of their farm systems survive, as wells as the piles of stones they removed to clear their fields for cultivation. Burials were in a stone box-like coffin with a stone lid, the body being placed in the grave in a crouched position, usually with a food pot. Cremations replaced burials toward the end of the Bronze Age, with the deceased’s scorched bones placed in large urns, many of which have survived. 


The Celts – The origin of the Celts (pronounced Kelts) is shrouded in mystery, but they were part of the “barbaric hordes” so often referred to in ancient writings. Celt (Keltoi) was the name applied by ancient Greek writers, from the 5th century BC on, to a group of peoples who inhabited central and Western Europe. The Romans called them Galli, or Gauls. The Celts generally spoke two dialects of the Indo-European language family. Gaelic (or Goidelic) – which later included Irish, Scottish and Manx – is spoken even today in parts of Ireland and Scotland and on the Isle of Man. Brythonic (also called British) includes Welsh and Breton, and is spoken in Wales and on the Brittany Peninsula in France.

 During the first millennium BC these peoples spread throughout much of Europe. From a heartland in central Europe, they settled an area known as Gaul (France), penetrated the northern Iberian Peninsula (Spain), while at the same time others crossed the body of water that we know as the English Channel, gradually settling an area that would come to be known as the British Isles. Their arrival on the Island of Briton can never be determined exactly, but there is evidence that they were there, and in Ireland, prior to 500 BC. In the Lowlands of Scotland they overran and enslaved many of the earlier inhabitants, and drove the rest into the Highlands.

There are many hill forts throughout Scotland that are believed to have been constructed by the Celts. Often these structures consist of a series of ramparts surrounding a hill. Some were constructed of dry stone walls – using no mortar – and some were made with timber frames. Some were small, suitable only for one family, while others could hold a small town. It is thought that these forts were more to protect against a sudden attack rather than a long siege. 

In the fourth century BC the Celts began a series of migrations that increased the size of their territory and brought them into immediate contact with the Greco-Roman world. By about 390 BC the Celts started to push south and east into the Mediterranean lands and Eastern Europe. The archaeological record shows them moving farther south in the Iberian Peninsula, east into present-day Poland and Ukraine, and taking over Illyrian and Thracian lands in the Balkans. They advanced into northern Italy, founding settlements that became the cities of Milan, Turin, and Bologna. Roman historians tell of an invasion of "Gauls" at this time, formidable fighters who defeated Rome's army at the Allia River and plundered the city. These Cisalpine Celts remained a threat to Rome until their final defeat in 295 BC.

Celtic tribes invaded Greece in 279 BC, penetrating as far south as Delphi before they were routed and driven back. Others migrated to central Anatolia in Asia Minor. King Antigonus I settled them, about 275 BC, in an area that became known as Galatia. It was there that the Celts founded the kingdom of Galatia, and it was to the Celts in Galatia that Saint Paul addressed his Epistle to the Galatians. One of their hill forts, Angora, is today Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Many Celts were employed as mercenaries in the armies of the Hellenistic states. A Celtic shield has been unearthed in Egypt, and a representation of a plaid-wearing Celt in Morocco.

Moving south and southwest, the Celts raided communities on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the fourth and third centuries BC, but by the first century BC they were on the defensive. The Romans, advancing from the south, and the Germanic peoples, moving down from the north, gradually subjugated most of them. Thereafter Celtic culture was confined mainly to the "Atlantic fringe," which included Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in the British Isles, and Brittany in France.

The area occupied by the Celts was never in any sense an empire, but was simply the habitat of different politically independent tribes. Even their name is arbitrary, for it is fairly certain that the people generally known as Celts was actually a group of scattered tribes, much like our North American Indians, but bound loosely together by blood ties, Druidic beliefs and common myths. Celtic societies functioned as groups of autonomous units, each under a paramount chief. The people were organized into loose family units, or clans, which were then subdivided into lineages (fine), stressing the paternal side of kinship reckoning. They were divided into three social classes: the royal clans, the warrior aristocracy, and the common people. Slaves comprised a small portion of the population. Persistent themes in Celtic culture included rural settlement, hospitality feasting, and fellowship drinking. Pork was a common item of diet, and plaid designs in clothing were favored. The weapon of choice was the sword. Archaeological finds corroborate classical authors who described the Celts as using chain-mail armor and a machine for reaping grain.

The druids underwent a training period lasting twenty years. They had priestly duties, but they also bore weapons and had specialties, such as religion, law, astronomy and calendrics, poetry, and music. Writing was known as early as the third century BC but was little used except for coinage and commemorative inscriptions. Calendrics exemplifies the learning of the Celts, who had inherited extensive knowledge about solar and lunar movements from their neolithic predecessors in Atlantic Europe. The bronze Coligny Calendar, found near Lyon, France, was more accurate than the one used by the Romans. Calendars were critical for tracking the main Celtic festivals: February 1, May 1, August 1, and October 31/November 1 (the last of which survive today as Halloween and All Saints' Day).

The Celtic tribes who lived in what we know as Great Britain and Ireland spoke Irish, Manx, Scots-Gaelic, Welsh, Breton and Cornish. There is no way to know what the Celts called themselves, for although they had a written language of sorts around the third century BC, the materials that they may have written on did not survive the ravages of time. No record of their written language survived their subsequent invasion and assimilation by other peoples. Nor have any of the organic materials they used in everyday life survived, such as wood, cloth, leather and foods. Scientists can only gain a partial idea of their culture from the few things that have survived…those which were made from stone, pottery and metal. Although these objects were often decorated, some quite elaborately, they have not given researchers any clue to the Celts’ written language.

To the civilized peoples of the Mediterranean world the Celts were barbarian tribes, but they learned much from their contacts and trade with the civilized world. Over time the Celts had developed a superior knowledge of iron working and iron weapons, and modern historians credit them with spreading their knowledge over the more backward regions of Europe and Britain. And though only faint hints of their spoken dialects remain in the more backward regions of Great Britain and Ireland, there is much evidence of the very striking art.

Much of the folklore of Western Europe – as well as early America – is based on the beliefs of the early Celts. Ancient Celtic trained professionals – bards and druids – using elaborate mnemonic (memory enhancing) devices, transmitted this folklore in oral form. Christian scribes first preserved the rich heritage of the Celts in narrative form. They later wrote down poems praising the deeds of historic rulers, and fictional heroes whose actions and deeds portrayed the behavioral codes of the people. Their poems convey powerful universal sentiments, many of which we find rooted on our own modern western society. There is considerable Celtic wisdom to be found in accounts by later Christian chroniclers, and in the tales and poetry of medieval literature.

The Celts were certainly a warrior race with colonial ambitions, but it seems that their colonization happened peacefully over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Knowledge of the early history of Scotland is thus very sketchy, but much was learned when Jarlshof, an Iron Age village, was discovered in the nineteenth century on the southern tip of Shetland. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in Britain, as it shows the development of civilization from the earliest times through to the medieval age.


The Romans – For centuries the mighty Roman Empire ruled the ancient world, and at the height of its power the far-flung empire controlled western Asia, northern Africa, and in Europe Rome was master – though disputed at times – of all of the land west of the Rhine and south of the Danube River.

North of the area that the Roman Empire controlled in Europe was a vast region of forests, and it extended all the way to the North Sea. In this wild country, beyond the farthest limits of the civilization of the day, lived many barbarous tribes of people. Among them were the Goths, the Vandals, the Burgundians, the Lombards and the Franks. Beyond these tribes were the Angles and Saxons; they lived in the northern area of what we know today as Germany. Still farther north dwelt the Norsemen.

These peoples who lived north of the Roman world were very different from the Romans. They were taller, with yellow hair and blue eyes. Their clothing was usually made of the skins of animals or coarsely woven woolen cloth, with the arms and shoulders left bare. Their houses were simple huts of roughly cut timber, often grouped to­gether in a clearing in the forest to form a straggling village. These Germanic tribes were fierce fighters, and the Romans, who had conquered so many nations, were never able to exert control over these barbarians. The Roman Army had to content itself with keeping them out of the empire by the use of strong forti­fications placed along the Rhine and Danube rivers.

After successfully invading southern Britain in 55 BC under Julius Caesar, the Romans moved north. In 79 AD Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, advanced into Scotland and built forts at strategic locations. His Roman legions crushed all opposition, but the Caledonians – the name given the native tribes by the Romans – established a fort at Dumbarton Rock and resisted, and the push north was stopped. Another invasion in 82 AD ended with the almost total slaughter of the Ninth Roman Legion, probably at Galloway.

At the Battle of Mons Graupius in 84 AD the Caledonians suffered a terrible defeat. Calgacus, their chief – if Tactius, the Roman chronicler can be believed – is the first to be recognized as a “Scot” in history. According to Tacitus, Calgacus – whom he described as a “Scot” – was killed in the battle, along with 10,000 of his men, while only 340 Roman soldiers died. Although this defeat was a major setback for the native tribes, the Romans were not able to capitalize on their victory, for although the Caledonian ranks were devastated, they continued to wage guerilla war. By 85 AD, however, the Romans had conquered all Celtic lands except Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.

A lot of what the world knows about the Celts, as well as the other native peoples, can be credited to the invading Romans, for they, like the Nazis of the 20th Century, were very conscientious about recording everything about the people they conquered.


The Picts – The Picts – one if several ethnic groups in early-day Scotland and at times also referred to as Caledonians by the Romans – were a people of obscure origin, and collectively was one of the ancient inhabitants of northern Scotland. Little is known about them, but some historians believe that they came from Thrace, located in northern Greece, and crossed the English Channel on foot during the Ice Age. The Picts apparently spoke a form of Celtic that was similar to Welsh, but incorporating pre-Celtic elements. The term “picti” was first used by the Romans in 297 AD to describe the indigenous aboriginal people living north of the Forth-Clyde line. It was a term of abuse and derision, and meant “the painted people.” It most likely referred to the designs with which they were said to tattoo their bodies. Whether the term was confined to a particular group of northern people, or much more loosely to any group that lived north of what had been the Roman-constructed Antonine Wall, is not clear. It seems most likely, however, that it was used to mean anyone in the area north of the Forth and Clyde who might be a threat to Roman-occupied Britain. It is now generally believed that this non–Celtic and non–Aryan group of people were primarily descended from the aborigines of Britain, who had been forced ever northward by other peoples invading from mainland Europe.

The Romans gave the country north of present-day Stirlingshire the name of Caledonia. Researchers believe that there were many tribal groups in Caledonia, or Alban, who, during the early centuries AD, grouped and re-grouped. Their tribal boundaries probably changed frequently, with first one tribe and then another having supremacy over its neighbors. Tacitus, the Roman historian who did most of his writing near the zenith of the Roman Empire, wrote an account of the campaigns against the Caledonians by Agricola in 65 AD in which he illustrated the spirit and toughness of these early natives of what would be Scotland. In one translation it was his assessment that “while they were often defeated in battle, they were never subdued.” When unable to withstand the charges of the Roman legions in the open they would fall back to their forests and mountains and resort to guerrilla warfare. In 121 AD Rome gave up trying to defeat them and Emperor Hadrian had a stone wall built from Solway Firth in the west to Tyne in the east. About 142 AD the Roman governor of Britain constructed another wall north of Hadrian’s Wall. It was made of timber and earth and ran from the Firth of Clyde in the west to the Firth of Forth in the east. It became known as the Antonine Wall and was in use for about 20 years before it was abandoned.

By the sixth century the Picts were organized in at least two kingdoms north of the River Forth. They had been converted to Christianity as a result of the efforts of Saint Ninian (fourth century) and Saint Columba (sixth century). In the seventh century the Picts recognized a single king, Brude, who stopped the encroachments of the Scots from the kingdom of Dalriada (Argyll). They reached the peak of their power under Angus, who established ascendancy over the Scots in 740. The matrilineal system of inheritance caused succession problems, however, and the kingdom declined. Kenneth I of Scottish Dalriada, who reigned from 843 to 858, united the Scots and Picts to form the kingdom of Alba (the nucleus of the kingdom of Scotland).

The Picts were well organized. Their government was based on the clan (kin), a system seen in many early peoples, but one which became very involved and sophisticated under the Picts. They had strict laws of succession, which were different from those of most other peoples. Succession was passed not from father to son but through the female side of the family. This meant that a man became chief because his mother was the daughter of an earlier chief and he was succeeded not by his son but by his brother (his mother’s son) or by his nephew (his sister’s son).


Britons & Maeate – In 201 the Caledonians joined with the Maeate (Men of the Midlands) and northern Britons of Strathclyde in preparation for an attack on the northernmost Roman province. The attack never took place, however, because Virius Lupus, the Roman Governor, bought off the Maeate. The Maeate were allied with the tribes immediately north of the Roman wall between the Forth and Clyde, while the Caledonians were to the north and east. In 208 the army of Severus penetrated as far north as the Tay. He fought no battles, but the guerrilla warfare carried on by the Pict natives during the march resulted in heavy losses of men and matériel. Severus was instrumental in stabilizing the Roman forces, but his death in 211 prevented further military action. His son and successor was forced to make peace with the northern tribes, which resulted in the Roman forces withdrawing south of Hadrian’s Wall. Rome would occupy the southern part of the island of Britain for another two hundred years or so, but as the Irish raids escalated from across the Irish Sea, and the pressure from the barbarian Picts from north of Hadrian’s Wall increased, the Roman legions were hard pressed to maintain stability.

Beginning in 293, when Roman forces were battling troubles in Gaul, the Picts took advantage of the distraction and confusion. The Wall was pierced, and with fire and sword they devastated the northern districts of the Province of Britain. For two or three generations the Romans fought back , and although they were successful in slowing the incursions of the northern tribes, the raids were nevertheless taking a toll. Although the process of wearing down the resolve of the Romans was spread over many years, the year 367 probably marked the point when things began to go downhill rapidly for the Romans. Things were unraveling in other provinces as well, and in 367 the Picts, the Scots, and the Saxons—normally enemies—banded together and fell on the Border provinces with horrific resolve. The Roman troops resisted valiantly, but a wide breach was made in the northern defense line and murderous hordes poured in upon the fine world of country houses and farms.

Emperor Valentinian sent a general, Theodosius, with a large force to relieve the province. Theodosius achieve his assigned task, but the smoldering resolve of the northern tribes was only diminished, not extinguished. In 383 Magnus Maximus, then in command in Britain, declared himself Emperor. Scraping together all of the troops he could find, thus stripping the Wall and fortresses of their already scanty defenders, Maximus crossed the Channel to Gaul where he defeated Emperor Gratian near Paris. For five years Maximus struggled to maintain his gains, but after a time he was killed in battle by Theodosius who had succeeded Gratian.

 This was also a time when most of the Roman Empire’s outlying provinces felt pressure from all sides. Meanwhile the Wall was pierced again, and the Province of Britain lay open to raiders, from the north as well as from the sea.   During the next twenty years or so Rome would half-heartedly attempt to save the Province, but their efforts were too little and too late. Consequently, Roman soldiers gradually withdrew to the south. The Roman legions were gone from the island by 410, and the Roman Province of Britain totally abandoned by Rome by about 450.

In about 449 the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, three closely related tribes from Scandinavia and northern Germany, invaded and eventually conquered that part of Britain that is now England. Starting about 500 they set up a number of tiny kingdoms, made war on the native Britons, and drove them into the northwestern part of the island. The three tribes together merged into a people who would be known as Anglo-Saxons. They were much less civilized than the Britons, whom they conquered and displaced, but nevertheless they had come to stay. One of the tribes, the Angles, gave England its name, which means, “land of the Angles.”

By the mid 500s Scotland was divided among four peoples. The Picts, whose territory was the largest; The Britons who occupied the area south of Hadrian’s Wall as well as the territory between Loch Lomond and Solway Firth, known as Strathclyde; and the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons, who were Germanic in origin, had settled on the east side between the Forth and the Tyne, having moved north from the Humber and Yorkshire areas of Roman Britain. The fourth group was the Scots. During the 300s and 400s they raided the Lowlands from Northern Ireland, and as time passed they established settlements. By the ninth century AD the culture of the aggressive Scots had become dominant.   

It was the language of the Anglo-Saxons, however, that would become the foundation of modern-day English. It was closely related to Danish and Low German, and though much infused with Latin it has, in its modern form, survived even the Norman (Gaulic) invasion of 1066. The English language has spread around the world. In the process it has become an international language, while most of the native tongues of the island of Britain have, for the most part, been forgotten. 

An important point to remember is that although the Romans penetrated the Lowlands of modern-day Scotland, they did not stay, and they never seriously attempted to conquer the northern part of the island, known as the “Highlands.” The early Anglo-Saxons could not do it either. It would take over a thousand years for the English to finally absorb Scotland into the British Empire, and then not as a result of battle, but by merging the two royal families by marriage.


The Scots – The people the Romans called Scoti originally came from Ireland. During England’s period of Roman occupation (45 to 450 AD) the Scots lived in Dalriatic settlements in the northeastern part of Ireland that is now County Antrim. Although small numbers of Scots had been raiding and settling across the North Channel for many years, it was in 498 that three Scots princes of Irish Dalriata, sons of King Erc, led a group of followers across the Channel. They settled and established a government in the rugged and mountainous area of Argyll in southwestern Scotland. It was only a short distance to the Kintyre Peninsula and the Firth of Clyde. There the three brothers, Loarn (Lorne), Fergus, and Aonghus (Angus), created the Dalriadic Kingdom of Scots. They divided up the new territory between supportive families or groups of families whom they called Tuath or Cinel (meaning kindred), or Clan (meaning children). Lorne governed the northern part of the kingdom while Angus controlled the Islay peninsula and the Western Isles. Fergus administered the Argyll area, which included the Kintyre Peninsula where many Dalriadic settlements already existed. The three brothers governed their kingdom jointly, but Fergus would eventually succeed his brothers and rule until 505 when he died. It was from Fergus MacErc (son of Erc, who was descended from Cairbre Riadhi, the founder of the Irish Kingdom of Dalriata), that the Scots kings for the next several generations would descend.

The Scots were warriors, but they were also farmers and fisherman. They were livestock breeders and traders, and cows, sheep and pigs being their economic currency. A Scot was judged by the number of animals he owned, and purchases were made with a cow or pig or sheep. Before long they were encroaching on the more desirable lands of their neighbors. They recognized and appreciated good farming land and lost little time in enlarging their sphere of influence. The Scots were also beekeepers, and they used the honey for sweetening, as well as for the fermentation of alcoholic drinks.

The presence of the Scots in Argyll did not go unnoticed by the Picts. The Picts had been in the northern part of the island for a long time and regarded all of the lands above the Forth-Clyde line as their personal property. The Picts were also fierce fighters, and there were many bloody clashes between the two tribes. The Scots, however, gradually took over the fertile Midland Valley. As time passed the two peoples found that they had common enemies – mainly the Vikings – as well as common problems, and over the next five hundred years or so the two peoples gradually became one.

The identity that survived, however, was that of the Scots. Constantine MacFergus – a Scottish chieftain  who was a descendant of Pictish kings (via the female line) – claimed the Pictish throne and was able to win it.  Alpin, king of the Dalriadic Scots, married a Pictish princess, and the affairs of the combined kingdom prospered comparatively peacefully. Their son, Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada (c. 800-58), inherited the crown of the Dalriadic Scots as well as that of the Picts. In 843 Kenneth was able to unite the two peoples, Picts and Scots, and formed the state that came to be called Scotia, and later Scotland. Shortly after he was acknowledged as the king of the two groups, Kenneth MacAlpin moved his seat of power out of Dalriada and into the heart of the Pictish territory, and Dalriada ceased to exist. Later, at the Battle of Carham, Scotia gained parts of Northumbria and Cumbria as well.

Kenneth’s unification of the two kingdoms as a new political entity established the roots of what would be Scotland. He also founded the first recognizable Scottish royal family. As a result Scotland’s kings are formally numbered from Kenneth I. History also recognizes him as the first King of Scots. Kenneth I died in his palace at Forteviot in 858.

The success and growth of Scotia was due in part to the law of tanistry. From the time of Kenneth’s conjoined kingly status, it was necessary to devise a system of succession that would suit the Pictish nation as well as the Scots. It was decided that Pictish princesses would marry Kenneth’s sons and grandsons, with the proviso that new monarchs would be chosen from the various offspring during the lifetime of each reigning king. The sitting king and his government ministers – which included the Celtic Christian Clergy – made the heir selections. On being nominated each heir would become a co-ruler until the king’s death. Then, after a period of sole rule, the new king would follow the same procedure by selecting his successor from a parallel family line. The inheritors chosen by this process were called tanists, and the system of selection was known as tanistry. In general the system – which would be in force for about three hundred years – worked well, although succession could become bloody if the chosen heir was unable to restrain his ambition. 

The Gaelic of the Scots soon overcame the Pictish language, and as a result the use of their written symbols fell into disuse. Over time the Pictish written records were lost as well. Some early historians speculated that large numbers of the Picts were massacred by the Scots, or to use the modern term, that there was “ethnic cleansing.” The current belief, however, is that the disappearance of the Picts, and their language, was merely the result of assimilation and integration into the more dominant culture of the Scots.

In 875 the forces of Olaf the White, the King of Dublin, captured Dumbarton (later to be known as Strathclyde) and remained a source of worry to the surrounding peoples until 945. At that time Eadmund, King of England, and Malcolm I, King of Scots, combined to permanently expel the Danes. Eadmund and Malcolm set up a kingdom that was held jointly but ruled by the Scots. The King of Scots used Strathclyde as a  training ground for the heir-apparent to his throne. In 954 the Scottish tribes captured Edinburgh and made it their capital. The same year the English finally drove out the last of the Viking invaders from the island of Briton. In 1018 Malcolm II conquered Lothian (the region south of the Tweed), and merged it with the area previously held by the Picts and the Scots. Celtic supremacy as an ethnic people in the Lowlands seemed assured, but the Danish invasion of what is now England had driven thousands of “English” north into southern Scotland and, over time, infused a strong Anglo-Saxon element into the Scottish blood. Unrest in the Border area, however, would continue for several centuries.

History credits Duncan I (r.1034-1040) with having merged the Scots, the Celtic Britons and the Anglo-Saxons – as well as the remnants of the Picts – into one Kingdom of Scotland. Duncan’s defeat by the English at Durham gave an opening to Macbeth, his general, to claim the throne. Macbeth’s claim was based on the fact that Gruoch, his wife, was the granddaughter of Kenneth III. Macbeth murdered Duncan I in 1040, and reigned for seventeen years (r.1040-1057). Macbeth, fearful of eventual competition from Duncan’s two young sons, drove them out of Scotland. Malcolm fled to England, and there became the protégé of King Edward the Confessor. Donald Ban, the second son, fled to the Western Isles. Macbeth died in 1057, and was temporarily succeeded by Lulach (r.1057-1057), a stepson of Macbeth. Lulach, known by the unflattering nickname of “Lulach the Simpleton,” was hunted down and killed in March 1058 by Duncan’s son Malcolm. Malcolm was the next King of Scots, and reigned as Malcolm III (r.1058-1093). It was a violent age. Of seventeen kings who ruled Scotland from 844 to 1057, twelve died by assassination.

Although Scotland may have appeared to be one kingdom with the arrival of Malcolm III in 1058, it was still divided. The authority of Scottish kings effectively covered the lowlands and the Border area plus much of the eastern seaboard. But Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, as far north as the Isle of Man, were still under the effective control of the King of Norway. It was not until the defeat of the Norse at the Battle of Largs in 1263 that the outer territories – with the exception of Orkney – came under Scottish rule. The Treaty of Perth of July 2, 1266 made it official, even though the Lord of the Isles – as chieftain of the MacDonald Clan – pretty much went his own way. This situation prevailed for the next two hundred years, with the MacDonald lords operating as if they were kings in their own right, frequently openly defying the Scottish monarch. Orkney remained under Norse sovereignty until May 20, 1469.

Several early Scottish kings were related to Irwynes. Alexander III, who ruled from 1249 to 1286, was the last. He and his wife Margaret had two sons who died young, and a daughter named Margaret Irwyne who married Eric the Red, King of Norway. Eric the Red is credited with discovering a large ice-covered island in the North Atlantic, which he named Greenland. Eric and Margaret had one daughter; she was named Margaret as well, and was known to Scots as “The Maid of Norway.” So, when Alexander III died it was his four-year-old granddaughter who was the next-in-line heir to his throne. Edward I of England – in an effort to combine the crowns of England and Scotland – arranged a marriage between Margaret and his son, the Prince of Wales.  Unfortunately, however, the child died during the voyage from Norway to Scotland.

The death of the Maid of Norway – on September 26, 1290 – created a severe crisis for the Kingdom of Scotland. There was no immediate successor to the throne, although there were a number of claimants. The Scottish lords agreed that Edward would arbitrate the final shortlist of thirteen claimants. On November 17, 1292 Edward nominated John Balliol to accede to the throne of Scotland.

The reign of Balliol was short lived, however, and after the Battle of Dunbar he was forced by Edward to abdicate in July 1296. Next followed the rebellion led by William Wallace (well portrayed in the movie Braveheart), and this set the stage for Robert the Bruce to become King of Scots in 1306.


The Angles and Saxons – When Rome started losing control of its provinces, starting about 400 AD, the Roman Legions which had been stationed in Britain were gradually recalled to help defend Rome. Terrible times followed. The Picts and Scots, tribes that lived in the unconquered area in the northern half of the Island of Briton, began to make raids south into the previous Roman Province of Britain.

During the mid-400s, roving bands of Angles and Saxons, Germanic tribes from the northwestern coast of Europe, began crossing the North Sea and settling in Britain. The Britons, although they considered the Angles and Saxons barbarians, nevertheless aligned themselves with the newcomers to resist their northern enemies. The Angles and Saxons were able to repel the Picts and Scots, but they then turned on the native Britons and drove them westward into the mountainous areas of Wales and Cornwall. Britain was then divided up into a number of little kingdoms, which were later merged into one kingdom under one ruler. Britain was then called Angle-land which, over time, evolved into England. The language of the Angles would evolve into the dominate language of England, and eventually – by the end of the twentieth century – the international language of the world.


The Danes – Three or four hundred years after the Angles and Saxons settled in England, the Danes came swarming on its coasts. Though the Danes came first to plunder, they were also looking for territorial conquests. They soon started to establish towns and villages, but they continued to murder and plunder their neighbors. King Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king, was able to stop their conquests, and the Danes – for the most part – gradually withdrew.


The Vikings – In the first millennium AD, in the area that we now know as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, lived a hardy race of people called Norsemen. They were “Men of the North,” or Vikings. They lived along the coastlines, in the fjords and creeks, and they were seamen.

The dense northern forests supplied plenty of wood for ships, and over time the Norsemen learned to build seagoing ships, and became skilled and daring sailors. Their ships were long and narrow, with forty to fifty oars and a large square sail. The prows were high and were carved to look like huge dragons’ heads, and the sterns like their tails. All around the railings of the ships were the shields of the warriors.

The Vikings had not taken any part of the earlier invasions of Europe, but in the ninth century they began exploring the northern sea in every direction in their long many-oared ships. Some sailed to Iceland, Greenland and Labrador, but their most notable impact at the time was on the west coast of France. They came in large numbers, and soon forced the French king to grant them a stretch of land lying along the English Channel.

As time passed the Norsemen, or Normans they came to be known, gave up their old heathen customs and adopted the language, manners and customs of the Frankish people among whom they had settled. In time the descendents of the savage Vikings became the polished dukes of Normandy.

In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, assembled an army and a large fleet and sailed across the English Channel. His forces fought the English forces under King Harold at Hastings. Harold was defeated, and William declared himself King of England. Historians named him William the Conqueror.