Scotland (and England)

"It is to Scotland that we look for our idea of cilivisation." -- Voltaire.

Yes, Scotland and England are different countries. Both are member nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the other two being Northern Ireland and Wales). Referring to Great Britain or to the United Kingdom as "England" is a good way to piss off a Scot.

You see, it's not just that we're different countries. You have to appreciate that we've only been part of the same country for a few hundred years, and that we'd spent most of the preceeding thousand years at war with each other.

When the Romans invaded Britain, they soon gave up trying to take Scotland, having found the Scottish land inhospitable and the Scottish people less than entirely pleased to see them. The Roman solution was to build walls to keep the Scots out (portions of both the Antonine Wall and the better-known Hadrian's Wall are still visible).

At that point, Scotland was still a collection of smaller fiefdoms, generally at war with each other. (There wasn't much else to do.) Through a series of conquests, though, gradually these various independent groups came togehter to form a unified nation, with various fits and starts, between about 1030 and 1130.

And so Scotland and England continued as separate countries, with regular border skirmishes, for hundreds of years. Edward I of England (known as the "Hammer of the Scots") was particularly obsessed with the idea of claiming the Scottish lands as his own. He did pretty well, too, but, after a number of Scottish uprisings, Edward was finally trounced at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 by Robert the Bruce, subsequently Robert I of Scotland. Scotland, a free nation again, asserted its independence in the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter from the Scottish aristocracy to the Pope.

Things got heated again around about the time of the Reformation. Elizabeth I of England was rather worried about the popularity of her cousin, the new Scottish Queen, Mary (Queen of Scots); but in particular, Elizabeth was worried about the religious angle. Mary had been brought up in Catholic France, where she had married the Dauphin (the French crown prince), who subsequently died. When Mary began her personal reign in 1561, rumours were rife that she might marry the crown prince of Spain, another major Catholic power; and that would have left Elizabeth in a very dangerous position. European Catholics were pretty unhappy about the behaviour of Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, and wanted to reclaim England for Rome.

So Elizabeth schemed and arranged for Mary to marry one of Elizabeth's courtiers, Henry, Lord Darnley, in 1565. It was never a particular happy marriage, but Mary bore Darnley a son, James. Darnley, however, was jealous of Mary's close relationship to her (Catholic) secretary, David Riccio; and, on March 9, 1566, Mary, pregnant with James, witnessed as a gang of Darnley and his drunken friends grabbed Riccio at Holyrood Palace and brutally murdered him. Pointedly, it was Darnley's dagger that was left in the body.

Things went downhill fast after that; religious tension was running high, since Scotland was in the midst of a religious reformation, headed by John Knox. Darnley himself was murdered (strangled, and the house he was in partly blown up) in February 1567. Mary was abducted by the Earl of Bothwell, and then married him in May that year. But she couldn't last long, and abdicated later in the year, in favour of her son, James.

Eventually, Mary fled south to try to get help from her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth seized the opportunity and had Mary arrested. After a personal reign of just six years, Mary was to spend the next twenty years under house arrest in England, before finally being beheaded in 1587.

When Elizabeth died, childless and without having named a successor, this left the English parliament in a rather unfortunate position, since the closest person in line for her throne was James -- the son of Elizabeth's cousin Mary, and the King of Scotland, whose personal reign had begun in 1585. The English invited James to take the throne of England, and so 1603 saw the Union of the Crowns; a single monarch over both England and Scotland, still two separate countries. James became James VI of Scotland and James I of England, known (now) as James the VI and I. (Notice, by the way, that this is after Elizabeth I. Britain's current monarch is claimed to be Elizabeth II; but in fact she's only Elizabeth II of England. As far as Scotland, or Britain, is concerned, she's only Elizabeth I. This caused a certain amount of upset in Scotland when she came to the throne.)

Things get a little confusing after that, since James' son, Charles I, had a little trouble with a guy called Oliver Cromwell. Confusion and dispute during the Restoration--and in particular the English parliament's offer of the throne to William of Orange in order to secure a Protestant succession--led to a succession of Jacobite claimants to the throne, living in France, from where two Scottish rebellions were subsequently to be organised (in 1715 and 1745). However, in 1707, during the reign of William's daughter, Anne, legislation was finally enacted to unify the kingdoms.

And so, a little over 100 years after the Union of the Crowns, the two countries saw the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, and became member nations of a United Kingdom of Great Britain. (Ireland wasn't added until 1801, at which point it became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; after 1921, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.)

Of course, after less than 300 years, some of the details are still a little rough. For instance, the third verse of the National Anthem for the United Kingdom commemerates General Wade, the military overseer of Scotland installed by the English between the 1715 and 1745 uprisings:

God grant that Marshall Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring
May He sedition hush
And like a torrent rush
Rebellious Scots to crush
God Save the King.

Since I first wrote this web page, in 1996, things have changed. In particular, the current Labour administration in the UK has created a Scottish parliament, with jurisdiction over local matters such as edication and agriculture, and with limited tax-raising powers. This is the first elected Scottish parliament since 1707, and on May 12, 1999, Winnie Ewing MSP opened it with the words, "The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on 25th day of March 1707, is hereby reconvened."

Scotland looks like this.


Paul Dourish