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[For early historical material on Scotland, see the entry on the Celts ].


Witchcraft and, more commonly, sorcery, malevolent magic, appear to have been practiced in the earliest historical and traditional times in Scotland. It is related that during the reign of Natholocus in the second century there lived in Iona a witch of great renown, so celebrated for her marvelous power that the king sent one of his captains to consult her regarding the issue of a rebellion then troubling his kingdom. The witch declared that within a short period the king would be murdered, not by his open enemies but by one of his most favored friends, in whom he had most special trust. The messenger inquired the assassin's name. "Even by thine own hands as shall be well known within these few days," replied the witch.

So troubled was the captain on hearing these words that he abused her bitterly, vowing that he would see her burned before he would commit such a crime. But after reviewing the matter carefully in his mind, the captain arrived at the conclusion that if he informed the king of the witch's prophecy, the king might, for the sake of his personal safety, have him put to death, so thereupon he decoyed Natholocus into his private chamber and killed him with a dagger.

In about the year 388, the devil was said to be so enraged at the piety of St. Patrick that he assailed the saint with a whole band of witches in Scotland. The story goes that St. Patrick fled to the river Clyde, embarking in a small boat for Ireland. As witches cannot pursue their victims over running water, they flung a huge rock after the escaping saint, which fell harmlessly to the ground, and which tradition says now forms Dumbarton Rock.

Catholic and Protestant church leaders alike pursued the crusade against witchcraft with equal vigor, drawing their support from biblical passages such as Exodus 22:18, which commands, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Witches were believed to have sold themselves, body and soul, to the devil. Their ceremony was said to consist of kneeling before the devil, who placed one hand on the individual's head and the other under her feet, while she dedicated all between to the service of the devil and renounced baptism. The witch (usually thought of as a female) was thereafter deemed to be incapable of reformation. No minister of any denomination whatever would intercede or pray for her. On sealing the compact, the devil then proceeded to put his mark upon her.

Writing on the "Witches' Mark," the Reverend Bell, minister of Gladsmuir, in 1705 states,

"The witches' mark is sometimes like a blew spot, or a little tale, or reid spots, like fleabiting, sometimes the flesh is sunk in and hollow and this is put in secret places, as among the hair of the head, or eyebrows, within the lips, under the armpits, and even in the most secret parts of the body."

The Reverend Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle in his Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (written in 1691) notes,

"A spot that I have seen, as a small mole, horny, and brown colored, throw which mark when a large brass pin was thrust (both in buttock, nose, and roof of the mouth) till it bowed [bent] and became crooked, the witches, both men and women, nather felt a pain nor did bleed, nor knew the precise time when this was doing to them (their eyes only being covered)."

In many cases the mark was invisible, and according to popular lore, no pain accompanied the pricking of it. Thus, there arose a group of experts who pretended great wisdom and skill concerning the marks. They referred to themselves as "witch prickers" and it became their business to discover and label witches.

The method employed was barbarous. First, having stripped and bound his victim, the witch pricker proceeded to thrust his needles into every part of the body. When at last the victim, worn out with exhaustion and agony, remained silent, the witch pricker declared that he had discovered the mark.

The witch pricker could also resort to trial by water. The suspects were tied, wrapped in a sheet, and flung into a deep pool. In cases where the body floated, the water of baptism was supposed to be giving the accused, while those who sank to the bottom were absolved, but no attempt was made at rescue.

If a confession was demanded, tortures was resorted to, burning with irons being generally the last torture applied. In some cases a diabolic contrivance called the "witches' bridle" was used. The "bridle" encircled the victim's head while a pronged iron bit was thrust into the mouth, piercing the tongue, palate, and cheeks. In cases of execution, the victim was usually strangled and her body later burned at the stake.

Witches were accused of a great variety of sorceries. Common offenses were bewitching milk cattle by turning their milk sour or curtailing the supply, raising storms, stealing children from their graves, and promoting various illnesses. A popular device was to make a waxen image of the victim, thrust pins into it, and sear it with hot irons, all of which the victim was supposed to feel. Upon domestic animals witches cast an evil eye, causing emaciation and refusal to take food until at length death ensued. On the other hand, to those who believed in them and acknowledged their power, witches were supposed to use their powers for good by curing disease and causing prosperity.

Witches were believed to meet weekly, at which time the devil presided. Saturday was commonly called "the witches' sabbat," as their meetings were generally believed to be held on that day in a desolate place or possibly a ruined church building (a number of which had been left by the invading Vikings). They rode to the gatherings through the air on broomsticks (see transvection ). If the devil was not present on their arrival, they evoked him by beating the earth with a fir stick and saying "Rise up foul thief."

The witches appeared to see the devil in different guises; to some he appeared as a boy clothed in green, others saw him dressed in white, while to others he appeared mounted on a black horse. After delivering a mock sermon, he held a court at which the witches had to make a full statement of their doings during the week. Those who had not accomplished sufficient "evil" were beaten with their own broomsticks, while those who had been more successful were rewarded with enchanted bones. The proceedings finished with a dance, the music to which the fiend played on his bagpipes.

The poet Robert Burns in his Tale of Tam o'Shanter gave a graphic description of a witches' gathering. There were great annual gatherings at Candlemas (February 2), Beltane (April 30), and Hallow-eve (October 31). These were of an international character and the witch sisterhood of all nations assembled, those who had to cross the sea performing the journey in barges of eggshell, while their aerial journeys were on goblin horses with enchanted bridles.

Laws Against Witchcraft

Through the confessions extracted from accused witches, guided by the fantasies about witchcraft in the several manuals that circulated through Europe beginning late in the fifteenth century, a picture of witchcraft was constructed and then promulgated into a society that still strongly believed in the powers of supernatural magic. In response to the fear of sorcerers and witches, the government passed laws outlawing their reported activities. In Scotland, less than a century after the redefinition of witchcraft as apostasy by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1480s, the first witchcraft law was enacted in the form of statute passed in 1563 in the Parliament of Queen Mary. It read (in the now archaic English of the time),

"That na maner of person nor persons of quhatsumever estaite, degree or condition they be of, take upon hand in onie times hereafter to use onie maner of witchcraft, sorcerie, or necromancie, under the paine of death, alsweil to be execute against the user, abuser, as the seeker of the response of consultation."

Scottish Catholics then accused Protestant reformer John Knox of being a renowned wizard and having by sorcery raised up saints in the churchyard of St. Andrews, when Satan himself was said to have appeared and so terrified Knox's secretary that he became insane and died. Knox was also charged with using his magical arts in his old age to persuade the beautiful young daughter of Lord Ochiltree to marry him.

There were numerous trials for witchcraft in the Justiciary Court in Edinburgh and at the circuit courts, while session records preserved from churches all over Scotland also show that numerous cases were dealt with by local authorities and church officials.

C. Rodgers, in his book Social Life in Scotland, (3 vols., 1884-86) states:

"From the year 1479 when the first capital sentence was carried out thirty thousand persons had on the charge of using enchantment been in Great Britain cruelly immolated; of these one fourth belonged to Scotland. No inconsiderable number of those who suffered on the charge of sorcery laid claim to necromantic acts with intents felonious or unworthy."

When James VI of Scotland in the year 1603 was called upon to ascend the throne of Great Britain and Ireland (as James I), his own native kingdom was in a rather curious condition. James himself was a man of considerable learning, intimate with Latin and theology, while his book, Daemonologie marks him as a person completely absorbed in the supernatural. Moreover while education and even scholarship were comparatively common at this date in Scotland (more common in fact than they were in contemporary England ), the great mass of Scottish people shared abundantly their sovereign's dread of witches and sorcery. The efforts of Knox and his associates had brought about momentous changes in Scottish life, but if the Reformation rejected certain popular beliefs, Presbyterianism (the particular form of Protestant Christianity that came to power in Scotland) undoubtedly tended to introduce others. For that stern Calvinistic faith that now began to take root in Scotland nourished the idea that sickness and accident were a mark of divine anger. This theory did not cease to be common in the north till long after King James' day.

King James mentioned few precise facts concerning the practitioners of magic who were said to flourish in Scotland during his reign. But other sources of information claimed that these people were very numerous, and whereas in Elizabethan England it was customary to put a witch to death by hanging, in Jacobean Scotland magistrates employed harsher measures. In fact, the victim was burned at the stake, and it is interesting to note that on North Berwick Law, in the county of East Lothian, there is a tall stone that, according to local tradition, was formerly used as a site for such burnings.

Yet it would be wrong to suppose that witches and sorcerers, although handled roughly, were regarded with universal hatred, for in seventeenth-century Scotland medicine and magic went hand in hand, and the man suffering from a physical malady (particularly one whose cause he could not understand) very seldom entrusted himself to a professional leech (a physician whose medical technique was the placement of bloodsucking leeches on the patient's body) and much preferred to consult one who claimed healing capacities derived from intercourse with the unseen world.

Sorcerers, however, were generally also experts in the art of poisoning, and while a good many cures are credited to them, their triumphs in the opposite direction would seem to have been much more numerous. Thus we find that in July 1702, a certain James Reid of Musselburgh was brought to trial, being charged not merely with achieving miraculous cures, but with contriving the murder of one David Libbertoun, a baker in Edinburgh. This Libbertoun and his family, it transpired, were sworn enemies of a neighboring household, by the name of Christie, and eventually their feud grew as fierce as that between the Montagues and Capulets. The Christies swore they would bring things to a conclusion, and going to Reid they petitioned his nefarious aid.

His first act was to bewitch nine stones, these to be cast on the fields of the offending baker with a view to destroying his crops. Reid then proceeded to enchant a piece of raw flesh and also to make a statuette of wax. The nature of the design is not recorded, but presumably Libbertoun himself was represented. Mrs. Christie was instructed to thrust the meat under her enemy's door, and then to go home and melt the waxwork before her own fire. These instructions she duly obeyed, and a little later the victim breathed his last. Reid did not escape justice and after his trial suffered the usual fate of being burned alive.

Isobel Griersone, a Prestonpans woman who was burned to death on the Castle Rock, Edinburgh, in March 1607, had a record of poisonings rivalling that of Cellini himself, and it is even recorded that she contrived to put an end to several people simply by cursing them.

Equally sinister were the exploits of another sorceress, Belgis Todd of Longniddry, who was reported to have brought about the death of a man she hated just by enchanting his cat. This picturesque method was scorned by notorious Perthshire witch Janet Irwing, who in about the year 1610 poisoned various members of the family of Erskine of Dun, in the county of Angus. The criminal was eventually detected and suffered the usual fate.

The wife of John Dein, a burgess of Irvine, conceived a violent aversion for her brother-in-law, Archibald, and on one occasion, when the latter was setting out for France, Margaret hurled imprecations at his ship, vowing none of its crew or passengers would ever return to their native Scotland. Months went by, and no word of Archibald's arrival reached Irvine, until one day a peddler named Stewart came to John Dein's house and declared that the baneful prophecy had been duly fulfilled.

Learning of the affair, municipal authorities arrested Stewart, whom they had long suspected of practicing magic. At first he confessed innocence, but under torture he confessed how, along with Margaret Dein, he had made a clay model of the illstarred ship, and thrown this into the sea on a particularly stormy night. His audience was horrified at the news, but they hastened to lay hands on the sorceress, whereupon they dealt with her as noted above.

No doubt the witches of Jacobean Scotland were credited with triumphs far greater than what they really achieved. At the same time, a number of the accused sorcerers firmly maintained, when confronted by a terrible death, that they had been initiated in their craft by the devil himself, or perhaps by a band of fairies. It is not surprising that they were dreaded by the simple, illiterate folk of their day, and, musing on these facts, we may feel less amazed at the credulity displayed by King James, who declared that all sorcerers "ought to be put to death according to the law of God, the civill and imperiale Law, and municipall Law of all Christian nations."

The last execution of a witch in Scotland took place in Sutherland in 1722. An old woman residing at Loth was charged, among other crimes, with having transformed her daughter into a pony, shod by the devil, which caused the girl to turn lame both in hands and feet. Sentence of death was pronounced by Captain David Ross, the Sheriff-substitute. C. Rodgers relates: "The poor creature when led to the stake was unconscious of the stir made on her account, and warming her wrinkled hands at the fire kindled to consume her, said she was thankful for so good a blaze. For his rashness in pronouncing the sentence of death, the Sheriff was emphatically reproved."

In more recent centuries witchcraft has been dealt with under laws pertaining to rogues, vagabonds, gamesters, and practitioners of fortune-telling.

Magic and Demonology

Magic appears to have been common in Scotland until a late period. In the pages of Adamnan, Abbot of Iona (ca. 625-704C.E.), St. Columba and his priest regarded the Druids as magicians, and he countered their sorcery with what was believed to be a superior celestial magic of his own. Thus does the religion of one race become magic in the eyes of another.

Notices of sorcery in Scotland before the thirteenth century are scanty, if we except the tradition that Macbeth encountered three witches who prophesied his fate to him. There is no reason to believe that Thomas the Rhymer (who was endowed by later superstition with adventures similar to those of Tannhauser) was really other than a minstrel and maker of epigrams, or that Sir Michael Scott was other than a scholar and man of letters.

The rhymed fragment known as "The Cursing of Sir John Rowil," by a priest of Corstorphine, near Edinburgh, which dates perhaps from the last quarter of the fifteenth century, provides a glimpse of medieval Scottish demonology. The poem is an invective against certain persons who rifled his poultry-yard, upon whom the priest called down divine vengeance. The demons who were to torment the evildoers were Garog, Harog, Sym Skynar, Devetinus "the devill that maid the dyce," Firemouth, Cokadame, Tutivillus, Browny, and Syr Garnega, who may be the same as Girnigo, to whom cross children are often likened by angry mothers of the Scottish working classes. The Scottish verb, "to girn" (to pull grotesque faces or grin), may find its origin in the name of a medieval fiend, the last shadow of some Teutonic or Celtic deity of unlovable attributes.

In Sym Skynar, we may have Skyrnir, a Norse giant in whose glove Thor found shelter from an earthquake, and who sadly fooled him and his companions. Skyrnir was one of the Jotunn or Norse Titans, and probably one of the powers of winter, and he may have received the popular surname of "Sym" in the same manner as we speak of "Jack" Frost.

A great deal has still to be done in unearthing the minor figures of Scottish mythology and demonology, and even the greater ones have not received the attention due to them. For example, in Newhaven, a fishing district near Edinburgh, we find the belief in a fiend called Brounger, who is described as an old man who levies a toll of fish and oysters upon the local fishermen. If he is not placated with these, he wreaks vengeance on the persons who fail to supply him. He is also described as "a Flint and the son of a Flint," which strongly suggests that, like Thor and many other gods of Asia and America, he was a thunder or weather deity. In fact his name is probably a mere corruption of an ancient Scandinavian word meaning "to strike," which still survives in the Scottish expression "make a breenge."

With regard to practical magic, a terrifying and picturesque legend tells how Sir Lewis Bellenden, a lord of session and superior of the Barony of Broughton, near Edinburgh, succeeded by the aid of a sorcerer in raising the devil in the backyard of his own house in the Canongate, somewhere around the end of the sixteenth century. Bellenden was a notorious trafficker with witches, with whom his barony of Broughton was reportedly overrun. Wanting to see the devil in person, he secured the services of one Richard Graham. The results of the evocation were disastrous to the inquisitive judge, whose nerves were so shattered at the devil's appearance that he fell ill and soon expired.

The case of Major Thomas Weir in 1670 is one of the most interesting in the annals of Scottish sorcery. Master storyteller Sir Walter Scott recounts the major aspects of the curious occurrence:

"It is certain that no story of witchcraft or necromancy, so many of which occurred near and in Edinburgh, made such a lasting impression on the public mind as that of Major Weir. The remains of the house in which he and his sister lived are still shown at the head of the West Bow, which has a gloomy aspect, well suited for a necromancer. It was, at different times, a brazier's shop and a magazine for lint, and in my younger days was employed for the latter use; but no family would inhabit the haunted walls as a residence; and bold was the urchin from the High School who dared approach the gloomy ruin at the risk of seeing the Major's enchanted staff parading through the old apartments, or hearing the hum of the necromantic wheel, which procured for his sister such a character as a spinner.

"The case of this notorious wizard was remarkable chiefly from his being a man of some condition (the son of a gentleman, and his mother a lady of family in Clydesdale), which was seldom the case with those that fell under similar accusations. It was also remarkable in his case that he had been a Covenanter, and peculiarly attached to that cause. In the years of the Commonwealth this man was trusted and employed by those who were then at the head of affairs, and was in 1649 commander of the City-Guard of Edinburgh, which procured him his title of Major. In this capacity he was understood, as was indeed implied in the duties of that officer at the period, to be very strict in executing severity upon such Royalists as fell under his military charge. It appears that the Major, with a maiden sister who had kept his house, was subject to fits of melancholic lunacy, an infirmity easily reconcilable with the formal pretences which he made to a high show of religious zeal. He was peculiar in his gift of prayer, and, as was the custom of the period, was often called to exercise his talent by the bedside of sick persons, until it came to be observed that, by some association, which it is more easy to conceive than to explain, he could not pray with the same warmth and fluency of expression unless when he had in his hand a stick of peculiar shape and appearance, which he generally walked with. It was noticed, in short, that when this stick was taken from him, his wit and talent appeared to forsake him.

"This Major Weir was seized by the magistrates on a strange whisper that became current respecting vile practices, which he seems to have admitted without either shame or contrition. The disgusting profligacies which he confessed were of such a character that it may be charitably hoped most of them were the fruits of a depraved imagination, though he appears to have been in many respects a wicked and criminal hypocrite. When he had completed his confession, he avowed solemnly that he had not confessed the hundredth part of the crimes which he had committed.

"From this time he would answer no interrogatory, nor would he have recourse to prayer, arguing that, as he had no hope whatever of escaping Satan, there was no need of incensing him by vain efforts at repentance. His witchcraft seems to have been taken for granted on his own confession, as his indictment was chiefly founded on the same document, in which he alleged he had never seen the devil, but any feeling he had of him was in the dark.

"He received sentence of death, which he suffered 12th April, 1670, at the Gallow-hill, between Leith and Edinburgh. He died so stupidly sullen and impenitent as to justify the opinion that he was oppressed with a kind of melancholy frenzy, the consequence perhaps of remorse, but such as urged him not to repent, but to despair. It seems probable that he was burnt alive.

"His sister, with whom he was supposed to have had an incestuous connection, was condemned also to death, leaving a stronger and more explicit testimony of their mutual sins than could be extracted from the Major. She gave, as usual, some account of her connection with the queen of the fairies, and acknowledged the assistance she received from that sovereign in spinning an unusual quantity of yarn. Of her brother she said that one day a friend called upon them at noonday with a fiery chariot, and invited them to visit a friend at Dalkeith, and that while there her brother received information of the event of the battle of Worcester. No one saw the style of their equipage except themselves.

"On the scaffold this woman, determining, as she said, to die with the greatest shame possible was with difficulty prevented from throwing off her clothing before the people, and with scarce less trouble was she flung from the ladder by the executioner. Her last words were in the tone of the sect to which her brother had so long affected to belong: 'Many,' she said, 'weep and lament for a poor old wretch like me; but alas, few are weeping for a broken covenant.' "


While fearful of sorcery and witchcraft, James IV was attracted to the science of alchemy. The poet William Dunbar described the patronage the king bestowed upon certain adventurers who had studied the mysteries of alchemy and were ingenious in making "quintiscence," which should convert other metals into pure gold. In the Treasurer's Accounts there are numerous payments for the "quinta essentia," including wages to the persons employed, utensils of various kinds, coals and wood for the furnaces, and for a variety of other materials such as quicksilver, aqua vitae, litharge, auri, fine tin, burnt silver, alum, salt and eggs, and saltpeter.

The Scottish monarch appears to have collected around him a multitude of quacks of all sorts for mention is made of "the leech with the curland hair," of "the lang Dutch doctor," of one Fullertone, who was believed to possess the secret of making precious stones, of a Dr. Ogilvy who labored hard at the transmutation of metals, and many other empirics, whom James not only supported in their experiments, but himself assisted in their laboratory. The most noted of these adventurers was Master John Damian, the French Leich. He probably held an appointment as a physician in the royal household.

John soon ingratiated himself with the king, who had a strong passion for alchemy. He remained in James's favor throughout the rest of his life, the last notice given to him being on March 27, 1513, when the sum of £20 was paid to him to travel to the mine in Crawford Moor, where the king had artisans at work searching for gold.

From the reign of James IV to that of Mary Stuart, no magician or alchemical practitioner of note appears to have existed in Scotland, and in the reign of James VI, too great a severity was exhibited against such to permit them to avow themselves publicly. In the reign of James VI, however, lived the celebrated Alexander Seton of Port Seton near Edinburgh, known abroad as "The Cosmopolite," who is said to have succeeded in achieving the transmutation of metals.

Magic and Religion in the Scottish Highlands

Pagan Scotland appears to have been lacking in benevolent deities. Those representatives of the spirit world who were on friendly terms with mankind were either held captive by magic spells or had some sinister object in view which caused them to act with the most plausible duplicity. The chief demon or deity (one hesitates which to call her) was a one-eyed hag who had tusks like a wild boar. She was referred to in folk tales as "the old wife" (Cailleach), "Grey Eyebrows," or "the Yellow Muitearteach," and reputed to be a great worker of spells. Apparently she figured in a lost creation myth, for fragmentary accounts survive of how she fashioned the hills, brought lochs into existence, and caused whirlpools. Echoes of this boar-like hag survive in folk ballads of "Old Bangum" and "Sir Lionel" (Child No. 18), prefigured in ancient Hindu legends of the god Vishnu as the giant boar Vahara.

The hag was a lover of darkness, desolations, and winter. With her hammer she alternately splintered mountains, prevented the growth of grass, and raised storms. Numerous wild animals followed her, including deer, goats, and wild boars. When one of her sons was thwarted in his love affairs by her, he transformed her into a mountain boulder "looking over the sea," a form she retained during the summer. She was liberated again on the approach of winter. During the spring months, the hag drowned fishermen and preyed on the food supply; she also stole children and roasted them in her cave.

Her progeny included a brood of monstrous giants, each with several heads and arms. These were continually operating against mankind, throwing down houses, abducting women, and destroying growing crops. Heroes who fought against them required the assistance of a witch who was called the "Wise Woman," from whom they obtained magic wands.

The witch of Scottish folk tales is the "friend of man" and her profession was evidently regarded in ancient times as a highly honorable one. Wizards also enjoyed high repute; they were the witch-doctors, priests, and magicians of the Scottish Pagans, and it was not until the sixteenth century that legal steps were taken to suppress them in the Highland districts.

There seems to have been no sun-worship or moon-worship in Scotland, for neither sun nor moon was individualized in the Gaelic language; these bodies, however, were reputed to exercise a magical influence. The moon especially was a "Magic Tank," from which supplies of power were drawn by those capable of performing requisite ceremonies. This practice has been revived by modern neo-pagan witches in the ritual referred to as "drawing down the moon."

But although there appear to have been no lunar or solar spirits, there were numerous earth and water spirits. The "water wife," like the English "mer wife," (see mermaids ), was a greatly dreaded being who greedily devoured victims. She must not be confused with the banshee, that Fate whose chief business it was to foretell disasters, either by washing bloodstained garments or knocking on a certain boulder beside the river.

The water wife usually confronted a late traveler at a ford. She claimed him as her own, and if he disputed her claim she asked what weapons he had to use against her. The unwary one named each in turn, and when he did so, the power to harm her passed away. One story of this character is as follows:

"The wife rose up against the smith who rode his horse, and she said, 'I have you: what have you against me?' 'My sword,' the man answered. 'I have that,' she said, 'what else?' 'My shield,' the man said. 'I have that and you are mine.' 'But,' protested the man, 'I have something else.' 'What is that?' the water wife demanded. To this question the cautious smith answered, 'I have the long, grey, sharp thing at my thigh.' This was his dirk, and not having named it, he was able to make use of it. As he spoke he flung his plaid round the water wife and lifted her up on his horse behind him. Enclosed in the magic circle she was powerless to harm him, and he rode home with her, deaf to her entreaties and promises.

"He took her to his smithy and tied her to the anvil. That night, her brood came to release her. They raised a tempest and tore the roof off the smithy, but the smith defied them. When day dawned they had to retreat. Then he bargained with the water wife, and she consented that if he would release her, neither he nor any of his descendants should ever be drowned in any three rivers he might name. He named three and received her promise, but as she made her escape she reminded him of a fourth river. 'It is mine still,' she added. In that particular river the smith himself ultimately perished."

Ever since, fishermen have not liked to name either the fish they desire to procure or those that prey on their catches. Haddocks are "white bellies," salmon "red ones," and the dog-fish "the big black fellow." It is also regarded as unlucky to name a minister, or refer to Sunday, in a fishing boata fact that suggests that in early Christian times fishermen might be pious churchmen on land but continued to practice paganism when they went to sea, like the Icelandic Norsemen who believed that Christ ruled their island, and Thor the ocean. Fairies must not be named on Fridays, at Halloween, or on Beltane (May Day) when charm fires were lit.

Earth worship, or rather the propitiation of earth spirits, was a prominent feature of Scottish paganism. There too magic played a leading role. Compacts were confirmed by swearing over a piece of turf, certain moors or mounds were set apart for ceremonial practices, and these were visited for the performance of child-procuring and other ceremonies, which were performed at a standing stone.

In cases of sickness, a divination cake was baked and left at a sacred place: If it disappeared during the night, the patient was supposed to recover, if it remained untouched until the following morning it was believed that the patient would die.

Offerings were constantly made to the earth spirits. In a witch trial recorded in Humbie Kirk Session Register (September 23, 1649) one Agnes Gourlay was accused of having made offerings of milk, saying, "God preserve us too; they are under the earth that have as much need of it as they that are above the earth."

The milk poured out upon the earth at magical ceremonies was supposed to go to the fairies. "Gruagach" stones survived into relatively modern times in the Highlands. These were flat stones with deep "cup" marks. After a cow was milked, the milker poured into a hole the portion of milk required by the Gruagach, a long-haired spirit who is usually "dressed like a gentleman." If no offering was given to him, the cream would not rise on the milk, or even if it did, the churning would be a failure. There are interesting records in the Presbytery records of Dingwall, Ross-shire, regarding the prevalence of milk pouring and other ceremonies during the seventeenth century.

The seer was usually wrapped in the skin of a sacrificed bull and left lying all night beside the river. He was visited by supernatural beings in the darkness and obtained answers regarding future events. Another and horrifying way to perform this divination ceremony was to roast a live cat. The cat was turned on a spit until the "Big Cat" (the devil) appeared and either granted the wish of the performer of the ceremony, or foretold what was to take place in answer to a query. In the twentieth century, there are still memories of traditional beliefs regarding witchcraft, fairies, the evil eye, second sight, and magical charms to cure or injure.

Individuals, domesticated animals, and dwellings were charmed against witchcraft by iron and certain herbs or berries. The evil eye influence was dispelled by drinking "water of silver" from a wooden bowl or ladle. The water was taken from a river or well of high repute, silver placed in it, then a charm repeated. When it had been passed over a fire, the victim was given it to drink and what remained was sprinkled around the hearth-stone with a ceremony that varied according to district.

Curative charms were handed down in families from a male to a female and a female to a male. Blood-stopping charms were regarded with great sanctity and the most persistent folklore collectors were unable to obtain them from those who were reported to be able to use these with effect.

Accounts were given of "blood-stopping" from a distance. Although the possessor of the power usually had a traditional charm, he or she rarely used it without also praying. Some Highland doctors testified in private to the wonderful effects of "blood-stopping" operations. In relatively recent times, a medical officer of Inverness-shire stated in his official report to the county council that he was watching with interest the operations of "King's Evil Curers," who still enjoyed great repute in the Western Isles. These were usually seventh sons.

Second sight, like the power to cure and stop blood, runs in families. There is scarcely a parish in the Scottish Highlands without a family in which one or more individuals are reputed to have occult powers. Some had visions, either while awake or asleep. Others heard ominous sounds on occasions and were able to understand what they signified. Certain individuals confessed, but with no appreciation of the faculty, that they were sometimes able to foretell that a person was likely to die soon.

Two instances of this kind may be cited. A younger brother caught a chill. When an elder brother visited him, he knew at once that the young man would die soon, and communicated a statement to that effect to a mutual friend. According to medical opinion, the patient, who was not confined to bed, was in no danger, but three months afterward, he developed serious symptoms and died suddenly. When news of the death was communicated to the elder brother, he had a temporary illness.

The same individual met a gentleman in a friend's house and had a similar experience; he "felt," he could not explain how, that this man was near death. On two occasions within the following week he questioned the gentleman's daughter regarding her father's health and was informed that he was "as usual." The daughter was surprised at the inquiries. Two days after this meeting, the gentleman in question expired suddenly while sitting in his chair.

Again the individual, on hearing of the death, had a brief but distressing illness, with symptoms usually associated with shock. The mother of this man had a similar faculty. On several occasions she saw lights. One day during the Boer War, an officer passing her door bade her goodbye, since he had been ordered to South Africa. She said, "He will either be slain or come back deformed," and turned ill immediately. A few months later the officer was wounded in the lower jaw with a bullet and returned home with his face much deformed.

The faculty of second sight manifests itself in various ways, as these instances show, and evidence that it is possessed by individuals may occur only once or twice in a lifetime. There are cases, however, in which it is constantly active. Those reputed to have the faculty are most reticent regarding it and appear to dread it.

At the close of the nineteenth century, "tow-charms" to cure sprains and bruises were sold in a well-known Highland town by a woman who muttered a metrical spell over each magic knot she tied as the afflicted part was treated by her. She had numerous patients among all classes. Bone-setters (the precursors of modern chiropractors) enjoyed high repute in some localities. In modern memory a public presentation was made to a Ross-shire bone-setter in recognition of his life-long services to the community. His faculty was inherited from his forbears.

Numerous instances may be gleaned in the Highlands of the appearance of the spirits of the living and the dead. The appearance of the spirit of a living person is said to be a sure indication of the approaching death of that individual. It is never seen by a member of the family, but appears to intimate friends. Sometimes it speaks and gives indication of the fate of some other mutual acquaintance.

The Supernatural in Scottish Fiction

While Sir Walter Scott frequently introduced supernatural traditions into his novels and poems, and writers like Robert Louis Stevenson published powerful stories on occult subjects (see fiction, English occult ), the magical and supernatural stories of the land go back to the ancient balladry of Scotland. Many of the 305 ballads collected and classified by Francis James Child (regarded as definitive in its time) echo ancient stories and beliefs from a magical past. Some of these themes seem to have descended from Scandinavian balladry.

From Folklore to Psychical Research

The study of Scottish occultism was begun by the collectors of folklore. Among the earliest was the Reverend Robert Kirk, whose The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, (written in 1691, but not published until 1815) reads like an anthropologist's report on a foreign country. The work is precise in its descriptions of fairy life and customs, and some believed that Kirk himself became a prisoner of the fairies.

Among Scottish folklorists whose research preserved ancient legends and magical traditions, the most prominent was John Francis Campbell of Islay (1822-1885). His great collection, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Orally Collected (4 vols., 1860-62), achieved for Scotland what Jacob Grimm had done for the Household Tales of Europe. Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912) collaborated with Campbell and preserved the ancient Gaelic culture in his collection Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations, With Illustrated Notes in Words, Rites, and Customs, Dying and Obsolete, Orally Collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (2 vols., 1900).

The versatile genius Andrew Lang (1844-1912) published over fifty major works concerned with poetry, book collecting, classical studies, Scottish history, English literature, anthropology, folklore, and fairy tales. Lang was a founder-member and later president of both the Society for Psychical Research, and the Folk-Lore Society. Lang was one of the earliest writers on psychical research to collate modern phenomena with the traditions and beliefs of ancient peoples, and his knowledge in this wide field was encyclopedic. He noted, for example, in regard to reports of crystal gazing that he found it difficult to understand why as long as such things rested only on tradition, they were a matter of respectable folklore, but whenever contemporary evidence was produced, folklorists dropped the subject hastily.

In 1897, he published The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, in which he collated stories from all ages dealing with the whole field of the supernatural, including uncanny dreams, hauntings, bilocation, crystal gazing, animal ghosts, and poltergeists. His classic study, Cock Lane and Common-Sense (1894), reviewed ancient spirit contact, haunted houses, the famous Cock Lane poltergeist of London in 1762, apparitions, ghosts, hallucinations, second sight, table-turning, and comparative psychical research.

Modern-day Scotland

In Scotland, the study of parapsychology has become a degree-bestowing science. Noted writer and critic Arthur Koestler provided in his will the establishment of an endowed Chair of Parapsychology at a British University. His intention was to further objective scientific research into "the capacity attributed to some individuals to interact with their environment by means other than the recognised sensory and motor channels." Following Koestler's death in 1982, his trustees advertised the post and in 1984 awarded the Chair to the University of Edinburgh. Today, The University of Edinburgh's Koestler Parapsychology Unit, a part of the Department of Psychology, offers a doctorate program in parapsychology and publishes the European Journal of Parapsychology. Similarly, St. Andrews University has also offered courses in parapsychology.

Scotland remains famous for its ghost tales and haunted dwellings, with the natives proud to quip that "ghostly spirits are second only to the drinkable kind in the hearts of Highlanders." Cities such as Edinburgh offer organized ghost walks and haunted tours through selected castles and ancient hotels. Ghostly notoriety is shared among spectors of famous as well as common folk, male and female, young and old. It is the spirit of Mary Queen of Scots that seems to be the most prevalent among Highland haunters. The queen's spiritual presence has reportedly appeared in nearly every castle she visited during her life. In addition to ghost tours for mortal visitors to Scotland, interested parties can learn more about Scottish hauntings at web sites devoted to the subject, as well as the bimonthly magazine, Haunted Scotland.


Black, George F. A Calendar of Cases of Witchcraft in Scotland 1510-1727. New York: New York Public Library, 1938.

Bliss, Douglas Percy, ed. The Devil in Scotland. London: Alexander MacLehose, 1937.

Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads. 4 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959-72.

Campbell, John F. Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Orally Collected. 4 vols. Edinburgh, 1860-62. Rev. ed. London and Paisley: Alexander Gardner, 1890-93. Reprint, Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1969.

Campbell, John L., and Trevor H. Hall. Strange Things: The Story of Fr. Allan McDonald, Ada Goodrich Freer, and the Society for Psychical Research's Enquiry into Highland Second Sight. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.

Carmichael, Alexander. Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations. 2 vols. 1900. 2nd ed. 5 vols. Edinburgh & London, 1928-54.

Chambers, Robert. Traditions of Edinburgh. N.p., 1825.

Child, Francis J. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. 5 vols. Boston, 1882-98. Reprint, Folklore Press; Pageant Book, 1957.

Davidson, Thomas. Rowan Tree and Red Thread. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1949.

Ferguson, John. Witchcraft Literature of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Papers, 1899.

Ghosts of Scotland. June 19, 2000.

James I. Daemonologie. Edinburgh, 1597. Reprint, London, 1603. Reprint, London: John Lane/New York: E. P. Dutton, 1924.

Kirk, Robert. The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Edinburgh, 1815. Reprint, Stirling, Scotland: Eaneas Mackay, 1933.

Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K. June 19, 2000.

Lang, Andrew. The Book of Dreams and Ghosts. London, 1897. Reprint, New York: Causeway Books, 1974. Lowry, Betty. "Scotland's Lady Ghost Scream in Shades of Gray and Green." The Denver Post. October 31, 1999. Pp. T03.

. Cock Lane and Common-Sense. London: Longmans, Green, 1894. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1970.

Macgregor, Alexander. Highland Superstitions Connected with the Druids, Fairies, Witchcraft, Second-Sight, Hallowe'en, Sacred Wells and Lochs. Stirling, Scotland: Eaneas Mackay, 1922.

. The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer. Stirling, Scotland: Eaneas Mackay, 1935.

Maclagan, Robert Craig. The Evil Eye in the Western Highlands. London: David Nutt, 1902. Reprint, U.K.: E. P. Publishing, 1972. Reprint, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1973.

MacLeod, Nicholas A. Scottish Witchcraft. St. Ives, England: James Pike, 1975.

Macrae, Norman, ed. Highland Second-Sight: With Prophecies of Conneach Odhar of Petty. Dingwall, Scotland: G. Souter, 1908. Reprint, Norwood, Pa., 1972.

McNeill. F. Marian. Scottish Folklore and Folk-Belief. Glasgow: William Maclellan, 1957.

Scott, Sir Walter. Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. London, 1830. Reprint, New York, 1831.

Sharpe, Charles Kirkpatrick. Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland. N.p., 1819.

Sinclair, George. Satan's Invisible World Discovered. Edinburgh, 1685. Reprint, Edinburgh: Thomas G. Stevenson, 1865.

Sutherland, Elizabeth. Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight. London: Constable, 1986.

Thompson, Francis. The Supernatural Highlands. London: Robert Hale, 1976.


views updated Jun 27 2018



Scottish or Scots; Scotch is considered antiquated and belittling.

Alternative Names

Historically, Scotland was referred to as Caledonia and by the Gaelic name Alba.


Identification. An imaginary line running roughly from Aberdeen to Glasgow separates the Highlands in the north and west from the Lowlands in the south and east. This line still distinguishes a more Gaelic and rurally oriented Highland cultural sphere from a more hybrid and urban Lowland culture. Gaelic traditions and language are strongest on the northwest coast, especially in the Hebridean Islands. The Northern Islands, Orkney and Shetland, with strong historical ties to Norway, are culturally distinct from the Highlands. To the south, the heavily urbanized Central Belt encompasses Dundee, Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Stirling, Paisley, and Glasgow. The premier cities of Edinburgh in the east and Glasgow in the west embody important cultural contrasts and antagonisms within this urban frame. The more mountainous Borders region to the south and east of this belt is more rural. There is population flow between Scotland and England and between Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. There is a small Asian Muslim community.

Location and Geography. Scotland occupies approximately the northern third of the United Kingdom's (UK) mainland, encompassing 7.5 million hectares. The area of Scotland is 29,795 square miles (77,168 square kilometers). The climate is cool, wet, and often windy. Much land in the Highlands and Borders is rugged and difficult to cultivate, but the Lowlands and parts of the Borders include prime agricultural land. Scotland is surrounded by the North Sea, offering fish, oil and natural gas, and potentially tidal and wave power.

Demography. In 1997, the population was 5,122,500, with over 3 million persons in the Central Belt. This distribution shows the effects of rural depopulation, especially during the "Highland Clearances" (c. 17901830), when landlords forced tenants off their land to modernize the economy, especially through sheep raising. Some tenants were resettled in coastal villages and encouraged to supplement farming with fishing, linen weaving, and kelp manufacture, while many others migrated to the Central Belt or emigrated abroad. Industrialization led to massive urbanization in the nineteenth century during which the population increased from around 1.5 million to 4.5 million, with the growth concentrated in and around Glasgow. Immigrants from the Highlands and Ireland played a major role in this growth. Today there are around sixty-five thousand native Gaelic speakers. There are approximately twenty thousand Pakistanis, ten thousand Indians, ten thousand Chinese, six thousand blacks (Africa, Caribbean, other), four thousand five hundred "other" Asians, one thousand one hundred Bangladeshis, and eight thousand five hundred from other ethnic groups. There are many people of Italian and Polish extraction. People raised in Scotland will often identify as Scottish, regardless of non-Scottish ancestry.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Gaelic spoken in Scotland derives from Q-Celtic. Only a portion of the Highland-Island population speaks it as a first language in a bilingual milieu, although those areas have bilingual education and road signs and Gaelic newspapers. Major governmental policy statements and the slogans and publications of political parties are translated into Gaelic.

Scots is a cognate of modern English with a strong Danish influence. Borrowings from Gaelic, Norse, and Norman French have created a diverse patchwork of regional dialects. However, extensive interactions with English and the urban mixture of regional dialects have yielded a Scots to Scottish-English continuum. Scots can be used situationally to emphasize cultural and political identification.

Symbolism. Dominant national symbols evidence a growing demand for political devolution and/or independence. The imagery stemming from the Wars of Independence (12961371) produced national heroes such as William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The images of the Scottish thistle, the lion rampant, and the Saint Andrew's cross (Saltire) on the national flags come from that period. Symbols that evoke the past of the Highlands include the system of clan tartans and bagpipes. Those images were incorporated into Scotland's modern martial traditions through the Highland regiments in the British Army. A third strain emphasizes Lowland Protestant political history since the Reformation, revolving around the national Presbyterian Church (the "Kirk"). Images of the national covenants from the seventeenth century protesting against interference in Scottish religious affairs are often invoked. The fortunes of the national soccer teams and the dramatic landscape are heavily invested with national meaning.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. In the eleventh century, the Scottish kingdom was a politico-ethnic patchwork of Scots, Picts, Angles, and Britons. Under Anglo-Norman feudal institutions, many cities were founded, often populated by Flemish, Norman, English, and Scandinavian immigrants recruited for craft and artisanal skills. These changes mark the growing cultural divergence between the Lowlands and the Highlands.

Between the late thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the political system became unstable and fragmented when the royal line died without a clear heir and rulership was contested, leading to the "Wars of Independence," during which the kings of England and rival Scottish noble houses competed for overlordship. The church went into a long decline, and urban growth set the stage for the Scottish Reformation (156067) and the establishment the Calvinist Kirk. Sustained in part by a new class alliance of lesser nobility (lairds), burghers, lawyers, and the ministers of the new Kirk, the authority of the Kirk spread rapidly throughout the Lowlands.

The links between Scotland and England were reinforced by dynastic strategy when King James VI of Scotland acquired the English throne as James I. The next century saw internecine religious war and a shift in power from the monarch and court to the parliaments. In 1707, the Scottish aristocracy agreed to a Union of the Scottish and English parliaments, securing Scotland's part in the coming British Empire. A crucial aspect of this treaty was the preservation of the autonomy of Scotland's Kirk, legal and educational systems, and organs of local government.

In its pre-Reformation conflicts with England, Scotland often sought an alliance with France. After 1707, aristocratic clan chiefs called Jacobites, with French assistance, attempted to reinstate the deposed Stuart royal line. The result of the defeat at the Battle of Culloden (1746) was the harsh oppression of Gaelic culture, including the outlawing of kilts, bagpipes, and the bearing of arms. The Highlands were treated by British and Scottish Lowland authorities as a culturally backward internal colony.

National Identity. Major processes shaping the national identity since 1707 have been Calvinist Protestantism, participation in the British Empire, a mixture of pride and shame involving the cultural and demographic decimation of the Highlands, the sense of a national working class, a weakening sense of attachment to the British Empire and Commonwealth, and an increasing orientation toward a larger European framework.

Ethnic Relations. Cultural tensions still exist between Catholics and Protestants and Highlanders and Lowlanders. However, the Labor Party has been a major force in integrating the Protestant and Catholic communities. There are ethnic tensions between the Scots and English in some areas over access to jobs and housing, and non-white Scots often encounter racism.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Coastal fishing villages are oriented around a bay or inlet, and farm towns usually have a central "high street." Larger market towns are more free form and often contain the ruins of a castle or abbey. Such towns generally have an old central core of small stone residences and shops.

After World War II, many "New Towns" were established as a response to urban decay in the Central Belt and a way to attract new "lighter" industries. Generally inland, they often have a central business district and recreational spaces surrounded by low-lying, semi-detached suburban housing estates.

Suburban sprawl surrounds the two major northern cities of Inverness and Aberdeen. Glasgow is oriented around the Firth of Clyde, the focus of the declining shipbuilding industry. Its architecture reflects the investments of shipping and tobacco magnates. In the 1980s and 1990s the decaying town center was redeveloped. The architecture of Edinburgh retains the central core of the medieval city. The Georgian New Town, planned and built on a rectilinear design from the late eighteenth century, became a residential alternative for the new upper and middle classes.

Interspersed within and outlying these major cities are turn-of-the-century tenements, new suburbs, and newer but decaying housing estates where unemployment often runs around 50 percent. The poor quality of housing is a major concern. Despite numerous parks and outdoor areas, inclement weather encourages indoor socializing. The numerous public houses are major sites for socializing outside the home.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The diet features prepared foods and an expanded choice of fruits and vegetables. Meals such as mince and tatties (ground beef and boiled or mashed potatoes) and homemade curries are common, along with take-out options. Scots are heavy consumers of sugar, chocolate, salt, and butter, but recently they have begun eating less meat and more fish, whole-meal bread, and vegetables.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions.

Whiskey often serves as a symbolic marker of special occasions. Christmas dinners tend to feature turkey, and haggis provides the centerpiece of the Burns Supper. There is also a strong baking tradition exemplified in tea room fare of fudges and scones.

Basic Economy. By 1900 the textile industry was eclipsed by heavy industries such as coal, iron, steel, engineering, and shipbuilding. Despite state support, the heavier industries have been in decline, increasingly being replaced by electronics and chemicals. Whiskey-making is a stable industry. Manufacturing's share of employment and gross domestic product (GDP) has declined, primarily replaced by the growth of services and the banking and financial sector. Tourism has stimulated the growth of the service sector. Agriculture makes only a modest contribution to employment and GDP. North Sea oil discovered in the early 1970s boosted the economy, but the development of cheaper sources elsewhere has halved production rates. There are chronically high unemployment rates. Manufacturing's share of employment and gross domestic product (GDP) has declined, primarily replaced by the growth of services in public administration and the banking and financial sector.

Land Tenure and Property. Formally, land ownership is still organized in a system of publicly registered feudal conveyances. Until the Succession Act (1964), male primogeniture governed land inheritance. In the 1970s, a process of phasing out feudal tenure and creating legal provision for direct title holding was begun, but there is pressure for the acceleration of land reform. Land ownership can be highly secretive and often is concentrated in a few absentee landlords. Recent moves by some local Highland and Island communities to "buy out" their owners and establish collective ownership have elicited widespread popular support. Historically, land issues have been particularly contentious in the Highlands.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Scotland has a high proportion of the UK's hereditary nobility. By the turn of the century, the landed gentry and the industrial bourgeoisie were developing complex patterns of intermarriage and corporate ownership. The current class structure reflects deindustrialization. The transformation of the classic industrial working class into a more varied series of manual and non-manual occupational segments has made the distinction between working class and middle class difficult. Severe poverty is concentrated in public housing estates in the major urban areas.

The Catholic community is largely Labour-voting and urban working class. The rural and urban working and middle classes are associated more with Presbyterian Protestantism, and the aristocracy has a historical association with the Episcopal Church.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Speech is a key marker of class. Several rural and urban working-class varieties of Scots coexist with rural and urban middle class varieties. Linguistic convergence with received pronunciation English is viewed as a sign of education and middle to upper class status.

There is a strong tendency for Scots to identify as working class despite occupations and levels of education that indicate a middle class status. Scotland has a social democratically inclined middle class with a strong sense of its roots in the industrial working class and the formation of the welfare state; there is a widespread belief that egalitarianism is inherent in the national culture.

Political Life

Government. Scotland is a nation within the multinational UK state, administratively distinct, with its own legislature. Since 1885, it has been administered through the Scottish Office, led by the secretary of state for Scotland, who is appointed by the UK Parliament. Beneath the Scottish Office are thirty-two local authorities that administer basic services, and a separate system of laws and courts. The Scotland Act of 1998 established the first modern parliament, which receives a yearly block grant from the UK treasury and has the power to vary the UK personal income tax rate. It legislates on health, education and training, local government, social work and housing, economic development and transport, law and home affairs, environment, agriculture, forestry and fishing, sport and the arts, and public registers and records. The UK Parliament retains power over defense, foreign affairs, central economic planning (including business taxation), social security, and immigration. The one hundred twenty-nine ministers to the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are elected for fixed four-year terms through a system combining proportional representation and popular election. The first parliament included representatives from six parties and was 37 percent female.

Leadership and Political Officials. The thirty-two local authorities are coordinated through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), which has been increasingly Labour-dominated and includes large urban authorities with a "party machine" style of local politics. The Conservative Party is stronger in rural agricultural regions. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has rural and urban support but has had more success in rural areas. Because of its size and dominance, the Labour Party is more bureacratized than are the SNP, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. The SNP, limited to Scotland, has been more informal and less professionalized.

Despite internal dissent, Labour has supported Scottish devolution since the 1980s. The SNP is a left-of-center social democratic party to the left of Labour. It supports full national independence for Scotland as a member of the European Union. The Conservatives lost control of all UK parliamentary seats in Scotland in 1997. Many Scottish Conservatives support moderate devolution and rejected the party's traditional resistance to constitutional change. The Liberal Democrats have maintained a commitment to federalism in Britain for over a hundred years. They tend to be liberal on both social and economic issues, though they favor more state intervention than do the Conservatives. Although small, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens managed to get one representative each elected to the parliament.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system combines civilian and common law traditions. Law is based on judge-made precedents, authoritative legal texts, and legislation. Judgments are made by a judge or a simple majority of a fifteen-member jury, depending on the magnitude of the crime. There are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and "not proven," meaning the jury suspects guilt, but the evidence is not sufficient to warrant a guilty verdict. The courts are divided into civil and criminal systems, with overlapping judges. The highest civil court of appeal is the UK House of Lords, and for criminal cases it is the High Court of Criminal Appeal, which is Scottish. There are specialized tribunals presided over by laypersons and specialists to adjudicate minor juvenile offenses and industrial disputes. The former, called Children's Hearings, are primarily welfare-based rather than punitive. There is system of legal aid combined with various bodies that offer legal advice.

Drugs, especially heroin, and drug-related crime are a problem in larger cities. Police report an increasing frequency of fraud, auto theft, and violent crimes involving guns. Drunk driving has been reduced, and the use of a designated driver has become a common practice. There has been an effort to raise awareness of domestic violence against women.

Military Activity. Militarism has been an important stimulus for industry. Scotland was called "a landlocked aircraft carrier" because of its role as part of NATO's forward defense strategy during the Cold War. The nuclear presence has been reduced by popular anti-nuclear, anti-war pressures and a new NATO strategy oriented toward smaller-scale, non-nuclear capabilities. In the early 1990s around twenty-two thousand servicepersons were based in Scotland. However, restructuring of the military and related industries is leading to reductions in military jobs.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Beyond the government, Scottish life is managed through a network of Scottish- and UK-based Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs, sometimes called "quangos") whose members are appointed and are responsible for various aspects of public spending and administration. Those concerned solely with Scotland are now accountable to the Executive of the new Parliament, while most cross-border public bodies are accountable to both the Scottish and UK parliaments. Most have executive or advisory functions, often linked to the National Health Service. Those responsible for local spending are concerned with education, local enterprise, and housing.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

In the civil society, important players include the major churches (Church of Scotland, Catholic, and Episcopal), which often coordinate their efforts through ACTS (Action Together by Churches in Scotland), the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the Confederation of British Industry (Scottish branch), the Scottish Federation of Small Businesses, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organizations, other professional associations, interest groups, and around forty thousand smaller bodies concerned with the general public benefit. The political parties and COSLA mediate between civil society and the government. In conjunction with the political parties and campaigning groups, this network (with the general exception of business-oriented bodies) was crucial in achieving constitutional change in the late 1990s.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women are beginning to outstrip men as a percentage of total employees. Scottish machismo, bolstered by laborism, Calvinism, militarism, and soccer is adjusting to a world where the association of women with domesticity and reproduction and men with public life and paid employment are weakening. However, life chances are far from equal. Men far outnumber women in elected political offices, the legal profession, and managerial and administrative positions in business. Women earn 72 percent of what men earn on average, and are concentrated in certain economic sectors (shops, hotels, financial and business services, education, health, and social work) and the voluntary sector. Subject choices by sex in education suggest that gendered work expectations endure, with construction, engineering, manufacture and production, and transport being over-whelmingly male and personal care, office and secretarial, and social work overwhelmingly female.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Men and women are notionally equal, but there is still room for reform. The feminist movement has opposed sex discrimination, fought to ensure greater participation by women in the new parliament, and had some success heightening awareness about violence against women. Still, many young men and women consider it acceptable to hit a woman or force her to have sex in certain circumstances. Women, especially as single parents and pensioners, are more vulnerable to poverty than men are, and the vast majority of single parents with dependent children are women.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Over a third of marriages are civil rather than religious. Scots law requires that marriages be monogamous and be between consenting adults (over age 16) and provides for the recognition of marriage "by habit and repute."

Traditional weddings take place on Friday or Saturday, with the groom in formal attire (often kilted) and the bride usually in white, forbidden to see the groom until the ceremony. Weddings normally are conducted near the bride's home. The bride enters last and is "given away" by her father or a senior male relative. Divorce can be obtained on the bases of adultery, intolerable behavior, desertion, and de facto separation.

Domestic Unit. An increasing number of households (around 30 percent) contain a single adult, while those with one male and one female with children (around 20 percent) have been decreasing. Around a quarter include one male, one female, and no children, and just over 10 percent include three or more adults with no children. At least a third of households are headed by women, a fifth of those widowed or divorced, whereas two thirds of households are headed by men, over half of which are married.

Inheritance. Until the 1960s, the incomes, savings, and properties of both spouses were considered totally separate, with marriage conferring no claims. Parliamentary acts in 1964 and 1985 established equal claims at divorce on most property acquired during marriage, and household goods and savings from housekeeping allowances are equally shared. A peculiarity of Scots law is that minors can enter into binding contracts.

Kin Groups. The clan system today has significance primarily for historians and tourists. Ties of kinship are activated by conditions of class and economic opportunity, with poverty, family businesses, and extreme wealth tending to heighten the importance of kin group obligations. Scotland is a small country with a high degree of overlap in social and kinship networks. Thus, urban networks involving politics and public life can be very dense, creating a sense of familiarity across a wide social field.


Child Rearing and Education. Child rearing is primarily women's work, sometimes aided by play groups. Mass literacy and education developed early, creating a popular conception of Scots as deeply commited to education, self improvement, and access to education. However, this tradition also produced the stern authoritarian "dominie" (parish teacher) teaching a narrow curriculum backed by corporal punishment. In recent decades, more child-centered teaching methods and diverse curricula built around national standards have developed. Scottish education is distinctive in its integration of denominational schools (almost all Catholic) into the broader system of public funding and management.

Higher Education. There are four ancient universities, four established in the twentieth century, fifty-four technical and vocational colleges of further education, and 16,233 adult community education groups. The university course lasts four years, not three as in most English universities. Scottish students used to make the transition from secondary to higher education at age 17; now most take an extra year to prepare for university.


Rules of etiquette are situational, affected by status, class, and familiarity. An initial reserve toward strangers is likely to be heightened if one party is of higher status. However, friendliness and verbal politeness are expected in everyday life. Light, humorous banter, often about soccer, facilitates such interactions. The notion that Scots are more friendly and open than the English is common. Similarly, many believe that people are more friendly in Glasgow than in Edinburgh. Two somewhat ritualized markers of politeness are the offering of tea, coffee, and sweets to house visitors and taking turns buying rounds of drinks at a pub.


Religious Beliefs. The Church of Scotland has around 770,217 members, and around 774,550 people are members of the Catholic Church. The Episcopalians have around thirty-five thousand communicants, with a similar number distributed among smaller Protestant denominations, including many strict Sabbatarians in the Highlands, Islands, and fishing ports of the northeast coast. There are around fifteen thousand to twenty thousand Muslims; a handful of Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhist; and four Jewish congregations.

Although mainstream church attendance is in decline, Scotland bears the impress of its Protestant history. Today's adherents range from scriptural fundamentalists to liberals who view the Bible interpretively. In addition to the Protestant distaste for symbolic elaboration and emphasis on the individual's personal relationship to God, a strong sense of guilt and righteousness pervades Presbyterian discourses. Traditional supernatural beliefs (ghosts, fairies, etc.) endure as literary themes and in revived forms in Celticist New Age beliefs. Belief in the gift of second sight persists among some Highlanders.

Religious Practitioners. Leading members of the Presbyterian, Catholic, and Episcopal churches regularly make public pronouncements in the media regarding social issues and government policies. In recent years, this has involved the critical rejection of some aspects of neoliberalism and support for devolution.

Rituals and Holy Places. Easter and Christmas are the major ceremonial occasions. Medieval sites of pilgrimage are visited primarily by tourists and antiquarians. The Scottish landscape, with ancient religious structures from stone circles to ruined abbeys, often is said to have a sacred quality. The Isle of Iona, the base for Saint Columba's early missions to Scotland in the fifth century, is home to the Iona Community, an ecumenical religious retreat founded in the 1930s.

Death and the Afterlife. Funerary practices normally involve a simple ceremony of blessings and remembrance by family members and friends in a chapel or funeral parlor, leading to interment or cremation. Until recently, women did not go to the gravesite, and in some parts of the western Highlands and Islands the postburial mean can still become an extended alcoholic ritual. Catholic ceremonies may be preceded by a traditional wake.

Medicine and Health Care

The National Health Service (NHS) was anticipated by the Highlands and Islands Medical Scheme, which subsidizes medical practices in the poor and sparsely populated Highlands. The NHS made general health care more available and, continues to enjoy strong popular support. Despite its strong medical tradition, Scotland has a long history of high morbidity and mortality as a result of the climate, the diet, and poverty-related diseases such as tuberculosis. High consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and fatty foods, along with a lack of exercise and an increasing incidence of cancer is creating a new profile of ill health.

Secular Celebrations

Christmas was hardly observed in the Lowlands after the Reformation but is broadly observed as a relatively secularized holiday. New Year's Eve, called Hogmanay, has long been the main midwinter celebration. Fairlike events and public gatherings for the changing of the year are promoted by major cities. Customarily, some entertained guests at home, while others went "firstfooting." First-footers carry a bottle of whiskey and perhaps some food and, if traditional, a lump of coal or something black.

Celtic seasonal rituals fused to medieval saints' days survive in modern secularized celebrations. Traditionally, Halloween (31 October) involved children "guising," or dressing up in costumes and entertaining for treats, engaging in mischief, and young girls performing divination to find out about their future spouses. The May Day celebration of Beltane, involving bonfires on hilltops, has seen a revival. Many towns have fairs and gala weeks, especially during the summer. Annual Highland Gatherings serve a similar civic function, as do the Common Ridings in the Borders towns, in which a horseback procession "beats out" the boundaries of the medieval burgh.

Saint Andrew's Day (30 November), named after the national patron saint, is not marked ritually, but events of national significance are often timed to fall on that day. Perhaps the most symbol-laden holiday is Burns Day (25 January), named after the "national" poet, Robert Burns. Set around a ritual "peasant" meal of haggis (a mixture of oats, offal, and seasonings boiled inside the lining of a sheep's stomach), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), accompanied by whiskey, the event involves an elaborate series of speeches and set readings from Burns's opus. This ceremony plays upon Burns's bawdy celebration of the common people and penchant for deflating the self-righteous and highborn. Traditionally very male-dominated and chauvanistic affairs, gender participation is now more equal, and even feminist readings of Burns's radicalism can be found.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The Scottish Arts Council is advised by specialist committees about funding for theaters, art galleries, musical and literary organizations, art centers, and major festivals. Almost half the budget goes to support the four national companies: Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, Royal National Orchestra, and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Local authorities and economic development agencies have become major contributors. In the popular arts, self-financing and ticket charges are important.

Literature. Passion for the spoken word has arisen from linguistic diversity and the tradition of public oration and dispute on scriptural subjects. The ability to tell a good story or joke is prized. There are rich poetry and prose traditions in Gaelic, Scots, and Scots-inflected English. Gaelic literature derives from bardic verses celebrating heroes and political leaders. The development of Gaelic communities in the major cities, particularly Glasgow, around 18701914 stimulated new linguistic and literary awareness.

Scottish literature oscillates between romantic flourishes and mordant commentary, often suggesting a preoccupation with dialectical tensions: reason-passion, reality-fantasy, natural-supernatural, solemnity-satire. There was a notable revival after the World War I, spearheaded by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid. Many twentieth century prose writers wrote about Scottish locales and themes. Recent works such as Alasdair Gray's Lanark and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting combine gritty reality and wild imagination with Scots language and caustic visions of a deindustrializing world.

Graphic Arts. Scottish painting has struggled to establish a distinctive identity. Scottishness has been a question of subject matter more than style. Since 1900, French impressionism and post-1960s conceptual approaches have been influential. The absence of a major Scottish-based art market has tended to keep the fine arts semiprofessional.

Stylized animals and objects in bas relief on Pictish symbol stones mixed with the curvilinear designs of Celtic Christianity in the first millennium c.e. French and Flemish influences appear in medieval church sculpture. In the nineteenth century, neoclassical styles dominated. Only with the rise of modernism has the long connection between architecture and ornamental sculpture been broken, allowing freer, more experimental modes to develop.

At a more popular and functional level, jewelry and textiles sustain artistic traditions that often allude to Pictish and Celtic design themes. Major art colleges provide support, particularly in the area of textiles.

Performance Arts. The national ballet, opera, and orchestras and the Edinburgh festival ensure that a high art tradition is maintained. Traditional music and dance have had a revival, sustained by dedicated groups and associations, major nationwide competitive events, and a tradition of informal music-making in pubs, along with the new popularity of the Ceilidh, a public event of traditional set dances to fiddle tunes. There is an active folk scene, and a strong popular music scene. Since the 1970s there has been a flourishing of new theaters and companies performing new works in Scots and translations of plays into that language.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Scotland was in the forefront of the development of the physical and social sciences, including ground-breaking work in the eighteenth century in mathematics by Colin MacLaurin, geology by James Hutton, and in chemistry by Joseph Black, sociological data gathering in the Statistical Account (1790s), and the moral philosophy and political economy of David Hume, Adam Smith, John Millar, and Adam Ferguson.

During the heyday of industrialization, Scotland became preeminant in the field of engineering, and the social sciences were eclipsed by the physical sciences, exemplified by the physicists Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) and James Clark Maxwell. The sciences atrophied during the post-World War I industrial decline. Since the 1960s, there has been a push to strengthen the role of physical sciences in higher education. Technology transfer between industry and university has been a core goal, supported by the establishment of university-associated research institutes. Offshore engineering, aquaculture, veterinary medicine, and computers are key research areas along with medicine. Scotland has been a leader in cloning research, and the school of linguistics at Edinburgh has stimulated work on the interface of speech and computers.

Whereas corporate funding has provided major support for the physical sciences, the social sciences have had to compete for funds from the Economic and Social Research Council and smaller sources. Political change has stimulated revivals in history and legal studies and reestablished Scotland as a topic for political and sociological study.


Berry, Christopher J. Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment 1997.

Brown, Alice, David McCrone, and Lindsay Paterson. Politics and Society in Scotland, 2nd ed., 1998.

, and Paula Surridge. The Scottish Electorate: The 1997 General Election and Beyond, 1999.

Cohen, Anthony P. Whalsay. Symbol, Segment and Boundary in a Shetland Island Community, 1987.

Daiches, David, ed. The New Companion to Scottish Culture, 1993.

Harvie, Christopher. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes: Scotland since 1914, 3rd ed., 1998.

Hassan, Gerry, ed. A Guide to the Scottish Parliament: The Shape of Things to Come, 1999.

Hunter, James. The Making of the Crofting Community, 1976.

Kay, Billy. Scots: The Mither Tongue, 1986.

Kellas, James. The Scottish Political System, 4th ed., 1989.

Linklater, Magnus, and Robin Denniston, eds. The Anatomy of Scotland: How Scotland Works, 1992.

Maan, Bashir. The New Scots: The Story of Asians in Scotland, 1992.

MacKay, Fiona, Chrisma Bould, and Georgie Young, eds. Gender Audit 199899: Putting Scottish Women in the Picture, 1999.

McCrone, David. Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Stateless Nation, 1992.

Nadel, Jane. "Stigma and Separation: Pariah Status and Community Persistence in a Scottish Fishing Village." Ethnology 23 (2): 101115, 1984.

Nairn, Tom. The Break-Up of Britain, 1977.

Neville, Gwen Kennedy. "Community Form and Ceremonial Life in Three Regions of Scotland." American Ethnologist 6 (1): 93109, 1979.

Parman, Susan. Scottish Crofters: A Historical Ethnography of a Celtic Village, 1990.

Paterson, Lindsay. The Autonomy of Modern Scotland, 1994.

, ed. A Diverse Assembly: The Debate on a Scottish Parliament, 1998.

Smout, T. C. A History of the Scottish People, 15601830, 1972.

. A Century of the Scottish People, 18301950, 1987.

Withers, Charles W. J. Gaelic Scotland: The Transformation of a Culture Region, 1988.

Woman's Claim of Right Group. A Woman's Claim of Right in Scotland: Women, Representation, and Politics, 1991.

Jonathan Hearn

See Also: United Kingdom


views updated Jun 11 2018


SCOTLAND. In 1500 Scotland was a small, poor, and peripheral country on the northern fringe of Europe. Its economy was largely agricultural, its religion unremarkably Catholic, its political leanings toward France, its military and commercial significance minor, its people largely illiterate. By 1800 Scotland was a European leader in the fields of agriculture and commerce; it had long been self-consciously, perhaps aggressively, Protestant; its philosophers had changed the face of European thought; its inhabitants, by now among the best educated in Europe, saw themselves as Scots, but also as Britons; its people, practices, and ideas had left a stamp on the whole British, European, and Atlantic world.


The first step in this progression was the Reformation. Politically it was made by Scotland's separate Parliament, at grass roots principally by urban middle classes, and in popular memory by John Knox (15131572). Where the Scandinavian and German lands espoused the Word according to Martin Luther, Scotland followed the Swiss model of John Calvin, which also appealed to the northern Netherlands and certain parts of what is now France. To make a political statement against Mary Queen of Scots (15421587) and her French connections, Scotland's Parliament introduced in 1560 an assertive Calvinist Confession of Faith. Within a generation or two, Protestantism's institutions were firmly established in the Lowlands, and within three or four generations it had become the faith of most of the country.

Pockets of Catholicism survived into the eighteenth century, but the principal religious battles in the generations after the Reformation were fought over church organization: should it be presbyterian or episcopalian? Bishops and presbyteries coexisted unhappily from 1560 until 1689. The Scottish Revolution of 1638, which eventually led to an invasion of England and the overthrow of Charles I, and the "Glorious Revolution" of 16881689 were sparked by Presbyterians; powerful ties existed between Scottish Presbyterians and radical English Puritans in the period up to 1646. Late-sixteenthand early-seventeenth-century Scotland was a hotbed of revolutionary religious and political ideas.

The political origins and standing of the Church of Scotland gave it power almost unique in Europe, for example allowing it to control the moral and religious behavior of all Scots through parish "kirk sessions." Yet this was fatally weakened by a Toleration Act in 1712 and by further splits between Protestant denominations (for example, in 1733), which continued to fragment the faith into the mid-nineteenth century. Vocal and sometimes violent anti-Catholicism also persisted throughout the early modern period.

Calvinist reformers placed education at the top of their agenda. A national system of parish schools was established by Parliament during the seventeenth century, giving Lowland Scots among the highest literacy levels in Europe by the mid-eighteenth century. Scots came to value education highly. Around 1790 Scotland had the highest ratio of universities per million inhabitants in Europe (3.3 per million; the figure was 0.2 for England, Wales, and Ireland, 0.9 for France). Early growth in university numbers was fueled by demand for training in Protestant theology, while its eighteenth-century expansion was principally associated with legal and medical educationScotland's universities produced nine out of ten British medical graduates between 1750 and 1800. Student numbers rose from just over 1,000 to 4,400 between 1700 and 1820. Young men were attracted to Scotland's institutions of higher learning by important changes in teaching methods and curricula, and by the fact that Scotland was almost the only country in Europe where it became cheaper in real terms to attend university over the course of the eighteenth century. Thus Scotland's universities were much less elitist than Oxford or Cambridge and were becoming more socially inclusive during the eighteenth century.

Scotland's eighteenth-century universities represented the country to the world. Yet from the 1707 Union of Parliaments until 2000, Scotland had no representative assembly. At one level the Union of 1707 was part of a process of growing integration with and dependence on England. Links with England, regarded since the Middle Ages as the "auld [old] enemy," had been enhanced by the Union of the Crowns in 1603. James VI of Scotland (ruled 15671625) became James I of England (ruled 16031625) after the extinction of the Tudor dynasty with the death of Elizabeth I. James left the old royal palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh for the decidedly more lavish setting of London. From 1603 to 1714 the house of Stuart reigned over Scotland (as it had since 1371), England, Wales, and Ireland, albeit with a shift in the line of succession in 1689 when James VII of Scotland (James II of England) fled to France. The Union of the Crowns brought about important changes in the status of the border counties of England and Scotland, pacifying and integrating them into unified government structures, but in all other regards the nations remained distinct. The most important event integrating them was the Union of Parliaments in 1707.

Earlier attempts at integration, for example by the crown with its disastrous attempt to impose an Anglican prayer book on Scotland in 16371638 and by the Republican Oliver Cromwell with his forced union in the 1650s, had met with failure. In the early 1700s the mood of Scots remained decidedly Anglophobic, and the Union was constructed by elements of the ruling elite. "We are convinced that an Union will be of great advantage to both. The Protestant religion will be more firmly secured, the designs of our enemies effectually disappointed, and the riches and trade of the whole island advanced." So argued supporters of the Union. In exchange for giving up their own Parliament, they got 45 members in the 513-strong House of Commons and 16 representative peers in the House of Lords, both in London. Scotland was thereafter part of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain" and was managed by a succession of aristocratic patrons, notably the dukes of Argyll. For all that Scots prized an egalitarian ethos, theirs was not a politically democratic society. Scotland had only 3,000 county electors in 1788, and the burgh franchise was confined to town councils; Edinburgh's member of Parliament was elected by just thirty-three men.

While Queen Mary (wife of William of Orange and co-ruler with him 16891702) was a Stuart, the change of monarch in 1689 left many Scots (and some English) uneasy, feelings accentuated by the arrival of a Hanoverian monarch (George I) in 1714. This discontent provided support for the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Glorious failures as they may have been, the rebellions bound Scotland ever more closely into the political, military, and imperial destiny of her nearest neighbor.


The defeat of the '45 also signaled important social changes. Lowland society had long been a "modern" one. Landowners were the elite. Land-ownership was concentrated in a few hands, and the "lairds" dominated the hierarchies of wealth, status, and political power. The men who attended Scotland's Parliament until 1707 were members of the landed nobility. Beneath them in the social hierarchy came the tenant farmers, along with their subtenants or "cottars" and servants, who worked the land that provided the bulk of wealth and wellbeing. In the Lowlands approximately a fifth of late-seventeenth-century rural dwellers were craftsmen and tradesmen. Until the eighteenth century the "middle class" was made up of prosperous tenants and small landowners in the countryside and the merchants of the larger towns. Then professionals came into their ownlawyers, doctors, and educatorsalong with the increasingly confident merchants and manufacturers spawned by the industrial and commercial revolutions.

Highland society was distinctive until the eighteenth century. The structure of landholding was superficially similar, but Highland society was based on very different premises, which were increasingly alien to Lowlanders and to the English. Highland nobles were not just landlords, but also chiefs, in charge of clans built on the bonds created by feuding and feasting. The crown used clan rivalries to extend its hold on the Highlands, most notably in the notorious massacre of MacDonalds by Campbells at Glencoe in 1692. Weakened by political and economic change since the sixteenth century, the cultural framework of clans was not finally dismantled until after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite rising. In its aftermath the wearing of Highland dress and the carrying of bagpipes were banned, except for Highland regiments abroad.

The early modern Highlands were densely peopled, and indeed the distribution of Scotland's population was very different from that of the present day. As late as the mid-eighteenth century more than half of Scotland's people lived north of an imaginary Highland Line drawn from just south of Aberdeen to just north of Glasgow. In common with most northern Europeans except the Dutch, Scots were country dwellers. Just 3 percent lived in towns of 10,000 or more in 1500. However, the rate of urbanization was the fastest in Europe in the eighteenth century. Just one Scot in twenty lived in a large town in 1700, compared with one in six by 1800. The most rapid eighteenth-century growth occurred in Glasgow and neighboring towns in the west-central Lowlands, the former on the back of the colonial tobacco trade, the latter mostly thanks to textile manufacturing.

Until the eighteenth century population figures are largely guesswork. Scotland may have had 700,000 people around 1500 and perhaps one million by about 1700, though most of the growth probably took place between about 1540 and 1640; the first accurate census in 1801 showed there were 1.6 million people. Scotland's population growth rate was slower than elsewhere in the British Islesstrikingly so in the eighteenth century because Scottish women married later than did their English and Irish counterparts, and a larger proportion never married during their childbearing years. Slow growth occurred despite the fact that adults began to live much longer in the eighteenth century. Life expectancy at the age of twenty-five years rose from twenty-eight years in the early seventeenth century to thirty-eight years by the end of the eighteenth century. Apart from low fertility and high mortality, the other reason was substantial emigration, this usually of young men for military or mercantile service. The North Sea and Baltic countries had always been important destinations for Scots (as had England), but the main goal in the seventeenth century was Ireland and in the eighteenth the Atlantic and Caribbean colonies.

The redistribution of population to the west central Lowlands in general and the rise of Glasgow in particular marked a profound shift in the economic focus of Scotland's wealth and overseas trade. In the Middle Ages both had centered on the east coast, Scots looking to the North Sea and the Baltic; then the emphasis changed to the west, focusing on the Atlantic economies. Scotland's agriculture had always been less developed than that of England, but the second half of the eighteenth century saw dramatic improvements in arable farming, which brought rural productivity onto a par with the best in Europe. Industry, until then located mainly in the countryside, became more identifiably urban and began to diversify from textiles and other "organic" economies (using, for example, leather and wood) into mineral-based production of coal and metals. Scotland had already become more dependent on her southern neighbor for trade by the end of the seventeenth century, and experienced agricultural and industrial revolutions at the same time as England a century later.

Yet for all the convergences of experience, Scotland was in many ways a very different country from England even in 1800. There was fiscal integration with England from 1707, but Scotland's legal systems, educational framework, religious establishment, and even currencythe pound (£) Scots was worth about one twelfth of the pound (£) sterling and the Bank of Scotland was a separate foundation in 1695.The trading privileges of her royal burghs were preserved distinct from England's at the Union of Parliaments. Key social institutions also differed. For example, poor relief was discretionary and recipients had less clearly defined rights than in England; it was usually supplementary and therefore meager; there were fewer institutions like work-houses, which existed mainly in some of the larger towns.


Within Scotland's borders considerable social and cultural diversity also persisted. Highland literacy was much lower than Lowland because most people there spoke Gaelic, not Scots (a West Germanic tongue similar to English). Gaelic was the first language of half of Scotland in the fifteenth century, a third in 1689, but just a fifth in 1806. Linguistic variety did not end there, for all of Scotland was becoming more Anglicized. Scots itself had flourished as a literary medium in the late Middle Ages (c. 14801520) but was in retreat thereafter as standard court Scots fragmented into regional dialects after the departure of James VI in 1603. Anglicization of language and culture proceeded in the eighteenth century. The literati of Enlightenment Edinburgh aspired to pronunciation and orthography that conformed to the best London practice, and it was English rather than Scots that became the tongue of Scotland's landed, professional, and aspirant mercantile classes.

Edinburgh was the crucible of the Scottish Enlightenment, which also flourished in the universities, drawing rooms, and clubs of Glasgow and Aberdeen. Scotland's enlightened thinkers and writersAdam Smith and David Hume, to name but twowere of worldwide significance, bound together by a shared faith in the improvability of individual and society through education, reason, and discussion. They celebrated and promoted commercial change, including an early consumer revolution, by arguing that economic cooperation and exchange would promote sociability, refinement, and "taste." Scotland's Enlightenment was far more vigorous, socially diverse, and influential than England's.

While Scotland ended the early modern period closely integrated with England and tied up in its industrial, commercial, and imperial future, its independent evolution and effects on England (and Ireland) in the early modern period illustrate that different parts of the United Kingdom influenced each other's development. Through contacts with Europe and the Atlantic world, Scotland also exerted a wider influence over space and time. Aspects of the educational system developed in the seventeenth century, political theories expounded at the Reformation and after, the ideas aired in the Scottish Enlightenment, and Scotland's interpretation of Calvinist theology and some of the practices of church organization and discipline are all examples of an enduring international impact of her early modern development.

See also Calvinism ; Edinburgh ; England ; Hume, David ; Knox, John ; Jacobitism ; James I and VI (England and Scotland) ; Puritanism ; Smith, Adam ; Stuart Dynasty (England and Scotland) .


Houston, R. A., and W. W. J. Knox, eds. The New Penguin History of Scotland: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. London, 2001. A comprehensive, up-to-date and readable overview.

R. A. Houston


views updated Jun 27 2018


In Scotland food and food traditions have, as elsewhere, changed over time while regional influences have had a major effect. In addition, both Europe and Scandinavia have introduced changes in the food of the country. Geography has played a central role in determining the basic foodstuffs and their place in the diet. The country is divided into two areas, the Highlands in the north and west, and the Lowlands in the south and east. Each has its own distinct language and culture. The Highlands are generally a mountainous region, with an emphasis on pastoral activities, livestock husbandry, crofting (small acreage farming), general agriculture, and maritime activities. The Lowlands are the chief agricultural area.

Beginning with the Agricultural Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the area developed specialized agricultural districts. The east is predominantly an area of arable and crop production; the climate of the west makes it suitable for the raising of livestock. The major towns and cities are located in this region, between the Firths of Forth and Clyde. These two areas are divided into smaller ones. The South-West, including the Inner Hebrides, is a dairying area; the East and South-East are advanced grain-cropping areas with a European reputation for farming; the North-East is a stock rearing area, especially for beef; the Highlands and Islands are another stock area.

A number of foods and foodstuffs have been important in the Scottish diet. Cereals have played a central role, especially in rural areas. Bere, a barley, was the traditional grain. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was being rapidly supplanted by oats. Beginning in the eighteenth century oats came to be recognized as a mark of Scottish nationality. As its consumption grew, bere fell down the social scale, though it continued to be eaten in Caithness and Orkney in the early twentieth century. Bere and oats were eaten in a number of ways. Oatmeal was milled into a number of "cuts" or grades, used for specific dishes. It was the basis of brose (mixed with water to make an instant food), porridge (cooked with water or milk), and such foods as sowens and skirley (mixed with fat and onion). Oatmeal was an ingredient in dishes such as haggis (mixed with liver and suet, traditionally cooked in a sheep's stomach). It was baked into bannocks and oatcakes, often toasted over an open fire.

Wheat was a grain grown in only the most favored areas and sold as a cash crop. Wheat bread was at first a prestigious food, eaten by the higher classes; for the lower classes it was eaten on special occasions such as harvesting. In the late eighteenth century, it spread from the towns and cities, where it was accompanied by the rise in baker's shops. Peas and beans were bread crops. Especially in the Lowlands, they were made into meal, but also put into dishes such as broths. These grains also indicated social class, and by the seventeenth century they were confined to the poorer people.


These grains, especially oats and wheat, were used in the tradition of baking, for which Scotland has become renowned. From oats, bannocks, scones, and oatcakes were baked. These did not use raising agents. From wheat, cakes, pastry, and shortbread were oven-baked. This was a later development, owing to the late introduction of the oven and the initial high cost of sugar.


The potato was introduced as a novelty in the late seventeenth century. In the 1740s there was resistance against eating it. By the 1790s when the "Statistical Account of Scotland" was compiled, it had become an important element of the diet, especially in Highland areas and among the poorer classes of the Lowlands. It was a principal food in the diet and was a cheap and healthy food and a substitute for bread. The potato continued to be an important element and only declined in status in the 1990s in the face of increased use of pasta and rice. Traditionally potatoes were boiled, with or without their skins. In the urban diet of the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century and beyond, they were sliced and deep-fat fried as chips. They were eaten as a meal, as a side dish in a main meal, or as an ingredient in a wide range of dishes such as soups and stews; they were also used in baking, as in potato scones.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables had a relatively small role in the diet. The traditional staple vegetable was kale, a member of the Brassica varieties. Vegetable gardening around the houses of noblemen and lairds, and the rise of market gardening in the vicinity of the large towns, especially from the eighteenth century onwards, meant the development of a wide range of vegetables. Like other foodstuffs, they were at first eaten by the wealthy classes, then spread to the social classes below. Traditionally they were consumed as broth. Fruit was not extensively grown, and a limited number of varieties were raised. Orchard fruit was little cultivated, though soft fruit, especially strawberries and raspberries, has been commercially grown from the late eighteenth century; fruit was supplied from kitchen gardens. Especially where domestic production was limited or not undertaken, fruit growing wild in nature provided an important source. It could be a fruit substitute, as were rosehips during World War II. Fruit was eaten raw, or made into dishes, puddings, sauces, and drinks, including alcoholic ones. When sugar became available, it was made into conserves, jams, and jellies, or was bottled.

Dairy Products

Milk and dairy products have had a number of roles. Much of the supply has been from cows; that from ewes and goats has been minor. Milk has always been an important element in the rural diet. In urban areas and near towns, the supply was traditionally inadequate, though small town dairies filled a gap. Supplies had a seasonal fluctuation. Milk could be processed into dishes such as Corstorphine cream, made from frothed whey. Cheese-making enabled surplus quantities of milk to be utilized, especially in districts located away from centers of population. A large number of regional recipes and varieties exist, some developed during the expansion of the dairy industry in the nineteenth century. The Highlands are associated with soft cheeses for rapid consumption such as crowdie; the Lowlands have longer-keeping hard cheeses. Butter was the only source of fat in the rural diet, though beef or mutton fat could be obtained.

Meat, Fowl, and Fish

Meat was a foodstuff associated with social status. Among the rural population in the 1790s, it was rarely eaten. Even by the 1840s, it was still not an everyday foodstuff, especially among the poor. Before the Agricultural Revolution, livestock were slaughtered at Martinmas (November 11) as not all animals could be overwintered. Meat from domesticated livestock was supplemented by wild game and animals such as rabbits and hares. Sea fowl was caught in coastal areas. The nobility consumed large quantities of meat, especially on days when rents were paid: payment was made in-kind, of which livestock formed a major element.

There were regional variations in the types of meat consumed. The keeping of pigs became prevalent with the spread of potato growing in the eighteenth century. At that time, mutton became a meat of social distinction, being confined to the higher classes in the Lowlands, and the lower classes in the Highlands and Islands.

All parts of animals were utilized, as food, or as non-food items, such as tallow for lighting or hides and leather goods. Mealy puddings were made from entrails; blood was mixed with oatmeal to form blood puddings (black pudding); heads and trotters from sheep were made into pie and soup stock (powsoddie). Meat was rarely eaten fresh. It was salted, dried, or pickled in brine.

Fish was primarily eaten in coastal regions. With the improvement of transport networks in the nineteenth century, consumption spread to inland regions. Fish was a central element of the diet: it was a subsistence food, it filled the hungry gap before harvest when food was in short supply, and it was a delicacy. The Western Isles and Islands had large quantities of herring, haddock, whiting, and mackerel. Other fish included salmon, cod, ling, and shellfish such as cockles and oysters; around the Orkney Islands, whale was plentiful. Coalfish was widely eaten among the working classes. Inland fish such as trout were caught. Fish were eaten fresh, dried, or smoked. A number of fish dishes, many local in nature, are food identity markers: kippers, salted and smoke-cured fish, usually herring, first developed in Newcastle in the 1840s; salt-pickled herring or Finnan haddock, a lightly salted and smoked haddock; Arbroath smokies, salt-dried and smoked haddock.

Birds and poultry include domestic poultry, especially hens and geese. Their eggs were eaten, as were those of wild fowl. In some districts such as Ness, in the Outer Hebrides, wild bird flesh was eaten from gannets.

Some foods have become associated with geographical areas (see Table 1).


The traditional drink crop was bere or barley. Ale was drunk, especially in Lowland areas; in the Highlands, whiskey was distilled, both legally and illicitly. Hot drinks spread from the upper classes. Tea drinking started to become increasingly widespread by the 1790s, though for some time afterwards it remained a drink for special occasions among lower social classes. Cocoa was drunk, as were coffee substitutes such as chicory. Coffee was not a drink of the working class, and even among industrial workers in Edinburgh in the 1950s it was consumed rarely, if at all. In recent decades coffee has increasingly taken the place of tea, among all social classes.

Special Foods for Special Occasions

Special foods were eaten during festivals. They were specially prepared; they often had ingredients with a certain

Area Foods and dishes
Edinburgh and the Lothians Midlothian oatcakes
  Edinburgh rock (sugary confection)
Angus and Fife, Forfar Bridies (pastry filled with steak), Dundee marmalade, Dundee cake, Arbroath smokies, Pitcaithly bannock
Glasgow and Clydeside Glasgow broth
Ayrshire Cheese and Ayrshire shortbread
Borders Selkirk bannock (rich yeasted bannock with sultanas and raisins); Eyemouth fish pie
Dumfries and Galloway Galloway beef
North-East Butteries, Finnan haddock, Aberdeen Angus steak, skirlie
Highlands and Inner Hebrides Fried herring, game soup, tatties and crowdie (potatoes and soft cheese), Highland oatcakes, Atholl brose (whisky mixed with oatmeal).
The Outer Hebrides Whelk soup, barley bannocks, kale soup
Orkney and Shetland Oatmeal soup, fried herring and onions, potatoes with milk, beremeal bannocks

significance (such as flour from the last sheaf) or were made with ingredients that were expensive, difficult to obtain, or not eaten at other times of the year. Some dishes were served only at a festive occasion, or during part of it, others were not.

Festivals took place around the Celtic Calendar. They were held at the quarters that marked the passing of one season to another (Beltane, Lammas, Whitsun, and Martinmas). Foods included bannocks and oatcakes. Others were associated with the Gregorian Calendar. Hogmany, New Year's Eve, on December 31, was and probably still is the most widely celebrated of all the calendar festivals. Many of its foods were sweet in nature. Shortbread was a rich textured biscuit of flour, sugar, and butter. This could be decorated with a sugar iced or embossed pattern. Pitcaithly bannock was decorated with crystallized lemon and orange peel, caraway comfits, and almonds. Black bun is a rich and spiced dried fruit cake enclosed within a thin casing of bread dough or pastry. During harvest, harvesters were given wheat bread and ale; harvest meals also celebrated the end of harvest.

Rites of passage had foods associated with them. These included many common foods, with special attributes, such as bread, cheese, bannocks, and whiskey.

Meal Times and Menus

Meals had distinct patterns. Eating times were shaped by class, occupation, work hours, and days of the week. In rural areas meals were arranged around the feeding of livestock.

Three main meals were eaten: breakfast in the morning, dinner in the middle of the day, and tea or supper at five or six in the evening. The main meal was dinner; supper was fairly light but could also be substantial. Although traditionally no food was eaten between meals, changing mealtimes led to the evolution of the high tea, taken in the late afternoon, around four o'clock. It filled the gap between dinner and the evening meal. It developed as tea drinking became popular, especially among the upper classes. By the 1890s sweet and chocolate biscuits were becoming popular additions to the high tea. Meals had a number of courses. Dinner was three courses: a soup, a main course, and what was called a pudding. This varied: if there was soup, there might be no pudding; if there was no soup, the pudding was more substantial.

The eating of dishes, especially the main meal, had a weekly cycle. Sunday, the Sabbath, was reserved for churchgoing for Protestants and Catholics. (Other faiths had their Sabbaths on different days.) On this day meat was eaten. It was roasted, served with dumplings, and accompanied by potatoes and cooked vegetables. The byproducts and leftovers of the Sunday dinner were eaten throughout the working week.

Menus of daily meals are recorded in household accounts, personal and travel diaries, letters, and cookery books. According to Alexander Fenton, house-servants in the 1790s had "breakfast of oatmeal porridge or sowens with milk; dinner of broth and boiled meat warm twice a week, or of re-heated broth, or milk, with cold meat, or of eggs, cheese, butter, and bread of mixed barley and pease-meal; supper was for breakfast, or in winter there might be boiled potatoes mashed with a little butter and milk" (Scottish Country Life, p. 170). Ian Carter notes that in North-East Scotland during the 1840s, "the usual food of the farm servants [farm workers] is porridge and milk for breakfast: for dinner, potatoes, bread and milk with perhaps oatmeal brose made with greens, for supper. They do not have beer, except when there is a deficiency of milk. In harvest time an allowance of beer is given then" (Farm Life in Northeast Scotland, 1979, pp. 132133).

Food and the diet have been influenced by a number of factors. Agriculture and changes within it led to changes in agricultural practices and the introduction and spread of new crops and markets. These affected the crops and livestock raised, their quantities, and seasonal availability. Trade and contact with other countries introduced foods, dishes, food habits, names of dishes, and methods of cooking. These were especially noted from the Netherlands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Political and cultural links have been important, like those from the Auld Alliance with France, which started in the eleventh century and had its greatest impact in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It introduced dishes cooked "in the French way," such as "beef alamonde," dishes such as "omlit of eggs," terminology such as "gigot," a leg of mutton or lamb, and cooking utensils such as the "ashet," a dish for serving meat.

Union with England

Scotland was politically influenced by its larger neighbor, England. The two countries were joined in 1603 by a union of Crowns, then a Union of Parliaments in 1707. These brought the countries closer and shifted the power structure. The English Court influenced the food and eating habits of the nobility. Cultural influences came from the English diet and the introduction of such dishes as roast beef, mutton, and lamb.

Immigrants influenced the native food culture. From those of the sixth to the twelfth centuries, the Scandinavians influenced the use of resources from the sea and introduced dishes such as fish and mustard. Large-scale immigration took place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from Ireland, Italy, and India. Italians were noted for fish and chips and ice cream, with all their traditions of these foods. Italian specialty shops such as Valvona and Corolla are a noted feature of some cities such as Edinburgh, where there is a large Italian population.

Social changes created a demand for new foods. Food substitutes, such as margarine, developed around 1870, allowed for greater variation in the diet. So too did new methods of food preservation, such as canning, from the 1860s; refrigeration was first applied to meat imported from the United States in the 1880s; pasteurization was first used in the dairy industry around 1890. These also reduced the influence of season and locality.

See also Barley; Cereal Grains and Pseudo-Cereals; Fish: Overview; Tea (Meal); Wheat; Whiskey (Whisky).


Baker, T. C., J. C. McKenzie, and J. Yudkin, eds. Our Changing Fare: 200 Years of British Food Habits. London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1966.

Brown, Catherine. Broths to Bannocks: Cooking in Scotland 1690 to the Present Day. London: John Murray, 1990.

Brown, Catherine. Feeding Scotland. Scotland's Past in Action Series. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 1996.

Brown, Catherine. Scottish Cookery. Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 1985, 1990.

Brown, Catherine. Scottish Regional Recipes. 1981; Glasgow: Richard Drew, 1985.

Brown, Catherine. A Year in a Scots Kitchen. Celebrating Summer's End to Worshipping its Beginning. Glasgow: Neil Wilson Publishing, 1996.

Cameron, David Kerr. The Ballad and the Plough. A Portrait of the Life of the Old Scottish Fermtouns. London: Victor Gollancz, 1978.

Carter, Ian. Farm Life in Northeast Scotland 18401914. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1979; 1997.

Fairlie, Margaret. Traditional Scottish Cookery. London: Hale, 1973.

Fenton, Alexander. Country Life in Scotland. Our Rural Past. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987.

Fenton, Alexander. "Milk Products in the Everyday Diet of Scotland." In Milk and Milk Products, edited by Patricia Lysaght. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1994.

Fenton, Alexander. The Northern Isles. Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1978.

Fenton, Alexander. "Receiving Travellers: Changing Scottish Traditions." In Food and the Traveller. Migration, Immigration, Tourism, and Ethnic Food, edited by Patricia Lysaght. Nicosia, Cyprus: Intercollege Press in association with the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin, 1998.

Fenton, Alexander. Scottish Country Life. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1976.

Fenton, Alexander. "Wild Plants and Hungry Times." In Food from Nature. Attitudes, Stategies, and Culinary Practices, Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi, 71, edited by Patricia Lysaght. Uppsala: The Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy for Swedish Folk Culture, 2000.

FitzGibbon, Theodora. A Taste of Scotland: Scottish Traditional Food. London: Dent, 1970. New ed., Glasgow: Lindsay Publications, 1995.

Geddes, Olive M. The Laird's Kitchen: Three Hundred Years of Food in Scotland. Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationary Office and National Library of Scotland, 1994.

Gibson, Alexander, and T. C. Smout. "Scottish Food and Scottish History, 15001800." In Scottish Society 15001800, edited by R. A. Houston and I. D. White. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Holmes, Heather. "Official Schemes for the Collection of Wild Brambles and Rosehips in Scotland during the Second World War and Its Aftermath." In Food from Nature. Attitudes, Stategies, and Culinary Practices, Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi, 71, edited by Patricia Lysaght. Uppsala: The Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy for Swedish Folk Culture, 2000.

Holmes, Heather. "Tourism and Scottish Shortbread." In Food and the Traveller. Migration, Immigration, Tourism, and Ethnic Food, edited by Patricia Lysaght. Nicosia, Cyprus: Intercollege Press in association with the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin, 1998.

Hope, Annette. A Caledonian Feast. Scottish Cuisine through the Ages. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1997.

Lerche, Grith. "Notes on Different Types of 'Bread' in Northern Scotland: Bannocks, Oatcakes, Scones, and Pancakes." In Gastronomy. The Anthropology of Food and Food Habits, edited by Margaret L. Arnott. The Hague: Mouton, 1975.

Lochhead, Marion. The Scots Household in the Eighteenth Century. Edinburgh: Moray Press, 1948.

Lockhart, Wallace. The Scots and Their Fish. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1997.

Lockhart, Wallace. The Scots and Their Oats. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1997.

MacLeod, Iseabail, ed. Mrs McLintock's Receipts for Cookery and Pastry Work (Scotland's First Published Cookbook 1736). Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1986.

Marshall, Rosalind K. "The Queen's Table." In Tools and Traditions. Studies in European Ethnology Presented to Alexander Fenton, edited by Hugh Cheape. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 1993.

McNeill, F. Marian. Recipes from Scotland. Edinburgh:1972.

McNeill, F. Marian. The Scots Kitchen, Its Traditions and Lore with Old-Time Recipes. London: Blackie and Son, 1929; Edinburgh: Reprographia, 1973; London: Grafton, 1988.

Oddy, Derek J., and Derek S. Miller, eds. The Making of the Modern British Diet. London: Croom Helm, 1976.

Robertson, Una. "Orange Marmalade: Scotland's Gift to the World." In Food and the Traveller. Migration, Immigration, Tourism, and Ethnic Food, edited by Patricia Lysaght. Nicosia, Cyprus: Intercollege Press in association with the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin, 1998.

Smout, T. C. "Early Scottish Sugar Houses, 16601720." Economic History Review, 2d series XIV (19611962): 240253.

Sprott, Gavin. "From Fowling to Poaching." In Tools and Traditions. Studies in European Ethnology Presented to Alexander Fenton, edited by Hugh Cheape. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 1993.

Steven, Maisie. The Good Scots Diet: What Happened to It?. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1985.

Storrie, Susan. "Jewish Cuisine in Edinburgh." Scottish Studies 31 (1993): 1439.

Turnbull, Michael, with Paul V. Rogerson. Edinburgh a la Carte: The History of Food in Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Scottish Cultural Press, 1997.

Wolfe, Eileen, ed. Recipes from the Orkney Islands. Edinburgh: Gordon Wright, 1978.

Yellowlees, Walter. Food and Health in the Scottish Highlands: Four Lectures from a Rural Practice. Old Ballechin, U.K.: Clunie Press, 1985.

Heather Holmes


views updated May 11 2018


economic changes
social issues
highlands versus lowlands
demographic change

During a century of remarkable change, Scotland underwent some of the most profound social, economic, and political transformations found anywhere in Europe. In 1789 it was still primarily a rural society and an agrarian economy, existing politically in the shadow of its English neighbor. Yet it was separate and different in important ways, and rapid change was already underway. Scotland was a European leader in the fields of agriculture and commerce, with established coalmining and a developing textile-based industrial sector; its philosophers were changing the face of European thought; its inhabitants saw themselves as Scots, but also as Britons; its people, practices, and ideas were beginning to leave a stamp on the whole British, European, and Atlantic world. By 1914 Scotland was one of the most urbanized and industrialized countries in Europe, possessing an influential political voice within Britain and substantial wealth as well. Its people spanned the globe as traders, imperial administrators, sailors, and soldiers.

In 1789 Scotland and England shared a monarchy, parliament, empire, and an island, yet they were in many ways very different countries. The most obvious difference between Scotland and England lay in rural social structure. Scotland's rural population generally lived in dispersed farm settlements more reminiscent of Scandinavia than the nucleated villages of England. Landownership was concentrated in the hands of a few great lords and Scottish rural society was quasi-feudal. Except in some limited regions, there was no real equivalent of the English yeoman farmer. Underway since the seventeenth century in the Lothians (the most agriculturally precocious area of Scotland, thanks to its proximity to Edinburgh, the largest city until around 1790 when Glasgow took over), consolidation of tenancies and the removal of subtenants accelerated rapidly across Scotland from the 1780s. By the 1820s Lowland society had become polarized between landowners, tenants, and landless laborers, most subtenants and many smaller tenants having been swept from the land. In the Lothians, the laborers were mostly married men paid largely in kind. Elsewhere in Scotland (such as the northeast), single servants (both living-in and housed in bothies, or huts) and small-holders provided the labor that in England came from workers hired by the day. In Scotland, where mixed agriculture was less seasonal than that of much of England, females, children, and

(for the arable Lowlands) migrant workers from the Highlands met additional labor needs.

economic changes

Aristocrats and gentry (called lairds in Scotland) dominated economic, political, and cultural life, for the rural middle class in Scotland was small. In contrast, a bourgeoisie flourished in the blossoming "New Towns" of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Built on the profits of law, medicine, and commerce, Edinburgh's New Town is the most famous, but comparably extensive late-Georgian developments in the neoclassical style of London and Bath can be found in Glasgow (where wealth came primarily from the tobacco trade). Later Victorian suburbs bulked out the middle-class housing stock of these and other major towns such as Aberdeen, Perth, and Dundee.

If the middle class had been made prior to 1832, new sources of wealth enhanced its importance as the century progressed. Heavy industry began to expand from the 1830s and Scotland became a world-class industrial country. The chemical complex at St. Rollox in Glasgow was the largest manufactory in the world. The thread-making firms of J. & P. Coats and Clarks of Paisley merged in 1896 to become the largest manufacturing firm in Britain (and fifth largest in the world). Coal output rose dramatically to meet the new industrial and domestic demand, to the benefit of Scotland's economy and the detriment of its environment. Scotland became an urbanized and industrialized country in the second half of the nineteenth century. Agriculture employed two-thirds of the male labor force around 1789, 30 percent in 1851, and just 13 percent in 1911.


The economic changes that created a middle class of merchants, tradesmen, and professionals early in the nineteenth century were eventually reflected in political developments. From 1707, with the Union of Parliaments, until 2000, Scotland had no representative assembly but shared its government with its larger English neighbor. Eighteenth-century Scotland was effectively managed, with little interference from London, by a system of aristocratic patronage. Scotland was able to make its own place in the British polity.

Yet the Hanoverian political consensus was being destabilized before Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the Reform Bill (1832) put an end to it. Until 1832 Scotland's parliamentary franchise was far more restricted than in England. In the 1780s Scotland had just 3,000 county electors in a population of perhaps 1.5 million (0.2 percent), whereas the English electorate may have been as large as a third of a million in a population of about 7.5 million people (4 percent). The burgh (urban) franchise was confined to town councils: Edinburgh's member of Parliament (MP) at Westminster was elected by just thirty-three men prior to 1832. The electorate in England increased by 80 percent from the pre-Reform figure; in Scotland the change was 1,400 percent. That meant 13 percent of Scotland's male population could vote compared with about 20 percent of England's. By 1867, the proportion of males enfranchised was approximately equal in Scotland and England at about one third, and in 1884 the franchise was homogenized across Britain. Women had to wait until 1918 before they, too, could participate.

However, convergence is not the whole story, for Scotland showed distinctive political values. Notable is the enduring strength of Whiggism or Liberalism from 1832 to 1914 (England was more consistently Conservative), epitomized in the Midlothian Campaign speeches (1879) of British Prime Minister William Ewert Gladstone (1809–1898). Additionally, the Union of 1707 allowed for Scottish control over the major establishments of civil society: the law, the church, and education. These peculiarly Scottish institutions provided a continuing basis for national allegiances, and this was strengthened in 1885 with the founding of the Scottish Office, which acted as a symbol of an independent Scotland.

Reformed burgh councils (from 1833) acted as a focus of local and regional independence. Reform of county government did not come until 1889 when representative county councils were established. This allowed the continuation of aristocratic influence over county politics and administration throughout the nineteenth century—and far into the twentieth. Indeed it was conservative unionism, rooted in long-established loyalty to the houses of Hanover and Windsor, which would dominate twentieth-century Scottish politics.


The Hanoverian political consensus had been based partly on the fiction of unity in religion. Scotland had indeed been officially Protestant since the sixteenth century, yet the religious history of the eighteenth and nineteenth century is of schisms within the church. The early nineteenth century saw a wave of religious revival movements, coupled with a broadly based drift away from the established church, principally because of opposition to patronage (appointment of clergy by other than the flock). This ended in the Disruption of 1843 and the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland.

The religious consequences of the fragmentation of Protestantism were, on balance, positive. There was a surge in church- and school-building after the Disruption by the three main Protestant churches: Church of Scotland, Free Church, and United Presbyterian Church. Further, confessional pluralism allowed a further expansion of religious participation. Religion remained central to everyday life in Victorian Scotland, dominating organized leisure, the formation of social policy, and the moral values of temperance and self-help. Irish immigrants eventually created a coherent Roman Catholicism and a strong cultural identity, especially in the towns of west-central Scotland.

Yet there was also a negative effect. Diverging values and widening social differences were fragmenting Highland and Lowland societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The religious schism of 1843 was linked to emerging class differences, and theological disputes were taken very seriously by Scots in ways perhaps unthinkable in the twenty-first century. Protestant fragmentation and Catholic consolidation after 1829 combined with a legacy of post-Reformation anti-Catholicism to create chronic sectarian rivalries.

social issues

In addition to their cultural implications, and when coupled with radical socioeconomic change, religious divisions also affected the structure of civil society because of the church's importance to poor relief. While the Poor Law (Scotland) Act of 1845 marked a convergence with English practice, differences nevertheless persisted, notably the lack of formal institutions for the poor, which the Scots had never favored, and a preference for (cheaper) outdoor relief. In 1906, 14 percent of Scotland's pauper population received indoor relief, compared with 32 percent in England. Furthermore, Scotland's poor relief (and many other aspects of its governance), remained less centralized than in England.

Despite the reorganization of relief and growing British prosperity, Scots endured a standard of living much below their English neighbors. In 1867, 70 percent of "productive persons" earned less than thirty pounds per annum, while the top 10 percent gobbled up half the national income. Wealth polarization was especially pronounced in towns. In 1911, over half the Scottish population lived in one- or two-roomed homes (usually apartments in the towns), and in Glasgow and Dundee the figure was over 60 percent. Overcrowding was the result, with nearly 56 percent of Glaswegians living more than two to a room. The urban poor moved into the central homes the middle class vacated on their way to "New Towns," and also the newly (but badly) built "tenements" (apartment buildings) that housed the industrial labor force of mushrooming towns like Paisley.


Other social problems were addressed more successfully, at least in the long term. For example, social and economic change quickly outdated the (very successful) eighteenth-century education system. Early nineteenth-century studies showed large numbers of children excluded from education through the necessity of earning a living to help their impoverished families. Surveys also showed that, while the majority of male adults could read, very few could write, and female literacy was even less. Legislation in the 1870s and 1880s allowed

Scottish literacy to regain its relative standing, and by 1910–1911 Scotland had more children in the age group of five to fourteen attending school than all other northwest European countries except France.

In higher education, Scotland remained a leader. Around 1790, Scotland had the highest ratio of universities per million inhabitants in Europe (3.3 per million; the figure was 0.2 for England and Wales [and Ireland], 0.9 for France). The social distribution of university students was broader in nineteenth-century Scotland than in England—at least among males, for no woman was allowed to matriculate at any of Scotland's five universities until 1892. Scotland's universities produced nine out of ten British medical graduates around 1800 and, while they lacked mid-century dynamism, they were successfully reformed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Scottish law, medical expertise, and its very university system were all successfully exported to the wider world by missionaries, migrants, and imperial bureaucrats.

The universities had been the crucible of the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment, which left a deep and lasting influence on the ideas and practices of the English-speaking world. Bound together by a shared faith in the improvability of individual and society through education, reason, and discussion, men like Adam Smith (1723–1790), the founder of laissez-faire, the concept that lay at the heart of nineteenth-century economics; Adam Ferguson (1723–1816); and David Hume (1711–1776) celebrated and promoted commercial change by arguing that economic cooperation and exchange would promote sociability, refinement, and "taste." The effect of these ideas pervaded nineteenth-century Scottish society and they help to explain the lower levels of popular protest there than in England. The radical working and middle classes were much influenced by ideas that stressed the importance of reason and argument over violence and irrationality.

A shared faith in the value of education (whatever its actual achievements) and in the improvability of civil society made Scotland's people more interested in treading a positive and peaceful path toward betterment. This is not to say that the Scots were a quiescent people: rather they coped better with change than some. Coupled with this was a darker force ensuring passivity: the power of paternalistic landlords and capitalists to shape individual lives and to break organized labor. Harsh brands of evangelical Protestantism also counseled quiescence.

highlands versus lowlands

Not all of rural Scotland was as prosperous and peaceful as the Lowlands. Highland agriculture had long been geared to providing subsistence rather than growing productivity and Highlanders were affected by famine in the 1840s, though less severely than the Irish. Highland society had long been very different from Lowland. The great landowners left estate management to middlemen, who rented to subtenants and then to crofters. Highland society too underwent change as the landlords' priorities shifted during the eighteenth century. They effectively repudiated centuries of being not just landlords, but also chiefs in charge of clans built on the bonds created by kinship (real or fictive), feuding, and feasting. Leaving the land was thus a far more traumatic process in the Highlands.

Initially landowners responded to population growth, economic shifts, and their own changing priorities by trying to redistribute labor supply, as their power enabled them to do. However, over time they resorted to wholesale evictions, plantations in overcrowded and economically marginal fishing villages, or to industrial enterprises that lacked staying power (like harvesting kelp from the sea to make fertilizer), and later by emigration schemes. Highland Scotland was progressively stripped of people. The empty landscape was filled by deer forests, which by 1884 covered two million acres or one tenth of the area of Scotland. The changes in landholding and the forcible clearance of sections of the peasantry from the land fomented collective resistance, which reached its apogee in the Crofters' Wars of the 1880s, and left a legacy of betrayal that had no Lowland equivalent. The nineteenth-century Highlands experienced social upheavals that, in their depth and breadth, were without parallel anywhere in Europe.

During the nineteenth century, distinctions between Highland and Lowland Scotland became increasingly blurred. The 1872 Education Act banned school lessons from being taught in Gaelic, but Highlanders were already won over to the benefits of English as a result of seasonal migration to the Lowlands and imperial service in the British army. Never the majority language (most Scots spoke a variation of English), Gaelic was the first tongue of just a fifth of Scots in 1806 and a tenth in 1900. Levels of literacy in the Highlands were much lower than in the Lowlands throughout the nineteenth century.

demographic change

Such important cultural changes as the decline of Gaelic stemmed partly from demographic forces. Population trebled to 4.5 million inhabitants between 1789 and 1911, a modest rate of growth that disguises the massive redistributions of people that came out of agrarian change. As late as 1789 just under half of Scotland's people lived north of an imaginary "Highland Line." By 1911 this had

fallen to just a sixth. One Scot in eight lived in a large town in 1790, one in three by 1831, and three out of five in 1911, by which date Scotland was the most urbanized country in Europe after England. In the 1890s, a quarter of the adult population of Glasgow—then a city of 700,000 people—had been born in the Highlands and another quarter in Ireland.

In addition to redistribution and Irish immigration, emigration accelerated in the nineteenth century, when nearly two million people left Britain from Scottish ports. The majority went to North America (28 percent to Canada, 44 percent to the United States) and 25 percent to the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand). One sort of migrant came from those dispossessed by the Highland clearances, but Lowland (disproportionately urban and industrial) emigration was every bit as significant as Highland (rural agrarian). Indeed, most nineteenth-century emigrants from Scotland were not escaping a backward rural economy, but were voluntary exiles from a vital, industrializing and urbanizing society with plenty of employment opportunities and an improving standard of living.

Despite this, narratives of Highland dispossession dominate conventional understandings of Scottish migration, just as Highland images play a disproportionate part in modern conceptions of Scotland's past. In fact, the association of the material aspects of Highland life and regional identity—heather and thistles, bagpipes and tartan—with the symbols of being Scottish was invented during the Romantic period by the great Tory and monarchist, Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), and perpetuated by George IV (r. 1820–1830) and Queen Victoria (r. 1837–1901). In reality, Highlanders between 1789 and 1914 were feared, romanticized, misunderstood, and then denigrated by the majority Lowlanders. A more representative symbol of late-nineteenth-century Scotland's people and its industrial success is the Forth Rail Bridge of 1890.

It is no myth that Scots were among the most mobile people of Europe. They had other demo-graphic peculiarities. Mortality remained high and disease-dominated, but it was falling. Smallpox was conquered by the early nineteenth century, but typhus and cholera continued to decimate urban populations until mid-century and influenza until 1918. Infant mortality rates were lower in Scotland than England but still alarmingly high, and they did not fall as they did in England from the 1890s. Of those born around 1871, a quarter would not live to the age of five. The fertility regime was distinctive. Women married exceptionally late by European standards (a fifth did not marry at all), but, once married, fertility was high. This changed in the late nineteenth century, when Scotland participated in the fertility decline that characterized all of western Europe. The introduction of widespread knowledge and/or use of family limitation techniques produced a pronounced fall in family size. Two-fifths of marriages made in the 1870s produced more than six children, compared with less than 2 percent for 1920s marriages. Scotland's illegitimacy was among the highest in Europe, and in one part of rural northeast Scotland, four-fifths of women marrying in the late nineteenth century had their first child before, or within three months after, marriage. Throughout the nineteenth century, Scotland's was a young society: a third of its people were aged fourteen years or under and just 5 percent were sixty-five and over.

By 1911, the overall balance of the Scottish economy replicated the economic pattern found in the rest of Britain, mixing industrial, textile, and service industries. The first years of the twentieth century marked the zenith of power and influence of Scottish capitalists, who—despite comprising only 10 percent of Britain's gross domestic product—controlled the biggest concentration of heavy industry in Britain and exerted substantial political influence. Their wealth, nestling in a separate Scottish banking system, enabled them to invest in shipping lines, railway companies, mining ventures, and vast expanses of farmland in North and South America, Australia, and South Africa. At no time before or since had Scotland been so closely integrated into the power structures of the empire it had helped to make and run. At no other time had it been so economically important. The society was peaceful. But there remained problems. Scotland had some of the worst slums in Britain. Social alignments and political allegiances were changing too. The stability produced by industrial expansion and benevolent paternalism was being replaced by the tensions of class and nation. Coupled with a harsher economic climate after World War I, these forces would create a very different twentieth-century Scotland.

See alsoGreat Britain; Ireland; Wales.


Anderson, Robert D. Education and the Scottish People, 1750–1918. Oxford, U.K., 1995. Mostly about institutions, but the definitive study.

Brown, Callum G. Religion and Society in Scotland Since 1707. Edinburgh, 1997. Does the same for religion.

Devine, Thomas M. The Scottish Nation, 1700–2000. London, 1999. A good overview, best on economic and political topics.

Devine, Thomas M., and Rosalind Mitchison, eds. People and Society in Scotland, 3 vols. Edinburgh, 1988. A wide-ranging edited collection.

Harper, Marjorie. Adventurers and Exiles: The Great Scottish Exodus. London, 2003. Lively and readable account of emigration, full of human detail.

Houston, Robert A., and W. W. J. Knox, eds. The New Penguin History of Scotland. London, 2001. A comprehensive and readable overview, which replaces all earlier texts.

Hutchison, Ian G. C. A Political History of Scotland 1832–1914: Parties, Elections, and Issues. Edinburgh, 1986. The basic work.

Tranter, Neil L. Population and Society, 1750–1940: Contrasts in Population Growth. London, 1985. A useful if dry overview.

Whatley, Christopher A. The Industrial Revolution in Scotland. Cambridge, U.K., 1997. A worthy overview.

R. A. Houston


views updated Jun 08 2018



In 1914, Scotland appeared to be a nation with a historic identity; a comfortable part of the United Kingdom, a powerful contributor to the British Empire; buttressed by an economy based on the production of raw materials and metal products. The Presbyterian churches were key institutions and their General Assemblies important forums. In politics, the general elections of 1910 had seen the endurance of a Liberal hegemony largely unbroken since 1832. By the end of the twentieth century, much of this had changed.


Industrial strength hid latent weaknesses: superficially bolstered by World War I, recession struck in the interwar period. Problems were compounded by an antiquated structure and failure to develop new industries: the production of coal, metal, and textiles dominated. Although the coal and iron industries of the west of Scotland were closely integrated, the more important relationship between iron and steel was poorly developed, leading to endemic inefficiency in that sector. Closer links existed between Clydeside shipbuilding and the steel industry, but that proved problematic by the 1920s as the latter contracted.

Unemployment rose to unparalleled levels (27.7 percent in 1932), especially in areas of western and central Scotland where the bulk of these heavy industries were located. The bulk of Scottish output was destined for the export market, inducing extreme vulnerability to international economic fluctuations, but during the 1920s and 1930s the protection of home markets in Europe and the United States exacerbated this. The Scottish workforce, although containing a core of skilled workers, was poorly paid and unable to generate domestic demand for high-value products that would have aided economic diversification. Key sectors of the economy, such as the banks and insurance companies—so important to Edinburgh and the east of Scotland—and the indigenous railway companies were taken over by metropolitan concerns.

World War II further exposed these weaknesses with its demand for more sophisticated products, but they were also masked by the state intervention of that conflict and its aftermath. The program of nationalization undertaken by the Labour government elected in 1945 had a profound effect in Scotland where so much heavy industry remained, despite the vicissitudes of the interwar years. The influence of government profoundly affected the shape of the economy in the postwar years, through nationalization and the regional policies implemented from the mid-1960s to the 1980s.

The penetration of the Scottish economy by foreign multinational corporations, mostly in the electronics industry, has led to a swath of central Scotland being labeled "Silicon Glen." These enterprises have tended to conduct fairly low-level, branch-plant operations and have proved to be "footloose," as an early twenty-first-century rash of closures by firms such as Motorola has demonstrated. The sum total of these changes has been the alteration of an economy largely based on heavy industrial processes to one dominated by bureaucracy and services. There were nearly 750,000 workers in manufacturing in 1901, only around 350, 000 in the 1990s; services and administration employed just over 350,000 in 1901, but over 900,000 by the end of the century. A major change occurred in the late 1960s with the discovery of oil in the North Sea; this has had a particular impact on the regional economy of the northeast of Scotland, but indigenous enterprise has not fully capitalized on this and critics argue that the revenues have been squandered by U.K. governments.


Despite economic confidence, there were massive social problems in Scotland in the early part of the twentieth century, most obviously shocking housing conditions. The rapidity of urban expansion in the nineteenth century, combined with the feudal nature of Scots land law, created extreme densities of population and massive overcrowding in the traditional form of Scottish housing: the tenement block divided into multiple dwellings. Although the nascent Labour movement sought to publicize these issues, real attention was not given to the problem until a series of rent strikes during World War I. During the interwar years, both Conservative and Labour governments passed legislation to subsidize local authorities to build houses for rent and to clear slums. These initiatives saw the establishment of the vast public housing sector that, augmented by further building programs and attempts at urban renewal in the twenty years after World War II, was such a distinctive feature of Scottish society. In some areas of Scotland, 70 to 80 percent of the population lived in such houses. This was undermined in the 1980s as the Conservative government reduced support to local authorities and encouraged sitting tenants to purchase their houses at a discount.

At the other extreme of Scottish society, there has been a small landed elite: much Scottish land is of low value and agricultural potential and, partly because of this, huge estates were built up in the nineteenth century. Although the government intervened to become a large landowner in the 1920s, private land ownership has remained an important part of Scottish society and, concomitantly, anti-landlordism is a key feature of Scottish political rhetoric.

Oddly, for a society characterized by such extremes, a persistent aspect of Scotland's view of itself was that of a "democratic society" characterized by social progress, especially through the power of educational attainment. Repeated sociological investigations have found little evidence for this, but have exposed the foundation of the myth in nineteenth-century Presbyterian ideology and idealized views of the Scottish education system.

Scottish demography has also been distinctive (as the table shows), with the key features being the massive emigration of the 1920s that resulted in a population decline in that decade, and the declining population, especially in western urban areas, since the early 1970s.


In 1999, a devolved parliament and executive was established with responsibility for most areas of Scottish domestic policy, with the exception of social welfare. A coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers has controlled the executive since 1999. Scottish political history over the course of the twentieth century, however, has not simply been a discussion of constitutional options, with most debate following a British agenda and focusing on the economy, social welfare, defense, and foreign policy.

Prior to World War I, the Liberals dominated; social change and shifts in the political agenda, notably over housing, led to a breakthrough by the Labour Party at the 1922 general election and the eclipse of the Liberal Party. From the 1920s to the 1960s, the Labour Party and the Scottish Unionist Party (as the Scottish Conservatives were known until 1965) dominated elections in Scotland. A notable result came in the 1955 general election when the Unionists polled just over 50 percent.

The Scottish political map became more diverse in the 1960s as the Liberals emerged from the doldrums and the Scottish National Party (SNP)


won its first seat since 1945—at Hamilton in 1967. The excitement peaked in October 1974 when the SNP won over 31 percent of the vote and eleven seats. This prompted the Labour government to consider Scottish Home Rule, but legislation was stillborn after an inconclusive referendum in 1979 and the subsequent election of a Conservative government. During the 1980s and 1990s, nationalism waned and Scotland remained loyal to Labour as the Conservatives governed by virtue of their U.K. majority: this was perceived by some to constitute a "democratic deficit." With the return of a Labour government and a modest nationalist revival in 1997, the way was clear for the implementation of devolution.


Much writing about Scotland in the twentieth century has been pessimistic, with justification; but flickers of optimism can be discerned in the survival of Scottish identity and in cultural activity. An institutional identity based on the troika of the church, law, and education systems is no longer so powerful; neither, it seems, is an ethnic identity. But newer forms of identity, based on historical memory, sense of place, and cultural traditions are developing. Scotland is a nation of interlocking cultures revolving around the English, Gaelic, and Scots linguistic traditions enlivened by European and Asian immigration.

Literary culture evolved markedly over the twentieth century, from a parochial and moralizing "Kailyard" school of writers, such as Sir James Matthew Barrie, to the realism of such as James Kelman. Scottish writers have consistently experimented with language; none more so than Christopher Murray Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid), the self-conscious publicist of the cultural "Renaissance" of the interwar years, poet and controversialist in English and Scots. Scottish Gaelic has produced the lyrical verse of Somhairle MacGill-eain.

Popular culture provides one of the areas where Scotland is most visible as an independent identity on the international stage at sporting occasions. This can be a unifying force, but also provides for intense local rivalries, such as that between Glasgow's two leading football teams, Rangers and Celtic, which is overlain with religious sectarianism.

See alsoBritish Empire; Ireland; United Kingdom.


Bogdanor, Vernon. Devolution in the United Kingdom. Oxford, U.K., 1999.

Cameron, Ewen A. Land for the People? The British Government and the Scottish Highlands, c. 1880–1925. East Linton, U.K., 1996.

Campbell, R. H. Scotland since 1707: The Rise of an Industrial Society. 2nd ed. Edinburgh, 1985.

Cooke, Anthony, Ian Donnachie, Ann MacSween, and Christopher A. Whatley, eds. Modern Scottish History, 1707 to the Present. 5 vols. East Linton, U.K., 1998.

Craig, Cairns. The Modern Scottish Novel: Narrative and the National Imagination. Edinburgh, 1999.

Craig, Cairns, ed. The History of Scottish Literature. Vol. 4: The Twentieth Century. Aberdeen, U.K., 1990.

Daiches, David, ed. The New Companion to Scottish Culture. Revised and updated version. Edinburgh, 1993.

Devine, T. M. The Scottish Nation: A History, 1700–2000. London, 1999.

Devine, T. M., and Richard Finlay, eds. Scotland in the Twentieth Century. Edinburgh, 1996.

Dickson, A., and J. H. Treble, eds. People and Society in Scotland. Vol. 3: 1914–1990. Edinburgh, 1992.

Finlay, Richard. Modern Scotland: 1914–2000. London, 2004.

Harvie, Christopher. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes: Twentieth Century Scotland. 3rd ed. Edinburgh, 1993.

——. Fools' Gold: The Story of North Sea Oil. London, 1994.

Houston, R. A., and W. W. J. Knox, eds. The New Penguin History of Scotland: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. London, 2001.

Hutchison, I. G. C. A Political History of Scotland, 1832–1924: Parties, Elections, and Issues. Edinburgh, 1986.

——. Scottish Politics in the Twentieth Century, Basingstoke, U.K., 2001.

Knox, W. W. Industrial Nation: Work, Culture and Society in Scotland, 1800–Present. Edinburgh, 1999.

Lenman, Bruce. An Economic History of Modern Scotland, 1660–1976. London, 1977.

Lynch, Michael, ed. The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Oxford, U.K., 2001.

Macdonald, Catriona M. M., and Elaine W. McFarland, eds. Scotland and the Great War. East Lothian, U.K., 1999.

McCrone, David. Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Nation. 2nd ed. London, 2001.

Mitchell, James. Strategies for Self-Government: The Campaigns for a Scottish Parliament. Edinburgh, 1996.

Scott, Paul H., ed. Scotland: A Concise Cultural History. Edinburgh, 1993.

Smout, T. C. A Century of the Scottish People, 1830–1950. New Haven, Conn., 1986.

Wightman, Andy. Who Owns Scotland. Edinburgh, 1996.

Ewen A. Cameron


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Though only a small and poor kingdom on the far edge of Europe, Scotland remained in close touch with Renaissance ideas and culture. This connection came in part from trade relations with France, the Low Countries*, and the Baltic states and in part from the readiness of Scots to travel and study abroad. Scottish political and cultural leaders worked hard to combat the popular image of Scots as ferocious barbarians constantly at war with one another. As a result of their efforts, Scotland became a center of humanist* learning and thought.

The Stuart Dynasty. Since 1371 the Stuart dynasty had struggled to impose its authority over Scotland, a country divided geographically and politically into many small regions ruled by powerful local lords. However, by the late 1400s, after years of warfare the power of the regional lords was mostly broken. The Stuart monarchs then began to seek marriage alliances with foreign powers to increase their influence abroad. Perhaps the most significant of these marriages occurred in 1503, when James IV (ruled 1488–1513) wed Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England. One hundred years later, Scotland's James VI would use this tie to claim the English throne as James I and unite the two kingdoms.

Before the marriage of James IV and Margaret Tudor, Scotland and England had a long history of hostile relations. Defending Scotland against English aggression was considered one of the key roles of Scottish kings. Many Scots viewed the marriage as a betrayal of the crown's traditional loyalties. Nevertheless, Scotland remained allied with France, another long-time adversary of the English. The French king Louis XII called on James to fulfill the obligations of their alliance by invading England. James did so, but the invasion ended with his defeat and death at the battle of Flodden in 1513.

By this time, Scotland had established itself as a united kingdom under the control of the Stuart dynasty. James IV had expressed this supremacy by adding the arched "imperial" crown to his coat of arms*. The crown represented the idea of Roman law that "the king is emperor in his own kingdom." Scots thought of themselves as an imperial monarchy on an equal with any in Europe. James IV's elegant Renaissance court, and his own interests in architecture and medicine, reflected Scotland's self-confident view of itself and its monarchy.

Scottish Humanism. Scotland's familiarity with and acceptance of Renaissance culture and learning promoted such self-confidence. Since the mid-1400s, Scottish officials within and outside of the church had been collecting classical* literature as well as the works of Italian and French humanists. Under royal secretary Archibald Whitelaw, humanist rhetorical* skills were applied in government in the late 1400s.

Scottish universities also adapted to humanist ideas. A group of Scots who studied in Paris exercised enormous influence on university curricula after their return to Scotland. Led by the University of Aberdeen, Scottish universities gradually adopted a humanist course of study aimed at serving both the clergy and the lay* students. The emergence of a group of well-educated laypeople was one of the most significant cultural developments in this period of Scottish history. Many educated Scots went on to study and practice law, often in France or Italy.

James V, barely a year old, inherited the throne on his father's death in 1513. When James assumed control of the government in 1528, he made use of the lay lawyers to reassert the crown's powers. Scotland's influence with the Catholic powers of Europe increased after the English king Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1533. James V used this power to obtain money from the papacy* and to arrange marriage alliances between Scotland and France.

James invested the rewards of his diplomacy in the royal palaces of Stirling, Falkland, and Holyrood, creating some of the first and finest Renaissance buildings in Britain. However, his glittering court was torn by tensions between church officials and educated laypersons influenced by humanism. James may have even considered following Henry's example in rejecting papal authority and establishing control of the church in Scotland. But the king died suddenly in 1542 at the age of 30.

The Reformation. Soon after James's death, his infant daughter Mary Stuart was crowned queen of Scotland. Henry VIII forced the Scots to agree to a marriage between Mary and his heir Edward (died in 1553). Mary was secretly sent to France, where she became fluent in French and married Francis of Valois, the heir to the French throne. In 1561 Mary, a Catholic, returned to Scotland to claim the throne. She was overthrown six years later. Exiled and imprisoned in England, Mary continued to hope for the overthrow of Elizabeth, Queen of England, that would result in her becoming the Catholic queen of England. Mary's trial and execution in 1587 opened the way for her son James VI, the king of Scotland, to become next in line to the English throne.

James VI was baptized a Catholic but raised as a Protestant. His education was supervised by the humanist scholar George Buchanan, who attempted to teach his pupil respect for classical scholarship and the principles of limited monarchy. As a result of Buchanan's efforts, James developed a lifelong love of learning and literature. However, he failed to adopt Buchanan's political ideas. James developed his own theory of the "divine right of kings," based on the belief that a monarch's authority comes from God, not the people, and thus cannot be limited by the people.

The king's determination to maintain the crown's supremacy over church as well as state came partly from his concern for maintaining order in a land torn by years of political and religious turmoil. Although James tried to control religious matters by appointing his own bishops, he did not try to suppress the Catholic faith. In fact, many of the king's most trusted and influential counselors were Catholics.

James's reign was marked by a drive to establish law, order, and civility in Scotland. By 1600 the decline of political violence led many rural lords to abandon fortified castles for more luxurious country estates. Upon the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, James VI of Scotland took the English throne as James I. This united the two crowns, but not the kingdoms. Although James I promoted a common "British" kingdom, Scotland remained a distinct political identity with its own culture.

(See alsoEngland. )

* Low Countries

region bordering on the North Sea, made up of present-day Netherlands and Belgium

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* coat of arms

set of symbols used to represent a noble family

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* rhetorical

related to the art of speaking or writing effectively

* lay

referring to people who are not members of the clergy

* papacy

office and authority of the pope


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Scotland Northern part of the main island of Great Britain, and a constituent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the capital is Edinburgh. The largest city is Glasgow. In 1996, Scotland divided into 29 new unitary authority areas and three island authority areas. Its jagged coastline features many islands (including the Orkney and Shetland Islands), lochs (including Lomond and Ness) and firths. Major Scottish rivers include the Tay, Clyde, Dee, and Forth. Scotland broadly divides into three geographical regions: the Southern Uplands, immediately n of the English border, which are sparsely populated, hilly moorland; the Central Lowlands, where the majority of the population live; and the Highlands, including Ben Nevis. In pre-history, Scotland was inhabited by the Picts. In ad 843, Kenneth I united the lands of the Picts and the Scots. In 1174, with the development of feudalism, Scotland became a fiefdom of England. Richard I granted Scottish freedom in 1189, but the enmity between England and Scotland continued. Edward I forced the Scots to submit, only for William Wallace to lead a Scottish revolt. Robert I (the Bruce) recaptured much Scottish land and defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314); this led to England's recognition of Scottish independence in 1328. Internal factionalism and weak government characterized the 15th century. James IV and many Scottish nobles died at the Battle of Flodden (1513). The Protestant Reformation quickly took root in Scotland via the preaching of John Knox. In 1538, James V cemented the French alliance by marrying Mary of Guise, a French Catholic. When her daughter, Mary, assumed the throne in 1561, England supported the Scottish Protestants, and France backed the Catholics. The Protestant faction forced Mary to relinquish the throne in 1567. Her son, James VI, assumed the Scottish crown, and in 1601 he was also crowned James I of England, thereby uniting the English and Scottish thrones. The Scots opposed Charles I in the English Civil War, but the King's concessions to Presbyterianism won the support of the Covenanters. The Glorious Revolution (1688) re-established Presbyterianism as the Scottish national Church. The massacre of the Macdonald clan by William III at Glencoe in 1692 tarnished enthusiasm for his rule, and Jacobite agitation prompted the constitutional union of the two crowns in the Act of Union (1707). At Culloden Moor (1746), the Jacobite insurgency was finally suppressed with the defeat of the Highlanders led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart. (See United Kingdom for subsequent history).;


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Kingdom of northern Britain that remained independent of the English king throughout the Renaissance, but also kept close economic and cultural ties with the European continent. Scotland at this time was ruled by the Stuart dynasty, which arrived at the throne of Scotland with the accession of King Robert II in 1371. At this time the kingdom was fragmented in several small, virtually independent earldoms under the authority of local rulers, who paid little allegiance to the national monarch. Through the fifteenth century, the Stuarts managed to impose a measure of central authority on the realm. By the time of James IV, who ruled from 1488 until 1513, the earls had largely submitted to the king.

After study on the continent, several prominent Scottish clerics and scholars had brought home the humanism and intellectual curiosity of the Renaissance. An important group of these scholars had gathered around Desiderius Erasmus in Paris, and several of them took part in the founding of universities at Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Saint Andrews in the fifteenth century. Gradually, literacy and scholarship spread down the social ladder from the nobility to landowners to the middle classes, while the arrival of the printing press opened a new era of scholarship, study, and intellectual debate. One prominent Scottish poet, Gavin Douglas, translated Virgil's Aeneid into the Scottish language, which became the dominant medium of government, business, and a burgeoning school of Scottish Renaissance poetry.

By trading its wool and other goods, Scotland was also developing close economic ties with the cities of the Baltic region and the European continent. In the meantime, the Scottish monarchs arranged a series of marriage alliances with various European powers, including Denmark and the Netherlands. Scotland also held to an old alliance with France, which supported Scottish independence from England. In 1503, however, James IV married Margaret, the daughter of King Henry VII of England, thus drawing Scotland closer to England's new Tudor dynasty. Despite this marriage, the people of Scotland remained deeply hostile to the English, and it was this popular sentiment that prodded James to invade England in 1513, an action that led to his death at the Battle of Flodden.

In 1542, on the death of King James V, his one-week-old daughter Mary became the queen of Scotland. At the age of five, Mary was sent to France for her safety while England pursued a takeover of Scotland. Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 but was deposed from the throne in 1567 under accusations of adultery. She was taken captive by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, and imprisoned in London for twenty years before being put to death in 1587. In the meantime, her son James was schooled in the ideas of Renaissance humanism by George Buchanan. In this period Scotland threw off its ties to France and to the Catholic Church and adopted the Presbyterian sect founded and led by the Scottish religious reformer John Knox. In 1603, on the death of Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch of England, James VI of Scotland established the Stuart dynasty of England as King James I. In 1707 the Scottish and English realms would be united by the Act of Union, which established the Kingdom of Great Britain.

See Also: James I of England; Knox, John; Tudor dynasty


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SCOTLAND , northern part of Britain. Although there are records of applications by individual Jews for rights of trade and residence in Edinburgh as early as 1691, and there is reason to believe that a short-lived congregation was established there in 1780, the first organized Jewish community in Scotland, that of Edinburgh, was not established until 1816. It was followed shortly by that of Glasgow. The mass immigration from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought many Jewish settlers to Glasgow, but comparatively few to Edinburgh. Of the 15,000 Jews living in Scotland in 1971, all but some 220 resided in Glasgow (13,400) and Edinburgh (1,400). The remainder were distributed in Dundee (84), Ayr (68), Aberdeen (40), and Inverness (12). In the mid-1990s the Jewish population of Glasgow dropped to approximately 6,700 and that of Edinburgh to approximately 500. According to the 2001 British census, there were 4,224 declared Jews by religion in Glasgow, 763 in Edinburgh, 30 in Aberdeen, and 22 in Dundee. There is a Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, and a range of Jewish institutions, especially in Glasgow. Dr. Kenneth Collins has written widely on the history of Scottish Jewry in such works as Aspects of Scottish Jewry (1987), which he edited. Relations between Jews and non-Jews in Scotland have always been harmonious.


A. Levy, Origins of Scottish Jewry (1959); C. Bermant, Troubled Eden (1969), 54–59.