Kingdom of Scotland

Kingdom of Scotland Rioghachd na h-Alba
Flag of Scotland Royal Coat of Arms
(National Flag) (Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland)
Royal motto: Nemo me impune lacessit
(Latin: No one provokes me with impunity)
Location of Scotland
Capitals Scone & various; by the early modern era, established at Edinburgh.
Government Monarchy
Head of State King of Scots
Parliament Parliament of Scotland
Currency Pound Scots

The Kingdom of Scotland was a state located in Western Europe, in the northern third of the island of Great Britain. It existed from 843 until the Acts of Union 1707 which united it with the Kingdom of England (927-1707) to form the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1800). Its population in 1700 was approximately 1.1 million.


The political structure of Scotland has always been complex, almost never wholly united. However, during most of the existence of the Kingdom of the Scots, a single Monarch, or High King was recognized. Under the suzerainty of a High King, were chieftains and petty kings and offices filled through selection by an assembly under a system known as tanistry which combined a hereditary element with the consent of those ruled. Usually the candidate was nominated by the current office holder on the approach of death, and his heir-elect was known as the tanist, from the Scottish Gaelic tanaiste. After Macbeth was overthrown by Malcolm III in 1057 and during the reign of King David I the influence of Norman settlers in Scotland saw primogeniture adopted as the means of succession in Scotland as in much of Western Europe and saw the development of a 'hybrid kingdom', one part of which was governed by a mixture of a feudal government and Celtic custom. These early assemblies cannot be considered 'parliaments' in the later sense of the word.

Originally, Scots owed their allegiance primarily to their Clan chieftain or the laird, thus the High King consistently had to keep them in favorable dispositions, or else risk armed conflict.

The Parliament of Scotland, was the legislature. The members were collectively referred to as the "Three Estates" for nearly all of parliament's history: composed of the first estate of prelates (bishops and abbots), the second estate of lords (dukes, earls, parliamentary peers and lay tenants-in-chief) and the third estate of burgh commissioners. From the sixteenth century the second estate was reorganised by the selection of shire commissioners. This has been argued to have created a 'fourth estate', while a 'fifth estate' of royal office holders has also been identified. These identifications remain highly controversial among parliamentary historians. Regardless, the term used for the assembled members continued to be 'the Three Estates'. The Parliament was a unicameral assembly.

The Scottish parliament is first found on record during the early thirteenth century, and the first meeting for which reliable evidence survives (referred to, like the English parliament, as a colloquium in the surviving Latin records) was at Kirkliston in 1235 during the reign of Alexander II. The two most powerful periods of the Scottish Parliament's existence can be defined as 1639-51 and 1689-1707. During the era of Covenanting control, the Scottish Parliament emerged as a mature political and institutional forum and was one of the most powerful assemblies in Europe. Drawing on the Scottish Constitutional Settlement of 1640-41, a programme of constitutional reform was renewed from 1689, when it passed the Claim of Right, onwards. The last session sat on 25th May, 1707.


The Kingdom of Scotland was united in 843, by King Kenneth I of Scotland. Over the next 850 years it developed its own legal and educational systems- which still exist today- as well as a separate monetary and measures systems. At first the kingdom was confined to the area north of the Rivers Forth and Clyde. Southwest Scotland remained under the control of the Strathclyde Britons. Southeast Scotland was under the control from around 638 of the proto-English kingdom of Bernicia, then of the Kingdom of Northumbria. This part of Scotland was contested from the time of Constantine II and finally fell into Scottish hands in 1018, when Malcolm II pushed the border as far south as the River Tweed. This remains the south-eastern border to this day (except around Berwick-upon-Tweed).

In 1263 Scotland and Norway fought the Battle of Largs for control over the Western Isles. The battle was indecisive, but the campaign proved once and for all that the Norse were unable to retain effective control over the distant Isles. In 1266 the Norwegian king Magnus VI of Norway signed the Treaty of Perth, which acknowledged Scottish suzerainty over the islands. Despite the treaty the practical independence of the Lord of the Isles continued.

The Auld Alliance was an important alliance between Scotland and France. It dates from the treaty signed by John Balliol and Philip IV of France, in 1295 It played a varying but sometimes large role in Franco-Scottish (and English) affairs, until 1560. In 1512 under a treaty extending the Auld Alliance, all nationals of Scotland and France also became nationals of each other's countries, a status not repealed in France until 1903 and which may never have been repealed in Scotland.

Scotland's kings placed great importance on the strategic stronghold of Stirling, leading to the battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn during the Wars of Scottish Independence, when the historic figures of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce emerged. In 1320 a remonstrance to the Pope from the nobles of Scotland (the Declaration of Arbroath) finally convinced Pope John XXII to overturn the earlier excommunication and nullify the various acts of submission by Scottish kings to English ones so that Scotland's sovereignty could be recognised by the major European dynasties.

In 1468 the last great acquisition of Scottish territory occurred when James III married Margaret of Denmark, receiving the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands in payment of her dowry and in 1493 his son, James IV, successfully ended the quasi-independent rule of the Lord of the Isles, bringing the Western Isles under effective Royal control for the first time.

James IV's reign is often considered to be a period of cultural flourishing, and it was around this period that the European Renaissance began to infiltrate Scotland. Scotland advanced markedly in educational terms during the fifteenth century with the founding of the University of St Andrews in 1413, the University of Glasgow in 1450 and the University of Aberdeen in 1494, and with the passing of the Education Act 1496.

John Knox
John Knox

During the 16th century, Scotland underwent a Protestant Reformation. In the earlier part of the century, the teachings of first Martin Luther and then John Calvin began to influence Scotland. The execution of a number of Protestant preachers, most notably the Lutheran influenced Patrick Hamilton in 1527 and later the Calvinist George Wishart in 1546 who were burnt at the stake in St. Andrews by Cardinal Beaton for heresy, did nothing to stem the growth of these ideas. Beaton was assassinated shortly after the execution of George Wishart.

The eventual Reformation of the Scottish Church, was carried out by Parliament from 1560 (during the minority of Mary Queen of Scots) when most Scots adopted Calvinism. The most influential figure was that of John Knox, who had been a disciple of both John Calvin and George Wishart. Roman Catholicism was not totally eliminated, and remained strong particularly in parts of the highlands.

In 1603 King James VI became James I of England thus Scotland entered into a personal union with England and Ireland. The sixteenth century saw a period of unrest in Scotland, religious Confrontation in Scotland with Charles I, who attempted to impose English-style prayer books on the Scottish church, led to the setting up of the National Covenant, and later to the Bishops' Wars, the Scottish Civil War and Wars of the Three Kingdoms. From 1651-1660 Scotland was occupied by Oliver Cromwell army under George Monck.

In 1689 William of Orange became King of Scotland. Whilst the "Glorious Revolution" was primarily an English event, it had a great impact on Scottish history. The Scottish Parliament offered the Scottish crown which William accepted under the conditions of the Claim of Right (an important document in the evolution of the rule of law and the rights of subjects similar to the English Bill of Rights).

Most Scots supported William of Orange, but many (particularly in the Highlands) remained sympathetic to James VII. His cause, which became known as Jacobitism, spawned a series of uprisings. An initial Jacobite rising under John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee (Bonnie Dundee) defeated William's forces at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, but Dundee was slain in the fighting, and the Jacobite army was soon defeated at the Battle of Dunkeld. The complete defeat of James in Ireland by William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, ended matters for a time.

The late 17th century was economically difficult for Scotland. The bad harvests of the seven ill years or lean years in the 1690s led to severe famine and depopulation. English protectionism kept Scots traders out of the new colonies, and English foreign policy disrupted trade with France. As a result many Scots emigrated to Ulster (the Ulster-Scots). The Parliament of Scotland of 1695 enacted a number of remedies for the desperate economic situation, including setting up the Bank of Scotland. The Act for the Settling of Schools established a parish-based system of public education throughout Scotland. The Company of Scotland received a charter to raise capital through public subscription to trade with Africa and the Indies. By the early eighteenth century, Scotland was a kingdom in crisis. Her economy had been severely weakened by a series of major harvest failures beginning. The lean years of the 1690s were compounded by the catastrophic failure of the Darien Scheme, deliberately sabotaged by the combined efforts of the English East India Company, the international financial markets at Amsterdam and King William, it is estimated that almost 25% of Scotland's total liquid capital was lost in the Darien venture.

Union with England

Walter Thomas Monnington's 1925 painting called Parliamentary Union of England and Scotland 1707 hangs in the Palace of Westminster depicting the official presentation of the law that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Walter Thomas Monnington's 1925 painting called Parliamentary Union of England and Scotland 1707 hangs in the Palace of Westminster depicting the official presentation of the law that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Scotland's monarch, King James VI, succeeded to the throne of the Kingdom of England in 1603, becoming James I of England, after the death of Elizabeth I of England. This was merely a personal union: the two nations shared a head of state but retained their own separate parliaments and administration.

While there had been three earlier attempts (in 1606, 1667 and 1689) to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament, these were the first Acts which had the will of both political establishments behind them, albeit for rather different reasons. In the English case, the purpose was to establish the Royal succession along Protestant lines in the same manner as provided for by the English Act of Settlement 1701 rather than that of the Scottish Act of Security. In the Scottish case, the purpose was partly to use English subsidies to recover from the financial problems caused by the failure of the Darién scheme and partly to remove English trade sanctions put in place through the Alien Act to force the Scottish Parliament into compliance with the Act of Settlement.

A major feature of English politics from 1702 to 1707 was the necessity of securing the Hanoverian Succession. The death of King William in 1702 resulted in the succession of Queen Anne to the crowns of England and Scotland. Anne's last surviving child had died in 1700 and the English Act of Settlement had passed the English Succession over to the Protestant House of Hanover. Since it was unthinkable that Scotland and England should have separate monarchs, the securing of the Hanoverian Succession in Scotland became the primary objective in English strategic thinking towards Scotland. By 1703 the Anglo-Scottish dynastic union, the Union of the Crowns, was in crisis. The Scottish Parliament was pursuing an independent dynastic policy and an independent foreign policy. The Scottish Act of Security allowed for the Scottish Parliament to choose a different monarch to succeed to the Scottish crown from that of England, if it so wished. This meant that the Act allowed for the Scottish Parliament to initiate an independent foreign policy during an era of major European warfare like the War of the Spanish Succession and the Great Northern War. From the English political perspective, this opened up the possibilities of the restoration of a Jacobite on the Scottish throne or a Scottish trading and/or military alliance with another power in Europe like France or the Dutch Republic. Such an alignment could result in attacks from Scotland, Ireland and the continent and compromise English interests abroad. Hence the Scottish `problem' had to be neutralised and the Hanoverian Succession secured.

Map of the Kingdom of Scotland in the 16th century; note, until the later Middle Ages, the traditional capital of Scotland was at Scone.
Map of the Kingdom of Scotland in the 16th century; note, until the later Middle Ages, the traditional capital of Scotland was at Scone.

The twin Acts incorporated provisions for Scotland to send representative peers from the Peerage of Scotland to sit in the House of Lords. It guaranteed that the Church of Scotland would remain the established church in Scotland, that the Court of Session would "remain in all time coming within Scotland" and that Scots law would "remain in the same force as before".

Other provisions included the restatement of the Act of Settlement 1701 and the ban on Roman Catholics from taking the throne. It also created a customs union and monetary union. Scotland kept its independence with respect to its legal (Article 19), religious and education systems.

The Act provided that any "laws and statutes" that were "contrary to or inconsistent with the terms" of the Act would "cease and become void."

The Kingdom of Scotland ceased to be a state on 1 May 1707, following the implementation of the Treaty of Union, which merged the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The national flag of Scotland (the Saltire) currently forms part of the modern day Union Flag.



Kingdom of Scotland
Succeeded by:
Kingdom of Great Britain

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