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Yew Choob!

Know your past? Here's a trip through Scottish history, in less than five minutes.

Friday, November 10, 2023
Reading time: I hour

As we approach October 19th, the date on which (we were assured) the second Scottish independence referendum was to be held (‘No ifs, no buts’ etc) we take the opportunity to reflect on something more positive.

Those who were most active in the lead-up to September 2014 missed a lot of what other independence supporters were doing. The sheer volume of original creative work being produced meant it was impossible to keep abreast of everything. 

The work of Yew Choob is a virtual diary, not only of that inspirational and exciting period, but the heady aftermath, the epic gatherings across Scotland and the gradual, agonising process of dealing with almost unimaginable betrayal.

One of the most popular and impressive productions the trio released is ‘We Didn’t Start The Union’, a whistle-stop journey through Scottish history which is explained in the extensive notes written by Ninja Penguin and Janet Scot.


We realise that this has grown well beyond what can reasonably be called a factsheet but we can’t think what else to call it! It was written by Janet Scot and Ninja Penguin to provide some background information for anyone who might be wondering what the hell we’re on about in the song. 

We know some people will disapprove of us harping on about the past, but one thing we learned while compiling this list is that many of Scotland’s worst mistakes involved being a bit too trusting of our southern neighbours. We didn’t expect to find huge chunks of Project Fear popping up in 1705, though! 

Let’s not be fooled again. Neither Ninja Penguin nor Janet is a historian (though Janet’s a genealogist, so she knows how to do research) so we can’t guarantee that everything is 100% correct, but we don’t think we’ve made too many howlers. The events in the song aren’t in strict chronological order and the events appear in the fact sheet in the same order as in the song, so, in order of appearance: 


Scota was a mythical Egyptian princess who married Goidel Glas (the Gaelic form of the Greek Gaithelos). The couple and their offspring are said to have migrated to Ireland via Spain. After settling in Ireland, Scota saw a beautiful land across the sea. Her children eventually moved there and named it “Scotland” after her. 

The Gaels are said to have taken their name from Goidel/Gaithelos. This is a standard “foundation” myth from the Middle Ages, when every nation wanted to claim a mythical hero or heroine as its original ancestor, so it’s probably fantasy, but the recent discovery that Scots have some Egyptian DNA suggests a grain of truth. 

ROMAN LEGIONS: The Romans, led by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, ventured into “Caledonia” around 77 CE and got as far as the River Tay, establishing some forts on the way. They didn’t encounter much resistance south of the Forth, but further north the locals weren’t so friendly. 

CALGACUS: Calgacus has the distinction of being the first named inhabitant of Caledonia in history. Of course Calgacus is unlikely to have been his real name – it’s the name reported by the Roman historian Tacitus. It may simply have been what he said when a Roman asked him his name – possibly Pictish for “Feck off ya Roman twat!”  

He led an army of Caledonians against Agricola and got gubbed, but the speech he made before the battle (reported and probably embellished a bit by Tacitus) contains the much-quoted line “They make a wilderness and call it peace.” (Always reminds me of “Scotland free or a desert” – Janet) 

ANTONINE’S & HADRIAN’S WALLS: The Antonine Wall represents the most northerly frontier of the Roman empire - Falkirk, the final frontier! Although they made it further north, they didn’t hang about. The Romans started building the wall in 142 CE, about 20 years after they built Hadrian’s Wall. 20 years after that, in 162 CE, they legged it south and took refuge beyond Hadrian’s Wall. 

ROME TAKES A FALL: The Romans ruled England and Wales for about 350 years, but they never established any kind of lasting control in Scotland. Hadrian’s Wall became their northern frontier, but the pesky Picts managed to breach it in 180 CE. Rome’s empire had grown too big and it cost them a fortune to pay the troops to secure its borders. Meanwhile, ambitious men were scheming, conniving and assassinating each other for control of the empire. It all started to fall apart, and the Romans abandoned the British Isles altogether in 409 CE. 

CELTS: The Gaels (one branch of the Celts, the other being the Brythons) are said to have migrated from Spain to Ireland, from where they launched frequent raids on Romans Occupied England and Wales. By the 5th century CE the Gaels were established in western Scotland in the kingdom of Dal Riata. 

VIKINGS: Norsemen raided the coast of Scotland from the 8th century CE onwards, but there is evidence that some were just mild-mannered immigrants. No-one is really sure when the Norse peoples started mingling with the Picts in the Northern Isles and northern Scotland. 

COLM CILLE: Colm Cille is the Gaelic name for the man better known as Saint Columba, the Irish missionary who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century CE and founded the abbey of Iona. 

SALTIRE: Legend has it that, in 832 CE, the Picts and Scots led by King Oengus II challenged Athelstan and his army of Angles to a square-go at the place now known as Athelstaneford in East Lothian. On the eve of the battle Oengus prayed to St. Andrew for victory and when he woke up the next morning he saw this (or something like it) in the sky. He took it as a personal message from St. Andrew and adopted the image as his banner. He won the battle and the saltire has been Scotland’s flag ever since. 

PICTISH KINGS’ AND MACALPIN: At some time between 843 and 848 CE Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Dal Riata, became King of the Picts, creating the original United Kingdom of Alba. Mediaeval historians tell all kinds of tall tales about how Kenneth wiped out the Picts, but there’s no evidence that he waged war on them. The most plausible explanation is that he had a Pictish mother and inherited the kingdom through her when the previous king died (the Picts had matrilineal inheritance). 


Kenneth MacAlpin’s descendants (and a few of his cousins), the House of Alpin, were Kings of Alba for nearly 200 years. Malcolm I was Kenneth’s great-grandson and ruled from around 943 to 954 CE. Malcolm II, who ruled from 1005 to 1034 CE, was the last of the male line of the House of Alpin. The kings who came after him were descended from his daughter. There were a number of other kings from the House of Alpin, including 3 Constantines and a Colin. 

MACBETH AND DUNCAN: Duncan I succeeded his maternal grandfather Malcolm II in 1034. Contrary to the story told by Shakespeare, Duncan was a fairly young man, and not a tremendously successful king. In 1045 he was killed in battle against Macbeth, not murdered in his bed. Lady Macbeth was nowhere near as evil as Shakespeare makes her out to be, either. Anti-Scottish propaganda from the 1600s! 

CANMORE AND HIS SAXON QUEEN: Malcolm III (Canmore) became king in 1058 after killing Macbeth (and a few others). He first married a Norsewoman called Ingiborg, who died (nobody’s sure when). In 1068 Malcolm granted asylum to members of the refugee Saxon royal family, who had fled England following its conquest by William of Normandy. In 1070 he married one of the refugees, Margaret of Wessex, a great-niece of Edward the Confessor. This is the original source of the Scottish royal line’s claim to the throne of England. Margaret, who was later canonised, founded St. Margaret’s chapel at Edinburgh Castle and is the queen referred to in the names of North and South Queensferry. Malcolm and Margaret both died in 1093. 

DAVID: King David I was the youngest son of Malcolm and Margaret. When his parents died his uncle succeeded to the throne and forced him into exile in England (he was probably still a child at the time). He stayed in England, rising to high station after his older sister married Henry I and gaining a couple of earldoms from his brother-inlaw. He obviously liked what the Normans had done with the place, and when he finally gained the throne of Alba in 1124 he invited Norman noblemen to Scotland to help establish his version of the Norman feudal system (the original Scots feudal law was not as brutal as the system which existed in France and England – feudal overlords in Scotland had to look after their vassals). 

David founded royal burghs, laying the foundations of local government, and built numerous monasteries including Melrose and Holyrood Abbeys. Scottish society and culture flourished, assisted by David’s generous grants of land to the Knights Templar, who provided a banking system, foreign exchange and excellent sea transport. Trade with Europe, including the Baltic states, boomed and David minted the first Scottish coinage (thanks to a silver mine he owned in England). 


William was David’s grandson and came to the throne after his older brother Malcolm IV, died at the age of 24. William also inherited the Earldom of Northumbria from his father Henry. Unfortunately, the king of England of the day, Henry II demanded Northumbria back and William got involved in a messy war which resulted in his capture by the English. He had to acknowledge Henry II as his (and Scotland’s) feudal overlord to regain his freedom and his kingdom. However, Henry II’s successor Richard I (desperate for funds to go crusading) allowed William to buy 4 back Scotland’s independence in 1189, but we never really got the English off our backs after that. 

In between skirmishes with England, William continued the work of his grandfather, building up trade, extending the system of burghs, starting to codify criminal law and welcoming Norman and Flemish knights into Scotland. 

TWO ALEXANDERS: Alexander II was William’s son and succeeded him. He was about 16 when he became king, and lasted for 35 years, during which time he brought Argyllshire fully under the control of the Scottish crown and agreed the border with England with Henry III. He died of a fever and was succeeded by his 7 year-old son, also Alexander. 

Things were a bit wobbly while Alexander III was a child, with powerful families such as the Comyns struggling for power, but once he reached 21 he proved to be a formidable leader, winning the Western Isles and the Isle of Man back from the Norwegians. Despite his reputed fondness for the ladies, Alexander only had 3 legitimate children, all of whom, along with his first wife, predeceased him. His only surviving descendant was his grand-daughter, Margaret, the child of his daughter who had married the King of Norway. 

IMMIGRANTS FROM FRANCE AND FLANDERS: From the 12th century onwards Norman knights from France and Flanders came to settle in Scotland. Our image shows a roll-call of some of the guid Scots names that are actually Norman (like Bruce, Hamilton, Grant and Douglas). 

MAID OF NORWAY: Alexander III managed to persuade the Scottish nobility to accept Margaret, the Norwegian princess, as heir presumptive and married a second wife in the hope of fathering a male heir, but he was killed in a fall from his horse, and his pregnant second wife miscarried, leaving little Margaret Queen of Scotland (but still in Norway). She died in Orkney on her way to Scotland in 1290 and all hell broke loose in Scotland. Her death also thwarted the ambitions of Edward Longshanks, who was by this time king of England and planned to marry her off to his son, uniting the 2 kingdoms under English rule. 

TWO CLAIMANTS: William the Lion’s bloodline died out with Margaret of Norway, and Scotland had to fall back on other descendants of David I to find a new monarch. John Balliol and Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale had the best claims – there wasn’t much to choose between them, people were taking sides and the country was edging towards civil war. In a spectacularly naïve move, the Scots nobility decided to ask Edward I of England to adjudicate (a bit like asking Alistair Darling to look after your economy). Edward made the two contenders (and as many other nobles as he could persuade) swear fealty to him as their feudal overlord (just until the succession was 5 decided, you understand) then gave the crown to Balliol, on condition that he acknowledged Edward as feudal overlord of Scotland. 


Toom Tabard (empty tunic) is a nickname given by the Scots to John Balliol. Balliol was forced to do whatever Edward Longshanks told him to, but the Scots got a bit fed up having a king who was an Anglo-Norman’s lapdog and the nobility appointed a Council of twelve men to actually run the country while Balliol sooked up to Edward. 

Edward commanded that Balliol send troops to assist him in a war against France, but in 1295 the council signed a treaty of mutual assistance with France: the Auld Alliance. Edward retaliated by invading Scotland, defeating Balliol’s army and forcing him to abdicate. Edward actually ceremonially ripped the coat-of-arms of Scotland off Balliol’s tunic – hence the nickname. 

WALLACE: After Balliol’s abdication he fled to France and Edward put his English lords in charge of Scotland. In 1297 William Wallace led a rebellion against Edward’s rule and he and his co-rebel Andrew Moray assumed the title “Guardians of Scotland” in the name of King John (their argument was that he was still king, since he had abdicated under duress). 

Wallace’s most famous victory was at Stirling Bridge in 1297, but he fought other battles in Scotland (won some, lost some) and raided northern England. In 1298 he got thoroughly gubbed in the Battle of Falkirk and resigned as Guardian. He was replaced by Robert Bruce, later 7th Lord of Annandale and John Comyn (a supporter of Balliol and a man with quite a good claim to the Scottish throne himself). 

Wallace seems to have gone underground at this point (probably involved in diplomatic missions to win the support of foreign powers, or good old-fashioned espionage) but he was back in Scotland by 1305. He was turned over to the English by a fellow Scot, John de Menteith. 

When Wallace was taken to London and charged with treason he pleaded “Not guilty” on the grounds that Edward was not his king, so he owed him no loyalty. He was tortured and executed. 

BRUCE, COMYN, LAMBERTON: Bruce and Comyn were a pretty dangerous combination as Guardians, since each had ambitions of his own for Scotland’s crown. They worked together under the guise of supporting the return of King John Balliol, and William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was appointed as a third Guardian to try to keep the peace between them. 

Lamberton was a well educated man, having studied at universities in Europe, and a close associate of Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, a strong supporter of Scottish independence. As Bishop of St. Andrews, Lamberton controlled the vast wealth of the diocese, from which he contributed generously to fund campaigns against English rule. He was also closer, politically, to Bruce than to Comyn. 

In 1300 it started to look as if John Balliol might be reinstated as king and Bruce resigned his Guardianship and made peace with Edward I (he didn’t really want Balliol restored to the throne). 

LONGSHANKS AND THE STONE OF SCONE: When Edward I (known as Longshanks because of his long legs) invaded Scotland in 1296 he removed the Stone of Destiny, a sacred stone on which the Kings of Scots were traditionally crowned, from Scone Abbey and took it to London, where he placed it in Westminster Abbey. 

However there is a theory that the stone Edward got was a fake, and that the monks hid the real one and gave him the lid of a mediaeval cesspit instead. All the early accounts of the real stone say that it was marble, and had carvings on it, while the stone Edward took is red sandstone and not carved at all. (I like the idea that the kings of England since Edward II have been crowned while seated on a mediaeval cludgie lid! – Ninja Penguin) 

COMYN KILLED: By 1304 things were going very badly for Scotland and Edward was preparing to absorb the country into his kingdom. Although Bruce outwardly supported Edward, he was secretly plotting against him, and made a pact with Lamberton binding the two in “friendship and alliance against all men”. 

Edward had his suspicions about Bruce, who had huge estates in Scotland (and therefore had many feudal vassals who owed him military service) but couldn’t prove that Bruce was working against him. In 1306 Bruce tried to enlist the support of John Comyn, asking him to join the alliance he had made with Lamberton, but Comyn threatened to betray Bruce and Lamberton to Edward. Bruce met with Comyn in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries and accused him of treachery, which Comyn denied. Bruce chibbed him, but not fatally, then left the church. 

Outside, Bruce’s supporters Roger Kirkpatrick and Alexander Lindsay asked Bruce if he had killed Comyn. When Bruce said he thought not, Kirkpatrick said “I’ll mak siccar” and he and Lindsay entered the church and finished the job. “I mak siccar” is still the motto of Clan Kirkpatrick. 

BRUCE CROWNED, BEATEN, OUTLAWED, ISLAND BOUND After the killing of Comyn, Bruce went to Glasgow to meet Bishop Wishart. Instead of excommunicating Bruce (which he should have done, for participating in a murder in a church) Wishart absolved him and urged the people of Scotland to support him. Wishart also brought out of hiding the old royal robes of Scotland and an ancient banner bearing the arms of the Celtic kings. 

Six weeks after the killing of Comyn, having captured a number of strongholds in the west of Scotland, Bruce made his way to Scone with Wishart. Lamberton met them there and Bruce was crowned – twice. 

His first coronation on 25 March 1306 was a standard, modern (for the time) coronation in Scone Abbey Church performed by Wishart, representing the church, in the presence of the senior churchmen and noblemen of Scotland. Bruce and the entire clergy of Scotland were excommunicated because of this. 

The second coronation, two days later, was a traditional Celtic affair held on the Moot Hill of Scone (Bruce was descended from Irish Gaelic royalty as well as from David I). In accordance with Celtic tradition Bruce should have been crowned by the Earl of Fife, the senior peer of the realm, but the earl was still a child at the time, so the coronation was performed by the boy’s sister, Isabel of Buchan. 

Isabel was the reason for the second coronation: she couldn’t get there in time for the first one, and her part of the ritual was clearly important, at least to Bruce. Of course, in accordance with Celtic tradition, the king should have been crowned on the Stone of Destiny. Did they just dispense with this element of the ceremony or did the monks of Scone bring the real stone out of its hiding place for the occasion? Of course they used the real stone, then they hid it again. 

ENGLAND GOT A CLUDGIE LID! ENGLAND GOT A CLUDGIE LID! – (Ninja Penguin) (Shut it, Penguin – Janet) Edward was well pissed off at this development and immediately set about taking his revenge. 

In June 1306 he defeated Bruce’s army in the Battle of Methven and Bruce, now an outlaw, fled for his life. Bruce’s wife, sisters and daughter, along with Isabel of Buchan, were arrested and imprisoned (in brutal conditions – his sister Mary and Isabel of Buchan were kept in cages hung outside Roxburgh Castle and Berwick Castle respectively) and his brother Neil was executed. 

Bruce fled westwards and hid out among the islands – most people believe in the Hebrides but others say that he hid in Ireland. It was during this time that the now famous tale of the spider is supposed to have originated. 

LONGSHANKS DEAD, BRUCE RETURNED: In a stroke of luck for Bruce, Edward died in July 1306 leaving his son, also Edward, king of England. Edward II was nowhere near as clever as his father, and nowhere near as rich, either, since so much money had been expended trying to subdue Scotland. 

He was also openly bisexual (not a popular choice for a king in the 14th century) and had a tendency to place his male partners in positions of power which they couldn’t really handle. This irritated both his wife and the English nobility. If Scotland was going to put an end to the English nonsense once and for all, now was the time, and Robert Bruce returned from exile in February 1307 to wage a guerrilla war in south west Scotland with the help of his brother Edward. 

Leaving Edward in charge of operations in the south west, Robert made his way north and by March 1309 he controlled all of Scotland north of the River Tay. He took the opportunity to convene a Parliament at St. Andrews and the following year the Scottish clergy officially recognised him as king, even though he had got them excommunicated. 

Bruce then set about recapturing the rest of Scotland a castle at a time, with the odd raid across the border to relieve the monotony. This guerrilla warfare was unusual in its day, but effective; Bruce would have lost heavily if he had gone for the standard set-piece battle between massed armies at this time. 

VICTORY AT BANNOCKBURN: By April 1314 the last major English stronghold in Scotland, Stirling Castle, was under siege by Edward Bruce. Its governor, Philip De Mowbray had agreed to surrender if English forces did not relieve him by 24 June 1314. 

Edward II finally got off his butt and marched north, primarily to relieve Stirling Castle but also in the hope of finally staging one of those set-piece battles mentioned above and destroying the Scottish army for good. 

There are loads of good, detailed accounts of the battle in print and on the web, or you can go to the new Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre, which opened on 1 March 2014, to find out everything you need to know. Bottom line is, we won and the English were put to flight. 

Edward II escaped to Dunbar where he boarded a ship back to England and the remains of his army desperately fled for the border, many of them being killed by the pursuing Scots army or the angry local peasants on the way. 


Although Bannockburn strengthened Bruce’s kingship and got Edward II out of the picture for a bit, Scotland was still in danger. Bruce and the Scottish clergy were still excommunicated which meant that any good Christian monarch who fancied his chances could launch a “crusade” against them, and England still saw Scotland as a rebellious feudal vassal.

In order to deal with this threat the Scots launched a diplomatic campaign to assert Scotland’s position as an independent kingdom. The Declaration of Arbroath, drawn up by the Abbot of Arbroath (who was also the chancellor of Scotland) and sealed by 51 magnates and nobles of Scotland, was a letter to Pope John XXII asserting the sovereignty of the Scottish people and their right to choose their own leader (and kick him/her out if he/she subjects them to English rule – we should have done that to Queen Anne in 1707). 

The effect wasn’t immediate, but after a bit of tussling (Edward II kept trying to get the Pope on his side) and the death of Edward II, the new English king, Edward III, finally signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, renouncing all English claims to Scotland, in 1328 and the long-standing excommunication was lifted. 

BALLIOL, BEAUMONT: The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was not popular with the English nobility, especially those who had lost lands in Scotland because of it. Some Scots had also found themselves on the wrong side and lost out, among them Edward Balliol (son of King John) and Henry de Beaumont (who had fought on the English side at Bannockburn). 

Robert Bruce had died in 1329 and been succeeded by his 5 year-old son David II, and Henry saw his chance to regain his lost lands and power in Scotland by putting Edward Balliol on the throne. 

Backed by Edward III of England, Beaumont marched north, defeating the Scots at Dupplin Moor in 1332, and had Edward Balliol crowned king at Scone. Three months later Edward was sent packing by the Scots and fled back to England. Poor Balliol seems to have been a bit of a pawn in the whole affair, being used by Beaumont and Edward III for their own ends. He was restored to the Scottish throne in 1333 after the battle of Halidon Hill, deposed again in 1334 because nobody in Scotland supported him, restored in 1335, deposed yet again in 1336. 

Meanwhile, young David II had fled to France for safety, leaving Scotland to be defended by his loyal lords. He returned in 1341, putting Beaumont and Balliol’s ambitions on hold, and took charge of his kingdom, but in 1346, under the terms of the Auld Alliance, he invaded England, which was at war with France. David was defeated and captured at Neville’s Cross and imprisoned in England for 11 years. 

In 1357 Scotland agreed to pay a ransom (in instalments) for David and he returned to govern Scotland (extremely well), ending Balliol and Beaumont’s hopes. 

MARJORIE AND THE STEWART DYNASTY: David II died without issue and the crown passed to Robert, the son of his sister Marjorie, who had married Walter, Steward of Scotland, hence the surname Stewart (steward). All of the subsequent Stewart monarchs descend from Marjorie. 

THE 15TH AND EARLY 16TH CENTURIES: Golf was popular in Scotland by 1457, when it was banned by James II because it kept people away from archery practice. William Sinclair began building Rosslyn Chapel in 1456. Scots law was being developed and expanded throughout the 15th century. 

The Great Michael, built at Newhaven on the orders of James IV (who had Newhaven built for the purpose, since there were no Scottish docks big enough) was the largest ship afloat when she was launched in 1511 – about twice the size of England’s Mary Rose. 

The Flodden Wall, which can still be seen at various places in central Edinburgh, was constructed after James IV’s disastrous attempt to invade England (in support of the king of France) which ended in his defeat and death at Flodden Field, along with between 5000 and 10,000 Scots in 1513. (I cry every time I see the Flodden monument – Janet). As well as providing protection from the expected English invasion (which didn’t actually happen), it also helped to control smuggling in the city of Edinburgh and increased tax revenue. Construction was finally completed in 1560. 

BARBOUR, BOWER GILBERT HAY: John Barbour (c. 1320 – 1395) was a Scottish poet. His major surviving work “The Brus” was written in the 1370’s (about 10 years before Chaucer wrote “The Canterbury Tales”) and is a long biography of Robert Bruce, in verse. The most quoted line is in the second image in our video “Fredome is a noble thing”

Walter Bower (c. 1385 – 1449), Abbot of Inchcolm, was a historian who decided to write a history book specifically for Scots. He was continuing the work of a historian called John of Fordun, who had attempted to write a continuous history of Scotland but died in 1384, having only got as far as 1153. 

Walter’s book, Scotichronicon (A History for Scots) incorporated Fordun’s history and brought it right up to date. It was originally written in Latin, but a recent translation is available, in nine volumes. It’s hideously expensive, but a book of extracts is also available for under a tenner and is worth reading. 

Gilbert Hay (c. 1403 – after 1456) One of St. Andrews’ earliest graduates, Gilbert was a poet and translator (he was well versed in Latin, Greek, French and Arabic, amongst other languages). He spent over 20 years travelling in Europe (and possibly around the Mediterranean) collecting and translating manuscripts. Three of his translations survive along with one of his own books: “The Buik of Alexander the Conqueror”, a collection of legends about Alexander the Great. We don’t know when Gilbert died, but he was last heard of working for William Sinclair (the one who built Rosslyn Chapel) in 1456. 

SCOTTISH UNIVERSITIES: St. Andrews University founded between 1410 and 1413, is Scotland’s oldest university. Glasgow University was founded in 1451 at the suggestion of James II, and was originally attached to Glasgow Cathedral. Aberdeen University was founded in 1495 as King’s College, at the request of James IV. King’s College always called itself the University of Aberdeen, and the name was formalised in the 19th century when King's College merged with Marischal College. 

Edinburgh University started out as a College of Law founded by Edinburgh Council, using part of a legacy they had been left by Bishop Robert Reid in 1558. It branched out into subjects other than law and achieved full university status from James VI in 1582.  


The topic of the Reformation is too vast and complicated to explain in any detail here. Read about it if you’re interested, but read more than one source, since many are biased one way or the other. The sources listed at the end of this article are a good starting point. 

In a nutshell, there had been unrest within Christendom from the end of the 14th century because of the perception that the papacy was corrupt and interfering too much in politics. Pope Alexander VI (1492 – 1503) who had seven children (including the infamous Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia) by two mistresses did nothing to alter this perception. 

In 1517 a German monk called Martin Luther staged a protest by nailing a list of 95 theses to a church door in Germany, triggering a movement for reform. By 1525 the Scottish Parliament had banned the import of Luther’s books and within a few years people were being burned at the stake for heresy but the movement grew and Scotland officially broke with the papacy in 1560.

We want to make it clear that nobody at Yew Choob is a Christian, so we have no view one way or the other on the theological aspects of all this, but we can understand why the Scots might want to reject a church that was filthy rich while most of them lived in poverty, whose holy book was in a language they didn’t understand and which told them that only members of its hierarchy could impart information about spirituality. 

The new reformed church offered them education, scriptures in their native tongue and the opportunity to have ministers elected by the congregation and a say in running their church. We can also understand why others, afraid of offending their god, wanted to stick with their original faith. 

John Knox (c. 1514 – 1572) was a St. Andrews graduate who joined the movement for church reform in Scotland. He was involved with a group of reformers who killed Cardinal Beaton in 1546 (although there is no evidence that Knox was party to the murder itself) and was arrested by French forces which had been called in to support the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise. He spent 3 years as a slave on a French galley and on his release was exiled to England where he became royal chaplain to the young king Edward VI. 

When Edward died and his older sister Mary Tudor acceded to the throne, Protestantism was outlawed and Knox left for Geneva where he met John Calvin, who introduced him to the concept of Presbyterianism (church run by a council of elders rather than a hierarchy of bishops etc.) Knox returned to Scotland in 1559 and spearheaded a revolt against Mary of Guise. She was deposed as Regent and died in June 1560. 

The Scottish Parliament met in July 1560 and officially broke ties with the papacy. In 1561 Parliament convened again to set out the rules for the new church, including education for all and how the church would be funded, but the implementation of these measures was delayed by Queen Mary’s return to Scotland in August 1561. 

Knox had a few run-ins with Mary, particularly when she married the Catholic Lord Darnley, but she made no attempt to oppose his reforms. Knox spent most of the remainder of his life in Edinburgh, preached at the coronation of the baby king James VI in 1567 after Mary’s abdication and managed to survive the subsequent civil war. He died at home in Edinburgh in 1572. 

DARNLEY, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS: Mary was born in 1542 and became Queen of Scots at the age of 6 days when her father James V died. During her infancy the Earl of Arran was appointed regent and he signed a treaty with Henry VIII of England, who was desperate to absorb Scotland into his kingdom, agreeing that Mary would marry Henry’s son Edward when she reached the age of 10 (!). 

The Scottish Parliament rejected the treaty and the “Rough Wooing” ensued. Mary’s mother, Mary de Guise, called in reinforcements from France, promised Mary in marriage to the Dauphin Francis and sent the 5 year old Mary to France to be raised at the French court with her husband-to-be. Mary duly married Francis, making him King Consort of Scotland. 

Mary was beautiful, charming, well-educated and a helpless pawn in the schemes of her powerful de Guise relatives. When Mary Tudor died in 1558 Mary’s father-inlaw, Henri II of France, and her de Guise uncles proclaimed her the rightful Queen of England, on the grounds that Elizabeth Tudor was illegitimate (the Catholic world did not recognise Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn). 

Although they eventually backed down, this permanently soured relations between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Mary, safely ensconced in France, wasn’t too bothered at this point and even less so when her husband acceded to the French throne in 1559. Unfortunately for Mary, Francis died in December 1560 and she found she was no longer welcome at the French court.

Her mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici (a woman who makes Margaret Thatcher look like a wee fluffy bunny) had become regent for the new king, Francis’ 10 year-old brother Charles. Mary returned to Scotland, landing at Leith in August 1561. She had been abroad for so long that she spoke Scots with a French accent and the people were wary of her, fearing that she might interfere with the Reformation. Mary, however, had witnessed the horrors of her uncle the Cardinal of Lorraine’s persecution of the French Huguenots and had no wish to cause a bloodbath. She accepted the Reformation, asking only that she and her French retinue be allowed to worship in their own way unmolested (the Scottish Parliament had banned the celebration of Mass). This made her unpopular with both sides, for whom tolerance wasn’t a priority at the time. 

Mary proceeded to make a series of horrendous mistakes, principally her second marriage to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. At 19, Darnley was three years younger than Mary, immature, spoilt and arrogant, but good-looking and a Catholic. He was also her cousin and had a similar claim to the English throne (they were both descended from Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister). 

Mary’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray (one of James V’s many illegitimate offspring) and many of the Protestant lords were outraged at her marriage to a Catholic and rebelled against her, but ultimately she had more support than they did (apart from her taste in men, she did do her best for her people) and the Earl of Moray fled to England. 

Mary reassured the other lords by appointing both Catholics and Protestants to her Privy Council. Darnley, probably feeling a bit macho because Mary was pregnant by this time, acted as if he had seen off the rebels single-handed and demanded that Mary grant him the Crown Matrimonial (he was Mary’s consort, but the Crown Matrimonial would have made him her successor if she died childless or in childbirth, a pretty common occurrence back then). 

Mary’s response was something along the lines of “Aye, right!” Darnley threw a major tantrum, hit the bottle, joined the rebels and had Mary’s secretary murdered (in the middle of a dinner party with Mary present, nothing subtle) then lost his bottle, abandoned the rebels and went crawling back to Mary. Mary did the only thing she could do: forgave him but also pardoned the rebels (which terrified the living cr@p out of Darnley and kept him under control). 

Three months later, in June 1566, Mary gave birth to a son, James, but unsurprisingly her marriage was on the rocks. Her religious beliefs made divorce unthinkable, although her Privy Council were all for it when Mary discussed “Darnleygate” with them at Craigmillar in November 1566. 

The lords wanted Darnley out of the picture for the good of Scotland. (I actually typed “Darling” there instead of “Darnley”! Freudian slip – Janet) Darnley knew he was in trouble (and possibly danger) and went home to daddy in Glasgow. He fell ill on the way, with a disease generally believed to have been smallpox, though some say it was syphilis. 

In January 1567 Mary persuaded him to return to Edinburgh to recuperate (she probably wanted him where she could keep an eye on him) and he took up residence in a house at Kirk o’ Field (roughly where the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street now stands). Mary visited him there daily, but on the night of 9th February, after Mary had left Kirk o’ Field to attend the wedding of a member of her household, the house was destroyed by a huge explosion.

Bizarrely, Darnley was found dead in the garden along with his valet, without a mark on their bodies. They were believed to have been smothered (nae forensic science in thae days). This is what passed for a crime scene photo in 1567. Obviously there were numerous suspects, including Mary herself, but the general consensus was that James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell had planned and carried out the murder. Darnley’s father, the Earl of Lennox, demanded a trial, but Bothwell was acquitted since Lennox could not provide any evidence for the prosecution.

Three months later, Mary married Bothwell. This shocked the Catholic lords, because Bothwell was a Protestant, and everyone else because Bothwell was believed to have murdered Darnley. It also cast suspicion back on to Mary, and 26 of the Scottish peers rebelled. There was nearly a battle at Carberry Hill on 15 June 1567, but most of Mary’s troops deserted and she was taken prisoner. 

Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle and forced to abdicate in favour of her son James VI. She escaped and fled to England, where Elizabeth I imprisoned her. Elizabeth did try to negotiate the restoration of Mary (on condition that she did not interfere with the reformed church in Scotland) but Scotland was having none of it – she was too dangerous. 

Mary spent the rest of her life in captivity. She was a constant threat to Elizabeth because she became a focus for English Catholic lords who wanted to return a Catholic to the throne of England and eventually one of the conspiracies caught up with her and Elizabeth had her executed in 1587. 

JAMES VI (AND I OF ENGLAND): James became King of Scots when he was 13 months old and the country was ruled by a succession of regents until he attained majority. He was brought up as a member of the Church of Scotland and extremely well educated as well as being instructed in the duties of King of Scots (including the concept of sovereignty vest in the people).

He was an avid witch-hunter and anti-smoking campaigner and as he matured he began to espouse some strange ideas, including the concept of the Divine Right of Kings (kings are superior beings chosen by God and can do whatever they like). This was completely at odds with Scotland’s constitution as laid out in the Declaration of Arbroath. He even wanted to do away with Parliament altogether. 

James also embarked on a programme of persecuting the Gaels. He dissolved the Lordship of the Isles (the military power of the Gaels in the north-west was formidable and he wanted it under his control). He also tried to eradicate the Gaelic language and generally stamp out Gaelic culture, partly because the majority of the Gaels had not heard about the reformation yet and remained Catholic. 

It was probably quite a relief, for the people of the Highlands and Islands at least, when James inherited the throne of England and buggered off to London in 1603. James promised to return to Scotland every 3 years, but broke his promise. He found he rather liked England, in particular his position as head of the Church of England, which chimed with his theory about the Divine Right of Kings. 

The Church of Scotland did not allow the monarch to lead it – it was far too democratic for that and James worked hard to reintroduce bishops to Scotland as a means of controlling the church. By the time James died in 1625 Scotland had a full panel of bishops and archbishops, and the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland only met if the monarch allowed it. 

If James had maintained the separation of church and crown perhaps the problems caused by sectarianism in Scotland would have been easier to deal with. 

COVENANT, CROMWELL, RESTORATION: The original National Covenant was drawn up in 1581 as a statement of resistance to attempts by Catholics to regain control of Scotland, and was signed by James VI himself, amongst others. However the better known Covenant came later, during the reign of James’s son, Charles I. 

Charles, like his father, was a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings (he dissolved the English Parliament in 1629 for disagreeing with him) and decided that the Church of Scotland needed to be more like the Church of England. To this end, using the hierarchy of bishops his father had put in place, Charles tried to force the Church of Scotland to adopt a version of the Anglican liturgy and rituals (not much different from the old Catholic ones). 

The Scots reacted as they always do when people in power try to force them to comply – they dug their heels in. The first use of the new liturgy in St. Giles Cathedral triggered a riot and before long Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston, came up with the idea of reviving the National Covenant. 

The new National Covenant was signed on 28 February 1638 in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. The signatories pledged to retain the democratic, Presbyterian church, but also swore allegiance to the king – they weren’t rejecting him, just the religious changes that he and his father before him had made. 

Charles decided he would have to use force, but he was short of funds and troops, so he gave the Scots a chance to back down by agreeing to a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in November 1638. The Assembly concluded that bishops should be deposed and the new liturgy abolished, so Charles brought a half-trained army north. There were a few minor skirmishes but neither side wanted war, so an agreement was reached in June 1639, referring all disputed questions to another General Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. 

The General Assembly stood by the decision made in 1638 and the Scottish Parliament backed it up and went a step further, abolishing bishops altogether and declaring itself independent of Charles’s rule. Scotland had rejected its king in accordance with the principle set out in the Declaration of Arbroath. Charles was not chuffed and became convinced that Scotland was conspiring against him with the French (or at least pretended to believe it in the hope of stirring up England against them). 

In April 1640 Charles recalled the English Parliament to get them to back his campaign against Scotland, but it had grievances of its own to settle and wouldn’t play ball, so he dissolved it again. One of Charles’s advisers, Thomas Wentworth, managed to raise enough money and supplies for a military expedition to Scotland, but the Scots drove them out and overran Northumberland and Durham for good measure. 

Charles agreed to peace, but had to leave the 2 counties in Scots hands as security for the expense money he had agreed to pay the Scots. He was now financially stuffed and had to recall the English Parliament to try and get some money out of them (only Parliament could raise taxes). 

In 1641 Charles went to Scotland himself to try to win support. He accepted all the decisions of the General Assembly and the Scottish Parliament (including their right to challenge decisions made by him and his ministers) but it was too late. He had pissed off his English Parliament so much that civil war ensued. 

The Scottish Covenanter administration backed the English Parliament in its war against Charles and his Royalists (there were Royalists in Scotland, but they were defeated). Charles surrendered to a Covenanter army in 1647 and was handed over to the English Parliamentarians. 

Almost as soon as they had defeated Charles, the Covenanters fell out with the English Parliamentarians, who refused to introduce Presbyterianism to England and had begun to look as if they might threaten Scottish independence. Oliver Cromwell was rising to prominence in England by this time. 

If Charles I believed in the Divine Right of Kings, Cromwell believed in the Divine Right of Ollie and was convinced that God guided him in everything he did. He was such a screaming nut-job that the Covenanters actually started negotiating with Charles again, at least until his execution in 1649. 

Charles II was acknowledged King of Scots and crowned at Scone in 1651 in return for his agreement to support the Covenant, but the English did not accept him, and Cromwell took over the running of England and invaded and occupied the Scottish lowlands. Cromwell forced Scotland into temporary union with England and stripped the Church of Scotland of all civil power. 

Fortunately for all concerned, Cromwell died in 1658, sparking a political crisis which led to the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660. In 1662 Charles renounced his support for the Covenant and reinstalled the bishops. Ministers who refused to accept the bishops’ authority were thrown out of their churches and took to holding secret services out of doors. These services were ruled to be “unlawful assemblies” and attendance at them was made a capital offence. 

There are monuments to the Covenanter martyrs all over southern and central Scotland, the best known being the one in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The Covenanters continued to rebel, and get slaughtered, until James VII, succeeding Charles II, allowed the ousted ministers to return to their churches. 

On the accession of William and Mary, things settled down even more, but some Scots Presbyterians considered William to be an “uncovenanted” monarch because he was head of the Church of England (with its bishops).  

BOSWELL: James Boswell (1740-1795) was born in Edinburgh and studied first at Edinburgh University, abandoning his studies in 1758 due to ill health. He went on to study at Glasgow University and while he was there he decided to convert to Catholicism and become a monk. 

His father, horrified, ordered him to return home immediately, but James ran away and shagged his way around London for 3 months (so much for the monastic lifestyle). Returning to Scotland he enrolled for a course in law at Edinburgh, this time completing his studies and doing rather well. 

In 1762 he took off to London again, where he began writing and first made the acquaintance of Samuel Johnson. Boswell soon headed for the continent and proceeded to shag his way round Europe for 2 years. He returned in 1766, spending a few weeks in London before moving back to Edinburgh where he sat his final law exams and then practised as an advocate for 10 years, although he visited London regularly to hobnob with Johnson and the London literary crowd. 

Although Boswell married in 1769 and had 7 children, he retained a liking for hookers which led to him contracting STD’s at least seventeen times. Some of his journal entries contain frank (and quite amusing) descriptions of his encounters with “ladies of the night”. He was also heavily into booze and gambling. 

In 1773 Boswell went on a tour of the Highlands and Islands with Johnson, writing up the story of their travels in “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides”. Boswell's writing career was considerably more successful than his career as an advocate, his best known work being his biography of his friend Samuel Johnson. 

Boswell died in 1795 – we’re not sure whether it was the booze or the STD’s that finally got him. 

COLONY AT DARIEN: The Darien Enterprise is usually presented as a failed business enterprise undertaken by the Scots, which caused us to beg for Union with England because we were too wee, poor and stupid to run our own country. Surprise, surprise – there’s more to it than that. 

The story of Darien really goes back to the days of Cromwell’s Protectorate. Cromwell had passed laws to ensure that trade with England and its colonies could only be carried out using English ships (so Scottish ships could not sail to England and the colonies with goods to trade). The laws were really aimed at restricting the Dutch trading empire, but they hit Scotland much harder than they hit the Dutch. 

After the Restoration, Charles II repealed Cromwell’s laws and in 1660 replaced them with his own, which were even more prejudicial to Scotland. Now, English ships had to have crews which were 75% composed of Englishmen and trade goods from English colonies could only be transported to England. In 1663 further laws were passed making it illegal for trade goods from anywhere in Europe to be transported to English colonies without going via England (and paying tax there). The same applied to goods from English colonies coming to Europe. 

England was enriching itself by ripping off the rest of the world. By the 1690’s Scotland was struggling. The constant wars since Charles I’s accession had depleted the population and there had been a run of poor harvests. The Scottish Parliament responded by establishing the Bank of Scotland in 1695 and introducing a system of parish based schools to ensure an educated, skilled workforce. It also decided to do something to improve its trading abilities and set up The Company of Scotland to trade with Africa and the Indies. The English opposed this last move, obviously, because it threatened the monopoly they had created for themselves, but the Scots managed to raise capital from Amsterdam, Hamburg and even London as well as from Scotland. 

The Scots planned to create their own version of the hugely successful English East India Company. Meanwhile, William Paterson, the Scottish trader and financial whiz kid who later (ironically) helped found the Bank of England, had been desperately trying to interest people in a scheme to found a colony in Panama to act as a staging post between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The newly created Company of Scotland took him up on his idea, abandoned their ideas of emulating the East India Company, and sank all their capital in the new scheme for a colony at Darien. 

In July 1698 five ships of colonists set sail from Leith, travelling round the north coast of Scotland to avoid detection by the English. They reached Darien and built a fort (rather stupidly forgetting to build it with a supply of fresh water) then began trying to settle the area and farm the land. They were surrounded by colonies of the hostile Spanish empire and although the natives were hostile to Spain, they didn’t have much use for the trade goods the Scots had brought with them. 

The climate was a problem for the Scots, who found their food wouldn’t keep and fell victim to a variety of diseases in the swampy, mosquito infested area. Although the natives helped them out with gifts of food, the settlers were too weak to actually farm or hunt for themselves and William III had forbidden the English and Dutch colonies in the Americas to provide them with supplies, for fear of upsetting the Spanish. At one point, ten settlers a day were dying. 

After eight months the colony was abandoned. Only 25% of the settlers had survived and only one ship made it back to Scotland. Unfortunately, news of the failure did not reach Scotland until after a second wave of settlers, 1000 this time, had departed for Darien. They arrived in November 1699 and set about rebuilding the fort and the abandoned settlement of New Edinburgh under the direction of Thomas Drummond, and ex-army officer from the first expedition who had stayed behind. 

The colony was at risk of attack by the Spaniards and the new settlers became demoralised until the arrival of Alexander Campbell, who had been sent by the Company of Scotland to help organise the defence of the settlement. Instead of waiting to be attacked, Campbell went to meet the Spaniards and drove them out of a stockade they had built, but Campbell was wounded and fell ill. The Spaniards made it to the Scottish fort and besieged it for a month (remember this was the fort with no fresh water supply). The Scots were trapped and dying like flies, and the Spaniards were losing men to disease too. 

The Scots surrendered and those left alive were allowed to leave with their guns,. The colony was abandoned again. The investors back in Scotland were furious and the Company tried to recoup some of their losses by sending three ships to the parts of Africa that weren’t forbidden to them, but one ship was lost at sea and the other two were stolen by their captains who turned to slavery and piracy. The project had crashed completely and many of the major Scots landowners had lost large amounts of money. Contrary to common belief, though, the country, although indebted, was not bankrupt. 

GREEDY MEN: While the Darien Scheme was going down (literally), the monarchy back home was getting pretty wobbly too. Mary II had died in 1694, childless, and her husband William ruled alone. 

The heir to the throne was Prince William, Mary’s nephew (the only surviving child of her sister Anne) but he died in 1700 aged 11. Now the childless Anne was the heir apparent, but she was in poor health and very unlikely to have more children. 

Fearing the return of the exiled, Catholic side of the royal family, the English Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701, which stipulated that the monarch must be a member of the Church of England. The Scottish Parliament took exception to this and retaliated in 1704 with The Act of Security, reserving Scotland’s right to choose its own monarch from among the descendants of the Scottish royal line. The Act also stipulated that the Scots would only agree to have the same monarch as England if England lifted the restrictions that had been placed on Scottish trade. 

Meanwhile William had died, in 1702, and Anne was now queen. Surprisingly, she (eventually) ratified the Act of Security. It was starting to look as if Scotland might choose a different monarch from England when Anne died, so the English Parliament decided that, in order to maintain the United Kingdom, they would have to force the Scots into a political union and get rid of the Scottish Parliament. 

In 1705 the English Parliament passed the Alien Act. You may recognise some of it, Better Together are still using it. The Act made Scotland a foreign country and all Scots aliens (foreigners). There would be border posts between Scotland and England, and England banned the import of Scottish goods into England or its colonies (this accounted for about 50% of Scotland’s trade). Scotland’s major exports, coal, linen and cattle were hit hard. 

The Act also upset the rich Scots who owned property in England, because as “foreigners” the right of inheritance was no longer automatic. Of course, all of these measures would be suspended immediately if Scotland entered into negotiations for union, The Scots people would probably have held out, since they’ve never liked being blackmailed, but the Scottish Parliament then consisted of the major landowners. Most of them had lost money in the Darien Scheme and now the inheritance of their offspring was under threat too. 

Tax revenues were plummeting because of the trade embargo, so when England offered to pay off some of their Darien debts they jumped at it. A large sum of money was handed over to the Earl of Glasgow to distribute amongst the men whom Burns later termed “a parcel of rogues”. They rolled over and set up a team to negotiate with England. 

Only one member of the team was opposed to the union and the Treaty was drawn up. A substantial sum of money (over and above the aforementioned bribe) was given to Scotland to compensate for taking on England’s national debt. Much of this money is believed to have been snapped up by speculators who had lost out in the Darien Scheme. 

It was estimated at the time that between 75% and 100% of the people of Scotland opposed the union. Shires, burghs (including the Convention of Scottish Royal Burghs), presbyteries and parishes all petitioned Parliament against the union (and no one petitioned in its favour). There were riots in the streets of Edinburgh and several other Scottish burghs on the day the Act of Union was passed, and martial law was imposed. 

THE UNION WAS NOT THE CHOICE OF THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND AND IT DID NOT BENEFIT THEM: (I’ve always wondered why we didn’t invoke the Declaration of Arbroath and kick out Queen Anne there and then, but it was probably because too many people in high places had been bribed. – Janet) 


When Queen Anne died in 1714 the crown went to her second cousin George of Hanover, great-grandson of James VI, passing over her half-brother James, the Catholic son of James VII and Mary of Modena. 

The sectarian Act of Union of 1701 had been applied to Scotland at the union in 1707, so the Scots had no choice in the matter, although enough of them preferred James (who would have been James VIII of Scotland) to start a rebellion. James Francis Edward Stuart, in exile in France, had proclaimed himself king of Scotland on the death of his father, James VII and II, in 1701, and his claim had been recognised by France, Spain, Modena and the Papal States, none of which actually accepted William and Mary or Queen Anne as rulers of England and Scotland. 

James had attempted to invade England in 1708, but had retreated on the advice of his French backers, who believed it was too risky at the time. 

In 1715 he tried again, but despite support in both England and Scotland, the enterprise was poorly organised and failed. James, generally known nowadays as The Old Pretender (although he had at least as good a claim to the throne as George I) fled to Rome and lived out the remainder of his life in exile there. Many Jacobite supporters were tried and executed for treason until, in 1717, the Indemnity Act pardoned all who had been involved in the rising, except members of Clan Gregor including the famous Rob Roy MacGregor. 

The second Jacobite rebellion in 1745 was spearheaded by Charles Edward Stuart, son of the Old Pretender, and might have succeeded if he had limited his ambitions to Scotland and given up the crazy Stuart notion of the Divine Right of Kings (I think that lunacy was Darnley’s fault – it only emerged in the Stuart monarchs who had his genes – James VI onwards – Janet) (That’s what happens when you interbreed with your cousins – Ninja Penguin) 

In 1745 most of the British army was abroad interfering in the Austrian succession, so it was a good time to mount a rebellion at home and try once more to put James VIII on the throne. Charles, having drummed up support in France, sailed to Scotland and raised his standard at Glenfinnan, where he was joined by a force of Highlanders, on 19 August 1745. 

Part of the attraction of the rebellion for the Scots was that they believed James and Charles would overturn the union with England. Charles marched south, defeating a British force at Prestonpans on 21 September. Charles’s followers were only really interested in taking the crown of Scotland for James and Charles, but Charles wanted England too, and persuaded his Highlanders to continue into England by telling them that English Jacobites would join forces with them (this wasn’t true). 

Charles marched on southwards, taking Carlisle, after a siege, in November. Manchester surrendered to him and he continued to Derby, where things got a bit tricky. Some British troops had been recalled from the Continent and there were now three armies between Charles and London, his ultimate goal. 

Fearing that, even if he defeated one of the armies, his troops would be sorely depleted and unable to defeat the others, and realising that Jacobites in England were sitting firmly on the fence, Charles headed back north pursued by British forces bent on revenge. 

Charles’s army was defeated at Culloden on 16 April 1746 by a British force commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, who ordered that they bayonet the wounded, Ian Davidson style, earning him his nickname “Butcher Cumberland”. Charles fled to Skye, then back to Europe, his ambitions thwarted. The Jacobite rebels were punished severely with many of the landowners losing their estates, and Parliament took revenge by passing the Heritable Jurisdictions and Dress Acts in 1746, ostensibly to prevent further rebellions. The Heritable Jurisdictions Act removed the powers of Highland feudal superiors (which they had held since before David I’s time) to judge civil and criminal cases within their lands and the Dress Act prohibited the wearing of Highland dress: kilts, tartan and traditional accessories (many of which were weapons – try wearing a sgian dubh in an airport, you’ll understand what this was about) by all males except members of Scottish regiments in the British army, viz. 

“no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty's Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes”

The penalty for a first offence was 6 months imprisonment, with transportation to a penal colony the punishment for a second offence. 

HIGHLAND CLEARANCE, LONDON INTERFERENCE: The explanation usually trotted out by unionist historians for the Highland Clearances is economic: that the landowners wanted to improve the profitability of their land by raising sheep rather than having feudal vassals and tenants farming it in the form of the ancient crofting tradition but that’s not the whole story. 

As mentioned above, many Jacobite landowners had lost their estates after the rebellions, and these estates had been granted to loyal supporters of the Hanoverian crown, many of whom spent little if any time in Scotland. They could not command the sort of loyalty from their vassals and tenants that had been given to the original landowners, so they decided to get rid of them, by evicting them and replacing them with sheep, which aren’t noted for their tendency to armed rebellion. 

The Duke of Sutherland (pictured in our image along with his thoroughly obnoxious wife Elizabeth) was one of the worst offenders. He was an Englishman who became Earl of Sutherland through his marriage and was later created Duke. The many ruined crofts and villages all over the Highlands are a testament to this persecution of the Highlanders, who had no choice but to move south to the cities or take their chances abroad, in Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand – anywhere was better than the UK.  

RABBIE BURNS: Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) is regarded as Scotland’s National Bard and is one of Ninja Penguin’s all time heroes. If you don’t know anything about him, shame on you! As well as the poems we all know and love and the traditional songs he collected, Burns wrote some breathtaking satirical verses. Ninja Penguin recommends “The Toadeater” and “Thanksgiving for a National Victory” for starters. 

JAMES WATT: James Watt (1736 – 1819) was born in Greenock and trained as a scientific instrument maker, but in 1759 he became interested in steam power. He made efficiency improvements to the Newcomen steam engine, which had been in use for some 50 years and later adapted his improved steam engine to produce rotary motion (the Newcomen engine had been used to power pumps). 

Watt’s work was fundamental to the progress of the Industrial Revolution and the SI unit of power, the watt, is named after him. 

CALTON WEAVERS: Calton was a community of handloom weavers just outside Glasgow (although the area has long since been swallowed up by the city). 

The Industrial Revolution made handloom weaving less desirable, since factories using power looms could produce more cloth per weaver of a more uniform quality. The price of factory woven linen and cotton was lower than that of hand woven textiles and this began to impact on hand weavers’ wages. 

In June 1787 journeyman weavers in Calton went on strike in protest at a cut in their wages (the second cut in a relatively short time). The strike got nasty, with strikers cutting the fabric from the looms of weavers who broke the strike. 

On September 3 The Provost of Glasgow, along with magistrates and a sheriff, set off to confront a large crowd of weavers who had gathered at Wellpark, with the intention of apprehending the leaders of the strike. The strikers jeered and threw stuff, so the Provost went away and came back with troops, which didn’t impress the strikers. They jeered and lobbed some more missiles and the troops opened fire. Three weavers were killed instantly and another three died of their wounds later. 

The man identified as their leader, James Grainger, was publicly whipped through the streets of Edinburgh and banished from Scotland for seven years. He came back afterwards and picked up exactly where he had left off, getting involved in another strike in 1811-1812. The Calton Weavers’ strike was the first large-scale industrial action in Scotland but the hand loom weavers of Calton never recovered and by 1830 they were among the poorest skilled workers in Scotland. 

Some of their children, who wanted to maintain weaving as their occupation, learned to use power looms and went to work in the factories. (My ancestors were Calton hand weavers at the time of the strike. The next generation were power loom weavers. – Janet) 

WALTER SCOTT: Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) caused a bit of a fall-out between Janet and Ninja Penguin because he is always said to have been a unionist and Janet didn’t think he deserved a place in the song. Ninja Penguin, however, believes that Scott had to act like a unionist in order to help Scotland, and help us he certainly did. 

As well as writing poems and books which revived interest in Scottish history and helping to rehabilitate our image in the wake of the Jacobite rebellions, Scott re-discovered the long lost Crown Jewels of Scotland, arranged a visit to Scotland for George IV (which resulted in the ban on tartan being lifted and kick-started our tourist industry), and came up with a job creation scheme to provide work for unemployed weavers after the 1820 insurrection. He also collected and preserved a vast number of historical Scottish books. 

1820 INSURRECTION: The Scottish Insurrection of 1820 (also known as the Radical War) was a week of strikes and civil unrest by workers demanding reform. 

In Scotland at the time, only 1 person in 250 had the right to vote and the revolutions in America and France had provided the inspiration for change. This, coupled with an economic depression following the end of the Napoleonic Wars and high food prices, led to unrest particularly amongst weavers in Scotland. 

There was unrest in England too, and the government decided to flush out potential troublemakers in Scotland by sending in spies and agents provocateurs to provoke acts of open rebellion, which they could then crush. They managed to organise an embryonic rebellion and then turned the rebels over to the authorities, but the whole thing got out of control. 

Scotland was more than ready for change. On 3 April 1820 around 60,000 workers in Central Scotland downed tools and went on strike. Government agents encouraged the radicals to arm themselves by telling them that an armed rebellion was under way in England, and a group of 30 men, led by John Baird and Andrew Hardie marched on Carron Ironworks, while another, led by James Wilson, marched on Glasgow. 

Baird and Hardie’s group was intercepted by government troops at Bonnymuir, where 19 of them were taken prisoner and four wounded. Baird and Hardie were executed. Wilson’s group had set out from Strathaven, but had got word of probable treachery and turned back well before reaching Glasgow. This didn’t stop the authorities from arresting Wilson and other members of the group and jailing them. Wilson was charged with treason and executed. 

The purpose of the government-provoked insurrection had been to draw out Scotland’s radicals and crush them to discourage unrest, and this did work for a while. In 1822 George IV visited Scotland. The event, stage-managed by Walter Scott, was the first visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch since 1650 and as well as 25 rehabilitating Scotland’s image, it helped the Scots to rediscover their sense of national identity. 

Scott also suggested providing work for unemployed weavers by having them build what is still called the Radical Road in Holyrood Park. In 1832 Glasgow finally got its own Member of Parliament. Despite the crushing of the Radical movement, Scotland was beginning to regain its pride and its confidence. 

COAL MINES: Coal became increasingly important as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, and Scotland had loads of it. 

In 1854 there were 379 working collieries in Scotland. 

CLYDE SHIPS: By the 19th century Clydeside had a world-class reputation for shipbuilding. The world’s first commercial steamship, The Comet, was launched on the Clyde in 1812. From 1837 onwards iron ships were built on the Clyde and as the 19th century progressed the Clydeside shipyards became the world’s foremost shipbuilding centre. The term “Clydebuilt” became a common idiom meaning “well constructed”. 

IRONWORKS: Scotland had coal and iron ore in abundance and had been producing iron and steel on a modest scale since the early 17th century. 

By the 19th century the Carron Company’s works near Falkirk was the largest ironworks in Europe. Demand for iron and steel increased as the 19th century progressed and other iron and steelworks started up in response. Many were situated in the western half of central Scotland along with plate-mills, to supply iron for the shipyards on the Clyde. 

POKE OF CHIPS: The first chips in Scotland were sold in Dundee in the 1870’s by a Belgian immigrant, Edward De Gernier. So, listen up Tories – you can take our coal mines and our shipyards and our steelworks but you’ll never take our chips! (LOL – Janet) 

KEIR HARDIE: James Keir Hardie (1856 – 1915) was born in Lanarkshire and began his working life at the age of 7 (learning to read and write from his parents in the evenings after work). 

At the age of 10 he started work in the coal mines and by the age of 20, having moved around a bit with his family as his father searched for work, James was a skilled miner. Now calling himself “Keir” rather than “James”, he joined the Evangelical Union and Temperance movement when he was in his early 20’s and became an accomplished public speaker, a skill which he used to speak out for his colleagues in the mines. 

The mine owners soon labelled him an agitator and he was blacklisted from working in the local mines. This was a dumb move on the part of the mine owners, as Keir immediately set about organising a miners’ union. As well as being instrumental in the birth of the Trade Union movement, Keir went on to become one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party and later the Labour Party, of which he was leader from 1906 - 1908. He finished up as MP for Merthyr Tydfil in Wales and died in 1915 at the age of 59. 

JOHN MACLEAN: John MacLean (1879 – 1923) was born in Pollokshaws of Highland parentage (his father was from Mull and his mother from Corpach). He became a schoolteacher and later gained an MA through part-time study at the University of Glasgow. 

MacLean was a Marxist who believed that the situation of the working classes could only be improved through revolutionary socialism, although he was happy to co-operate with others whose views were less radical. MacLean was strongly opposed to World War I which led to his arrest in 1915, causing him to lose his teaching job. Thereafter he devoted all of his time to lecturing on Marxism. 

He was imprisoned in 1916 for his anti-war stance, but released in 1917 and his close relationship with revolutionary Russia led to his being appointed Bolshevik consul in Scotland in 1918, although the consulate was not recognised by the British government. 

On 5 April 1918 MacLean was arrested for sedition and put on trial in Edinburgh on 9 May. He conducted his own defence and made a speech (shown in one of our images) which lasted for over an hour. It’s too long to reproduce in full here, but it started

“It has been said that they cannot fathom my motive. For the full period of my active life I have been a teacher of economics to the working classes, and my contention has always been that capitalism is rotten to its foundations, and must give place to a new society. I had a lecture, the principal heading of which was “Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill", and I pointed out that as a consequence of the robbery that goes on in all civilised countries today, our respective countries have had to keep armies, and that inevitably our armies must clash together. On that and on other grounds, I consider capitalism the most infamous, bloody and evil system that mankind has ever witnessed.” 

MacLean was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude and imprisoned in Peterhead Prison, where he went on hunger strike and was force fed. A campaign was mounted for his release and he was freed in November 1918 when World War I ended, but his time in prison had taken its toll on his health and he died in 1923, aged just 44. 

RED CLYDESIDE: Red Clydeside was an era, not a place. The term is used to refer to a period of political radicalism which began around 1911 and continued (officially) until the 1930’s. In reality, the ideals of the era still exist in Scotland and particularly in the Glasgow area to this day. 

The era began with movements campaigning for better pay and conditions for workers, kicking off with a strike at the Singer sewing machine factory in Clydebank in April 1911. It continued with workers uniting to protest against Britain’s involvement in World War I, and rent strikes in 1915, but the best known events happened after the war in 1919. 

After World War I there was a recession and hundreds of men who had fought for Britain returned home to find that there was no work for them. Glasgow, being Scotland’s biggest city, had a bigger problem than most. In order to improve employment levels, some Trades Unions proposed a shortening of the working week to 40 hours, to share out the available work more equally. There was already an agreement in place to shorten the working week to 47 hours from 1919, but this was seen as not going far enough, and it also involved workers losing one of their breaks. 

On 27 January 1919 40,000 workers in Glasgow came out on strike, rising to 60,000 by 31 January. This was the first mass action in Scotland since the 1820 Insurrection. On 31 January a mass meeting gathered in George Square to hear the Lord Provost of Glasgow read out a response from the government to the strikers’ demands. Clyde Workers Committee leader David Kirkwood and the president of Glasgow Trades Council, Mannie Shinwell were in the City Chambers meeting with the Lord Provost before his address (Shinwell was scheduled to speak, too) when fighting broke out in the square between strikers and police. Shinwell and Kirkwood went outside to try and calm the crowd, but Kirkwood was immediately felled by police and both men were arrested, along with William Gallagher, the chairman of the Clyde Workers Committee. 

The 3 men were charged with inciting a riot (although they had been trying to calm the situation). The Tory-Liberal coalition government, convinced that a Russian style revolution was under way, sent 10,000 troops armed with machine guns on to the streets of Glasgow along with some tanks for good measure. A howitzer was set up at the City Chambers. 

Men who had fought for Britain and were now campaigning only for work and fair treatment found their own tanks being used against them. The utter revulsion at the government’s mishandling of the strike led to Scotland returning 29 Labour MPs in the next General Election in 1922 and paved the way for Britain’s first Labour government in 1923. (If there is a moral to this story, it is “Never trust a ToryLiberal coalition” – Ninja Penguin) 

VERSE 8 1920 TO 1999 NPS AND SNP:

The modern movement for Scottish Independence began in the early 1920’s. 

In 1921 the Scots National League was formed (based, ironically, in London) with the purpose of removing Scottish MPs from Westminster and setting up a Scottish Parliament. 1927 saw the founding of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association (GUSNA), a student movement for Scottish independence which still exists (they’ve got a Facebook page, check it out)

In 1928 John MacCormick of GUSNA called a meeting of all those interested in establishing Scottish Home Rule. Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, the first socialist to gain a seat at Westminster presided. The meeting resulted in the formation of the National Party of Scotland (NPS) by the amalgamation of the Scots National League, GUSNA and members of a couple of other independence supporting movements, including Lewis Spence of the Scots National Movement. 

The NPS was a left-of-centre party and the poet Hugh McDiarmid was a member for a while, before being expelled for being a Communist (the Communist Party later expelled him for being a Nationalist). The author Eric Linklater was also a member and stood for Parliament in 1933. 

In 1930 the Scottish Party was formed by members of the centre-right Unionist Party (who later merged with the Conservatives). They were looking for devolution within the British Empire rather than full independence, but in 1934 they merged with the NPS to form the Scottish National Party. To facilitate the merger the NPS softened its stance on independence, since the Scottish Party were more for devolution. John MacCormick stood as an SNP candidate in the General Elections of 1935 and 1937. 

The SNP soon changed their aim from devolution back to independence and McCormick left to join the Liberal Party. Douglas Young, SNP leader from 1942 – 1945 is also in our image.

PATRIOTS TAKE THE STONE: In December 1950 four students from Glasgow University sneaked into Westminster Abbey and removed the Stone of Scone (the cludgie lid! – Ninja Penguin) from the Coronation Chair, dropping it and breaking it into two pieces in the process.

The four students, Ian Hamilton, Kay Matheson, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart, eventually got the stone back to Glasgow, where a local stonemason repaired it using a brass rod. It is said that the rod contained a piece of paper, but to this day no-one knows what is written on it. 

In April 1951 the stone was left at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey for police to collect, and was returned to Westminster, where it remained until its repatriation in 1996. The students were not prosecuted for their “prank”. 

We found it impossible to get pictures of Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart for our image, so we’ve included a still from the 2008 movie “Stone of Destiny”. Kay Matheson, who died in 2013, is pictured, along with our national treasure Ian Hamilton, who is still fighting for Scottish independence at the age of 88. 

WINNIE EWING, KILBRANDON: Since its formation in 1934 the SNP had only once had an MP at Westminster – Robert McIntyre, who won a by-election in Motherwell in 1945 only to lose his seat at the General Election later the same year. This was to change in 1967, when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election. 

Her victory scared Harold Wilson’s Labour government enough for them to establish the Kilbrandon Commission, headed by Lord Kilbrandon, to look into the possibility of a devolved Scottish Assembly. The SNP has had continuous representation at Westminster since Winnie Ewing’s victory. 

LABOUR’S REFERENDUM SHITE: ‘Scuse the language, but this really was the rip-off of the century. 

In 1978, having decided that a devolved Scottish Assembly might reduce the increasing demand for Scottish independence, the Labour government passed the Scotland Act to allow the creation of a Scottish Assembly with some legislative powers, subject to the outcome of a referendum. 

During the passage of the act through Parliament George Cunningham, a Scottish Labour MP who represented an English constituency, sneaked in an amendment which stipulated that the assembly could only go ahead if 40% of the total electorate voted “Yes”, rather than the usual majority of votes cast. The referendum was held on 1 March 1979 and although 51.62% of those who voted said “Yes” this didn’t amount to 40% of the electorate (there were still dead people and people who had left the country on the electoral roll). Scotland was denied devolution. 

The culprit, George Cunningham, is pictured in our image, as he looked at the time. On the next page you can see how looks now. If you happen to see this man on fire, remember not to piss on him. 

POLL TAX: The Poll Tax was introduced by the Thatcher government in the 1980’s as a way of extorting more money from the people to pay for local services. 

Previously such services had been funded by rates (domestic and business, paid by the owners/occupiers of buildings according to the value of the building, e.g. mansion = high rates, hovel + low rates). With the Poll Tax the money was raised per adult instead of per building/household, so families with a couple of grown-up kids earning but still living at home paid 4 times while a rich person living alone in a mansion paid only once. 

To make matters worse, Thatcher decided to test out the poll tax in Scotland before introducing it elsewhere. When the tax was introduced In Scotland in 1989 we stayed relatively calm, demonstrated against the tax and began a campaign of non-payment, meaning that councils actually had less money then they had under the old system. 

The manure really impacted on the air-conditioning when the Tories introduced the tax in England and there were riots in London. Although John Major abolished the tax when he took over from Thatcher, Scotland has never forgiven the Tories for making us their guinea-pigs, then backing down when London didn’t like it. 

CLAIM OF RIGHT: The Claim of Right was a document drawn up in 1989 by the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly, asserting the sovereignty of the Scottish people. Its name was taken from The Claim of Right Act 1689, an Act of the old Scottish Parliament limiting the powers of the monarchy. 

The 1989 Claim of Right states:

“We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount. We further declare and pledge that our actions and deliberations shall be directed to the following ends: To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland; To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme; and To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure implementation of that scheme.” 

Signatories include Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown. 

DEVOLUTION, PARLIAMENT: We were going to skip this on the grounds that everyone remembers it but we realised that the youngest member of the Yew Choob team was only 8 weeks old when the 1997 referendum took place, so here we go. 

In 1997 the Labour Party included devolution for Scotland in its manifesto and in May 1997 Labour came to power with a landslide. It was a welcome relief after 18 years of Tory rule and, surprisingly for some, they kept their manifesto promise. (Ninja Penguin, you’re a cynic! – Janet)

On 11 September 1997 the people of Scotland went to the polls to answer “Yes” or “No” to two questions, firstly whether there should be a Scottish Parliament and secondly whether the Parliament should have tax-varying powers. 

Although there was no “40% rule” this time, the Scots weren’t taking any chances and 74.3% of the votes cast were in favour of a parliament, while 63.5% were in favour of tax-varying powers. There was a sting in the tail of course – the system of voting for the Scottish Parliament was set up as an Additional Member system, designed to prevent any party (but especially the SNP) from gaining an overall majority. Elections took place on 6 May 1999 and the Scottish Parliament was formally reconvened on 1 July 1999 after a 292 year break. 

Ninja Penguin & Janet Scot


The fact sheet can be accessed here:

WE DIDN’T START THE UNION (nodbruce.co.uk)

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