The History of Scotland

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

The history of Scotland is as fascinating as it is complex. There were tribal Celts and ancient, face-painted Picts, Roman conquerors and audacious red-headed Vikings, fallen monarchs and powerful warrior-royals, noble clansmen, great explorers, pensive philosophers, bright inventors, and all that came with them and the remnants they left behind including astonishing signs of their presence and sophistication.

Think ancient and mysterious standing stones, fine castles and lavish stately homes, striking architecture, derelict fortresses, world-famous feats of engineering and more! From the Scottish Borders to Orkney and from Fife to the Isle of Skye, fierce battles, cruel ridings and bloody risings were won and lost, lasting unions were forged, and new discoveries and world-changing inventions were made.

The list could go on as the history of Scotland stretches back thousands of years. Relive the past and witness the wondrous monuments that today proudly tell their stories.

It is amazing to think that a country as small as Scotland, in spite of the many trials and tribulations faced throughout its history, has left such a lasting impact on the world.

From sporting heroes and inspiring writers, to legendary warriors and tragic queens, Scotland's countrymen and women, both past and present, continue to fascinate, inspire and leave their mark.

Famous Scots:

Robert Burns

From traditional ballads and romantic songs to humorous satires and thought-provoking poems, Robert Burns composed some of the world's most instantly recognisable lines of poetry and song lyrics.

Whether his subject was a man or a mouse (or even a louse), the National Bard had a rare talent for putting himself into others' shoes and expressing life's universal emotions. His words have been cherished and passionately recited for the past two centuries. Indeed, it's because of this great man that we promise, every Hogmanay, to 'tak a cup o' kindness' with our neighbours and go forward into the new year with a sense of belonging and hope for the future.

Rob Roy

Born Rob Roy MacGregor on the northern shores of Loch Katrine in 1671, during his life he was a soldier, a clan leader, a castle raider, an outlaw and ultimately a folk hero. What will you make of the legend?

See Rob Roy's gun in the armoury room of Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders. Abbotsford's famous owner, writer Sir Walter Scott, was inspired by the legends of the folk hero and even published a novel entitled Rob Roy in 1817.

Explore Loch Katrine and see Factor's Island, where Rob Roy once imprisoned the 1st Duke of Montrose's factor.

Mary Queen of Scots

One of history's true enigmas. Historians know plenty about what she did and where she went during her short life, but the debate still rages on who she was; a selfless martyr, spurred on by passion for her country and devotion to God, or an icy and manipulative adulteress, capable of murder to achieve her political ambitions?It's time to decide for yourself - explore the life and times of Mary Queen of Scots and learn about the events surrounding her life and reign.

Discover Mary Queen of Scots' connections to a number of incredible historic places. Will you explore her birthplace at Linithgow Palace, or retrace some of her last steps in Scotland and visit Lochleven Castle, where she was held prisoner and forced to abdicate the throne?

Robert the Bruce

Who was he? Well, for starters, he is a ruler which the history books remember; many regard Robert the Bruce as being Scotland's most successful monarch. He was a nobleman from the south west of the country, who gained his nation's crown and won the country independence in the early 14th century.

Want to get to know the man behind the legend? There's no better way to find out more about this King of Scots than by following in his footsteps. Explore historic buildings, medieval abbeys, ruins, battlefields and caves across Scotland which played an important role in his life and see monuments dedicated to his memory. You can discover his homeland, Dumfries & Galloway, as well as other places he had connections with across the country. Sit on a Royal Throne adorned with a replica wooden carving of the Bruce's Great Seal of Scotland at the Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre in Renton in West Dunbartonshire.


Macbeth, a Scottish duke, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland... Explore Scotland, the land of Macbeth, the titular character of Shakespeare's most revered play, Macbeth, and also an 11th century Scottish king.

Uncover the tale of the real King Macbeth, a fearless warrior and inspiring leader, find the historic sites and dramatic landscapes connected with him and discover film locations for Justin Kurzel's mesmerising film adaptation of Macbeth (2015), starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, including iconic locations on the stunning Isle of Skye.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is Scotland’s most celebrated architect and designer of the 20th century, and today his work is celebrated around the world. Discover his work and legacy across Glasgow, his home town, where he left a beautiful and lasting mark on the city. Come and admire his world-famous designs for yourself. It was clear from an early age that Charles Rennie Mackintosh was bursting with talent. Born in Glasgow in 1868, he had a flair for drawing and design, and as a young man he embarked on his illustrious career with an architectural apprenticeship and evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. He won several awards for his work, including the prestigious Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship, which took him on an architectural tour of Italy. Mackintosh believed an architect was responsible for every detail of the design of their buildings, and his interiors reflect this. Inside, rooms echo the modern, Art Nouveau styles used for the buildings themselves. They often used stylistic details such as a rose motif, high-backed chairs and unique typeface filled with decorative marks, all of which are synonymous with Mackintosh today.

Making the Glasgow Style.

The Glasgow School of Art became the centre of an art movement in Scotland, and quickly earned its stellar reputation for architecture, art and design. The distinctive ‘Glasgow Style’ was created by Mackintosh and his contemporaries - Herbert MacNair and two sisters, Margaret and Frances MacDonald. They met as students during the 1890s and became known as ‘the Four’ exhibiting their work across the world. The ‘Glasgow Style’ blended Celtic, Arts and Craft and Japanese influences into an innovative new approach which helped to define Art Nouveau and had an impact on design which can still be felt today. Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald later married, and many of her designs can be seen alongside his as they often worked in collaboration.

From exquisite pieces of furniture in museums to a graceful building in a city park, Mackintosh’s simple and stylish Art Nouveau designs became iconic and can still be seen all around Glasgow. No visit to the city is complete without discovering Mackintosh’s pioneering work.

William Wallace

When you think of medieval, sword-wielding Scottish heroes, it's most likely to be William Wallace that you're envisioning in your head. (And if you've seen the 1995 film Braveheart, there's a good chance you are picturing a him as a face-painted Mel Gibson - yes?!)

Born in Elderslie near Paisley in 1270, William Wallace is hailed by many as the greatest of Scots. He was to become the leader of the Scots' resistance against the English occupation at the beginning of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Most famously, he defeated the army of the 'Auld Enemy' at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, but was eventually betrayed and executed in London.

Across Scotland, you'll find many memorials and statues made in his image, as well as monuments erected to commemorate the battles of the Wars of Independence.

In 2016, a new William Wallace monument which commemorates the battle was erected near the Necropolis, as it is close to the spot where Wallace took over Glasgow Castle after defeating an English garrison of 1,000 men.


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