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Our oldest chronicles tell us the legend. In ancient Egypt, a warrior called Gaythelos fell in love with the daughter of the Pharaoh Chencres, a girl by the name of Scota. When they were wed, Gaythelos’ warriors took on her name, and called themselves the Scots in her honor. They set out to find a homeland, and as they wandered across the wilderness of North Africa, one of their number, Jacob by name, rested his head upon a stone, where he dreamt of the Angels ascending to heaven. He told the rest of the Scots the story, and they decided to carry “Jacob’s Pillow” with them, saying that wherever the Stone rested, from there the Scots would be ruled. Over the centuries, this stone began to be known as the Stone of Destiny. The Scots travelled through the Pillars of Hercules (better known as the Strait of Gibraltar today) and eventually reached the shores of Ireland.
In the sixth century, they sailed from the north of Ireland over into Argyll in the west of Scotland, and here they put down roots, happy that they had found the sought after homeland. There were already people in Scotland of course, the Picts, who had held up the might of the Roman Empire forcing them to build their walls coast to coast to hem them in, for example, but over the next few centuries these two Celtic peoples were to amalgamate.
The blue and white flag of Scotland, known to most Scots as the Saltire, is arguably the oldest flag on the planet. Legend tells us it came into being in the year 836AD. A larger Northumbrian English army was pursuing an army of Picts and Scots. The Picts and Scots decided to make a stand by a ford and do their best against their larger enemy. As they formed up, a white cross appeared in the blue summer sky. An X shaped cross, like the one on which St. Andrew had been crucified. The Scots took great heart from this, and launched an attack, killing Athelstane, the king of the Northumbrians, as he crossed the ford. The enemy was routed. So the Scots adopted the symbol they had seen in the sky, and turned it into their flag.
Scotland is sometimes claimed to be the oldest nation in Christendom, and from reaching their homeland, to the Union of the Crowns with England in 1603, there are said to have been 63 Kings and 1 Queen of Scots (the famous Mary, Queen of Scots) in an unbroken line. You will notice the title of the monarch is King of Scots, not King of Scotland. This is because the monarch in Scotland was the leader of his people, not the ruler of the land itself. The people are sovereign where the land is concerned, and the king’s power was not as absolute, as say, the monarch of our southern neighbour, where the title is King of England.
Many of our early monarchs are buried on Iona, an island off the west coast. 48 of our kings are there. The later ones are scattered between many religious establishments, but Dunfermline Abbey can lay claim to the greatest number, including our hero-king, Robert the Bruce, the victor of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Bannockburn was a decisive victory over the English during the Scottish Wars of Independence, where the Scots fought back against English claims of overlordship. Sir William Wallace led resistance to these claims in its early days. He won a great victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297, was defeated at Falkirk the following year, but was betrayed to the English in 1305 and taken to London where he was horribly executed. He has been an icon to the Scottish people ever since.
From the late 1300s till the 1700s the royal line of Scotland was the House of Stewart. They were the longest running dynasty in European history. One of their number, James VI, through nearness of blood, inherited the throne of England in 1603 after the death of the childless Elizabeth I of England. Since that time the monarchy has ruled from London, although the current line has very little of the original Scottish blood, due to dynastic changes.
In 1707, Scotland and England were joined in an act of Union, which dissolved the parliament of Scotland, and power was transferred to London. Scotland was in a sorry state financially, and many of the great lords of Scotland were “bought” to force this act through. The common people were against this Union though, and there was much unrest in the streets. From that time there have been many attempts to reconstitute Scotland as a separate entity. Steps were also taken to put the Stewarts back on the throne, the best known of these being the rising of 1745, led by Charles Edward Stewart, better known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. This ended disastrously at the battle of Culloden in 1746. The aftermath of this defeat saw the ending of the highland way of life, with the clan system being eradicated. Scotland’s loss benefited many other nations though, as one of her greatest exports has always been the Scots themselves, who have gone on to do great things in their adopted nations across the new world.
Modern Scotland history
The next few centuries saw some great advances in science and the arts. Scots became known as great inventors, making huge advances in medicine and engineering. They produced writers and poets, like the famous bard, Robert Burns, whose work is familiar the world over. Heavy industry came and went, the River Clyde seeing the launch of many of the world’s greatest ships, and those ships carrying Scots-built locomotives etc. all over the world.
Constitutional change eventually came to pass in 1997, with the people electing to have their own parliament in Edinburgh again.
The future looks bright for Scotland, as she takes her first faltering steps towards being a separate entity with an equal share of representation on a world stage.
And just in case you feel that the old chronicles and their legends have no place in today’s Scotland, the Stone of Destiny has a strange twist all of her own.
During the Wars of Independence, the Stone was stolen from Scotland and taken south to London. As stated, the old legends said that wherever the Stone lay, from there Scotland would be ruled. Eventually, with the Union, that rule passed to London, where the Stone was kept. The Scots always made demands for their Stone to be returned. It was eventually given back in 1996, to be kept in Edinburgh Castle. Within a year Scotland had voted to have her own parliament again, in, you guessed it, Edinburgh. So the old story has remained true down the ages.
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