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Scotland before the 9th century was a divided country. In that time the Picts were dominant in the north-east and the Scots of Dal Riada in the west, while Vikings occupied the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland. Many other petty kingdoms (such as Fife) were mostly Briton in nature. Many centuries later in 1603, the crowns of the two kingdoms were united under King James VI of Scotland and I of England, but during the Middle Ages, the rivalry between these two countries was at its most intense.
Uniting the Clans
This all changed when Coinneach (Kenneth) MacAlpin, united the Picts
and Dal Riada in 832. While the unification was only in name at first, soon enough of the tribes and petty kingdoms were banded together; at least in the Lowlands. In the Highlands, the clans paid little heed to the southern monarchs, and the islanders under nominal Viking "rule" lived quiet lives on the most part, although Somerled's conquest of the Norse-held islands in the 1130s was a notable event. Indeed, the Highlanders ignored the dealings of the kings as much as possible — civil wars and countless battles meant that many of the early kings of Scotland died in the saddle.
Relations With England
Scotland's "modernisation" began with Malcolm III 'Caennmòr' (Big Head), ruled between 1058 and 1093. His second marriage to Saint Margaret the Exile secured a connection to the House of Wessex and paved the way for an Anglo-Norman feudal system in the north. This cultural shift meant that many of the Scottish nobles became more or less Anglicised - speaking in Norman French primarily, and operating under a new system of land ownership. Nonetheless, Scotland was agriculturally poor, and appeared primitive to many of the English nobles who had ties to the lords north of the border; this impression was apparently reinforced in 1286.
In that year, Alexander III died without a male heir in a riding accident. His granddaughter, Margaret (Maid of Norway) ruled for four years but only in name, dying aged seven. Here followed a period off feuding between potential candidates for the throne, and King Edward I of England saw this as a prime time to get a stake in the troublesome Scots, who frequently raided the Northern Marches. He supported John Balliol, one of the three strongest candidates, and placed him on the Scottish throne as a puppet king. Balliol was not happy with this state of affairs, and while he was a very weak king who ultimately let Scotland fall under English rule in 1296, he did forge an "Auld Alliance" with France and Norway which lasted for many years to come.
King Edward's rule in Scotland went mostly unopposed, apart from rebellion in 1296 by William Wallace, who compromised his position in later years and was captured and executed. The kingship of Scotland, through much backstabbing and excommunication-baiting, passed to Robert the Bruce in 1306.
Robert the Bruce
Bruce spent much of his early reign as a fugitive in the Western Isles. Initially defeated time and again by the English, his small and inexperienced forces gradually grew, and the tide began to turn shortly before King Edward I's death. With 'Longshanks' gone, the English had only his son, Edward II, as a leader, and he proved to be a most inefficient one. His reign saw the most humiliating defeat the English ever suffered at the hands of the Scots: the battle of Bannockburn. An enormous mass of knights and men-at-arms broke themselves on the Scottish schiltrons (walls of pikes and spears that were arranged so as to make charging into it like running into a wall of steel points), and the English fled home in disarray.
The Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 asserted Scotland's independence. While peace between England and Scotland was short-lived (leading to a blunderous and little-remembered battle at Neville's Cross, in which the outcome of Bannockburn was more or less reversed), the continuation of Scotland as a nation instead of a province was assured by English involvement in war with France.
There were some bright spots along the way towards the modern era: in 1371, the Scottish crown passed to the Stewarts. Under the rule of James III and his successor James IV, Scotland took control of the Orkneys and the Shetlands began to partake in the flowering of the Renaissance, which was now sweeping across Europe, and under the rule of the latter James, would have her first formal education system, embodied in the Education Act of 1496 which made grammar schooling compulsory for noble and yeoman alike. The Stewarts, too, would eventually inherit rule over all England and Ireland as well in due time, but conflict would meanwhile continue between Scotland and England as usual, and the Scots nobility would have free rein to feud with each other as usual, well until the Rough Wooing of the late 16th century.
- Age of Chivalry: Hegemony Wiki; Scotland — A History