"I want to look beyond the legends, to find the real story of Scotland.
And it's every bit as thrilling."
— Neil Oliver (Series One, Episode One)
Running from November 2008 to November 2009, A History Of Scotland was an ambitious BBC documentary exploring the history of Scotland. Presented and narrated by author, broadcaster and archaeologist Neil Oliver, the series was first broadcast on BBC One Scotland and consisted of ten sixty-minute episodes spread over two series.Consisting of shots of the presenter strolling dramatically across Scotland's beautiful natural landscape, historical reconstructions to accompany Neil Oliver's narration and a kick-ass original musical score by James Newton-Howard, the series aspired to add a sense of drama and romance to the show rather than create another dry, matter-of-fact history lecture. Whether this adds to the experience or detracts from the show's capacity to educate the viewer is a matter for the viewer.Series One:
Episode One: The Last of the Free
At the dawn of the first millennia, there was no Scotland or England. In the first episode Oliver reveals the mystery of how the Gaelic Scottish Kingdom - Alba - was born, and why its role in one of the greatest battles ever fought on British soil defined the shape of Britain in the modern era.
Episode Two: Hammers of the Scots
Oliver charts the 13th century story of the two men who helped transform the Gaelic kingdom of Alba into the Scotland of today. While Alexander II forged Scotland in blood and violence, William Wallace's resistance to King Edward I of England hammered national consciousness into the Scots.
Episode Three: Bishop Makes King
Robert Bruce's 22-year struggle to secure the Scots' independence is one of the most important chapters in Scotland's story. Oliver explores the role the Scottish church played in promoting Robert Bruce, the propaganda campaigns, both at home and abroad, and how the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath persuaded The Pope to finally recognise Scotland as an independent nation.
Episode Four: Language Is Power
At one time, Gaelic Scotland - the people and the language - was central to the identity of Scots. But as Oliver reveals, Scotland's infamous Highland/Lowland divide was the result of a family struggle that divided the kingdom. This is the story of how the policies of the Stewart royal family in the 15th century led to the Gaels being perceived as rebels and outsiders.
Episode Five: Project Britain
Oliver describes how the ambitions of two of Scotland's Stuart monarchs were the driving force that united two ancient enemies, and set them on the road to the Great Britain we know today. While Mary Queen of Scots plotted to usurp Elizabeth I and seize the throne of England, her son James dreamt of a more radical future: a Protestant Great Britain.
Episode One: God's Chosen People
Neil Oliver continues his journey through Scotland's past with the story of the Covenanters, whose profound religious beliefs were declared in the National Covenant of 1638. This document licensed revolution, started the Civil War that cost King Charles I his head, cost tens of thousands of Scots their lives and led to Britain's first war on terror.
Episode Two: Let's Pretend
Bitterly divided by politics and religion for centuries, this is the infamous story of how Scotland and England came together in 1707 to form Great Britain. Over time the Union matured into one of the longest in European history, but it very nearly ended in divorce. Exploiting the Union's unpopularity, the exiled Stuarts staged several comebacks, selling themselves as a credible and liberal alternative to the Hanoverian regime. Neil Oliver reveals just how close they came to succeeding.
Episode Three: The Price of Progress
Through the winning and losing of an American empire and the impact of the Scottish Enlightenment, Neil Oliver reveals how in the second half of the 18th century Scotland was transformed from a poor northern backwater with a serious image problem into one of the richest nations on Earth. This was the dawn of the modern age when Scotland made its mark on the world by exporting its most valuable commodities - its people and ideas.
Episode Four: This Land is our Land
At the start of the 19th century, everything familiar was swept away. People fled from the countryside into the industrial towns of Scotland's Central Belt. Rural workers became factory workers - in some of the worst conditions in Europe. This new Scotland became a seedbed of revolution. But it wasn't just force that kept the Scottish people in their place, it was fantasy. Neil Oliver reveals how Sir Walter Scott created so powerful a myth, it haunts the Scots collective imagination to this day.
Episode Five: Project Scotland
As a partner in The British Empire, Scotland began the 20th century with an advanced economy and a world-beating heavy industry. But in the closing decades its sense of Britishness was in doubt and a Scottish Parliament sat in Edinburgh for the first time since 1707. Charting Scotland's darkest century, Neil Oliver discovers a country driven to self-determination through a series of economic crises so deep that her most striking export became her own disillusioned population.
Examples of Tropes found in this series:
Abdicate the Throne: Constantine II did this voluntarily after fourty-two years as King, and went on to live in a cave as a holy man.
Edward The First wanted his son and heir to marry the very young Queen Margaret to secure England's control over Scotland. If failed when she died before this could happen.
Henry VIII thought-up the same plan and wanted his son to marry the very young Queen Mary of Scotland to bring Scotland under English control. He had the added pressure of fearing that Scotland would serve as a willing invasion point for Anglican England's Catholic enemies on the continent.
Decisive Battle: "The Great Battle" at Brunanburgh in 937, which (more or less) shaped the boundaries between Constantine's Scotland and Aethelstan's England. Ironically, neither side claimed much of a real victory.
Robert the Bruce's famous victory at Bannockburn in 1314.
Distinguishing Mark: James II was known as "James the Firey-Face" because of the red birthmark on his face.
The Don: Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, was basically this for the Gaelic-speaking Western Isles, to the extent that he was known as the "King of the Hebridies".
Double Standard: Lampshaded by the Scots in their negotiations with Edward II when they pointed out that The House of Normandy and The House of Plantagenet were both illegitimate and the result of a foreign invasion. They used this to argue that Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was, as the sole living member of the House of Wessex, also the only legitimate King of England!
Downer Beginning: Episode one opens with the legend of Calgacus losing the Battle of Mons Graupius to the invading Romans.
Elective Monarchy: Claimed, at least to a degree, as the justification for Robert the Bruce replacing John Baliol: if the current King is useless, he has violated his contract with the people and should be replaced with someone more suitable. Its appearance in the Declaration of the Clergy and the Declaration of Arbroath has led some to call these documents a kind of proto-American Declaration of Independence.
"(snip) Independence from the English Crown. Final proof that the reign of the Bruce's triumph. Final proof that the Scottish was free and quit of English authority. Final proof that the reign of Good King Robert had been worth everything - all the deaths and horror. Freedom from the English Crown at last. Forever. (cut)The next English invasion was in 1332".
It's pointed out that Kenneth I probably didn't personally unite Scotland.
The narrator discusses how William Wallace became a "brand" after his death, and how the Wallace myth still plays an important role in Scotland's politics and sense of identity today. Despite the fact that he ultimately failed.
Idiot Ball: The English commanders at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
James I has his enemy Alexander MacDonald imprisoned twice... and twice lets him walk free. The first instance leads to an open rebellion against him and the second time is seen as the ultimate show of weakness - leading to James' assassination.
I Take Offense to That Last One: William Wallace during his trial at Westminster. Accused of murder, arson, destruction of property and sacrilege, he only spoke when accused of treason - pointing out that he had never sworn allegiance to Edward The First to begin with.
La Résistance: The Scottish side is generally presented this way whenever conflicts with England are focused on.
The Scots in the First War of Independence.
The Laws and Customs of War: St Columba helped set down some of the first, banning the killing of women, children and monks in times of war. No one listened, of course, but the effort was there.
Left Hanging: Episode Three ends with the five year old David II becoming King and England invading once again. Episode Four picks up years later, with King David having died and The House Of Stuart ascended to the throne.
Mineral MacGuffin: The Stone of Destiny, upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned. Taken by Edward The First to Westminster in 1296 as the spoils of war, it has been used in coronations right up until Elizabeth II (and will be used beyond that). Stolen in 1950 and returned in 1951 (or a copy was returned)note the thieves were never identified, it finally came back to Scotland in 1996.
Money, Dear Boy: James I turned on the MacDonald family because he needed their money.
Henry V of England planned to use James I of Scotland, who had been an English captive since he was 12, like this to prevent the Scots fighting against him in the Hundred Years War.
The Quisling: King John (Baliol), who accepted Edward The First as overlord in exchange for the Scottish crown. Although Baliol drew the line at being instructed to go fight in France on Edward's behalf.
The Roman Empire: A (mythical) battle between the invading Romans and the Caledonians forms the backdrop of the opening scenes in episode one. Their (probably unreliable) accounts also provide the only written record of ancient Scotland.
Scotireland: The Gaels, who arrived in the west of Scotland from Ireland and eventually become the dominant group.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Henry VIII wanted to Mary of Scotland to marry his son in order to prevent Scotland siding with his European enemies. Only during his war to try and force this through did France side with Scotland and arrange for the marriage of Mary into the French royal family, fulfilling Henry's fears.
Succession Crisis: Caused by the sudden deaths of the Alexander III and his only heir, his three-year old granddaughter Margaret. Two competing claims to the throne, from John Baliol and Robert Bruce, nearly led to Civil War. Then up stepped Edward The First...
"It's mid-winter, 1230. A horrific scene is played out in the middle of a busy market square: An infant child is held up to the crowds. Seconds later, she's dead. Her small corpse lies discarded in the mud, her brains splattered across the column of the market cross."
Young Conqueror: Alexander II. After his English allies turned on him he abandoned the north of England and he embarked on a campaign to bring the largely independent Scottish Highland's under his control.