Series: A History Of Scotland
"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.
- 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.
- The Ace: William, Earl of Douglas.
- A Child Shall Lead Them: Alexander II The Great, crowned at 16.
- David II, who succeeded his father, Robert the Bruce, when just five years old.
- James III was eight when he became King.
- Taken to ludicrous extremes when Mary I became Queen while six days old after the death of James V.
- An Aesop: About the division between Highland and Lowland Scotland in Episode Four.
- Anarchy Is Chaos: The Highlands and Islands following the collapse of the MacDonald Lords.
- An Axe to Grind: Robert the Bruce famously killed a charging English knight at the Battle of Bannockburn with one blow of his battleaxe.
- Anglo Saxons
- Arch-Enemy: England and Scotland are presented as being this towards each other.
- Arranged Marriage: Several, mostly of the bureaucratic kind.
- 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.
- As Long As There Is One Man: The Declaration of Arbroath.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: The Gaelic Kings being crowned at Dunad.
- Constantine II's coronation at Scone in 906, which established the "Stone of Destiny" tradition that is still observed by British royalty today.
- Babies Make Everything Better: Robert the Bruce's wife finally giving birth to a son and heir, the future David II.
- Badass: William Wallace.
- Badass Boast: Wallace:
- The Declaration of Abroath:
- Badass Preacher: St Columba.
- Bishop Wishart of Glasgow, one of the leaders in the First War of Independence. He told Edward The First to his face that Scotland "is not held in tribute or homage to anyone".
- Barbarian Hero: Calgacus looks like this.
- Battle Trophy / Creepy Souvenir: After Edward The First's treasurer Hugh Cressingham was killed at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, William Wallace has his skin turned into a sword belt.
- BFG: Mons Meg, the cannon given to James II by the Duke of Burgundy as a wedding present.
- Big Fancy House: James I liked to build these, even though he couldn't afford it.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The MacDonald's during the fighting between John MacDonald and his son, Angus Orr.
- Blood Knight: Alexander II
- Blood on These Hands: Robert the Bruce's lifelong reaction to killing his rival, John Comyn, in a Dumfries Church.
- British Brevity: Just ten episodes in two series.
- Buy Them Off: Edward The First's tactics for keeping the peace post-1305.
- The Chessmaster: Edward The First utilised Scotland's Succession Crisis to give himself effective control over the country.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: In the Barons' War, the rebelling English nobles switched from fighting with Alexander II against their own King to siding with said King's son against Alexander II.
- Side-switching was a recurring element in the War of Independence.
- The Church: The Scottish branches, of course, play a big role in Scotland's story.
- Civil War: Several cases.
- The Clan: Of the Scottish type and the given definition.
- The MacDonald's, who effectively had their own mini-Kingdom with the prestigious title of Lord of the Isles.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered in London before execution, largely as depicted in Braveheart.
- The same treatment was inflicted upon Robert the Bruce's brother by Edward The First.
- Conspiracy Theorist: James II had this going on over John MacDonald and William, The Black Douglas.
- Culture Clash: Between the Scots-speaking Lowlanders and the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Inflicted by William Wallace's army on the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Edward The First returned the favour at Falirk.
- Edward's generals inflicted something similar on Robert the Bruce's rebellion, forcing him to go on the run.
- James I's troops suffered this at Inverlochy.
- Darkest Hour: The treatment given to the situation after William Wallace's death in 1305.
- Deal with the Devil
- Dead Guy Junior: Several people are named after dead relatives and/or predecessors.
- Death by Irony: James II loved guns... until his BFG exploded in his face.
- 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.
- The Dreaded: The Vikings to Dark Age Scotland.
Neil Oliver: This is what the end of the world looks like. This is the end of everything that you've ever known and held dear.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Robert the Bruce, oh so much.
- 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.
- The Empire: England are characterised this way during The Middle Ages, mostly for dramatic effect.
- End of an Age: The end of Gaelic Scotland's Golden Age with the collapse of the MacDonald's, and the passing of the title "Lord of the Isles" to James IV.
- Enemy Mine: One response by the early Scottish kingdom's to the Vikings.
- Constantine II then does with the Nordic king against Aethelstan, King of England.
- Alexander II later allied himself with the English nobles who penned the Magna Carta, against England's King John.
- A frequent habit of both Scotland and France, who tended to ally against England. The "Auld Alliance" is still a term recognised today as a result.
- Edward IV of England allying with the MacDonald and Douglas families against Scotland's young King, James III.
- Evil Overlord: King John of England, from Alexander II's perspective.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A History Of Scotland is the history of Scotland.
- The Exile: After Giric killed and replaced King Aed, Aed's son Constantine and nephew Donald fled to Ireland.
- John Baliol in France during the First War of Independence.
- Mary of Scotland in France.
- Feuding Families: The Baliol's/Comyn's and the Bruce's, feuding over the crown.
- The House Of Stuart and the MacDonald family, which came to shape Scotland's political and cultural destiny.
- Flower Motifs: The Scottish Thistle, first adopted as an emblem by James IV, which eventually became a symbol of the whole of Scotland.
- For the Evulz: Edward The First's use of the trebuchet "Warwolf"
- Founder Of The Kingdom: Not really one particular person (in spite of what is commonly thought about Kenneth I) but Constantine II gets credit for being the first to be known as the King of Scotland.
- William Wallace and Edward The First are presented as ultimately defining Scotland's sense of modern identity.
- Generational Saga:
- Gilligan Cut
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
- Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death: A version is used in the Declaration of Arbroath (Before it was actually said)
- Golden Age: The reign of the MacDonald family as Lords of the Isles was this for Gaelic Scotland.
- Grim Up North: Scotland is often presented this way.
- Gunboat Diplomacy: Alexander II marching an army all the way to Dover just to force Louis of France into a deal.
- Gun Nut: James II, leading to his Death by Irony.
- Guilt Complex: Robert the Bruce to a huge level because of the Blood on These Hands.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: James II
- Happily Adopted: Mary of Scotland with the French royal family.
- Harmless Villain: Edward II of England, at least when he took to the battlefield. Certainly in comparison with his father.
- Heir Club for Men: Both Edward The First and Henry VIII of England realised that they could control Scotland through marrying their sons to Scotland's young Queens (Margaret and Mary respectivley), as a woman's property would become her husbands property upon marriage.
- The Hermit: Constantine II became one.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Francois and Mary
- Hero Killer: Edward The First to William Wallace.
- The High Middle Ages
- Historical Badass Upgrade: Discussed and lampshaded.
- The mythologizing of Robert the Bruce over the centuries was pointed out.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Discussed and lampshaded.
- 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.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Discussed and lampshaded.
- History Marches On: Mistakes in popular perceptions of Scotland's history are often pointed out.
- The House Of Normandy
- The House Of Plantagenet
- The House Of Tudor
- The House Of Stuart
- Hopeless War: After the disastrous Battle of Falkirk, the First War of Independence started to look like this for the Scots.
- Horny Vikings
- Humiliation Conga: Alexander II was betrayed by his allies, excommunicated by The Pope and forced to pay homage to the nine-year old Henry III of England.
- Hundred Years War: The Scots served as The Cavalry for the French just after Agincourt.
- 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 Have Your Wife: Edward The First's army captured and held Robert the Bruce's wife and daughter during the early stages of his rebellion.
- In Its Hour of Need: William Wallace emerging as a leader of the Scottish rebels.
- In Medias Res: "Project Britain"
- 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.
- Jerkass: James I, at best.
- Just the First Citizen: How the Lords generally viewed the King (if he was popular) prior to the return of James I. James had other ideas.
- Kangaroo Court: William Wallace's trial in Westminster Hall.
- Kick the Dog: Alexander II went as far as to kill a baby girl to make sure that his reign couldn't be challenged.
- Kill 'em All: Alexander II's approach to tackling disobedient lords.
- Edward The First's solution to Scotland's rebelliousness. At Berwick, for example.
- How Robert the Bruce tackled the rival Comyn family.
- King On His Deathbed: Robert the Bruce. He got better. For a while.
- Knight Fever
- Knight Templar: Widespread during the Protestant Reformation.
- The Late Middle Ages
- The Lancer: James Douglas to Robert the Bruce.
- Large and in Charge: Edward The First.
- 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.
- Legend Fades to Myth: What happened to the Picts.
"We see that the Picts have now been wiped out and their language also is totally destroyed, so that they seem to be a fable we find mentioned in old writings"
Archdeacon of Huntington on the Picts in 1140
- Living MacGuffin: James I of Scotland, held captive by the English since he was 12 years old as a bargaining chip.
- Long Range Fighter: Edward The First's Welsh Longbowmen at the Battle of Falkirk.
- Low Culture, High Tech: The craftmanship skills of the Picts and Gaels.
- The Low Middle Ages: Episode One.
- Loyal To The Position: Largely averted, as loyalty tended to run along family lines rather than towards the Crown.
- Make an Example of Them: The point behind Alexander II having a baby executed.
- William Wallace's dismembered body parts were sent around Great Britain as a warning against rebellion, making this an example of Dead Guy on Display.
- Mary of Scotland
- Mentor Archetype: Bishop Lamberton to Robert the Bruce.
- 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)*, it finally came back to Scotland in 1996.
- Money, Dear Boy: James I turned on the MacDonald family because he needed their money.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: How James II took to dealing with William, The Black Douglas. And It Worked.
- Noble Fugitive: Robert the Bruce in hiding.
- Noble Savage: How Tacitus seemed to view the Caledonians.
- Occupiers Out of Our Country: The way the First War of Independence plays out.
- Offered The Crown:
- Offered by Edward The First to John Baliol in exchange for Baliol accepting him as overlord. Then offered by Bishop Lamberton and Bishop Wishart to Robert the Bruce as a replacement for Baliol.
- Origins Episode: Episode One is effectively this for an entire country.
- Outside Context Villain: The Vikings had this going on.
- The Philosopher: Dun Scotus, who proposed the idea of a kind-of Elective Monarchy.
- Politically Correct History: discussed.
- The Pope: Winning his approval was an important point in the Gunboat Diplomacy of The Middle Ages.
- Precursors: The Picts are presented like this.
- Properly Paranoid: James II and William, The Black Douglas towards each other.
- Prince Charming: James IV.
- Puppet King: John Baliol. Was treated this way both by his overlord Edward The First and the Lords that ended up running the country in opposition to Edward.
- 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.
- Rags to Royalty: The House Of Stuart's rise from hostages and prisoners to being the dominant force in the British isles.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn
- Rebel Leader:
- ReasonableAuthorityFigures: The MacDonald family, the Lords of the Isles, who had kept peace in their territory for a century.
- Red Baron: Edward The First, the "Hammer of the Scots".
- Reluctant Ruler: John Baliol, who ended up staying in France rather than trying to take up his rule.
- Retired Badass: Constantine II, after fourty-two years as King, retired to live in a cave as a holy man.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Frequently.
- Rightful King Returns: Cousins Donald and Constantine taking their families kingdom back from the usurper, Giric, circa 899.
- Averted with John Baliol, who was content to hide out in France rather than try and resume his rule.
- Robert the Bruce returning from hiding to fight for the Crown.
- A less heroic example with James I, who was ransomed back because his English captors didn't see any value in holding him any more.
- Royal Blood
- Royals Who Actually Do Something
- 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.
- Shrouded in Myth: Scotland's very early history.
- This was exploited by the Scots Church when trying to win favour with The Pope in 1301; they spun him an elaborate story about how Scots are directly descended from ancient Israelites.
- Siege Engines: Edward The First built what was then the biggest trebuchet ever constructed to take Stirling Castle. He called it "Warwolf".
- Spanner in the Works: Robert the Bruce murdering John Comyn, messing up most of the plan to get Bruce on the throne.
- The Starscream: Giric to Aed.
- 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...
- Taking Up The Mantle: Robert the Bruce as the Scottish leader in the First War of Independence.
- Take That
"The English had had enough, so they did what had become the traditional thing when faced with a Scottish army, its feet and spears firmly planted on the ground: they ran away."
- Time Skip: Each episode tends to jump a few centuries ahead of where the last one ended.
- Trauma Conga Line: Alexander III lost his wife and all three children in the space of nine years.
- Treacherous Advisor: Edward The First was invited to mediate on Scotland's Succession Crisis. He ended up taking over as overlord.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: James I.
- Unexplained Recovery: Robert the Bruce was dying of an unknown illness... then he was ok again for unknown reasons.
- Warrior Monk: Bishop Robert Wishart and Bishop William Lamberton, who masterminded Robert I's rebellion.
- Warrior Prince: Many of them.
- We ARE Struggling Together: Frequently occurs.
- What Could Have Been: Mary of Scotland was nearly nearly Mary of Scotland, England AND France.
- WHAM Line
"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."
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Real Life example with the Picts, who simply vanished from the records with very little trace when the Kingdom of Scotland first appeared in them.
- Wild Wilderness: The Scottish Highlands: "Britain's last great wilderness; a place as beautiful as it is barren".
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: averted by Alexander II.
- Young Conqueror: Alexander II. After a failed attempt to conquer the north of England, he embarked on a campaign to bring the largely independent Scottish Highland's under his control.