Early Modern Scotland

Early Modern Scotland

Scotland in the early modern era refers, for the purposes of this article, to Scotland between the death of James IV in 1513 and the end of the Jacobite rebellions in the mid-eighteenth century. It roughly corresponds to the early modern era in Europe, beginning with the Renaissance and Reformation and ending with the start of the Enlightenment and Industrialisation.

After a long minority, the reign of James V saw the court become a centre of Renaissance patronage, but it ended in military defeat and another long minority for the infant Mary Queen of Scots. Scotland hovered between dominance by the English and French, which ended in the Treaty of Edinburgh 1560, by which both withdrew their troops, but leaving the way open for religious reform. The Scottish Reformation was strongly influenced by Calvinism leading to widespread iconoclasm and the introduction of a Presbyterian system of organisation and discipline that would have a major impact on Scottish life. In 1569 Mary returned from France, but her personal reign deteriorated into murder, scandal and civil war, forcing her to escape to England where she was later executed and leaving her Protestant opponents in power in the name of the infant James VI. In 1603 he inherited the thrones of England and Ireland, creating a dynastic union and moving the centre of royal patronage and power to London.

His son Charles I attempted to impose elements of the English religious settlement on his other kingdoms. Relations gradually deteriorated resulting in the Bishops' Wars (1637–40), ending in defeat for Charles and helping to bring about the War of Three Kingdoms. The Scots entered the war in England on the Parliamentary side, helping to turn the tide against the king's forces. In the Second and Third Civil Wars (1648–51) they took the side of Charles I and after his execution that of his son Charles II, leading to defeat, occupation by a parliamentary army under Oliver Cromwell and incorporation into the Commonwealth. The Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, saw the return of episcopacy and an increasingly absolutist regime, resulting in religious and political upheaval and rebellions. With the accession of the openly Catholic James VII, there was increasing disquiet among Protestants. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9, William of Orange and Mary, the daughter of James, were, accepted as monarchs. Presbyterianism was reintroduced and limitations placed on monarchy. After severe economic dislocation in the 1690s there were moves that led to political union with England as the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The deposed main hereditary line of the Stuarts became a focus for political discontent, known as Jacobitism, leading to a series of invasions and rebellions, but with the defeat of the last in 1745, Scotland entered a period of great political stability, economic and intellectual expansion.

Although there was an improving system of roads in early modern Scotland, it remained a country divided by topography, particularly between the Highland and Islands and the Lowlands. Most of the economic development was in the Lowlands, which saw the beginnings of industrialisation, agricultural improvement and the expansion of eastern burghs, particularly Glasgow, as trade routes to the Americas opened up. The local laird emerged as a key figure and the heads of names and clans in the Borders and Highlands declined in importance. There was a population expanding towards the end of the period and increasing urbanisation. Social tensions were evident in witch trials and the creation of a system of poor laws. Despite the aggrandisement of the crown and the increase in forms of taxation, revenues remained inadequate. The Privy Council and Parliament remained central to government, with changing compositions and importance before the Act of Union in 1707 saw their abolition. The growth of local government saw introduction of Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Supply, while the law saw the increasing importance of royal authority and professionalisation. The expansion of parish schools and reform of universities heralded the beginnings of an intellectual flowering in the Enlightenment. There was also a flowering of Scottish literature before the loss of the court as a centre of patronage at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The tradition of church music was fundamentally changed by the Reformation, with the loss of complex polyphonic music for a new tradition of metrical psalms singing. In architecture, royal building was strongly influenced by Renaissance styles, while the houses of the great lairds adopted a hybrid form known as Scots baronial and after the Restoration was influenced by Palladian and Baroque styles. In church architecture a distinctive plain style based on a 'T'-plan emerged. The Reformation also had a major impact on art, with a loss of church patronage leading to a tradition of painted ceilings and walls and the beginnings of a tradition of portraiture and landscape painting.

Read more about Early Modern Scotland:  Geography, Economy, Warfare

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