The Kingdom of Alba (Scotland)
At the time our game is set in the territory now known as Scotland was known as the Kingdom of Alba. The territory that makes up Scotland has a long and storied history. Most characters will not know much beyond the current state of relations with our neighbors to the north. However, characters from Scotland or particularly long-lived characters from previous eras may know more of the history.
Scotland has been inhabited at least since the last ice age ended, as early as 8000 BCE. These were primitive Stone Age people, hunter-gatherers and the like. Then, like the rest of Europe they picked up domestication of livestock and farming. They began building large stone burial chambers and created monuments of standing stone circles. In the Bronze Age the peoples of what was to become Scotland developed a couple of new and interesting housing structures called Crannogs and Brochs. Crannogs are lake houses built out on islands or man-made islands with wooden walkways or canoes for access. Brochs are stone towers that are several stories tall with a single entrance and no windows. Both of these were very strong defensive structures. Some of the Crannogs were used well past the 13th century. Unfortunately, there is no written record of these very early times so there is not much to be said about the culture and society of them.
The record of Scottish peoples begins with the arrival of the Romans who began the conquest of the lands now known as Scotland in 80. The Romans were under the command of Julius Agricola. At this time the lands of Scotland were densely forested with small settlements and areas of agriculture. The people were organized as tribes and were under no central rule. The people of these tribes were skilled crafters and horsemen. When the Romans began moving into this territory each tribe defended its own lands but there was no coordination between them. Despite being fierce fighters the tribesmen, they were no match for the professional army of the Romans. Within a couple of years the Romans had taken all of the lands south of the Firths of Forth and Clyde. Agricola then build a string of forts to secure the conquered territory before pressing further into the lands of the north which the Romans referred to as Caledonia.
With their fortifications secure, the Romans made advances north into Caledonia but were turned back with the coming of winter. In the summer of 85, Agricola lead 5,000 Roman soldiers against 30,000 Caledonians under the command of Calgacus at the battle of Mons Graupius. Thousands died in this battle. In the end, the superior training and tactics provided the outnumbered Romans a victory. However, the Romans never managed to take full advantage of this victory. Agricola was recalled to Rome shortly after the battle and the Roman advances to the north ended, for a time.
While the Romans maintained the fortifications set up by Agricola, the Caledonians simply went between the forts and continued raiding into the Roman controlled lands of Northern Britain. This situation continued for nearly 40 years after Agricola left the region until the arrival of Emperor Hadrian. Seeing how ineffective Agricola's forts were in practice, in 122 Hadrian ordered a wall be built from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth. The present location of Durham and Ushaw Moore are only a short distance to the south of this border. This great fortification of earth took thousands of men 15 years to build. While it certainly aided in the protection of the Roman held lands to the south even a fortification as great as Hadrian's Wall did not completely stop the Caledonian tribes from raiding in the Roman controlled territory.
To push the border further north the Romans set about building another wall in 142 on the order of Emperor Antoninus Pius. The Antonine Wall was another great stone and earthwork construction and included 19 forts along its route. Running form the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde It followed a very similar path to the fortifications built by Agricola.
Despite all these efforts of the Romans, the resilient and resourceful tribes of the north continued to raid and cause trouble in the north of Britain. In 208 Emperor Severus brought troops to resolve this issue. His troops cleared forests and built roadways, his soldiers dying by the thousands as they were harassed by the northern tribes. Severus's methodical advance into the Caledonian lands was cut short when he fell fatally ill in 210. Unsurprisingly, the tribes of the north continued with their previous activities after the end of Severus's campaign.
The Romans encountered these tribes to the north of the Antonine Wall called the Picts. These tribes controlled much of territory north of the Firth of Fourth. These are the warriors of the north that painted, dyed, and tattooed themselves. They were skilled stone carvers and silversmiths. In time these tribes eventually form one of the kingdoms that become Scotland.
Rome leaves the British Isles
In the year 367 there were large raids on the Roman controlled parts of Britain by the Picts along with other groups like the Gaels, Irish, and the Saxons. The Picts had caused a great deal of damage to Hadrian's Wall and were rampaging about the south. In time the Romans did eventually manage to regain control of the situation. However, by around 410 Rome has completely left the British Isles forever.
With the Roman forces leaving the Picts maintained control over most of the lands north Firth of Fourth with the exception the area of Argyll along the west coast where the Scots, a group of Irish Celts, had set up the kingdom Dalriada. South of the Fourth the lands were controlled by the Britons who were descendants of tribes that had been conquered by and traded with the Romans. To the south of the Britons were the Angles of Northumbria who were Saxon invaders from Northern Europe who moved in to the territories after Rome left Britian.
Northumbria where the Angles initially settled was part of what becomes England. However, in the 7th Century the Northumbrians invade territories in the east controlled by the Britons South of Forth. The northward expansion of the Angles is halted by the Picts at the Battle of Dunnichen in 685.
The Kingdom of Alba (Scotland)
Eventually parts of these separate kingdoms are united to become the Kingdom of Alba. By the early 9th century Vikings were threatening the kingdom of Dalriada in the west. Because of these threats, when the Pictish King Uen was slain by the Vikings around 839 Kenneth Mac Alpin the leader of Dalriada made a bid for the throne of the Pictish kingdom. He eventually succeeds and becomes king of the Picts around 847. This was the beginning of the Kingdom of Alba. The unification of the Pictish and Dalradia kingdoms was eventually completed under the grandson of Mac Alpin, King Constantin II.
The territory of Alba expanded southward under King Malcolm II annexed the region of the Northumbria known Lothian around 1018 which expanded the territory south to the River Tweed. Strathclyde died without an heir. By marriage the grandson of Malcom II, Duncan I was able to successfully make a claim to the throne of Strathclyde which united all of the north lands under one family line. Malcom II then undertook a program of eliminating possible claimants to his throne to ensure his line retained the throne after his death. Upon the death of Malcom II the Kingdom of Alba was united under Duncan I and the southern borders were very similar to those of modern Scotland. There were still significant lands controlled by the Vikings in far north, the west and the islands around Scotland.
In 1039 Duncan attempted to lay siege to Durham and failed. After this defeat a rebellion was begun to take the throne from the weakened king. In 1040 King Duncan I was defeated and killed. The leader of the rebellion then took the throne of Alba and drove Duncan's heirs into exile. This is a king about whom much has been written; this was King Macbeth. After Macbeth's demise he was followed by his stepson Luach who only managed to rule for a few months before he was assassinated.
The next king was Malcolm III, the eldest son of Duncan I, who reigned from 1058-1093. As William the Conqueror invaded England Malcolm III provided asylum for some of the English exiles. Malcolm III invaded the northern regions of England repeatedly. However, in 1072 Malcolm III swore allegiance to William. In 1093 Malcolm III again invaded the north of England over disputed lands in the region of Cumbria. Malcolm III was then supposed to meet with King Rufus of England to resolve the issue of the disputed lands but that never occurred. Malcolm then went back to Alba gathered and army and attacked the northern part of Northumbria. Malcolm was defeated and killed as he was returning to Alba.
The disputes over the territories in the north of England especially the region of Northumbria continue until the reign of the current King of Alba, William the Lion. In 1152 King William inherited the title of the Earl of Northumbria but he was forced to relinquish the title to King Henry II in 1157. William invaded Northumbria in 1173 to try and reclaim these lands. This did not turn out so well. In the Battle of Alnwick in 1174 William was captured by Henry's men and was only released by signing the Treaty of Falaise where William swore an oath of allegiance to Henry, agreed to garrison English soldiers in Scottish castles, and take a bride of Henry's choosing. This officially ended the Scottish raiding into the north of England.
Religion in the North of the British Isles
Prior to the introduction of Christianity the tribes of the north followed a polytheistic, nature based religion with their own gods and goddesses. In the absence of a written record there is a lot uncertainty about the specifics of these practices. The Romans have some record of Celtic Druidic practices deities similar to the Welsh and Irish traditions so reference to those legends later recorded by the Christian church may provide some insight. The Romans also brought their own religious practices to the lands they conquered so there are shrines dedicated to the Roman gods and goddesses as well as Mithras in some parts of Scotland. Germanic invaders and Vikings brought the Norse traditions to parts of Scotland. There are numerous faiths present prior to the Christianity dominating the region.
Christianity initially came to Scotland from Ireland in in the kingdom of Dalraida. However, from the 5th to 7th centuries there were numerous missionaries throughout the region, such as Ninian, Kentigern, and Columbia. A key center of the Irish church was located on the island of Iona. Iona remained a religious center until the end of the 8th century when Viking raiders began plundering the monastery. There were some differences between the practices of the church in the region form the Roman church. The primary difference between the two traditions is that they both had separate dates for Easter. Eventually these theological concerns were resolved and the Roman traditions won out.
Summary of current status
The Kingdom of Alba is ruled by William the Lion who has sworn an oath of fealty to the English crown. Most of Northumbria has been ceded to the English and most of the English troops have been pulled out of Alba. While allied with the English crown there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this situation. Scotland reasserts claims to the northern English counties later in the 13th century and there is an open rebellion by the end of the century. Despite all of that the relations with England are relatively peaceful. To the north and on the surrounding Islands like Orkney and Shetland the Norse Vikings still have control and while their power is waning at this time they are still an issue for the Scots.
As men have returned from the Crusades, both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller have been given land grants in Scottish territories. The Scots are a Christian people and follow the Roman Church.
Scotland is largely a feudal society with traders, craftsmen and artisans. The internal political structure is around clans and great families that control regions and look after the people in their territories. The king derives his authority from the clans.
There is far more to Scottish history than could possibly ever included in a short summary. However here are some great resources:
Amazing resource set-up for teaching Scottish history with links to articles and other sites providing more details (If you're only going to look at one of these, this is the one):
A Short History of Scotland by Andrew Lang; Scottish history from the perspective of 1912:
Scotland by Sir Walter Scott; Scottish history from the perspective of 1829:
Macbeth by Shakespeare (may not be entirely historically accurate):
A site dedicated to defending Macbeth:
Important Wikipedia articles: