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Lowland Scots (Scottish Gaelic: Sassenachs), also simply Lowlanders, are a predominantly Germanic ethnic group in Scotland, descended primarily from the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria, the Normans and to a lesser degree the Britons of Strathclyde. They speak variations of the English language, known locally as the Scots language (also Lallans). The group arrived from what is now known as Jutland, conquering the area in 7th century, forming the northern part of Northumbria, known as Bernica. They also moved to Ireland during the 16th century, where they are known as Ulster-Scots and through the British Empire many other places, particularly the American South, England, Canada and Australia. They are the largest segment of people who are called Scottish people.
After a series of raids by the Kingdom of Scotland under the MacAlpines, their people and land were annexed to that kingdom during an expansionist campaign by Malcolm II in 1018. During this time Scotland was a complex minature empire of Northern European ethnicities, under the hegemony of the Gaels of Irish descent with their base in Dal Riata. Lowlanders were still refered to as the "English in the Kingdom of the Scots" by the 12th century. A socially complex series of events under king David I was undertaken which would lead to the cultural ascent of the Lowlands in Scotland. He invited Norman noblemen into the kingdom, who would eventually inherit the kingship and instituted burghs, urban areas inhabited principally by Lowlanders. This spread their language, displacing Gaelic at court.
During the Wars of the Scottish Succession, as various Norman nobles struggled for the throne, the Lowlanders developed an identity separate from England (Capetians of France were using them as a proxy in the Auld Alliance to counter the Plantagenets). Following the Renaissance, due to the influence of John Knox, Lowlanders became Calvinists, while some were Episcopalians. This created further division as the Gaelic Highlanders remained Catholic and the Stuarts campaigned against their culture. Following the Jacobite Rising (which most Lowlanders opposed), the Scottish Enlightenment occured, where Lowlanders such as David Hume and Adam Smith were prominent in creating liberalism, capitalism, freemasonry and many technological advances. They also played a leading role in the administrative, business and military positions of the British Empire after union.
Today the peoples who consitute the Lowlanders, generally refer to themselves as Scots, British or both. Originally the name Scots was an ethnic specific phrase used by the Romans in the form of Scotti to describe the Irish Gaelic raiders who would eventually form the colony of Dal Riata in the Highlands and from there on the kingdom of Scotland (Alba); these Gaels, the ancestors of the Highland Scots refered to themselves in their own language as Albannaich. The monarchial use of the Latin phrase "Rex Scotiae" to refer to themselves, rather than just "Rí Alban" comes from the reign of Malcolm II. It is thought by some that the Romans originally used the phrase to mean "pirate".
Meanwhile the Lowlanders saw themselves up until the 12th century in racial terms as simply the "English in the Kingdom of the Scots", they are also sometimes called the "Men of the Lothian". After the new Norman aristocracy grew in power, this became politically untenable, the word "Scots" was usurped by them from the exclusive racial meaning of Gael to encompass even the people of the Lowlands. During the early modern period, the dichotomy had swung 180 degrees; the Highlanders were even called "Erse" or "Irish" by the Lowlanders, supposedly as a way to show they were not "true Scots", while Highlanders in turn refered to Lowlanders as Sassenachs (meaning Saxons).
Background, the Northumbrians
During the latter part of the Roman Empire in Great Britain various "barbarian" Northern European tribes began to see an oppertunity to gain influence on the island. As early as the 4th century there took place the Great Conspiracy within which some of these groups, including Germanics from the Continent and Gaels from Ireland joined with the Brythons to rise against the Roman authorities. Some of these groups would remain; the Gaels, ancestors of the Highland Scots established themselves in Dál Riata by the 5th century. Meanwhile, the traditional ancestors of the Lowland Scots, Angles from around the Jutland Peninsula, gained Bernicia by the 6th century under Ida Bernician, King of Bernicia (who died in 559). Their kingdom (from the River Forth to the River Tees) had originally been Brythonic, before it passed to Teutonic control. It is plausible, if royal marriage records are any indication, that some Angles intermarried with Brythons.
As with all but one of the English monarchies of the Heptarchy, Ida claimed direct paternal descent from Woden. The earliest still existing genealogies of the Bernician monarchy are recorded in the Historia Brittonum, an 8th century work by a monk Nennius (born 769), which presents them as scions of the Kings of the Angles, through to Woden by his son Baldr (Beldeg). Bernicia was united with the southern kingdom of Deira (what is today Yorkshire) in 604 under Æthelfrith Bernician, King of Northumbria. Due to Raedwald Wuffing, King of East Anglia usurping this family and placing an exiled Deiran prince; St. Edwin Deiran, King of Northumbria; on the throne, the Bernician pretender St. Oswald Bernician, King of Northumbria spent some time amongst the Gaels, including at Iona and was converted to Christianity by the Irish monk St. Aidan, who founded the Lindisfarne Priory. This would become a very important cultural centre for the Northumbrians.
The Northumbrians become the premier power on Great Britain for a time, holding suzerainty over several kingdoms. Their influence even spread as far as the Isle of Man during this time in their struggles with the Brythons of Gwynedd and fellow English kingdom in the south, Mercia. However, towards the end of the 7th century, decline and instability set in. First the Mercians reduced their influence and then the Picts curtailed their hegemony in the north at the Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685. The Vikings arrived from Denmark in the 9th century in the form of the Great Heathen Army taking advantage of this. Northumbria was partitioned for a time, with the lower half becoming part of the Danelaw proper, while a puppet king ruled the rump of what used to be Bernicia as King of Northumbria to collect taxes. The area became a competing ground between various Norse, English and Norse-Gaelic powers until being united with the other ethnic Anglo-Saxon realms as part of England under Eadred Wessex, King of the English in 954.
Conquest of Malcolm II in 1018
The exact details of the passage of the Lothian and Borders regions, as well as the Anglo-Saxon people then living there from England to the emerging Scotland is somewhat contentious. The area had been part of the Earldom of Northumbria, as an internal division of England, administrated from Bamburgh under Uhtred Bernican, Earl of Northumbria. A pivitol battle took place in 1018 known as the Battle of Carham where the Northumbrians were defeated by a Gaelic-Strathclyde alliance under Malcolm II MacAlpin, King of Scotland and Owen II MacAlpin, King of Strathclyde, losing the Lothian and Borders and the people being cut off from the rest of the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians who remained part of England.
The Scotland to which the Lowlanders had become part of was a complex patchwork of Northern European influences; Dál Riata Gaels, Norse-Gaels and Strathclyde-Brythons. The monarchies of England and Scotland began to marry princesses from their respective nations during the time of Malcolm III Dunkeld, King of Scotland as he took St. Margaret Wessex, Queen of Scotland as his wife. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, Malcolm III hosted Anglo-Saxon exiles, gave his issue Anglo-Saxon names, adopting some Anglo-Saxon legal and government culture. The regal power centre moved to the Lowlands during this time at Scone. However, it was under St. David Dunkeld, King of Scotland that the decline of Gaelic cultural hegemony in Scotland for a Lowland based Normanised one would be assured.
The Davidian Revolution saw the adoption of the cultural mores of the Normans into the Lowlands. The most notable aspect of this was the institution of burghs, merchant towns such as Roxburgh, Aberdeen, Stirling, Perth, Dunfermline, Haddington, Berwick, Montrose, Elgin and elsewhere. The common population of these were ethnically Anglo-Saxon Lowlanders, as well as in the higher ranks, recently arrived largely Franco-Germanic originated people such as the castle dwelling Norman knights (many of these were actually Flemish) who David surrounded himself with, adopting a more Continental feudal model in governance. The descendents of these Normans became the Bruce, Stewart, Sinclair, Douglas, Hamilton, Comyn, Ramsay, Sutherland, Boyle, Fraser, Kerr, Maitland, Graham, Cunningham, Lauder, Haig, Barclay, Chisholm and other families. Other important aspects of David's reign which would influence future centuries for Lowlanders especially included the introduction of a royal coinage (the Gaelic system was a barter economy) and the religious Gregorian Reform, which brought more uniformity to Western Christianity.
Normans reign: Bruces and Stewarts
The 13th century would be a time of transition within which monarchial rule, not just the aristocracy, passed from Gaelic to Norman control. Galloway was brought under Lowland control in 1234 and saw gradual Anglo-Normanisation; indeed Ayrshire would go on to become a significant cultural borderland between "Sassenach" and Gael. The Western Isles would be ceded from Norway in 1266 with the Treaty of Perth, although the Gaelic lords there would remain very independent minded throughout the Middle Ages, essentially autonomous under the Council of the Isles and culturally resisted Lowland influences. For a time Scotland came under the overlordship of the Plantagenet dynasty who ruled England and a significant chunk of France, as a result of the Treaty of Falaise, between 1174 and 1189. This period marked a significant amount of engagement with England: the southern border was also fixed in 1237 with the Treaty of York.
A succession crisis broke out in Scotland in 1290. The heir to the throne, Margaret Sverre, Maid of Norway was from 1286 the Queen of Scots, but died at Orkney before she could step foot on the mainland. The Guardians of Scotland had agreed she would marrry the future Edward II Plantagenet, King of England meaning that the realms of Great Britain would be united under the personal union of one king. Several different Franco-Norman lords in Scotland put forward a claim to the throne and it looked as though there would be civil war. The Guardians invited Edward I Plantagenet, King of England to mediate and he chose the genealogically superior John Balliol as the new King of Scots, over Robert the Bruce. Edward I held the title Lord Paramount of Scotland and considered Scotland to be a vassal realm with a king under his overlordship.
From around the 7th century (when kings St. Edwin and St. Oswald converted; the former may have given his name to Edinburgh) until the 16th century, the Lowlanders were members of the Catholic Church. Most of the saints active in the area were outsiders; typically of Irish birth and race, who spread the faith in Great Britain again following the Roman exit. However, there are some saints who share the same race as most Lowlanders from the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods, not least members of the Northumbrian monarchy, as well as St. Margaret Wessex, Queen of Scotland. As well as this there are also locally born Lowland saints such as St. Cuthbert of Dunbar, St. Æbbe of Coldingham, St. Baldred of Tyninghame, St. Boisil of Melrose, St. William of Perth and others.
Under the influence of John Knox, a local man born in the Lothian who spent time in Geneva with John Calvin, the majority of the Lowlanders became Protestant. Specifically, the Church of Scotland, founded in 1560, became the main church of Lowlanders. It was theologically Calvinist and Presbytarian in polity. The Stuart monarchy favoured a system which was separate from Rome, but still had bishops, like the Anglican Church; those who supported this direction, although they remained a minority, became the Scottish Episcopal Church.
These Lowland churches found themselves in civil war during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (particularly the Bishops' Wars), with prominent Presbytarians forming the Covenanters. The Revolution of 1688 affirmed the hegemony in Scotland of the Church of Scotland. To this day Calvinism forms a central role in the self-identity of Lowlanders, as well as their diaspora, particularly the Ulster-Scots. The Gaelic Highlanders, with the exception of the Campbells and a few others, remained largely Catholic until they were converted to Calvinism by Lowlanders in the 19th century (many of whom, interestingly, belong to the separate Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland).
Notably, the system of Freemasonry came out of Lowland Renaissance humanist culture during the time of the Stuarts. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599, given to William Schaw of Stirlingshire who was the Master of Work to the Crown of Scotland is a strong contender for the shift from operative to speculative freemasonry. The Lodge Mother Kilwinning in Ayrshire is reportedly the oldest masonic lodge in the world. The Lowlanders spread the system to London and the Constitutions of the Free-Masons for the Premier Grand Lodge of England were authored by James Anderson in 1723; a Presbytarian minister from Aberdeen. Also potentially related to this, John Wilson, a Presbytarian minster from Kilmarnock founded the quasi-religious ideology of British Israelism with his 1840 piece Our Israelitish Origins.
|“||For much of its history Scotland has contained two nations, the Celtic Highlanders and the Anglo-Saxon Lowlanders, enjoying different social organizations, different customs, different languages and a mutual distrust. The consequent interaction between the two races had cultural, social and political effects and of these the political are the most immediately evident. As in other European border regions, the threatening proximity of an alien race animated the ballad society with continual political and military tensions.||”|
|— David Buchan, 1972, The Ballad and the Folk.|
|“||As far as the chroniclers at Melrose in the eastern borders were concerned, 'Scots' continued to mean the inhabitants north of the Forth, even as late as the 1250s. Although they referred to their area as part of 'Scotland' from 1216, they implicitly did not consider that the people in the environs of Melrose, or they themselves, were 'Scots'. They were, it seems, still either English or French. By the late thirteenth century this had changed, and they could refer without embarrassment to Guy de Balliol, an Anglo-Norman knight who bore Simon de Montfort's standard at the battle of Evesham (1265), as 'by race a Scot'.||”|
|— Dauvit Broun, 1996, When Did Scotland Become Scotland?|
|“||The Gaels were always one step removed from the hothouse nationalism of the Lowlands with its flags, battles and medieval heroes. In the early middle ages, the Celts of the west and north in the Lordship of the Isles allied often with England against a common enemy, the Scottish crown. The wars which stir Scottish patriotic passions today, glamorised in the popular Hollywood film Braveheart (1995), had nothing to do with them and they took place in the English-speaking south. Robert Bruce, William Wallace, James Douglas, Andrew Moray, Christopher Seton and Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, were all of Anglo-Norman or Flemish descent.||”|
|— Marcus Tanner, 2004, The Last of the Celts.|
- Portal:Germanic tradition
- Norman aristocracy in the British Isles
- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
- Highland Scots
- "in terra Anglorum et in regno Scottorum", Adam of Dryburgh, De tripartito tabernaculo, II.210, tr. Keith J. Stringer, "Reform Monasticism and Celtic Scotland", in Edward J. Cowan & R. Andrew McDonald (eds.), Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Middle Ages, (East Lothian, 2000), p. 133.
- "Scot". Online Etymology Dictionary. 14 November 2012.
- BBC (28 February 2013). "The Battle of Carham – 1016". External link in
- Dot to Domesday (28 February 2013). "The Battle of Carham". External link in
- Moultray (28 February 2013). "Flemish Influence in Scotland". External link in
- University of St. Andrews (28 February 2013). "Scotland and the Flemish People". External link in
- History Today (1996). "When Did Scotland Become Scotland?". External link in
- The Scots migration to Ulster at University College Cork
- The Scotch-Irish in America by Henry Jones Ford
- Scotland - Differences between Highlanders and Lowlanders by Shannon McDonald Tate
- Lowland 'Scots' was the ruin of Scotland by Calum Mac Neill (critical Gaelic view)