Language is Power A History of Scotland


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Language is Power

Documentary series charting Scottish history. Neil Oliver reveals the story of the infamous Highland/Lowland divide, which was the result of a family struggle.


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They call it Britain's last great wilderness, a place as beautiful as it is barren.

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The islands and mountains of Scotland seem to exist on the edge of the imagination.

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But it wasn't always like this.

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For centuries, Gaelic Scotland was at the heart of the Scottish kingdom. Then it changed.

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It became something different, something separate.

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Something other.

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In many ways, Scotland is a nation of two cultures, one Highland and one Lowland

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and one part just doesn't seem to understand the other.

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Most of us don't speak Gaelic,

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we speak English and, whether we admit it or not,

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we have to view our country through the prism of the English language.

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And when we go to the Highlands and Islands we find ourselves amongst

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a language and an entire culture that we don't understand, we just don't get.

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It's an uneasy, uncomfortable double vision, it's Scotland's guilty secret.

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And it all began with a feud between two families.

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In 15th-century Scotland, family was everything.

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This is the story of two of those families and how their fates were locked together.

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The rise of one meant the fall of the other.

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Their struggle was epic...

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..their names legendary.

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They were the Stewarts and the MacDonalds.

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There's a story of a medieval Spanish traveller who came to Edinburgh to see the sights.

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When he got home, someone asked him what was the most wonderful thing he'd seen.

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The traveller thought for a moment then answered,

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"A grand man called MacDonald with a great train of men after him, called neither Duke nor Marquis."

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His name was Alexander, Lord of the Isles,

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Ri Innse Gall, The King of the Hebrides.

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Alexander's family, the MacDonalds, had played the game well.

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They had backed Bruce and the rewards had flowed - lands, wealth and power.

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The power of 10,000 armed men.

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Power over the islands.

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Power over the sea.

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This is called a birlinn or a West Highland galley.

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She's really a descendant of a Viking long ship.

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What range, what territory could boats like these cover effectively?

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In some cases 50, maybe 60 miles a day. You could certainly go from Northern Ireland up to Cape Wrath

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in two or three days if you had the wind behind you.

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How important would you say these crafts were to the Lordship?

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Vital. Whoever controlled the roads of the sea had the power and that's what the MacDonalds had.

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If it wasn't for these, there would have been no Lordship of the Isles.

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With over 100 birlinns at his command, Alexander dominated Scotland's Atlantic seaboard.

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No wonder they called him the King of the Hebrides.

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The nerve centre of his far flung territories, Finlaggan on Islay.

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It was here Alexander summoned his chiefs to do deals, form alliances

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and, most importantly, keep the peace.

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As an archaeologist, one of the first things

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that strikes me about this place is that it isn't fortified.

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But then of course, it didn't need to be.

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By the time Alexander took over, the Lordship had already enjoyed a century of internal stability.

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And with that peace and with the patronage of the MacDonald Lords

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came a flourishing of the arts, sculpture, music and poetry.

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It's often hard to get a sense of what places like Finlaggan were like in their heyday.

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But a few archaeological finds that have been recovered from the site

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over the years give an idea of the day-to-day reality of life here.

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This is from a hunting dog's collar

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and you can tell from the careful decoration on it that the dog's owner was proud of the beast

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and wanted it to look its best and of course the Lords of the Isles were very big on hunting.

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These are gaming pieces carved from bone, the rules of the game long forgotten,

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but on this one you can see the carved outline of a stag

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with its antlers and its mouth open and its tongue sticking out.

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And finally, this last piece is a pilgrim's badge or token.

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It's made of lead and it's from Rome.

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So, somebody with connections to the Lordship of the Isles went all the way to Rome and brought back this

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as a souvenir with its image of St Peter carrying the keys of heaven.

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Alexander, Lord of the Isles, held the keys to more earthly kingdoms.

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His Atlantic realm faced in two different directions at once.

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To the south was Ireland where family and cultural ties were deep.

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To the east was Scotland.

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But the Lordship wasn't on the fringes of the Scottish kingdom, it was at its very centre.

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The Gaelic world of the Lordship was at the heart of how Scotland imagined itself.

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It was the Gaels who had first unified the kingdom, giving it its Gaelic name, Alba.

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Now Gaelic Scotland was enjoying a second golden age.

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If Finlaggan was the heart of the Lordship,

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then Iona was its soul.

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St Columba's island was one of the most important spiritual sites in Scotland.

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It was here that the bodies of the Lords of the Isles were brought for burial.

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Alexander showered the Abbey and its community with money and gifts.

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Of course he had good reason.

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Like the best of medieval godfathers, he had a string of mistresses

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and a pile of cautionary letters from the Pope to prove it.

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All this church building was a kind of spiritual insurance policy.

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But if Alexander MacDonald feared for his soul, that was pretty much all he feared.

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He was Ri Innse Gall, a king in his own land, in a land where there was no king.

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Scotland was a kingdom with an empty throne.

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Its Royal line had faltered.

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Its young king was in the hands of its ancient enemy.

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James Stewart, King of Scots, had been captured by the English when he was only 12 years old.

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His family had fought alongside Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Independence.

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When Bruce's bloodline died out, it was the Stewarts who succeeded to the Scottish throne.

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But the sole heir to the new Stewart dynasty was now a hostage -

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a bargaining chip, leverage.

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It was the same old game, for the same old stakes.

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If the Scottish magnates wanted their king back, they would have to submit to English overlordship.

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"Forget the Bruce.

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"Give up your independence."

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But the Scots weren't going to play by English rules.

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"No, thanks," they said. "We're managing fine without a king."

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So James was left a captive with plenty of time to brood on his redundancy.

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For a time, James had been shunted from one miserable prison to another.

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But then his Royal privileges were restored and he was given free run of Henry V's court.

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You can imagine how grateful James was for this outbreak of benevolence.

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But Henry's motives weren't exactly pure.

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He had a war to finish in France and he needed a new ally to fight an old enemy.

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Because across the Channel it wasn't just the French that Henry was up against, it was the Scots.

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BAGPIPES PLAY

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The role the Scots played in the 100 Years War was something the French would never forget.

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In this summer pageant in the middle of France the crowds are celebrating

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the arrival of Scottish troops at a life or death moment in the history of their country.

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Henry V had just defeated the French at Agincourt.

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Final, decisive victory was within his grasp.

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But then the Scots waded in on behalf of their old ally.

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Now the Scots and French forces were united against the English king.

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To defeat them he would have to divide them and Henry thought he had the perfect weapon, James.

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Now Henry's plans for him became clear.

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James was King of the Scots.

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So James could tell the Scots to pack up and go home.

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Melun was the acid test.

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In 1420, Henry lay siege to the strategic town just upriver from Paris.

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The walls were defended by Scottish troops.

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James knew what was expected of him.

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He ordered the Scots to surrender.

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English and French kings expected unquestioning obedience from their subjects.

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But these soldiers were Scots.

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And in Scotland, king and kingdom didn't mean the same thing at all.

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Scotland was more than one individual.

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It was a community, a loose but resilient network of loyalties.

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"Lay down your arms," James commanded his subjects.

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And as one, the Scots kept on fighting.

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700 defenders held out against a 20,000-strong besieging force.

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These days, the underground vaults beneath the town are used to store wine.

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But in 1420, this was the scene of vicious hand-to-hand combat.

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The English dug tunnels beneath the fortifications in an attempt to undermine them.

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The defenders opened up their own tunnels so they could counterattack.

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It was in claustrophobic, suffocating darkness that the battle of Melun was fought.

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But for all their tenacity, the defenders of Melun couldn't hold out.

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When Henry finally broke into the town, he was out for revenge.

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The surviving Scots were rounded up, separated from the other prisoners

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and executed en masse as traitors to their king, James I.

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James never forgot the shame of Melun.

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He had been made to act as a puppet by a foreign king, he'd been defied by his subjects.

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His humiliation was immeasurable, off the scale.

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It was Melun, more than anything else, that shaped the kind of man

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James would become - intolerant, inflexible, impatient.

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Just two years after Melun, Henry V was dead.

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His successors couldn't see much political value in James.

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But their prisoner was still worth a king's ransom.

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In 1424, the English cashed their chips in.

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At 30 years old, James Stewart was on his way home.

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Scotland was more of a memory for James than a reality.

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He had spent over half his life in English captivity, so he had a lot of catching up to do.

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In other words, he was a king in a hurry.

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Amongst the welcoming party was Alexander MacDonald, King of the Hebrides and Lord of the Isles.

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He must have viewed the new arrival with guarded curiosity.

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Along with the other Scottish magnates, Alexander had agreed to pay a colossal ransom.

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What had they got for their money?

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A king on the make, a catwalk king.

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A king who understood that front was everything.

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Linlithgow Palace was James I's pet project.

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It was something brand-new in Scotland.

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It wasn't a fortress.

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It was a Renaissance-style Royal residence.

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It made its point through wealth, not strength.

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James had an agenda.

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He wanted to elevate the very idea of kingship.

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Linlithgow Palace declared, in 100-foot-high capital letters,

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James' ambitions as a European monarch.

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Before James I, the magnates like the Lords of the Isles

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had regarded their king as first amongst equals, and occasionally as something less than that.

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But James considered himself to have no equals.

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James I was educated and accomplished, he was Scotland's first Renaissance king.

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Amongst many other talents, he had a real gift for poetry.

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In one poem entitled The Kingis Quair, he described the moment when he first fell in love.

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James was a captive of England when he wrote these lines,

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but you wouldn't have heard this language at the court of Henry V.

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This was James's mother tongue and imagine how he must have missed it,

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the rich Scots language of his Lowland birthplace.

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Scotland in the 15th century was a blur of different languages and dialects.

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In the Lowlands, Scots - a distinctive vernacular with Anglo-Saxon roots - predominated.

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Most of the rest of the kingdom -

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at least half of Scotland's population - spoke Gaelic.

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And within Gaelic Scotland there was no more influential,

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no more determined figure than Alexander, Lord of the Isles.

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While James Stewart was palace building, Alexander MacDonald was empire building.

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Alexander's birlinns gave him control of an island archipelago.

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But his real ambitions lay on the mainland.

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Ross stretched from the rocky shores of the Atlantic to the rich farmland of the North Sea coast.

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By acquiring Ross, Alexander became one of the most powerful landowners in the kingdom.

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Ross was the jewel in Alexander's crown.

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But soon James himself began to cast envious eyes on the northern prize.

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The king was running short of cash.

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All this palace building came at a price.

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He'd already tried cooking the books.

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Money that should have been going south to pay his ransom was being spent on gold leaf and fine carving,

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but even that wasn't enough to plug the hole in his finances. He needed money, and badly.

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Alexander's territory in Ross began to look seriously tempting.

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James invited Alexander to meet him in Inverness.

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But this would be no Royal garden party.

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Alexander was camped outside the town with a large entourage including his own family.

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When he finally got the summons from the king, Alexander, his mother

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and a few select followers got dressed in their finery.

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What delights were on the menu, what treats were in store?

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As soon as they were through the gates, they were set upon and disarmed by the king's men.

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The MacDonalds didn't have a chance to resist.

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Alexander's own mother was pushed around, taunted, dishonoured.

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James watched as the MacDonalds were dragged off like common criminals.

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It seemed to inspire him.

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He entertained the court with some off the cuff verse.

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But this time, the muse was less romantic.

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It was no gentle love poem he recited.

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"Let us take the chance to conduct this company to the tower

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"For by Christ's death, these men deserve death."

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Wary tolerance had suddenly turned violent.

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James executed some of his prisoners without trial.

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But he didn't kill Alexander.

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He didn't have to.

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James had got his hands on Ross and the revenues it provided.

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After a couple of months and with a great show of mercy, he released the Lord of the Isles.

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But if he thought Alexander would be grateful,

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he was wrong.

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Alexander gathered up his men, returned to Inverness and burned it to the ground.

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Revenge was sweet, but it was short-lived.

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Alexander knew he'd allowed his anger to blind his judgement.

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A Royal army was closing in.

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Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, Alexander calculated that he had only one option left.

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At Holyrood Palace in 1429, Alexander, Lord of the Isles, surrendered.

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Ritually stripped to his underclothes in front of James,

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he handed over his sword, his title and his lands.

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Alexander, Lord of the Isles, was then led away into captivity.

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The rules of the game had changed.

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The magnates had once carved up Scotland amongst them.

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Not any more.

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Now the king was in charge.

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Or so the king wanted to believe.

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The Lord of the Isles might be behind bars, but his family openly defied Royal authority.

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James sent an army to deal with them.

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But Alexander's men weren't about to turn tail.

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From every corner of his dispossessed territories, Alexander's supporters gathered,

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moving to meet the Royal army at Inverlochy at the head of the Great Glen.

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The Islesmen landed their birlinns a few miles down there where Fort William now is.

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They marched along the river towards where the Royal army

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was camped around Inverlochy Castle, just down there in the trees.

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The commander of the Royal troops was in the middle of a card game

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when he got the report of the enemy approach.

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He dismissed it. He said he knew very well the doings of the big-bellied carles of the Isles.

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At that moment, a body of archers hidden on this hill

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shot a hail of arrows down onto the unprepared Royal troops.

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And taking that as their cue, the main body of the Islesmen charged.

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It only took a few minutes.

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Over 900 Royal troops lay dead.

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Their injured commander fled over the mountains.

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Inverlochy was a brutal lesson in the limits of Royal power.

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James was forced to realise that it was as dangerous

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to keep Alexander behind bars as it was to have him on the loose.

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A month after Inverlochy, he set Alexander free.

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Alexander got just about everything back -

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his lands, his titles and, crucially, his prestige.

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The MacDonalds were back on top.

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The Stewarts, meanwhile, were in trouble.

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To many of the magnates, James's release of Alexander seemed like weakness.

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They scented blood.

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Simmering resentments finally boiled over into conspiracy.

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On 20th February 1437, James's enemies finally caught up with him.

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It was after midnight when they broke into the Royal lodgings.

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With the assassins outside the door, James searched for a way out.

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But there wasn't one, so he smashed a hole through the wooden floor and dropped into the sewer beneath.

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But the exit to the drain had been blocked off.

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James turned to face his pursuers.

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He tried to make a fight of it.

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But there, in the darkness and the filth, he was stabbed to death.

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Scotland held her breath.

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The killing of a king was a shocking, almost sacrilegious act.

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With the Stewart dynasty weak and exposed, the MacDonalds were unassailable.

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When Alexander, Lord of the Isles, eventually died in 1449,

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his dream of ruling an empire that stretched from coast to coast had been realised.

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He was buried not on Iona like his forefathers, but on the mainland in the rich soil of Ross.

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From beyond the grave, Alexander was not only reinforcing past claims, he was hinting at future ambitions.

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The kingdom was at a turning point.

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With James I and Alexander, Lord of the Isles, gone

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it was up to a new generation to continue their legacies.

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On the Stewart side, James II assumed his father's throne.

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A bright red birthmark earned him the nickname, James the Fiery Face.

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On the MacDonald side, it was John who now became Lord of the Isles.

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His inauguration followed a ritual that was centuries old.

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Just like the ancient kings, John stepped into a carved rock footprint,

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joining him to the land he was to rule over.

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The bards heaped extravagant praise on John MacDonald.

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But it only added to the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

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John's position was difficult, even precarious.

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Should he try to expand his territory?

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Or would it better to consolidate his already over-stretched empire?

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For the moment, he opted for the status quo.

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Meanwhile, James took decisive action.

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The new king would cement his family's fortunes, not through violence

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but at the altar.

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Here in Edinburgh in 1449, James II married Mary of Gueldres.

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She was the grandniece of the Duke of Burgundy, one of the most wealthy and powerful men on the continent.

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The Stewarts had most definitely arrived at the top table of European power.

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There was a hefty price to pay, of course.

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James and his family wanted to impress their powerful, foreign guests

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with the very best in food, wine and entertainment.

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But it was worth it.

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The marriage brought the Stewarts international prestige and political influence.

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And there were other more tangible items on the gift list.

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This is some wedding present for a teenage king.

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It is. And the wedding wasn't exactly a shotgun wedding.

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It was one of the main dynastic weddings of the period.

0:33:570:34:01

And when James got this gun, Mons Meg, from the Duke of Burgundy,

0:34:010:34:04

he was being given one of the most impressive pieces of technology available at that time.

0:34:040:34:10

Just how dangerous or effective was a thing like this?

0:34:100:34:14

This gun could fire 18 inch stone balls, a good sized ball,

0:34:140:34:19

that could go over a mile actually especially with a following wind.

0:34:190:34:23

And the real danger that this represented was to the castles of the period.

0:34:230:34:28

A gun like this brought against a great castle was a real threat in terms of knocking its walls down.

0:34:280:34:33

What does it say about James though, that he now possesses this?

0:34:330:34:38

Where does it put him in the league table of kings?

0:34:380:34:41

It's putting him right up there amongst go-getters, amongst the main sovereigns in Europe.

0:34:410:34:48

-So James was, in many ways, a big noise?

-Absolutely.

0:34:480:34:52

James II's showy pretensions hid a mass of insecurities.

0:34:540:34:59

He was thin-skinned, prickly, paranoid.

0:35:000:35:05

The king felt trapped, hemmed in.

0:35:080:35:12

To the north and west John MacDonald dominated a huge arc of territories.

0:35:120:35:17

Meanwhile to the south, there was another potential rival,

0:35:170:35:22

the Black Douglas.

0:35:220:35:24

William, Earl of Douglas was a 15th century pin-up.

0:35:270:35:32

He was popular, he was famous and he was very, very rich.

0:35:320:35:37

His family, the Black Douglases, were the big power in the Borders.

0:35:370:35:42

When William, Earl of Douglas, and John, Lord of the Isles, agreed a friendship pact

0:35:450:35:52

it set them on a collision course with James.

0:35:520:35:54

Deals like this were routine, innocuous, they meant as much as a handshake.

0:35:590:36:04

But James didn't see it as a courtesy.

0:36:040:36:06

He chose to view it as a conspiracy.

0:36:060:36:09

The king brooded on how to deal with the two magnates.

0:36:130:36:17

He didn't brood for very long.

0:36:200:36:22

In 1452, James requested the presence of the Earl of Douglas at Stirling Castle.

0:36:260:36:31

William smelt a rat.

0:36:310:36:35

He only showed up when he got a letter guaranteeing his safety.

0:36:350:36:38

It was the dinner party from hell.

0:36:510:36:54

James was jumpy and volatile. William was edgy too.

0:36:540:36:57

The fact that both men had been drinking since lunchtime made the situation even more unpredictable.

0:36:570:37:02

Only one thing was guaranteed and that was a confrontation.

0:37:020:37:07

At some point, late in the proceedings, James demanded

0:37:110:37:14

that William give up his alliance with John, Lord of the Isles.

0:37:140:37:18

William refused. Bad move.

0:37:180:37:22

James exploded. He pulled a knife and launched himself at William.

0:37:260:37:30

Then his courtiers pitched in.

0:37:300:37:32

Legend has it that when the frenzy was over, they dumped him out of that window.

0:37:320:37:36

When the body was recovered by William's men, it was found to have 26 separate stab wounds.

0:37:360:37:42

His head had been split open with an axe.

0:37:420:37:46

It was a shocking act, as much for its violation of notions of honour as its brutality.

0:37:490:37:56

William's followers paraded a copy of the king's safe conduct pass

0:37:560:37:59

around Stirling before ransacking the town.

0:37:590:38:02

But James was more than a match for the Black Douglas.

0:38:060:38:10

Faced by the King's heavy artillery, the Douglas castles surrendered without a shot.

0:38:100:38:15

William's family fled into exile in England.

0:38:150:38:19

This was another great leap in the Stewart fortunes.

0:38:220:38:26

By seizing the lands of the Black Douglases, James had made himself very rich.

0:38:260:38:30

Big guns, wealthy relations and a single brutal act of murder

0:38:300:38:34

would bankroll the future of Scotland's Royal dynasty.

0:38:340:38:38

For James, it was a dream outcome.

0:38:390:38:42

But for John, it was a nightmare scenario.

0:38:430:38:47

What had happened to the Black Douglas could happen to him.

0:38:470:38:51

John had to find a way of keeping on the right side of the explosive and newly powerful king.

0:38:520:38:59

So when James prepared for war with England in 1460, John was amongst his most loyal lieutenants.

0:38:590:39:06

John vowed that his men would fight one league mile ahead of the main army.

0:39:100:39:15

It was a very public, very ostentatious show of loyalty to the King.

0:39:150:39:19

It was also a vow which John would never have to keep.

0:39:190:39:23

James loved guns.

0:39:230:39:25

In fact he loved them to death.

0:39:250:39:29

James was in the middle of a long, hot summer campaign when he got news that his queen, Mary, was arriving.

0:39:330:39:39

He got one of the guns ready to fire a salute.

0:39:390:39:42

But his grand gesture blew up in his face, literally.

0:39:420:39:45

The gun exploded, sending lethal shrapnel flying in all directions.

0:39:450:39:50

At 29 years old, James II was dead.

0:39:500:39:53

No-one could doubt that the Stewarts would continue.

0:40:080:40:11

The dynasty seemed unassailable, as much a part of Scotland now as its rocks and hills.

0:40:110:40:18

But the new king, James III, was just a boy.

0:40:190:40:24

For some, opportunity knocked.

0:40:240:40:27

Only months after the coronation of eight-year old James,

0:40:330:40:37

an envoy arrives at John MacDonald's stronghold of Ardtornish Castle on a secret mission.

0:40:370:40:42

The messenger represents the defeated Black Douglas family

0:40:420:40:46

and he carries with him an offer from the English king, Edward IV.

0:40:460:40:51

What Edward proposes is this, he will back a rebellion in Scotland

0:40:560:41:01

and the MacDonald and the Douglas families will share the spoils.

0:41:010:41:05

John will get the north of the country, the Black Douglas will get the south. And Edward?

0:41:050:41:10

Well, Edward secures his grip on the English throne.

0:41:100:41:13

Of course there was a catch to all of this.

0:41:130:41:16

John and the Douglas have to acknowledge Edward as their overlord.

0:41:160:41:21

This was treason.

0:41:250:41:27

The MacDonalds and the Black Douglas

0:41:270:41:29

were plotting the annihilation of Scotland's Royal dynasty.

0:41:290:41:33

The old king's suspicions now appeared less like paranoia and more like prophecy.

0:41:370:41:43

So, why did John take such a huge gamble?

0:41:470:41:51

Why did he risk everything that his forefathers had achieved?

0:41:510:41:55

The simple answer was that he had no choice.

0:41:550:41:59

John was being put under pressure by his own relatives.

0:42:060:42:09

They wanted to see the continued expansion of MacDonald territory

0:42:090:42:13

and the leader of the hardline faction was his illegitimate son, Angus Og.

0:42:130:42:18

Angus Og pressed his father to sign the treaty with the English.

0:42:210:42:25

The ink wasn't even dry before Angus and his men set out to demand

0:42:250:42:30

that taxes owed to the King be paid directly to the MacDonalds.

0:42:300:42:34

But the English king had only ever wanted a diversion in the north.

0:42:430:42:47

When Edward sorted out his own internal troubles, he had no further need for his Scottish allies.

0:42:470:42:52

The game was up for John, Lord of the Isles.

0:42:550:42:58

He could now only hope that the King, James III, wouldn't discover the secret treaty.

0:42:580:43:04

Fat chance. Eventually the story leaked out

0:43:130:43:15

and everyone, the King included, knew about John's pact with the English.

0:43:150:43:20

John was cornered. In a humiliating ceremony that echoed that of Alexander all those years before,

0:43:330:43:40

he was forced to surrender.

0:43:400:43:43

John had wanted nothing more than to be like his father.

0:43:500:43:54

This was the bitter fulfilment of that wish.

0:43:540:43:57

Like his father, he had underestimated the power of the Stewarts.

0:43:570:44:00

And like his father, he had paid the price.

0:44:000:44:03

But this was more than a personal failure.

0:44:030:44:05

The repercussions would be felt much more widely,

0:44:050:44:09

rippling down the centuries and affecting Scotland to this day.

0:44:090:44:14

John kept his head.

0:44:180:44:20

He even managed to hold onto some of his lands.

0:44:200:44:24

But the humiliating submission was too much for others in his family.

0:44:240:44:29

Angus Og looked back to the glory days, a time when his family commanded respect.

0:44:420:44:47

Then, the MacDonalds had burned Inverness to the ground and routed a Royal army at Inverlochy.

0:44:500:44:57

No-one, not even kings, had been able to subdue them.

0:44:570:45:02

And now they were expected just to roll over.

0:45:020:45:06

The argument divided the family.

0:45:120:45:15

In the process, it tore Gaelic Scotland apart.

0:45:150:45:19

When Angus attempted to seize power from his father, the Highlands and Islands erupted into civil war.

0:45:190:45:25

The birlinns which had made the Lordship now gathered to destroy it.

0:45:270:45:32

Son against father, the final battlefield - a bay on the Sound of Mull.

0:45:340:45:41

That stretch of water ahead is called Bloody Bay.

0:45:500:45:54

It's where the birlinns of John and Angus Og clashed with such disastrous violence.

0:45:540:45:59

It's supposed to have been a victory for Angus' forces,

0:45:590:46:03

but the truth is that it was a defeat for the whole of the Lordship.

0:46:030:46:08

Something more than men died that day.

0:46:080:46:10

The idea of a strong Gaelic world, a coherent entity

0:46:100:46:15

that could deal on equal terms with the rest of Scotland, died too.

0:46:150:46:19

It was a seismic moment.

0:46:370:46:39

The hairline crack between the Highlands and the Lowlands suddenly blew wide open.

0:46:390:46:44

At one time, Gaelic Scotland, the place, the people and the language,

0:46:460:46:52

had seemed central to the collective identity of Scots.

0:46:520:46:56

But now it began to be seen as threatening, as different,

0:46:560:47:01

as "other".

0:47:010:47:03

Scotland was changing,

0:47:070:47:09

and changing fast.

0:47:090:47:11

Only one thing seemed constant -

0:47:150:47:17

the Stewarts.

0:47:170:47:19

Just a few years after the implosion of the MacDonalds, another James sat upon the Scottish throne.

0:47:210:47:28

Extravagant, charming and able to inspire affection as well as respect,

0:47:280:47:33

James IV was everything that his forefathers weren't.

0:47:330:47:38

But he did have one Stewart trait...

0:47:380:47:40

..a burning desire to make a mark.

0:47:420:47:45

Falkland Palace was James IV's country retreat,

0:47:460:47:51

an escape from the everyday pressures of court.

0:47:510:47:55

Everywhere you look,

0:47:550:47:57

there are thistles.

0:47:570:47:59

This was the new Stewart emblem, an image that James adapted and reproduced endlessly.

0:48:010:48:09

It was a brilliant logo, so simple, so memorable that the thistle became

0:48:090:48:13

the definitive symbol, not just of the Stewarts, but of Scotland too.

0:48:130:48:18

James wanted to create a new Scottish identity.

0:48:290:48:34

But that identity was a very specific, even limiting one.

0:48:340:48:39

James IV was the last Scottish King to speak Gaelic.

0:48:430:48:48

But Gaelic wasn't the King's native tongue. Scots was.

0:48:480:48:53

And under the patronage of James, Scots was on the up.

0:48:540:48:59

This is one of the first prints

0:49:090:49:13

printed and produced in Scotland in 1507, 1508 and it's written in the language of the Lowland Scots.

0:49:130:49:19

Who's the author that's printed here?

0:49:190:49:22

The Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedie is actually by two poets.

0:49:220:49:24

-And this is by Dunbar.

-What is a flyting?

0:49:240:49:27

A flyting is a genre where one poet challenges another poet to a duel

0:49:270:49:31

by being as abusive as possible.

0:49:310:49:33

Can you read me an example of Dunbar having a pop at his adversary?

0:49:330:49:40

He's not exactly calling him a smashing chap, is he?

0:50:040:50:07

Uh, not really, no, no.

0:50:070:50:09

I can already pick out from what you're saying that one of the key things that this Lowland poet

0:50:090:50:16

is accusing the other of, is of using the Irish tongue, the Gaelic tongue. What's that all about?

0:50:160:50:24

I think that Dunbar is tapping into the stereotypes that would exist at the time.

0:50:240:50:28

As part of James IV's political agenda, cultural agenda, social agenda

0:50:280:50:34

you're looking at him pushing Lowland Scots as the language of the people in Scotland

0:50:340:50:40

and use that as an official language

0:50:400:50:43

and export that to the further out regions, and therefore Gaelic is clearly under pressure.

0:50:430:50:48

-So language is power?

-Yes.

0:50:480:50:50

Under James IV, earthy, everyday Scots

0:50:580:51:03

became the language of literature and law and therefore of power.

0:51:030:51:07

Gaelic, meanwhile, had become politically tainted.

0:51:070:51:10

It might well have been the language of half of all Scots but, as far as Lowlanders were concerned,

0:51:100:51:16

it was the tongue of traitors and outlaws.

0:51:160:51:19

Without the glue of the Lordship to hold it together,

0:51:240:51:27

the Highlands and Islands had become a kind of Wild West.

0:51:270:51:33

Everyone was out to grab what they could.

0:51:330:51:35

In the bloodletting, old scores were settled.

0:51:350:51:39

Angus Og, the upstart son who had tried to seize the Lordship, met a brutal end,

0:51:390:51:45

strangled to death by one of his own servants.

0:51:450:51:49

This was Linn nan Creach, The Raiding Time.

0:51:560:52:00

To the outside world it seemed that every stereotype of the lawlessness of the Gaels had been confirmed.

0:52:000:52:06

As if overwhelmed by the torrent of violence that he had unleashed,

0:52:080:52:13

John MacDonald retreated into penance and prayer.

0:52:130:52:17

In name at least, he was still King of the Hebrides, still Lord of the Isles.

0:52:170:52:22

But in the new Scotland, there could only be one king and only one lord.

0:52:220:52:28

In 1493, James took the title for himself.

0:52:390:52:43

The Stewarts, not the MacDonalds, were the Lords of the Isles now.

0:52:450:52:49

It was their word, their law, their rule.

0:52:490:52:54

James put together an expedition and sailed north to impose his authority.

0:52:540:53:00

The last time a Scottish king had ventured into the labyrinth of the Hebrides, he'd been on the run.

0:53:030:53:08

But unlike Robert the Bruce nearly 200 years previously,

0:53:080:53:11

James had come not as a fugitive but as a feudal overlord.

0:53:110:53:16

The time of the MacDonalds had passed.

0:53:170:53:20

The time of the Stewarts had come.

0:53:230:53:25

They were rich,

0:53:270:53:29

they were powerful,

0:53:290:53:31

they were in charge.

0:53:310:53:32

The Stewarts now looked to secure their future.

0:53:340:53:38

In 1503, James IV married Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII of England.

0:53:390:53:46

It was another spectacular marriage for the Stewarts,

0:53:520:53:56

but with an important difference. This time,

0:53:560:53:59

it wasn't just the Stewarts using a Royal match as a passport to power and respectability,

0:53:590:54:05

it was the English Tudors.

0:54:050:54:07

The Tudor dynasty was still a fragile one.

0:54:070:54:10

They'd just emerged from the Wars of the Roses and they were clinging onto power by their fingertips.

0:54:100:54:15

Marriage into the long-established Stewart family

0:54:150:54:18

would bring much needed legitimacy in the eyes of European monarchy.

0:54:180:54:22

It was an extraordinary reversal of fortune.

0:54:240:54:27

Once they'd been hostages and political prisoners,

0:54:270:54:32

now the Stewart dynasty were major power brokers, able to make the reputations of their Royal rivals.

0:54:320:54:39

And with the birth of a baby boy in 1507,

0:54:410:54:45

the Stewarts were only a heartbeat away from the throne of their ancient enemy,

0:54:450:54:50

the English.

0:54:500:54:52

The world had turned, the centre had shifted.

0:55:020:55:06

While the Stewart court blossomed, the court of the Lords of the Isles, Finlaggan, burned.

0:55:060:55:12

The Highland Boundary fault line cuts like a sword stroke through the heart of Scotland.

0:56:000:56:05

From coast-to-coast, it divides the country into two distinct parts,

0:56:050:56:10

the Highlands and the Lowlands.

0:56:100:56:13

It's a neat division,

0:56:130:56:16

perhaps too neat.

0:56:160:56:17

It's easy for us to think that the differences between Gaelic identity and Scots are somehow set in stone.

0:56:210:56:27

But this sense of separation is only a few centuries old.

0:56:300:56:35

It's history, not geography that divides us.

0:56:350:56:39

Scotland's split personality is the result of a family struggle that pulled the kingdom apart.

0:56:410:56:47

From being fully-paid up members of the Scottish project, Gaels began to be thought of as rebels...

0:56:500:56:57

outsiders.

0:56:570:56:58

Scotland couldn't continue to be diverse, it had to be a single, political entity.

0:57:000:57:06

And maybe a single cultural entity too.

0:57:080:57:10

It was the Stewarts who drove this new vision of a Scottish kingdom.

0:57:120:57:17

In their eyes, Scotland was secure in its independence and established on the European stage.

0:57:170:57:22

But this was only the start of what they had set out to achieve.

0:57:220:57:26

In the years to come, their ambitions would truly take flight.

0:57:260:57:31

We want your opinions on Scotland's history. Visit the website and tell us what you think.

0:57:580:58:03

Go to...

0:58:030:58:05

The Open University has also produced a booklet about Scottish history

0:58:070:58:12

and an audiowalk, linked to tonight's programme.

0:58:120:58:15

If you want to know how you can claim your free copy or download the walk, visit the website

0:58:150:58:20

or call...

0:58:200:58:23

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:430:58:45

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:450:58:47

At one time, Gaelic Scotland - the people and the language - was central to the collective identity of Scots.

But as Neil 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 centralising policies of the Stewart royal family in the 15th century led to the Gaels being perceived as rebels and outsiders.