Scottish Literature

World History

Mediaeval Period

Approx. 400 - Approx. 1550

In Scotland, the literature of this period was characterized in style by a mixture of Latin, Old Norse, English, and Scots vocabulary. A main theme of literature of this period was grandiose and ceremonial vocabulary that elevated literature above everyday communication. A favorite genre of the Middle Ages was the ubiquitous morality play with archetypal characters and a specifically moral tone. Also important were the concepts of fortune's changeability and the moral quest of reconciling one's heart and mind with the will of providence. Key readings from this period include The Kingis Quair by James I, the poems of William Dunbar, and A Satire of the Three Estates.

World War I

1914 - 1918

Scottish History

The Ruthwell Cross Erected

Approx. 665

Inscribed on the Ruthwell Cross housed in a church in Dumfries, Scotland is the poem "The Dream of the Rood," one of the first- if not the first- Anglo-Saxon Christian poem.

The Battle of Bannockburn

June 24, 1314

University of St. Andrews Founded

Approx. 1413 - Approx. 1416

University of Glasgow Founded


William Dunbar

1459 - 1525

Dunbar served in the court of James IV and was probably educated at St. Andrews University. He was a courtier poet whose work contained by-and-large religious themes. He also wrote works about court life and occasions, including the marriage of Margaret Tudor in 1503.

Robert Henryson

Approx. 1460 - Approx. 1500

Not much is known about Henryson’s life, but he was most likely educated on the continent of Europe before becoming associated with Glasgow University as a tutor and then a schoolmaster at Dunfermline Abbey. His works drew from Boethius and Chaucer, he wrote stories in the style of Aesop’s Fables, and he penned the poem-story of The Testament of Cresseid—which, along with Chaucer’s poem, Troilus and Criseyde, inspired Shakespeare in his play, Troilus and Cressida.

David Lyndsay

Approx. 1486 - 1555

Little is known about David Lyndsay's life. He might have been a groom at the court of James IV from 1508-1509; therefore, he may have heard the public performances of William Dunbar and been inspired by the poet to begin writing for himself. A little later in life, Lyndsay had a close relationship with James V.

Travelling People


The first reference is made to "the Egyptians," the travelling people, during the reign of James IV.

University of Aberdeen Founded


Chepman and Myllar's Scottish Printing Press


Chepman and Myllar set up the first printing press to be used in Scotland. The press was intended to be used primarily for administrative and legal texts but also circulated the writings of William Dunbar and Robert Henryson.

John Knox

Approx. 1513 - November 24, 1572

The Scottish Reformation


James VI

June 19th, 1566 - March 27th, 1625

University of Edinburgh Founded


The King James Bible Printed

1611 AD

Allan Ramsay

1686 - 1758

The Treaty of Union


The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland resulted in Scotland’s debt from the Darien scheme were paid, William of Orange and his queen were accepted as the rightful rulers of both nations, and Scotland’s parliament was absorbed into England’s. As a result of Scotland’s perceived loss of autonomy, there was a great rise in “cultural nationalism” and a growing interest in Scotland's traditional literature.

The Battle of Culloden


Robert Fergusson

1750 - 1774

Robert Fergusson was a poet, writing pieces mostly meant for light-hearted performances at the clubs which he attended. Much of his work was a precursor to Robert Burns' work. In fact, Burns called him, "my elder brother in the Muse." Yet, beyond Fergusson's unintentional creation of The Poet, he was a significant chronicler of life particularly in Edinburgh.

Robert Burns

25 January 1759 - 21 July 1796

The Encyclopedia Britannica

1768 - 1771

James Hogg

1770 - 1835

Sir Walter Scott

1771 - 1832

John Galt

1779 - 1839

Wrote The Annals of the Parish and The Ayrshire Legatees (both 1821), among other works. Galt benefited greatly from the golden era in Scottish publishing and the new role of the novel in the literary hierarchy. Where poetry used to be THE method of interpreting and recounting history, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, the novel was now the most viable form of communicating and interpreting history and culture.

The Lady of the Lake


Penned by Sir Walter Scott and met with popular acclaim.



Penned by Sir Walter Scott.

George MacDonald

1824 - 1905

George MacDonald was a minister and a theologian, a wordsmith and a dreamer. LIke the Scottish culture he grew up in, MacDonald combined within himself the powers of the magical and the rational, the fantastic and the practical. Though MacDonald spent a good part of his adult life outside of Scotland, his writing and intellectual powers were birthed by the magic and rigor of Scottish culture and lore. He penned poems, fairy tales, and works of theology. Without these works, writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would not have been the same spiritually or artistically and, by extension, neither would so many after them.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner


Penned by James Hogg and presented at the time as an actual confession uncovered posthumously.

Margaret Oliphant

1828 - 1897

Alexander Carmichael

December 1, 1832 - June 6, 1912

Alexander Carmichael was the collector and editor of the Carmina Gadelica.

John Muir

April 21, 1838 - December 24, 1914

John Muir was a Scottish-born American naturalist and environmental philosopher who wrote on the importance of preserving the wilderness.

Robert Louis Stevenson

November 13, 1850 - December 3, 1894

Carmina Gadelica

Approx. 1855 - Approx. 1899

Alexander Carmichael collected the material which comprises the Carmina Gadelica in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland between 1855 and 1899.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

May 22, 1859 - July 7, 1930

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in and studied medicine in Scotland. In 1899-1902, Conan Doyle served as a physician in the Boer War. He penned many tales including the unprecedented Sherlock Holmes series.

J.M. Barrie


Thrawn Jane


Penned by Robert Louis Stevenson, mostly in Scots.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Penned by Robert Louis Stevenson.

First staging of Peter Pan


Duncan Williamson

April 11, 1928 - November 8, 2007

Duncan Williamson was a member of the Scottish Traveller community, a singer and storyteller. Before his death, his wife Linda transcribed his tales in the unique dialect they were originally performed in.