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Britain and the wider world

By the late 18th century a British identity had been forged in the wider world.

Any remaining tensions in the relationship between England and Scotland were overshadowed by differences with other parts of the empire.

Both the American Revolutionary War, which broke out in 1775, and perennially troubled Anglo-Irish relations, underlined the relative strength of Scottish loyalty to the Union.

Many of the harsh laws imposed on the Highlands in the aftermath of Culloden were repealed in the 1770s and 1780s.

Industrial transformation

Scotland was also becoming a fast-growing part of the British economy and contributing substantially to the state's prosperity. Scotland's traditional strength in textile production thrived enormously under boom-time conditions during the Napoleonic Wars.

A shift to the factory-based production of textiles from the late 18th century had spurred Scotland's own industrial revolution, and began its transformation from a mainly agrarian and rural society to a mainly urban and industrial one.

The king returns to Scotland

At about the time the clearances (mass evictions and emigration of Highland populations) entered a new and more intense phase in the 1820s, the high point of what was known as Highlandism was reached when King George IV made a state visit to Scotland in August 1822.

This visit, the first by a British monarch since Charles II in 1650, was deliberately contrived to reaffirm the bond between the Scots and their monarch, which had been challenged so repeatedly in the past.

George IV wears tartan

The ceremonial of the visit, stage-managed by the romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott, involved a series of pageants, many with a distinct Highland or Gaelic flavour.

Despite being grossly overweight, George paraded in a Highland costume of his own design, complete with a kilt in a specially-designed Royal Stewart tartan - a spectacle that was ruthlessly caricatured in the popular press.

Glossing over reality

It could be argued that the pageantry of 1822, which at the time was called "one and twenty daft days", glossed over what really was happening in Scotland (and England) at this time - clearances, economic hardship, radical discontent.

But there is no doubt that the romanticising of Highland culture and tradition had a profound and lasting effect, not just upon Scottish national identity, but upon that of the whole United Kingdom.


American War of Independence

War lasting from 1775-83, in which American colonists won their independence from Britain.