Economy of Scotland in the High Middle Ages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Economy of Scotland in the High Middle Ages for the purposes of this article pertains to the economic situation in Scotland between the death of Domnall II in 900, and the death of Alexander III in 1286 which then led indirectly to the Scottish Wars of Independence. The period corresponds roughly with general European historical era known as the High Middle Ages, and also with the Medieval Warm Period.


The Scottish economy of this period was dominated by agriculture and by short-distance, local trade. There was an increasing amount of foreign trade in the period, as well as exchange gained by means of military plunder. Generally, continental trading centres were confined to the eastern seaboard, and exchange with Scandinavia and Ireland on the western seaboard. The first Scottish coins were minted in the reign of David I, perhaps in the silver gained by David's acquisition of the Pennine silver mines. By the end of this period, coins were replacing barter goods, but for most of this period most exchange was done without the use of metal currency.[1]


Most of Scotland's agricultural wealth in this period came from pastoralism, rather than arable farming, with arable farming growing in the "Norman period" and with geographical differences, low-lying areas being subject to more arable farming that high-lying areas such as the Highlands, Galloway and the southern uplands. Galloway, in the words of G.W.S. Barrow, "already famous for its cattle, was so overwhelmingly pastoral, that there is little evidence in that region of land under any permanent cultivation, save along the Solway coast."[2] The average amount of land used by a husbandman in Scotland might have been around 26 acres.[3]. The main unit of land measurement in Scotland was the davoch (meaning a "vat", or possibly a reference to ox, or damh), called the arachor in Lennox. This unit is also known as the "Scottish ploughgate". In English-speaking Lothian, it was simply ploughgate.[4] It may have measured about 104 acres (0.42 km2),[5] divided into 4 raths.[6] Cattle, pigs and cheeses were among the most produced foodstuffs,[7] but of course a vast range of foodstuffs were produced, from sheep and fish, rye and barley, to bee wax and honey.


Burghs founded before the death of King David I.

Pre-Davidian Scotland had no towns. The closest thing to towns were the larger than average population concentrations around large monasteries, such as Dunkeld and St Andrews, and regionally significant fortifications. Scotland, outside Lothian at least, was populated by scattered hamlets, and outside that area, lacked the continental style nucleated village. David I established the first burghs in Scotland, initially only in Middle-English-speaking Lothian. The earliest burghs, founded by 1124, were Berwick and Roxburgh. However, by 1130, David had established burghs in Gaelic areas: Stirling, Dunfermline, and Perth, as well as Edinburgh, were burghs by 1130. The conquest of Moray in that same year, led to the establishment of burghs at Elgin and Forres. Before David was dead, St Andrews, Montrose and Aberdeen were also burghs. In the reigns of Máel Coluim IV and William, burghs were added at Inverness, Banff, Cullen, Auldearn, Nairn, Inverurie, Kintore, Brechin, Forfar, Arbroath, Dundee, Lanark, Dumfries and (uniquely for the west coast) Ayr. New Lothian burghs also came into existence, at Haddington, Leith and Peebles. By 1210, there were 40 burghs in the Scottish kingdom. Rosemarkie, Dingwall and Cromarty were also burghs by the Scottish Wars of Independence.

David I, who established the first burghs, copied verbatim the burgher laws from the English burgh Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. He essentially imported the burgh into to his "Scottish" dominions from his English ones. Burghs were for the most part populated by foreigners, rather than native Scots or even Lothianers. The predominant ethnic group were the Flemings, but early burgesses were also English, French and German. The burgh’s vocabulary was composed totally of either Germanic terms (not necessarily or even predominantly English) such as croft, rood, gild, gait and wynd, or French ones such as provost, bailie, vennel, port and ferme.[8] The councils which ran individual burghs were individually known as lie doussane, meaning the dozen.[9]


  1. ^ , Stringer, "Emergence of a Nation State", pp. 66-9
  2. ^ , Barrow, Kingship and Unity, (1981), p. 12
  3. ^ , ibid., p. 18
  4. ^ , e.g. for Galloway, Oram, Lordship, pp. 212-13; for Strathearn and Lennox, see. Neville, Native Lordship, pp. 79-130
  5. ^ , Barrow, Kingship and Unity, p. 12-15
  6. ^ , ibid. p. 15
  7. ^ , Neville, Native Lordship, p. 96
  8. ^ , Driscoll, Alba, (2002), p. 53
  9. ^ , Murison, "Linguistic Relations", (1974), p. 74
  10. ^ , Barrow, Kingship and Unity, p. 102


  • Barrow, G.W.S., The Kingdom of the Scots, (Edinburgh, 2003)
  • Barrow, G.W.S., Kingship and Unity: Scotland, 1000-1306, (Edinburgh. 1981)
  • Driscoll, Steven, Alba: The Gaelic Kingdom of Scotland AD 800-1124, (Edinburgh, 1996)
  • Murison, David D., “Linguistic Relations in Medieval Scotland,” in G.W.S. Barrow (ed.), The Scottish Tradition: Essays in Honour of Ronald Gordon Cant, (Edinburgh, 1974)
  • Neville, Cynthia J., Native Lorship in Medieval Scotland: The Earldoms of Strathearn and Lennox, c. 1140-1365, (Portland/Dublin, 2005)
  • Oram, Richard, The Lordship of Galloway, (Edinburgh, 2000)
  • Stringer, Keith J., "The Emergence of a Nation-State, 1100-1300", in Jenny Wormald (ed.), Scotland: A History, (Oxford, 2005), pp. 38-76

See also[edit]