The best books on eighteenth-century Scotland

Elizabeth Ford Author Of The Flute in Scotland from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century
By Elizabeth Ford

The Books I Picked & Why

The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation

By Alexander Broadie

The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation

Why this book?

I think understanding the intellectual background to a historical period is always important, and I was introduced to the Scottish Enlightenment at West Virginia Wesleyan College through this book. I have since had the pleasure to meet and work with Alexander Broadie while at Glasgow, and he is a kind, generous, and supportive scholar.

The Scottish Enlightenment covers the significant breakthroughs in the thought of the movement, and the contributions of the characters behind it such as David Hume and Adam Smith. The importance of studying history, morality in civil society, religion, and art. The Enlightenment laid the groundwork for our modern society, so how could anyone not study it?


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Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century

By David Johnson

Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century

Why this book?

I’ll go ahead and admit that taking issue with David Johnson is one of my favorite pastimes. However, his work is the only work focused on eighteenth-century Scottish music, and as such is a major contribution. Johnson gives a very readable, very enjoyable (one needn’t know music…) overview of what was then known (1972) about Scottish musical culture. Arts and Enlightenment went hand in hand in Scotland, so read Broadie for the ideas and then Johnson for what these same philosophers were doing for entertainment.


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The Prisoner of St Kilda: The True Story of the Unfortunate Lady Grange

By Margaret MacAulay

The Prisoner of St Kilda: The True Story of the Unfortunate Lady Grange

Why this book?

I couldn’t make this up: one night masked men broke into the Edinburgh townhouse of Lord and Lady Grange, gagged Lady Grange, bound her to a chair, and carried out of the house to a waiting horse. From there, they travelled across Scotland to the remote islands of St Kilda, where she was left for the next seven years. Lady Grange was by all accounts unbalanced and difficult to live with, so her husband decided to have her abducted, and told his friends she had died. The west of Scotland at the time was essentially a different country from Edinburgh society, complete with an English-Gaelic language barrier. This story is so outrageous that it is difficult to believe it is true. Pair it with any edition of Johnson and Boswell for another look at life in the west of Scotland in the eighteenth century, and read their versions of the unfortunate Lady Grange’s story.


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Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

By David Forsyth

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

Why this book?

This is a collection of essays for a major exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland in 2017. It features essays on aspects of the endurance of the Jacobite cause, and objects associated with Jacobitism (like Bonnie Prince Charlie’s silver picnic set). It also has over 200 pictures. This myth has endured through the writings of Sir Walter Scott through Outlander, and this book presents the much, much larger, and more complex story.


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The History of Edinburgh. by Hugo Arnot

By Hugo Arnot

The History of Edinburgh. by Hugo Arnot

Why this book?

Published in 1779, this book shows far more about Enlightenment Edinburgh than it does Edinburgh history, and should be read for that reason. Full of myth, legend, bloody Scottish history, and contemporary events, it is written with the perspective of the historical enquiry of the Enlightenment as described by Broadie. Plus, it’s just fun to see how historic people saw and expressed themselves.


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