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

Who am I?

I dropped out of law school to pursue a PhD in music at the University of Glasgow and to write the history of the flute in Scotland. Essentially, I wanted to know that if Scotland was a leader in Enlightenment thought, and if there were hundreds of publications with flute on the title page, and since the flute was the most popular amateur instrument in the eighteenth century, why was nothing written about the flute. I obsessively read Scottish mythology as a child, and was always drawn to the stereotypical wild misty landscapes of Scotland without knowing much about it. 


I wrote...

The Flute in Scotland from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

By Elizabeth Ford,

Book cover of The Flute in Scotland from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

What is my book about?

This is the first (and only) book devoted to the flute in Scottish music history. It explores the rich history of the flute in Scottish musical life through people who played it, made it, and offers in depth analysis of surviving flute manuscripts.

This might sound dry, but it has pictures, and has been called “required reading” and “groundbreaking.” I suspect this is because the common misconception is that no one in Scotland played flute, that flute in traditional music is an Irish thing. I debunk that, along with the other myth about ladies not playing flute. The flute’s use in Scottish music gets moved much earlier than previously thought along the way. 


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The books I picked & why

Book cover of 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?

The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation

By Alexander Broadie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Scottish Enlightenment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Scottish Enlightenment was one of the greatest intellectual and cultural movements that the world has ever seen. Its legacy in philosophy, history, science, music, art, architecture, economics, and many other disciplines cannot be overstated. This book considers the totality of achievements from this most astonishing period of Scottish history and how they still animate and inspire the world today.


Book cover of 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.

Book cover of 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.

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

By Margaret MacAulay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Prisoner of St Kilda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 18th century shotgun weddings were not unusual, but in most cases it wasn't the bride that was holding the gun. So began the stormy marriage between Lord and Lady Grange, a marriage which was to end with Lady Grange's death on the Isle of Skye after 13 years in exile.

The daughter of a convicted murderer, Lady Grange's behaviour, such as her fondness for drink, was so outrageous that her sudden disappearance from public life was not considered surprising. But few knew the true story of her disappearance.

This book reveals, for the first time, how the unfortunate…


Book cover of 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.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

By David Forsyth (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1745 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', grandson of James VII and II landed on the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. He would be the Jacobite Stuarts' last hope in the fight to regain the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Jacobite legend has an enduring fascination and now renewed global interest due to the Outlander books and television series. A major new exhibition on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites opens at the National Museum of Scotland on 23 June 2017, and tells a compelling story of love, loss, exile, rebellion and…


Book cover of 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.

The History of Edinburgh. by Hugo Arnot

By Hugo Arnot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The History of Edinburgh. by Hugo Arnot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, exploration and rapidly growing technology and expanding record-keeping made possible by advances in the printing press. In its determination to preserve the century of revolution, Gale initiated a revolution of its own: digitization of epic proportions to preserve these invaluable works in the largest archive of its kind. Now for the first time these high-quality digital copies of original 18th century manuscripts are available in print, making them highly accessible to libraries, undergraduate students, and independent scholars.
Rich in titles on English life and social history, this collection spans the world as…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Scotland, Edinburgh Scotland, and Jacobitism?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Scotland, Edinburgh Scotland, and Jacobitism.

Scotland Explore 241 books about Scotland
Edinburgh Scotland Explore 40 books about Edinburgh Scotland
Jacobitism Explore 14 books about Jacobitism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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