The country later forming the shires of Aberdeen and Banff once served as home to the northern Picts, whom Ptolemy called Taixall, dubbing the territory Taixalon. Their town of Devana, once supposed to be the modern Aberdeen, has been identified by John Stuart with a site in the parish of Peterculter, where there are remains of an ancient camp at Normandykes, and by William Forbes Skene with a station on Loch Davan, west of Aboyne. Roman Camps have also been discovered on the upper Ythan and Deveron, but evidence of effective Roman occupation is still to seek. Traces of the native inhabitants, however, occur much more frequently. Weems or earth-houses occur fairly commonly in the west. Relics of crannogs or lake-dwellings exist at Loch Ceander, or Kinnord, five miles (8 km) north-east of Ballater, at Loch Goul in the parish of New Machar and elsewhere. Duns or forts occur on hills at Dunecht, where the dun encloses an area of two acres (8,000 m²), Barra near Old Meldrum, Tap o' Noth, Dunnideer near Insch and other places. Monoliths, standing stones and "druidical" circles of the pagan period abound, as do many examples of the sculptured stones of the early Christian epoch.

Efforts to convert the Picts started with Teman in the 5th century, and continued with Columba (who founded a monastery at Old Deer), Drostan, Maluog, and Machar, lasting results emerged only slowly. Indeed, dissensions within the Columban church and the expulsion of the clergy from Pictland by the Pictish king Nectan in the 8th century undid most of the progress that missionaries had made. The Vikings and Danes periodically raided the coast, but after Macbeth ascended the throne of Scotland in 1040, the Orkney men, under the guidance of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, refrained from further trouble in the north-east. Macbeth was afterwards slain at Lumphanan (1057), a cairn on Perkhill marking the spot.

The influence of the Norman conquest of England made itself felt even in Aberdeenshire. Along with numerous Anglo-Saxon exiles, there also settled in the country Flemings who introduced various industries, Saxons who brought farming, and Scandinavians who taught nautical skill. The Celts revolted more than once, but Malcolm Canmore and his successors crushed them and confiscated their lands. In the reign of Alexander I (ruled 1107 - 1124) mention first appears of Aberdeen (originally called Abordon and, in the Norse sagas, Apardion), which received its charter from William the Lion in 1179, by which date its burgesses had already combined with those of Banff, Elgin, Inverness and other trans-Grampian communities to form a free Hanse, under which they enjoyed exceptional trading privileges. By this time, too, the Church had extended its organisation, establishing the bishopric of Aberdeen in 1150.

In the 12th and 13th centuries some of the great Aberdeenshire families arose, including the earl of Mar (c. 1122), the Leslies, Freskins (ancestors of the dukes of Sutherland), Durwards, Bysets, Comyns and Cheynes; significantly, in most cases their founders had immigrated to the district.

The Celtic thanes and their retainers slowly fused with the settlers. They declined to take advantage of the disturbed condition of the country during the wars of the Scots independence, and made common cause with the bulk of the nation.

Though John Comyn (d. 1300?), one of the competitors for the throne, had considerable interests in the shire, his claim received locally little support. In 1296 Edward I made a triumphal march to the north to terrorise the more turbulent nobles. Next year William Wallace surprised the English garrison in Aberdeen, but failed to capture the castle. In 1303 Edward again visited the county, halting at the Castle of Kildrummy, then in the possession of Robert Bruce, who shortly afterwards became the acknowledged leader of the Scots and made Aberdeen his headquarters for several months. Despite the seizure of Kildrummy Castle by the English in 1306, Bruce's prospects brightened from 1308, when he defeated John Comyn, earl of Buchan (died 1313?), at Inverurie.

For a hundred years after Robert Bruce's death (1329) intermittent anarchy occurred in the shire. The English burned Aberdeen itself in 1336, and the re-settlement of the districts of Buchan and Strathbogie occasioned constant quarrels on the part of the dispossessed. Moreover, the crown had embroiled itself with some of the Highland chieftains, whose independence it sought to abolish. This policy culminated in the invasion of Aberdeenshire by Donald, Lord of the Isles, who, however, suffered defeat at Harlaw, near Inverurie, at the hands of the Earl of Mar in 1411.

In the 15th century two further leading county families emerged: Sir Alexander Forbes becoming Lord Forbes about 1442, and Sir Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon in 1437 and Earl of Huntly in 1445. Bitter feuds raged between these families for a long period, but the Gordons reached the height of their power in the first half of the 16th century, when their domains, already vast, were enhanced by the acquisition, through marriage, of the Earldom of Sutherland (1514).

Meanwhile commerce with the Low Countries, Poland and the Baltic had grown apace, Campvere (Veere in Dutch), near Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands, becoming the emporium of the Scottish traders, while education was fostered by the foundation of King's College, Aberdeen in 1497 (Marischal College followed a century later). At the Reformation so little intuition had the clergy of the drift of opinion that at the very time that religious structures were being despoiled in the south, the building and decoration of churches went on in the shire. Protestantism came in without much tumult, though rioting took place in Aberdeen and St. Machar's Cathedral in the city suffered damage. The Earl of Huntly offered some resistance, on behalf of the Catholics, to the influence of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, who was regent during the reign of James VI, but was defeated and killed at Corrichie on the Hill of Fare in 1562.

As years passed it became apparent that Presbyterianism gained less generally support than Episcopacy, of which system Aberdeenshire remained for generations the stronghold in Scotland.

Another crisis in ecclesiastical affairs arose in 1638, when the authorities ordered subscription to the National Covenant. Aberdeenshire responded so grudgingly to this demand that James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose visited the shire in the following year to enforce acceptance. The Cavaliers, not being disposed to yield, dispersed an armed gathering of Covenanters in the affair called the Trot of Turriff (1639), shedding the first blood of the civil war. The Covenanters obtained the upper hand in a few weeks, when Montrose appeared at the Bridge of Dee and compelled the surrender of Aberdeen, which had no choice but to cast in its lot with the victors.

Montrose, however, soon changed sides, and after defeating the Covenanters under Lord Balfour of Burleigh (1644), delivered the city to rapine. He worsted the Covenanters again after a stiff fight on July 2, 1645, at Alford, a village in the beautiful Howe of Alford. Peace was temporarily restored on the "engagement" of the Scots commissioners to assist Charles I.

Aberdeen welcomed Charles II on his return from the Netherlands in 1650, but in little more than a year General George Monck entered the city at the head of the Cromwellian regiments. The English garrison remained till 1659, but the following year Aberdeenshire effusively hailed the Restoration, and prelacy once more went into the ascendant. Most of the Presbyterians conformed, but the Quakers, more numerous in the shire and the adjoining county of Kincardine than anywhere else in Scotland, suffered systematic persecution.

After the Glorious Revolution (1688) episcopacy passed under a cloud, but the clergy, yielding to force majeure, gradually accepted the inevitable, hoping, as long as Queen Anne lived, that prelacy might yet become the national form of Church government. Her death dissipated these dreams, and as George I, her successor, was antipathetic to the clergy, it happened that Jacobitism and episcopalianism came to be regarded in the shire as identical, though in point of fact the non-jurors as a body never countenanced rebellion.

The Earl of Mar raised the standard of revolt in Braemar (September 6, 1715); a fortnight later James Francis Edward Stuart was proclaimed at Aberdeen cross; the Pretender landed at Peterhead on December 22, and in February 1716 he was back again in France. The collapse of the first rising ruined many of the lairds, and when the second rebellion occurred thirty years afterwards the county in the main remained apathetic, though the insurgents held Aberdeen for five months, and Lord Lewis Gordon won a trifling victory for Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Inverurie (December 23, 1745). The Duke of Cumberland relieved Aberdeen at the end of February 1746, and by April the Young Pretender had become a fugitive.

Thereafter the people devoted themselves to agriculture, industry and commerce, which developed by leaps and bounds, and, along with equally remarkable progress in education, transformed the aspect of the shire and made the community as a whole one of the most prosperous in Scotland.

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