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The New History of Orkney
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Publication Date
31 May 2008
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Birlinn Limited
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The New History of Orkney

by William P. L. Thomson - Find out more about the author
'The story is woven with great diligence, depth of research and skill in this new edition which brings us bang up-to-date,' – Scottish Life
‘A serious work, full of new insights and distilled information from the dozens of articles and books on Orkney history published in recent times’ – New Shetlander
‘Scholarly but well-written, hugely informative but lightened by flashes of humour and always illuminated by robust good sense’ – Shetland Times
‘Fuller, better-balanced and more critical than previous histories of Orkney … scholarly and timely’ – Scottish Geographical Magazine
When the first edition of William Thomson’s History of Orkney was published in 1987 it was the first new history of the islands to appear for over fifty years. The Orcadian greeted it with the words: ‘So far as Orkney history is concerned, Mr William Thomson has written the book of the century.’ In this long-awaited second edition, new work sheds light on the Picts, the Vikings, medieval Orkney, the Reformation and the Stewart earldom, as well as many aspects of more recent centuries.
For much of its history, Orkney existed as one of Europe’s sub-nations, with its own language, culture and institutions. The prehistoric inhabitants produced monuments which are unmatched anywhere in Europe, and the medieval period saw the magnificent earldom that expressed itself through the Orkneyinga Saga and the building of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. Like Shetland, Orkney was heavily influenced by Viking traders and raiders from Scandinavia, and for a long period it formed an outlying part of the kingdom of Norway. Over 500 years ago, however, the islands lost their Scandinavian links and since then have had a sometimes difficult association with mainland Scotland. More recent times have seen the use of Orkney as a strategic stronghold during two world wars, and the far-reaching impact of oil and gas exploitation in the North Sea. It is an enthralling story, masterfully summarised and retold, and of interest to readers far beyond the rocky shores of Orkney itself.

William P. L. Thomson was the author of a number of books on Scottish history. He was Rector of Kirkwall Grammar School, in Orkney, from 1971 to 1991, previously having been Principal Teacher of History and Geography at the Anderson High School, Shetland. He died in 2016.






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