Shetland (formerly spelled Zetland, from etland; Old Norse Hjaltland; Sealtainn) is an archipelago off the northeast coast of mainland Scotland. The islands lie to the northeast of Orkney, from the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total area is approximately 1,466 km² (566 sq mi). Shetland constitutes one of the 32 council areas of Scotland. The islands' administrative centre and only burgh is Lerwick.
The artefacts of all the eras of Shetland's past can be studied at the newly built (2007) Shetland Museum in Lerwick.
By the end of the ninth century the Vikings shifted their attention from plundering to invasion, mainly due to the overpopulation of Norway in comparison to resources and arable land available there. Vikings colonised much of northern Europe, including Normandy, England, Scotland, Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, the Isle of Man, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland, and subsequently North America. The Norwegians tended to follow a northern route to the islands and less populous places whereas the Danes went to more populated areas such as England and France, and the Swedes went east.
Hjaltland was colonised by Norwegian Vikings in the 9th century, the fate of the existing indigenous population being uncertain. The colonisers gave it that name and established their laws and language. That language evolved into the West Nordic language Norn, which survived into the 1800s.
After Harald Hårfagre took control of all Norway, many of his opponents fled, some to Orkney and Shetland. From the Northern Isles they continued to raid Scotland and Norway, prompting Harald Hårfagre to raise a large fleet which he sailed to the islands. In about 875 he and his forces took control of Shetland and Orkney. Ragnvald, Earl of Møre received Orkney and Shetland as an earldom from the king as reparation for his son's being killed in battle in Scotland. Ragnvald gave the earldom to his brother Sigurd the Mighty.
Shetland was Christianised in the tenth century.
In 1194 when king Sverre Sigurdsson (ca 1145 - 1202) ruled Norway and Harald Maddadsson was Earl of Orkney and Shetland, the Lendmann Hallkjell Jonsson and the Earl's brother-in-law Olav raised an army called the eyjarskeggjar on Orkney and sailed for Norway. Their pretender king was Olav's young foster son Sigurd, son of king Magnus Erlingsson. The eyjarskeggjar were beaten in the Battle of Florvåg near Bergen. The body of Sigurd Magnusson was displayed for the king in Bergen in order for him to be sure of the death of his enemy, but he also demanded that Harald Maddadsson (Harald jarl) answer for his part in the uprising. In 1195 the earl sailed to Norway to reconcile with King Sverre. As a punishment the king placed the earldom of Shetland under the direct rule of the king, from which it was probably never returned.
When Alexander III of Scotland turned twenty-one in 1262 and became of age he declared his intentions of continuing the aggressive policy his father had begun towards the western and northern isles. This had been put on hold when his father had died thirteen years earlier. Alexander sent a formal demand to the Norwegian King Håkon Håkonsson.
After decades of civil war, Norway had achieved stability and grown to be a substantial nation with influence in Europe and the potential to be a powerful force in war. With this as a background, King Håkon rejected all demands from the Scots. The Norwegians regarded all the islands in the North Sea as part of the Norwegian Realm. To add weight to his answer, King Harald activated the leidang and set off from Norway in a fleet which is said to have been the largest ever assembled in Norway. The fleet met up in Breideyarsund in Shetland (probably today's Bressay Sound) before the king and his men sailed for Scotland and made landfall on Arran. The aim was to conduct negotiations with the army as a backup.
Alexander III drew out the negotiations while he patiently waited for the autumn storms to set in. Finally, after tiresome diplomatic talks, King Håkon lost his patience and decided to attack. At the same time a large storm set in which destroyed several of his ships and kept others from making landfall. The Battle of Largs in October 1263 was not decisive and both parties claimed victory, but King Håkon Håkonsson's position was hopeless. On 5 October, he returned to Orkney with a discontented army where he died of a fever on 17 December 1263. His death halted any further Norwegian expansion in Scotland.
King Magnus Lagabøte broke with his father's expansion policy and started negotiations with Alexander III. In the Treaty of Perth of 1266 he surrendered his furthest Norwegian possessions including Man and the Sudreyar (Hebrides) to Scotland in return for 4,000 marks sterling and an annuity of 100 marks. The Scots also recognised Norwegian sovereignty over Orkney and Shetland.
One of the main reasons behind the Norwegian desire for peace with Scotland was that trade with England was suffering from the constant state of war. In the new trade agreement between England and Norway in 1223 the English demanded Norway make peace with Scotland. In 1269, this agreement was expanded to include mutual free trade.
In the 14th century Norway still treated Orkney and Shetland as a Norwegian province, but Scottish influence was growing, and in 1379 the Scottish earl Henry Sinclair took control of Orkney on behalf of the Norwegian king Håkon VI Magnusson. In 1348 Norway was severely weakened by the Black Plague and in 1397 it entered the Kalmar Union. With time Norway came increasingly under Danish control. King Christian I of Denmark and Norway was in financial trouble and, when his daughter Margaret became engaged to James III of Scotland in 1468, he needed money to pay her dowry. Apparently without the knowledge of the Norwegian Riksråd (Council of the Realm) he entered into a contract on 8 September 1468 with the King of Scotland in which he pawned Orkney for 50,000 Rhenish guilders. On 28 May the next year he also pawned Shetland for 8,000 Rhenish guilders. He secured a clause in the contract which gave future kings of Norway the right to redeem the islands for a fixed sum of 210 kg of gold or 2,310 kg of silver. Several attempts were made during the 17th and 18th centuries to redeem the islands, without success.
Following a legal dispute with William, Earl of Morton, who held the estates of Orkney and Shetland, Charles II ratified the pawning document by an Act of Parliament on 27 December 1669 which officially made the islands a Crown dependency and exempt from any "dissolution of His Majesty’s lands". In 1742 a further Act of Parliament returned the estates to a later Earl of Morton, although the original Act of Parliament specifically ruled that any future act regarding the islands status would be "considered null, void and of no effect".
The Shetland Gang sailed in covert operations between Norway and Shetland, carrying men from Company Linge, intelligence agents, refugees, instructors for the resistance, and military supplies. Many people on the run from the Germans, and much important information on German activity in Norway, were brought back to the Allies this way. Some mines were laid and direct action against German ships was also taken. At the start the unit was under a British command, but later Norwegians joined in the command.
The fishing vessels made 80 trips across the sea. German attacks and bad weather caused the loss of 10 boats, 44 crewmen, and 60 refugees. Because of the high losses it was decided to procure faster vessels. The Americans gave the unit the use of three submarine chasers (HNoMS Hessa, HNoMS Hitra and HNoMS Vigra). None of the trips with these vessels incurred loss of life or equipment.
The Shetland Gang made over 200 trips across the sea and the most famous of the men, Leif Andreas Larsen (Shetlands-Larsen) made 52 of them.
Income from oil, and the improved economic state that oil-related development has brought, has resulted in reduced emigration and vastly improved infrastructure throughout Shetland, leading to an improved quality of life.
As a result of the oil revenue and the cultural links with Norway, a small independence movement developed briefly within Shetland. It saw as its model the Isle of Man, as well as its closest neighbour, Faroe, an autonomous dependency of Denmark .
|3000 BC||First sign of settlement|
|297 AD||Roman sources mention the Picts|
|875||Harald Hårfagre took control of the islands|
|1195||Harald Maddadsson lost the earldom of Shetland and the islands are put directly under the Norwegian king Sverre Sigurdsson|
|1379||The Scottish earl Henry Sinclair took control of Orkney on behalf of the Norwegian king Håkon VI Magnusson|
|1469||Christian I pawned Shetland to the Scottish king James III|
|1700-1760||Smallpox hit the islands hard|
|1700s||Norn language gradually dies out|
|1707||The German merchants lost their trading rights in Shetland|
|1708||Capital moved from Scalloway to Lerwick|
|1880s||William Ewart Gladstone freed the serfs|
|1940||Shetland bus established by the Special Operations Executive|
|1961||17 814 inhabitants|
|1969||Shetland marks 500 years under both Norwegian and Scottish rule|
|1975||Lerwick Town Council and Zetland County Council merged to Shetland Islands Council|
|1978||Oil terminal in Sullom Voe opened|
|2001||21 990 inhabitants|
|2005||Lord Lyon King of Arms, the heraldic authority of Scotland, approved the blue and white flag of Shetland as an official flag|
The main cultural influences on Shetland are Scandinavian (especially Norwegian) and British (especially Scottish) but North Sea and North Atlantic commerce have ensured various other influences. Shetland's fiddle music is a blend of ancient Norwegian folk music, Scots reels, jigs and slow airs, and tunes brought home by sailors from Ireland, Germany, North America and even Greenland. Notable exponents of Shetland folk music include fiddle players, the late Tom Anderson and Aly Bain, and the guitarist, the late Peerie Willie Johnson.
The landscape and the light found in Shetland have been an inspiration to many artists in the fields of painting, drawing and sculpturing, both local and from elsewhere. There are several local art galleries. As with other Scottish dialects, the Shetland dialect, a mixture of old English, Scots and Norse words, was actively discouraged in schools, churches and civic life until the late twentieth century, but has since then been restored as a language of culture. It is used both in local radio and dialect writing, kept alive by the Shetland Folk Society and the quarterly New Shetlander magazine.
Up Helly Aa is any of a variety of fire festivals held in Shetland annually in the middle of winter. The festival is just over 100 years old in its present, highly organised form. Originally a temperance festival held to break up the long nights of winter the festival has become one celebrating the isles heritage and includes a procession of men dressed as Vikings, the burning of a replica longship and copious amounts of alcohol. The main Up Helly Aa in Lerwick bars women from taking part in the processions of guizers. Instead, women prepare food for the big night.
Shetland competes in the bi-annual Island Games, which it hosted in 2005.
The Pictish language died out during the Viking occupation to be replaced by Old Norse, which in turn evolved into Norn. This remains the most prominent remnant of Norse culture on the islands. Almost every place name in use there can be traced back to the Vikings. Norn continued to be spoken until the 18th century when it was replaced by an insular dialect of Scots also known as Shetlandic, which in turn is being replaced by Scottish English. However, the legacy of Norn remains in a number of words, making the Shetland dialect a distinctive form of Scots. The use of dialect was actively discouraged in schools, churches and civic life throughout Scotland until the late 20th century but islanders now take a pride in their native speech. Efforts are made to retain the use of the dialect and counter influence from English.
Although Norn was spoken for hundreds of years it is now extinct and few written sources remain. Example of the Lord's Prayer in Shetland Norn:
Translation to modern Norwegian (nynorsk)
Old Norse version
English version (not literal translation)
For comparison to Orkney Norn and other languages please see: The Lord's Prayer in different languages.
As Norn was gradually replaced by Scots Shetland became etland (the initial letter being the Middle Scots letter, yogh (which can also be found in the name Menzies, e.g. Menzies Campbell.) This sounded almost identical to the original Norn sound, /hj/). When the letter yogh was discontinued, it was often replaced by the similar-looking letter 'z', hence Zetland, the mispronounced form used to describe the pre-1975 county council.
The earliest recorded name for the islands was Inse Catt, "islands of the Cat people": the same people that Caithness is named after.
A number of other films have been made on or about Shetland:
The first section of this book - 60 degrees north - is a series of poems, some in Shetland dialect, that reflect the poet's experiences of Shetland and offers a unique British Asian perspective to the landscape.
See also the work of Hugh MacDiarmid, the Scots poet and writer who lived in Whalsay from the mid-1930s through 1942, and wrote many poems there, including a number that directly address or reflect the Shetland environment (e.g., "On A Raised Beach.")
There are churches of many different denominations in Shetland, with the largest variety found in Lerwick. Unlike much of Scotland, the Methodist Church has a relatively high membership in Shetland. Shetland comprises a District of the Methodist Church (the rest of Scotland comprises a separate District). The Church of Scotland has a Presbytery of Shetland; the largest congregation is Lerwick and Bressay Parish Church.
Out of the approximately 100 islands, only 15 are inhabited. The main island of the group is known as Mainland.
The other inhabited islands are: Bressay, Burra, Fetlar, Foula, Muckle Roe, Papa Stour, Trondra, Vaila, Unst, Whalsay, Yell in the main Shetland group, plus Fair Isle to the south, and Housay and Bruray in the Out Skerries to the east (see below).
For a more complete list of islands, see List of Shetland islands.
Fair Isle lies approximately halfway between Shetland and Orkney, but it is administered as part of Shetland and is often counted as part of the island group. The Out Skerries lie east of the main group. Due to the islands' latitude, on clear winter nights the aurora borealis or 'northern lights' can sometimes be seen in the sky, while in summer there is almost perpetual daylight, a state of affairs known locally as the 'simmer dim'.
The general character of the climate is windy and cloudy with at least 1mm of rain falling on about 200 days a year. Average yearly precipitation at Lerwick is 1238 mm, with November and December the wettest months, together receiving about a quarter of annual precipitation. Snowfall can occur at any time from July to early June although it seldom lies on the ground for more than a day. Less rain falls from April to August although no month receives less than 50mm. Fog is common in the east of the islands during summer due to the cooling effect of the sea on mild southerly airflows.
There is a wide variation in daylength during the course of the year due the islands' northerly location. On the shortest day at the winter solstice sunlight lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes and this stretches to 23 hours at the summer solstice, with twilight occupying the remainder of the time. However, the remoteness of the islands from warm and dry airflows means that all months are cloudy. Annual sunshine hours average 1065 hours or about 25% daytime so fine days are rare and overcast days are common.
|Average maximum temperature coldest month||4.9 °C (February)|
|Average maximum temperature warmest month||14 °C (August)|
|Number of days with air frost||33 days|
|Annual precipitation||1037 mm|
|Number of days a year with snowfall||60 days|
|Number of days a year with rain or showers||285 days|
The geographical isolation and recent glacial history of Shetland have resulted in a depleted mammalian fauna. The wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus L.), along with the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus Berkenhout) and the house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus Schwartz & Schwartz), are the only recorded types of rodent present on the island. Based largely on morphological studies of epigenetic variations, the source of the original founding population has been attributed to Norway with the most obvious date of introduction being presumed to be around the 9th century AD with the arrival of the Vikings. However, archaeological evidence now suggests that this species was present during the Middle Iron Age (around 200 BC - AD 400), and one theory proposes that Apodemus was in fact introduced from Orkney where a population had existed since at the least the Bronze Age.
Fishing has been an integral part of Shetland's economy since prehistory and it remains central to the islands' economy even today. It was also important in bringing in commerce from outside the isles, for example 17th century Hanseatic traders and Victorian-era herring activities.
The main areas of revenue in Shetland today are agriculture, aquaculture, fishing and petroleum industry (Crude oil and Natural gas production). Farming is mostly connected to raising of Shetland sheep, known for their unusually fine wool, along with the Shetland Sheepdog as well as the Shetland pony. Crops raised include oats and barley; however, the cold, windswept islands make for a harsh environment for most plants. Crofting, the farming of small plots of land on a legally restricted tenancy basis, is still practiced and viewed as a key Shetland tradition as well as important source of income.
More recently, oil reserves discovered in the 20th century out to sea have provided a much needed alternative source of income for the islands. The East Shetland Basin is one of Europe's largest oil fields. Oil produced there is landed at the Sullom Voe terminal in Shetland. Taxes from the oil have increased spending on social welfare, art, sport, environmental measures and financial development. Three quarters of the islands work force is employed in the service sector. Even though oil makes up 15% of the islands' economy, £116 million a year, the fish related industry generates twice as much income and employs three times as many workers., however the oil revenue allows increased expenditure by the Shetland Islands Council, which alone accounted for 27.9% of employment in 2003 .
In January 2007, the Shetland Islands Council signed a partnership agreement with Scottish and Southern Energy for a 200 turbine wind farm and subsea cable. The renewable energy project would produce about 600 megawatts and contribute about £20 million to the Shetland economy per year, but this plan is meeting significant opposition within the islands, primarily resulting from expected visual impact of the development.
Sumburgh Airport, the main airport on Shetland, is located close to Sumburgh, 40 km (25 miles) south of Lerwick. Loganair operates flights under British Airways to other parts of the British Isles seven times a day. The destinations are Kirkwall, Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the summer months, there are also flights to London (Stansted) and the Faeroes operated by the Faeroese airliner Atlantic Airways.
Inter-Island flights from the Shetland Mainland to Fair Isle, Foula, Papa Stour, and Out Skerries are operated from Tingwall Airport 11 km west of Lerwick, by Directflight Ltd., using Islander aircraft owned by the Shetland Islands Council.
Shetland is also home to the North Atlantic Fisheries College
Roy Grönneberg founded the local chapter of the SNP (Scottish National Party) in 1966 and was active in the struggle for Shetland autonomy. In 1969 he designed the flag of Shetland in cooperation with Bill Adams to mark the 500 year anniversary of the transfer of Shetland from Norway to Scotland..
The reasons behind the design was the desire to illustrate the Shetland had been a part of Norway for 500 years and a part of Scotland for 500 years. The colours are identical to the ones in Flag of Scotland, but shaped in the Nordic cross and is the same design Icelandic republicans used in the early 20th century known in Iceland as the Hvítbláinn, the white-blue.
In 1975 the two local authorities in Shetland, Lerwick Town Council and Zetland County Council, were combined in to the Shetland Islands Council. Grönneberg wanted his flag proposal to become the official flag of Shetland, but was unsuccessful. A plebiscite in 1985 also failed to give it official status. In 2005 the Lord Lyon King of Arms approved the flag as the official flag of Shetland.
|District||Population 1961||Population 1971||Population 1981||Population 1991||Population 2001|
|Bound Skerry (& Grunay)||3||3||0||0||0|
See also: List of Shetland islands