The Royal Burgh of Tain has a long and fascinating history. It was granted its first royal charter in 1066, making Tain Scotland's oldest Royal Burgh, an event commemorated in 1966 with the opening of the Rose Garden by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The 1066 charter, granted by King Malcolm III, confirmed Tain both as a sanctuary, where people could claim the protection of the church, and an "immunity", whose resident merchants and traders were exempt from certain types of taxes. These important ideas carried through the centuries and led to the development of the town as it is today.
Little is known of the earlier history of the town; even the origin of the name Tain is uncertain. It may come from the Norse "Thing", a place of assembly, or from an older root meaning water or river. However, the town's Gaelic is quite clear, Baile Dubhthaich, Duthac's town, and it is to Duthac that the town owed its early importance. He was an early Christian figure, perhaps 8th or 9th century, whose shrine had become so important by 1066 that it resulted in the royal charter already mentioned. The ruined chapel near the mouth of the river was said to have been built on the site of his birth. Duthac became an official saint in 1419 and by the late middle ages his shrine was established as one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Scotland. The most famous pilgrim was King James IV, who came at least once a year throughout his reign to achieve both spiritual and political aims.
The extent of the sanctuary of Tain, based about St Duthac's shrine, was marked by four girth crosses. The boundaries were inspected by the burgh council in regular perambulation of the marches which continued well into the 18th century. The fame of the sanctuary was such that Robert the Bruce sent his family here in 1306 to keep them safe from the English. William Earl of Ross captured them, ignoring the sanctuary, and handed them over to Edward I.
The endowments made by William a few years later in restitution led directly to the foundation of the beautiful collegiate church that is still at the heart of the town today.
That episode in 1306 was just one of many dramatic effects in Tain during the last thousand years. In 1427 a clan feud led to the burning down of the old church and the hurried completion of the collegiate church. In 1650 the Marquis of Montrose spent a night here on the way to his execution in Edinburgh after the battle of Carbisdale. A century later, in 1745, the troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie were in Tain and Easter Ross, and a century later again the repercussions of the Highland clearances were being felt in Tain's court-house.
During the Second World War many Royal Air Force and Army personnel were stationed in the area. Military structures, including huts, control towers and runways, mostly derelict, can still be seen. The village of Inver and its surrounding area was completely cleared in 1944 for secret D-Day landing exercises, causing enormous disruption to the lives of the local people.
From those early days of sanctity in a wilderness of savagery, from the long centuries of war and violence, Tain emerges a peaceful town with its own individual atmosphere of sturdy independence, of kindly and understanding folk, of refuge from city smoke and grind and pressure - a place which holds open arms of welcome to those who visit it.
For further information visit the Tain Museum website.