The action in Kidnapped takes place in 1752. This was an extremely turbulent time in Scottish history, not long after Bonnie Prince Charlie had led an unsuccessful rebellion to overthrow King George II. His Jacobite forces were defeated at the Battle of Culloden and he was forced to flee abroad.
The novel refers to actual historical events and features real people. For example, details surrounding the real-life death of Colin Campbell - known as the Red Fox - are used by Stevenson in the novel.
As well as his close attention to detail, Stevenson is able to give the reader a wider sense of the historical period in terms of the changes that were happening in Scotland at that time. For example, the Lowlands was rising in importance, benefiting economically from the Union of 1707.
Edinburgh was a booming European city. It had a university and was home to the powerful legal establishment. Meanwhile, Glasgow had begun its development as an important trading centre with the Americas and West Indies.
At the same time, the Highland way of life entered a long decline which made the contrast between the two regions of Scotland all the more marked.
At this point in history, Scotland was balanced between the Highlands and Lowlands in terms of population, but the balance was tipping rapidly in the wake of the 1745 rebellion. The Lowlands was soon to experience the beginnings of industry and Edinburgh was already one of the largest cities in Europe - by the early 19th century it was known as ‘The Athens of the North’ because of its strength as a centre of learning.
In the Highlands, the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion involved the dismantling of the clan system. We meet Alan as he is trying to get back to France with the rents for his clan chief. This system of poor Highlanders paying two sums of money – to the clan chief and the government – could not go on forever.
Exiled chiefs such as Cluny gradually lost the allegiance of their clansmen. In other cases, clan chiefs who had been loyal to King George kept their land, but became landlords and did away with all the old ideas of clan loyalty.
At the same time, the Highlands was entering a period of major change especially in terms of population loss. Over time the economic pressure led to emigration to the Lowlands and to the Americas. The beginnings of emigration and clearances are shown in the moving scene when David sees the migrants at Loch Aline.
In time also, many clansmen came to serve the King and were an important part of the British army which fought the French in several wars over the next 60 years. The Campbell's were already in government service, as the Black Watch, and many more clansmen joined the army and navy in the following years, as the Highland economy had so little for them.