© Sandy Stevenson
Tain was granted its first royal charter in 1066, making it Scotland's oldest Royal Burgh. It was commemorated in 1966 with the opening of the Rose Garden by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The 1066 charter, granted by King Malcolm III, confirmed Tain as a sanctuary, where people could claim the protection of the church and an immunity in which resident merchants and traders were exempt from certain taxes. These led to the development of the town.
Little is known of earlier history although the town owed much of its importance to Duthac. 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. 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 an important places of pilgrimage in Scotland. King James IV came at least once a year throughout his reign to achieve both spiritual and political aims.
A leading landowning family of the area, the Clan Munro, provided political and religious figures to the town, including the dissenter Rev John Munro of Tain (died ca. 1630).
The early Duthac Chapel was the centre of a sanctuary. Fugitives were by tradition given sanctuary in several square miles marked by boundary stones. During the First War of Scottish Independence, Robert the Bruce sent his wife and daughter to the sanctuary for safety. The sanctuary was violated and they were captured by forces loyal to John Balliol. The women were taken to England and kept prisoner for several years.
Tain was a parliamentary burgh, combined with Dingwall, Dornoch, Kirkwall and Wick in the Northern Burghs constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1918. Cromarty was added to the list in 1832.
The constituency was a district of burghs known also as Tain Burghs until 1832, and then as Wick Burghs. It was represented by one Member of Parliament. In 1918 the constituency was abolished and Tain was merged into Ross and Cromarty.
With conflict looming in the 1930s, an aerodrome large enough for bombers was built next to the town on low alluvial land known as the Fendom, bordering the Dornoch Firth. It was home to British, Czech (311-th, Sqn.) and Polish airmen during World War II. It was abandoned as a flying location after the war and converted to a bombing range for the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. When British naval aviation moved from large fleet aircraft carriers, the role was taken over by the RAF. The Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) at Lossiemouth converted to an RAF base and the Tain range reverted to the RAF. Large parts of the original aerodrome were returned to civilian use after World War II and some are still accessible.