Act of Union between England and Scotland

Act of Union

Act of Union

On May 1st 1707 the last in a series of attempts at a union between the kingdoms of Scotland and England finally succeeded. Over a period of several centuries, many attempts to unite the crown under the rule of an English monarch had taken place, most notably including the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th and 14th Centuries, where the English tried to forcibly take control of Scotland. Later, when looking to take back the Scottish Throne in the 1560’s, Mary, Queen of Scots pledged to support peace between the two nations.

Her son, James VI of Scotland after succeeding Elizabeth Tudor and being crowned as James I of England in 1603 was the first monarch of both nations to look at a formal union between the two, however his plan was met with disapproval from the English Parliament. And therein lay the initial problem.

As a Scottish monarch, James was given absolutist power over his parliament; in England however, decisions that affected the country were to be passed through parliamentary legislation for approval, thereby preventing monarchical absolutism. Whilst parliament was happy enough with a union of monarchy, they favoured less the possibility of withdrawal of their power of government. James was forced to put aside the issue, although proceeded to style himself as the King of Great Britain, and proclaim the population “one people”. When both Scottish and English parliaments agreed to form a working commission to negotiate a union between the two governments, and raised the question to the King in 1610, James wasn’t quite so favourable to the idea. It would seem that absolutism was his desire after all.

The issue was not formally raised again until 1643, during the civil wars of England, during which time supporters of the new King, Charles I, were attempting to re-establish monarchical control over parliament. In 1629, Charles had effectively dissolved Parliament and refused to reconvene for the next eleven years, preferring instead to assert his own authority and rule by decree. Supporters of the Parliament cause however were increasingly unhappy with what they saw as the King’s increased excesses contravening the laws and morals they held in esteem. A few years earlier in 1638, Charles had attempted to force a union between the Scottish Church and the English through reforms, which caused conflict between all three nations of England, Ireland and Scotland, the resulting conflict would come to be known as the Bishops war which he subsequently lost, and which afforded the Scottish Covenanters de facto control over Scottish Parliament for the next ten years.

Act of Union Presented to Anne.

Act of Union Presented to Anne.

Oliver Cromwell, and his New Model Army, fighting the Parliament cause, were victors of the English Civil wars, and Charles was executed for treason in 1649. Cromwell meanwhile took Scotland by force, and once made Lord Protector of England, Ireland and Scotland, put together with parliament the first union, in 1657, with 30 representatives each, in the British Government from Scotland and Ireland. This union guaranteed Scottish support against French Invasion, and gave them free trade rights in return, through the commonwealth. England having the larger trade opportunities, and an enviable Navy to which Scotland was now entitled.

This union was abandoned after the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660; however Charles was keen to see a re-establishment of the union, which he saw as his grandfather’s work. His attempts at reinstating the union were met with distrust by the English government; however the Scottish members, who had been dismissed on restoration, were still ager to continue.

It wasn’t however until the 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’ when catholic James II, Charles II’s son was de-throned in favour of William III and Mary II, that the possibility of union was once again raised. As Stuart succession was in doubt, William and Mary had no heir, thus the last in line would be Anne, the matter of succession became pressing. As no formal union was in place, when the Stuart line ended, it was intended to place the Hanoverian line onto the throne, however it was apparent that Scotland still had the right to choose their monarch, as the Stuart line had been theirs too. With its end, they were free to choose a successor.

Invasion of Scotland by France in this instance was a very real concern. William and Mary were reluctant to discuss the possibility of the union, due to Scotland’s deteriorating economy following the 1690 Darien Disaster, which ruined many of the wealthy elite of Scotland and the loss of around 50% of the circulating paper money available in Scotland. However following Anne’s succession to the throne, in 1702, the question of Scotland’s monarchy on her death in turn was raised, once again. Anne was eager to ensure the continued union of the crown formalised by James I in 1603, and as a result encouraged her parliament to install a new commission to negotiate the terms.

In July 1706 negotiations were concluded and the terms were signed. The Act came into effect, after ratification and the agreement of the remainder of the Scottish opposition, the following year. Scottish Parliament had agreed to the Act of Security in 1704 which gave the right to the English Parliament to choose the Scottish monarch, in return for trade rights alongside those of England, which would restore the Scottish economy. A new Union Flag was proposed incorporating the red cross on white of the St George flag, and the white cross of St Andrew on blue. Scottish legal systems and religious rights were to remain independent, but sovereignty, money, taxes, parliament and trade were one.

As the poet Robert Burns later decried, Scotland had been ‘bought and sold for English Gold’.

Phoebe