England and Scotland were separate states for several centuries before eventual union, and English attempts to take over Scotland by military force in the late 13th and early 14th centuries were ultimately unsuccessful (see the Wars of Scottish Independence). The first attempts at Union surrounded the foreseen unification of the Royal lines of Scotland and England. In pursuing the Scottish throne in the 1560s, Mary, Queen of Scots pledged herself to a peaceful union between the two kingdoms.
England and Scotland were ruled by the same king for the first time in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became the king of England. However they remained two separate states until 1 May 1707.
The first attempt to unite the parliaments of England and Scotland was by Mary's son, King James VI and I. On his accession to the English throne in 1603 King James announced his intention to unite his two realms so that he would not be "guilty of bigamy". James used his royal prerogative powers to take the style of 'King of Great Britain' and to give an explicitly British character to his court and person. Whilst James assumed the creation of a full union was a foregone conclusion, the Parliament of England was concerned that the formation of a new state would deprive England of its ancient liberties, taking on the more absolutist monarchical structure James had previously enjoyed in Scotland. In the meantime, James declared that Great Britain be viewed 'as presently united, and as one realm and kingdom, and the subjects of both realms as one people'.
The Scottish and English parliaments established a commission to negotiate a union, formulating an instrument of union between the two countries. However, the idea of political union was unpopular, and when James dropped his policy of a speedy union, the topic quietly disappeared from the legislative agenda. When the House of Commons attempted to revive the proposal in 1610, it was met with a more open hostility.
The Solemn League and Covenant 1643 sought a forced union of the Church of England into the Church of Scotland, and although the covenant referred repeatedly to union between the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a political union was not spelled out.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, in which the Covenanters had fought for the King, Oliver Cromwell occupied Scotland and began a process of creating a 'Godly Britannic' Union between the former Kingdoms. In 1651, the Parliament of England issued the Tender of Union declaration supporting Scotland's incorporation into the Commonwealth and sent Commissioners to Scotland with the express purpose of securing support for Union, which was assented to by the Commissioners (Members of Parliament) in Scotland. On 12 April 1654, Cromwell – styling himself Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland – enacted An Ordinance by the Protector for the Union of England and Scotland, which created 'one Commonwealth and under one Government' to be known as the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. The ordinance was ratified by the Second Protectorate Parliament, as an Act of Union, on 26 June 1657. One united Parliament sat in Westminster, with 30 representatives from Scotland and 30 from Ireland joining the existing members from England. Whilst free trade was brought about amongst the new Commonwealth, the economic benefits were generally not felt as a result of heavy taxation used to fund Cromwell's New Model Army.
This republican union was dissolved automatically with the restoration of King Charles II to the thrones of England and Scotland. Scottish members expelled from the Commonwealth Parliament petitioned unsuccessfully for a continuance of the union. Cromwell's union had simultaneously raised interest in and suspicion of the concept of union and when Charles II attempted to recreate the union and fulfil the work of his grandfather in 1669, negotiations between Commissioners ground to a halt.
An abortive scheme for union occurred in Scotland in 1670.
Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the records of the Parliament of Scotland show much discussion of possible union. William and Mary, whilst supportive of the idea, had no interest in allowing it to delay their enthronement. Impetus for this incorporating union came almost entirely from King William, who feared leaving Scotland open to a French invasion. In the 1690s, the economic position of Scotland worsened, and relations between Scotland and England became strained. In the following decade, however, union again became a significant topic of political debate.
Deeper political integration had been a key policy of Queen Anne from the time she acceded to the throne in 1702. Under the aegis of the Queen and her ministers in both kingdoms, the parliaments of England and Scotland agreed to participate in fresh negotiations for a union treaty in 1705.
Both countries appointed 31 commissioners to conduct the negotiations. Most of the Scottish commissioners favoured union, and about half were government ministers and other officials. At the head of the list was Queensberry, and the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, the Earl of Seafield. The English commissioners included the Lord High Treasurer, the Earl of Godolphin, the Lord Keeper, Baron Cowper, and a large number of Whigs who supported union. Tories were not in favour of union and only one was represented among the commissioners.
Negotiations between the English and Scottish commissioners took place between 16 April and 22 July 1706 at the Cockpit in London. Each side had its own particular concerns. Within a few days, England gained a guarantee that the Hanoverian dynasty would succeed Queen Anne to the Scottish crown, and Scotland received a guarantee of access to colonial markets, in the hope that they would be placed on an equal footing in terms of trade.
After negotiations ended in July 1706, the acts had to be ratified by both Parliaments. In Scotland, about 100 of the 227 members of the Parliament of Scotland were supportive of the Court Party. For extra votes the pro-court side could rely on about 25 members of the Squadrone Volante, led by the Marquess of Montrose and the Duke of Roxburghe. Opponents of the court were generally known as the Country party, and included various factions and individuals such as the Duke of Hamilton, Lord Belhaven and Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who spoke forcefully and passionately against the union. The Court party enjoyed significant funding from England and the Treasury and included many who had accumulated debts following the Darien Disaster.
In Scotland, the Duke of Queensberry was largely responsible for the successful passage of the Union act by the Scottish Parliament. In Scotland, he received much criticism from local residents, but in England he was cheered for his action. He had received around half of the funding awarded by the Westminster treasury for himself. In April 1707, he travelled to London to attend celebrations at the royal court, and was greeted by groups of noblemen and gentry lined along the road. From Barnet, the route was lined with crowds of cheering people, and once he reached London a huge crowd had formed. On 17 April, the Duke was gratefully received by the Queen at Kensington Palace.
The English purpose was to ensure that Scotland would not choose a monarch different from the one on the English throne. The two countries had shared a king for much of the previous century, but the English were concerned that an independent Scotland with a different king, even if he were a Protestant, might make alliances against England. The English succession was provided for by the English Act of Settlement 1701, which ensured that the monarch of England would be a Protestant member of the House of Hanover. Until the Union of Parliaments, the Scottish throne might be inherited by a different successor after Queen Anne: the Scottish Act of Security 1704 granted parliament the right to choose a successor and explicitly required a choice different from the English monarch unless the English were to grant free trade and navigation. Many people in England were unhappy about the prospect, however. English overseas possessions made England very wealthy in comparison to Scotland, a poor country with few roads, very little industry and almost no Navy. This made some view unification as a markedly unequal relationship.
In Scotland, some claimed that union would enable Scotland to recover from the financial disaster wrought by the Darien scheme through English assistance and the lifting of measures put in place through the Alien Act to force the Scottish Parliament into compliance with the Act of Settlement.
The combined votes of the Court party with a majority of the Squadrone Volante were sufficient to ensure the final passage of the treaty through the House.
Personal financial interests were also allegedly involved. Many Commissioners had invested heavily in the Darien Scheme and they believed that they would receive compensation for their losses; Article 15 granted £398,085 10s sterling to Scotland, a sum known as The Equivalent, to offset future liability towards the English national debt. In essence it was also used as a means of compensation for investors in the Company of Scotland's Darien Scheme, as 58.6% was allocated to its shareholders and creditors.
Even more direct bribery was also said to be a factor. £20,000 (£240,000 Scots) was dispatched to Scotland for distribution by the Earl of Glasgow. James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, the Queen's Commissioner in Parliament, received £12,325, more than 60% of the funding. (Some contend that all of this money was properly accounted for as compensation for loss of office, pensions and so forth not outwith the usual run of government. It is perhaps a debate that will never be set to rest. However, modern research has shown that payments were made to supporters of union that appear not to have been overdue salaries. At least four payments were made to people who were not even members of the Scottish Parliament.) Robert Burns referred to this:
Some of the money was used to hire spies, such as Daniel Defoe; his first reports were of vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations against the Union. "A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind," he reported, "for every Scot in favour there is 99 against". Years later Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, originally a leading Unionist, wrote in his memoirs that,
(Defoe) was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces.
The Treaty could be considered very unpopular at the time. Popular unrest occurred in Edinburgh, as mentioned above, with some lesser but still substantial riots in Glasgow. The people of Edinburgh demonstrated against the treaty, and their apparent leader in opposition to the Unionists, was James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton. However, Hamilton was actually on the side of the English Government. Demonstrators in Edinburgh were opposed to the Union, for many reasons: they feared the Kirk would be Anglicised; that Anglicisation would remove democracy from the only really elementally democratic part of the Kingdom and they feared that tax rises would come. Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath, the only member of the Scottish negotiating team against union, noted that "The whole nation appears against the Union" and even Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an ardent pro-unionist and Union negotiator, observed that the treaty was "contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom". Public opinion against the Treaty as it passed through the Scottish Parliament was voiced through petitions from shires, burghs, presbyteries and parishes. The Convention of Royal Burghs also petitioned against the Union as proposed:
That it is our indispensable duty to signify to your grace that, as we are not against an honourable and safe union with England far less can we expect to have the condition of the people of Scotland, with relation to these great concerns, made better and improved without a Scots Parliament.
Not one petition in favour of an incorporating union was received by Parliament. On the day the treaty was signed, the carilloner in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, rang the bells in the tune Why should I be so sad on my wedding day? Threats of widespread civil unrest resulted in Parliament imposing martial law.
Ireland, the third of the "sister kingdoms", was not included in the union. The effective government of Ireland was in the hands of the 'Protestant Ascendancy', a minority elite (about 10% of the population). The Roman Catholic majority were systematically excluded from political and military discourse through a series of post-Cromwellian Penal Laws, limiting their rights to property, education, and the franchise.
In July 1707 each House of the Parliament of Ireland passed a congratulatory address to Queen Anne, praying that "May God put it in your royal heart to add greater strength and lustre to your crown, by a still more comprehensive Union". The British government did not respond to the invitation and an equal union between Great Britain and Ireland was out of consideration until the 1790s.
Ireland's benefits from the Union of 1707 were therefore few. Its preferential status in trade with England now extended to Scotland. However, Ireland was left unequal and unrepresented in the Parliament of Great Britain. The Kingdom of Ireland was to remain separate, and legally subordinate to Great Britain until 1784. The union with Ireland finally came about on 1 January 1801.
The Treaty of Union, agreed between representatives of the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland in 1706, consisted of 25 articles, 15 of which were economic in nature. In Scotland, each article was voted on separately and several clauses in articles were delegated to specialised subcommittees. Article 1 of the treaty was based on the political principle of an incorporating union and this was secured by a majority of 116 votes to 83 on 4 November 1706. To minimise the opposition of the Church of Scotland, an Act was also passed to secure the Presbyterian establishment of the Church, after which the Church stopped its open opposition, although hostility remained at lower levels of the clergy. The treaty as a whole was finally ratified on 16 January 1707 by a majority of 110 votes to 69.
The two Acts incorporated provisions for Scotland to send representative peers from the Peerage of Scotland to sit in the House of Lords. It guaranteed that the Church of Scotland would remain the established church in Scotland, that the Court of Session would "remain in all time coming within Scotland", and that Scots law would "remain in the same force as before". Other provisions included the restatement of the Act of Settlement 1701 and the ban on Roman Catholics from taking the throne. It also created a customs union and monetary union.
The Act provided that any "laws and statutes" that were "contrary to or inconsistent with the terms" of the Act would "cease and become void."
Soon after the Union, the Act 6 Anne c.40—later infelicitously named the Union with Scotland (Amendment) Act 1707—united the English and Scottish Privy Councils and decentralised Scottish administration by appointing justices of the peace in each shire to carry out administration. In effect it took the day-to-day government of Scotland out of the hands of politicians and into those of the College of Justice.
The English and Scottish parliaments had evolved along different lines; especially, the Parliament of Scotland had been unicameral while that of England had been bicameral. Following Union, the parliament at Westminster followed the English model.
Defoe drew upon his Scottish experience to write his Tour thro' the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, where he admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland, which he had predicted as a consequence of the Union, was "not the case, but rather the contrary".
However, by the time Samuel Johnson and James Boswell made their tour in 1773, recorded in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Johnson noted that Scotland was "a nation of which the commerce is hourly extending, and the wealth increasing" and in particular that Glasgow had become one of the greatest cities of Britain.
A commemorative two-pound coin was issued to mark the tercentennial—300th anniversary—of the Union, which occurred two days before the Scottish Parliament general election on 3 May 2007.
The Scottish Executive held a number of commemorative events through the year including an education project led by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, an exhibition of Union-related objects and documents at the National Museums of Scotland and an exhibition of portraits of people associated with the Union at the National Galleries of Scotland.