Acts of Union 1707
| Personal and legislative unions of the|
constituent countries of the United Kingdom
|Statute of Rhuddlan (1284)|
|Laws in Wales Acts (1535–42)|
|Crown of Ireland Act (1542)|
|Union of the Crowns (1603)|
|Acts of Union (1707)|
|Act of Union (1801)|
|Government of Ireland Act (1920)|
|Anglo–Irish Treaty (1921)|
|Royal & Parliamentary Titles Act (1927)|
The Acts of Union were a pair of Parliamentary Acts passed in 1706 and 1707 by, respectively, the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts joined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland (previously separate states, with separate legislatures but the same monarch) into a single Kingdom of Great Britain. The joint monarchy began in 1603, with the Union of the Crowns. There had been three unsuccessful attempts in 1606, 1667, and 1689, to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament.
A Treaty of Union was negotiated between the two countries, which led to the drawing up of the Bills which became the 1706/1707 Acts. The Acts went into effect on May 1, 1707. On this date, the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament merged to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based in the Palace of Westminster in London, the former home of the English Parliament (the parliaments of England and Scotland were dissolved). These Acts are referred to as the Union of the Parliaments.
This union is an example of what was in the end, after centuries of intermittent military conflict between the two neighboring states, a voluntary unification. Arguably, both nations benefited. Scotland's economy thrived and Scottish men and women played significant roles in helping to govern the emerging British Empire, often pioneering the opening up of new territory. Many attribute the Scottish Enlightenment to the environment that was created by Scotland's participation in the wider economy of Empire, which resulted in a society in which many people were highly educated and highly skilled. On the other hand, Union had and still has its critics, who prefer a fully autonomous and independent Scotland but one that would remain within the European Union.
Previous attempts at union
The first attempt to unite England and Scotland was by James I of England. On his accession to the English throne in 1603, King James announced his intention to unite his two realms. The Scottish and English parliaments established a commission to negotiate a union; however, the attempt was soon abandoned.
Later in the seventeenth century, the Estates of Scotland petitioned a number of times for a union but were rejected by England.
The Solemn League and Covenant 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, a political union was not spelled out. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell conquered Scotland and by force created the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a brief union which was dissolved by the restoration of King Charles II of England. Scottish members expelled from Parliament petitioned unsuccessfully for a continuance of the union.
At the Glorious Revolution in 1689, the records of Scotland's Parliament show much discussion of possible union. There was no successful outcome. This led to strained relations between the English and the Scots, largely, some believe, through the English stranglehold on Scottish trade and ultimately because of the failure of the Darien Scheme and the popular perception in Scotland that the scheme's failure was the fault of the English.
The English perspective
The English government wanted Scotland to stay under the English monarchy. 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. Specifically, England wished to ensure a Protestant Royal Succession. Until the Union of Parliaments, the Scots could choose their monarch in line with Scotland's Act of Security 1704, and it was possible for a Catholic monarch to be chosen. The English succession was provided for by the English Act of Settlement 1701, which ensured that the King of England would be Protestant.
The Scottish perspective
In Scotland, it was 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 Scotland's government into compliance with the Act of Settlement.
The ultimate securing of the treaty in the unicameral Parliament of Scotland is sometimes attributed to the weakness and lack of cohesion between the various opposition groups in the House, rather than to the strength of those in favor of incorporation. 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.
The personal financial interests were pivotal, as many Scottish Commissioners had invested heavily in the Darien Scheme. They believed that they would receive compensation for their losses. Article 14, the Equivalent, granted £398,085 and 10 s sterling to Scotland to offset future liability towards the English national debt. In essence, it was also used as a means of compensation for investors in the Darien Scheme.
Direct bribery was 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, the majority of the funding. Robert Burns referred to this:
- We're bought and sold for English gold
- Sic a parcel o rogues in a nation!
Some of the money was used to hire spies, such as Daniel Defoe. Defoe's 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 favor there is 99 against." Years later 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.
Defoe recalled that he was hired by Robert Harley.
The Treaty was not universally popular in Scotland. Many petitions were sent to the Scottish Parliament against Union, and there were massive protests in Edinburgh and several other Scottish burghs on the day it was passed, as threats of widespread civil unrest resulted in the imposition of martial law by the Parliament. Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath, a Jacobite and the only member of the Scottish negotiating team who was not pro-incorporation, noted, "The whole nation appears against the Union." 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 Scottish localities. Anti-union petitions were received from shires, burghs, presbyteries, and parishes. The Convention of Royal Burghs also petitioned against the Union. Not one petition in favor 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?
Provisions of the Acts
The treaty consisted of 25 articles. Of those, 15 were economic in nature. In Scotland, each article was voted on separately and several clauses in articles were delegated to specialized subcommittees. Article 1 of the treaty was based on the political principle of an incorporating union and this was secured on November 4, 1706, by a simple majority of 116 votes to 83. In order to minimize 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 January 16, 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.11 (later infelicitously named "The Union with Scotland (Amendment) Act 1707") united the English and Scotland's Privy Councils and decentralized 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 parliaments of England and Scotland had evolved along different lines, so contradictions and adjustments in the merged parliament were frequent. For example, the English doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in all aspects of national life did not exist in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament was unicameral, not bicameral. Most of the pre-Union traditions of Westminster continued, while those of Scotland were forgotten or ignored.
Daniel Defoe drew upon his experience to write his Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, which was published in 1726. In it, Defoe admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland, predicted as a consequence of the Union, was "not the case, but rather the contrary," and the hostility that ran high against his party was, "because they were English and because of the Union, which they were almost universally exclaimed against."
Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a vehement critic of the Union, said in his treatise, An Account of a Conversation, that Scotland suffered "…the miserable and languishing condition of all places that depend upon a remote seat of government."
However by the time Samuel Johnson and James Boswell made their tour of Scotland 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 Glasgow in particular had become one of the greatest cities of Great Britain.
In 1999, after almost three centuries, the Parliament of Scotland was opened after a referendum in Scotland. The new parliament does not have the same powers as the old parliament. The Scottish Parliament may not legislate in certain areas (most importantly in defense and constitutional matters). Scotland remains a constituent member country of the United Kingdom and the Parliament may not pass laws to change this, even though the Scottish Parliament is now led by the Scottish Nationalist Party.
A commemorative two-pound coin was issued to mark the 300th anniversary of the Union, two days before the Parliament of Scotland general election on May 3, 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.
- Sic a Parcel of Rogues Scots Language Centre. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
- John Clerk and John Miller Gray, Memoirs of the Life of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, Baronet, Baron of the Exchequer (Legare Street Press, 2022 (original 1895), ISBN 1018165827).
- Facts about Edinburgh Electric Scotland. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
- 2 Pounds - Elizabeth II 4th portrait; Act of Union Numista. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Clerk, John, and John Miller Gray. Memoirs of the Life of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, Baronet, Baron of the Exchequer. Legare Street Press, 2022 (original 1895). ISBN 1018165827
- Defoe, Daniel. and George Harris Healey. The Letters of Daniel Defoe. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969. ASIN B0016C7OKU
- Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001. ISBN 0609809997
All links retrieved June 15, 2023.
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