Scotland Since The Union

Extract from “Scotland Since the Union”

by The Rev. Alexander Macrae, MA

In the election which followed, during the autumn of 1702, the Earl of Seafield, on behalf of the whigs, promised the Jacobites that if they supported Queen Anne they would be admitted to a share of the government of the kingdom and receive toleration for their Episcopalian religion. The result was that the new Parliament contained a strong party of Jacobites who were bitterly opposed to the union, because they saw in it the destruction of all their hopes of a restoration of the Stuart dynasty, and at their head were two of the most powerful men in Scotland, the Duke of Hamilton and the Duke of Atholl. A second party, known as the Country party or the Squadrone Volante (the Flying Squadron), consisted of a considerable body of active and able members who had adopted republican principles and had their own reasons for objecting to union with a powerful monarchy like England. The chief man of this party was Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun. Stronger, however, than these two parties combined was the whig or court party. The leader of this party was the Duke of Queensberry, who was appointed Queen’s Commissioner and who had several able men among his supporters.

The first session of the last of the Scottish Parliaments was opened on May 6, 1703, with the pomp and pageant which were usual on such an occasion. The stately procession of the Royal Commissioners from Holyrood Palace up the Canongate and the High Street to the Parliament House at the opening of a new Parliament was called the “Ryding” of the parliament. In front rode the sixty-three burgh members dressed in black velvet and each attended by a lackey. Then came the shire members, numbering seventy-seven, more conspicuously dressed and each attended by two lackeys. Then came the various grades of nobility arrayed in gorgeous robes and attended by more lackeys according to their rank, a duke having as many as eight.After the nobility came heralds bearing the crown, the sceptre, and the sword of state. Then last of all, according to the feudal custom, which in state pageants placed the higher ranks behind, came the Royal Commissioner himself, accompanied by a brilliant escort of cavaliers. The riding of the Scottish Parliament was a display of which the greatest country in Europe might have been proud, and a traveller of the period speaks of it as making a grander appearance than he had ever seen in any foreign country. It was a spectacle that appealed strongly to the pride and patriotism of those who beheld it and did not occur frequently enough to become too familiar. As there was no king to represent at the Opening of the Convention Parliament there had been no riding since the Parliament that was elected at the accession of James VII., in 1685, and the present riding was to be the last.

At this time the feeling against England, which the Darien disaster had aroused throughout the whole of Scotland, was at its very highest, and the new Parliament proceeded at once to place obstacles in the way of union by passing an “Act for the Security of the Kingdom”. This Act provided that, on the death of Queen Anne without issue, the successor chosen by the English Parliament should be excluded from the throne of Scotland unless such conditions of government were settled as would secure the trade of Scotland from English or any foreign interference. This Act enjoined also that all able-bodied men should muster immediately for military training and that the kingdom should be placed in a state of defence. The Queen’s Commissioner, the Duke of Queensberry, refused to give this Act the royal assent, which was done by touching an Act with the sceptre, but it was passed again the following year, 1704, and so threatening had the attitude of the Parliament become that the Commissioner dared not withhold the royal assent any longer. The Scots now began seriously to prepare once more to give battle to the ancient English enemy unless their reasonable demand for commercial equality was granted.

As Englishmen and Scotsmen enjoyed the privileges of citizenship when residing in each other’s countries, the English Parliament replied to the Scottish Act of Security by threatening to treat Scotsmen resident in England as aliens deprived of all the privileges of a free-born Englishman, and to stop the importation into England of cattle, coal, and linen, which were the chief products of Scotland, until both kingdoms could agree to accept the same successor to the throne.

While the international feeling was thus becoming more and more strained, a Scottish ship, The Annandale, bound for India, was seized in the Thames, at the instance of the English East India Company, for an alleged breach of the company’s rules. Shortly afterwards, in August 1704, a large English vessel, The Worcester, under Captain Green, put into the Firth of Forth for repairs, and some of her crew, while drinking on shore, spoke in a way which led to a suspicion that The Worcester was a pirate and had robbed a long missing ship, The Speedy Return, belonging to the Scottish East India, or Darien, Company. On this suspicion, the secretary of the company, Mr. Roderick Mackenzie, seized the crew of The Worcester and brought them to trial. They were sentenced to death, but as the evidence on which they were condemned was imperfect the queen ordered a respite so that further inquiry might be made. In the meantime, however, the Scotch Privy Council weakly yielded to the clamour of the Edinburgh mob and Captain Green with two of his crew were hanged on Leith sands in April 1705.Though there is strong reason for believing that Captain Green and his crew had been guilty of piracy, yet they were probably not guilty of the seizure of The Speedy Return. These violent and illegal proceedings naturally gave great offence in England and were almost a beginning of war.

It was impossible for such strained relations to continue for any length of time, and to the wiser and calmer statesmen of England it was becoming more and more evident that the only possible choice was either war or commercial equality. The possible results of a war, after a century of international peace, were too terrible to contemplate, and whatever the issue of it might be it could prove in no sense advantageous to either country. Scotland was still a separate and independent kingdom with a perfect right to regulate her commerce as she pleased, and to found colonies wherever she could, and, in spite of the failure of the Darien expedition, the enterprise and liberality which she was beginning to show in her industrial and commercial undertakings made the English feel that their trading interests would be likely to suffer more from Scotland as a free competitor than from Scotland as an incorporated partner. Accordingly, when the English Parliament met in 1705 they immediately proceeded to the serious consideration of the question of union. The queen was authorised to appoint commissioners with power to treat about the question with any body of commissioners authorised by the Scottish Parliament, and to report their proceedings to the queen and to both Parliaments. After much discussion and no small display of party feeling, the Scottish Parliament resolved to follow the example set by the English and authorised the queen and her chief minister, Lord Godolphin, to select a body of commissioners to represent Scotland in the proposed deliberations. Both Parliaments made it a condition that the commissioners should not propose any change in the worship, discipline, or government of either of the national churches as by law established. The commissioners, numbering thirty-one for each country, began their sittings at Whitehall on April 16, 1706, under the presidency of Lord Somers, a man of integrity and honour, to whose tact and wisdom the success of their labours was largely due, and the queen, who was most anxious to see the union accomplished, occasionally encouraged them by her presence at their meetings.

The Scottish commissioners were in favour of a federal union, which would still leave them their parliament; the English, however, were wisely resolved to have an incorporating union — one kingdom, one parliament, one successor — as the only form of union worth striving for, and the Scottish commissioners finally yielded on condition that there should be complete reciprocity of citizenship and trading privileges between the two countries. Some difficulty was experienced in arranging the details of taxation and of parliamentary representation, but the deliberations of the Commission were marked throughout by wisdom and judgment and by an earnest desire to promote the national interests of both kingdoms; and in spite of the difficulties they had to face, they brought their arduous labours to a close on July 23 by presenting to the queen a draft of the treaty which they had drawn up. In thanking them the queen expressed the hope that the treaty would at once be approved by both Parliaments, and that the union, which would be of such great security and advantage to both kingdoms, would be accomplished in her reign.

On October 3, 1706, the Royal Commissioner, the Duke of Queensberry, proceeded in state up the High Street to open what was to prove the last session of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament was to have precedence in considering the proposed Treaty of Union, and Queensberry had been chosen to carry the measure through. The task that lay before him was one of no ordinary difficulty, for the change to be accomplished was greater perhaps than had ever before been brought about in any country by peaceful legislation. His conduct amply justified the choice, and it is universally admitted that it was his calmness, sagacity, and courage that preserved the nation from bloodshed, and carried to a peaceful and satisfactory issue the bitter controversy by which the whole of Scotland was soon to be convulsed. Foremost among Queensberry’s supporters was John Dalrymple, Earl of Stair, to whose eloquence and statesmanship in Parliament, notwithstanding his unpopularity as the author of the Glencoe Massacre, the cause of union was largely indebted for its final triumph. Other prominent supporters were the Earl of Mar, the Earl of Marchmont, the Duke of Argyll, and the Earl of Seafield. Among the chief opponents of the union were the two Jacobite leaders, the Duke of Hamilton, the premier peer of Scotland, and the Duke of Atholl, both of them men of great ability and great influence, and the Marquis of Tweeddale and Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, the leaders of the Squadrone Volante.

As soon as Parliament met there arose throughout the whole of Scotland a noisy and alarming opposition.

Of this opposition the Jacobites were the chief instigators, and they found ample support of a noisy and disorganised nature throughout the country.The extreme section of Presbyterians, known as the Cameronians, objected to any union with a nation in which prelacy was a state institution, and were exhorted in their opposition both by the Episcopalians and the Roman Catholics.The tradesmen of Edinburgh felt that the union would deprive them of their parliamentary customers, and as the deliberations proceeded the attitude of the crowds that congregated in the streets became so threatening that they had to be held in check by the military.There were also some disturbances in Glasgow, and an effort was made to bring about a joint insurrection of such antagonistic factions as the Highland Jacobites and the Cameronians, but the presence of traitors among the latter prevented the effort from succeeding.

Early in January, as the measure was approaching its conclusion, the Jacobites resolved to make their last great effort to defeat it, under the leadership of the Duke of Hamilton; but when the critical moment arrived the duke failed them and further opposition was now felt to be of no avail.Thus the Act ratifying the Treaty of Union was finally carried by one hundred and ten votes to sixty-nine on January 16, 1707.After settling various other miscellaneous matters the Scots Parliament adjourned on March 25 never to meet again, and was finally dissolved on April 28.

The political feeling of Scotland at the time of this dissolution ran so high that it was considered prudent to avoid the excitement of a general election, and the Scottish members for the united Parliament, which met on the 6th of the following November, were chosen from the representatives of the Commons in the late Parliament. The Scottish Chancellor, the Earl of Seafield, has been often accused of unbecoming levity for remarking as he signed the official copy of the Act of Union, which was done on March 19, that it was the end of an old song; but an assumed levity of manner may sometimes serve as a cloak for deep feeling, and there can be no doubt that the support which carried the union through the Scots Parliament was often given at a great sacrifice of national and patriotic sentiment, but its supporters felt that the union would be for the benefit of their country and time has proved the soundness and wisdom of their judgment.

In passing through the Scots Parliament the articles of treaty underwent several important changes, but the English Parliament wisely decided to accept them as they were. The Scots had thus the satisfaction of putting the measure into the exact form in which it was finally adopted. As the government had come to an understanding with the great trading companies from whom the old powerful opposition against union had proceeded, there was little or no opposition expected from the English people. The tories and the extreme churchmen, however, were prepared to offer strenuous opposition in Parliament, but the Attorney-General, Sir Simon Harcourt, cleverly thwarted their intentions, and the measure passed quickly through both Houses and received the royal assent on March 6, to come into effect on May 1, 1707.The satisfaction of the queen was expressed in a speech from the throne, in which she truly declared the union to be a matter of the greatest importance to the wealth, strength, and safety of the whole island, and a measure that would be remembered and spoken of thereafter to the honour of those who had been instrumental in bringing it to such a happy conclusion. She desired and expected her subjects of both nations to act thenceforth with all public respect and kindness to one another, that so it might appear to all the world that they had hearts disposed to become one people.

The Treaty of Union has been called the happy climax of the great romance of Scottish history, and from whatever point of view it is contemplated, whether we consider the patience, the tact, and the sagacity with which the statesmen of both countries faced the national prejudices and other enormous difficulties which had to be overcome, the spirit they displayed during their long and arduous deliberations, the fairness and equity of the measure itself, or the peace, prosperity, and satisfaction which it helped eventually to bring to both nations — in short, whichever way we consider the Act itself and its results, it stands forth as perhaps the greatest and most successful of all legislative achievements.

The treaty contained twenty-five articles, the chief of which may thus be summarised: –

(1.) On May 1, 1707, and for ever after, the kingdoms of England and Scotland should be united into one kingdom under the name of Great Britain.
(2.) The succession to the throne of Great Britain should be in the Electress Sophia of Hanover and in her heirs, being Protestants.
(3.) Great Britain should be governed by one Parliament.
(4.) Scotland should be represented in Parliament by sixteen peers, to be elected out of and by their own body for each new Parliament, and forty-five members of the House of Commons.
(5.) All rights of trade, free intercourse, and citizenship should be the same for both countries.
(6.) All customs, duties, and laws relating to trade should be the same for both countries. All other laws of Scotland should remain as they were, but might be changed by the Parliament of Great Britain. The Court of Session and other law courts should also remain as they were.
(7.) The Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland should be maintained without any change.
(8.) The national flag of Great Britain should be formed by a junction of the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George — the Union Jack.

As the result of elaborate calculations it was agreed that the English Parliament should pay Scotland a sum of £398,000.This sum is known as the “Equivalent ” and was used to buy up the shares of the Darien Company, which was then dissolved, and to compensate Scotland by paying off her debts and in other ways, for loss caused by the adoption of the English coinage, and for the large increase caused in her taxes by their adjustment with those of England. When the money arrived in Edinburgh the mob, thinking it was a bribe, broke out into a riot, for the belief was prevalent among the people of Scotland that their Parliament had been bribed to vote for the union. The charge of bribery, which was diligently circulated by the Jacobites at the time, has since been carefully and minutely examined, and has been completely disproved. There was no bribery used to any appreciable extent.

At the time of the union the population of England was about six millions and the yearly revenue £5,700,000.The population of Scotland was about one million and the revenue only £160,000.

See also:

  • The Union with England Act 1707 – full text
  • Commentary on the Treaty of Union
  • The Approach of the Union