The University of Reading’s Special Collections holds a number of works relating to the relationship between England and Scotland, the Union of the Crowns (1603) and the Union of Parliaments (1707). A selection of these have been brought together in an exhibition in the main library, to accompany the Department of History’s annual Stenton Lecture and Symposium, which this year addresses the question of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence in a wide historical context. The exhibition will be on show from the 21st of November and includes all the works mentioned here, plus several others.
The question of union between England and Scotland is an old one and predates the Union of the Crowns, the personal union which came about in 1603 when Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor monarchs, was succeeded by her Scottish relative, King James VI of Scotland, and now the first Stuart King of England. As early as 1521, the Scottish historian, philosopher and theologian John Major had written Historia Majoris Brittania, which may have been intended to promote the idea of union between the two countries.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, it became increasingly clear that Elizabeth I would die without heir, leaving the succession issue wide open. The ascent by James VI of Scotland was by no means a foregone conclusion and led to a great deal of diplomatic wrangling. The Scottish diplomat Sir James Melville of Halhill, who had served the King’s regents in his minority and later the King himself, declined the offer to accompany him to London in 1603, but subsequently penned his Memoires ‘Containing an Impartial Account of the Most Remarkable Affairs of State […] Relating to the Kingdoms Of England and Scotland. Following the succession, the King embarked on a campaign to bring his two kingdoms closer together, in a ‘Union of Love’, and interest in Scottish political and legal affairs increased significantly, on both sides of the border. Sir John Skene’s Regiam Majestatem Scotiae, started in the early 1590s to review and print Acts of Parliament and other laws, raised interest in England and its author was appointed as a commissioner for negotiating the proposed union with England in 1604. James’ aspirations also went beyond his own kingdoms. In 1627, the Leiden printing house Elsevier published Respublica Sive Status Regni Scotiae et Hiberniae [The Commonweal, or, the description of royal power of Scotland and Ireland by diverse authors], a collection of writings by several authors on the power of the Scottish kings.
James’ ideas soon failed due to an unwilling English Parliament. While the idea of Anglo-Scottish union remained limited to that of a personal union throughout much of the seventeenth century, numerous ideas and experiments were floated. Under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the two countries were temporarily united but it was not until the end of the century that the idea gained renewed royal support. When the Catholic King James VII & II was replaced with a new, Protestant, King, union regained new interest. William III (1650-1702) had little time for his northern kingdom, despite the fact that the Revolution had serious implications for both the monarchy and parliament in Scotland. It was his dying wish, however, that the two countries would be united and the idea was briefly entertained in 1702-3. The Scottish MP Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, led the way in making the pro-Scottish case, arguing for a union of equals rather than an incorporating union. From 1705-6, a pamphlet broke out between proponents and opponents of union, once it became clear that the idea, which had up till very recently been cast aside, was becoming an increasingly likely prospect. Daniel Defoe was hired to make the English case and spy on the Scots in Edinburgh.
In 1707, on the the 1st of May, the Treaty of Union was signed, uniting the English and the Scottish Parliaments. and the United Kingdom was born. Its impact cannot be understated and throughout the remainder of the century, the Union was met with opposition from various quarters. The most notorious opponents were the so-called Jacobites, supporters of the original Scottish kings, the Stuarts, who had been driven out in 1688 by William III. Two major, and a string of minor, invasions and rebellions plagued the new Hanoverian monarchy, which succeeded when the last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne, died in 1714, including one led by France in 1708 (memorialised in George Lockhardt’s Memoirs). After that twice more were the Georges, seriously confronted with Jacobite risings which potentially could have ended the Union, in 1715 and 1745. Although the ’45, arguably the most serious of the Jacobite rebellions, was the final one, the cause of Jacobitism lived on, and is still alive today albeit in a more peaceful form. Academically, Scotland’s past before the Union with England, became a topic of interest to many historians and antiquarians throughout the eighteenth century. When the Catholic priest Thomas Innes published his critical Essay on the Ancient Inhabitants of the Northern Parts of Britiain, or Scotland in 1729, a polemical war broke out between Jacobite scholars and those in favour of the Union and the Hanoverian succession, which left its mark on the Scottish academic landscape for years. Throughout the Scottish Enlightenment, leading scholars, including David Hume, continued to take a vivid interest in Scotland’s past, which often divided along party lines. Only in the nineteenth century, the romantic image of Scotland was born in the novels of Sir Walter Scott and others; a notion which has only partly been dispelled by the current independence debate.