Act of Union Unites England and Scotland Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Act of Union united England and Scotland in the nation of Great Britain, ending centuries of war and animosity between the two countries by forging a single political entity.

Summary of Event

The union of the Parliaments Parliament;Scottish Parliament;British between Scotland and England marked the end of Scottish and, what is often not recognized, English national independence and the formal beginning of the state known as Great Britain. More significant was the subsequent evolution of new political and cultural relationships between the two states. On the European stage, the union represented one of the first instances of incorporation of two states into one by means other than conquest, by the consent of both states’ representative and legislative bodies. [kw]Act of Union Unites England and Scotland (Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707) [kw]Scotland, Act of Union Unites England and (Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707) [kw]England and Scotland, Act of Union Unites (Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707) [kw]Unites England and Scotland, Act of Union (Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707) [kw]Union Unites England and Scotland, Act of (Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707) union, Act of (1706) Great Britain, formation of England;union with Scotland Scotland;union with England [g]England;Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707: Act of Union Unites England and Scotland[0230] [g]Scotland;Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707: Act of Union Unites England and Scotland[0230] [c]Government and politics;Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707: Act of Union Unites England and Scotland[0230] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Feb., 1706-Apr. 28, 1707: Act of Union Unites England and Scotland[0230] Anne, Queen Argyll, second duke of Fletcher of Saltoun, Andrew Mary II William III Louis XIV James II

Since James VI of Scotland had assumed the English throne following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the royal crowns of the two countries had been held by one monarch in a regal union. Although James, his successors, and political observers had desired a national union to “complete” the regal union, years of war and misunderstanding prevented it. In 1688, the Roman Catholic king James II of England was forced out by a combined Protestant English and Dutch coup. The Dutch Protestant stadtholder William III of Orange and his wife, Mary, James’s daughter, accepted the English parliament’s invitation to rule England and Scotland jointly; the Scottish parliament had extended no such invitation.

After 1688, Scottish and English relations grew steadily worse. In the wake of the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, religious differences between Presbyterians Presbyterianism;Scotland and Anglicans endured. Louis XIV of France openly supported James II’s claim to the thrones, and James retained much support in Scotland and some in England. William’s ongoing war with Louis XIV suffered declining support among the Scots, who rejected the king’s policies and feared their effects on Scottish trade. William’s complicity in the failure of a Scottish colonial scheme at Darien, Panama, from 1698 to 1700 further divided the English and the Scots.

In 1702, Louis XIV recognized James II’s son, James Edward James Edward (the “Old Pretender”), as the rightful heir to the British thrones, and war between the countries broke out again. When William died unexpectedly that same year, his childless sister-in-law Anne assumed the crowns. The succession question arose again; by an act of succession, the English parliament would give the crowns next to the head of the House of Hanover in Germany. To the chagrin of the Scots, they were not consulted.

The years 1702 to 1703 provoked a crisis in British-Scottish affairs. Events encouraged the emergence of a body of politicians in the Scottish parliament who sought a new, vital legislative independence from English domination. They were most idealistically led by Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a brilliant political theorist who was also a capable legislative tactician and wholly incorruptible. The Scots had one weapon: They would refuse to fund the war with France until they received political and economic concessions. Anne’s supporters in the Scottish parliament could not win control from the various factions united by their disenchantment with the Westminster government. Frustrated with the stalemate, Anne called for negotiations in 1702 toward a union of the two states. Commissioners were chosen, but the negotiations floundered.

Pressing their advantage, the Scottish opposition was able to pass the Act of Security in 1703, which placed political and religious conditions upon Scottish financial support. Soon came an Act Anent (about) Treaty and War, asserting Scotland’s right to remain neutral in any English war. New calls for union from Anne and her ministry fell on deaf ears. By February of 1705, the English retaliated against the Scottish act by passing the Alien Act, by which Scots would lose their citizenship in England. Parliament let it be known that the Alien Act would be repealed if the Scots accepted the Hanoverian succession Hanoverian succession and entered negotiations for a union. Relations were already tense, because Company of Scotland Company of Scotland officers in August of 1704 had seized an English ship, the Worchester, in retaliation for a similar incident against a Scottish ship by East India Company officials. Trumped-up charges of murder were brought against the captain and three of his crew; despite the outrage of the English, the men were executed.

With the ascent of the young, arrogant, and ambitious second duke of Argyll to the head of the Crown’s government in Scotland in 1705, Anne found a Scottish nobleman who could both lead and whip factions into line behind him. For the price of an English peerage and command in the English army, Argyll was willing to build support for a union in the Scottish parliament. Despite Fletcher of Saltoun’s outrage, the Scottish parliament was maneuvered into allowing Anne to choose only commissioners who were in favor of a complete union. In November of 1705, the English parliament repealed the Alien Act, and the union seemed more likely than ever.

Beginning in February of 1706, thirty-one commissioners for each state met in London. By April, the fundamental tenets of the treaty of union were fixed. The two kingdoms were to be united as Great Britain with one imperial Crown, parliament, and currency system, and all would accept the Hanoverian succession. An essentially unified fiscal system meant that free trade would easily follow as well. One of the most important settlements concerned the Equivalent, or a tremendous lump sum ( £398,085) given to the Scottish government to pay back salaries to public officials, offsetting Scotland’s assumption of its share of the much larger English national debt (which was still growing as a result of the war). The Equivalent also compensated shareholders in the Company of Scotland for their losses in Darien.

The critical negotiations were over representation in the new British parliament. Based on taxable income, not population, a compromise was reached: Scotland would have forty-five representatives in the House of Commons and sixteen peers in the House of Lords. Considering the English representation of 513 members, this was not particularly generous. Because Scotland was so clearly the weaker of the two so-called partners, many Scots feared that their representatives would be swallowed up by England. However, steps were taken to prevent this from happening: Wisely, considering the important social and cultural differences between the two countries, a complete unification of private law, the courts, jurisdictions, and the national churches was not attempted. Scottish law and Scottish religion were to remain Scottish rather than becoming British. The final treaty was accepted by both commissions on July 22, 1706. It was then presented to the parliaments of each country.

The Scottish parliament deliberated first. The months preceding had seen supporters and opponents of the union hurl charges and counter-charges in a pamphlet war. Public outcry in Scotland against the treaty was intense; the opening of the Parliament on October 6, 1706, saw throngs of people in miserable weather cheering the opposition and threatening the unionists. Queen Anne’s government distributed some £20,000 to Scottish members to help ease their decisions. Although the debates were often intense and the rhetoric frank, the opposition was fragmented, and when it finally came to a vote, the treaty would pass with little trouble. Recognizing this, by late November the Scottish opponents to union had become desperate, and antiunion riots broke out in Glasgow and Dumfries. Even a last-ditch effort by the opposition to rally popular opposition to the treaty failed, and the last article was passed January 16, 1707.

The treaty had next to be passed by the English parliament. Spurred by growing concerns about the war and the succession question, the Parliament moved with unusual dispatch. The treaty quickly passed in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and it received royal assent by early March. The Scots ratified the final document on March 19. Following the ratification, on April 28, 1707, the Scottish parliament was dissolved by proclamation.

Significance

With the formal dissolution of the Scottish parliament in April, Scottish national independence ended. However, perhaps even more remarkable than the nearly unprecedented act of a nation’s political representatives dissolving their own state is the extraordinary tenacity displayed in the following decades and centuries of authentic Scottish culture. While Great Britain became a single political entity in 1707, Scottish national identity and distinctiveness have survived, and both peoples have contributed to the history, politics, and culture of Great Britain ever since.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Backsheieder, Paula R. Daniel Defoe: His Life. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. The central chapters narrate Defoe’s work in Scotland as an agent of Anne’s government and as a pamphleteer in support of the union.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ferguson, William. Scotland’s Relations with England: A Survey to 1707. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1977. The last half of the work keenly narrates and analyzes the union proceedings; written from a Scottish nationalist point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levack, Brian P. The Formation of the British State: England, Scotland, and the Union, 1603-1707. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1987. Places the union of the parliaments into a larger context of seventeenth century debates over the notion of nationhood and union.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Little, Crawford. The Union of Crowns: The Forging of Europe’s Most Independent State. Glasgow, Scotland: Neil Wilson, 2003. The book’s publisher describes it as “a warts-and-all look at the origins of the Act of Union.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mitchison, Rosalind. Lordship to Patronage: Scotland, 1603-1745. London: Edward Arnold, 1983. A good history of this period, stronger in social history than political.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rae, T. I., ed. The Union of 1707: Its Impact on Scotland. Glasgow, Scotland: Blackie and Son, 1974. A collection of essays by prominent Scottish historians assessing the significance of the union for later Scottish history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riley, P. W. J. The Union of England and Scotland: A Study in Anglo-Scottish Politics of the Eighteenth Century. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978. The fullest account of the events and negotiations leading up to the union settlement; a good complement to William Ferguson’s work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robertson, John ed. A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Collection of essays analyzing the Act of Union, including discussions of the English debate over universal monarchy, the Scottish vision of empire, and the legacy of British union in the North American colonies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Scott, Paul H. Andrew Fletcher and the Treaty of Union. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1992. The most recent biography of the famous opponent of the union, it is also a good history of the union negotiations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whatley, Christopher H. Bought and Sold for English Gold? The Union of 1707. 2d ed. East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland: Tuckwell Press, 2001. The second edition of this book was published after the Scottish parliament was reestablished in 1999. Whatley views the union from both Scottish and English perspectives, and places the union within a wider European context.

War of the Spanish Succession

Defeat of the “Old Pretender”

Jacobite Rising in Scotland

Development of Great Britain’s Office of Prime Minister

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Queen Anne; Second Duke of Argyll; Daniel Defoe. union, Act of (1706) Great Britain, formation of England;union with Scotland Scotland;union with England

Categories: History Content