Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 7: The Union of 1707

There were advantages for both countries in the Union, seen in retrospect as an act of policy, not affection. James II's youngest daughter was Anne, whose last surviving child, princess Anne did not survive. Thus, there was no direct successor to the throne. London was afraid that unless there was a formal, political union with Scotland firmly in place, the country might choose James Edward Stuart, Anne's exiled Catholic half-brother, instead of a new Protestant king from Hanover. Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement in 1701 to ensure that Anne's heir was to be the Electress Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James I. Thus, when William died in 1702, Queen Anne succeeded him; on his deathbed, he recommended a union with Scotland.

In 1703, the Scottish Parliament passed an Act of Security that provided for a Protestant Stuart succession upon Anne's death, unless the Scottish government was freed from "English or any foreign influence." The English Parliament responded with an Alien's Act that prohibited all Scottish imports to England unless the Scots accepted the Hanoverian succession. The Scots reluctantly succumbed in order to gain the advantage of free trade with the new British common market. In 1707, the Act of Union cemented what had been a growing interdependence between the two countries.

Sometimes overlooked when discussing the reasons for Scotland's acquiescence in the union of the two nations, was the terrible beating taken by that unfortunate nation in the Darien affair. The Scottish Parliament's grandiose scheme to finance a rival to the East Indian Company and their attempt to found a colony on the isthmus of Darien, or Panama, was met with hostility by the English Parliament. Disease and Spanish interference brought a quick, sad end to the scheme in which practically the whole Scottish nation had shown interest. Much of the blame was cast upon "Dutch William" and his English advisors. Scottish mercantile interests were forced by the experience to find a workable solution by abandoning a separate and divergent economic policy in favor of a merger that would be of equal benefit to both Parliaments.

Neither side was completely happy with the Union that many historians view as "judicious bribery." The Scottish people, in particular, had to balance the loss of their ancient independence against the need to open themselves up to a wider world and greater opportunities than their own country could provide. The English gained needed security, for no longer could European powers use Scotland as a base for an attack on its southern neighbor.

Scotland kept its legal system and the Presbyterian Kirk, but gave up its Parliament in exchange for 45 seats in the House of Commons and 16 seats in the House of Lords. The act proclaimed that there would be "one United Kingdom by the name of Great Britain" with one Protestant ruler, one legislature and one system of free trade. When Anne died in 1714, George I, a Lutheran, became king of Great Britain and Ireland under the Act of Settlement.

Because it was an island nation, too, Britain had clearly defined borders. Trying to restore the Stuarts would have meant replacing a Protestant monarchy with a Roman Catholic dynasty and it was far too late for that. In addition, the restoration would have had to be accomplished by a foreign (and Catholic) army of occupation. The Stuarts were backed by France, Britain's most obvious and strongest enemy, a Popish enemy at that. The British press wrote of the horrors of life in the Catholic states of Europe and the blessings that the island nation enjoyed under its Protestant rulers.

Despite the nostalgia and the romance attached to the exiled Stuarts, and their wide support in Scotland, it was unthinkable for most Britons to contemplate their return. The majority of the nation's people were not in the mood for what surely would be a bloody and prolonged civil war. They certainly did not welcome the idea of a Jacobite army that would be mainly composed of French troops marauding through their land. The Act of Union had settled the boundaries of a state known as Great Britain whose people, despite their differences in traditions, cultures and languages, were held together simply because they felt different from people in other countries.

Progress in the arts and material well being had helped foster this feeling of Britishness throughout the land. Despite continued religious struggles and political changes, the Scottish universities managed to hang on to their existence. The three Catholic foundations of the Middle Ages, St. Andrews, Glasgow and King's College, Old Aberdeen had been joined by the secular institutions of Edinburgh and Marischal College, New Aberdeen, all helping to create a highly literate class of Scotsmen whose influence spread throughout Europe.

Chapter 7: The Union of 1707 Continued