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Union of Parliaments: Dynastic, Religious and Britishly Patriotic Reasons

Few topics have been as popularly mis-represented through the years as the Parliamentary Union of Scotland and England! In part 1 of this 2-part study John Provan who has an MA (Hons) in History, demonstrated that claims of "bribery" do not come close to explaining why the Scottish Parliament voted for Union. As we pointed out, only 31 out of 249 Parliamentarians received monies, which many of them were already owed anyway, and of that number, one man received three-fifths of the entire payment.


As we point out below, such reasons as the Succession of the Monarchy, Protestantism, and a growing sense of British Patriotism had far greater influence upon the vote.


Pic: "The English and Scottish Commissioners present to Queen Anne at St James's Palace the Articles of Agreement for the Parliamentary Union of the Two Countries, 1707", by Sir Thomas Monnington. Oil on canvas, 1928. Copyright Palace of Westminster Collection. It hangs in St Stephen's Hall, in the Palace of Westminster.



The issue of Union was inescapably linked with the question of the Hanoverian succession, and many supporters of the Hanoverians in Scotland backed Union as the best means of preventing a restoration of the Stuarts to the Scottish throne. [17]


Indeed, several Scots who backed the House of Hanover had previously been forced to flee to the Netherlands for their opposition to the ruling Stuart monarchs, and these exiles were at the fore in organising the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when Prince William of Orange deposed James VII.


The period of Stuart rule in Scotland after the Restoration of 1660 had been one of increasing conflict. Lowland Protestants were killed by a "Highland Host" – the name given to the army that Charles II imposed on the Lowlands, because it was composed mostly of Highlanders picked for their dynastic and religious sympathies towards him.


Scotland's south-west, in particular, remains dotted with the graves and memorials of those lost during "The Killing Times".


These exiles and their sentiments were still prominent in the Union debates leading up to 1707. Indeed, a quarter of the Scottish Parliament was composed of these pro-Revolution Dutch exiles. [18]


John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, was one of the most outspoken Scottish politicians in favour of the Union, and his background typifies the experience of his fellow emigres


Like many Scots, he had served King William in the English army, and earned himself a reputation as a great soldier and military leader through his service during the Nine Years War against France. [19]


His father had administered the coronation oath to William in 1689, while his grandfather had been executed in 1685 for his part in a rebellion against the Stuarts. [20] Queen Anne certainly did not have to buy such a man's loyalty.


Indeed, these pro-Glorious Revolution Scots had initiated Union talks with England at the time of the Revolution itself. It was from Scotland first, that the call came for "ane entire and perpetuall union betwixt the two kingdoms", as Scottish commissioners began talks with King William in 1688. [21]


In December 1688, the Marquess of Tweeddale asked William to consider "what wayes and means these Kingdoms of Scotland and England may be united in a more strict and inseparable union". Such calls were clearly backed by popular support, as Tweeddale noted that his address to William was signed by "almost all of the gentlemen [of east Lothian] who ar of adge except thos who ar gon to London". [22]


Meanwhile, a similar 1688 address signed by the "Nobilitie, Gentry, Magistrats and inhabitants of Glasgow" called explicitly for the creation of a single British parliament. [23]


Like his successor Anne, William himself had wished to see such a Union brought about, but his plans were halted by the more reluctant English Parliament. In particular, the Tories were hostile to the Scots' hopes for Union, and compared the idea of joining together with the Scots to marrying a beggar, before stating that "whoever married a beggar could only expect a louse for her portion". [24]


The 1702 union debates were aborted in a similar fashion when the English refused to pay the Scots compensation for the higher tax rate they would be placed under in the Union.


Despite these early Scottish attempts at Union being thwarted by the English Tories, many Scots who had been involved in the proposals were still politically active in the years running up to 1707.


Of the 24 Dutch exiles who had been commissioners in the 1689 Union negotiations, 9 survived to vote in the Scottish Parliament in 1706, and all of them voted in favour of Union. [25]


Considering the history of their pro-Union credentials, there is no question that these individuals were voting out of genuine conviction.



The Hanoverian cause and the Protestant cause were tightly intertwined, and most of Scotland had rejoiced at King William's restoration of Presbyterianism in 1690. It was a welcome respite from the Stuart policy of enforcing Episcopalianism as part of what was suspected by some to be a broader Catholicising agenda.


The Protestant faith had long united the Scots and the English, and there was hope that a united Britain could stand strong as an island nation against the Catholic empires on the continent.


The Presbyterians which dominated Lowland Scotland were considerably more likely to favour the Union than their Episcopalian countrymen which were scattered throughout the north-east, or the remaining Catholic clans in the Highlands.


One contemporary went so far as to say "that all the presbyterians in Parliament are for union"; almost certainly an exaggeration, yet containing much truth as well. [26]


Many Scots felt that Union was the best means to secure their Presbyterian Kirk from the prospect of Stuart restoration. Such sentiments were typified by William Carstares, when he remarked that "The desire I have to see our Church secured makes me in love with the Union as the most probable means to preserve it." [27]


Likewise, on the 3 October 1706, the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr called for a fast, and to pray for the success of the "happy union" that would secure the "late…revolution". [28]


The same year, the entire Kirk had called for prayers for God to direct "such as are commissioned both in this and the kingdom of England for treating about an union". [29]


Union would at once secure the Presbyterian Kirk from the Catholicising Stuarts, and allow a strong Protestant Britain to defend itself and its overseas colonies.


Despite this, Presbyterians were not uniformly in favour of the Union.


The more hardline elements within the Kirk, as well as the even more radical dissenters, felt that the Union's preservation of the Episcopalian Church of England was a betrayal of the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant, which had called for the implementation of Presbyterianism across the British Isles.


Accordingly, the Reverend John Logan of Alloa stated that the Union was "contradictory to the Covenants against prelacy in the three dominions quherto this nation stands engadged". [30]


Dissenting Presbyterian groups like the Hebronites petitioned Parliament against the Union, while the Cameronians publicly burnt the articles of Union at Dumfries.


To this day, some Scottish nationalists portray this Dumfries event entirely out of its Presbyterian religious context, as if it were some kind of riot against the Union from the Scottish nationalist "democratic" perspective of today!


Rather, the Cameronians were committed to union, but they wanted all Britain to become Presbyterian and were shocked by an agreement which would bind them to defend Episcopalianism in England, as well as have Bishops sit in Parliament.


Such cases show that Presbyterian opinion was far from monolithic, yet there is an important caveat – while some were opposed to "the Union", they were committed to union.


Their faith was marked by their strict adherence to the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant, which called for a national British Presbyterian church, as well as full dynastic Union and closer political Union between Scotland and England.


Tellingly, the Hebronites stated that they were "not against an Union in the Lord with England", but union had to be consistent with "our sacred Covenants" and the "security of our Church". [31]


It was the pressure which such groups applied on the Union commissioners through their popular protests that ensured there were provisions within the Union to protect the Scottish Kirk, a move that helped swing mainstream Presbyterianism towards its favour.



Beyond dynastic and religious loyalties, a genuine sense of British patriotism appears to have been a motivating factor for certain unionists.


When the Duke of Hamilton announced on 1 September 1705 that Queen Anne was to appoint the commissioners for Union, members of the Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh celebrated by toasting to the "happy union", and wished that "we should now be no more English and Scotch, but Brittons". [32]


George Mackenzie, one of the more prominent campaigners for Union, said "May wee be Brittains", for "Brittains is our true, our honorable denomination". [33]


Beyond the sentiments of politicians, Britishness appears to have had some sort of popular roots in Scotland. With many Scots serving in the English army, there had been widespread celebrations of English military victories across Scotland for decades.


Military ties proved to be an important indicator in determining voting patterns on the Union, with Scottish members of the estates (the Parliament) who had served in the pan-British forces proving significantly more likely to vote for Union than their peers. [34]


Even in such ordinary matters as clothing and fashion, British culture appears to have been developing. Edinburgh shopkeepers were keen to advertise that their woollen clothes were "ready made after the British fashion". [35]


It is not surprising that Britishness should have such roots in Scotland in the early Eighteenth Century. Scotland and England had, after all, shared a single monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603.


Since that time, both kingdoms had shared revolts, revolutions, counter-revolutions, regicide, republics and restorations. Naturally, there was a distinctly British context to political life, rooted in this common history.


As early as 1685, George Mackenzie had noted that the "old Animosities" between the people of Scotland and England were of far less significance than the "modern Differences" – the ideological divides "between the Episcopal and Fanatick, Cavalier and Republican, or as some term it, Whig and Tory". [36]


Scots had been to the fore in the nation-building project of the British monarchs, for example taking a pioneering role in the plantation of Ulster, where Scots and English settlers forged a truly British population. [37]


Clan Campbell's use of the term "North Britain" to describe Scotland can be traced back almost to the Union of the Crowns, when they petitioned King James to refer to the Ulster settlers as "British" in formal documentation. [38]


Increasing intermarriage between the two peoples was aided by the fact that they shared a common language and faith, and such marriages were particularly common amongst the Scottish nobility who travelled to the royal court in London.


Consequently, it was not uncommon for Scottish politicians to have been born and raised in England, and their identification with the country would have naturally made Union more appealing. For example, John Campbell, Second Duke of Argyll was born at Ham House in Richmond, Surrey. Also, the Duke of Atholl was born in Lancashire. [39]



Traditional accusations of bribery, mentioned in part 1 of this study also often ignore the efforts that were made by unionists to swing public and political opinion towards the Union's favour.


"The Interest of Scotland in Three Essays" was published in 1700 by unionist politician William Seton and made a persuasive case for a Union which would secure Scotland's Kirk, bolster its economy and allow it to find a place in the new world of colonial empires.


Seton passionately argued in favour of the Union articles as they were debated in the Scottish Parliament, concluding that "for my part I comprehend no durable Union betwixt Scotland and England, but that expressed in this Article by One Kingdom, that is to say, One People, One Civil Government and One Interest." [40]


William Paterson wrote tracts in favour of a "complete union", while Union commissioner Sir John Clerk argued for "an equal and honourable union". [41]


George Mackenzie wrote eleven tracts defending incorporating union from those who wanted a looser federal arrangement, noting in one rather colourful analogy that "unless wee be a part of each other, the union will be as a blood pudding to a catt; and till one or other be hungry, then the pudding flies".


In addition to the pro-Union tracts written by figures like Mackenzie, Seton, Clerk and Paterson, there were at times more open displays of pro-union opinion. For example, the Episcopalian priest John Arbuthnot (who invented the figure "John Bull") delivered a political speech from the Merkat Cross in Edinburgh, where he preached on the benefits that a full Union would bring. [42]



"Bribery" cannot account for the passage of the Union articles through the Scottish Parliament. There is little evidence to support such claims of corruption, but plenty to the contrary.


The medley of dynastic, religious and patriotic loyalties which influenced so many Scots of the time shows that Union was backed out of genuine ideological conviction, as well as more pragmatic concerns to strengthen an ailing Scottish economy.


While there is something almost comforting in the simplistic narrative which portrays Scotland as a victim of English bullying and corruption, it has little basis in historical fact.


In the decades prior to 1707, Scots had been the most enthusiastic proponents for Union, and the Acts of 1707 must be viewed in a wider context of Scottish attempts to engineer Union in 1689 and 1702, as well as multiple previous attempts dating back to the early Seventeenth Century.


Union was very much a Scottish project as well as an English one.


In 1706-7, as in 2014, Scotland voted for Union because it was regarded as the best and the right thing to do. With the old bribery myth exposed, modern unionists can stand up proudly for what we believe in, just as we did over three hundred years ago!



This numbering is continued from part 1 of this 2-part study.

[17] Whatley, The Scots and the Union, p.58

[18] Ibid, p.78

[19] Ibid, p.226

[20] Ibid, p.227

[21] Ibid, p.5

[22] Ibid, p.91

[23] Ibid, p.92, and Footnote 126 at p.102

[24] Whatley, Bought and Sold, p.37

[25] Whatley, The Scots and the Union, p.92

[26] Ibid, p.301

[27] Bowie, p.112

[28] Whatley, The Scots and the Union, p.269

[29] Ibid, p.261

[30] Ibid

[31] Bowie, p.100

[32] Whatley, The Scots and the Union, p.85

[33] Ibid, p.86

[34] Ibid, p.88

[35] Ibid, p.86

[36] Ibid, p.89

[37] Ibid, p.85

[38] See Glenn Burgess, The New British History, Founding a Modern State 1603-1715, (I.B. Tauris, 1999), and its articles by Alan Macinnes (p.45) and Arthur Williamson (p.149-50).

[39] Whatley, The Scots and the Union, pp.85-86

[40] Whatley, Bought and Sold, p.49

[41] Ibid, p.198

[42] Bowie, p.106


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