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A Plan for Amity and Equity

Or Amitie and Aequitie as this 1604 advocate for a united Britain would say!


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Scottish unionism in the early Seventeenth Century was inventive and diverse.


In a period of unprecedented political engagement, there was an outpouring of pro-union discourse by Scots who felt emboldened by the succession of their King James VI to the throne of England in 1603.


Men like Thomas Craig, John Russell, Robert Pont and David Hume of Godscroft all penned unique arguments for various form of dynastic, social, political and ecclesiastical union.


In one such Scottish pro-union tract of the period titled 'A Treatise about the Union of England and Scotland' – an unknown author has a pragmatic response to the Union of the Crowns, and he makes a powerful case for a lasting partnership between the two kingdoms.


It has been published in the collection of essays entitled The Jacobean Union: Six Tracts of 1604 by the Scottish History Society (1985) – the page numbers of which accompany the quotes below. The Introduction in this book tells us that the name of the author is unknown, likely due to the first few pages of this document having been lost. The entire book can also be downloaded as a PDF at the link below.


Jacobean Union 6 Tracts of 1604
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The author was remarkably systematic in his proposals, and launched into a deep study of historic unions from the time of the Bronze Age through to his own day.


In making his case for union, he dedicates much of his time to tackling what we might today call "the xenophobia" of the English parliament, which tended to be reluctant to enter into any sort of formal partnership with what it deemed to be a much poorer neighbour.


In proudly asserting the virtues of his native kingdom, the author destroys the myth that union was merely the project of English imperial ambitions or an anglicised Scots elite.


It is with the interests of his dearly-held native kingdom in mind that the author states his proposal for a union that will stand the test of time:


"Lett us now go to the hypothese of application of this our discourse to the union of those two kingdoms of England and Scotland, that we may enquire which of those formes be fittest to joyne those mightie and warrlike nations, by such an indissoluble knot of equall union that neither age nor violence may hereafter dissolve the same." [p.47]


A Providential opportunity for Peace

The ordinary people of Scotland and England had suffered greatly during the Anglo-Scottish wars of the previous centuries. The Union of the Crowns of 1603 had provided real hope that this internecine strife might finally come to an end.


But there was an awareness that dynastic union alone would be highly fragile if it was not cemented with greater political union between the kingdoms.


In Britain's ancient past, the land had been divided between many different peoples who rarely enjoyed any sort of lasting peace. Scots, Picts, Britons, Saxons and Norsemen had all vied for control of the land, exposing it to constant wars, raids and migrations. As the kings of Scotland and England managed to consolidate control of the north and south of the island respectively, the even greater hostility between these two peoples had continued this state of misery:


"Lett us likewise call to memorie what great losses and calamities both the nations English and Scotish during their divisions hath suffered by their mutuall warres..." [p.49]


The English were to bear the most guilt for their quarrelsome attempts to subdue all Britain; nonetheless the Scots themselves were far from shy when it came to launching an offensive invasion, especially when at the behest of their Auld Ally France.


But far from being a capitulation to these English attempts at domination, union should be regarded as a legitimate Scottish attempt to bring lasting peace to the British mainland – a thoroughly anti-imperialist project designed to secure Scotland an equal place alongside its southern neighbour.


Indeed, the author is emphatic in stating that the consent and goodwill which grants union its authority is far superior to brute conquest as a means of securing lasting peace:


"that at lenth after so long a divorce and so much bloodsheed, nature, mutuall love, and willing consent might effectuat the union of those nations, which no force could ever have wrought." [p.48]


Prior to the Seventeenth Century, union through peaceful means must have seemed like little more than an idealist's pipe dream.


But when the Union of the Crowns of 1603 brought the Scottish King James VI to the English throne, the roots of such an arrangement were firmly established.


The fact that a Scotsman was reigning in London would have undoubtedly reassured those Scots who might have been concerned that their own kingdom would be little more than an afterthought if an Englishman should rise to the head of it.


The whole series of events seemed so fortunate and unlikely, that the anonymous author can attribute them only to divine providence:


"I may justly afferme, that God and nature inviteth, necessitie enforceth and evident commoditie doe draw ws thereto: for since God and nature (as sayeth the Philosopher) doe nothing in vaine, they seame to have placed two so mightie, free and bellicous nations, of such equall power and conformitie of maners, humours and language in one so great and plaintifull iland, and to have enclosed and environed them with so strong and natural a wall of the ocean sea, to the ende that by their mutuall union and incorporation a solide and perpetuall peace may bread wealth at home." [p.47]


Compared with figures like John Russell, Robert Pont and David Hume of Godscroft, this author seemed relatively unconcerned with the particulars of ecclesiastical union.


Yet even this more secular-minded author could not help but draw parallels between this incredibly fortunate turn of events and the Biblical imagery of the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah – a single people who had fallen into division, but whose reunification was foretold by the prophet Ezekiel:


"Wherein we may perceive how God by His singular providence, hath now of His infinit mercy bestowed upon these two nations that heappe of worthy blissings which was prophesied by Ezechiel to the devided kingdoms of Israel and Juda after their captivitie." [p.48]


The author attributed multiple meanings to Ezekiel's words.


Firstly, they spoke most obviously of the literal Israelite kingdoms. But more symbolically, they prophesied the Christian unity which would be achieved between Jew and Gentile through the coming of Christ.


It was this spirit of unity which the author aimed to recapture for the Scots and English – a once divided and hostile people who could unite in peace and live together as Britons.


Tackling the Objections of the English Parliament

In accordance with such sentiments, the author proceeds to address the many arguments that the English parliament had brought up against the concept of union.


While these arguments were in part rooted in genuine concerns, they also displayed a somewhat xenophobic attitude towards the Scots. The author dedicated a significant part of his work to fighting against such a mentality.


In doing so, he stands up for his native kingdom, and destroys the myth that early unionists were somehow un-Scottish, or that they held their native kingdom in disdain.


The first objection raised against union by the English was that England would lose its native laws and political privileges. The author is able to brush such worries aside by proposing an arrangement which would protect the ancient customs of both kingdoms:


"This feare may be easely quenshed if they will consider rightly the imperfecter forme of incorporation of estats and kingdoms set doune by ws before...each realme reserving still their severall laws, forme of judicatorie and privileges of estate." [p.51]


This first objection might seem fair and reasonable, but these English anti-unionists were quick to reveal a much more disparaging attitude towards the Scots.


Secondly, England was the wealthier of the two kingdoms, and had a considerably more developed economy. Scotland's socioeconomic landscape was still largely defined by feudalism, while England had a growing middle-class of artisans and merchants, fuelled in part by its burgeoning colonial empire. Therefore, in the minds of certain English parliamentarians, there was no reason to share their land's wealth with the supposed backwater on its northern frontier.


But as the author points out, the Scots deserved thanks for much of the prosperity that England enjoyed:


"Since we ar the instruments of their peace and enriching, and by us they have received so many great benefits, shall they not be ashamed to thinke us unworthie to be parttakers of their wealth?" [pp.52-53]


After all, it was the Scots who had closed their ports to Spanish ships during the Armada Crisis of the previous century, and left them unable to find a safe place to land on British soil. The vast armies of Imperial Spain could have subdued England had it not been for this act of Scottish goodwill.


Regardless of England's financial strength, the author challenges those criticisms levelled against Scotland's economy, and shows the high regard in which he held his native kingdom:


"Our land is replenished with cornes of all sortes, with infinit kinds of foulles, abondance of grasse, cattell and other bestiall; but with such store of shippe that beside oure ouen uses the northerne shires of England are yeerly helped therwith. We have such plentie of fishess in all partes of oure seas specially towards the northerne and westerne ilands, that the same wold suffice to susteine all the people of the whole iland..." [pp.53-54]


The third and final English argument against union was rooted in a fear that Scottish courtiers would descend upon London, and burden England's political system with the corruption and factionalism that was so notorious at Edinburgh.


Once again the author leaps to the defence of Scotland and in particular his fellow countryman James VI.


In defending the just rule of James in Scotland, he points out that the smooth succession of James to the English throne, and the bringing of his royal court to London, proved that these English fears were groundless. After all, the English themselves would grant that James had ruled justly since taking the throne in London:


"Hath not all his actions since his entrance in England geven a sufficient prouve of his aequitie, like favor and magnificence in rewarding such of both the nations who have deserved of him by their loyall and vertuous behaviour?" [p.55]


Certainly, this unionist author was willing to champion his native land of Scotland as proudly as any nationalist.


For him, union was not an excuse to "anglicise" his native kingdom, but rather a means to secure Scotland an equal place alongside England in a united Britain.


The Best Form of Union

Having made the case for union, the author articulates the particular form that he believes best suited for securing the peace and prosperity of all Britain.


Although he wished for the Scottish parliament to retain its autonomy, as well as to preserve Scotland's legal system and Kirk, he argued for the creation of a British state under a united British crown:


"...it woud seeme expedient, yea necessare, that by the advise and consent of the estats and parleaments of both the nations the two crownes should be so annexed that they may remane in all times cumming individually joyned and affected to his Majestie's race – without any division amongst divers persons, either of his Majestie's owen ofspring or of distinct races pretending severall rights to either of those kingdoms." [p.56]


The author makes a much more emotive case for union than was typical of those who wanted only a loose federal arrangement. Usually, the impassioned rhetoric of the incorporationists often stands out in marked contrast to the relatively reserved tone of the federalists, who were more prone to dwelling on technicalities than ideals. Yet in arguing for economic and dynastic union, the author does not shy away from evoking stirring imagery.


He longed that:


"...the Scotish be no stranger in England, nor the English in Scotland...and that the mutuall commerce and entercourse of trafficke be enterteined amongst them, not as strangers but as naturall subjects of one lawfull sovereigne prince, members of one commonwealth and breathers of the common aire of one native soille." [p.61]


Reviving the Ancient Name of Britain

Nowhere is this emotional language more apparent than in the appeal to revive the "ancient" name of Great Britain.


As was common-place in his day – and not without historic justification either – the author believed that union was not so much an artificial or innovative measure as it was the re-unification of what had originally been a single British people.


Accordingly, he hoped to recapture this ancient nationhood:


"There is no dowt but the imposition of one name to both the nations, such as should be thoght meetest, by renewing the ancient appellation either of Albion or of Great Brittanie to the whole iland, and of Albanis or Brittons to both the people, might carrie much impression of amitie and be no small band to knit together the two peoples the faster." [p.61]


He goes on to answer every objection which had been raised by the English House of Commons against the use of the name "Britain" to replace the names "England" and "Scotland". [1]


This British patriotism was a hallmark feature of pro-union tracts of the period.


Although such writers (and especially those from Scotland) tended to favour incorporation with their southern neighbour, this anonymous author shows that even at this embryonic stage in its development, unionism in Scotland was far from monolithic.


He shows himself to be something of a pioneer in grappling with those issues that have remained central to Scottish unionism throughout the centuries. It is unfortunate that his name is lost to posterity. Nonetheless, his arguments remain invaluable as questions over independence and union continue to dominate the political landscape in Scotland.


Source:

Unknown author: 'A Treatise about the Union of England and Scotland' in The Jacobean Union, Six Tracts of 1604, edited by Bruce Galloway and Brian Levack (Scottish History Society, 1985), pp.39-74. The Introduction tells us that the author is unknown because the first few pages of this document have been lost.


Reference:

1. The full list of objections presented to the English Parliament by Sir Francis Bacon on 27 April 1604 can be found in James Spedding, The Letters and Life of Lord Bacon, Vol. III, pp.197-9, and also on pages 28-29 of Bruce Galloway, The Union of England and Scotland, 1603-1608, [Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1986].


This article is part of our series "Scottish Origins of British Unionism: The Jacobean Union and its Debate (1603 onwards)". You can find all our history articles at our British History Index.


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