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The Happy and Blessed Union

'A Treatise of the Happie and Blissed Union' was a tract published in 1604, one year after the Union of the Crowns when the Scots King James VI became also the King of England. It is written by John Russell (c.1550–1612) a Scottish lawyer who spent most of his life pursuing his career in Edinburgh.

As was the case with many Scots of the time, Russell was a stalwart advocate for union with England. He wrote to James VI to encourage him to bring about a closer union between his two realms.

In this tract, Russell delivers what is very much a Scottish perspective on the union issue, highlighting the need for a fair and equal union based on unity and not conquest, yet calling for such a complete union that the very terms 'Scotland' and 'England' would cease to exist.

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 entire book can also be downloaded as a PDF at the link below.

Jacobean Union 6 Tracts of 1604
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High Esteem for Scotland One of the most striking aspects of Russell's tract is the esteem in which he holds his native Kingdom of Scotland, which he expresses passionately in his archaic Scots language: my judgement thair is na countrey in Europe, the inhabitantis thairof having contentit hairtis, fearing God, reducit to ane policie, verteuouslie employit, fellouing the example of uther politique natiounes, hes greater blissingis be sea and land, being uiell usit, and qha may bettir lieve uithin thameselffis uithout the aide and support of any forrane countrey, than Scotland presentlie possessis. (p.89)

[…in my judgement there is no country in Europe, the inhabitants thereof having contented hearts, fearing God, reduced to one policy, virtuously employed, following the example of other political nations, has greater blessings by sea and land, being well used, and who may better live within themselves without the aid and support of any foreign country, than Scotland presently possesses.]

Some Scottish unionists of old are sometimes charged with viewing Scotland as a backward state in need of anglicising; but Russell challenges such misconceptions.

He took great pride in the Scottish people and Scottish institutions, and throughout the tract he regularly praises Scotland's political system, its ancient liberties, and in particular, the godliness of its Kirk.

Far from hoping to anglicise Scotland, Russell hoped to see Scottish values, and in particular those of its Reformation, emulated in London through the Scottish-turned-British King James VI of Great Britain.

Russell is quick to remind James of his Scottish roots, and when noting the increasing amount of time that James was spending at his London throne, Russell pleads to him to return to his native kingdom:

Out of this heaven your Majestie ressavit your first sicht. In this soill your Grace sett your first footstep… (p.77)

[Out of this heaven your Majesty received your first sight. In this soil your Grace set your first footstep…]

He goes on to remind James that his majesty is not limited to the Kingdom of England, and that his subjects in Scotland dearly miss his presence.

For Russell, union was a way to ensure that Scotland was not neglected within the Britannic monarchy of the Stuarts.

But he was equally aware that only a fair union would be able to stand the test of time. He admonishes those in England who argued that England had a feudal right to subjugate Scotland, which they justified by the tributes the Kings of Scotland had historically paid to those of England.

Russell appeals to the example of Edward VI of England, who had called for a union in which the laws and customs of both the component kingdoms would be respected.

Certainly, it is evident from this tract that Russell did not view union as an English project to civilise a backward Scotland; but rather he held his home kingdom in the highest regard.

Great Britain, the First Christian Nation One of the most interesting features of Russell's tract is his sense of an ancient British nationhood, which he sees as being encapsulated in King Lucius of the Britons.

Russell argues that the ancient Kingdom of Britain was the first state where Christianity could be practiced free from persecution. The legendary second-century King Lucius had allowed the first Christian preachers into the country, which according to Russell included some of the very apostles themselves.

Appealing to the writings of Tertullian and Origen, it is argued that Britain was the first godly nation of the world, creating a church that long-preceded that of Rome:

The ancienne chronographeris hes observit that about the yeir of God 180 Britanie ues the first place of the uarld quhilk publictlie ressavit the faith of Christ (to the great honor of this ile): for Lucius, the first King of Great Britanie, predicessor and foreronner to his Majestie, in thais dayes deposit the preistis of the gentillis, and substitut in thair places bischopis and Chrstiane pastoris. (p.79)

[The ancient chronographers have observed that about the year of God 180, Britain was the first place of the world which publicly received the faith of Christ (to the great honour of this isle): for Lucius, the first King of Great Britain, predecessor and forerunner of his Majesty, in those days, removed the priests of the gentiles and substituted in their place bishops and Christian pastors.]

The pre-Roman British church was held in high esteem, being free from temples, alters, icons, sacrifices, and those things opposed by the Reformation. Russell places importance on the idea that, as the successor of Lucius to the Britannic monarchy, James must revive the purity of the ancient British church, and purge it of that which had been introduced by Rome over the centuries:

...the aeternall God hes raysit his Majestie in this age to be the vive image of Lucius and Constantine, and to be successor to his predecessoris and contreymen, to banisch paganisme and idolatrie furth of this impyir, thairby richteouslie to posses his auin professit tytle to be Protector and Defender of the Faith. (p.80)

[...the eternal God has raised his Majesty in this age to be the living (1*) image of Lucius and Constantine, and to be successor to his predecessors and countrymen, to banish paganism and idolatry out of this empire, thereby righteously to possess his own professed title to be Protector and Defender of the Faith.]

Beyond this role, Russell believed that religion would be the most important bond in uniting the peoples of Britain into a single nation, commenting that a shared faith "is the straitest band qhairby people or natioun can be bunde". (p.107)

Like other unionists of the time, Russell looked to the example of the ancient Israelites, who, despite being one people, were divided into two separate kingdoms by God as punishment for their idolatry.

Many prophets would later speak of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah reuniting under a single king as they had been in the golden age of David. In this sense, James' mission as a purger of idolatry and defender of the true Protestant faith was deeply intertwined with his providential succession to the throne as a new King Lucius, come to re-unite the divided Britons into a single godly nation as they had been in days of old.

Russell is unequivocal in his vision of Britain as a distinctly Protestant nation. Upon numbering certain points of order regarding his concept of union, Russell concludes with the following:

15. The last (quhilk sould have bein first in ordour) to be sett doun, for restraint of Papistis in baith the kingdomes, and nevir any contrair religioun to be sufferit uithin this ile. (p.137)

[15. The last (which should have been first in order) to be set down, for restraint of Papists in both the kingdoms, and never any contrary religion to be suffered within this isle.]

In this sense, Russell envisions Britain as a godly nation where the succession of James to the throne brings not only a union, but a re-unification of the ancient Britons and their pure church.

Peace and Prosperity Beckons Although religion is central to Russell's unionism, he also argues for the political and commercial benefits that union would bring to the people of both Scotland and England.

Among these, the hope of a real and lasting peace between the two kingdoms was the most significant.

Scotland and England had both been devastated by their constant warring, and Scotland in particular had suffered some devastating defeats when fighting at the behest of their Auld Ally the French. Scarcely a village in the kingdom did not suffer a casualty in the massacre that was the Battle of Flodden.

Russell hoped that union between the two kingdoms would usher in an era of unprecedented peace, and take advantage of Britain's island geography to provide a real sense of security:

Sall it not be to the perpetuall blissing and felicitie of thir tua natiounes, lyand in ane continent, not far different in religioun and language, to be unitit forever, and baith the kingdomes erectit in ane soverane monarchie: to the effect thair byroun trubles micht be putt in perpetuall oblivioun, and justice, policie, peace and ritches all to florisch at anes in this ile? (p.101)

[Shall it not be to the perpetual blessing and felicity of their two nations, lying in one continent, not far different in religion and language, to be united forever and both the Kingdoms erected in one sovereign monarchy: to the effect their past troubles might be put in perpetual oblivion, and justice, policy, peace and riches all to flourish at one in this isle?]

Not only would a united Britain have peace within itself, but it would be able to resist its more powerful Catholic neighbours on the continent, who had long used Scotland as a staging post for their invasions of England.

Beyond the issue of national security, Russell believed that union would also usher in a golden age of prosperity, bolstered not only by the newfound peace, but by the abolition of various customs and tolls that hindered trade between the two kingdoms:

That they sall tak upon thame ane common name, to be callit heireftir Britanes. That the traffique and negotiatioun of merchandis sal be mutuall, ather of the tua nationes to injoy the priveledgis of the uther... (p.126)

[That they shall take upon them one common name, to be called hereafter Britons. That the traffic and negotiation of merchandise shall be mutual, either of the two nations to enjoy the privileges of the other…]

14. Anent the merchand estait: for incress of all gude traffique and negotiatioun in ather of the realmes, that sic sufficient ordour may be taine as may tend to the gude and florisching estait of baith the nations. All extraordinar extorsiones, customes and exactiones, quhilkis daylie dois impovrisch the people, ar to be dischargit. (p.137)

[14. As regards the merchant estate: for the increase of all good traffic and negotiation in either of the realms, that such sufficient order may be taken as may tend to the good and flourishing estate of both the nations. All extraordinary extortions, customs and exactions, which daily do impoverish the people, are to be discharged.]

It is clear that while religion was central to Russell's unionism, he was equally aware that union would bring political and economic benefits to the British people, which they would never enjoy so long as they remained divided.

A British Union of People

Russell recognised that if this union was to endure, then a shared identity must be fostered between the peoples of the two kingdoms.

Russell did not see Britishness as being an artificial creation.

He regarded it as an ancient nationhood rooted in the Celtic Britons that long preceded the invasion of the Irish Gaels that founded the Kingdom of Scotland, or the Saxons and Normans that gave rise to the Kingdom of England.

Russell goes further than any modern unionist would suggest, when he calls for the very names of Scotland and England to be put to rest, saying that they are now: be callit the kingdome of Great Britanie, the names of Scotland and Ingland to be putt in oblivioun… (p.135 and also p.141)

In like fashion, Russell goes on to call for the inhabitants of this British state to cast aside their divisions, and to unite as a single people under one name:

4. As the saidis tua nations ar to be unitit in ane heich and soverane monarchie, it felloues that the inhabitantis thairof man fellow the nature of the unioun, and thairfoir to ressave ane common name, to be callit na mair Scottish or Inglisch, bot Britanes for thame and their posteriteis. (pp.135-136 and also p.141)

[4. As the said two nations are to be united in one high and sovereign monarchy, it follows that the inhabitants thereof must follow the nature of the union, and therefore to receive one common name to be called no more Scottish or English, but Britons for them and their posterity.]

Born as he was in the Kingdom of Scotland, John Russell was a Scot. But like many of his contemporaries, he longed to be known with his people as a Briton, and to realise that ancient nationhood and common destiny that bound him with his brethren in England.

He longed to see Britain become once again a single, godly nation, as it had been, he believed, in the days of King Lucius.

Source: John Russell, 'A Treatise of the Happie and Blissed Union' in The Jacobean Union, Six Tracts of 1604, edited by Bruce Galloway and Brian Levack (Scottish History Society, 1985), pp.75-142.

Related Reading

David J. Knight, King Lucius of Britain, (The History Press, 2011 edition).

AFFG note on Translation

1* We're translating "vive" as "living" as per meaning 5b on this page at Dictionaries of the Scots Language.

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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