Scottish Origins of British Unionism: John Elder



This is the second in our chronological series examining the Scottish Origins of British Unionism, written by John Provan who has an MA (Hons) in History. Here we examine the unifying British vision of the Highlander, John Elder, and his appeal in 1542 to Henry VIII that "both the realms of England and of Scotland may be joined in one" and that they might "hew forever in peace, love and amity."


The Index for our British History material is at this link.


(Photograph of Union Jack Kilt model from Skilt kilt makers at Skilt)


In late 1542, long before the Union of 1707, and before the Union of the Crowns of 1603, the Scotsman John Elder wrote a letter to Henry VIII entitled 'A Proposal for Uniting Scotland with England'. [1]


Elder was a Highlander, and a self-described 'Redshank'. He was a Protestant clergyman from Caithness, who had studied at St. Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen. His faith came at a price, and it led to his exile in England.


His persecution would lead to him becoming a fervent unionist, who longed to see the people of Britain united under a single, godly king.


He challenges any notion that early unionism was the preserve of "anglicised" Lowlanders. [2]


UNION would PROTECT PROTESTANTS Religion was always at the forefront in Elder's unionism.


Like so many of his Protestant brethren, he was dismayed to see his country fall under the sway of Catholic clergymen in the regency of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots.


Persecution had been rife under her father James V. Protestants were persecuted, burned at the stake, lost any political office, and were used as soldiers for his domineering Catholic allies, the French.


This grim reality, and the anticipation of a worsening situation under Mary's regency council, is what forced Elder into exile in Protestant England.


In his letter to Henry VIII, penne