Making the Union: British Civil War 1638-1660

Many Scottish nationalists take a very "reductionist" view of the British Union. They reduce it to one event – the Union of the Parliaments on 1 May 1707 – and they try to explain that away with an incorrect myth about alleged dodgy payments! They choose to ignore entirely the contribution of the events and social circumstances of the decades and centuries leading up to political Union.

In this short series of historical articles about the British Civil War – written by John Provan who has an MA (Hons) in History – we emphasise the British Isles-wide nature of concerns, as we look at the often violent events in the mid to late 1600s, which joined Scots and English together on the same sides, and which were creating a shared sense of British national purpose and identity.

Pic: A Force For Good at our 1st May Great British Union Day Celebration in George Square in 2021.

It is said that nations are often born through shared struggle and there can be few better examples of this than the conflict which engulfed the British Isles in the mid-Seventeenth Century. Despite coming from different kingdoms with their own parliaments and customs, Scots and English fought side by side on all the sides – Scottish and English Royalists, and Scottish Covenanters and English Parliamentarians.

There was an awareness at the time that this was a shared struggle.

For example, leading Covenanter statesman Alexander Henderson remarked of his English allies that they "by their speeches, complaints, and grievances parallel to ours, did justify the Cause which we defend", before concluding that "both Nations must now stand or fall together". [1]


Both kingdoms had shared a single monarch since the Scotsman James VI succeeded to the throne of England in 1603, while retaining their distinct parliaments and crowns. Although they coexisted peacefully for a number of years, by 1638 a combination of dynastic, religious and political disputes had caused a descent into civil war. Unrest in Scotland turned into a fully-fledged invasion of northern England by the Covenanter rebels at the Battle of Newburn (28 August 1640).