top of page

Making the Union: 1668 and 1670 Union Negotiations

Part 4 of our "Making the Union" series, looks at the Union Negotiations of 1668 and 1670, which followed the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. They did not succeed at the time, but they laid the foundations for the Union which would follow in 1707. This article is written by John Provan who has an MA (Hons) in History. Our colourful pic shows our wonderful activists who continue the struggle and stand up for the ideals of the Union today at our Jubilee Street Stall in Argyle Street, Glasgow, on 18 June 2022. You can purchase our T-shirts and Hoodies here.

On the 19th October 1669, for the first time, the parliaments of Scotland and England began their legislative sessions on the same day. This was no coincidence, but a symbolic gesture given the issue they were about to discuss. Both sessions were opened with essentially the same speech, delivered by Sir Orlando Bridgeman in England, and John Maitland the Earl of Lauderdale, in Scotland.

Bridgeman remarked "that no thing can tend more to the good and security of both Nations" than an incorporating union; hearkening back to the 1603 Union of the Crowns, he reminded his audience that both kingdoms were:

"...under the same Obedience and Subjection for near Threescore and seven Years, having begotten the same common Friends, and common Enemies to both Nations, and having taken off a great part of those difficulties which at the first stood in the way." [1]

Lauderdale showed a similar enthusiasm as he spoke before the parliament gathered at Edinburgh. Quoting a letter sent from Charles II to address his northern subjects, Lauderdale heartily endorsed the monarch's "great and glorious design" for enjoining both the kingdoms "to a strict and nearer Union". [2]

Such enthusiasm was not unwarranted, for Scotland had long suffered through the political impotence with which nearly seven decades of absentee kingship had rendered it; so long as Scotland remained independent, Scots would continue to be treated as aliens in the kingdom where their own king ruled. In Lauderdale's mind, political union would be the best way to guarantee Scotland's equality with England, and end the treatment of its people as second-class citizens.

It is for this reason that historian Antonia Fraser recognises Lauderdale as a patriot and a man who held his country's interests close to heart:

"To Lauderdale the Union offered the Scots the opportunity to flourish equally with England. In his rough and wily way (the two adjectives were compatible where Lauderdale was concerned) he was a patriot." [3]

Such enthusiasm on both sides of the border was essential in bringing about the union negotiations of 1668 and 1670, but the roots of the project lay in the Britannic monarchy of the Stuarts.

Charles II's Scottish grandfather James VI had brought the issue of union to the fore upon his succession to the English throne in 1603, uniting Scotland and England under the same king.

Meanwhile, his father Charles I had paid the ultimate price for attempting to rule three disparate kingdoms with competing customs and interests. He was executed in 1649 by the republican government of Oliver Cromwell as Britain became engulfed in civil war.

As peace was restored with Charles II's restoration in 1660, by the end of the decade he had once again raised the issue of union with the parliaments. He appealed to the original Britannic aspirations of his grandfather as he proclaimed the appointment of commissioners from both kingdoms to discuss the issue:

"Whereas the Kings most Excellent Majestie out of his Princely Zeale and Fatherly Care for the Welfare and Happinesse of his Subjects persisting in the same pious and prudent Resolution of his Royall Grandfather King James of ever blessed memory to endeavour a nearer and more compleate Union between his two Kingdomes of England and Scotland, hath recommended it to the Parlyaments of both Kingdomes that Coommissioners might be nominated to treate and consult concerning this Union To the end that his Majestyes Royall and Gracious Purposes therein may be accomplished, and such a further Union may be treated and agreed upon as may compleate and confirme for ever a constant mutuall Love and Friendshipp betweene the Subjects of both Realmes." [4]


The flurry of Scottish pro-union tracts which surrounded the Union of the Crowns in 1603 had offered highly idealistic, almost utopian visions of Anglo-Scottish union; but the civil wars of the mid-century and the temporary incorporation which followed the Cromwellian conquest had provided valuable lessons in the need for a workable arrangement.

In many ways, this focus on more practical issues such as the economy and national security foreshadowed the more successful negotiations which resulted in the Union of 1707.

Accordingly, Clare Jackson remarks that "it was in 1670, but not earlier, that the constitutional form of the Anglo-Scottish union eventually concluded in 1707 first became clearly visible" [5].

In 1668, Scottish and English representatives met in Whitehall to discuss a form of economic union that would allow free trade between the kingdoms.

Such talks were themselves a response to the tough mercantilist policies that were emerging across Europe at the time, whereby punitive tariffs were often placed on goods from neighbouring countries that were perceived as economic rivals.

England imposed duties on Scottish salt which were sixteen times higher than those placed on any other country. In turn, Scotland imposed enormous duties of eighty-percent on all English imports – such a situation crippled important industries in both kingdoms and did little for the financial prosperity of their people. [6]

Scots were to the fore in arguing for these barriers to be torn down, noting that it was hardly right for the Navigation Acts to treat them as aliens in England where their own king reigned, and where the Irish and Welsh could reap the benefits of free trade.

But the English parliament, concerned to protect its colonial markets from foreign competition, proved far more reluctant. Despite this, they were willing to offer limited concessions to Scottish merchants, for example reducing restrictions on salt imports, and allowing free trade in timber and throughout the English-dominated ports of the Levant. [7]

Such proposals were nothing new – similar overtures had been made in the reign of Edward VI, and Scotland had enjoyed unrestricted trade with England as part of Cromwell's republican Commonwealth.

Although some Scots might have been willing to settle for a limited agreement, Lauderdale was adamant on the need for total free trade with England. His support was essential to the success of any policy. He had risen to become the most powerful agent of the crown in Scotland, a position which was cemented when he became Lord President of the Privy Council of Scotland in 1672.

He had a thorough unionist pedigree, although one which originated in vastly different circumstances. As a zealous Covenanter, Lauderdale had attended the Westminster Assembly – a body of Scottish and English politicians and theologians formed with the aim of fostering ecclesiastical union across Britain.

Along with his more moderate Covenanting counterparts, he supported Charles II's claim to the throne, and he eventually broke with Covenanting opinion in remaining a staunch supporter of Charles following the Restoration of 1660.

Those tumultuous times had witnessed the failure of several union projects of various confederal, ecclesiastical and republican forms. No doubt bearing this awareness of the fickleness of partial union in mind, Lauderdale emerged as one of the most vocal proponents for a truly United Kingdom.

He stated that the Scots "doe desire to settle a lasting trade, and not a temporary one" [8].

It was his determination to cement this free trade that led him to suggest an incorporating union to Charles II. His importance in pushing the king to drive this union agenda must not be understated. Antonia Fraser remarks that:

"Lauderdale had long campaigned for a return to a situation where Scotland enjoyed relatively free trade with England without Navigation Acts, and by October 1669 had managed to win Charles over to the idea of union." [9]

However, the difficulty of securing free trade without fuller political union also became quickly apparent to the English.

As the talks on economic union came to a rather unfruitful end in later 1668, the English commissioners stated that incorporating union would "be found easier than the adjusting of trade alone", while Bridgeman noted that the failed talks only served to generate "a conviction of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of setling it in any other way than by a nearer and more compleat Union of the two Kingdomes". [10]

Thus, it was the failure of these talks on economic union in 1668 which brought the issue of political union to the fore, and resulted in the drive for incorporation come 1670.


The Scottish parliament granted its approval for the royal appointment of union commissioners on the 22nd October 1669, while its English counterpart quickly followed suit.

The appointments made by Charles were accepted by the following July. Thereafter, fourteen English and seventeen Scottish commissioners met in Exchequer Chamber at Westminster on 14th September 1670; full formal talks began just three days later at Somerset House. [11]

The debate was structured around five heads of discussion proposed by Charles himself, and these bear a remarkable resemblance to the form of union which was eventually realised in 1707:

1. The preservation of each kingdom's civil and ecclesiastical laws.

2. The creation of a single British parliament.

3. The creation of a single British crown.

4. That all economic, trading and administrative relations between Scotland and England be resolved.

5. That measures be put in place to guarantee the above arrangements. [12]

The talks started well, and by the 22nd September the commissioners from both kingdoms had agreed on the creation of a united British crown.

Maintaining the status quo regarding civil and ecclesiastical laws generated little controversy; it was the creation of the British parliament that proved a stumbling-block to any final agreement.

There were disagreements over how the ratio of Scottish to English MPs should be determined. Different systems based on population, landmass and tax contributions all yielded drastically different results. The English commissioners preferred the latter system, which would have granted just thirty Scottish seats at Westminster (as had been the case under Cromwell's union little over a decade previously). Scottish demands for greater representation hindered any progress in the talks.

Despite the proposal of some inventive solutions – including the idea that the otherwise independent parliaments of Scotland and England might join together at Westminster to form a British parliament in times of national emergency [13] – the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on the issue. The negotiations which had begun so promisingly gradually ground to a halt.


The issue of parliamentary representation would prove to be the undoing of the 1670 union negotiations.

Yet as the two opposing camps continued to strive for some sort of accommodation, there was a flourishing of political debate across Britain.

Most notably, strong roots for the particular brand of Scottish unionism that so influenced the Union of 1707 were firmly established, even if at times only in a rather embryonic form.

Certainly, much of the impetus for particular union plans came from north of the border. In contrast to Charles' five proposed heads of discussion, Lauderdale had suggested a more thorough set of ten points around which the negotiations should be conducted. In doing so, he indicated that unlike the majority of Scottish commissioners, he would have been contented with thirty Scottish seats at Westminster. [14]

Lauderdale was not the only Scotsman to be outspoken in favour of union. Perhaps the project's most vociferous champion was John Hay, Earl of Tweeddale.

Tweeddale indisputably displayed what Clare Jackson terms a form of "principled unionism". He had served as a member of parliament for Scotland at Westminster during Cromwell's short-lived Commonwealth, and he had witnessed first-hand the benefits to economic prosperity and national security that union would bring.

This latter point seemed to be at the forefront of Tweeddale's unionism, and no doubt the designs that the absolutist French monarchs had long harboured against Scotland were in his mind when he commented that "if a king of deep designs against public liberty should caress the Scots, he might easily engage them", and that such a figure would be able to "carry Scotland to any design he thought fit to engage in". [15]

Meanwhile, the Scots physician Christopher Irvine published pro-union material, including one tract entitled 'The union of the two kingdoms of Scotland and England'; largely composed of speeches and excerpts from the writings of Francis Bacon. It made a case for union with a particular emphasis on the importance of free trade. [16]

Although the union negotiations of 1670 never witnessed the popular debates which preceded the Union of 1707, there were also a handful of outspoken anti-union figures that emerged in response to the 1670 discussions.

There were three lawyers who were particularly hostile to any attempt at union: Robert Dickson, George Gordon of Haddo and George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (whose cousin and namesake would later become a champion of the Union of 1707).

Their argument focused on the claim that union subverted fundamental laws, and that parliament was unable to abolish itself without unanimous support for the measure. Mackenzie's 'Discourse concerning the three unions between Scotland and England' noted the woes that earlier attempts at British governance had wrought throughout the mid-century, while another of his tracts entitled 'The crown of Scotland was not subject to England' addressed English claims to feudal superiority over the Scots. [17]

How much traction such anti-union arguments gained is difficult to discern. As the Scottish parliament secured almost unanimous support for the initiation of union discussions, Tweeddale felt confident enough to assert that George Mackenzie's dissenting outcries were "in love of singularity as much as solituide". [18]


The failure of the Scottish and English negotiators to reach an agreement on the number of Scottish seats at Westminster ultimately led to the failure of the negotiations.

Despite their swift agreement on the creation of a British state under a united British crown, Charles postponed the debates until March 1671, only to abandon them before this date was reached. [19]

Charles claimed the reason for this was that there were more weighty matters to attend to. Some suspected a more sinister motivation. The avowed anti-unionist George Mackenzie noted in his memoirs that:

"...whilst the kingdoms stood divided, his Majesty had two Parliaments, whereof the one might always be exemplary to the other, and might, by a loyal emulation, excite one another to an entire obedience." [20]

Mackenzie observed of Charles that Scotland was "a kingdom wherein he might, by his prerogative, govern much more absolutely than in England". [21]

John Clerk, a union commissioner in the negotiations leading up to the Union of 1707, believed that Charles had looked to keep Scotland as something of a security policy – a base to which he could retreat and rebuild support if his policies caused rebellion in England:

"The Scot's proposal...that he should complete the great work of union begun by his grandfather was less welcome to the King than was believed, for he secretly chose to keep his loyal and loving Scottish subjects hostile to England in case...he would need their help to put down disturbances in England." [22]

Whether due to a failure of the Anglo-Scottish commissioners to reach an agreement, or due to Charles' reluctance, the union negotiations of 1670 ultimately failed in their goal of creating a unified British state.

They were, however, undeniably crucial in establishing the foundations for the successful Union of 1707, and it was in 1670 that the Union of 1707 first began to take clear shape.

Indeed, the chief differences between 1670 and 1707 were not so much about the nature of the union proposals as they were about the circumstances in which they were discussed. The parliaments of both Scotland and England were far more eager to embrace union after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which had secured monarchical respect for the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.

During this time, it is clear that there were patriotic Scots who were willing to champion union for noble reasons. Antonia Fraser remarks that "in the sense that Lauderdale did intend to right the many grievances of the Scots – suffering as second-class citizens – by an Act of Union, he did display both understanding and patriotism". [23]

The contributions that such men made to the union project in Scotland are worth recalling. They serve as a reminder that Scottish nationalists do not have a monopoly on patriotism, or on Scottish interests. Capturing the spirit of this principled unionism is invaluable to contemporary unionism in Scotland.


1. C. Jackson, 'The Anglo-Scottish union negotiations of 1670' in T. Claydon & T.N. Corns, Religion, Culture and National Community in the 1670s (University of Wales Press, 2011), p.35.

2. Ibid.

3. Antonia Fraser, King Charles II (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1979).

4. 'Charles II: An Act authorizing certaine Commissioners of the Realme of England to treate with Commissioners of Scotland for the Weale of both Kingdomes.' (1670), in Statutes of the Realm: Volume 5, 1628-80, ed. John Raithby (s.l, 1819), pp. 663-664 at [accessed 7 March 2015].

5. Jackson, p.37.

6. Ibid, p.41.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Fraser.

10. Jackson, pp.39-41.

11. Ibid., p.36.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., p.52.

14. Ibid., p.43.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., p.48.

17. Ibid., pp.48-49.

18. Ibid., p.46.

19. Ibid., p.36.

20. Ibid., p.50.

21. Ibid.

22. John Clerk, History of the Union of Scotland and England, ed. & trans. by D. Duncan (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1993), p.80.

23. Fraser.


Part 4: 1668 and 1670 Union Negotiations



Featured Posts
Recent Posts
bottom of page