Although England and Scotland had shared a monarch since the Union of Crowns in 1603, they had remained separate states operating under the control of separate governments. Essentially, the monarch wore two crowns simultaneously, and the respective parliaments governed their own nations. In spite of three separate attempts to unify the countries in the years following the Union of Crowns, (1606, 1667, and 1689) it was not until the reign of Queen Anne in 1702 that a union came to fruition.
Shortly before his death in 1702, King William III had attempted to set the wheels in motion for unification discussions. After his death, however, the union talks fell apart. The Tories had taken power and they had little interest in unifying with Presbyterian Scotland. Further disagreement about the allocation of taxes and Scotland’s access to English trade routes served to completely undermine the talks. Meanwhile in Scotland, a new parliament had been elected.
The Duke of Queensberry served as the Lord High Commissioner, or, the Queen’s personal representative to Scottish Parliament. Queensberry attempted to find a middle ground between the new parliament and the Queen’s interests, but he failed in his attempts. By mid-1703, Scottish Parliament had proposed an Act of Security which, if enacted, would protect the Scottish institutions from the possibility of union. Furthermore, the act mandated that the Queen’s successor in Scotland would not be the same person who wore the English crown, unless Scotland was guaranteed virtually complete independence from England’s influence. Scotland’s parliamentary defiance of England passed easily.
With the lines of conflict drawn, the Queen set about preparing her response. In a show of power, England presented the Scottish Parliament with two options: (1) enter into fresh negotiations for a union on the conditions that there be full unification of the parliaments and full free trade; or, (2) have all staple exports to England banned in addition to losing all the legal rights of Englishman. Hard choice, right? Not really. After some foot dragging and protesting, the Scottish Parliament obtained enough support to agree to negotiate. Unsurprisingly, however, they could not agree about how to select the members for their negotiation commission. In a move that stunned many members of the Scottish Parliament, one of the chief opponents of unification backed down and allowed the Queen to choose which members from Scotland would negotiate. This surprising concession effectively allowed the Queen to hand-select the men who would negotiate.
In April 1706, the Scottish representatives were presented the proposal that:
“the two kingdoms of England and Scotland be forever united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain; that the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same parliament; and that the succession to the monarchy of Great Britain be vested in the House of Hanover.”
As would be expected, the new negotiations managed to reach agreement within three days. The English received confirmation that the Hanoverian line would succeed to the Scottish throne. The Scottish in turn received access to the English trade routes and colonial markets. Scotland’s focus on obtaining trade expansion received a fair amount of opposition from those who saw it as a simple exchange of political autonomy for potential economic growth, or, more realistically, freedom for money. By July 1706, however, the negotiations had concluded. They had established a date by which their new Articles of Union had to be ratified by both parliaments: 1 May 1707.
With the date set, the negotiation members returned to their respective parliament to begin debate. Scotland would be the first to consider whether to accept the Articles of Union. Over several months from October 1706 to January 1707 the Scottish Parliament debated the 25 proposed articles. At the outset, strong opposition to the articles came from those who believed the Scottish Kirk would be undermined if unification were to take place. Within days of the debate’s opening, however, the Kirk itself gave assent to the union treaty, a move that paved the way for successful passage. Another factor that helped sway the balance came in the form of bribes. The Queen’s representative at the debate was again Queensberry and he was quite liberal in his promises of appointment, honor, and money.
As the bribes and pressure began to take effect, the Scottish Parliament gradually ratified one article at a time. By the time they reached Article 22, it was apparent to the opposition that defeat was inevitable. Article 22, in their eyes, was a death-knell to the very independence for which Scotland had fought; it sealed the abolishment of Scottish Parliament and assented to their representation in the new British Parliament at a ratio of 10-to-1 in favor of the English members. The 25th and last article was approved on 14 January 1707. Before the formal ratification of the entire Union with England Act, Scotland ensured the independence of the Kirk by including an act guaranteeing a Presbyterian Kirk.
On 16 January 1707, Scottish Parliament voted on the Union with England Act. (Parliamentary Minutes, Thursday 16 January 1707) Effectively, the vote was a final approval of the terms of the Act of Union, as England would simply have to ratify the act before 1 May. Passage of the act was easily won by a margin of 110 to 67. As a signification of the Queen’s approval, Queensberry touched the ratified act with the royal sceptre. Scotland had assented to union with England and to the absorption of its parliament into England’s.
For a full text of the Union with England Act of 1707 as passed by Scottish Parliament, click [here].