24. Refashioning the State, 1688-1714


Prof: Okay.
Let’s get started.
When I was at school we were
often told that one of the great things about British history was
that the country had never been successfully invaded by a
foreign power since 1066 when William the Conqueror and the
Normans conquered the Saxon kingdom,
and this was part of the national story as we got it.
There was a great deal of
emphasis upon successfully resisting foreign powers,
the Spanish Armada, Napoleon, Hitler,
whatever. So no successful foreign
invasion since 1066, and this makes a good story,
but unfortunately it’s not actually true.
Britain was very successfully
invaded in November 1688 by a largely Dutch army under William
of Orange, Stadtholder of the Netherlands.
But that of course didn’t count.
The whole events of 1688 had
been successfully repackaged as the essential prelude to the
English Revolution Part Two, the Glorious Revolution of
1688, taken in the classic Whig interpretation of national
history as a fundamental watershed.
Before 1688,
the country had been beset with chronic political instability
and indeed social conflict. 1688 cleared the way.
It cleared the way for the
establishment of a stable constitutional monarchy;
cleared the way for political liberty.
It cleared the way for
religious toleration and cultural pluralism,
the triumph of Whig principles in that respect;
and security of property and growing economic opulence and
the formation of the United Kingdom by the Union of England
and Scotland, and finally the successful
assertion of national power internationally and the growth
of an overseas empire. Well, these are some of the key
elements classically stressed from the eighteenth century
onwards in Whig historiography. It’s a bit of a myth;
a particular, rather self-serving,
interpretation of the national past with a strong ideological
message about what it is to be British.
But like all historiographical
myths of that kind it did have a kernel of truth,
even if it airbrushed out an awful lot of the real
complexities of the story and tended to represent as being
almost inevitable a set of outcomes which were in fact far
more complex, far more hesitant,
far more messy than was usually recognized.
But still, be that as it may,
these are the processes that we need to consider in the final
days of this course. Well, as you’ll remember,
by 1688 King James II had succeeded in undermining the
initial strength of his position when he came to the crown by
utterly alienating what’s usually referred to as the Tory
Anglican majority in the political nation,
people upon whom Charles II had counted when he faced down the
Whig opposition in the Exclusion Crisis of 1678 to ’81.
And, at the same time as he
alienated those people, James had failed to win the
trust and support of the Protestant dissenters,
the low church Anglicans who had been the backbone of the
Whig and exclusionist cause. The extent of this general
alienation from the King and his policies was of course revealed
in the fact that some of the leaders of the political nation
were willing to actively support intervention by a foreign power
in 1688, indeed to invite it in their
famous letter to William III. And even more,
including James II’s own army, were willing at least to
acquiesce in the face of William’s intervention.
They sat on their hands.
To this extent one could say
that the Revolution of 1688 was in different ways both a Whig
and a Tory revolution. It was in part an elite coup
d’etat; it was in part a country
revolution. It merged a range of political
opinion in opposition to James, in opposition to the specter of
“popery and arbitrary power.”
And the political settlement as
it emerged reflected that composite character of the
Revolution. On the 22^(nd) of January 1689,
a Convention Parliament met to begin working out the
settlement. It had, it’s estimated,
319 members of broadly Whig sympathy and 232 of broadly Tory
sympathy plus the House of Lords,
but the debates as they went on seemed to have become largely
dominated by those of the middle ground who managed to hold the
minorities of extremists of both political persuasions in check.
It seems to have been one of
those rare but instructive situations in history when the
center is tough and holds firm. The Convention’s formal
definition of the situation reflected that.
It resolved — and I’m quoting
— it resolved almost unanimously that,
“King James II, having attempted to subvert the
constitution of the kingdom by breaking the contract between
king and people and by the advice of Jesuits and other
wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws and having
withdrawn himself out of this kingdom has abdicated the
government and that the throne is thereby vacant.”
That’s what they resolved,
and note carefully in those words;
it’s another masterpiece of ambiguity comparable to the
communion service in the Anglican Prayer Book of 1559,
which you’ll remember. They say that James broke the
contract between king and people.
That’s Whig ideology,
the notion of a contract. But he also withdrew himself
and abdicated, so he hadn’t actually been
deposed for his offenses. That’s an appeal to Tory
sympathy. They didn’t believe in
resistance to a divinely appointed and anointed king;
so he’d abdicated. As for the Jesuits and so
forth, well, everyone could agree on that.
And in all of this of course
the status of the baby Prince James was conveniently
forgotten. Now this kind of
interpret-it-your-own-way attitude also suffused a lot of
the rest of the settlement as it unfolded in 1689 and 1690.
William was not content to be
simply a regent, but he and Mary shared the
crown until her death in 1694. He was king in effect but he
wasn’t an elected king. He held the crown in right of
his wife who was a legitimate Stuart heir, the Protestant
daughter of James II by his first marriage.
And it was agreed that Mary’s
youngest sister, Princess Anne,
would be the next heir, ahead of any children that
William and Mary themselves might have.
Again, all very odd.
The Convention also drew up a
Declaration of Rights later passed into law as the Bill of
Rights. It was clear on some matters
which found almost universal assent, but it was also cautious
and ambiguous in other respects. The power of the monarch,
for example, to suspend the laws was
declared to be illegal but the dispensing power of the monarch,
the traditional dispensing power, was illegal “only as
it hath been exercised of late,” i.e.,
as it had been exercised by James II.
Parliaments should be called
frequently and should be freely elected, but as yet there were
no specific measures to ensure that that would happen.
Roman Catholics were to be
excluded from the crown, but as yet there was no
specific provision to ensure that that would be the case.
And, above all,
the status of the whole document was rather obscure.
It looked rather like a
contract with the new monarchs, but in fact the offer of the
crown to William and Mary was not made conditional upon
accepting it. The offer of the crown was
actually made on the 13^(th) of February before the Declaration
of Rights had been presented to William and Mary,
and they hadn’t formally accepted it before they were
proclaimed monarchs the next day.
So 1689 saw a series of
measures intended to advance the transfer of power to William and
Mary and that was rapidly consolidated with other acts of
Parliament which again reflect the coalition of interests
involved in the Revolution. They passed a Mutiny Act.
That laid down that no standing
army would be permitted in peace time unless authorized by
Parliament. They voted income to the crown
by taxation but the sums which were voted were well known to be
inadequate for even peacetime administration,
let alone war time, and so Parliament would always
be needed in order to grant additional necessary supply.
They passed a Toleration Act.
Protestant dissenters were
allowed to worship publicly, and by the end of 1690 some
9,000 dissenting meeting houses had been opened,
but they were still not accorded full civil rights.
The Church of England remained
the legally established church, the Test Acts were still there
to exclude nonmembers of the Church of England from holding
public office. But Protestant dissenters were
allowed to worship openly and meanwhile Roman Catholics,
Unitarians and Jews were permitted to worship in private.
They were tolerated, officially.
Altogether the settlement of
1688 and ‘9 constituted a kind of pragmatic compromise
designed, obviously enough,
to appeal to as many people as possible and to alienate as few
as possible from the Revolutionary Settlement.
John Morrill has put it well,
he calls it “a centrist compromise and a constitutional
blur.” And as with the Elizabethan
religious settlement of 1559 it was full of inconsistencies and
it remained to be seen just how they would work it out in
practice, how it would be worked out by
political groups who had somewhat different
interpretations of just what it actually meant.
But worked out it was.
And in the course of the next
twenty-five years or so that involved a significant
refashioning of the state as a result,
and the emergence by 1714 of a British state of a shape and
structure which no one had quite anticipated in 1688.
Well, that British state was
shaped partly by political principles.
It was shaped partly by
political and religious prejudices, and partly also by
the constraining force of immediate circumstances.
And of those circumstances the
dominant circumstance was war. The modern British state,
it could be said, was forged under the stresses
of war. William of Orange hadn’t
intervened in 1688 out of his deep personal concern for
England’s religion and liberties.
His intervention was part and
parcel of his life’s mission of containing the threatened
hegemony of the French monarchy of Louis XIV and in particular
the threat it posed to his own country,
the Netherlands. And the price of William’s
intervention was war. War first of all to defend the
Revolutionary Settlement against Jacobite risings —
Jacobites being supporters of James —
Jacobite risings in Scotland in 1689 to ’90,
then to oust James II from Ireland where he’d landed with
an army in 1689 to ’91, culminating in the Battle of
the Boyne at which James was defeated and fled back to
France. Then war in the Netherlands
against Louis XIV between 1688 and 1697 to contain the French
who were James’ principal supporters,
and then again after William III’s death in 1702 renewed war
between 1702 and 1713 to defeat the renewed menace of French
hegemony, which included French
recognition of the claims of James II’s son.
James had died in 1701.
His son and heir,
James III, to those who supported him,
was known as “The Pretender”
to the crowns of England and Scotland;
thirteen years old when his father died.
So then between 1688 and 1713
we have a whole generation of major wars being fought on land
and sea, mostly against the French.
Given its commitment to the
Revolution, the political nation
represented in Parliament was willing,
though very reluctant, to recognize the need for these
wars. But at the same time Parliament
was acutely sensitive to the danger that they might lead to a
buildup of royal power which might threaten its own position,
might raise again that specter of arbitrary power.
Out of the interaction of that
necessity to fight the wars and that anxiety about where they
might lead, there eventually emerged what
was, on the one hand, a far more powerful state
apparatus — it’s been described famously by
John Brewer as the “fiscal military state”
which emerges at this time — and yet, on the other hand,
it was a more powerful state apparatus which remained very
firmly under parliamentary control.
The key to the whole process,
as you’ll be aware, was finance,
but to understand that we have to step back first a little bit
in time and look at what’s known as the ‘Financial Revolution’.
Now, as you know,
by the standards of the day England was a relatively rich
country by the late seventeenth century and getting richer.
Earlier in the century,
however, governments had rarely succeeded in tapping that wealth
effectively for their own purposes.
The late seventeenth and early
eighteenth centuries and the so-called Financial Revolution
saw a transformation of the ‘fiscal capacity’ of the state,
that is its ability to raise money for its purposes,
and consequently a transformation of its capacity
for effective action. And this was the outcome of
developments which, in the words of one recent
historian of the Financial Revolution,
“transformed the willingness,
rather than the ability, of the English people to pay
high taxes, lend large sums,
and above all repose great trust in the financial
institutions of their parliamentary government.”
That’s Henry Roseveare I’m
quoting. Parliamentary government and
the trust which it could inspire was perhaps indeed the key to
this whole development. Under Charles II,
Parliament’s ultimate control of the public purse was of
course not in doubt but, as you know,
suspicion of the crown’s policies could mean that
Parliament was unwilling to grant supply.
Indeed, in 1672 the situation
in royal finances had become so bad,
the crown became so overstretched as a debtor,
that it led to what’s known as the ‘Stop of the Exchequer’ in
which Charles II postponed repayments of his debts to
private lenders. Many London bankers were
completely ruined as a result. It was a very severe blow to
the crown’s credit and its ability to raise money.
Well after 1688 that kind of
situation was transformed, transformed in less than ten
years, in the face of the need to
raise money for the wars fought to defend the Revolutionary
Settlement. It’s a long and complex story,
but the essence of it all was quite nicely contained in a
statement made by Lord Macaulay in his history of all this
written back in 1848. Macaulay wrote,
“from a period of immemorial antiquity it has been
the practice of every English government to contract debts.
What the Revolution introduced
was the practice of honestly paying them back.”
Parliament was now fully in
control not only of grant of supply but of its expenditure.
Annual estimates were made of
need. Supply was voted.
The accounts were audited by
parliamentary commissioners. Revenue was now regarded as the
public revenue rather than the monarch’s revenue.
And from 1698 even the ordinary
day-to-day expenses of the crown were controlled by an annual
grant, the so-called ‘Civil List’,
the money paid for running the day-to-day business of the
monarchy, as still happens.
Parliament sanctioned a whole
series of devices to raise money for the war.
In 1690, it voted a Land Tax,
a quite heavy tax on landowners which brought in a reliable
annual income. Loans were raised on the
security of parliamentary taxation.
Longer term borrowing was
achieved by means of the sale of annuities to the public with the
regular payment of those annuities secured by
parliamentary taxation. They tried out lotteries as a
way of raising money, again with Parliament’s
sanction. In 1694, the Bank of England
was chartered. Lenders were brought to
subscribe to a 1.2 million pound loan with the interest and the
eventual repayment of the capital guaranteed from
taxation. The Bank of England was not a
central bank in the modern sense, but it was a vehicle
devised to raise money for the needs of the state.
There was also the development
of a market in various forms of state securities,
these new state securities which were being issued.
They could be sold on to third
parties and it was at the core of the emergence of dealings in
stocks, the beginnings of the London Stock Exchange.
All of this was initiated in a
piecemeal and a rather improvised manner,
year by year they dreamed up something new as a way of
raising the money they needed. But gradually by the early
eighteenth century it had coalesced into a system,
and fundamental to the whole emerging edifice was an
effective tax system which made possible the servicing of a
growing public debt. Initially the Land Tax,
quite heavy, about 20% on landed income in
the richest counties, and then increasingly the use
of the Excise, which was indirect taxes
collected by a growing corpus of public officials,
Excise Men as they were known. And as this system developed
there was a growth of confidence in the financial probity and
reliability of the state, and that growing confidence
transformed people’s willingness to lend their money to the
government. Public revenues increased
massively. By 1700, it’s been estimated
that about 9% of national income was being taken in taxation,
and by the same year about a third of the revenue raised by
the state was being used to fund the debts.
By 1714, the national debt had
risen to 48 million pounds, a massive sum by the standards
of the day, most of it funded by
parliamentary pledges to pay the interest and eventually the
principal. In 1717, after the end of the
War of the Spanish Succession, a variety of sinking funds were
established to pay off parts of the debt,
but it was generally recognized that a public debt of some size,
reliably serviced in the way I’ve described,
would be a permanent fact of life thereafter.
In short, what they’d done in
the Financial Revolution was to create,
gradually, a stable system of public credit based upon
parliamentary taxation and with it a regime which has been
described as having “the political support,
the administrative capacity and the fiscal base required to
accumulate and service a perpetual national debt.”
So in the years after 1688 the
fiscal capacity of the state was rapidly and massively
transformed. John Brewer calls this a
“fiscal military state” because so much of
the enhanced public revenue was spent on war.
Military expenditure as a
proportion of national income was about 2% at the death of
Charles II in 1685. By 1700 it was 4%,
in 1710 at the height of the War of the Spanish Succession it
peaked at over 14%, and then it settled down after
peace came in 1714 at about 5% even in peace time,
mostly as a result of the regular expenditure which was
maintaining the Royal Navy as a permanent military presence.
Now all of this could have been
potentially destabilizing, and there were times in the
1690s as they went from year to year trying to raise money that
the whole thing sometimes teetered on the edge of
potential collapse. There was a real risk in 1696
that they wouldn’t be able to raise enough money,
for example, to pay the army.
But they managed to sustain it.
They improvised their way
through and eventually, as I said, it coalesced into a
system which provided the underpinning for the emergence
of England as a significant military power,
a significant world power. But if Parliament was willing
to provide the resources which made possible that kind of
growth in the power of the state,
Parliament also exacted a price. It exacted a price politically.
As John Brewer shows,
the prevalent suspicion of central government amongst
parliamentarians meant that they exerted themselves to try to
shape this emergent state apparatus in ways that would
accord with their own preferences,
their so-called country attitudes, their suspicion of
central government. The need for annual
parliamentary supply meant that Parliament became a permanent
part of the government of the country.
They had to have parliamentary
sessions every single year. No one had anticipated that.
It just happened;
it was necessary. The money which was granted to
the government by these parliaments was very carefully
monitored according to the system of ‘appropriation’,
the principle of ‘appropriation’.
That’s to say parliamentary
grants could be used only for the purposes for which they had
been granted. Therefore, policy had to be in
accord with Parliament’s wishes, to meet Parliament’s approval.
Royal ministers might be chosen
by the crown but, again, they needed to be men
who could command the support of a majority in the House of
Commons. If they had no majority in the
House of Commons, they were unable to achieve
anything, they were unable to get the supply that they needed.
And in other more specific
ways, as Brewer puts it, “fiscal control put the
bite into the bark of country politics.”
Sometimes they would tack on to
revenue bills a Place Act. That was an act which attempted
to exclude government officials from the House of Commons in
order to preserve the independence of Parliament.
In 1694, William III was forced
to accept a new and strengthened Triennial Act,
under which Parliament should be not only called every three
years but should not sit longer than three years without new
elections. So they had to have elections
every three years, a very significant curtailment
of the royal prerogative to call and then to dissolve Parliament
when the king chose. William resisted it strongly
but he had to give way in the end.
By 1700, the relationship
between the ministers in the royal government,
those who sat in the Cabinet, and Parliament,
had become the crucial axis of political life.
And the struggle of those
ministers to establish and to maintain a working majority in
Parliament, above all in the House of
Commons, was giving rise to an increasingly vigorous brand of
organized party politics in Parliament.
The old abusive labels,
Whig and Tory, which, as you know,
had first appeared to hurl against your enemies in the
Exclusion Crisis, these were now revived and
perpetuated to describe different groupings,
groupings which had different interpretations of the meaning
of the Revolution and differences of view about how
the Revolutionary Settlement should be developed.
By 1700, the Whigs and the
Tories were fairly organized groups: they had their own
favorite meeting places in London,
they had their own newspapers, they had their own national
followings. The adversarial politics of
Whigs and Tories influenced political life at the level of
the city, at the level of county politics.
It erupted periodically in the
vigorous contests of the many general elections which were
held between 1695 and 1715. There were ten general
elections in those years in which it’s estimated something
like a quarter of the adult male population exercised their votes
and the election campaigns were full of competing —
of competition — for seats in which the Whigs and Tories
organized their supporters. These alignments were even such
that in the city of York, where they had assembly rooms
where polite society met to hold balls and other occasions,
concerts and so forth, there was one assembly room for
the Whigs and one for the Tories.
But if Whigs and Tories fought
furiously for dominance in both Parliament and in local
politics, there were also vital areas in
which they were fundamentally at one,
and that was revealed in 1701 when the death of Princess
Anne’s only child, the ultimate heir to the
throne, called into question the future succession of the crown.
This precipitated the so-called
Act of Settlement of 1701. It’s known as the Act of
Settlement but the actual title of the act is quite significant.
It was actually called “An
Act for the Further Limitation of the Crown and Better Securing
the Rights of the Subject”. This act, which obtained
support from both sides politically,
passed over fifty-seven possible claimants to the crown
on the grounds that they were Roman Catholics and it fixed the
succession on the Electress Sophia of Hanover,
ruler of a small north German principality who was descended
from King James I. Sophia of Hanover and her heirs
were chosen as the nearest Protestant successors.
The Act also required that
future monarchs should be communicants of the Church of
England; it forbade their marriage to
Roman Catholics; it restricted the movements of
the monarch outside the kingdom, they could not leave the
kingdom without permission; and, in addition,
it made royal privy councilors more accountable to Parliament,
restricted the election of placemen from the government to
the House of Commons, and declared that,
in future, judges in the law courts should enjoy their tenure
during good behavior and not merely at the will of the
monarch. So a specific contingency,
the problem over the succession,
gave rise to a far-reaching set of statutory restrictions on the
crown’s actions which found widespread support.
In sum then,
by the time Queen Anne came to the throne in 1702 with the
prospect of the future Hanoverian succession,
which actually eventually took place in 1714 when Electress
Sophia’s son, George, became king,,
with all of that it can be said that some of the fundamental
political issues which had so disturbed the seventeenth
century were close to being resolved,
with general acceptance of those resolutions.
The issue of the security of
the Protestant religion and of the toleration of religious
dissenters had been resolved. The issue of Parliament’s role
and its permanence in the constitution had been resolved.
The issue of the royal
prerogative in matters of state and how far it could be
controlled or reduced. The problem of effective
government finance. The problem of how to contain
differences of political principle without those partisan
differences leading to the breakdown of government or to
civil war had been resolved with party politics.
The structures and practices of
the English state had been refashioned in a manner which
both enhanced the power of the state and at the same time
contained the power of the state in ways which would be conducive
to safeguarding the liberties of the subject.
Well, one final element remains.
From 1707, this emergent state
was not just an English but a British state,
with the constitutional union in May 1707 of England and
Scotland. Ireland remained technically a
separate kingdom until 1801, though one ruled by a
Protestant landed elite. Now in Scotland much of the
kingdom, particularly lowland Scotland
and some parts of the Highlands, those parts of the western
Highlands of Scotland which were dominated by the Clan Campbell
who were both Protestants and Whigs in politics,
much of Scotland then had welcomed the Revolution of 1688.
And rebellions by some of the
Jacobite clans of highland Scotland were swiftly put down
in 1690. But in the years that followed,
if the 1690s witnessed a kind of resurgence of Scotland’s
political independence it was also a profoundly traumatic
decade for the Scots. Scotland remained a relatively
poor country; magnificent landscape but
somewhat barren. It was largely a subsistence
economy in the rural areas and it was a very fragile one.
In 1695 to ’99,
Scotland suffered dreadful famine known as the “ill
Years of King William.” It’s possible that as much as
13% of the population of Scotland died in those years and
indeed much more in the most marginal highland areas.
In the highland Aberdeenshire
up here, the highland areas of
northeastern Scotland, it’s estimated that perhaps a
third of the population died in the 1690s.
Scotland had relatively little
manufacturing industry. It was little developed.
The most important sector was
the manufacture of linen on Tayside up here and over near
Glasgow in the west, and this was an industry which
was principally dependent upon selling that linen to English
markets. Overseas trade was also
relatively limited. Scotland was excluded from
England’s colonial trade as a separate kingdom,
and efforts made by some Scots in the 1690s to try to establish
a colonial foothold of their own,
when they attempted to establish a colony in Panama,
the Darien scheme in 1695 to ’99, unfortunately those efforts
proved to be a disastrous failure.
Not least because the English
government refused to help a venture which antagonized Spain
by attempting to establish a Scottish colonial presence in
territories regarded as part of the Spanish empire.
Well, all of these unhappy
events provided the political and economic context of the
Union of 1707. The Scots were extremely
conscious, of course, of their distinctive national
identity and history. They were anxious to preserve
their national integrity. In the 1690s,
the Scottish Parliament was enjoying a greater independence
from the crown than it had ever done so hitherto.
But economically the most
dynamic sectors of the Scottish economy were heavily dependent
upon England and some Scots were also attracted to the
possibility of obtaining greater access to English markets and
participation as equals in English colonial trade.
Meanwhile, the English
government was interested in a closer union with Scotland for
quite different reasons, for largely political reasons.
In 1701, when the Act of
Settlement was passed fixing the succession in the Hanoverian
line, the Scottish Parliament did not
at first follow England’s lead in recognizing the Hanoverian
succession. This raised,
in the early years of the eighteenth century,
a potentially dangerous situation.
What if the Scottish Parliament
decided to recognize a Stuart succession,
decided to vest their crown in the old line,
the Stuart line, after Queen Anne’s death?
If that happened it could
potentially provide a major security risk.
It could return to a situation
in which the two kingdoms, which had been joined only in
the person of their monarchs, might fully separate.
That might pose a new threat to
England from the north, especially if the Scots had a
Stuart crown allied to the French.
The English government
therefore began to put on pressure for a union which would
remove that threat and they were willing to use economic leverage
to try to do so. In 1705, the English parliament
passed the Alien Acts, which excluded the Scots from
English markets unless they commenced negotiations for a
possible union. And, on the other hand,
it held out the prospect of economic advantages for Scotland
if they were willing to do so. Now in Scotland the issue was
very passionately debated both in Parliament and in the streets
of Edinburgh, but in those debates the
economic advantages of union soon came well to the fore.
As one opponent of the union,
Alexander Fletcher of Saltoun, put it, the economic issues
were “the bait that covers the hook.”
And, in the event,
that carried the day with those of the Scottish elite in
Scotland’s Parliament who ended up making the decision.
In 1707, after protracted
negotiations a Treaty of Union was at last agreed.
There would be a single United
Kingdom of Great Britain with a single flag, the “Union
Jack.” You’ll see, lovingly drawn on
the bottom of your handout, the St.
George flag of England,
the St. Andrew’s flag of Scotland,
and how they merged together into the Union Jack,
a flag now familiar to us on the tops of mini-cars and on
swimming costumes.>
The Hanoverian succession to
the united throne was recognized.
The Scots would join a single
parliament for the United Kingdom meeting in Westminster.
Sixteen members would be sent
to the House of Lords, forty-five to the House of
Commons, in rough proportion to population.
The Scottish legal system,
however, would retain its full jurisdictional independence.
The Scottish church,
the Kirk, would also retain its independence as a Presbyterian
church. But fifteen of the twenty-five
articles of the Treaty of Union concerned economic arrangements.
The Scots would be granted full
access to English trade. Lower taxes would be levied in
Scotland, because of the relative economic poverty of
Scotland as compared to England. Scotland’s industries would be
protected. Substantial compensation would
be paid to those Scots who had lost heavily through their
investment in the Darien adventure of the 1690s.
And so on the first of May,
1707, Scotland’s Parliament dissolved itself,
not to meet again until the year 1999 when it was reinstated
as part of the current constitutional reconfiguration
of the United Kingdom. So the Union had taken place.
Was it, one might ask,
a union of absorption, a union in which Scotland was
to be dominated by England, a union of absorption,
or was it to be a union of fusion,
one of cooperation rather than domination?
Many Scots at the time feared
that it would be the former. In the long run I think it
turned out to be more the latter.
Scots certainly proved to have
a quite disproportionately large role,
almost from the beginning of the Union,
in the running of the British Empire for example.
But in the early eighteenth
century it was not yet quite either.
England was not actually much
interested in dominating Scotland beyond the question of
security, and indeed Scottish affairs
remained largely in the hands of Scots themselves.
Conversely, it took a while
before Scotland was able to fully exploit the economic
advantages of Union, though by the 1750s they were
indeed doing so very successfully.
The emergence of Glasgow as one
of the major Atlantic ports is one of the biggest success
stories of that part of the Union.
The Union then,
one could say, confirmed neither the fears nor
initially the full hopes of the Scots who had agreed to it.
But from the English point of
view it had resolved a pressing security problem and it
completed the refashioning of the state which had been
introduced by the Revolution of 1688.
Culturally, there was an
England and a Scotland and a Wales,
as there still is, but politically by 1714 there
was what Jonathan Swift described as that “crazy
double-bottomed realm Great Britain.”
And crazy it was in many ways;
a monarchy which was actually run by a Parliament,
truly a monarchical republic, in which the king after 1701
actually had fewer powers than were later granted to presidents
of the United States. A confessional state and yet a
confessional state which actually had two established
religions, the Church of England in
England, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in Scotland,
and which, by 1714, was headed by a king who was
actually a German Lutheran, but was an Anglican when he was
in England and a Presbyterian when he was in Scotland,
and meanwhile practicing greater religious freedom than
was tolerated by any other state save the Netherlands.
An offshore island deeply
hostile to foreign involvement, deeply hostile to militarism,
and yet which was playing a key role in destroying the threat of
Louis XIV’s monarchy and which had emerged as a great military
power. It was all very confusing,
but there it was. They had finally muddled
through to something that worked.

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