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date: 01 July 2022

England, Scotland, and the Acts of Union (1707)free

England, Scotland, and the Acts of Union (1707)free

  • Alexander Murdoch

'One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain'

On 1 May 1707 England and Scotland (since 1603 a union of crowns) became the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain'. The new united kingdom was to be represented by a ‘union’ flag and governed by a British parliament at Westminster and a shared head of state (with the contentious issue of monarchical succession now settled in favour of the protestant house of Hanover).

Moves toward an 'incorporating union' of England and Scotland—comprising a single parliament and free trade area (as opposed to a federation or a trading union)—had gained momentum among English whigs in the closing years of William III's reign. By then the king, a long-standing supporter of union, was increasingly aware of England's vulnerability if confronted by a Franco-Scottish alliance—a concern heightened by the Scottish parliament's refusal to settle the succession on the Hanoverians. Days before his death in March 1702 William had addressed the English parliament on his wish for 'some happy Expedient for making … One people' (JHL, 16.514).

James Hamilton, fourth duke of Hamilton and first duke of Brandon (1658–1712)

by Jacob Ferdinand Voet, 1678

in the collection of Lennoxlove House, Haddington

Efforts by English and Scottish commissioners in 1702–3 to negotiate the terms of union came to nothing, and left unresolved the questions of monarchical succession and the nature of any future union. There followed in both countries legislation which profoundly soured Anglo-Scottish relations. During the 1703–4 session the Edinburgh parliament approved the Act of Peace and War by which, following the death of Queen Anne, the parliament would assume the crown prerogative to declare war and conclude peace; this was followed by the Act of Security which (unless parliamentary and religious freedoms were ensured) would give Scots the right to choose Anne's successor from outside the house of Hanover. In 1705 the English introduced the Alien Act by which Scots in England were to be treated as aliens and elements of Scots trade embargoed unless the Hanoverian succession was recognized.

In Scotland concern over the implications of the Alien Act, coupled with deep religious divisions between Jacobite episcopalians and presbyterians opposed to incorporation, led—albeit with reluctance—to growing acceptance of the need to revive union negotiations. Union was also being actively sought in England by the ministry of Sidney Godolphin, first earl of Godolphin, for whom a politically independent or federated Scotland remained a potential threat. Between April and July 1706 English and Scottish commissioners met separately to consider the terms of union; nominated by the queen, the Scottish commissioners were dominated by supporters of incorporation, among them Archibald Campbell, then earl of Ilay, Hugh Campbell, third earl of Loudoun, John Sutherland, sixteenth earl of Sutherland, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, and Sir David Dalrymple. The resulting twenty-five articles of union formed the basis of the two Acts of Union set before the parliaments of Scotland and England.

The final vote on the Scottish act occurred on 16 January 1707 and the treaty became part of Scots law when touched with the sceptre of the kingdom of Scotland by the queen's commissioner, James Douglas, second duke of Queensberry. On 28 January 1707 Anne announced to both houses of the English parliament that the treaty had been ratified by the Scottish parliament and recommended that it do the same. The bill passed the Commons on 1 March by 274 votes to 116, and in the Lords previously by a margin of over three to one. Under the terms of the treaty, from 1 May 1707 the two kingdoms were to

be United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain: And that the Ensigns Armorial of the said United Kingdom be such as Her Majesty shall appoint and the Crosses of St Andrew and St George be conjoined in such manner as Her Majesty shall think fit.

Debating the concept of union

How did the political union of England and Scotland come about? For the majority of mid- and late twentieth-century historians, 1707 was the outcome of élite politics, driven in England by the need of the whig ministry to achieve security and to guarantee the Hanoverian succession, and in Scotland by the greed of the court politicians for the rewards of high office. Alternatively, more recent work has emphasized the complex nature of the debate in Scotland over the union, with large numbers of pamphlets published for and against both in Scotland and in London, where presbyterians like the anti-union pamphleteer George Ridpath published titles including Reducing of Scotland by Arms and Annexing it as a Province of England, Considered and (with James Anderson) a Historical Essay Showing that the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland is Imperial and Independent.

Sidney Godolphin, first earl of Godolphin (1645–1712)

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, c. 1704–10

This activity extended to the submission of numerous addresses to the Scots parliament against the union, although many were not wholly opposed to union but rather to its ‘incorporating’ nature. The great patriot in the last Scots parliament Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun was one such critic who foresaw the 'incorporating union' leading inevitably to Scots subordination to England. Instead Fletcher had pressed for better terms for Scotland and, in a series of influential speeches in 1703, argued that the powers of any future monarch of Scotland should be subject to the independence of its parliament in relation to the appointment of ministers, the raising of military force, and the approval of taxation. This programme drew upon the conditions imposed by the Scots parliament of 1641 on Charles I, but Fletcher looked forward to reinventing the existing union of the crowns as a more federal union. When the terms of the treaty of union were published in 1706 Fletcher could not believe that they would be accepted by the Scots, but his attempts to argue his case no longer had the influence his eloquence had earned him in 1703.

By contrast those Scots in favour of the treaty dismissed the addresses and petitions submitted to the Edinburgh parliament, and no doubt the pamphlets published against it, as good 'for no other use than to make kites', as George Lockhart of Carnwath (the only critic of incorporation among the Scottish commissioners) claimed in his Memoirs Concerning the Affairs of Scotland, adding that Patrick Hume, first earl of Marchmont, 'had the impudence to oppose their being allowed a reading in Parliament, alleging they were seditious' (Szechi, 150). It was the opinion of John Erskine, sixth earl of Mar—later a Jacobite rebel but in 1706 a pro-treaty member of the unicameral Scots parliament—that 'noebody cou'd say that the nations inclinations was knowen by those addresses, for the quarter of it had not sign'd them' (Bowie, 259).

There was also opposition to the treaty of union in the English parliament. Here the tories took the lead, although those who were not Jacobites (supporters of the Stuart claim to the throne) may have voted for it to secure the Hanoverian succession to Anne. Sir John Pakington denounced the union in the House of Commons. It 'was like the marrying a woman against her consent: a union that was carried on by corruption and bribery within doors and by force and violence without' (Riley, 302). For George Hooper, bishop of Bath and Wells, the union was akin to the 'mixing of strong liquors, of a contrary nature … which would go nigh to be burst asunder by their furious fermentation' (Cobbett, Parl. hist., 6.568). 'In thus basely giving up their independent constitution' the Scots parliament had, argued Pakington, 'betrayed the trust reposed in them and therefore he could leave it to the judgement of the house to consider whether or no men of such principles were fit to be admitted to sit amongst them' (Riley, 302). Pakington and other tories saw the prospect of Scots MPs and peers at Westminster as so much lobby fodder for the court and the whigs. In addition, they saw the Church of England in danger. How could Anne reconcile her coronation oaths separately given as queen of England and of Scotland to maintain and defend both the episcopalian Church of England and the presbyterian Church of Scotland?

If both churches claimed to exist jure divino (by divine right), which would supersede the other? This drew the reply from another member of the house that he 'knew of no other jure divino than God Almighty's permission, in which sense it might be said that the Church of England and the Kirk of Scotland were both jure divino'. The solution in both parliaments was to pass separate legislation before they united on 1 May, stating that by act of parliament the rights and privileges of their respected established churches were to be honoured for all time coming. These acts in effect became part of the treaty of union, although they are often excluded from its published text. From George I onward, every Hanoverian monarch renewed that commitment to these churches as monarch when he took the oaths as king of ‘Great Britain’. (The 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland' was created in George III's reign following the union with the Irish parliament in 1801.)

Securing the union

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1653?–1716)

by William Aikman, c. 1707

private collection; photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

In English politics the union of 1707 has became associated with the whig junto—the collective leadership of the parliamentary whig interest—and particularly with Charles Spencer, third earl of Sunderland, who managed the bill through the Lords as one of the secretaries of state. The junto's advocacy of union with Scotland brought it into alliance with the English court party in support of the war effort against France. In Scotland the squadrone—a grouping of presbyterian whig noblemen who came to prominence in the final Scottish parliament, and whose support enabled the Scottish court party to carry the treaty—saw themselves creating a distinctive link with the whig junto through the union. In 1707 those Scots who joined the new British parliament relished it as an opportunity to display their talents on a wider stage, particularly the squadrone members John Ker, first duke of Roxburghe, and George Baillie of Jerviswood. Their hopes were not entirely fulfilled, but in effect they were founders of the strong tradition of unionism that developed in Scotland by the second half of the eighteenth century.

With squadrone support, Scottish court politicians were able to face down the threat of violent opposition to the union in Scotland. There had been rioting in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1706, and on 20 November 300 armed Cameronians (followers of the deceased Richard Cameron) entered Dumfries, ceremonially burnt the articles of union as 'utterly destructive of the nation's independency, crown rights, and our constitute laws, both civil and sacred', and denounced those in the Scots parliament who 'shall presume to carry on the said Union by a supream power, over the belly of the generality of this nation' (Ferguson, 268).

The opposing view was put by Daniel Defoe, who became English special agent to Scotland in October 1706. His poem The True-Born Englishman had been written before he went to Scotland, but illustrates his sceptical attitude towards tory patriotism in England at the time. While in Scotland he was paid by the Scottish privy council to publish an epic poem, Caledonia, in celebration of Scottish history and the nation's leading families. At the time of the debates in the Edinburgh parliament Defoe published pamphlets and articles in the Scottish press putting the unionist case. His History of the Union of Great Britain, published in Edinburgh in 1709, made a lasting impression as a classic unionist statement. It was reissued in London in 1786 as part of the campaign for union between Britain and Ireland as The History of the Union between England and Scotland.

British unionists and Scots patriots

Leading Scots politicians also adopted unionist rhetoric. George Mackenzie, first earl of Cromarty, wrote to the earl of Mar in 1706 that he hoped the commissioners would take the opportunity to create a new and visionary union: 'God give all of you prudence, wisdome, and honesty, and Brittish minds.' Cromarty called for 'the old ignominious names of Scotland, of England' to be forgotten, claiming that members of both nations had been Britons first, before the violence and unrest of the wars of the middle ages (Richards, 67). Later James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield, put the argument to the Scottish parliament that

we can never Expect a more favourable Juncture for Compleating this Union, than at present, when her Majesty has not only Recommended it, but Declared, That she will Esteem it the greatest Glory of Her Reign, to have it perfected.

Oxford DNB

When Seafield signed the Act of Union as lord chancellor of Scotland, he famously described it as 'ane end of an old song' (Robertson, 271). The earl of Roxburghe had struck a similar chord on behalf of the squadrone in predicting the union's success: 'The motives will be, Trade with most, Hanover with some, ease and security with others' (Riley, 216). Debate continues among historians over whether such views were statesmanlike or represented servility to English interests at a time of national crisis.

Daniel Defoe (1660?–1731)

by Michael Vandergucht, pubd 1706 (after Jeremiah Taverner, 1706)

This confident vision of the future contrasted with that presented at the end of the final Scots parliament by John Hamilton, second Lord Belhaven and Stenton, who on 2 November 1706 gave a famous speech portraying 'Mother Caledonia' betrayed at the last by her children. Unionists such as Seafield and Marchmont claimed that Belhaven's words had no effect. Even so, Defoe published them in full in his History of the Union, partly in recognition of Belhaven's death in 1708 and partly in acknowledgement of the impact of his rhetoric on public opinion in Scotland outside the parliament.

But in addition to rhetoric, opponents of union required leadership. This, however, was lacking by 1705. On several occasions James Hamilton, fourth duke of Hamilton, refused to maintain his previous opposition to union and ultimately declined to take on the role of leader of Scottish popular resistance. Whether he did so as a result of bribery and intimidation or an acceptance of union as a means of addressing the constitutional and economic problems that arose out of Scotland's status as a separate kingdom remains the subject of debate. One of Hamilton's former followers, Sir William Seton of Pitmedden, certainly considered his change of tack as evidence of economic and political pragmatism. In his Scotland's Great Advantages by an Union with England Seton asserted that by late 1706 Scotland faced a choice between 'Union with Peace and Plenty, or Dis-Union with Slavery and Poverty' (p. 8).

The implications of union

The treaty of union created Great Britain as a constitutional reality after more than a hundred years of discussion and debate. After the treaty came into effect on 1 May 1707 the British parliament met for the first time on 23 October and comprised Scottish representation (based on relative economic standing) of forty-five MPs and sixteen representative peers. The concessions won for the dissolution of the Edinburgh parliament—notably Scottish trading access to England and former English colonies and the payment of nearly £400,000 (the ‘equivalent’) to discharge debts and compensate for increased taxation—were more extensive than might have been predicted when the first negotiations for union had begun in 1702. Equally the relative ease with which the articles of union were accepted in Edinburgh in early 1707 would have surprised many who sat in the parliament during 1703–4.

The collapse of anti-court groupings and the rise of the squadrone in Scotland, coupled with the determined pro-unionism of the junto in England, account for some of this shift, as do contentious factors surrounding personal inducements or opportunities let slip. Whether the Acts of Union represent an episode in English and Scottish politics or a turning point in British and Scottish history will continue to generate robust debate regarding the unwritten constitution that, after 1707, incorporated the published text of the treaty of union. In its immediate aftermath the union certainly did not resolve Anglo-Scottish tensions, nor did it end the military threat posed by the Scots, as was seen in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 [see Jacobite activists of the 1715 rising] and [Jacobite activists of the 1745 rising]. But equally the relative stability afforded by union did contribute to the smooth transition to the house of Hanover in 1714, to the formation of a broadly stable and internationally powerful British state, and in time to what Defoe had identified and promoted as 'a new national interest'.


  • K. Bowie, ‘Public opinion, popular politics and the union of 1707’, Scottish Historical Review, 82 (2003)
  • W. Ferguson, Scotland's relations with England: a survey to 1707 (1977)
  • D. Szechi, ed., ‘Scotland's Ruine’: Lockhart of Carnwath's memoirs of the union (1995)
  • E. Richards, ‘Scotland and the uses of Atlantic empire’, Strangers within the realm: cultural margins of the first British empire, ed. B. Bailyn and P. D. Morgan (1991)
  • P. W. J. Riley, The union of England and Scotland: a study in Anglo-Scottish politics of the eighteenth century (1978)
  • J. Robertson, ed., A union for empire: political thought and the union of 1707 (1995)
  • C. A. Whatley, Bought and sold for English gold? Explaining the union of 1707, 2nd edn (2001)
  • JHL, 16 (1696–1701)


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Journals of the House of Lords
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D. W. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, & S. Handley, eds., , 5 vols. (2002)
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W. Cobbett & J. Wright, eds., , 36 vols. (1806–20)
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private collection
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British Museum, London
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National Portrait Gallery, London