A previous article outlined events from the introduction of the two crowns through to the period up to the imposition of the 1707 Treaty of Union by England, on Scotland.
In the latter part of the sixteenth and the first years of the seventeenth century, the English first tried to woo Scotland into entering an arrangement which would lead to an agreement to join the kingdoms in a union. But Scots who had endured many English invasions rejected the overtures.
The velvet glove approach being rejected England reverted to type and set about destroying the Scottish economy through the imposition of shipping blockades, the application of hefty import taxes on Scottish goods, destruction of Scottish commercial ventures in the Americas and Europe.
It was to be submission to English rule or destruction a process that took nearly 20 years to complete, but famine, English naval and land army blockades coupled with military and financial coercion of European countries into avoiding trade with Scotland brought hardship and death on Scots.
The final and most deplorable betrayal of Scotland was by its own King, aided greatly by the equally treacherous Spanish, who approved the destruction of the Darien community in the Panama Isthmus. This proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and brought the Scots to the negotiating table.
The English, well chuffed with their conquest declined to negotiate but tabled take it or leave it conditions, the signing of which would bind Scotland to England in a treaty of union. Scots may have been on their knees but they were unbowed and told the English to get stuffed. But Scots were betrayed yet again, this time by an unelected cabal of Scottish lords who sold their country out on the promise of the settlement of their personal debts.
In part two I am highlighting events of significance in the early years after the signing of the Acts of Union. Would the English honour their vows?? Dream on !
1707 Acts of Union – The Early years
Queen Anne was succeeded by her second cousin Sophia in 1714, then Sophia’s son, George I, Elector of Hanover. German “Geordie”, did not speak English and was not actively involved in the government of his new United Kingdom preferring to exercise physical control over his German kingdoms.
This resulted in a shift of power away from the monarch to his council of ministers, the head of which was Sir Robert Walpole who promoted himself as the first-ever Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Scotland’s economy declined markedly as a direct result of the union which brought about a major change in the marketing of goods including the removal of tariffs on goods moving between the countries.
Scottish industries such as linen manufacturing suffered badly because they were no longer shielded from English competition.
The Westminster government’s decision to equalize taxation across the United Kingdom increased taxes in Scotland fivefold and was a hammer blow to Scots who had always enjoyed much lower rates of taxation.
The increased taxation impacted adversely on key Scottish industries. The key Scottish fishing industry was subjected to debilitating new salt taxes.
But the English needed the money to pay for their expansionist policies and wars against France, Spain and other European nations, many of whom had been allied to Scotland for centuries.
Westminster also introduced customs and excise control which brought with it the employment of a huge number of customs and excise officers who enforced many new bureaucratic procedures. The result was a further marked increase in poverty as finance was taken away from Scotland to feed the gluttony of the English parliament at Westminster.
Adding insult to injury the Westminster government blatantly abused the terms of the Acts of Union in reneging on a written commitment to make payment of a substantial manufacturing support payment to Scotland for seven years from 1707.
Westminster reluctantly agreed to make the payment, after nearly 20 years of political standoff. But only then when it was balanced against a removal of a number of tax exemptions. This type of behaviour added insult to injury and would be well-practiced in the years that followed.
In 1713 the Westminster Tory government decided, without consultation to flex it’s authority over the Scots and extend the English malt tax to Scotland provoking major public protests and noncompliance forcing the government to withdraw the tax.
The event was viewed as the culmination of many acts against the wellbeing of Scots and came very close to destroying already frosty relationships between Scotland and England. Indeed inter country relationships became so strained that a Scottish-led motion to commence proceedings to dissolve the Union came extremely close to passing in the House of Lords, failing by just four votes.
The Earl of Mar rebelled against the Westminster Abuse of Power
Although a Jacobite and against his better judgement he supported the signing of the Acts of Union and pledged his allegiance to German Geordie, but took umbrage when, on arrival in England, the king publicly snubbed him when he welcomed him to the United Kingdom on behalf of the Scottish nation.
The then “Third Secretary for Great Britain” responded to the insult to Scotland and proposed a resolution to have the Acts of Union repealed. When this failed he resigned and returned to Scotland where he continued to agitate for the repeal of the Union.
On 1 September 1715, he raised a standard for “King James VIII” at Braemar and gathered an army of around 10,000 men which gained some successes in the North and East of Scotland. But he made three strategic errors.
- James, who was resident in France had not been advised about the planned uprising.
- He failed to coordinate his challenge with similar uprisings occurring in England
- He was, as events proved, a poor tactician. At the Battle of Sheriffmuir, North of Dunblane on 13 November 1715, a large part of his army advancing from Perth met a much smaller government force under John Campbell, the 2nd Duke of Argyll. The Jacobite’s won the ensuing short battle but Mar failed to march on Glasgow and Edinburgh, a move that would have consolidated his position. Instead, he returned to Perth to regroup and lost the initiative.
Meantime James Stuart was only able to reach Scotland from France on 22 December, when he landed at Peterhead: he was too late, the uprising was all but over. The Jacobite’s abandoned Perth on 31 January 1716, and on 4 February James Stuart and John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar, sailed out of Montrose, bound for France. Neither would ever return.
The Westminster government got lucky when it weathered the Jacobite uprising of 1715. A crisis generated by the avarice, greed and a flawed mindset of the victor basking in the glory of conquest. Its arrogant post-union behaviour towards Scotland inflicted extreme hardship on Scots’ through the imposition of hugely unfair taxes and many other oppressive acts.