HIST 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

Lecture 24

 - Refashioning the State, 1688-1714


In this lecture, Professor Wrightson discusses the transformation of the English state in the twenty years following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He examines the ambiguities of the Revolutionary Settlement which placed authority in William III and Mary II following the deposition/abdication of James II, and the manner in which parliamentary government was strengthened through responses to the demands of the wars precipitated by the revolution, culminating in the constitutional provisions of the Act of Settlement of 1701. Finally he considers the origins and outcomes of the 1707 Act of Union which fused the kingdoms of Scotland and England into the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and ends by briefly characterizing the paradoxical realities of the British state of 1714.

Transcript Audio Low Bandwidth Video High Bandwidth Video

Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

HIST 251 - Lecture 24 - Refashioning the State, 1688-1714

Chapter 1. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 [00:00:00]

Professor Keith Wrightson: 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, [and] 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 22nd 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.

Chapter 2. Settlement [00:07:28]

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 13th 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.

Chapter 3. War [00:12:25]

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’.

Chapter 4. The Financial Revolution [00:16:15]

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.

Chapter 5. Scotland [00:34:17]

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. [Laughter] 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.

Okay. And we all lived happily ever after. [Laughter]

Right. Next time I’ll have a short lecture as a kind of windup and then talk in some detail about the examination and what to expect when the examination comes. The examination’s going to be held here on the 16th at 2 p.m., remember.

[end of transcript]

Back to Top
mp3 mov [100MB] mov [500MB]