EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
On 1 May 1707, the formal Acts of Union which brought Scotland and England together under one government for the first time in their respective histories came into effect.
The two nations had been under one monarch for nearly a century, after the so-called Union of Crowns in 1603.
But separate governments had managed the power in the separate countries, with England ruled from London whilst Scotland was governed from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, which at that time sat in the buildings adjacent to St Giles' Cathedral on the Royal Mile. The area today is still named Parliament Square.
A number of efforts had been made to bring the two countries under one government during the seventeenth century, although Oliver Cromwell had separated out the three nations (Scotland, England and Ireland) under his so-called Commonwealth during the interregnum between Charles I and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II. But it was really only after the ill-fated Darien expedition, which had sought to settle a new colony of Scots on the narrow strip of land between North and South America which made the political union between the countries an economic necessity.
The company behind the risky recolonisation was funded with almost a fifth of all of the money circulating in Scotland at the time (equivalent to about £48m today), which was lost when the venture failed catastrophically. The English government was persuaded to bail out the financial losses that threatened to cripple Scotland, leading to the stabilising of currency rates between the Scots and English pounds, and ultimately to the establishment of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In order to save Scotland from financial ruin, a union between the two countries would allow England to provide support to the nation under a favourable funding arrangement, and it was this need for stability which helped to further the cause for those seeking a political union in Scotland.
In 1707, the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh acted to make itself obsolete as it voted in favour of the union with England, and on the day the final treaties between the two countries were signed the bells of St Giles' Cathedral rang out the tune Why Should I Be So Sad on My Wedding Day? - a sign of the lack of public support for the union itself!
The novelist Daniel Defoe, at that time a spy in Edinburgh on behalf of the English government, reported that for every Scot in favour of the union, there were 99 against it - not an auspicious level of support for a momentous political union.
The second Duke of Queensberry, resident at Queensberry House on the Royal Mile, was considered instrumental in securing the union, with his dedication to bribing the lords and landowners of Scotland for their assent to the union. Many families were gifted tracts of land in England - helping to expand their power and their economic potential - in exchange for support to the union. (It is pleasingly ironic that the home of a man who helped to secure the union with England is now incorporated into the modern Scottish parliament building...)
Signatures to the act of union were allegedly added in the modest summerhouse in the gardens of Moray House, today part of the University of Edinburgh. A structure believed to be part of the original summerhouse survives, and is visible in the university car park from Holyrood Road.
On 1 May 1707, Scotland and England formally entered joint rule under a single government, and remained that way until 1997, when in recognition of a majority level of support for self-governance among the Scottish people, permission was given for Scotland to establish a devolved parliament.
When the new Scottish parliament sat for the first time, at the Assembly Hall off the Lawnmarket, on 12 May 1999, the session was opened by the oldest elected MSP, Dr Winnie Ewing, with the words: "I want to start with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say - the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25, 1707, is hereby reconvened."
After nearly 300 years, the control of Scottish politics was back in the hands of the Scots.
Explore more of Edinburgh's political history with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...