On this day... An Historic Union
"The Queen is dead; long live the King!"
That's the cry that would have gone up across Britain on 24 March, in 1603. At the age of 69, Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and the last of the Tudor monarchs, died in Richmond Palace in London. As she had never married nor borne children, the throne passed to the son of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.
That son was already a king. James VI of Scotland had been born at Edinburgh Castle in 1566, and had been reigning sovereign of Scotland since 1567, following the abdication of his mother, who was later imprisoned and executed by Elizabeth I.
But in 1603, James' power as a monarch was multiplied exponentially, and the status of Britain as a whole changed historically, when he acceded to the throne of England, Wales and Ireland - the first monarch in history to rule these 'united' islands, and paving the way for the formal political union, creating the United Kingdom as we know it today, a century later in 1707.
One of the more visible changes this union brought about can be seen in the coat of arms for the United Kingdom. It's a familiar symbol today, with a lion and a unicorn - the national animals of England and Scotland - either side of a crown. Prior to the Union of Crowns the emblem of Scotland was two unicorns, and after the union one of the unicorns was replaced with a lion.
Both versions of this crest can still be found in Edinburgh. One double unicorn can be seen on Crown Square in Edinburgh Castle, near to where James VI was born.
This Union of Crowns was an historic moment for the nation as a whole, although it changed the relationship James had with his native Scotland. On 3 April 1603, he made a speech at the High Kirk of St Giles, on the Royal Mile, vowing to maintain and defend his (Protestant) faith, and to return to visit Edinburgh at least every three years - he wasn't going to let being king of England go to his head, as his heart would remain forever Scottish.
Alas this turned out to be an empty promise. On 5 April 1603, James VI (and now I of England) left Edinburgh to travel south for his coronation in London. He would not return to Scotland for another 14 years, and that visit - in 1617 - would be his last. That year marked his fiftieth year as king of Scotland, and he made an emotional return to the room in Edinburgh Castle in which he had been born. The room was ceremonially redecorated for the occasion, and visitors today can still see the painted panelling put in place for this historic visit.
For good or ill, Scotland and England were now formally 'united'.
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