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Acts of Union 1707
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Acts of Union 1707

The Acts of Union were two Acts of Parliament: the Union with Scotland Act 1706 passed by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act passed in 1707 by the Parliament of Scotland. They put into effect the terms of the Treaty of Union that had been agreed on 22 July 1706, following negotiation between commissioners representing the parliaments of the two countries. By the two Acts, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland—which at the time were separate states with separate legislatures, but with the same monarch—were, in the words of the Treaty, "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".

The two countries had shared a monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his double first cousin twice removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Although described as a Union of Crowns, until 1707 there were in fact two separate Crowns resting on the same head (as opposed to the implied creation of a single Crown and a single Kingdom, exemplified by the later Kingdom of Great Britain). Prior to the Acts of Union there had been three previous attempts (in 1606, 1667, and 1689) to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament, but it was not until the early 18th century that both political establishments came to support the idea, albeit for different reasons.

The Acts took effect on 1 May 1707. On this date, the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based in the Palace of Westminster in London, the home of the English Parliament.

Hence, the Acts are referred to as the Union of the Parliaments. On the Union, the historian Simon Schama said "What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history."

Despite attempts by Edward I to conquer Scotland in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the two countries were entirely separate. However, when Elizabeth I became Queen of England in 1558, a union became increasingly likely as she neither married nor had children. From 1558 onwards, her heir was her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who pledged herself to a peaceful union between the two kingdoms. In 1567, Mary was forced to abdicate as Queen of Scots and replaced by her infant son James VI, who was brought up as a Protestant and became heir to the English throne. After Elizabeth died in 1603, the two Crowns were held in personal union by James, now also James I of England, and his Stuart successors, but England and Scotland remained separate kingdoms.

1603–1639
When James became King of England in 1603, the creation of a unified Church of Scotland and England governed by bishops was the first step in his vision of a centralised, Unionist state. On his accession, he announced his intention to unite the two realms so he would not be "guilty of bigamy;" he used the royal prerogative to take the title "King of Great Britain" and give a British character to his court and person.

Scottish opposition to Stuart attempts to impose religious union led to the 1638 National Covenant
The 1603 Union of England and Scotland Act established a joint Commission to agree terms but the English Parliament was concerned this would lead to the imposition of an absolutist structure similar to that of Scotland. James dropped his policy of a speedy union, the topic disappeared from the legislative agenda while attempts to revive it in 1610 were met with hostility.

This did not mean James abandoned the idea; 17th-century religion and politics were closely linked and he viewed a unified Church of Scotland and England as the first step towards a centralised, Unionist state. The problem was that the two churches were very different in both structure and doctrine; Scottish bishops presided over Presbyterian structures but were doctrinal Calvinists who viewed many Church of England practices as little better than Catholicism. The religious policies followed by James and his son Charles I were intended as precursors to political union; resistance to this concept led to the 1638 National Covenant in Scotland and the 1639-1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

1639–1670
Main article: Scotland under the Commonwealth

The 1643 Solemn League and Covenant between England and Scotland
The 1639–1640 Bishops' Wars confirmed the primacy of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland or kirk and established a Covenanter government in Scotland. The Scots remained neutral when the First English Civil War began in 1642, but grew concerned as to the impact of Royalist victory on Scotland after Parliamentary defeats in the first year of the war. Religious union with England was also seen as the best way to preserve a Presbyterian kirk. The 1643 Solemn League and Covenant provided Scottish military support for the English Parliament in return for a religious union between the Church of England and the kirk. While it referred repeatedly to 'union' between England, Scotland, and Ireland, it did not explicitly commit to political union which had little support even among their English supporters.


Battle of Dunbar (1650); Scotland was incorporated into the Commonwealth after defeat in the Anglo-Scots War.
Even religious union was fiercely opposed by the Episcopalian majority in the Church of England and Independents like Oliver Cromwell. The Scots and English Presbyterians came to see the Independents who dominated the New Model Army as a bigger threat than the Royalists and when Charles I surrendered in 1646, they agreed to restore him to the English throne. Both Royalists and Covenanters agreed the institution of monarchy was divinely ordered but disagreed on the nature and extent of Royal authority versus that of the church.


Commonwealth-era flag depicting the union between England and Scotland
After defeat in the 1647–1648 Second English Civil War, Scotland was occupied by English troops which were withdrawn once the so-called Engagers whom Cromwell held responsible for the war had been replaced by the Kirk Party. In December 1648, Pride's Purge confirmed Cromwell's political control in England by removing Presbyterian MPs from Parliament and executing Charles in January 1649. Despite this, in February, the Kirk Party proclaimed Charles II King of Scotland and Great Britain; and agreed to restore him to the English throne.

Defeat in the 1649–1651 Third English Civil War or Anglo-Scottish War resulted in Scotland's incorporation into the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, largely driven by Cromwell's determination to break the power of the kirk, which he held responsible for the Anglo-Scottish War. The 1652 Tender of Union was followed on 12 April 1654 by An Ordinance by the Protector for the Union of England and Scotland, creating the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. It was ratified by the Second Protectorate Parliament on 26 June 1657, creating a single Parliament in Westminster, with 30 representatives each from Scotland and Ireland added to the existing English members.

While it established free trade within the Commonwealth, the economic benefits were diminished by the heavy taxation needed to fund the army. In Scotland, Union was associated with military occupation, in England with heavy taxes and had little popular support in either country. It was dissolved by the 1660 Restoration of Charles II despite a petition by Scottish members of the Commonwealth Parliament for its continuance.

The Scottish economy was badly damaged by the English Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1663 and wars with the Dutch Republic, its major export market. An Anglo-Scots Trade Commission was set up in January 1668 but the English had no interest in making concessions, as the Scots had little to offer in return. In 1669, Charles II revived talks on political union; his motives were to weaken Scotland's commercial and political links with the Dutch, still seen as an enemy and complete the work of his grandfather James I. Continued opposition in both England and Scotland meant that by the end of 1669, negotiations between Commissioners ground to a halt.

1670–1707
Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a Scottish Convention met in Edinburgh in April 1689 to agree a new constitutional settlement; during which the Scottish Bishops backed a proposed union in an attempt to preserve Episcopalian control of the kirk. William and Mary were supportive of the idea but it was opposed both by the Presbyterian majority in Scotland and the English Parliament. Episcopacy in Scotland was abolished in 1690, alienating a significant part of the political class; it was this element that later formed the bedrock of opposition to Union.

The 1690s were a time of economic hardship in Europe as a whole and Scotland in particular, a period now known as the Seven ill years which led to strained relations with England. In 1698, the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies received a charter to raise capital through public subscription. The Company invested in the Darién scheme, an ambitious plan funded almost entirely by Scottish investors to build a colony on the Isthmus of Panama for trade with East Asia. The scheme was a disaster; the losses of over £150,000 severely impacted the Scottish commercial system. The financial losses incurred have often been suggested as one of the drivers behind Union


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