Anglo-Scottish Relations exhibition

Detail of charter seal of King David IThe University of Reading’s Special Collections hold a number of works relating to the relationship between England and Scotland, the Union of the Crowns (1603) and the Union of Parliaments (1707). A selection of these have been brought together here to accompany the Department of History’s annual Stenton Lecture and Symposium, which this year addresses the question of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence in a wide historical context.

The question of union between England and Scotland is an old one and predates the Union of the Crowns, the personal union which came about in 1603 when Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor monarchs, was succeeded by her Scottish relative, King James VI of Scotland, and now the first Stuart King of England. As early as 1521, the Scottish historian, philosopher and theologian John Major had written Historia Majoris Brittania, which may have been intended to promote the idea of union between the two countries.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, it became increasingly clear that Elizabeth I would die without heir, leaving the succession issue wide open. The ascent by James VI of Scotland was by no means a foregone conclusion and led to a great deal of diplomatic wrangling. The Scottish dip-lomat Sir James Melville of Halhill, who had served the King’s regents in his minority and later the King himself, declined the offer to accompany him to London in 1603, but subsequently penned his Memoires ‘containing an Impartial Account of the Most Remarkable Affairs of State […] Relating to the Kingdoms Of England and Scotland'. Following the succession, the King embarked on a cam-paign to bring his two kingdoms closer together, in a ‘Union of Love’, and interest in Scottish political and legal affairs increased significantly, on both sides of the border. Sir John Skene’s Regiam Majestatem Scotiae, started in the early 1590s to review and print Acts of Parliament and other laws, raised interest in England, and its author was appointed as a commissioner for negotiating the proposed union with England in 1604. James’s aspirations also went beyond his own kingdoms. In 1627, the Leiden printing house Elsevier published Respublica Sive Status Regni Scotiae et Hiberniae [The Commonweal, or, the description of royal power of Scotland and Ireland by diverse authors], a collection of writings by several authors on the power of the Scottish kings. Detail from charter

James’s ideas soon failed due to an unwilling English Parliament. While the idea of Anglo-Scottish union remained limited to that of a personal union throughout much of the seventeenth century, numerous ideas and experiments were floated. Under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the two countries were temporarily united but it was not until the end of the century that the idea gained renewed royal support. When the Catholic King James VII & II were replaced with a new Protestant King, union regained new interest. William III (1650-1702) had little time for his northern kingdom, despite the fact that the Revolution had serious implications for both the monarchy and parliament in Scotland. It was his dying wish, however, that the two countries would be united and the idea was briefly entertained in 1702-3. The Scottish MP Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, led the way in making the pro-Scottish case, arguing for a union of equals rather than an incorporating union. From 1705-6, an argument broke out between proponents and opponents of union, once it became clear that the idea, which had up till very recently been cast aside, was becoming an increasingly likely prospect. Daniel Defoe was hired to make the English case and spy on the Scots in Edinburgh.

Detail of frontispiece from Anderson's Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae ThesaurusIn 1707, on the the 1st of May, the Treaty of Union was signed, uniting the English and the Scottish Parliaments. and the United Kingdom was born. Its impact cannot be understated and throughout the remainder of the century, the Union was met with opposition from various quarters. The most notorious opponents were the so-called Jacobites, supporters of the original Scottish kings, the Stuarts, who had been driven out in 1688 by William III. Two major, and a string of minor, invasions and rebellions plagued the new Hanoverian monarchy, which succeeded when the last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne, died in 1714, including one led by France in 1708 (memorialised in George Lockhardt’s Memoirs). After that twice more were the Georges seriously confronted with Jacobite risings which potentially could have ended the Union, in 1715 and 1745. Although the ’45 rising, arguably the most serious of the Jacobite rebellions, was the final one, the cause of Jacobitism lived on, and is still alive today, albeit in a more peaceful form. Academically, Scotland’s past before the Union with England, became a topic of interest to many historians and antiquarians throughout the eighteenth century. When the Catholic priest Thomas Innes published his critical Essay on the Ancient Inhabitants of the Northern Parts of Britiain, or Scotland in 1729, a polemical war broke out between Jacobite scholars and those in favour of the Union and the Hanoverian succession, which left its mark on the Scottish academic landscape for years. Throughout the Scottish Enlightenment, leading scholars, including David Hume, continued to take a vivid interest in Scotland’s past, which often divided along party lines. Only in the nineteenth century, the romantic image of Scotland was born in the novels of Sir Walter Scott and others; a notion which has only partly been dispelled by the current independence debate.

To read more about the early modern and contemporary contexts of the Anglo-Scottish Union, go to the Department of History’s Stenton blog:

The Stenton Lecture, From Jacobitism to the SNP. The Crown, the Union and the Scottish Question, was delivered by Professor Colin Kidd (St Andrews) on 21 November 2014, and was followed by the Stenton Symposium on 22 November 2014.  

This exhibition is accompanied by a featured item which gives an insight into James Anderson's Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae Thesaurus [1739] from the Overstone Library collection, accompanied by images of this richly illustrated work [see images above].

This exhibition was curated by Esther Mijers, Department of History, University of Reading (

The exhibition will be on display at the University Library from 21 November 2013 – January 2014.

List of exhibits

The border-history of England and Scotland : deduced from the earliest times to the union of the two crowns ; comprehending a particular detail of the transactions of the two nations with one another ; accounts of remarkable antiquities ; and a variety of interesting anecdotes of the most considerable families and distinguished characters in both kingdoms by the late George Ridpath. Revised and published by the author's brother, Philip Ridpath. London : Printed for T. Cadell ... [and 3 others], 1776. OVERSTONE--SHELF 35E/05

A critical essay on the ancient inhabitants of the northern parts of Britain, or Scotland : containing an account of the Romans, of the Britains betwixt the walls, of the Caledonians or Picts, and particularly of the Scots, by Thomas Innes. London : printed for William Innys, 1729. Volume 1 of two volumes. OVERSTONE--SHELF 31E/1 vol. 1

The debate at large, between the House of Lords and House of Commons, at the free conference, held in the Painted Chamber, in the session of the convention, anno 1688. Relating to the word, abdicated, and the vacancy of the throne, in the Common's [sic] vote. London : Printed for J. Wickins, 1695. STENTON LIBRARY--CO/18

Historia Majoris Britanniæ : tam Angliæ quam Scotiæ, per Joannem Majorem.. Editio nova, mendis quamplurimis in antiqua Jodoci Badii Ascensii editione Parisiis editâ MDXXI. extantibus repurgata. Edimburgi : apud Robertum Fribarnium, 1740. OVERSTONE--SHELF 7H/17

The history of Great Britain. Vol. 1, Containing the reigns of James I and Charles I by David Hume, Esq. Edinburgh : Printed by Hamilton, Balfour and Neill, 1754. RESERVE FOLIO--942.06-HUM VOL 1

The history of the rebellion, rais'd against His Majesty King George I by the friends of the Popish Pretender : containing an account of the settlement of the succession to the crown of Great-Britain, in the illustrious family of Hanover, and the Tory scheme to defeat it, during the last four years of the late Queen Anne ... by the Reverend Mr. Peter Rae. The second edition. To which is now added, a collection of original letters, and authentic papers, relating to that rebellion. London : printed for A. Millar, 1746. OVERSTONE--SHELF 30H/6

The history of the union between England and Scotland : with a collection of original papers relating thereto by Daniel De Foe ; with an introduction ... to which is prefixed, a life of Daniel De Foe, by George Chalmers. London : Printed for John Stockdale, 1786. OVERSTONE--SHELF 35G/07

The Jacobites curse ; or, Excommunication of King George and his subjects; With some reflections on the same. To which is added, a poem on the Protestant succession, by a lover of the Protestant religion, his country and the Protestant succession. Glasgow : Printed by Huhg [sic] Brown, Printer to the University, 1714. RESERVE--942.0712-WRI

Letters of Queen Elizabeth and King James VI of Scotland : some printed from originals in the possession of the Rev. Edward Ryder and others from a ms. which formerly belonged to Sir Peter Thompson edited by John Bruce. London : published for the Camden Society by John Bowyer Nichols and Son, 1849. STENTON LIBRARY--MON/CAM/046

Memoirs concerning the affairs of Scotland from Queen Anne's accession to the throne, to the commencement of the union of the two kingdoms of Scotland and England in May, 1707. With an account of the origine and progress of the design'd invasion from France, in March, 1708. And some reflections on the ancient state of Scotland ... The third edition, to which is added an appendix. London : Printed and sold by J. Baker ..., 1714. RESERVE--941.06-LOC

The memoires of Sir James Melvil of Hal-Hill : containing an impartial account of the most remarkable affairs of state during the last age, not mention'd by other historians : more particularly relating to the Kingdoms of England and Scotland under the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, Mary, Queen of Scots & King James. In all which transactions the author was personally and publicly concerned, now published from the original manuscript. by George Scott. London : printed for E.H. for Robert Boulter, 1683. STENTON LIBRARY--FO/07

Numismata Scotiæ : or, A series of the Scottish coinage, from the reign of William the Lion to the union by Adam de Cardonnel. Edinburgh : Printed for George Nicol, 1786. OVERSTONE--SHELF 12I/18

The political works of Andrew Fletcher, Esq; of Saltoun. Glasgow : Printed by Robert Urie, for G. Hamilton and J. Balfour, ... Edinburgh, 1749. STENTON LIBRARY--CO/26

Regiam Majestatem Scotiae veteres leges et constitutiones, ... collectae, recognitae, et notis ... illustratae, operâ & studio Joannis Skenaei, ... Edinburgi : Excudebat Thomas Finlason, 1609. STENTON LIBRARY--FB/09

Rerum Scoticarum historia, auctore Georgio Buchanano Scoto, ad Jacobum VI. Scotorum Regem : accessit de jure regni apud Scotos dialogus, eodem Georgio Buchanano auctore. Ultrajecti : apud Petrum Elzevirum, 1668. OVERSTONE--SHELF 30D/16

Respublica, sive status regni Scotiæ et Hiberniæ, diversorum autorum. Lugd. Bat. : ex officina Elzeuiriana, 1627. OVERSTONE--SHELF 23A/12

Selectus diplomatum & numismatum Scotiae thesaurus ... ,ex mandato Parliamenti scotici collegit, digessit & tantum non perficienda curavit Jacobus Andersonus. Quæ operi consummando deerant supplevit, & præfatione, tabularum explicatione, aliisque appendicibus auxit & locupletavit Thomas Ruddimannus, A.M. Suppeditante sumptus Thoma Patersono. Edinburgi : apud Tho. & Walt. Ruddimannos ... , MDCCXXXIX[1739] OVERSTONE--SHELF FOLIO 31I/08

For more information on this work, see our featured item.

Speeches, by a member of the Parliament, which began at Edinburgh the 6th of May 1703. Edinburgh : [s.n.], Printed in the year 1703. By Andrew Fletcher (1655-1716). RESERVE--941.06-FLE

The workes of the most high and mightie prince, Iames by the grace of God, King of Great Britaine, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. Published by Iames [Montagu], Bishop of Winton, and Deane of His Maiesties Chappel Royall. London : Printed by Robert Barker and Iohn Bill, 1616. STENTON LIBRARY--LE/04

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