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 July 22, 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”.
Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland
Prior to 1603, England and Scotland were separate kingdoms; as Elizabeth I never married, after 1567, her heir became the Stuart king of Scotland, James VI, who was brought up as a Protestant. James was the double first cousin twice removed, of Queen Elizabeth I. After her death in 1603 the two countries shared a monarch when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne.
Although described as a Union of Crowns in 1603 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). The two Crowns were held in personal union by James, as James I of England, and James VI of Scotland. He announced his intention to unite the two, using the royal prerogative to take the title “King of Great Britain”, and give a British character to his court and person. However, the titles and the attempted uniting of the two crown were not sanctioned by Parliament.
James I-VI, King of England, Scotland and Ireland
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 during the reign of Queen Anne who then became the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. 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.”
Anne, Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland (1702-1707). Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1707-1714).
Political Background prior to 1707
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 was forced to withdraw his proposals, and attempts to revive it in 1610 were met with hostility.
The Acts of Union should be seen within a wider European context of increasing state centralisation during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, including the monarchies of France, Sweden, Denmark and Spain. While there were exceptions, such as the Dutch Republic or the Republic of Venice, the trend was clear.
The dangers of the monarch using one Parliament against the other first became apparent in 1647 and 1651. It resurfaced during the 1679 to 1681 Exclusion Crisis, caused by English resistance to the Catholic James succeeding his brother Charles. James was sent to Edinburgh in 1681 as Lord High Commissioner; in August, the Scottish Parliament passed the Succession Act, confirming the divine right of kings, the rights of the natural heir ‘regardless of religion,’ the duty of all to swear allegiance to that king and the independence of the Scottish Crown. It then went beyond ensuring James’s succession to the Scottish throne by explicitly stating the aim was to make his exclusion from the English throne impossible without ‘…the fatall and dreadfull consequences of a civil war.’
The English purpose was to ensure that Scotland would not choose a monarch different from the one on the English throne. The two countries had shared a king for much of the previous century, but the English were concerned that an independent Scotland with a different king, even if he were a Protestant, might make alliances against England. The English succession was provided for by the English Act of Settlement 1701, which ensured that the monarch of England would be a Protestant member of the House of Hanover. Until the Union of Parliaments, the Scottish throne might be inherited by a different successor after Queen Anne: the Scottish Act of Security 1704 granted parliament the right to choose a successor and explicitly required a choice different from the English monarch unless the English were to grant free trade and navigation.
The Scottish economy was severely impacted by privateers during the 1688 to 1697 Nine Years War, and the 1701 War of the Spanish Succession, with the Royal Navy focusing on protecting English ships. This compounded the economic pressure caused by the Darien scheme, and the Seven ill years of the 1690s, when between 5–15% of the population died of starvation. The Scottish Parliament was promised financial assistance, protection for its maritime trade, and an end of economic restrictions on trade with England.
George I, King of Great Britain and Ireland
George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland
It’s interesting to note that only four monarchs reigned with title of “King/Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. With the passing of the Act of Union on May 1, 1707 Queen Anne’s title changed from Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland to Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Kings George I and King George II reigned as King of Great Britain and Ireland.
King George III reigned as the King of Great Britain until The Acts of Union 1800 (sometimes referred to as a single Act of Union 1801) where parallel acts of the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland (previously in personal union) to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The acts came into force on 1 January 1801, and the merged Parliament of the United Kingdom had its first meeting on January 22, 1801. George III’s title then changed to King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland (1760-1801). King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. (1801-1820).
From the 1340s to the 19th century, excluding two brief intervals in the 1360s and the 1420s, the Kings and Queens of England (and, later, of Great Britain) also claimed the throne of France. The claim dates from King Edward III, who claimed the French throne in 1340 as the sororal nephew of the last direct Capetian, Charles IV.
Edward III and his heirs fought the Hundred Years’ War to enforce this claim, and were briefly successful in the 1420s under Henry V and Henry VI, but the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty, was ultimately victorious and retained control of France. Despite this, English and British monarchs continued to prominently call themselves Kings/Queens of France, and the French fleur-de-lis was included in the royal arms. This continued until the 1801 Act of Union when the claim to the title was officially dropped. By this time France no longer had any monarch, having become a republic. The Jacobite claimants, however, did not explicitly relinquish the claim.