Dates That Changed The Western World: 1707 and the Act of Union

Flag-Pins-England-ScotlandOh dear; dates are funny things aren’t they – as this series has already demonstrated. Just when you think that you have hit on a genuine ‘game-changer’ then you are forced to think again. And so it is with 1707.

On 5 February 1705 the House of Commons passed the Alien Act which led to the establishing of a Royal Commission to negotiate for union between England and Scotland. The Union with England Act duly followed in 1707. The wording of the title is not without significance!

On the face of it and for England especially, the Union of English and Scottish Parliaments really is a date around which the world changed. It puts the seal on a process – the English ascendancy in Great Britain – that began with the Tudors, and sees, allegedly, the beginning of British Empire building. And yet…… Empire building is a very tricky process to date. We can, for instance, date the establishing of the first English colony (note the English/British difference) – Newfoundland – to 1497. But then, what about Wales, Ireland and Cornwall? In my module History from the Periphery I argue that we must see the first two at the very least as the earliest, permanent, English colonies.

And then there is Scotland. Depending on which side of the independence divide your sympathies might lie, 1707 can be seen for the Scottish as either the logical culmination of a developing and mutually beneficial relationship, or a shark attack: a forced marriage consequent upon Scotland’s own Imperial adventure – the disastrous Darien Venture.

But to look only to the end of the seventeenth century is short-termism. We must look to much longer processes and continuities. We must look to the impact on the individual and on daily lives. We must look at the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Virtually as soon as James VI of Scotland became James I of England he moved his court to London. Political power in Scotland moved with him. Economic power already lay with England. So you decide. Which was the game-changer? 1603 or 1707? Or neither?

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