On this day in 1606: Proposed union between England and Scotland

Our Parliament Weekon this day’ article for today features a debate that is still relevant today…

On this day in 1606 James VI & I’s attempt to formally unite the two kingdoms of England and Scotland reached a key stage when the ‘Instrument of Union’ was read in the House of Commons. James wanted a formal union since succeeding Elizabeth I and uniting the two crowns in 1603. Due to opposition in both England and Scotland his initial plans were modified, and the ‘Instrument’ was a more modest document. However, it still faced fierce opposition in parliament and James was forced to abandon his plans. To read all about the ‘Instrument’, James’ attempts at union and the consequences of his defeat, see our latest ‘on this day’ article for Parliament week here, written by Dr Andrew Thrush.

With Scottish independence a controversial issue at the moment, it’s worth reflecting how different the current debate seems to the arguments in this unsuccessful attempt at union; even if some of the basic themes, such as identity, political power and the economy remain similar. In 1606, for example. the English were especially concerned about Scots taking over English jobs if union went ahead – the MP John Hare described them as ‘beggarly’.

Even more strikingly, the anti-Scottish sentiment amongst the English was strong and the language used about the Scots was certainly offensive. Sir Edwin Sandys argued that the Scots were ‘better than aliens but not equal with natural subjects’ – something you are very unlikely to hear an English politician say today! You can listen to Dr Andrew Thrush discuss the range of opposition to the union here:

Audio: Opposition to union between England and Scotland

Of course, as Dr Thrush demonstrates, the union proposed by James VI &I was very different to the one that emerges in 1707. But the relationship between the two countries has certainly been a controversial issue in British politics for a very long time!


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