History of England and Scotland

Scotland and England - A Short History

The gunpowder plot
In 1603 when Queen Elizabeth I died childless, the throne was up for grabs, and Scotland’s James VI became her heir. He shifted his base to London and consolidated power.

An attempted murder of the king in 1605 was thwarted, following which he got more Scottish people in his inner circle. Favoritism ruled, and a powerful group of Catholics feeling excluded, plotted to destroy the Parliament Houses using explosives.

But the gunpowder plot was foiled and most of the schemers, including the infamous Guy Fawkes, a mercenary, were executed.

The king lived for another day.

During the English Civil War, however, the island states were in turmoil, and the relationship between England and Scotland underwent major changes.

Charles I, the supreme ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland, was executed in 1649, but not before an epic struggle between him and parliament.

In 1650, Scots supported his son, Charles II, but the forces led by Oliver Cromwell defeated them at the Battle of Dunbar.

The era of the Stuart kings was over, and it was replaced by a Commonwealth comprising England, Scotland and Ireland.

One parliament

For some decades, Scotland remained quasi-independent, with its own parliament but a common king. But these were miserable times. Recurrent poor harvests and a botched attempt to establish a colony in Panama did not help Scotland’s cause.

The circumstances under which Scotland’s key leaders decided that they would be better served if their parliament were merged with England’s are controversial — there were arguably instances of being bribed — but there is little doubt that many important people in Scotland were struck by England’s economic rise, which owed a great deal to the success of the East India Company.

The union of the two parliaments took place in 1707. Westminster became the seat of power for Scotland as well.

What the majority of Scots thought however, is a different matter.

There were some doomed attempts to bring back the glory days of the Stuarts. In 1745, a group called the Jocobites backed Charles Edward Stuart’s attempt to reclaim the British throne. But the numbers of those who either did not wish to change the status quo or were not clearly supporting either side were greater.

Nevertheless, it came down to the battlefield and Charles seized control of Scotland following the Battle of Prestonpans.

But his ambitious attempt to include England or parts of it in his empire did not succeed, and eventually the Jacobites lost badly at Culloden against British forces.

Charles, who died in Italy after more than two decades, was the last Scottish ruler to pose a credible military challenge to British might.

Scotland and the British empire

Towards the end of the 18th century, attitudes in Scotland had begun to change, at least in some quarters, and many Scots started taking pride in being part of the British empire, which was in the process of consolidating its gains in Asia.

Indeed, Scottish troops and officers were a major part of the British imperial project of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1820, a half-baked attempt by a Scottish militia to challenge British supremacy was crushed, and Andrew Hardie and John Baird, the leaders of the attempted uprising, were executed.

Towards the final decades of the 19th century, rebellious uprisings were a thing of the past. Westminster felt secure on this count, and the Secretary of Scotland Act of 1885 re-created the post of Scottish Secretary.

Thus, Scotland maintained its curious dual nature — a proud part of Great Britain and yet with a special identity of its own.

Modern Scottish nationalism

In the 20th century, a group of Scottish intellectuals and poets argued in favor of a cultural revival, which would in turn lay the foundation for political activism, they believed.

One of the prominent members of this group was Hugh MacDiarmid, who co-founded the National Party of Scotland in 1928. The present-day Scottish National Party (SNP) has its origins in the outfit created by MacDiarmid.

Scottish nationalism, which was always under the surface, started to re-emerge in the 1960s. The SNP won a by-poll. Britain took notice. The Labour government was in favor of a Scottish referendum for devolution of power.

The 1979 referendum saw those supporting devolution narrowly ahead. But the plan got shelved in the Margaret Thatcher era.

Tony Blair’s New Labour government eventually held a referendum, resulting in the re-birth of the Scottish parliament.

In 2007 the SNP formed a minority government in Scotland. In the 2011 Scottish polls, the SNP got an overall majority. The independence referendum became a reality.


Last Updated on: October 26th, 2017