Dynastic Unions : Scotland's Road into the "Perfect Union" of Great Britain
Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
Term Paper, AP European History Class, July 2008
Table of Contents
II. Beginnings of a Marriage
III. Intermarriages between the Royal Scottish and English Families
IV. Edward I. of England
V. Continuation of the Love-Hate elationship
VI. The Union of the Crowns 1603
VI.1 James VI., King of Scotland
VI.2 James VI. becomes James I.
VI.3 Socioeconomic Controversy
VI.4 The "Perfect Union" of Great Britain
VI.5 The Political Structure
VI.6 Religious Conflict
Many people do not know the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a
union of four constituents: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Great Britain, or Britain, refers not to the whole of the UK, but the
eastern island that consists of the combination of England, Scotland, Wales, and a number of outlying islands.
Dynastic unions or the concept of two monarchies being united under one monarch were used often in the medieval times as a way of organizing diplomacy
between two different states. Marriage was an institution that was most often used, as in the case of Castile and Aragon, Poland and Lithuania, or the
Habsburg dynasty. In the case of Britain, the institutions of marriage and inheritance were both incorporated to lead to the establishment of the Union of the
Crowns in 1603, and about a hundred years later, the Acts of Union 1707 to create the Kingdom of Great Britain that exists to today.
This paper seeks to establish an understanding of the dynastic unions in medieval Europe by concentrating on its role in Anglo-Scottish relations and especially
the founding of Great Britain through the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
II. Beginnings of a Marriage
Anglo-Scottish relations can be described both figuratively and literally as a love-hate relationship. Geographically tied together on the same island now known
as the Great Britain, England and Scotland share a history that can be traced to before the Roman Age. They have been intertwined by marriages between the
two royal families, or dynastic unions; they have been torn apart by wars and rebellions.
During the Gaelic-speaking era of what is considered to be ancient Scotland up until Macbeth and Lulach, there was little conflict between Scotland and England.
However, when Malcolm III, one of Duncan's sons and a descendant of Kenneth MacAlpin, invaded Scotland and founded a new dynasty of Scottish Kings,
sometimes known as the House of Canmore, things started to change. He had won his crown largely through English aid, and thus the seeds of what ultimately
led to the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707 were sown.
III. Intermarriages between the Royal Scottish and English Families
Immediately after Malcolm became the King of Scotland, he chose to ignore his obligations to the English and chose to make an alliance with the Vikings in
Northern Scotland instead. He married Ingibjorg, the daughter of Thorfinn the Mighty, much to the chagrin of the English. However, when William, Duke of
Normandy, took over England and things changed drastically, Malcolm changed his policy toward his neighbor, England. Malcolm ended his marriage with
Ingibjorg in the 1060s and married Margaret of the Anglo-Saxon royal house. Some members of the royal Anglo-Saxon family had fled Scotland for asylum,
and one of these had been Margaret, the granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside. Such was the first dynastic marriage between Scotland and England.
The marriage prompted Malcolm to abandon Gaelic traditions as Lothian-English gradually replaced Gaelic as the language of the court, and later government,
church, and legal circles. The decline of the Gaelic was accompanied by changes in the legal system and local government. These were hastened by the
introduction of the feudal system in the twelfth century. Through this dynastic union of the English princess married to the King of England, Scotland saw many
English customs adopted into its culture and society. However, it is important to note that the two did not share a single monarch until almost five hundred years
The tradition of such marriages continued throughout the centuries despite constant fighting between the two separate entities of Scotland and England.
In 1107, King Alexander of Scots, the son of Malcolm and Margaret, became both the brother-in-law and son-in-law of King Henry I of England. His sister,
Maud, had married King Henry, and he himself was married to Henry¡¯s daughter Sibylla. This strengthened connections between the two nations as both
shared its culture and society through the dynastic union.
In 1124, King David of Scotland, who was brought up in England, married the Norman heiress of the Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon, one of the most
powerful English barons, thus becoming the English king's brother-in-law.
Such arrangements were not at all uncommon in medieval England and Scotland as marriages of the royal houses of the two countries created a complicated
family web that reinforced the political interdependence of the two countries.
IV. Edward I of England
England and Scotland were first united under one crown at the end of the thirteenth century. He had already conquered Wales, and had been seeking
to build a united Britain under one king ? himself. When Alexander III of Scotland died, he sought to have his son, Edward, betrothed to the infant
Margaret of Scots. However, Margaret died young, and he was forced to abandon his plans for a dynastic union between the two royal houses. In the
end, he appointed a lackey John de Bailleul (Balliol), a distant heir to the Scottish throne, and used him as a puppet. Edward showed little respect for
Balliol, irritating him by having English lords bring up complaints against him in parliament and calling him over to Westminster just to assert his
over-lordship. When Edward went to war with France in 1294, he summoned Balliol along with his lords and knights in the feudal manner, with no
distinction of Balliol as the King of Scotland. Having had quite enough, Balliol abandoned his allegiance with the English king and arranged a treaty with
the French court known as the "Auld Alliance." This sparked a strike back from England to Scotland, which then aggravated a movement in Scotland to
free themselves from the English. The English were ultimately driven out after 1314 and the Battle of Bannockburn. The first attempt of a united Britain
failed within the first generation of the shared crown.
V. Continuation of the Love-Hate Relationship
Despite all this conflict, the tradition of dynastic unions between the two countries continued, and arrangements were still to be made. When Henry Tudor
became Henry VII of England at the conclusion of the War of the Roses in 1485, he had his son, the future Henry VIII, marry the French Catherine of
Aragon; his daughter Margaret marry James IV of Scotland as a part of the "Treaty of Perpetual Peace." Yet even after this arrangement, within ten years,
the peace was broken as Scotland sided with the French by honoring the Auld Alliance when France invaded England. James IV of Scotland died in this
ill-fated Battle of Flodden of 1513, and at this point had a son, James V.
VI. The Union of the Crowns
The separate states of England and Scotland were first united under the same monarch as the Great Britain by the Union of the Crowns. This refers to the
accession of James VI, King of Scots, to the throne of England in March 1603 when Virgin Queen Elizabeth I of England, the last monarch of the Tudor
dynasty, died without children. Despite James¡¯s best efforts to create a new imperial throne of Great Britain and the implied meaning in the term, the Union
of the Crowns, this was merely a dynastic union. England and Scotland continued to be independent states, despite sharing a monarch, until the Acts of
Union in 1707.
VI.1 James VI., King of Scotland
Scotland from then on suffered much turbulence as James V was only a child when he came to the throne. He died in 1542, when his daughter, Mary Queen
of Scots, had just been born. Henry VIII of England tried to take advantage of this by trying to force his son, later the Edward VI, to marry her and thus
unite the two crowns under English terms. However, the Scots flatly refused, and though the English responded with border raids, Mary ended up marrying
the French Dauphin; she was all set for a union with the French and moved to France. Yet, the Dauphin died young and Mary returned to Scotland as only
the Queen of Scots. At this time, the Reformation was taking hold in Scotland and Mary, who was a Catholic, was mistrusted; after giving birth to a son, the
to-be James VI, she eventually escaped to England and her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. This was a failed dynastic union between the English and the
Scottish; however, in the next generation, the James VI was to become the first monarch to unite the two crowns.
James VI was first declared King of Scotland in 1567 when he was a little more than a year old. He was a distant cousin of Elizabeth I, and was descended
from Henry VII of England through Margaret Tudor, who was his grandmother. He had ruled Scotland quite well for the fifteen years he was the King of
Scots, until 1603 when he proclaimed title of King of Great Britain of both Scotland and England.
VI.2 James VI. becomes James I.
Queen Elizabeth I of England was not married and thus had no legal children who could inherit her throne. Yet, Henry's concern to avoid future conflict in the
succession to the English throne led him to make a will; it was decreed that in the case of his three children, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, failing to have heirs,
the throne should pass to the descendents of his younger, favorite sister Mary, and not his older sister Margaret. This was confirmed by and Act of Parliament
in 1543, and thus ruled out the Scottish Stewart descendants of Henry VII in the succession of the English throne. Despite this Act of Parliament 1543 though,
it was deemed that James VI was the most legitimate heir to the English throne. Some opposition did point out the Scots being an old enemy of England, and
that James¡¯s mother Mary Queen of Scots had been a focus of opposition to the English Queen, especially among English Catholics. However, it was also
noted that James, brought up as a protestant by the enemies of his mother, had signed a treaty earlier in his regime that turned a closed-eye to the English
execution of his mother. He had already proven himself as an able ruler through his governing in Scotland, and when Elizabeth died in 1603, James VI was
proclaimed King James I of England peacefully and without controversy. This was thus called the Union of the Crowns. Though there was before a union of
Scotland and England under one crown in the reign of Edward I of England, this was the first lasting monarch, however turbulent. When he left Edinburgh for
London, he had said, "Think not of me as ane king going frae ane part to another, but of ane king lawfully callit going frae ane part to the idel
to ane other that sae your comfort be greater."
VI.3 Socioeconomic Controversy .
The English and Scottish kingdoms of the 17th century had much in common, but also had much to contrast. First of all, England was much bigger, wealthier,
and more powerful, with a population of 5.5 million to Scotland's one million. Scotland also had far fewer towns than England. The city of Edinburgh, despite
being the second largest city in the British Isles in terms of population, did have the commercial trade power that London boasted. The rural people of both
kingdoms mainly lived in largely agricultural communities with small-scale manufacturing industries and inland trade. However, in a sharp contrast to Scotland,
England was less of a feudal society with farming tenants more freely bound to the looser obligations to the landowning elite tenants; Scotland was still a
strongly feudal society.
These differences in economy and society prompted much doubt about James's plans for a "perfect union." On the English side, there were fears that the
"beggarly" ways of the Scottish and their perceived poverty would undermine the prosperous economical structure the English enjoyed. The larger conflict
was the keen desire of the English to protect the fundamental ideologies of their ancient constitution and common law. The Scottish also shared similar
attitudes and feared the loss of Scotland¡¯s independence as a sovereign nation at the prospect of full "annexation."
Despite this however, James was bent on establishing a perfect union of Scotland and England.
VI.4 A "Perfect Union" of Great Britain .
James VI., now James I. of England was ambitious. He was not content with just a personal or dynastic "union of the crown"; he wanted a complete or
"perfect union" that brought the two kingdoms into a single, enlarged and unified state. The theme was taken up by poets and writers who celebrated the term
"Britain" as not only a geographical term but also as the name of the emerging State.
In October 1604, he decreed that in the future he would be known by the title of the "King of Great Britain." This more grandiose territorial title, referring
to England and Scotland as a single entity rather than two separate countries, allowed James to at least present himself to his subjects as one of Europe's
leading monarchs. In 1606, he gave orders for a "British" flag which bore the combined crosses of both St. George and of St. Andrew. The result was the
"Union Jack," "Jack" being the shortening of "Jacobus," the Latin word for James.
There were also initiatives that tried to foster the spirit of "Britishness." In diplomacy, the dynasty was promoted as a "British" dynasty; in court, the message
was actively implemented in allegories and in painted images of the king, and in pageants and masques. Despite this, however, in reality, little had changed.
In the localities there was really no difference at all and the two continued to develop independently and separately of one another.
VI.5 The Political Structure.
One of James's first projects was to establish a full legal and political union of England and Scotland. James asserted to the English parliament that Scotland
was now to be like an English shire, a locality under English power. While the Scottish was afraid of losing their sovereignty, the English were duly unsupportive
of the idea, suspicious of the Scottish King threatening to water down their culture and identity. The English parliament thus dissolved the idea, to the chagrin
of King James I; the only union thus born was the union of the crowns ? two different countries under one king.
England and Scotland would remain two separate and distinct kingdoms with two governmental systems for the rest of the 17th century, though under a single
monarch. The King would rule Scotland from London through the help of the Scottish nobility, and by sending regular instructions to the Scottish Privy in
Edinburgh. James did promise at the beginning of the union, that he would return to Scotland once every three years; yet he did not keep this promise and
returned to Scotland only once in 1617, before his death.
VI.6 Religious Conflict.
James was no more successful in his efforts to unite the two countries in religion. In Scotland, many of the ideas of the Presbyterians had prevailed in the church,
whereby it was governed not by bishops and a hierarchy of prelates but by Kirk sessions of laymen and a General Assembly. Many of the ministers were
Presbyterians, but there were some Episcopalian ministers also, left from the bishop-led hierarchy. Though the Presbyterians and Episcopalians differed much
on ritual, doctrine, and usage of books for services, they were united on the most important thing of all: the maintenance of the unity of the Scottish church.
Anyhow, both were openly opposed to Roman Catholicism.
When James became the King of both countries, he was determined to draw the religions of the two counties into line, with the Scottish church making the concessions.
Though a practical idea, he had taken little consideration to the beliefs and the strength of the beliefs of the Scottish people. He tampered with the Presbyterian
General Assembly in all ways imaginable, including changing debate times, mixing up the dates of meetings, and leaving out some ministers in notifying date changes.
He got the General Assembly to strengthen the position of the bishops in parliament, and in 1606, he banished Andrew Melville, the most influential of the
Presbyterian theologians. Melville had never accepted James¡¯s concept of his having the divine right to rule from God, and opposed the bishops in parliament.
In 1618, James resorted to bribery and threats to pass the Five Articles of Perth at a meeting of the General Assembly in Perth. It mandated many practices quite
objectionable to the Presbyterians; one decreed that all congregations of Presbyterians throughout the land should kneel to receive the bread and wine at communion.
Objections were shown with widespread refusal to attend services as the Presbyterians saw this practice as a form of idol worship. The king was unhappy, no doubt,
but from them on James decided not to press on the issue, but still did not relent or take back the official word; he vainly hoped that in time, people would be more
accepting to the change. He was wrong, and from thereafter, James left the church alone.
King James was very ambitious, and he can legitimately be evaluated to have provided the foundation Great Britain. He was sorely unsuccessful in his attempts to
completely bind the two nations politically, socially, and economically during his reign as the single head of the two entities. His Union of the Crowns also precipitated
into a century of warfare and religious conflict in both England and Scotland in the 17th century.
However, he had undeniably established the identity of Great Britain itself and helped to build up to the official full union of Scotland and England in the Acts of
Union in 1707. In a way, King James was successful in his goal of making a union of the two states. Three hundred years and one year later, in the year 2008, the
Great Britain is now united under one monarch and name, while also boasting a rich history and celebrating the cultures of both either Scotland or England and the
Great Britain; and largely as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2008.
1. "Act of Union 1707." 2007. House of Lords.
29 June 2008 .
2. Davies, John. A History of Wales. London: Penguin Books, 1993.
3. Edward, Norman. A History of Modern Ireland. Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami P, 1971.
4. Fry, Peter, and Fiona S. Fry. The History of Scotland. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1995.
5. Gregory, Jeremy, and John Stevenson. The Longman Companion to Britain in the Eighteenth Century. London: Longman, 2000.
6. Macaulay, Thomas B. The History of England. London: Penguin Classics, 1986.
7. Maclean, Fitzroy. Scotland a Concise History. Revised ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993.
8. O'Brien, Maire, and Conor C. O'Brien. Ireland a Concise History. Singapore: Thames and Hudson, 1994.