On the 6th March, 1707, Queen Anne attended the House of Lords to give her Royal assent to the English bill ratifying the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England.
Queen Anne Stuart, younger daughter of James VII & II, sister to the previous Queen, Mary II & II, sister-in-law to yon Orangeman called Wullie, and last of the Stuarts (or Stewarts if you like) ordered an official copy of the English Act of Union to be sent to Scotland, whose Queen she was. The document stated that “the two kingdoms of England and Scotland shall upon the first day of May in the year one thousand seven hundred and seven and forever after be united into one Kingdom by the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.” That was to be a significant day in the history of the western world. However, the Union of the Parliaments, when viewed from the perspective of Scotland’s history, is shaded in many colours; all of them driech. We are where we are today because of that Treaty and whether or not you believe it’s been good or bad, that it should be maintained or abolished as the Scottish Nationalists would have it, the fact is, it came into being in a shameful manner. Robert Burns sums it up rather well in these two verses from the song ‘A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation’.
What force or guile could not subdue
Thro’ many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane –
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
O, would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour
I'll mak this declaration: –
‘We’re bought and sold for English gold’ –
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
The gist of the story is that, on the one hand, the English were afraid that the Protestant succession after Queen Anne would be scuppered by the Scots, who were shaping up to invite ‘the man who would be King’ James VIII & III to Stirling for a wee bit coronation. James VII & II had attempted to establish absolutist rule and a Catholic monarchy in his two kingdoms, but with him out of the way after the inglorious Revolution, which had put his Protestant daughter on the throne as joint Sovereign with her Dutchman, the English didn’t want his Catholic son and heir assuming the throne via the Scottish back door. The English had decided that the succession would pass to the Protestant heirs of King James VI & I’s granddaughter Sophia, which meant George I becoming the first Hanoverian King. Their sole incentive for the union seems to have been to preserve the Protestant succession. It shouldn’t be so important now, but the rule stating that no Catholic shall sit on the throne still exists.
On the other hand, the Scots were broke. After the disaster of Darien, in which the country had invested near a quarter of its liquid assets, except for the whisky, and with England refusing to drop trade barriers to the West Indies and the Americas, Scotland was on its uppers. Maybe an overindulgence in whisky was responsible for the daft decision to establish the Darien expedition. In any case, by the time Robert Burns was able to hold down a job enforcing customs and excise duties imposed upon Scotland as a result of the Union and pen a few lines about yon parcel of rogues, the whisky wasn’t so cheap. Rationally then, with Scotland’s fortunes in dire straits, a deal with England and the opening up of trade routes would surely be welcome. Ah yes, but not in the manner it was exacted. Certainly, Scotland had a more reasonable, logical and fundamental incentive for the Union than the mere preservation of religious continuity, but it remains a fact that the “parcel of rogues” charged with negotiating the Treaty sold their country for “a handfu’ o’ siller.”
One of the chief rogues who received a parcel from England was the Earl of Seafield. He was Lord Chancellor of Scotland, a title instigated by Alexander I, but he was quite happy to vote for the extinction of Parliament and his ancient role. In his glee at the sell out, he said with grim humour, “There is the end of an auld sang.” But in a stinging rebuke, his own brother told him, “Take your own tale hame. I only sell nowt (cattle), but you sell nations.” The leading anti-unionists were known as the Country Party, which included the likes of the Duke of Hamilton, Lord Belhaven and Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun. But despite Saltoun’s forceful and passionate oratory, they weren’t organised enough to make their votes count and the lure of filthy lucre proved too strong for their contemptible compatriots in the Court Party.
Article XV is the key to the Treaty. It provided a fund from which the likes of Seafield might be bribed to consent to all its provisions, either directly or indirectly. But for this article, the document would never have become law. The ‘Equivalence Fund’ was essentially designed to repay Scottish public debts, provide compensation for the Darien losses and to compensate for financial loss due to the transition from English to Scottish currency. However, those laudable purposes have become lost in its notoriety as a means of engineering a handout to a total of twenty-three Scottish ‘nobles’. Sums ranged from the £1104 paid to the Earl of Marchmont, the Earl of Seafield’s meagre £490, and the paltry £11 given to Lord Banff. Well may we exclaim “Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.” That a peer should sell his country for £11 may be regarded as just about the most contemptible transaction on record. Even the Provost of Ayr got £100.
When the story of that wholesale bribery broke, the people were furious. They regarded the gold as the price paid in exchange for the delivery of the liberty of Scotland into the hands of the English. But look on the bright side; it inspired Burns to pen such a song.