HistorianDr Karin BowieUniversity of Glasgow

Scotland's journey to Union

On 18 September 2014, voters in Scotland will be asked in a referendum whether they want the nation to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The road to Union spanned centuries. Monarchy, religion, wars and money all played a part in an intriguing and often bloody story. This timeline will guide you through the key events leading to the signing of the Act of the Union in 1707.


The Treaty of York

Medieval map of Great Britain by Matthew Paris. Copyright British Library

The border lands changed allegiance many times prior the 13th century. Image: Paris map of Britain detail, British Library Board.

For the first time, the border between Scotland and England is established.

In an attempt to consolidate his kingdom, Alexander II of Scotland signs the Treaty of York with Henry III of England. The Treaty officially defines the border and remains in place with only the ownership of Berwick-upon-Tweed being contested over the following years. This is finally settled in 1482 when the town is captured and held by English forces.

More about Alexander II (royal.gov.uk)


Edward I, invasion and the 'Auld Alliance'

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Edward I strips Scotland of its symbols of sovereignty. Clip: A History of Scotland

After the sudden deaths of Alexander III of Scotland in 1286, and his daughter Margaret in 1290, there are many claimants to the throne.

England’s Edward I agrees to adjudicate but requires the claimants to accept him as their superior lord. In 1292, he selects Scottish nobleman John Balliol. In 1295, the Scots sign a treaty of alliance with France; the ‘Auld Alliance’. Edward invades Scotland. His army rampages through Berwick, then Dunbar, overpowering the Scots. Balliol is imprisoned and exiled. Scots lords are forced to pledge allegiance to Edward.

Find out more about Edward I


Scotland revolts

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Scots forces win a striking victory at Stirling. Clip: A History of Scotland

Local revolts against English rule turn into a national rebellion in 1297 under the leadership of William Wallace and Andrew Moray.

Higher taxes and the threat of war with France lead many ordinary Scots to join the rebel army. English control of Scotland is weakened but armed conflict continues as Balliol remains in exile. In 1305, Wallace is captured and executed by Edward in London.

Why is Stirling Castle the bloody heart of Scotland?


Battle of Bannockburn

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Key to victory at Bannockburn was the 'schiltron' formation. Clip: The Quest for Bannockburn

Robert the Bruce murders John Comyn, a rival claimant to the Scottish throne, and has himself crowned king in 1306.

Bruce leads a guerrilla war against English occupation, slowly building support in Scotland for his kingship. On 23-24 June 1314, the armies of Robert the Bruce and Edward II meet at Bannockburn, near Stirling. Bruce’s army is greatly outnumbered. But with the twin advantages of local knowledge and military cunning, the English are overwhelmed. Edward’s army is forced into a humiliating retreat.

Six crucial moments during the Battle of Bannockburn


The Declaration of Arbroath

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Prof Ted Cowan discusses the legacy of the Declaration of Arbroath. Clip: Scotland's History Top Ten

Baronial supporters of Robert I sign a letter to the Pope asking for papal backing in their fight against English overlordship.

The letter, prepared at Arbroath Abbey in 1320, announces that Bruce has freed the country but, if he ever submits to the English he will be driven out and replaced as king. The declaration states “...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions, be brought under English rule”. In 1328, Edward III agrees to recognise the independence of the Scottish throne. Scotland’s alliance with France leads to intermittent fighting as part of the Hundred Years War.

See the only surviving copy of the Declaration

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Declaration of Arbroath, 1320


Treaty of Perpetual Peace

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The influential legacy of the marriage of the Thistle and the Rose. Clip: A History of Scotland

A long dynastic conflict in England, the Wars of the Roses, leads the first Tudor king, Henry VII, to make peace overtures to Scotland.

A treaty intended to end over 200 years of enmity is signed by Henry and James IV of Scotland. The following year James marries Henry’s daughter, Margaret Tudor. The terms of the treaty are broken in 1513 when war between England and France is renewed and the Scots invade England in defence of the Auld Alliance. James is killed at the Battle of Flodden. His son takes the throne as James V.

Margaret Tudor: Scotland's forgotten queenHow James IV met his death at the Battle of Flodden


Mary, Queen of Scots

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The infant Queen of Scots, becomes a pawn in an Anglo-French power struggle. Clip: A History of Scotland

Mary, the only child of James V and his French wife, Mary of Guise, is born. James dies six days later and Mary becomes queen.

In 1543 Scotland’s Regent, the Earl of Arran, agrees a marriage alliance with England, now a Protestant realm under Henry VIII. Mary is to wed Henry VIII’s son Edward. Scotland’s parliament rejects the treaty and Henry invades Scotland in what becomes known as ‘the Rough Wooing’. Scotland turns to France, agreeing a marriage between Mary and France’s crown prince. Mary lives in France from 1548 becoming its queen in 1558. She returns to govern Scotland in 1561 after the death of Francis II.

Your Paintings: Mary's return to Edinburgh


The Reformation

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Historian Jenny Wormald outlines the legacy of the Reformation in Scotland. Clip: Scotland's History Top Ten

The religious reformation sweeping across Europe takes hold in Scotland.

In Scotland, a Protestant uprising in 1559 combines with discontent over the nation’s status as a French satellite state. Queen Elizabeth of England sends troops to aid the Protestant rebels. In 1560, the Scottish parliament accepts a Protestant confession of faith. A treaty requires the removal of both English and French troops from Scottish soil. Mary maintains links with Catholic France but leading Protestant nobles in Scotland are now more open to alliance with Protestant England.

Patrick Hamilton, Scotland's first Protestant martyr


The birth of James VI

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Dr Clare Jackson discusses James's very royal bloodline. Clip: The Stuarts

Mary, Queen of Scots marries a Scottish noble, Lord Darnley and has a son, James.

As a great-grandson of Margaret Tudor, James is the nearest heir to England’s unmarried Queen Elizabeth. In 1567, Darnley is murdered. There are suspicions about Mary’s involvement and, when she marries the chief suspect, the Earl of Bothwell, she is forced to abdicate in favour of James. Mary flees to England and never sees James again. She is imprisoned by Elizabeth I and executed in 1587 for plotting to overthrow the English queen.

A turbulent life: Mary, Queen of Scots, mother of James


The Union of the Crowns

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After claiming the English throne, James rarely returned to Scotland and boasted that he ruled it "with a pen". Clip: A History of Scotland

England’s Queen Elizabeth dies childless, ending the Tudor reign.

Elizabeth’s cousin, James VI of Scotland, inherits the crowns of England, Wales and Ireland. From his reign in Scotland James is known to be an effective and accomplished king. James VI, now James I of England, styles himself the King of Great Britain, but the English and Scottish parliaments resist proposals for formal union. Each country remains a separate sovereign realm.

How James VI claimed the throne of England

I will govern according to the common weal, but not according to the common will

King James I (James VI of Scotland), 1621


Charles I’s prayer book and the Covenanters

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Covenanter dissent threatens to tip Scotland into war against its king. Clip: The Sword and the Cross

With the Scottish king now in London, consultation with Scotland declines and discontent builds.

In 1637, James’s son, Charles I, introduces a prayer book for the Scottish church that many consider to be insufficiently Protestant. A revolt leads to the swearing of the National Covenant in 1638, creating a rebel movement in defence of the church. Armed rebellion follows and the Covenanters invade England to force the king to agree terms. A treaty is agreed, but by 1641 conflict is rising between Charles and the English parliament and a revolt begins in Ireland.

More about the Covenanters (bcw-project.org)


The Solemn League and Covenant

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In return for military assistance the Scots seek religious union. Clip: The Sword and the Cross

Civil war in England leads parliamentarian rebels to ask for armed assistance from Scotland.

The Covenanters in Scotland agree to help in return for promises that the churches of England and Ireland will be reformed on Presbyterian lines. The Solemn League and Covenant envisions a British Protestant union with the kingdoms united under the same monarch with similar, though not united, churches. The Solemn League has strong popular support in Scotland but much less in England and Ireland.

Web extra clip: the importance of the Battle of Edgehill


Cromwellian Union

Statue of Oliver Cromwell

Hundreds of Scottish war prisoners were sent to the colonies as slaves by Cromwell

To Scotland’s outrage, Charles I, the son of James VI, is executed in 1649. England abolishes the monarchy but Scotland names Charles’s son as king.

Cromwell invades Scotland in response, inflicting a bloody defeat at Dunbar. By 1652 and under military occupation, Scotland accepts a Tender of Union leading to the formation of the united Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Representatives from Scotland serve at Westminster. But with the death of Cromwell, Charles II is restored to his British crowns in 1660.

Who was Oliver Cromwell?


Revolution and the Jacobites

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How did a lullaby warn of an impending revolution? Clip: A History of Scotland

In 1685, the Catholic brother of Charles II takes the British thrones as James II and VII.

By 1688 English peers unhappy with his rule invite William of Orange, Protestant leader of the Netherlands, to invade. James flees to France and the parliaments of England and Scotland each offer the crown to William and his wife Mary. The Scottish parliament re-establishes Presbyterianism when bishops back James as the legitimate king of Scotland. Refusing to accept William, John Graham of Claverhouse leads a revolt - the first of many Jacobite attempts to restore James and his descendants.

Killiecrankie: Scotland's first Jacobite rising


Company of Scotland Act

18th century map depicting the isthmus of Panama. Mary Evans Picture Library

The isthmus of Panama was controlled by Spain and as such the Scottish plan risked Spanish hostility and aggression.

Though Scots are allowed to hold property in England as natives, they are denied access to England’s lucrative overseas colonies.

The Scottish Parliament launches a bold initiative to set up a national trading company, which in 1698 founds a colony at Darien, in Panama. Pressure from English traders prevents the Scots from raising capital in London, Amsterdam and Hamburg. But the Scottish public embraces the scheme, investing about a quarter of Scotland’s liquid capital in this high-risk venture.

A History of the World: the Darien Chest


The Darien Scheme

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The Darien trading scheme predates the Panama Canal by hundreds of miles. Scotland's Empire: North America

The Darien Scheme is a disaster.

Many of the settlers die during the voyage and, on arrival, survivors face disease, revolt, sabotage by England and attacks from Spain. King William refuses to support the colony, creating huge discontent in Scotland and a feeling that Scottish sovereignty has been lost. Coming after several years of harvest failures due to extreme weather, the Darien failure worsens a serious credit crunch. Scotland’s financial losses are great.

Find out more about the Darien scheme


Succession Crisis & Union

Statue of Queen Anne

Anne's father, James II, forfeited the throne due to his Catholicism

A succession crisis prompts Queen Anne to pursue a complete union between Scotland and England.

Leading English Tories sink a first attempt in 1702. In 1703 and 1704 the Scottish Parliament demands reform before it will name Anne’s successor. A Whig Parliament in 1705 forces the Scots into treaty talks by threatening to cut off trade. In 1706 terms are set for a united kingdom of Great Britain with 45 Scottish MPs in the House of Commons and 16 nobles in the House of Lords. It offers free trade across the nations and all colonies but under higher English customs and excise rates.

Who was Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch?

Neither our sovereignty nor our antiquity are lost in an incorporating union with England

Sir John Clerk of Penicuik


The Act of Union

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Despite being unpopular, the signing of the Act did not result in widespread civil unrest. Clip: Scotland's Empire: North America

The Scottish Parliament passes the treaty amidst great debate.

Unionists argue the treaty will create a strong Protestant realm able to counter the growing problem of Catholic France, supporter of James Stuart. Parliamentary supporters are secretly paid £20,000 by the government. Opponents express concern for the loss of the ancient Scottish kingdom and parliament. Presbyterian opposition in Scotland leads to an act preserving the Presbyterian church. The treaty is passed in England and on 1 May 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain comes into being.

Read the Articles of Union (parliament.uk)

Why should I be so sad on my wedding day?

Played by the bells of St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh on 1 May, 1707