Scottish-English Ties: A Historical Account

On Sunday I returned to Edinburgh from the State of Young People Summit at Facebook’s Headquarters in San Francisco. I may share more about that experience in a later post, but today I will focus on the history of Scotland, especially as it pertains to its relationship with England.

The Scottish Reformation

During the Protestant Reformation in Europe, Scotland underwent its own series of dramatic religious changes. Through the early 16th century, Scotland was predominantly Catholic, but this quickly changed with the help of theologian and reformist John Knox. Inspired by the actions of Martin Luther in Germany, Knox hoped to bring a new form of Christianity to Scotland, founding the Church of Scotland to replace the Catholic faith he believed to be both corrupt and misguided.

The reformation occurred around the time of Mary Stuart‘s reign, likely the most famous Scottish monarch ever. Born a Catholic and crowned as Queen of Scots at 6 days old, Mary moved to France where she spent her childhood and studied her Catholic faith. Shortly after marrying King Francis II of France, the couple returned to Scotland, where many were eager to meet their Queen, rumored to be both intelligent and beautiful. Mary arrived in the midst of significant religious turmoil, and, as a Catholic, some were suspicious of her reign. John Knox condemned her in many of his sermons, and Mary’s life quickly deteriorated into a series of unfortunate events. A short time after arriving in Leith (a port village near Edinburgh), her first husband died at the age of 16. Potential suitors from noble families across Europe began courting Mary, but she ended up falling in love with a man named Lord Darnley, her second cousin. Unfortunately for Mary, Darnely turned out to be a jealous drunk, and ended up murdering her secretary and confidant, David Rizzio. At the time of the murder, Mary was pregnant with their son, who was taken from her at shortly after birth and raised as a Protestant.

At this point, I will stop Mary’s story, though it continues to tragically unfold until she is beheaded at the hand of her sister, Queen Elizabeth of England. Meanwhile, Mary’s son was crowned King James VI of Scotland, and later, King James I of England (as Elizabeth had no children), uniting the two kingdoms. James was responsible for solidifying the dominance of Protestantism in Scotland and England and sponsored a new translation of the Bible, known today as the King James Version.

During my time here, I have visited several places where these events unfolded!

A Bad Investment and the Formal Union

In the late 1600s, the Scottish attempted to join the frenzy of colonization in North America, as England prevented Scotland from reaping benefits of its colonies across the Atlantic. The Scottish planned on founding a colony called Caledonia in Panama, and roughly 20% of Scotland’s wealth was invested into the plan, known as the Darien Scheme. Several expeditions were made, but complications related to nearby Spanish occupation, climate, inexperience, and disease rendered the attempted colonization a disastrous failure. Back home, Scotland found itself in financial ruin, and the nation was left unable to continue independently. To the dismay of many, the leaders of Scotland believed joining England was the only viable recourse, constituting anything but a voluntary agreement. In the early 1700s, about 100 years after James united the monarchy, the Acts of Union were passed in both the Scottish and English parliaments which formalized their unification as the Kingdom of Great Britain. In the early 1800s, Ireland joined the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the country finally arrived at the modern title of the United Kingdom.

Next Steps

I am currently en route to London via train where I hope to visit debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords. If I get lucky, there will be some discussion around Brexit and the Tory leadership race, both of which are pertinent to politics in Scotland. With that being said, my train is currently stranded on the track on the coast of Scotland, with a loss of power in the overhead lines AND a person struck by a train further in the route. Needless to say, there is a good chance I will have to turn back, in which case I will scramble to assemble an itinerary for my last few days in Scotland. This weekend I meet my family in Amsterdam for a break from this intellectual journey, though I will continue to update the blog. There are a number of subjects, experiences, and conversations I still need to cover about Scotland and its independence movement before heading to Spain!


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