Sign up for Our Newsletter

Anglo-Scottish Relations from 1603 to 1900.

Review by: George Christian University of Texas at Austin

Anglo-Scottish Relations From 1603 to 1900, T. C. Smout, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 281 pages

Christopher Smout, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History at St. Andrews University,has compiled this compelling volume from papers given at a 2003 symposium of the British Academy commemorating the fourth centenary of the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland. Far more than simply rehashing old debates about the relative costs and benefits of the Union of 1707 or Scotland’s “lost” nationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these essays challenge some of the basic assumptions of the historiography of the Union and Scotland’s place within both the United Kingdom and the British Empire.

Perhaps the fattest sacred cow of this historiographical tradition is that Scots, having lost their independence in 1707, sublimated their national aspirations by becoming enthusiastic participants in the Empire (as soldiers, administrators, physicians, and settlers), retrospectively “inventing” a national identity based on Highland dress,customs, and military prowess, and building an industrial and urbanized economic powerhouse in the nineteenth century second only to England. While the facts seem beyond dispute, their usual interpretation as a linear “Whiggish” progression from regal to national to imperial union is here vigorously challenged by historians such as Jenny Wormald, Keith Brown, Christopher Whatley, Colin Kidd, and Tom Devine.

As Wormald and Brown argue, the century following James VI’s accession to the English throne emerges as among the most dismal and disastrous political and economic periods in the impoverished nation’s long history. Kidd points out that the real virtue of the “incorporating” Union of 1707, at least in the eyes of Enlightenment literati, was not that it offered Scotland the benefits of “British” economic protection and political opportunity, but that it finally eradicated the oppressive regime of Scottish lairds over their feudal domains. The second union thus saved Scotland from the first. And Devine trenchantly shows that Scots penetrated the East India Company so deeply not because of their enthusiasm for empire, but because Walpole made a deal with the Earl of Islay in the 1720s to bring an “ungovernable” Scotland under control by offering massive patronage to the superfluous sons of the disaffected Scottish gentry. Judging by the contributions to this volume, the constitutional, political, economic, and diplomatic history of the Three Kingdoms still has much to tell us about the nature of “Britain” and its Empire.

This entry was posted in Book of the Month. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.