The course of negotiations
Negotiations between the English and Scottish commissioners were held at the Cockpit, one of the government buildings at Whitehall in London. The opening formalities were held in the council chamber on 16 April 1706, with speeches from William Cowper, the English Lord Keeper, and Lord Seafield, the Scottish Lord Chancellor, each describing the significance of the task.
- Lord Keeper
In full, lord keeper of the great seal of England--its custodian. By the early 18th century, appointment to lord keeper was made if no suitable candidate was available for the more senior post of lord chancellor. The holder of either office was the chief minister responsible for the government's legal business, and was also speaker of the House of Lords.
- Scottish Lord Chancellor
Custodian of the great seal of Scotland, and the senior government minister with particular responsibility for the Scottish legal system.
- Private rights
Rights or privileges that individuals might have or exercise by virtue of private grants, e.g. from members of the Scottish aristocracy, or under Scottish law in relation to the holding of property.
- Heritable offices and jurisdictions
Heritable offices are roles that are passed on by inheritance, such as that of sheriff or bailie in Scotland. Sheriffs had judicial, financial, administrative and other roles and were often lairds (members of the Scottish gentry) who used the role for their own benefit.
- Window tax
One of the many 'indirect' taxes imposed on 'luxuries' and paid according to one's wealth. Introduced in 1696, the tax was rated according to the number of windows in a dwelling (cottages were exempt). It remained in force until 1851 when replaced by a house tax similar to the council tax.
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Family tree of the English and Scottish royal dynasties.
• © Palace of Westminster
The two sets of commissioners did not carry out their negotiations face to face, but in separate rooms. They communicated their proposals to each other in writing. There was also a news blackout.
Business commenced on 22 April when Cowper presented to the Scots the proposal that 'the two kingdoms of England and Scotland be forever united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain; that the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same parliament; and that the succession to the monarchy of Great Britain be vested in the House of Hanover.'
Agreement in just three days
On 24 April the Scottish commissioners said they would agree to the Hanoverian succession, on condition of free trade not only within the United Kingdom but also with the plantations, England's colonies in North America and the West Indies. The next day the English commissioners agreed that such free trade was fundamental and 'a necessary consequence of an entire Union'.
Within three days, therefore, both sides had secured what they most wanted: England had a guarantee that the Hanoverian royal dynasty would succeed Queen Anne to the Scottish crown; the Scots had their long sought-after access to English colonial markets as the route to an improved economy.
Agreement on these fundamental points was so quickly concluded as much of the ground had been worked out in the preceding months in informal meetings between the English Junto lords and the Scots. The Scottish political elite had wanted a 'federal' type of union which would be a union of economic interests but in which Scotland retained its own parliament, thereby preserving much of its own sovereignty. But it was well known that the English politicians had profound objections to Scotland retaining its own parliament; the difficulties of managing Scottish politics had, after all, been a major bone of contention with the English for many years. Knowing in advance that the English would not give way on this matter, the Scots prepared themselves to accept an 'entire' or 'incorporating' union as the basis of the detailed work that was to follow on the articles.
The commissioners worked amicably through a wide range of issues with little difficulty: the union flag, the standardisation of weights, measures and coinage; the preservation of 'private rights'; the number of Scottish peers and MPs who were to sit at Westminster; the preservation of 'heritable' offices and jurisdictions.
Taxes, debt and laws
The Scottish commissioners' particular concern was taxation, and expectations that the Scots should pay the same as the English, since the Scots could not afford to pay taxes at English levels. So they agreed a series of exemptions on taxable items such as paper, windows, coal, salt and malt. (The land tax, or 'cess', paid in Scotland was also adjusted, so that the Scots paid a proportion of what was paid in England (the Scots paying £50 for every £2000 paid in England).
Although the Scots would now have to contribute to the National Debt, they did not want to pay taxes for payment of English debts incurred before the Union. This problem was eventually settled by establishing a sum known as the 'Equivalent', compensating the Scots for this. After much guesswork and calculations with the help of two Scottish professors of mathematics, they agreed on £398,085. The money would offset Scots' demands for compensation to Darien shareholders, provide arrears of salary to Scottish public officials, and compensate for losses arising from the transition to English currency.
It was also agreed that the 'fundamentals' of Scottish civic society should be preserved: the Scottish legal system, and the rights and privileges of the Royal Burghs of Scotland.
The Scottish Kirk
There was, however, one highly sensitive area where the negotiators were not permitted to venture: the position of the Scottish Kirk or church. Any mention of it in the Articles would almost certainly lead to the Tories at Westminster defeating the ratification of the treaty.