Monday, February 27, 2012

The Tender of Union

Scotland’s under-developed urban infrastructure and fragile agricultural system were particularly vulnerable to the strains and pressures of prolonged warfare. The arable lands and crude transport system of Perthshire and Fife, for example, were so exploited and abused by the marauding armies in central Scotland that by the early 1650s the region, one of the most fertile in all Scotland, could hardly sustain its own population. The rural countryside and the great estates of the nobles were likewise exposed to the violence and degradation of roving armies and bandits throughout the period. Friend and foe alike laid waste to the lands of Inverness, Argyll, and Perthshire even after the so-called pacification and union. Offensive operations designed primarily to terrorize and plunder, reprisals for the killing or troops or the destruction of military stores, defensive scorched-earth campaigns, and the maintenance of armies literally destroyed the agricultural stability of many regions. The actions of the country folk fleeing en masse before Cromwell’s advance into Berwickshire and the Lothians shocked even the hardened English veterans of the southern wars. Despite the prospect of an exceptionally heavy crop yield that summer, the entire countryside along Cromwell’s line of march was laid waste by the rural population in order to deprive the invaders of any sustenance on Scottish soil. While some regions of Scotland, therefore, enjoyed the fruits of a much-needed plentiful harvest in 1650, Berwickshire and the Lothians endured a particularly lean year, and, ironically enough, were forced to depend upon the importation of food from England for sustenance.

The human cost of the wars also robbed local economies of vitality, sapping the strength of even tiny market burghs. Few if any towns escaped the war years without deep and often crippling wounds to their economies, property, or populations.

During the debates and discussions about Scottish Independence, much focus is placed upon the 1707 Act of Union and the earlier union of 1654 by the republican Oliver Cromwell is often overlooked. After the English invasion of 1650, and the defeat of the Scottish armies at the Battle of Dunbar , Scotland was placed under English military occupation with General Monck as military governor of the county.

Initial plans for England simply to annex Scotland, crudely asserting the right to control the territory, its people and resources, were dropped in favour of a more moderate and thoughtful political and constitutional settlement, involving a degree of Scottish involvement, and based upon the idea of a union of England and Scotland as a single ‘Commonwealth’. These proposals were set forth by the Rump in a Declaration of Parliament ‘concerning the settlement of Scotland’, drawn up in October 1651, debated by parliament during the autumn and issued in its final form in December. The Declaration made clear parliament’s intention, on grounds of ‘freedom’ and ‘security’, that Scotland should be ‘incorporated’ with England into a single ‘Commonwealth’, and also implied that English style toleration of various Protestant faiths would be extended to Scotland. All crown lands in Scotland were to be appropriated and all Scots who had supported the royalist cause and royalist operations against England and the English would also lose their lands; thus all those who had been involved in the Scottish-royalist invasion of 1648 as well as in the renewed war of 1650-51 would lose their estates. Finally, the Declaration promised peace, protection and the enjoyment of their ‘Liberties and Estates’ to all other Scots, in the process pledging to abolish all feudal duties still attached to the holding of land in Scotland, freeing people from their former ‘dependencies and bondage-service’ and so creating ‘free people’ who held land on ‘easie rents’ and ‘reasonable conditions’ – not only creating a more free and modern system of landholding in Scotland but also in the process undermining the influence which the Scottish landed elite could exercise over the people. The Declaration of autumn 1651 became the basis for the attempted English settlement of Scotland over the ensuing two years. In some ways, much progress was made. Thus from January to April 1652 commissioners sent by the English parliament met elected representatives of the towns and counties of Scotland in Dalkeith, to present and explain the Declaration and to obtain from the Scottish representatives pledges that they would accept those terms. The commissioners did secure such acceptance from an overwhelming majority of the Scottish representatives.

Between October 1652 and April 1653 a select group of Scots, chosen by elected representatives of Scottish towns and counties, held further discussions in London with the Rump parliament and its agents. The English parliament drew up and debated a Bill for the Union of Scotland, which would also give Scotland the right to send MPs to sit in future in single Anglo-Scottish parliament. The new Protectoral government which took power in England in mid December 1653 moved quickly to advance new or existing policies. The written constitution itself, the Instrument of Government, paved the way for union, for it implied and stated that the political and constitutional union was a fact, repeatedly stressed that it was a British not an English constitution, speaking of England, Scotland and Ireland, too, comprising a single Commonwealth, and allocated Scotland a small number of seats in the new, elected, single-chambered parliaments which were to meet from time to time. The ordinance uniting Scotland with England as a single Commonwealthconfirmed the arrangements enunciated in the Instrument of Government, declaring Scotland to be a single Commonwealth with England and confirming that Scotland would receive 30 seats in the Protectorate parliaments. It formally abolished both the separate Scottish parliament and monarchy in Scotland and discharged the people from any allegiance to the Stuart line and family. This political union was to be matched by an economic union, for goods were to travel freely between England and Scotland and Scotland would be encompassed within the single, Commonwealth-wide tax system. The ordinance went on to abolish almost all the remaining elements of the feudal tenurial system in Scotland and with it all feudal obligations imposed upon land and land tenure, including ‘servitude’, ‘vassallage’, military service and the separate judicial powers of landowners. The ordinance uniting Scotland with England had effectively abolished the judicial powers, jurisdiction and ‘private’ courts of Scottish landowners. In part in a move to replace them, Protector and Council extended to Scotland courts baron, small, local, manorial courts which dealt with minor issues such as debt, trespass, contractual wrangles and so on. The courts, which were to meet regularly, had power only to determine by jury small issues, of limited financial value and where the ownership of the property was not in doubt or question.

Glencairn’s Rising brought home to the English military leaders on the ground and, through them, to the English regime in London, that a policy of simply oppressing, undermining and excluding the Scottish landed elite would alienate them, give them no reason to remain loyal to the English occupiers and instead drive them into the arms of any movement – Scottish, royalist or whatever – which might offer a more palatable alternative. A number of carrots were dangled in front of selected Scottish landowners. While debt and the fear of its consequences might drive men into rebellion, if conversely the English regime could offer some help in alleviating elite debt and in preventing great estates from falling prey to creditors and their agents, then the Scottish landed elite might be won over and see real benefits from English rule. Several measures were put in place to alleviate the overall burden and impact of debt on Scottish landed estates.

Free trade was established

The other important elite group to be affected was the Scottish church. Following negotiations and debate in Council, Protector and Council issued in early August a settlement of the Scottish church, nicknamed ‘Gillespie’s Charter’, was agreed. The financial position of the universities Glasgow and Aberdeen was boosted by granting to them lands and incomes formerly vested in certain, now defunct bishoprics and religious houses in Scotland. The money was to be used to support the universities in general, some senior academics and administrators and students studying particular subjects. Commissioners were set up for various Scottish regions with power to examine the qualifications of candidates to vacant livings; only those judged and certified by them to be ‘of a holy and unblameable conversation, disposed to live peaceably under the present government, and who for the Grace of God in him, and for his knowledge and utterance is able and fit to preach the Gospel’, were to be appointed and granted stipends.

Although it had been stripped of most of its feudal rights and powers, the Scottish landed elite largely survived, pardoned by the Protectoral regime and with its somewhat precarious material position and landed status actually protected and in some ways underpinned by the English regime. Equally, in the end the Scottish Presbyterian church also endured and although it had been required of necessity to recognise and to reach a compromise with the secular power of the English regime, that regime in turn had largely accepted and compromised with the established religious position of the Presbyterian church.

Despite the continuing military presence, the Protectorate established or re-established elements of more traditional, civilian government and administration in Scotland, which performed at least adequately and which provided a level of stability, security and peace at least comparable with the monarchical regimes of the seventeenth century. A few Scots actively supported the Protectoral regime; the vast majority acquiesced with it and lived peacefully under it, making the most of any advantages which the new order might bring while also retaining what they could of their old ways or seeking to modify the new regime to bring it closer to the Scottish way of doing things. Compromises were made on both sides and to some extent the Protectoral regime achieved a fair degree of peace and stability in Scotland.

Orders were issued that the filth and sewerage in the streets were to be cleaned up within 30 days and the practice of throwing water and night soil from windows was prohibited. In October 1655 a local tax or cess (assessment), was levied to pay for horse and carts to carry away the filth and muck.

A general feeling existed even among Scottish people that the English rule of law was more merciful to the Scottish than the Scots had previously been to one another. This was perhaps no more apparent than in the Highlands. The clan system, often viewed through a haze of romanticism, was patriarchal and authoritarian. Through bonds of kinship and mutual obligation, it allowed a large lower class to be controlled and exploited by a small aristocracy. One of the first acts of the new government of union was to offer an amnesty to all vassals and tenants who had followed their clan leaders or lords in opposing the English. Mercurius Scoticus advised: ‘Free the poor commoners, and make as little use as can be of either the great men or clergy.’ many measures proposed by the Declaration of the settlement had a double consequence: those that were aimed at destabilizing the social and political leadership of Scotland often favoured the common folk

The Anglo-Scottish union of 1654 proved a false dawn and was swiftly rendered null and void by the returning Stuart regime. The restoration of Charles II dissipated all the measures Cromwell had inaugurated.

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