Ok, so I am almost as far away from Scotland as I could be, given that I am in the UK. Nonetheless I have taken quite an interest in the history-making Scottish independence referendum; fuelled perhaps by my recent visit to Scotland. Media of all kinds have brought this campaign to a world-wide audience and anyone who considered this issue realised that the impact of the result, whatever the result might have been, would stretch way beyond Scotland itself.
Of course being an historian, especially one with an interest in the seventeenth century, I can’t help wondering how the bringing together of England and Scotland might have affected our ancestors. It was of course a two stage process. The accession of James I/VI in 1603 created the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland; from then on we shared a monarch, almost by default. On that occasion it was England who were reluctant for their parliament to be subsumed in that of Scotland, rather than vice versa. Had, as King James no doubt expected, the union of the crowns been also an immediate union of parliaments, would Edinburgh rather than London have been the seat of the united government?
Despite abortive attempts during the seventeenth century (1606, 1610, 1667 after the Restoration and 1689 under William and Mary), it was to be a century down the line before the parliaments of the two countries were united. An Act for a Union of the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland was finally passed in 1706 and came into effect on 1 May the following year. This was in part prompted by the potential constitutional crisis that was on the horizon, as a less then healthy Queen Anne, who had singularly failed to provide an unequivocal heir, neared the end of her life. In 1706 the decision was in the hands of a few. In 2014 a huge majority of the population of Scotland, male and female, of all income brackets had their say.
I think of the ancestors that I can name, who would have been alive at the time. A young John Braund, living in Devon (wish I knew where). His future wife Florence (I am not even sure of her surname). The Madicks and the Elfords, also of Devon and the Oughs of Cornwall. How would the new regime have affected them? Well I strongly suspect that they were blissfully unaware of what was going on. It may have been days before they were aware of a change of monarch, let alone a change of regime. Would the Act of Union eventually have been announced from the pulpit or on a news sheet? John Braund and Peter Elford may have been able to read, the latter was an overseer of the poor but I think it is unlikely that they had much understanding of the workings of parliament, united or otherwise. I doubt that any of my ancestors had the vote until 1832 at the earliest.
I do also have ancestors from Northumberland. I don’t know the names of those who lived there in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century but they are every bit as much my ancestors as those who I can name. I feel that this may have had more of an impact on their lives. To me, putting our ancestors in the context of the national events of their time is an integral part of being a family historian. So how did the Union of the Crowns or Parliaments effect my ancestors? I don’t know but it is right that those questions should be asked.