Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 5: The Two Crowns

James VI of Scotland had plans to become King of England upon the death of Elizabeth. In order to carry out his intentions, it was in his best interests to stay a Protestant and to remain on good terms with the English Crown. This alliance was so strong, in fact, that when his mother, Mary, was executed by Elizabeth in 1587, after nineteen years of captivity, James brought forth only a formal protest. Instead of listening to the bad advice of many of his rash Scottish nobles, ever eager to go to war with the hated English, James preferred to bide his time. Better advice came from the powerful Welshman, Robert Cecil, who had become the Queen's chief minister. Accordingly, in 1589, James married a Protestant princess, Ann of Denmark.

In the long and protracted quarrel, which now ensued with the Scottish Kirk, James was determined to have his own way. Though Protestant, he was no Presbyterian. He wished to restore the position of the Bishops and to reduce Church interference in matters of state. He was opposed by the General Assembly, at that time under the influence of Knox's successor Andrew Melville. Melville was even more radical than Knox, who had died in 1572 was. He insisted that the Church direct the affairs of state, putting divine authority before civil jurisdiction.

Though James tried to reassert the power of his Bishops and forbade convocation of ministers except by his permission, he was defeated, being forced to allow Presbyters, Synods and General Assemblies to meet without his leave. Extreme Calvinism, with its intense opposition to episcopacy, seemed to be winning the day. Archbishop Spottiswoode supported the King's side. This conflict between two uncompromising factions was to strongly influence this whole period of Scottish history.

There were other matters of great importance taking place. Elizabeth's reign finally ended. The mighty Queen was laid to rest in March 1603 with James of Scotland declared as rightful heir. James journeyed to London to claim what he had longed for all his life -- the throne of England. He returned only once to Scotland. He greatly favored a union of the two kingdoms and the new national flag, the Union Jack, bore the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George. Although the Estates passed an Act of Union in 1607, it took 100 years before a treaty was signed.

It was English prejudice against a people they considered uncivilized and warlike that probably prevented the early union. After the Elizabeth's glorious successes, they had no wish to merge their identity with what they considered to be an inferior nation, let alone one that had been allied with Spain and France for such long periods in its history.

In retrospect, we can only puzzle at this "English" attitude. After all, following the accession of Henry VII to the English throne in 1485, it was Scotland who led the way in the literary renaissance that accompanied the reigns of the early Tudors. The most vigorous English poetry of the time was written by Scotsmen, with William Dunbar's Chaucerian works giving him pride of place as a virtual poet laureate. His freshness and animated dealings with nature both human and nonhuman anticipated the later Robert Burns in so many ways. Gavin Douglas known as "Beel-the-cat" produced other works of high literary merit. His translation of the "Aeneid" is a landmark in British literary history. Lastly, the works of Sir David Lindsey who addressed much of his poetry to the young king James V complemented the small group of Scottish poets.

Whatever the English thought of their northern neighbors, the Scottish king had taken the throne of England without rancor. James VI was perfectly happy in the seat of power at Whitehall. His troubles with the Scottish Presbyterians, however, were nowhere near the end. One of the chief obstacles to his plans for Scotland was the intractable Melville. On a pretext, James summoned him to England along with a group of his followers, had him imprisoned and forbid him to return to Scotland. The King then increased the powers and numbers of Scottish bishops. In 1617, he journeyed north to further implement his religious policy.

This was a grievous error. The King should have known better. The Scots were in no mood for episcopacy, which they regarded as little better than papacy. James's attempt to impose the Five Articles, dealing with matters of worship and religious observances, was met with strong opposition. He went ahead anyway and pushed through his reforms at a General Assembly at Perth in 1618. They were systematically ignored throughout Scotland.

Chapter 5: The Two Crowns Continued