James Stuart (1688-1766), the exiled Pretender to the English, Scottish and Irish thrones, and his supporters, including France and Spain, were considered one of the most substantial if not existential threats to Hanoverian Britain. The constitutional foundations on which George I, the Elector of Hanover, had been crowned king of Britain and Ireland in 1714 were viewed by many as unsafe. And George I made a delicate situation worse by dismissing the Tories from government and power the following year, alienating a large political segment.
Political and religious opposition to George I and the House of Hanover can be traced back to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ that replaced James II (James VII of Scotland), a Catholic, with two co-monarchs: William, Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of the Low Countries, and his wife, Mary, James II’s daughter, both Protestants. Whether James II had abdicated and abandoned the monarchy and the basis on which William and Mary had been invited by Parliament to succeed were disputed. The way forward was opaque and James and William & Mary’s respective supporters debated the issues in the Convention Parliament in London in January 1689.
James II had tried to ensure the return of compliant MPs to the House of Commons from the mid-1680s and in 1689 many in Parliament remained supporters. He had also moved to broaden his appeal and attempted to reach out to a constituency that included Whigs and Protestant dissenters. There were however parts of the electorate that he found hard to attract, especially where he had forced new charters on towns and attempted to purge their corporations. And while James’s efforts to obtain the support of dissenters with an offer of religious toleration may have been genuine, it was trumped by William and Mary, who allied religious toleration to constitutional liberty.
The Convention Parliament’s compromise brought together many divergent religious and political interests. New constitutional parameters were agreed, a declaration of ‘ancient rights’ drawn up, and a list proclaimed of those rights deemed to have been violated by James II. William and Mary were invited to become king and queen of England on 13 February, and a parallel Convention of Estates gave them the crown in Scotland. Their coronation took place in London at Westminster Abbey on 11 April and they recognised parliamentary sovereignty openly with an oath to uphold all its laws.
The Declaration of Rights passed into law as the Bill of Rights and was followed in 1701 by the Act of Settlement, which restricted the succession to James I of England’s (James VI of Scotland) Protestant heirs alone. Scotland declined to pass its own version of the Act, a decision that initiated five years of acrimony. From England’s standpoint, the imperative to bring Scotland into line was to mitigate the risk that the legal basis for a Protestant succession in England could be challenged by a competing Scottish monarch. And avoiding what would have been a mutually destructive contest became the principal driver behind England’s push for an Act of Union.
Political union and the loss of parliamentary sovereignty was opposed by many in Scotland. They found voice in the Scottish Act of Security, passed in 1704, in which Scotland set down its objections to the same royal succession as in England. London responded with the Alien Act of 1705, which stated that Scotland must either accept the Hanoverian succession or negotiate to unite the English and Scottish Parliaments. If Scotland chose not to do so, its main exports to England – cattle, linen and coal – would be banned, and Scots would forfeit their privileges under English law. At the same time Scotland’s elites were courted with cash and honours. Around £400,000 was distributed, nominally to compensate for the future liabilities that would be assumed in relation to the English national debt but in practice directed at those who had invested in the Company of Scotland’s failed Darien Land Scheme. This had cost its Scottish shareholders some £500,000, a vast sum that had almost bankrupted the country. Other funds were scattered alongside by the commissioners for the Union and others. Robert Burns’s comment that ‘we’re bought and sold for English gold’ had resonance and the corruption that accompanied that passage of the legislation by the Scottish Parliament was resented. It found expression in support for the Stuarts and the Jacobite cause.