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The Act of Union


Queen Anne
Queen Anne

A crisis concerning the succession to the throne brought more immediacy to the unification issue. William and Mary were childless, as was Mary’s sister, Anne, who succeeded to the throne in 1702. To assure a smooth transition of power to a Protestant monarch, in 1701 the English Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which stated that a German branch of the royal family, the Hanovers, would succeed Anne as the monarchs of England. The Scottish Parliament refused to ratify the act, creating the potential that the two kingdoms would split after more than 100 years under the same monarchs.

The English feared that an independent Scotland might ally itself with France and provide a backdoor for a French invasion of England. The English fear of an invasion was especially strong at the beginning of the 18th century. At this time, England led a coalition of nations that were struggling to prevent Louis XIV of France from gaining mastery over Europe. After 1701 the stakes increased as Louis attempted to establish his grandson on the throne of Spain. The ensuing War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) engulfed most of western Europe as England, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, and later Portugal formed an alliance against France and Spain.

To avoid facing an enemy on the northern border, Anne’s ministers threatened the Scottish Parliament. They warned Scotland that they would treat all Scots as aliens in England, stop all trade between the nations, and capture or sink Scottish ships that traded with France. These threats led the Scots to accept the union with England.

In 1707 Great Britain was born. Fear had led the politicians of both nations to a union that would prove durable for hundreds of years. The Act of Union of 1707 created a single national administration, removed trade barriers between the countries, standardized taxation throughout the island, and created a single Parliament. However, England and Scotland continued to have separate traditions of law and separate official churches.

Developments in Ireland


John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

Catholics had gained hope of a return to power in Ireland during the reign of James II, who appointed Catholics to positions of authority in the royal administration and the military hierarchy of the island. Following the Revolution of 1688, James II fled to Ireland, where he raised an army of Catholic supporters. William III defeated the Catholics and once again imposed the firm rule of Protestant nobles. Although Ireland had its own Parliament, which was composed of Protestant landowners, the real power lay with royal officials, who administered the island based on orders from London. The Protestant rulers of Ireland instituted a series of highly restrictive laws that excluded Catholics from owning land or firearms, from practicing certain professions, and from holding public office. These discriminatory laws united Ireland’s Catholic population in opposition to Protestant rule.

Rise of Great Britain


Great Britain emerged from the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) as one of the world’s great military powers. Traditionally a naval power, Britain had built a modern, professional army during the reign of William III. This army, under the brilliant military leadership of John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough, led the anti-French alliance to decisive victories. On the seas, the British navy captured the island of Minorca in the Mediterranean and the strategic fortress of Gibraltar, which guards the entrance to the Mediterranean, on the southern coast of Spain. These victories gave Britain control over the Mediterranean. In 1713 and 1714 a series of treaties known as the Peace of Utrecht brought the war to a formal conclusion. As a result of the war, Britain gained Gibraltar and important trade concessions from Spain, including a monopoly on the slave trade to the Spanish colonies. From the French they won the colonies of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Hudson Bay. "England" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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