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Portrait Of Britain: 1700

Allan Macinnes investigates the state of the islands at a crucial moment in British state formation.

At the outset of the seventeenth century, the British Isles could be depicted as three kingdoms and a province, but by 1700 they were being recast as one kingdom and three provinces. In the aftermath of regal union in 1603, Scots took comfort in the depiction of the multiple kingdoms as British, which effectively countered the traditional hegemonic claims of the English crown. James I, as the founder of the Stuart dynasty, made Great Britain a leading European power and projected his imperial crown through frontier, foreign and colonial policies. When his son Charles I attempted to impose social, economic and religious uniformity throughout the British Isles, the Scots were to the fore in instigating revolution, which, in turn, sought the replacement of regal by confederal union during the 1640s. Oliver Cromwell’s emphatic rejection of the Stuart dynasty and confederal union led to the temporary triumph of Greater England during the 1650s. All three kingdoms were formally restored in 1660 but Scotland, like Ireland, effectively continued as a satellite state with parliament clearly subordinated to directives emanating from the court. In the 1660s the Scots had promoted commercial confederation but by the 1670s, when this attracted English support, the debate had largely moved on from closer political union to colonial collaboration, a development given a particular steer by James, Duke of York, who had been dispatched to govern Scotland during the Exclusion Crisis of the early 1680s in England. After he, as James II, was removed from the throne, English hegemony was reasserted, at the behest of Parliament and the ruling ministry, as much as the crown.

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