Front Page Titles (by Subject) 9: The Union of Britain in the Seventeenth Century - The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century
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9: The Union of Britain in the Seventeenth Century - Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century 
The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001).
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The Union of Britain in the Seventeenth Century
The seventeenth century was the age of revolution in western Europe. It was also the age of national unification. The facts are not entirely unrelated. The rulers of the new centralized monarchies, threatened by internal opposition in their different States, sought naturally to deepen their power by bringing all those different States under their control; and the classes which resisted those rulers sought, no less naturally, to strengthen their resistance by finding allies among their fellow-subjects in other States. In the Iberian Peninsula Olivares sought to unite the separate kingdoms and States of the Peninsula into a unitary kingdom of Spain. In England both Crown and Parliament sought to create a unitary kingdom or commonwealth of Great Britain. Like the Spaniards, the English failed in the seventeenth century, but succeeded in the eighteenth, though with an important difference: in Spain it was the monarchy which united the kingdoms, in England the Parliament.
The attempted unification of the two countries has certain obvious parallels. In both Spain and Britain the century began with a complete union of crowns. In both one kingdom—here England, there Castile—bore the main cost of government. In both there were degrees of independence under the crown: Portugal and Scotland had an independence denied to Aragon and Ireland. There were also important social differences between the several kingdoms of each monarchy which rendered a uniform policy impossible: in Scotland, as in Aragon (to which James I likened it), the nobility had tiresome, archaic powers which they could no longer exercise in England or Castile. For this reason, England and Castile supplied the models for kings, Scotland and Aragon for dissident magnates. There were racial differences too. The unassimilable Moriscos in the kingdom of Granada, alien in race, uncertain in religion, and different in social organization, constituted a problem which was similar to that of the Celtic and Catholic “Old Irish” in Ireland and was solved no less drastically. But these parallels between the two countries (which did not escape contemporary observers) were also accompanied by great differences. The economic and cultural predominance of England over Scotland and Ireland was more absolute than any which Castile could claim over Aragon or Portugal. Castile had no institution comparable in strength with the English Parliament. Above all, there was in Britain the added complexity of internal religious difference. In Portugal and Catalonia the Crown of Castile provoked the opposition of social classes and gave a new content to old traditions. But neither in Portugal nor in Catalonia did religion sharpen that opposition. In Scotland and Ireland, on the other hand, English aggression provoked the opposition of national Churches and ended by creating new obstacles to union. The Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Kirk became the organs of Scottish and Irish nationalism. Thus the religious identity of Britain, which was at first universally assumed, was ultimately found to be unattainable.
These foreign parallels help to illustrate the problem which faced the rulers of England from 1603 to 1707; but the working out of that problem depended, of course, on local conditions and circumstances. To these local conditions and circumstances we shall now turn. We will seek to show how dynastic opportunity and political necessity combined to make a perfect union of the three kingdoms both necessary and natural; but how social tensions and local loyalties aggravated the problem, showing, once again, that there are no short-cuts in politics. The course which seemed necessary and natural to the forward-looking Jacobean politicians would lead their successors over sunken reefs and through dangerous currents. But before examining those concealed dangers we must consider the smooth superficial prospect which tempted the English statesmen of 1603 when they looked at Ireland and Scotland, now for the first time all governed from London.
First Ireland. Originally Ireland had been a separate lordship under the English Crown. In 1540 it had been declared a kingdom. Thereafter the Tudors had gradually brought it to order. They had recovered its administration from the great Irish (generally Anglo-Irish) families; the last revolt by the old Gaelic chiefs—the revolt of the O’Neills and the O’Donnells—had been crushed; and society had been gradually subjected to English law and to the State-controlled Protestant episcopal Church. The triumph of Protestantism in Ireland had been remarkably easy—indeed too easy. The established Roman Catholic Church had been abolished without resistance. Consequently the new Protestant Church had hardly felt the need of missionary activity. The danger of that easy triumph was not yet obvious. What was obvious was the need to establish effective English control over the whole island. This need had been emphasized by the last episode of the Anglo-Spanish war: the Spanish attempt to exploit tribal rebellion and establish a bridge-head against England at Kinsale. In 1604, the Spanish war being over, it seemed prudent to settle Ireland before such a danger should recur. The final defeat of the Ulster rebellion seemed also to make such settlement possible.
In Scotland the order of events had been different, but their character was similar. There too foreign influence had been excluded, royal power extended, a State Church established. As in Ireland, the Catholic Church had collapsed with hardly a struggle. The foreign influence—the old alliance with France—had not lasted much longer. By the revolution of 1567 the Protestant Church had been secured, and with it a new dependence on England. But the Protestant Church of Scotland had been different from those of England and Ireland. For whereas they had been imposed by the Crown, it was imposed upon the Crown by the nobility. While they were essentially monarchical, it was in some respects disagreeably republican. However, it had been imposed with the assistance of the English Crown, and in its first generation it was far more compatible with the English system than later writers, looking at it through the struggles of the next century, have supposed. In particular, it was compatible with the English system by 1604; for by then the fanaticism of the Calvinist clergy had overreached itself and James VI, with the support of the aristocracy and gentry, had asserted lay control over the Scottish just as Queen Elizabeth had done over the English Church. Since the English Church was then closer to Calvinism than it would afterwards become, the differences in organization were easier to overlook: and they often were overlooked. “It is immaterial,” a Scotsman wrote in 1605, “that the two nations differ in the forms of public worship . . . for in the essentials of doctrine a solid foundation of uniformity exists”; and on the English side Bacon declared that “for matter of religion, the union is perfect in points of doctrine,” imperfect only in matter of discipline and government.1 Meanwhile, in 1603, the parallel with Ireland had been completed by the union of crowns and the recovery of political power by the king from the great Scottish families. In London James VI was free from the physical dangers and humiliations which his predecessors (and he himself in his youth) had suffered at the hands of the Scottish nobility; and with the added patronage of England he was able to build up the royal authority over his turbulent northern kingdom. Finally, settlement of Scotland was no less important to the security of England than settlement of Ireland. As late as 1616 the famous Spanish ambassador Gondomar would assure Philip III that England could be conquered from a bridge-head, this time, in Scotland.2
Such were the resemblances between the positions in Ireland and in Scotland: resemblances which suggested that the time was now ripe for a fuller union. But there were also differences. Two differences were important in the matter of union. One was social, the difference caused by the presence of the new English “planters” in Ireland. The other was political, the difference in the character of the political links binding the two countries to England.
Both Scotland and Ireland contained two societies, an original Celtic society and an “Anglo-Norman” society which had occupied and settled part of the country in the Middle Ages. In Scotland these two societies were described as Highlanders and Lowlanders respectively, in Ireland as “Old Irish” and “New Irish” or (as they came to be known in the seventeenth century) “Old Irish” and “Old English.” Between these two societies relations were, in general, stabilized. The Lowlanders provided the basis of royal government in Scotland, and the “Old English,” though many of them had adopted Irish ways and remained Catholic in religion, had done the same in Ireland. But in the second half of the sixteenth century the relative stability of the two societies in Ireland received a rude shock. A second English invasion imposed upon them a third society, which could not be so easily assimilated. This was the invasion of the “planters,” who established themselves on the lands, mainly, of the “Old Irish,” whom they dispossessed. This third force in Ireland, which had no parallel in Scotland, was of the greatest significance. It created a problem of land and, because the planters were Protestant, exasperated a social struggle by a religious difference. In Scotland in the early seventeenth century the Highlanders, though nominally Catholic, were barely touched by the Counter-Reformation. English observers described them impartially as atheist or Papist. But in Ireland the situation was very different. There the “Old English”—a landed conservative class—might have remained largely indifferent: “state Catholics” like the loyal recusants in England. But the dispossessed and resentful “Old Irish” went another way. Neglected by the unevangelical established Church of Ireland, they were won over by the missionaries of the new Rome. It seems incontestable that it was the pressure of the English planters which gave these recruits to the forces of the Counter-Reformation.3
The political link between Ireland and England was also very different from that between Scotland and England. The difference lay at the parliamentary level. Both the Irish and the Scottish parliaments were rudimentary bodies compared with that of England; but whereas the Scottish Parliament was at least free from English influence, the Irish Parliament was not. By the so-called “Poyning’s Act” of 1495, the initiative in legislation for Ireland had been transferred, not indeed to the English Parliament, but to the English Council. It thus followed that no one who had not the support of the English Council could control the Irish Parliament. This was a fact which Irish parliaments sometimes found useful and Irish viceroys disconcerting. It was to become very important when the king and Parliament of England were struggling for control of the English Council.
These differences between Scotland and Ireland were significant, but they were not fundamental. They affected the means whereby the three kingdoms might be united, but they did not prevent a uniform policy. Such a policy was clearly necessary: the security of the three kingdoms required it. The constitutional struggles in the course of the century made it doubly necessary: neither king nor Parliament could feel safe if the other kingdoms of the Crown could be mobilized against them. In the course of those struggles from 1600 to 1660 no less than three versions of union were successively attempted, and each version was different from the others. The differences lay not only in the circumstances in which each version was advanced, but also in the social basis on which it was built. In this essay I shall deal with these three versions: the royal version of James I; the aristocratic version of the Long Parliament; and the revolutionary version of Oliver Cromwell.
James I of England, the first king of all three countries, was eager to be king not merely of England and Scotland, but of “Great Britain.” He indeed is the author of the name which later Scots have forced Englishmen to impose on their country. For reasons of security, government and power he aimed at “a perfect union of laws and persons,” “one worship of God, one kingdom entirely governed, one uniformity of law.” He did not want a union of parliaments. At first he thought that he did, but experience soon dissuaded him.4 From its central position the Crown would obviously be at an advantage in dealing with three separate parliaments, and there was no point in bringing the tame parliaments of Scotland and Ireland to learn bad habits from the more formidable Parliament of England. But a uniform law would be enforced by judges appointed by the Crown, and a uniform Church would be ruled by bishops appointed by the Crown. English law and the English Church had already been extended to Ireland. There seemed no reason why they should not equally be extended, with merely minor differences, to Scotland. We have seen that the established Protestant Churches of England and Scotland were judged to be easily assimilable, one to the other. James’ Scottish lawyers also assured him that English and Scottish law were only superficially different and could be reconciled in essentials by being brought back to their common “feudal” principles.5 These were the presuppositions which lay behind the proposed union of 1604–7.
James I’s proposed union by legislation was not achieved. It failed through the jealousy of the English Parliament, which feared an invasion of fat English pastures by lean Scottish kine. But throughout his reign the king pursued the same policy: he sought to build up, in all three countries, the necessary basis of union. To him, that basis was not a common parliament nor a uniform economy, but a single Court, a loyal Protestant nobility, a centralized system of justice, an established episcopal Church. It was a unity of royal government, held together by royal patronage, and it was to be strengthened by the creation of a strong, educated class of court noblemen, officers and episcopal clergy.
In Scotland this policy was largely successful. The Scottish nobility was won over, partly by English patronage. At the same time the greatest abuse of their power—the hereditary jurisdictions which they exercised—was undermined by the establishment of justices of the peace on the English model. Episcopacy was reimposed through royal power, and maintained by royal patronage. This was done very discreetly, without a direct affront to the Calvinist Church or a threat to the new owners of Church lands and tithes. Finally, by an ingenious constitutional device—the “Lords of the Articles”—the king ensured that his Scottish ministers could control the Scottish Parliament: a body which, having little character of its own, would otherwise be at the mercy of noble faction. At the end of his reign James I could boast, smugly but truly, that he governed by his pen a country which his ancestors had never been able to govern by the sword.
In Ireland the policy was similar. With the collapse of the last revolt of the Gaelic chiefs, efforts were made to reform local government on the English model. As in Scotland, the Anglican structure was advanced without too direct an affront to the religion of the “Anglo-Norman” landlords, who were powerful in society and parliament. Ultimately, it was hoped, these “Old English” landlords would quietly conform. Meanwhile, to create a favourable balance in the Irish Parliament, new, Protestant boroughs were enfranchised; and the establishment of an Irish Court of Wards in 1617 supplied not merely a new fiscal engine, but also a means of educating the “Old English” nobility in the religion of state. Much has been written about the fiscal activities of the Court of Wards in England, but its importance as a means of patronage was just as great. It was a Scottish nobleman, anglicized at the court of James I, who urged the King not to abolish the court for any financial compensation; and he convinced him by pointing to the immense significance of its patronage. “No King in Christendom,” he said, “had such a tie on his subjects”—no doubt reflecting on the lack of such a tie in Scotland.6 At all events, the Irish Court of Wards at once scored one notable success. One of its first converts was the 12th Earl of Ormond, who would become the leader of Irish Protestant royalism in the years of revolution.
It can be objected that the proposed royal union of James I did not rest firmly on any solid economic basis. It depended on the uniform and unifying class of “officers.” That class was an educated class, lay, even tolerant, in its outlook, and held together by the bonds of patronage. Tolerance sprang from its education and was imposed by practical necessity. Even the established clergy, being officers of a state institution, shared, within their limits, this lay outlook, and did not seek to coerce either the Catholicism of Ireland or the Calvinism of Scotland. James I’s three primates, Archbishop Abbott in England, Archbishop Ussher in Ireland, Archbishop Spottiswood in Scotland, were all men of the same cast. It was patronage that was to solve all problems. By patronage the Irish nobility and Parliament were to be protestantized; by patronage the Scottish nobility and Parliament were to be controlled; by patronage—the “Undertakers” of 1614—even the English Parliament was to be managed. And by patronage the Protestant episcopal Church was to establish itself in all three societies and be yet another, a social bond of union. Such patronage, it can be said, may supply a means of government, but it is no substitute for an economic basis of unity.
To this objection there is an adequate answer. Economics do not necessarily precede politics. The royal union, once effected, might well have created its own economic basis. An educated court aristocracy, the patron of liberal ideas, can give the impulse to economic development, and such development can lead to the formation of an independent laity which may in turn become the support of the political system under which it has risen. The ablest of the Jacobean politicians looked forward to such a development. In Ireland Robert Cecil sought, first, to restrain the new “planters,” who too easily exploited the rebellions which they had often provoked, then to hold the balance between them and the Catholic “Old English,” and finally to allow a gradual improvement of the economy through internal peace. Francis Bacon urged a property-qualification for planters: they should bring wealth to the country, and invest it there, instead of acquiring it there by spoliation. “His Majesty rejoiceth not,” he wrote, “in the shedding of blood, nor the displanting of ancient generations”; time was on the English side if only there was a good English example; and the example would be strengthened by English institutions.7 In Scotland Sir Thomas Craig saw the pull of the English Court as an incentive to Scottish industry: a native cloth-trade, he wrote, must be established in order to supply that liquid wealth which was necessary to finance the attendance of the Scottish nobility on their distant king. The alliance of the English Court with the City of London, which existed throughout the reign of James I, would also help to build up local industry in a united Great Britain. On the other hand such a policy could not be hastened. It required time and peace. James I possessed the necessary virtues. He had both patience and love of peace. Unfortunately, they were personal virtues, which were not inherited. When Charles I came to the throne, it soon became clear that he had neither.
It is sometimes said of Charles I that he only sought to maintain the rights of the Crown, not to increase them. He said it himself. But (as his subjects found) it is not wise to believe his words. His actions—if we can see past the multiple forms in which he simultaneously pursued every aim—clearly show that he looked forward to a definite ideal, which he intended to achieve in his own reign. He envisaged an absolute monarchy, financially self-supporting, dispensed from the necessity of political discussion with his subjects. With the deceptive mildness of his character he combined an obstinate, uncompromising authoritarianism which showed itself at the beginning of his reign. At the age of twenty-five, while still clinging to the worthless Buckingham in England, and seeming to pursue there a Puritan foreign policy, the absentee King of Scotland coolly dismissed the greatest minister of his father’s successful policy, the Earl of Melrose. Melrose’s last advice to King James had been not to go so fast; Charles I intended to go faster.
Charles I’s policy in the three kingdoms, like that of his father, was all of one piece; but the emphasis was very different. James I had sought to bring Ireland and Scotland, slowly, into line with England; Charles I used the more rudimentary societies of Ireland and Scotland as models for a new course which he hoped to introduce, without delay, in England. By his Act of Revocation in Scotland he sought to enhance the status and income of the established Church several years before Archbishop Laud sought to do the same in England, and by his ecclesiastical measures he sought to transform that Church from a Presbyterian into a royal and episcopal Church. In Ireland Strafford and Bishop Bramhall would do the same, recovering from “Old English” and new planter alike “concealed lands” for the established Church. At the same time the public revenues of both countries were raised. In Scotland taxation was increased and made more regular. In Ireland Strafford so improved the revenue that the country began to supply instead of to drain the royal Exchequer. Finally, “feudal” taxes outside parliamentary control were enforced in Ireland as in England. The new Irish Court of Wards became, like its English pattern, a fiscal engine and its jurisdiction was extended to new victims.8 By 1637 it was clear that fiscalism and clericalism were designed to create, in all three kingdoms, not merely a united government and society, but a united absolutism.
Unfortunately for their prospect of success, these policies were carried out, in all three kingdoms, at the expense of the very means whereby James I had pursued his ends: the patronage of the nobility. James I had shown himself indifferent to the gentry, who had to support the burden of his Court, but at least, by his lavish patronage, he had kept the nobility of all three countries in place. Charles I, with his impatience of political management, drove them into opposition. The Scottish Act of Revocation was a direct blow to the “Lords of Erection,” the great nobles who had secured the Church lands and tithes of Scotland. Strafford’s ruthless fiscalism struck impartially at the old Catholic and the new Protestant nobility of Ireland. And these blows at the nobility (in spite of what he himself said about Scotland and what Strafford’s biographers have written about Ireland9 ) were not accompanied by any benefits to the gentry. The event proved it. In Scotland, to the dismay of the king, the gentry formed, for a time, the strength of the Covenanters; in Ireland, Catholic and Protestant alike, they pressed for the death of Strafford. In all three kingdoms the naked fiscalism, the impatient clericalism of Charles I, did not break the bonds of patronage: they solidified them—against the Crown. They also convinced the nobility and gentry of all three kingdoms that a union was necessary not merely in the person of the king, but at a lower level: a union of parliamentary opposition. Such a union was what the enemies of Charles I sought to achieve, not by institutional change but by political skill, in the years 1637–41.
To achieve it was a delicate and difficult matter. The three parliaments were very unequal in strength. The Scottish Parliament had little initiative and was effectively controlled by the Lords of the Articles. The Irish Parliament still, in 1640, had a Catholic majority and, anyway, by Poyning’s Law was subject to the English Council. Naturally, therefore, the managers of English opposition dealt mainly with individuals, not institutions. But even this was dangerous, especially in Scotland: for the Scots were by now in open rebellion, and for Englishmen to practise with them was treason. For this reason the evidence of such practices was carefully hidden and we know little about the details. However, the fact is clear enough. In Scotland John Pym and his friends kept an agent, “a gentleman of quality in England who was afterwards a great parliament man,”10 in order to concert measures with the Scottish leaders, and the similarity of measures adopted and demands made tells its own story. In Ireland they worked through their friends and kinsmen among the “New English” planters, several of whom, through aristocratic patronage, or thanks to English lands, were returned to the English Parliament.11 But they also fostered a party among the Catholic Members of the Irish Parliament, which sent a committee to London to work with the English Parliament. This Puritan-Catholic alliance did not in fact survive its original objective, the ruin of Strafford, but it was not necessarily foredoomed to failure. The established planter-gentry needed peace in Ireland and the basis of peace was, as Bacon had seen, agreement, even fusion, with the “Old English” of the Pale. If the political position could have been consolidated in 1641, this might have been secured. It would have been an aristocratic solution, secured by aristocratic patronage: the patronage of the earls of Bedford, Warwick and Pembroke in England, the Earl of Argyll in Scotland, the Earl of Cork in Ireland.
In the autumn of 1641 it was widely supposed that the position had been consolidated in all three countries. A parliamentary nominee had succeeded Strafford as viceroy of Ireland. The Earl of Cork’s success was so complete that he declared himself unwilling to change fortunes with any man in the three kingdoms. All the demands of the Scottish Parliament were confirmed, and the Earl of Argyll was the uncrowned king of the country. On 7 September the church bells rang throughout England to celebrate the general settlement and the agreement with Scotland by which it had been secured. At the same time there was published a tract, The Great Happiness of England and Scotland by being re-united into one Great Britain. It was in fact a new version of two tracts which an English bishop had published in 1604–5 in favour of King James’ proposed union: a union which had now been achieved at a different level, not to amplify but to contain the union of crowns.12
The success was short-lived. Defeated, as he supposed, by the mobilization of his other kingdoms, which he had used as models for the government of England, Charles I struck back in the same field. First he tried to recover Scotland. In September 1641 he went in person to Scotland in the hope of finding a party there. The hope was not fulfilled. Then an opportunity presented itself in Ireland. The Irish revolution demanded executive action, and whatever else he had yielded, the king had not yielded control of the English Council, the legal executive in both England and Ireland. Thus the revolution in Ireland transferred the struggle to this last citadel of royal power and the aristocratic solution of 1641 foundered in civil war.
By the time that it re-emerged, at the close of the first civil war in 1646, circumstances had changed and tempers risen. Aristocratic patronage had been whittled away, new interests had been created, and, above all, nationalist feeling had been aroused and consecrated by religious forms. These changes had led to a polarization of forces. In 1641, both in Ireland and in Scotland, the king had appealed to the old royalist classes, the secular, tolerant “official” aristocracy and gentry on whose support his father’s union would have rested. In Ireland he had relied on the Protestant leader of the “Old English” landlords, the Earl of Ormond, who sought to unite both religions in the old policy. In Scotland he had relied on the Earl of Montrose, who showed his religious indifference by renouncing the Covenant which he had accepted, but denying any interest in episcopacy, for which he fought. But as these parties proved insufficient, the king had fallen back, in both countries, on the Celtic fringe. In Ireland the royalist cause had been committed to the “Old Irish,” rising in mutiny against the English planters who had despoiled them; and in Scotland it was entrusted to the Highlanders, descending to plunder the settled Lowlands. Thus in both countries, the king, in his necessity, was undoing the work of his predecessors, the champions of Saxon “civility” against Celtic “barbarism.” The result was fatal: he alienated his Protestant supporters and exasperated his enemies. Montrose was never forgiven for using Highland barbarians against settled cities, and Ormond, when he had to surrender Dublin, would choose to surrender it to the English Parliament rather than to his “Old Irish” allies. On the other hand the English Parliament had equally been driven into dependence on its Scottish and Irish allies. As the price of renewed military assistance, it had submitted to Scottish terms and undertaken, what it had refused to do in 1641, to establish a Presbyterian Church system in England. In Ireland it had jettisoned finally any idea of working with the “Old English” Catholics, who, since 1641, had been excluded from the Irish Parliament. Indeed, in order to finance the war in Ireland, the Parliament had committed itself to a new “plantation” at the expense, this time, of “Old English” as well as “Old Irish.” The indirect result of these tensions was to exasperate national feeling between the three countries which had seemed united in 1641.
Nevertheless, in spite of all changes of circumstance, the aim of the English Parliament, between 1640 and 1648, remained basically constant. Ideally, in order to secure the future, a united Parliament should face a united Crown; but that would be a revolutionary demand, and the Parliament was not revolutionary: its leaders still sought to consolidate the position so nearly won in 1641. If settlement had been achieved in the years 1646–47, there can be no doubt that it would still have been, basically, an aristocratic settlement. The aristocracy would have recovered its patronage, but the patronage of the Crown, including the right to make new peers, would have been under parliamentary control. The Scottish gains of 1641 would have been confirmed, the English completed by control of the Council. Through that control, the English Parliament would indirectly, by means of Poyning’s Law, control reconquered Ireland. The nexus with Ireland, at a parliamentary level, would remain essentially one of patronage: Irish planters would sit in the English Parliament, either through aristocratic control of borough elections or because they were themselves landlords in both countries. The nexus with Scotland would remain one of diplomacy, which would again depend on aristocratic contacts. Only English magnates could deal with Scottish magnates like Hamilton or Argyll.
The only difference between the settlement envisaged in 1641 and that envisaged in 1646–47 lay in religion. In 1641 the Church in England and Ireland would have been episcopal; in Scotland it would have been Presbyterian. In 1646–47 Presbyterianism would have been established in all three countries. But even this difference is more apparent than real. It is inconceivable that the Presbyterian system of Scotland would ever have been established in England, and so, if it had been prevented from going forward into Independency, the Church of England (and Ireland) would probably have slid back into episcopacy. This was what the king intended when he proposed a probationary period of three years for Presbyterianism, and the English “Presbyterians,” who were prepared to settle for such a period, were evidently content that it should be so. For practical purposes, therefore, the proposed general settlement of 1646–47 does not differ from that of 1641.
Short of revolution this “aristocratic” union was the only settlement which the English Parliament devised. Having failed in 1641 and 1647, it was revived in 1648, and even Oliver Cromwell, in the last month before he decided to overthrow the monarchy, clutched at the same mirage.13 But once the revolution had taken place, and the monarchy had been destroyed, it vanished. For essentially it depended on the monarchy which, unsatisfactory though it was when Charles I was the monarch, was the only institutional link between the three countries. That gone, a new and more satisfactory link had to be created at a new level. Otherwise the three countries would fall apart.
Such disintegration was not inconceivable. It had advocates in all three countries. In Ireland, before 1649, the constitutionalists of the Catholic party had aimed at complete legislative independence under the Crown.14 Now, with the end of the monarchy, the Catholic Confederacy which directed Irish resistance reverted to what Henry VIII’s viceroy had called the “foolish opinion that the Bishop of Rome is King of Ireland.” In Scotland, where Charles II had been proclaimed king, there were also advocates of complete independence. Such was Sir James Hope of Hopetoun, the son of Charles I’s greatest lawyer. Hope advised Charles II to recognize the fact of the English republic and content himself with his ancestral crown. For this he was accused of mere cowardice; but his view was perhaps a national expression of the interest of his class. He was an able lawyer and an active mining entrepreneur. Neither Scotch law nor Scotch industry gained from union with England: the natural links of both were with Holland. Scotch lawyers for two centuries studied at Utrecht; Hope marketed his minerals at Amsterdam; and the ideal of Scottish government was supplied by the Netherlands, where a hereditary prince was limited by a Calvinist republic. In fact, Scottish commerce in general stood to gain little—as yet—from union with England, and this may have been one reason for the lack of enthusiasm among the Scottish bourgeoisie for King James’ project.15 At all events, by 1649 it had tasted the expensive ambitions of both king and Kirk, and being too weak to resist, sought to contract those ambitions within narrower limits and concentrate on economic improvement.
Moreover, these centrifugal tendencies found an echo in England. The most consistent, most secular-minded of the Independents, including John Selden and Henry Marten, urged complete toleration of all religions, including Catholicism. This could only have led to the independence of the Irish Parliament. The Levellers wrote vigorously against the conquest of Ireland: the Irish, they said, were entitled to their freedom, their natural rights and their religious convictions. The Levellers indeed were the first “Little Englanders,” preferring social reform at home to imperial opportunities or responsibilities. And there were many in England who opposed Cromwell’s aggressive war against Scotland. Indeed, Cromwell’s own commanding general, Fairfax, resigned his command rather than conduct it.
All these arguments, however, failed in the face of political necessity. Revolutions must protect themselves, and Scotland and Ireland, unless brought into line, could be as fatal to the English republic as they had been to the English monarchy. So the republic set out to reduce them both and, having reduced them, to find a new unitary and unifying institution in place of Crown and aristocracy alike. In the circumstances of the time that institution could only be a single House of Commons dominated by the English members. Such a parliamentary union was duly imposed by the republic; but by the time it was implemented, the unitary Parliament itself was subordinate to a new executive: Oliver Cromwell, conqueror and “Protector” of all three kingdoms. The new union therefore took the social character of this new institution.
The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell represented a fusion of two social groups. On one hand there were the men who had made the revolution. These were, essentially, the lesser gentry and freeholders supported by some local merchants: men who demanded decentralization and were opposed to aristocratic patronage and the centralized economy of the City of London. These classes formed the solid core of the Independents, and dominated the Army. On the other hand there were also members of the original “aristocratic” opposition of 1640 who, though they had been driven into political radicalism, would have been happy with the settlements of 1641 or 1647. These men had generally stood aside from the revolutionary acts of 1649–53, but rallied to Cromwell as a “saviour of society” when he became Protector. At first the Protectorate was dominated by the former of these social groups, and it was their policy which was represented in all three countries: a policy of decentralization and destruction of traditional patronage, carried through—of necessity—by their instrument, the Army.
In England the original constitution of the Protectorate declared this policy. The old borough-franchise, which had been the means of aristocratic patronage in Parliament, was drastically cut down and the county-franchise, the means of direct gentry representation, greatly increased. The franchise was also extended to the clothing towns of northern England. In Scotland the feudal rights and hereditary jurisdictions of the nobility were swept away and the disciplinary power of the clergy—the other element in the Covenanting revolution—was undermined. Against the magnates and the Kirk the Cromwellian government supported the Scottish gentry, even the royalist gentry, and the hitherto inarticulate Scottish burghs “whose interest is most agreeable with ours.”16 Ireland, to Cromwell, was “a clean paper” on which he might imprint an ideal society, “a good precedent even to England itself”; and his followers saw themselves as social crusaders, “framing or forming a commonwealth out of a corrupt, rude mass,” as well as—like other crusaders—“dividing the country amongst the servants of the Lord.” This Irish “commonwealth” was to be a commonwealth of new, Protestant “planter-gentry,” and they protested against the formation of any new aristocracy: there were men, one of them added darkly, “possessed with high conceits” that the spoils of Ireland were not enough for their reward, and that the republic had “cut off the heads of dukes and earls to have them placed on their shoulders.”17 Thus in all three countries the old aristocratic patronage was destroyed. The gentry and boroughs of England, the lairds and burghs of Scotland, the English planters in Ireland, these were the social forces represented in the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.
Unfortunately they were also, by definition, a centrifugal class. Neither decentralization nor toleration, as a policy, holds men together, and the presence of a revolutionary foreign army was more exasperating to those who did not depend on it than the pretensions of their own aristocracy or their own Church. By his efforts to sustain the minority of “New English” planters in Ireland and the slender “godly party” in Scotland, Cromwell created Irish and Scottish nationalism and, by his brief factual union (which was never a real union, since the Scotch and Irish members of parliament were largely nominees), he finally destroyed the prospect, which had seemed so near in 1604, of religious uniformity in the three kingdoms.
By the beginning of 1656 these facts were clear. By this time the old “aristocratic” opponents of Charles I were returning to politics and, while they accepted the fact of Cromwellian rule, were demanding not, as their enemies said, that the revolution be “betrayed,” but that it return to its original basis: in other words, that “liberty and property” be secured, on the basis of the reforms of 1641. These men were prepared to accept the overthrow of the Stuarts and the parliamentary union of the three kingdoms as final; they would also have accepted some of the social changes of the revolution; but otherwise they wished to return to a civilian basis for government and a civil and religious bond of union between the three countries. Their leader was one of the ablest of Cromwell’s servants and one who had a large interest in securing the permanence of his achievement, at least in Ireland. He was Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, one of the sons of the greatest of English planters in Ireland, the Earl of Cork.
Like Charles I, Broghill used Scotland and Ireland as a means towards change in England. He began in Ireland, which he had helped Cromwell to reconquer, and where his family had soon recovered their influence and patronage. When Colonel John Jones wrote of men who sought to replace the old pre-revolutionary “dukes and earls” in Ireland, there is no doubt that he was referring to Broghill, whom he regarded as ambitious of power, indifferent in religion, and “more than ordinarily willing to submit to a royal or lordly interest.” Having secured his position in Ireland, Broghill accepted—but for one year only—the office of President of the Scottish Council in Edinburgh. There he promptly reversed the existing policy. Hitherto Cromwell, regarding the General Assembly of the Kirk as the enemy of the English republic, had sustained in Scotland an alliance of its enemies. Broghill persuaded him to transfer his support to the party of the General Assembly, and in a very short time won over the majority of the clergy and persuaded them to cease praying publicly for the Stuarts. His aim was clear. The Scots had failed to impose Presbyterianism on England, because they had insisted on a rigid clericalism which the English laity would not tolerate. But if a lax, Erastian Presbyterianism could be established in Scotland, through the majority party in the native Church, a return to uniformity with England was possible. The next step was to bring the government of England back to the same state. To do this, Broghill exerted all the patronage at his disposal, in both Scotland and Ireland, and it was his nominees in the united Parliament of 1656–57 who carried through the programme of making Cromwell king of a united kingdom, with a House of Lords and an established Church “for the settlement of the nation, and of liberty, and of property”—the old watchwords of 1640.
In Scotland as in Ireland Broghill had been opposed by the military party. Ireton had feared and distrusted him in Ireland, Monck in Scotland. Rather than support his policy in Scotland, Monck even, at one time, proposed to unite the country by the same means which had been used in Ireland—“to plant it with English.” In England, naturally, the Army leaders brought all their pressure to bear against Broghill’s programme. Here they succeeded. The parliamentary monarchy of the house of Cromwell, approved by Parliament, was wrecked by the private pressure of the Army—or rather, of the classes represented in the Army. With it there crumbled the last attempt to save something from the failure of the revolution and to create an effective union between the three countries.
The Cromwellian revolution in England was not a complete failure. It prevented—at a heavy cost—the absolutism of Charles I. The memory of it discouraged his successors, at least for a time—although it must be added that it also discouraged their opponents. But its positive programme ended in disaster. After 1660 England reverted to its position before Cromwell’s Army had intervened in politics, and the restored Stuarts were able, retrospectively, to justify all the evasions and obstinacies of Charles I: he had obtained better terms for the monarchy, by waiting for the revolution to fail, than he could have obtained by any settlement after 1641, or perhaps even then. Cromwell even discredited the parliamentary union by turning the Scotch and Irish members into nominees of the executive. So after 1660 there was little hope that this experiment, tainted by its republican origin, would be preserved. Only in Ireland the Cromwellian conquest was permanent; but even that conquest had been planned before Cromwell: it was the continuation of the policy of a generation, made fierce and certain by the Irish revolt of 1641.
So the relationship of the three countries returned to its old form, with only one difference: the factual exclusion of the Irish Catholics from the Irish Parliament. But the problem remained; and because it remained, and was a real problem, the whole history was played over again. Charles II, like James I, used official patronage to set up a secular, relatively tolerant Anglican system in Scotland and Ireland and groped after a union with Scotland. James II, like Charles I, sought to use the more rudimentary societies of Scotland and Ireland as models for despotism in England and, failing, turned gradually aside from the Anglo-Irish laity, Anglican and Catholic alike, the party of Ormond, and the Scottish Lowland laity, episcopalian and Presbyterian alike, the party of Lauderdale, to the Celtic fringe. William III, like Cromwell, completed his capture of power in England by the conquest of Ireland and Scotland and began the process, which would be concluded under his successor, of still further subjecting the Irish, and uniting the Scottish, to the English Parliament. The union of 1707 was the revised version of the Cromwellian union of 1652.
But whatever the resemblances between the earlier and the later unions, there was one great and permanent difference. The legal and religious identity which Cromwell had imposed could not now be secured. Legal unity was indeed an aspiration in 1707. “Those great men who conceived and framed the plan of the union,” wrote Lord Hardwicke half a century later, “. . . wished to attain it, but found it impracticable in the outset.”18 It has been impracticable ever since. But religious unity was recognized from the start to be unattainable. That dream, which had seemed so near to fulfilment in the early seventeenth century, had been shattered for ever in the 1640s and 1650s. The three kingdoms, after their violent encounters with each other, clung more tenaciously each to its own national Church. England, having been forced to yield to Scotch Presbyterianism in the 1640s, embraced its old episcopacy with a new zeal in the 1660s. The rigour of the Clarendon code, the intransigence of the non-jurors, are to be explained, in part, by the experience of those years when England so nearly had a constitution forced on it by the Presbyterian Scots and a king by the Catholic French. Scotland, having once been subjected to Cromwellian Independents, would cling to its national Kirk through “the Killing Times” and preserve it, intact, under the Union of 1707. As the Anglicanism of England and the Presbyterianism of Scotland were more rigid than ever after 1660, so was the Catholicism of Ireland. Before 1640 the gradual protestantization of Ireland had seemed a possibility. After the Cromwellian conquest it never was. Like the Scottish Union of 1707, the Irish Union of 1800 would not be extended to the Church. It would assume—though it would take a generation for the assumption to be applied—that Ireland was now an irredeemably Catholic country.
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[1. ]Sir Thomas Craig, de Unione Regnorum Britanniae Tractatus (1605), ed. C. S. Terry (Scottish History Society, 1909), pp. 286–87; cf. 464. The Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, iii (1868), 223.
[2. ]Gondomar to Secretary Ciriza, 1616, printed in Pascual de Gayangos, Cinco cartas político-literarias de D. Diego Sarmiento de Acuña conde de Gondomar (Madrid, Soc. de Bibliófilos, iv, 1869), letter no. 3.
[3. ]See H. F. Kearney, “Ecclesiastical Politics and the Counter-Reformation in Ireland, 1618–1648,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 1960.
[4. ]James originally thought of a union of parliaments, but this was before his experience of the English Parliament. When the commissioners for the union met, the union of parliaments was not discussed. On the other hand the English parliamentary opposition took up the proposal and by insisting on a full parliamentary union or nothing, wrecked the whole project.
[5. ]Craig, de Unione, p. 90. Craig’s analysis of the law rests on his own Jus Feudale (1603).
[6. ]G. Goodman, The Court of King James I, ed. J. S. Brewer (1839), i, 36–42. In the discussions concerning King James’ projected union, the English Parliament feared that the Scots might exploit the machinery of the English Court of Wards (J. Bruce, Report on . . . the Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, 1799, ii, cxxxiii, cxl).
[7. ]The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon,iii, 46–51; iv, 116–26; v, 378–80.
[8. ]See Kearney, Strafford in Ireland (Manchester, 1959), pp. 74–81.
[9. ]Charles I argued that by his “harmless Revocation” he had rescued the Scottish clergy from dependence on the nobility, and that the gentry had expressed their gratitude to him ([W. Balcanquhall] His Majesties Large Declaration, 1639, pp. 7–9); but he had to admit, as is confirmed by other sources, that it was the gentry who, as ruling elders, formed the strength of the Covenant. Mr. Terence Ranger, in his study of the Earl of Cork (D.Phil. thesis, Oxon., 1958), has shown that Strafford’s policy weighed as heavily on the gentry as on the magnates of Ireland.
[10. ]Gilbert Burnet, The Memoirs . . . of James and William, Dukes of Hamilton (Oxford, 1852), Preface, p. xvi.
[11. ]E.g., Sir John Clotworthy; Richard Lord Dungarvan; Arthur Jones (Lord Ranelagh); and William Jephson. Clotworthy’s presence in the English Parliament was regarded as vital by the opposition, and he was returned for two seats, one controlled by the Earl of Pembroke, the other by the Earl of Warwick.
[12. ]The original work, The Joyful and Blessed Reuniting of the Two Mighty and Famous Kingdoms of England and Scotland, by John Thornborough, then Bishop of Bristol, had been published in 1605.
[13. ]In the autumn of 1648, when Cromwell was in Scotland, in touch with Argyll and away from the revolutionary Council of Officers, he evidently envisaged a “Presbyterian” settlement. This is shown by his letter of 6 Nov. 1648 to Hammond (W. C. Abbott, The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, Cambridge, Mass., 1937, ii, 676–78) and also by his conversation with the Edinburgh ministers reported in William Row, The Life of Mr. Robert Blair . . . (Edinburgh, Wodrow Society, 1848), p. 210.
[14. ]See Thomas L. Coonan, The Irish Catholic Confederacy and the Puritan Revolution (1954).
[15. ]King James himself did not condescend to explain any economic advantage to Scotland. If the Scots disliked the union, he said, “he would compel their assents having a stronger party there than the opposite party of the mutineers” (J. Bruce, Report on the . . . Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland,ii, xxii). Cf. S. G. E. Lythe, “The Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Debate on Economic Integration,” in Scottish Journal of Political Economy,v, 219–28.
[16. ]The phrase is General Monck’s (Thurloe State Papers, 1742, vi, 529).
[17. ]Ludlow, Memoirs,i, 246–47; Jones correspondence (National Library of Wales MS. 11440–D).
[18. ]Hardwicke to Lord Kames, 17 Oct. 1754, cited in A. F. Tytler of Woodhouselee, Memoirs of the Honourable Henry Home of Kames (Edinburgh, 1807), i, 294 ff.