“ ‘THE FLYING SQUADRON.’
Nearly forty years before the Legislative Union between England and Scotland was finally effected, the Earl of Tweeddale, in Charles II.’s reign (1669), attempted to bring about a union of the two kingdoms. The project was utterly inconsistent with the Earl of Lauderdale’s policy, but, in order to serve his own selfish ends, he pretended to give it encouragement, and commissioners for a treaty of union were accordingly appointed by his Majesty. Various conferences on the subject were held in London, but the English Commissioners insisted that only a limited number of Scottish members should be admitted into the United Parliament, that the number should be proportioned to the wealth and population of the country; while the Scottish Commissioners refuse to accede to a union unless the Scottish estates were preserved entire, and the two Parliaments incorporated into one. The project, therefore, fell to the ground. In 1695, we find Lord Tweeddale distinguished by the title of a marquis, of the previous year’s creation. He is described as ‘a veteran statesman of respectable character and great experience,’ and was this year appointed Lord High Commissioner to superintend the inquiry into the cold-blooded massacre of the Macdonalds, in Glencoe.
In 1702, the accession of the Princess Anne, the eldest surviving and only Protestant daughter of James, was agreeable, though for very different reasons, to all the great parties into which the nation was divided. It was acceptable to the Whigs, or Constitutional party, because it was according to the Revolution Settlement; to the Tories, who were delighted to see a Stuart again occupying the throne; and to the Jacobites, because they entertained the expectation that her natural affection would lead her, in the event of her decease, to secure the succession to her brother, the Chevaliar de St. George, whom they regarded as the rightful heir to the crown.
The Convention Parliament, which had subsisted during the whole of the preceding reign, had now lost much of its original popularity. From its unusually protracted duration, the Ministry had found and embraced opportunities of acquiring an undue influence over a majority of the members, and, as the loss of the Darien (William Paterson’s commercial scheme) was universally ascribed to the pernicious influence of English counsels, a powerful opposition party was now formed in Parliament. With this party the Jacobites, who now began to assume the name of Cavaliers, formed a junction, and the Duke of Hamilton became its ostensible leader, instigated, probably, by ambition to supplant the Duke of Queensbery in the administration, rather than by any promptings of patriotic feeling, either for the commercial interests or the national independence of Scotland. Hamilton and his party did their utmost to secure an immediate dissolution of this long-protracted Parliament. Accompanied by the Marquis of Tweeddale, and the Earls Mareschal and Rothes, he made an unavailing personal application to the Queen for this purpose; but her Majesty issued a proclamation for the assembling of Parliament on the 9th of June, 1702, in terms of the statute, and appointed Queensbery to act as her Commissioner.
It will be recollected that the Parliament now sitting was, in fact, the Convention of Estates that had carried the Revolution Settlement (1688). Its authority as a Parliament, into which during the present reign, had been originally a matter of dispute, but its continued existence during the present reign, in defiance of the principle of the Scottish Constitution, that the representatives of the people shall be elected annually, was considered absolutely illegal, and produced great and general discontent. The country party, especially since the secession, began to dispute the authority of the Rump, and even to refuse payment of the taxes which it imposed. In these circumstances, and more especially now that the great question of the Union was agitating the public mind, it was found that the demand for a new Parliament could no longer be resisted. All parties were now on the alert to secure, if possible, a majority at the impending election. The state of political parties was, at this time, quite anomalous. The Administration itself, in consequence of recent changes, was divided into two parties, each jealous of the other. The country party, opposed to both, was also split into two sections – the rigid Presbyterians, and the independent gentlemen to whom Presbytery and Episcopacy were matters of indifference. Of the latter the Duke of Hamilton and the Marquis of Tweeddale were the principal leaders. The Jacobites or Cavaliers formed a third party, not sufficiently numerous for effective independent action, but weighty enough to give a preponderance to any of the other parties to which they might think it expedient to attach themselves. Lord Leafield, the Chancellor, artfully courted this party, and, by flattering them with assurances of the Queen’s secret attachment, succeeded in winning them over to the Government. With a view to increase their numbers, an Indemnity was granted for all their political offences since the Revolution, and such of them as had been driven into exile were thus at liberty to return home unmolested.
During the first session of the new Parliament, though the great question which agitated the national mind was scarcely ever named, there can be no doubt that the discussions which then arose, and which were carried on with a vehemence and acrimony to which the Scottish legislature had hitherto been a stranger, indirectly paved the way to a union between the two kingdoms. In a discussion, in the English Parliament, on the Act of Security, Lord Haversham remarked, ‘There are two matters of all troubles, much discontent and great poverty; and whoever will now look into Scotland will find them both in that kingdom. It is certain the nobility and gentry of Scotland are as learned and as brave as any nation can boast of; and these are generally discontented. And as to the common people, they are very numerous, and very stout, but very poor. And who is the man that can answer what such a multitude, so armed, so disciplined, with such leaders may do – especially since opportunities do so much alter men from themselves!’ An address was presented to the Queen entreating her to order fortifications to be erected at Newcastle and Tynemouth, and the works at Carlisle and Hull to be repaired. She was further requested to embody the militia of the four Northern Counties, and to despatch regular troops to the Border. The great remedy, however, was seen to be in a union, which these alarms thus contributed to hasten. On the 20th of December, 1704, their lordships read a third time, and sent down to the Commons, a bill for the entire nation of the two kingdoms. The consideration of the bill was for a time postponed; and, at length, on the 1st of February, the Commons passed a bill of their own framing, which when sent to the Lords, was immediately agreed to without discussion.
The restrictive clauses of this bill, which seemed to savour of intimidation, offended the national pride of the Scots, and tended to alienate the minds of many from the proposed union. Unfortunately at this juncture an incident occurred which served to exasperate the mutual jealousies and animosities of both kingdoms. This was the gibbeting, by an infuriated mob whom the authorities had yielded to, of Captain Green and two of the crew of the Worcester, who were hung within high water-mark at Leith, on suspicion of having murdered the captain and crew of the Speedy Return on her voyage to the East Indies, in the service of the Darien Company. ‘There was,’ says Dr. Taylor, in his ‘History of Scotland,’ ‘afterwards good reason to believe that Captain Drummond, the man whom they had been accused of murdering, was still alive in India, after the fate of Green and his two unfortunate comrades was sealed.’ The rest of the crew of the Worcester, after being detained in prison, from the 11th of April, 1705, until the autumn of that year, were unconditionally set at liberty by the Privy Council, who considered the evidence on which they were convicted defective.
When these events became known in England the indignation of the populace was raised to the highest pitch; and numerous handbills, tracts, and pamphlets, many of which are still preserved, helped to fan the flame of national resentment. Every enlightened patriot in both kingdoms deplored these animosities, which they regarded as but too probably a prelude to international hostilities; and Government, warned by the presages of the coming storm, now began to look upon an incorporating union as the only haven of safety for the vessel of the State. With a view to accomplish this desirable object. some changes were made in the Scottish administration. Tweeddale was again nominally placed at its head; but the Duke of Argyll, a young nobleman of great promise, was appointed Commissioner to open the next session of Parliament, with instructions to labour for the establishment of the same Protestant succession as in England, or, failing in that attempt, to endeavour to procure an Act for a treaty of union.
When Parliament assembled on the 28th June, it was found that the members were divided into three parties – the Government party, consisting of the adherent of Queensbery; the Jacobites, and a portion of the country party; and the adherents of Tweeddale, comprising a section of the Presbyterians and the late courtiers. These last, pretending to be guided entirely by the love of country, did not adhere permanently to any party, but were ready to shift sides according to circumstances, and thus to hold, as it were, the balance of power in their own hands. The Jacobites, mortified and indignant at the influence thus exercised by this party, bestowed on them the nickname of the ‘Squadron Volante,’ or the ‘Flying Squadron.’
N. E. R., Fence Houses.”
– Newcastle Chronicle, Saturday 28th August, 1886.