Site icon Random Scottish History

Chapter IV., pp.31-42.

[How Scotland Lost her Parliament Contents]

Gloom and Despondency of the Scots after the Union – Trouble with Customs and Excise – Poverty and Bankruptcy of Edinburgh Merchants – Contemptuous Treatment of Scotland’s Representatives – Trouble in the Church – Jacobite Rebellion – Prince Charles takes Edinburgh.

A DEEP-SETTLED gloom fell upon Scotland after the passing of the Act of Union. The various factions that had torn the country with internal discord for over a hundred years were stilled in the presence of this great national calamity. As family jars are hushed in the presence of death, so Scotsmen found in this common bond of sorrow enough to endear them to one another and make them forget the differences of religion and politics. The Jacobite, who plotted for the return of the Stewarts, was hailed as the saviour of his country, and the religion of the Chevalier de St George – naturally so odious to the Presbyterian – was condoned or forgotten in the heat of the resentment of a betrayed people. The Cameronians in the West, the sober citizens of Fife, and the fiery Highlanders in the North were alike animated with the one sentiment – a determination to undo the wrong inflicted upon their country. Although the feeling of patriotism was the mainspring of this universal desire there were not wanting solid reasons such as would appeal to the cupidity of all classes in Scotland. The removal of the courtiers and Parliament to London – many of them with full purses, part of the ill-gotten wealth bestowed upon them out of the equivalent, was a dead loss to the trading classes of Edinburgh. Grass grew on the streets of the capital, and the bulk of the tradesmen were brought to the brink of ruin. A colony of Excise and Custom House Officers came from England and spread themselves over the face of the country – the lords and masters of a proud-spirited people. As these men were universally hated no respectable Englishman could be found willing to accept the odious situation, so that the creatures that were sent to govern Scotland were the most profligate and depraved of mankind. That was, at least, the general belief of the people, and the following anecdote was universally accepted in Scotland:- A Scots merchant travelling in England, and showing some apprehension of being robbed, his landlady told him he was in no hazard, for all the highwaymen were gone, and upon his inquiring how that came about – ‘Why, truly,’ replied she, ‘they are all gone to your country to get places.’ The public revenue raised by such men was not likely to make things pleasant for Scotland; smuggling became a universal practice in the country, as it was thought by all classes to be no crime, but simply ‘a spoiling of the Egyptians.’ It was a trial of cunning between the revenue officers and the great body of the people. Petty encounters between the smugglers and the Custom House officers raged all along the coast, and many a valuable life was lost in this inglorious war. The Porteous Mob throws a lurid light upon this part of our subject. The foreign commerce of Scotland was destroyed by the Union, and the vessels that would have been otherwise employed in lawful commerce took to smuggling; for it was many years after the Union before the Scots found fresh markets for the products of their country. 

While the people at home were suffering from these accumulating evils, their representatives in the British Parliament early found they were doomed to play a very subordinate and humiliating part in the councils of the nation. The average English Members looked upon the forty-five Scotsmen or Scottish representatives as veritable intruders into their own family circle. The Members from Scotland soon found that their wishes in regard to their own country had no weight with the majority of Englishmen, and that they were constantly outvoted in matters relating to Scotland. Many and grievous were the insults which the Scottish Members and Peers received at the hands of the English; a constant theme of reproach being the poverty of the Scots, Here we think it not out of place to consider what it is that constitutes individual or national poverty. The mere possession of a large revenue does not always secure the happiness of the individual or State. Frugal habits and simplicity of tastes will more than compensate for the want of a large income. The Scots at this time were a frugal people, who managed their affairs so well that they had no public debt, and although they could not boast of much money they had all the equipments of the most civilised of States. They had a complete body of civil and criminal laws, and a college of justice for the administration of them. They had both a primary, secondary, and university system of national education, which made the whole Scottish people the superiors of the English. They had an endowed Church, and if their nobles were not rich they had enough to sustain them with proper dignity in their own country. There is nothing more galling to a free and generous spirit than a vulgar purse-proud man. A liberal shower of this kind of pride was poured upon the Scots, and galled them so much that only six years after the Union a motion was introduced for its repeal, and the irony of fate put the motion into the hands of Lord Findlater and Seafield, whose ‘There goes the end of an auld sang’ gives him an unenviable position in Scottish history. 

It is no part of our plan to give a complete history of the various political events which happened in Scotland during the eighteenth century, but simply to put in an intelligible form the effects of the Union upon the prosperity and honour of Scotland. The first abortive Jacobite rebellion had its origin in Stirlingshire, but the parties who were tried in Edinburgh were acquitted by the convenient verdict of ‘not proven.’ This so enraged the Government that they abolished trial by jury for political offences, and what is perhaps worse removed the prisoners to be tried in England. Though the gentlemen of Stirling barely escaped the clutches of the law they were in no way intimidated or deterred from further plottings to overthrow the Government, as will be detailed further on. 

The effects of the Union upon the Church of Scotland was no less remarkable than upon the other institutions of the country. The Church played a selfish and ignoble part at the time of the Union, and she was one of the first to suffer from her short-sighted policy. The English Government, knowing the power of the Church in Scotland, set themselves to disarm the opposition of the clergy. The means by which this was done was to give them the assurance of a special Act of Parliament, solemnly ratified by the Estates of Scotland and the Parliament of England. This Act was entitled, ‘An Act for securing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government, and in language of the most solemn and precise nature embodied afterwards in the Acts of Union passed by both Parliaments,1 it put the affairs of the Church outside the domain of the British Parliament. Having secured themselves, as they thought, the clergy became lukewarm in their opposition to the Union, and some even went the length of preaching in its favour. They had soon reason to repent of their folly; the people remembered with indignation their selfish conduct, and gave them empty pews to preach to. The surest passport to popularity was to inveigh against the Union, and those who had enough of worldly wisdom to read the signs of the times filled their churches to overflowing. This was the state of things in the various parishes in Scotland, but the Church, as a whole, had not yet been touched, and calmly awaited the time when the heats of political controversy would subside and the people would return to their usual attendance upon the ordinances of religion. 

They got a rude awakening from their fancied dream of security, for in 1712, only five years after the Act of Union, the famous Act of Queen Anne was passed establishing Lay Patronage in the Church of Scotland, in violation both of the spirit and the letter of the Special Act they thought was to be a bulwark to their Church. It is not recorded that any great opposition was made to this Act; the people were disgusted with the Church; the clergy, consciously guilty, had lost all spirit to protest, and the seeds of a mortal disease were sown which were not long in bearing fruit. This pernicious Act did a double wrong – it robbed the people of their just rights, and it put into the hands of the avowed enemies of the Presbyterian religion the means of inflicting deadly wounds upon the Church. Many, nay the majority, of the patrons were Episcopalians or Roman Catholics, who alike looked with contempt upon the Presbyterian form of religion and denied the validity of her ordinances. 

This bone of contention had been the cause of numerous secessions from the Church, one-half of whom are now gathered under the name of United Presbyterians. But the greatest of all the secessions was the famous Disruption of 1843, when the majority of the people followed the lead of the best intellects of the Church, and left an establishment where was accorded them no freedom of conscience or choice of their spiritual guides. As usual the warnings of the Members from Scotland were unheeded in the British Parliament, and so this great wrong was inflicted upon the country. The reason for these repeated attacks upon the Church of Scotland was not far to seek. Her whole system of Church government is founded upon purely Democratic and Republican principles, while the Church of England is aristocratic and even despotic in its forms of Church discipline. The Conservative English could have no sympathy with the Republican Scotch, and as by this Act of Union they had the overmastering power, they failed not to use it to the loss and injury of the Scots. We will not try to estimate what is the money loss sustained by Scotland through the attack upon the Church; it must amount to many millions. The ill-feeling and strife of which it was the cause are of more serious consequence to the lover of his country. The present state of the Church is nothing less than a public scandal. In hamlets or mere villages where the Parish Church is more than sufficient for the spiritual wants of the people, we find three Presbyterian Churches; while in our large cities thousands are found who never darken a Church door, and live the lives of practical atheists. So patent are the evils under which we groan that many see no remedy but in disestablishment, thus deliberately throwing away the religious patrimony of the Church. Such is one of the baleful fruits of the Treaty of 1707. 

These repeated insults and injuries were not calculated to make the Scots any more pleased with their bargain, and the general discontent of the people broke out three years after into open rebellion. The Jacobites were busy with their intrigues, and the Earl of Mar – once a loyal servant of the Crown – unfurled the Royal Standard on the ‘Braes of Mar.’ In an incredibly short time he collected together a large army, and placed his headquarters at Perth, while all Fife, Forfar, and a large part of the Highlands paid homage to his power. If this self-elected leader had shown the slightest capacity for war the Union of 1707 would have been a thing of the past, and all Scotland would have accepted the Chevalier de Saint George as their King. Instead, however, of striking awe by the celerity of his movements, as was done by the great captain, Montrose, he frittered away his time at Perth, and allowed a mere handful of men under the Duke of Argyll to keep him in check. The solitary battle of Sheriff-Muir reflected little honour upon either side, although the fruit of victory lay with the Duke of Argyll. The hastily gathered levees soon melted away, and even the presence of the exiled Prince was not enough to inspire courage into a demoralised army. The heads of the insurrection made good their escape, and all that came of this ill-considered enterprise was the ruin of a few noble families. Some of the secondary leaders were taken to Carlisle to be tried, but in the then temper of the Scots it was not deemed expedient to treat them with severity; so after a decent interval they were allowed to return to their homes. 

It cannot be said although Scotland enjoyed peace between 1715 and 1745 that she advanced in fortune. The Government, removed to London, was out of touch with the Scotch, for in those days Edinburgh, in point of time, was as far removed from London as Liverpool is now from New York. Had the Government been wise they would have taken steps to conciliate the Scots, but Sir Ralph Walpole, whose ideas of men were that every one had his price, was ill-adapted for considering the romantic patriotism of the Scottish people. We know that it is a prevailing opinion in our day that the Jacobites were confined to the Highlands, but this is very far from the truth; the Prince’s adherents were everywhere; the whole country was honeycombed with Secret Societies and Jacobite Clubs. The Scots were not so foolish as to desire a despot out of sympathy with their religion and opposed in principle to their ideas of civil and religious liberty. Had the exiled Prince learned wisdom in adversity and identified himself with the sentiments of the people over whom he aspired to reign, he would have commanded the universal homage of Scotland, and no power that England could have brought against him would have deprived him of that kingdom. But the doomed race of the Stuarts were unable to shake themselves free from the trammels of their early education, and so stuck to the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and the absolute duty of submission on the part of the people. It was for that reason alone that the Government had any adherents in Scotland; so the country was divided into two parts – those who clung to constitutional government, and the Jacobites whose romantic loyalty made them forget all the defects of their idol. 

On the 19th August 1745 the Marquis of Tullibardine unfurled the Royal Standard at Glenfinnan, and thus opened that unfortunate rebellion which cost Scotland so dear. The romantic nature of the enterprise of Prince Charles has cast a halo over his actions, and blinds our judgment of a simple but high-spirited people, seduced them from their allegiance, and launched them on a wild sea of troubles, where nothing short of a miracle could bring them to a harbour of safety. Charles had everything to gain and nothing to lose by the enterprise; his unfortunate dupes had everything to lose should they miscarry, and nothing to gain by the success of their party except the barren honours of an empty title, a supply of which he carried in his valise. Yet this rash and ill-considered enterprise all but succeeded, and would have certainly done so had Charles confined his attention to Scotland alone, and proclaimed himself a constitutional monarch. 

A variety of happy circumstances combined to give Charles assurance of victory, and lured on his unhappy victims to their ruin. The total incapacity of the General in command of the Government troops, their small number and poor quality, the friendly disposition of a large part of the population, and the giddiness of the unthinking crowd, who made an idol of the handsome young Prince. His march upon Edinburgh evolved a wild burst of enthusiasm, which has found a permanent place in our literature in some of the purest gems of lyric poetry. This, if no other was forthcoming, proves that Charles’s adherents were not confined to the Highlands, for these spirited ballads were written in the Lowland Scotch – a language unknown to the Highland host. The principal factor in evoking this flood of poetry was the proclamation of Charles dissolving the obnoxious Union, and it is that fact that justifies us in dwelling more fully upon this extraordinary rebellion. 

On the 17th September, a little less than a month after the unfurling of the Royal Standard, Edinburgh fell into the hands of Charles Edward. The citizens were amazed at the motley crowd of poor-clad and worse armed men that had baffled the military power of a regular army, and without the loss of a single life had taken possession of the capital of an ancient kingdom. A number of Lowland gentlemen now joined the fortunate Prince, among these were Lord Elcho, Sir Robert Thriepland, Lockhart the younger of Carnwath, and James Hepburn of Keith, who was described as the model of a Scottish gentleman. These men had no sympathy with the divine right of Kings, but joined the standard out of resentment for the wrongs inflicted upon their country by the Treaty of Union. The next day King James VIII was proclaimed at the Cross of Edinburgh, and the same evening a splendid ball was given at Holyrood. It is recorded that the common people wept with joy at this signal of the restoration of their ancient monarchy, so little did they appreciate the so-called blessings of the Union, which some in our time so ignorantly extol.

1  See Appendix – Note B
Exit mobile version