Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History

By Alexander Grant; Keith J. Stringer | Go to book overview
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Chapter 7

The High Road from Scotland

Marcus Merriman and Jenny Wormald

Stewarts and Tudors in the mid-sixteenth century

Marcus Merriman

If the later Middle Ages was a period of divergence and disengagement in ‘British history’, in the sixteenth century convergence is firmly back on the agenda. Both Wales and Ireland experienced new assertive English centralising policies. In Wales, these led to the forfeiture and execution of the greatest Welsh lord, Rhys ap Gruffydd of Dinefwr, in 1531, and produced the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543 which abolished the old principality and marcher lordships. In Ireland, they led to the forfeiture and execution of the greatest Anglo-Irish magnate, Earl Thomas of Kildare, in 1537, and produced the Act of Kingly Title of 1541, which changed Ireland’s status from separate lordship to puppet kingdom, to be ruled according to the principles of English king-ship.1 Scotland, meanwhile, stayed independent. But rapprochement is demonstrated by the 1502 Treaty of Perpetual Peace, the first formal Anglo-Scottish peace treaty since the short-lived Treaty of Edinburgh of 1328. And in 1503 the ‘marriage of the Thistle and the Rose’ between James IV and Margaret Tudor took place, which held out the prospect of Anglo-Scottish dynastic union. In 1521, the Scottish academic John Mair published his clarion call for such a union, Historia Maioris Brittaniae.2 And this duly came to pass in 1603, when Henry VII’s granddaughter Queen Elizabeth was succeeded on the English throne by his great-great grandson, King James VI of Scots. The sixteenth century appears to take the British Isles much closer to political unity than at any previous stage in their history.

Such an analysis, however, vastly oversimplifies. While the integration of

1 For 16th-century Wales and Ireland, see initially G. Williams, Recovery, Reorientation and Reformation: Wales c.1415-1642 (Oxford, 1987), chs. 10-11, 14; and S.G. Ellis, Tudor Ireland (London, 1985), chs. 4-9.

2A History of Greater Britain, as well England as Scotland…by John Major, ed. and trans. A. Constable (Scottish History Society, 1892). Mair latinised his name to Major, so there is a neat pun in the original title; nowadays ‘Major’s Britain’ has different connotations. For discussion, see, e.g., R. Mason, ‘Scotching the Brut: politics, history and national myth in sixteenth-century Britain’, in R. Mason (ed.), Scotland and England 1286-1815 (Edinburgh, 1987); and R. Mason, ‘Kingship, nobility and Anglo-Scottish union: John Mair’s History of Greater Britain (1521)’, Innes Review, xli (1990).


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