Hail to the King! Why a Distorted View of History Is Stopping Us Celebrating 400 Years of a United Kingdom

By Luckhurst, Tim | Daily Mail (London), January 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

Hail to the King! Why a Distorted View of History Is Stopping Us Celebrating 400 Years of a United Kingdom


Luckhurst, Tim, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: TIM LUCKHURST

IT is the anniversary that dare not speak its name. Four hundred years ago this year, James VI of Scotland, a relative of Elizabeth I and son of the executed Mary, Queen of Scots, became James I of England as well, the first monarch ever to occupy both thrones.

It is hard to be precise about when the Union of the Crowns became reality.

Elizabeth died on the night of March 24, 1603, and the Privy Council, anxious to prevent wrangling, immediately had James proclaimed monarch throughout the City of London.

A messenger, Robin Carey, rode from London in just three days to be the first to salute his new sovereign. In fact, James almost certainly knew he had got the job before Carey reached Edinburgh on March 27.

So, should we celebrate this momentous day in British history, the birth of the United Kingdom, on March 24 or March 27?

Perhaps we should choose April 3, when His Majesty said an emotional farewell to Scotland in a speech in Edinburgh.

Or the moment that same month when he first set foot in his new kingdom at Berwick-upon-Tweed.

All three dates have significance. So does the anniversary of James's arrival in London and his speech to his first parliament in March 1604, when he asserted the integrity of his unified kingdom by comparing it to his wife.

He declared: 'I hope therefore that no man will be so unreasonable as to think that I should be a polygamist and husband to two wives.' Sadly, none of these dates has been identified as a day of national celebration. Nor has a strategy been put in place to exploit the enormous educational and tourist potential of the anniversary of union. This intriguing, romantic story seems hardly to merit official mention.

To the First Minister's credit, he did propose marking James's ascent to the English throne with celebrations designed to appeal to tourists.

That was last November. His suggestion was instantly attacked by the SNP which accused the First Minister of 'promoting a unionist agenda'.

The Conservatives levelled the more justifiable criticism that Mr McConnell had left it far too late to plan suitable events. He responded by setting up a steering group.

My heart sinks when I hear that phrase. It is redolent of muddle, delay and that grand bureaucratic principle that responsibility must always be so widely shared that nobody can ever be blamed for failure.

Yesterday I discovered how accurate my suspicion was. A spokesman for the Scottish Executive informed me the steering group has done nothing yet, but is due to meet twice in February and submit proposals by the start of March.

In other words, the Executive has made hardly any plans at all and is panicking in case somebody notices. Bizarrely, the Government in Westminster, which has equally excellent reasons to promote this historic anniversary, has been just as indolent.

The only ambitious plans appear to have been made by MPs and local authorities for Border constituencies. Berwickupon-Tweed will mark the moment when James first crossed into England. …

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