Skip to main content

The 1706 negotiations

Negotiations between the English and Scottish commissioners were held at the Cockpit, one of the government buildings at Whitehall in London.

The commissioners did not carry out their negotiations face to face, but in separate rooms. They communicated their proposals to each other in writing. There was also a news blackout.

Business commenced on 22 April 1706 when Cowper, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, presented the Scots with the proposal that:

"the two kingdoms of England and Scotland be forever united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain; that the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same parliament; and that the succession to the monarchy of Great Britain be vested in the House of Hanover."

Agreement in just three days

Within three days, both sides had secured what they most wanted: England had a guarantee that the Hanoverian royal dynasty would succeed Queen Anne to the Scottish crown; and the Scots had their long sought-after access to English colonial markets as the route to an improved economy.

Speedy agreement on these fundamental points came about because much of the groundwork had been done during the preceding months in informal meetings.

Wide range of issues

The commissioners worked amicably through a wide range of issues with little difficulty: the union flag and the standardisation of weights, measures and coinage; the preservation of private rights, and of heritable offices and jurisdictions; and the number of Scottish peers and MPs to sit in Westminster.

Taxes and laws

The Scottish commissioners' particular concern was taxation. Since the Scots could not afford to pay taxes at English levels they agreed a series of exemptions on taxable items such as paper, windows, coal, salt and malt.

It was also agreed that the fundamentals of Scottish civic society should be preserved including the legal system, and the rights and privileges of the Royal Burghs of Scotland.

The Scottish Kirk

There was, however, one highly sensitive area where the negotiators were not permitted: the Scottish Kirk or church. Any mention of it in the Articles of Union would almost certainly have meant that Tory supporters of the Church of England at Westminster would have blocked ratification of the treaty.


Lord Keeper

The Lord Keeper's full title was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England. This is the person who had the custody of the king's great seal, with authority to attach it to public documents.

By the early 18th century this appointment usually was made if no suitable candidate was available for the more senior post of Lord Chancellor.

Either the Lord Keeper or Lord Chancellor could be appointed as the minister responsible for the government's legal business - and was also speaker of the House of Lords.

Scottish Lord Chancellor

Custodian of the great seal of Scotland, and the senior government minister with particular responsibility for the Scottish legal system.

Private rights

Rights or privileges that individuals might have or exercise by virtue of private grants, for instance, made by members of the Scottish aristocracy, or under Scottish law on the holding of property.

Heritable offices and jurisdictions

Heritable offices are roles that in Scotland are passed on by inheritance, such as that of sheriff or bailie. Sheriffs had judicial, financial, administrative and other roles and were often lairds: members of the Scottish gentry.

Window tax

One of the many 'indirect' taxes imposed on 'luxuries' and paid according to one's wealth. Introduced in 1696, the tax was rated according to the number of windows in a dwelling (cottages were exempt). It remained in force until 1851 when replaced by a house tax similar to the council tax.