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Union of the Crowns

Until the early 17th century England and Scotland were two entirely independent kingdoms. This changed dramatically in 1603 on the death of Elizabeth I of England. Because the Queen had died unmarried and childless, the English crown passed to the next available heir, her cousin James VI, King of Scotland. England and Scotland now shared the same monarch under what was known as a union of the crowns.

Unified state

James was not satisfied with this arrangement. He wanted a complete or perfect union that brought the two kingdoms into a single, enlarged and unified state.

In May 1603, within weeks of arriving in London, he prepared the way by issuing a proclamation for the uniting of England and Scotland.

Perfect union debated

A commission of English and Scottish MPs was set up in October 1604 to consider how a perfect union might be created. James was quick to grasp that it could not be achieved overnight, and that only modest steps should be taken at first.

But the idea of the unification of the laws, parliaments and economies of both kingdoms met with little enthusiasm at Westminster.

The commissioners' recommendations were debated long and hard at Westminster between November 1606 and July 1607. Although there was agreement on the repeal of hostile laws against the Scots, there was none on union.

James accepted defeat on the issue, but never forgave the English Parliament, describing it as "barren by preconceived opinions".

King of Great Britain

James's failure to win hearts and minds with his vision of a single British kingdom under one imperial crown meant that he had to be content with symbolic reforms and gestures.

In October 1604 he decreed that he would in future be known by the style and title of King of Great Britain and not by the divided names of England and Scotland.

Union Jack flag

In 1606 he gave orders for a British flag to be created which bore the combined crosses of St George and of St Andrew. The result was the Union Jack, Jack being a shortening of Jacobus, the Latin version of James.


Family Tree

Family tree of the English and Scottish royal dynasties.

Scottish Parliament

In existence since the early 13th century, from 1639 it met in the Parliament House in Edinburgh.