The Relationship Between England and Scotland

Statue of Robert the Bruce

So, what is the relationship between Scotland and England? Are they separate countries? Or are they all one country with Northern Ireland and Wales, known as the United Kingdom? It is a somewhat complex situation that dates back over 800 years.

Why is this good to know?

So, why should you care about this little history lesson?

When you travel to Scotland, you will recognize a strong sense of pride in those you meet along the way. They are proud of their heritage and what they have accomplished.

Their relationship with England is a big part of that heritage, and has been, to say the least, not always a friendly one. That relationship permeates every part of their society, from shared monarchs to the impact it had on the clans. When you go to the Highlands, you will learn about the MacDonalds and their massacre by the Campbells at the behest of the English. When you go to Inverness, you will see the Culloden Battlefield. In Stirling, you will see the statue of Robert the Bruce and the William Wallace Monument. In Cairngorms National Park, you will find the British Royal Family’s Scotland residence. And when you go to Edinburgh, you will see the Royal Yacht Britannia, Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish Parliament. Everything mentioned here is somehow intertwined with the relationship between Scotland and England. 

By knowing these things, it will give you a better appreciation of the places you visit.

The Scottish Wars of Independence

William Wallace Monument - Stirling

In the 13th century, King Edward I of England tried to take control of the entire island that we currently know as Great Britain. He first conquered the country of Wales. In fact, the naming of the successors of the King of England as the “Prince of Wales” started with Edward I, in order to cement the sovereignty of England over Wales. That is why while Queen Elizabeth was still alive, Charles was called the Prince of Wales, and why now Prince William is given that designation.

But Edward was not successful in gaining control of Scotland. In fact, there were two wars of Scottish Independence. The first one is the one that inspired the movie “Braveheart” featuring William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The war lasted from 1296 until 1328, It ended with the Treaty of Edinburgh and Robert the Bruce was named King of Scotland. The second war started just 4 years later in 1332. 

The second war actually started when Edward Balliol tried to take control of Scotland. Edward’s father was the King before Robert the Bruce. See, even though Robert the Bruce became King in 1328, he only lived one year. When he died, his 8 year-old son David became King David II.

To take back control, Edward Balliol conspired with the King of England to support his attempt to take back control. This second war lasted 25 years. Balliol was gaining ground in Scotland, and he even ceded land in the southern part of Scotland to the King of England.

But the French, who were longtime enemies of England, and allies of Scotland, did not like the increased power that England was gaining, and provided support to Scotland.

While this resulted in the continued independence of Scotland, it also resulted in the hundred years war between France and England.

The Union of the Crowns

Portrait of King James the VI of Scotland who became James I of England

The next twist in this story happens almost 250 years later in 1603. At that time, England’s Queen Elizabeth I died with no heirs. Her closest living relative happened to be her cousin, who happened to be the Scottish King James VI. So the King of Scotland then became the King of England. He then had two names: King James VI of Scotland and King James I of England. This event became known as the “Union of the Crowns”. Even though the two countries had the same king, they maintained separate countries.

Since this time, the monarch of England has also been crowned as the Monarch of Scotland. So, like James VI of Scotland was James I of England, Queen Elizabeth II of England was also Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland. 

The 1707 Act of Union

Scottish and English Flags Combined

The relationship between the two countries became even more complex in 1707, when the two countries merged to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, ruled by Queen Anne. This merger came about in order to strengthen both countries. Scotland was financially suffering from their attempts to establish their own colonies in North America. England was concerned that Scotland might form a military alliance with France. This unification resulted in a single government ruling both countries, but Scotland maintained its own legal system, education system and state religion.

The Jacobite Uprising

Culloden Battlefield

Although not a fight for independence, the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 resulted in the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This was not technically a war between England and Scotland. It was actually an attempt by Prince Charles Stuart (Bonny Price Charley) to restore the British Crown to his father. But, it resulted in British Troops fighting and defeating primarily Scottish rebels (the Jacobites) in what was the last battle fought on Scottish soil. 

And Back to Separate Systems

Scottish Parliament Building

Over the next almost 300 years, there were several movements to separate the two countries.  Keep in mind that the Republic of Ireland had already made this split in the 1920’s. In 1997, a referendum was passed, and Scotland formed its own Parliament. Essentially, this gave Scotland autonomy on most domestic issues (infrastructure, education, law, etc) but external matters such as national defense and foreign affairs stayed with England. Also, they maintained a common currency – the British Pound.

The movement for Scotland to become independent continues. In 2014, an election for independence was defeat in a 55-45 split. When the UK decided to leave the European Union under “Brexit”, Scotland did not want to separate from the EU, and there were calls again for the two countries to split.

Want to know More?

I am sure that England and Scotland will continue to squabble back and forth, much like two brothers looking for a way to live next door to each other. They clearly have different values and ideas on how to co-exist. But, in my view, they need each other, and they will continue to have a close relationship.

To know more about the history of Scotland, there are resources and guides at virtually every site you may want to visit.



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