As Scots prepare to go to the polls a unique exhibition marking the 300th anniversary of the Anglo-Scottish Union has opened in the Granite City.
Drawing exclusively on the University of Aberdeen's historic collections, the exhibition at Marischal Museum explores the political, religious and economic factors that helped create the new kingdom of Great Britain on 1 May, 1707.
"We've got a huge amount of material on how the Union was discussed and debated in Scotland," said University of Aberdeen history lecturer Dr Andrew Mackillop, who annotated many of the displays. "Crucially, the exhibition views the Union as a long process rather than focussing on the political event. It shows that a union between Scotland and England was proposed throughout the 16th and 17th centuries and then looks at the divisive impact of the eventual political agreement of 1707 on Scotland and the city of Aberdeen."
Two key displays encapsulating the depth of reaction to the alliance between Scotland and England over the following 40 years are included. The first is a set of 300-year-old lecture notes - belonging to a University of Aberdeen student - adorned with drawings of two ships, one flying a Scottish saltire and the other a union flag. The second display is a German-made, double-edged Jacobite sword engraved on both sides. One shows the figure of St Andrew wearing a mitre and holding a cross with the inscription "Prosperity/to/Schotland/&No Union", and on the other there appears the figure of King James VIII and III.
"Together they highlight on the one hand the extreme, military reaction to the Union in the shape of the Jacobite Rebellions and then the more contemplative, cerebral process that was happening at the same time," said Dr Mackillop. "The drawings especially are unique and give a powerful and intimate sight into how the union was being contemplated by an ordinary student."
Other displays include registration documents showing what ordinary people had to do as a result of the political process, such as handing in their currency in to get it smelted down so it could be turned into sterling. A pint pot inscribed with new English measurements is also included as a colourful example of how every corner of life was touched by the events of May 1, right down to the way Scots drank their beer in the pub.
The exhibition officially opens on Wednesday, May 2 and will run through to August. For more information visit http://www.abdn.ac.uk/historic/actsofunion/
The tercentenary (300 year anniversary) of the Union is also recognised by a two-day conference at the University entitled 'Anglo-Scottish Union, 1707: European Perspectives'. It will run from May 1-2 and features a controversial keynote lecture from Professor Allan Macinnes, the Burnett Fletcher Chair of History at the University of Aberdeen and a leading authority on early modern Scotland.
At a public lecture at Aberdeen Town House on the evening of May 1 – the actual tercentenary of the Anglo-Scottish Union - Professor Macinnes will challenge the belief that England had little commerce motivation when considering Union with Scotland. He will argue that a number of previously neglected political and economic reasons, over and above military security, existed for why England wanted political Union. These include:
- The Monarch, Queen Anne, was fearful of the loss of Crown power in Scotland and sought to bring the Kingdom under control so that the Monarchy's constitutional authority could be maintained.
- Contrary to the long established image of a poverty-stricken Scotland, there is evidence that Scottish entrepreneurs were managing to infiltrate the Atlantic economic system. The lecture will argue that they were undercutting England's official system of protected trade in the West Indies and North American colonies, and that the Union was designed to remove a source of unofficial economic competition.
- Contrary to the old argument that Scotland's negotiators were bribed, or that they were principled statesmen who cut a good deal for the country, Professor Macinnes will conclude that the Scottish commissioners for union were "naïve to the point of incompetence", and failed to fully appreciate England's very real need to secure the Union. This, he will argue, led to a settlement which, from Scotland's point of view, was far less impressive than it might have been.