When Orkney was Bartered for the Treaty of Union

The collage features all the main elements of the story and above them all the masonic eye
The Meeting of Commissioners, collage by Martin Laird

Many readers will be aware of how Orkney came to be annexed to Scotland in 1472 as part of an unpaid debt – the dowry arrangement of 1468 between  the Norwegian King Christian I and James III King of Scots. Much less is known or understood about how Orkney became part of the bargaining process for supporting the Treaty of Union in 1707 between Scotland and England.

The Scottish Parliament which sat deliberating union with England was that of an independent nation but sharing with her southern neighbour a monarchy. After years of strife and revolution William and Mary were jointly crowned in 1689 as monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland. Mary died in 1694 and William in 1702. Mary’s younger sister, Anne, became Queen but the problem now for those wishing to secure a Protestant succession was to who should follow.

In April of 1689 The Scottish Convention of Estates passed The Claim of Right and the Article of Grievances. It demanded the frequent calling of Parliament and set up a constitutional contract for the monarchy. The first session of Scotland’s Parliament followed and the Act of Supremacy of 1669 was abolished re-establishing Presbyterianism. The Scots Parliament throughout this period was quite active and continued to assert itself as an independent nation should. The Claim of Right was affirmed by The Parliament of Scotland in 1703.

Those who sat in the Parliament were known as Commissioners. Orkney sent two Commissioners to the Parliament in Edinburgh: Sir Alexander Douglas of Egilsay and Sir Archibald Stewart of Burray.  The Royal Burgh of Kirkwall was represented by one Commissioner, Robert Douglas, brother of James Douglas  the 11th Earl of Morton. The Lord High Commissioner was the monarch’s personal representative and sat on the throne in the parliamentary chamber. He gave Royal Assent to Acts passed by the Scots. In 1704 the Parliament passed The Act for the Security of the Kingdom. It asserted the right of the Scots to nominate a different Protestant successor to Anne than England and was described by Fletcher of Saltoun ‘as the very being of a nation’.

Although the two nations shared one monarch they pursued different foreign policies.  England was powerful on the world stage with its colonies and slave plantations ensuring an expansion of Empire based on exploitation, trade and militarism. From 1689 to 1697 England was at war with France a country which Scotland had long ago established The Auld Alliance with. Thousands of Scots serving in the Royal armed forces were fighting in a war against France which their own country was at peace with.

Trade barriers were also put up against Scots by the English Parliament. Despite this some Scottish merchants still found their way into the lucrative trade carried on with England’s slave plantations. Scotland wanted to expand its trading goals and in 1693 it passed an Act for the establishment of companies to trade with any country with whom the King was not at war. This was followed two years later by an Act which would permit a company to be set up ‘trading to Africa and the Indies’. This would allow Scotland to establish trading depots in uninhabited places or those not already possessed by any European sovereign. And so we have the Darien Scheme which the King (William) refused to support and which was to end in failure when the settlement was abandoned in 1700 after heavy bombardment by Spanish forces and with much loss of life.

In 1703 the Scottish Parliament passed the Act anent Peace and War. This maintained that no successor of Queen Anne should declare a war involving Scotland without consulting the Scottish Parliament.  The Act of Security declared that on the death of Queen Anne  the Scots would select a  Protestant successor from the descendants of the Scottish kings, and not the English successor unless various economic, political and religious conditions were met. England had already passed the Act of Settlement choosing their successor to Anne as Sophia of Hanover. The response to the Scots from the English Parliament was swift with the Alien Act of 1705. Scots merchants could not trade with England and her colonies, hitting the exporters  of linen and black cattle really hard. Scots resident in England were to be treated as aliens including any property they owned there.

All this was in the lead up to the Articles of the Treaty of Union coming before the Scottish Parliament. At every turn Queen Anne and her Ministers ensured that Scotland was weakened economically and militarily.  Within the Scots Parliament itself supporters for the Union of the two nations continued to press their case saying that signing the Treaty would ensure the removal of the Alien Act and Scots would be able to freely trade once more.

In 1706 Queen Anne appointed thirty one Commissioners from each country. One of those was the above mentioned James Douglas, 11th Earl of Morton. Morton had attested to Queen Anne’s accession oath at St James’ in 1702. The 9th Earl had held vast estates in Orkney and Shetland. He’d had these removed from him when, in a dispute over salvaged Dutch bullion, the granting of the lands in the islands to him was revoked by Charles II in 1669.  In 1702 Queen Anne granted Morton permission to collect £1000 yearly from rents in Orkney and Zetland (Shetland).

More was to come. The Scots Parliament discussed the 25 Articles of Union throughout 1706 and 1707 . In August 1706 Morton was made Admiral of Orkney and Shetland. This was a lucrative post giving him access to the money to be made when ships were wrecked within the waters of the islands. In February 1707 Queen Anne dissolved the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Zetland from the Crown handing over the lands to Morton, redeemable on a payment of £30,000 sterling. The deal obliged Morton to pay £6,000Scots yearly to the Crown and to pay for the stipends of Ministers, amounting to £1,600.

As voting took place on each  of the 25 Articles of the Union, many of which concern the importance of free trade, Morton was assured of the support of his brother, Robert Douglas, in voting for Union. Of the other Orkney Commissioners – Sir Archibald Stewart’s votes appear to be unrecorded which means he may not have been attending the Scottish Parliament for reasons unknown. Sir Alexander Douglas, voted against Article 1.

Alexander Douglas also abstained or was not present for the vote on Article 2 ( on the succession as laid down in the English Act of Settlement) and Article 21 (on the rights and privileges of the Royal Burghs).

By the final vote, however, Sir Alexander had been brought into line by Morton. On the 16th of January 1707 the Scottish Parliament ratified the Treaty of Union with England  by a majority of 110 votes to 69. The English Parliament had already done so. The Union of Scotland and England took place on 1st of May 1707. The first parliament of Great Britain had representatives indirectly elected from the Scottish Parliament. Sir Alexander Douglas was appointed for Orkney and Shetland. In the following year the first elections in Scotland took place to the House of Commons in London. Of the 558 MPs, 45 were allocated to the Scots who also had 16 peers for the House of Lords.

On 8th of July 1707 the Earl of Morton was granted permission to keep the surplus rents from Orkney and Zetland for 1702 – 6. These were rents in excess of the £1,000 per annum he had been granted in 1702.

Sir Alexander Douglas MP for Orkney and Zetland served in the House of Commons from 1707 – 1713. In 1710 he was given the Bishopric of Orkney with a pension of £1,000 Scots a year. He was promised an attendance allowance of £200. In his election as a Tory that same year he was described as a ‘worthy patriot’ but after never receiving his attendance allowance he didn’t stand in the election of 1713. His place was taken by George Douglas, 13th Earl of Morton. In 1715 Sir Alexander was rewarded with the joint Lieutenancy of Orkney.  He died in 1718. His only contribution to the House of Commons appears to be his support for the impeachment of Dr Henry Sacheverell in 1710.

For the rest of Scotland, the Treaty had ensured that the Royal Burghs would continue with their privileges over the commercial interests in the growing towns like Stromness. The Church of Scotland was appeased with a separate Act which protected Presbyterianism and Scotland retained its separate legal system. The Honours of Scotland were to remain in Scotland ‘in all time coming, notwithstanding of the Union’.

There was to be a transfer of funds of £398,085 (£55million)  for assuming a proportion of England’s National Debt. Some of this was to be paid in Treasury bills.  Wars with France, securing its colonies and maintaining an army on the border with Scotland were costly for England. A failed attempt by the French in 1708 to support a Jacobite rising meant that threat was still very real for Queen Anne and her supporters even with the signing of the Treaty.

The Equivalent was seen as compensation for the Darien Scheme losses but in accepting this deal the Company of Scotland had to cease trading in Africa and the East. The great expectations of Scotland being able to now trade freely would not be fulfilled. In 1706 agreement was reached between England’s two East India Companies on a merger which took effect from March 1709. It maintained the grip the London financiers had over the lucrative trade in the East . The promise that the monopoly of the new East India Company would only last 6 years was worth nothing. It lasted another 107 years until 1813.

The collage features all the main elements of the story and above them all the masonic eye
The Meeting of Commissioners, collage by Martin Laird

Fiona Grahame

This article first appeared in iScot Magazine

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