12 April 2016

What God hath conjoined…

It never ceases to bemuse me that so many of the people who seem to be most romantically-inclined to the Jacobite cause are also those who don’t quite know what to make of that one most important aspect of the Stuart legacy: namely, the grand personal union of the kingdoms of Scotland and England that occurred in 1603. Indeed, on this very day, the 12th of April, a little over three years later, the patriarch from whose hathel lend every one of the Stuart kings descend, commissioned this very flag to signify that union.

King James I of England, VI of Scotland himself said this as well:
What God hath conjoined let no man separate. I am the husband and the whole isle is my lawful wife; I am the head and it is my body; I am the shepherd and it is my flock. I hope therefore that no man will think that I, a Christian King under the Gospel, should be a polygamist and husband to two wives; that I being the head should have a divided or monstrous body or that being the shepherd to so fair a flock should have my flock parted in two.
It must be noted that the Stuart kings, not just James I but also notably the martyred Charles I, proved themselves to be opponents of the enclosures movement and the appropriations of Church and common land that had been so common in the preceding centuries (and in the centuries to come) – in a way which appealed to the rural peasantry on both sides of the Wall. Charles I has even been described as ‘the one English monarch of outstanding importance as an agrarian reformer’. But even going back to James I, the government was taking an active interest in the well-being of the vulnerable rural poor in both Scotland and England. From this historical treatment, even though how sincere this interest was is an open question, the generality of the policies it inspired is not: both rural Scots and rural Englishmen had a strong stake - even their whole livelihoods - in these policies.

The Jacobite risings coming after 1688, it must be noted, were an alliance of Highland Scots with their High Church brethren in Northern England. They were hardly a Scottish national movement as such; instead it becomes necessary to note that they were a broad alliance of Englishmen and Scots who protested in common cause against a bureaucratic, capitalist new order. By and large, the Jacobites were in favour of preserving the commons, the cottage and the village; the elder style and pace of life that prevailed on the Highlands. They were the last vestiges of a nobility and free yeomanry who fought the extension of the enclosures into the Highlands (which amounted to a particularly brutal form of land theft from the peasants who had until then held the land in common) – a free yeomanry, it cannot be stressed enough, that was every bit as much English as it was Scottish. Though 1688 undoubtedly brought with it an urge to centralise and rationalise the affairs of the two countries and bring them under the control of London, so too it cannot be denied that the opposition to 1688 was not a purely nationalist phenomenon.

Even these tidbits of 17th-century English history show, I hope, that the real interests of the working class in Britain are the same regardless of whether they are localised in Scotland, England, Wales or Ireland. As David Lindsay points out, political patterns and preferences across Great Britain vary far more by class and religious preference than they do by place of national origin (however that is determined, and the excellent Mr. Lindsay more than once has pointed out the dubiousness of attempting to do so).

I confess to having a small, but real, personal stake in this question. The free-yeoman Cooper family – spelt Cowper back in 1688 – has been referred to in our genealogical records both as English and as Scottish. Some romantically, but as yet unconvincingly, trace us back to an origin in Fife. But the fact of the matter was that William Cowper was first a High Church Anglican, later a Quaker, who was forced to emigrate to Pennsylvania in 1699 either because of his religious convictions, or because of his Nonjuror politics. (At the time, it behoves me to note, the two would have gone hand in hand.) He lived in Pennsylvania, both among other Quakers from elsewhere in England, and among Scottish indentured men and smallholders who made up the frontier population of the time. Some among his descendants would continue to embrace a radical-traditionalist vision; my direct ancestor Jacob Cooper was a Tory, in fact, and wound up on the enemies list of the revolutionary committees of South Carolina. It is hard to say what they were, if not partisans of that Kingdom of Great Britain which King James I proclaimed.

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