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Scotland and England: An Imperfect Union?

All-Day Program

Saturday, January 27, 2018 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2940

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Scotland is the only part of the island of Britain never to have been conquered by England. Yet Scotland has always had to reckon with its powerful southern neighbor, and the recent campaign for Scottish independence demonstrates that the question of Scottish sovereignty is far from settled.

Historian Jennifer Paxton explores the remarkable story of the struggle to define Scottish identity over the past thousand years, as the country went from proudly independent kingdom to junior partner within Great Britain. While many Scots benefited from the economic opportunities that came with the British Empire, recent political events, including the Brexit vote, have caused some Scots to reevaluate the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.   

9:30–10:45 a.m. The Making of Scotland

Scotland has the most diverse ethnic origins of any part of Britain. During the Early Middle Ages, the Irish, English, Scandinavians, and the mysterious Picts all put their stamp on the landscape, yet Scotland emerged in the 12th century as a unified nation state owing allegiance to the King of the Scots. Ironically, Scotland maintained its independence from England by using political tactics brought by English immigrants, until a dynastic crisis threatened to bring Scotland firmly under English rule.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  The Wars of Independence and the Rise of the Stuarts

Scotland and England clashed repeatedly starting in the late 13th century, as Scotland entered the “Auld Alliance” with England’s great enemy, France. Scotland sought to assert itself on the European stage as a state worthy of international respect, from the fight for national independence under William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (“Braveheart”) to the troubled reign of Mary, Queen of Scots.

12:15–1:30 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

1:30–2:45 p.m.   The Union with England and the Jacobite Threat

England and Scotland achieved a rapprochement under Mary’s son, James VI, but the peaceful dynastic union between the countries in 1603 embroiled Scotland in a series of crises. The civil war that led to the execution of Charles I began in Scotland, and the deposition of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to a series of Jacobite revolts on Scottish soil, including the famous campaign by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and 1746.

3–4:15 p.m.  The Making (and Unmaking?) of the British

After the disastrous Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden, most Scots embraced their role in the United Kingdom. Edinburgh became the center of the Scottish Enlightenment, and Scottish engineering and military talent helped build the British Empire over the centuries. Yet modern economic unrest and the end of empire led to broad support for the European Union and renewed calls for Scottish political autonomy. The future of Scotland may or may not lie within the United Kingdom.

Paxton teaches Irish and British history at the Catholic University of America, where she is clinical assistant professor in the department of history and director of the university honors program.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)