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itself. For the purposes of clarity, I will call these camps the ˜incor-
porative™, the ˜confederal™, the ˜perfect™, and the ˜pontoon-building™
modes of British history.
When James VI of Scotland became King of England and Ireland
in 1603, a great debate broke out about how, how far (and whether) this
union of crowns should be accompanied by a union of the kingdoms.
Elizabeth had successfully banned any public discussion of the nature
of a Scottish succession to the English (and its dependent Irish) titles;
and James had muted public discussion amongst the Scots out of fear
of alienating Elizabeth and endangering his claim.1 And so we get the
intense debate of the years 1603À1608 about the ˜union project™. When
lawyers and clerics came to put their minds to the issue, they could see
there were at least three ways forward.2
The first was an incorporative union, such as the Anglo-Welsh Union
of 1536À1543, in which Welsh political, legal, religious and social
institutions were assimilated to English ones. This is the kind of union
that Cromwell achieved by his conquests of Ireland and Scotland,
and which was enshrined in the Protectoral constitution: an enlarged
English Parliament, a London-based policy-making executive, and the
gradual assertion of English legal process and English substantive law
throughout the archipelago.
The second was a federal union, in which each kingdom kept its own
political, legal, religious and social institutions but with a new layer of
˜federal™ institutions overlaying them. This is what Scottish Covenanters
and (for the most part) Irish Confederates (and Irish royalists) strove
for in the 1640s À legislative and judicial autonomy and mechanisms
(in the case of the Covenanters) for ensuring a British perspective in
foreign policy; and what the Scots achieved in a very different and risky
way in 1707 (legislative incorporation but full protection for the
autonomy of Scottish legal and ecclesiastical institutions).
And the third was a ˜perfect union™, in which existing institutions were
integrated or superseded by a new purpose-built set designed by James

1
I am grateful to Susan Doran and Alexander Courtney for their discussions of how fragile
James felt his hold on the succession to be in the last ten years of Elizabeth™s reign. Their papers
on the subject will hopefully be published in the near future; for now see e.g. Doran and
Richardson 2005.
2
For these distinctions, see Galloway 1986; Galloway and Levack 1985.
Thinking about the New British History 25
(not so much a new Solomon as a new Solon).3 This was never again
attempted or even envisioned. In broad terms, in 1603À1608 the English
wanted the first, the Scots wanted the second and James VI and I wanted
the third.
Naturally there were also some intellectually unexciting people who
preferred to muddle through; who did not see any reason why a union of
the crowns should imply any change in the relations of the kingdoms. This
tended to be the English approach to state-building across the century, an
unconsidered assertion of their own superiority. It produced some extraor-
dinarily muddled thinking that cost lives. For example, Connor Maguire,
second lord Enniskillen, was tried in England for treasons committed
in Ireland, but denied trial by his peers, or execution by the axe, because
his title was not recognized in England. The story has a gruesome end:
˜while he was hanging, an officer cut the rope, letting Maguire drop
alive, and commanded the executioner to open him. A struggle between
condemned and executioner ensued, and, to spare him, the executioner
cut the peer™s throat™.4 More generally, the failure of the English
Commonwealth in 1649 or of the Williamite government of 1688À1690 to
make any provision for the legitimation of their seizures of power through
Irish constitutional forms is striking. At most, these improvised settle-
ments represent an intellectual equivalent to the military expedient of
building pontoons when obstacles got in the way of progress.
As it is in history, so it is in historiography. There are incorporative,
confederal, perfect and pontoon-building approaches. The incorporative
approach is best represented by historians, almost all of them English,
who use British history to address problems of English history, pro-
ducing a form of enriched English history. We need to understand what
English relations with Scotland and Ireland contributed to the break-
down of the Stuart polity in 1642 or 1649, for example, but the unit
of study remains principally England. Conrad Russell™s The Causes of the
English Civil War (1990) and the more disguised The Fall of the British
Monarchies (1991) are fully alert to the inter-connectedness of political
systems, political cultures and political and religious histories, but for


3
In the fourth of his Trevelyan Lectures in Cambridge in 1994, Conrad Russell argued that
in his speech to Parliament on 21 March 1610, this is exactly what James had in mind and
that he did speak of himself as a new Solon. It would be a tragedy if these lectures on James
and his Parliaments, which Russell had prepared for publication, did not see the light of day.
4
Mac Cuarta 2004. For the wider significance of this tale, see Orr 2000, pp. 389À421.
26 john morrill
the purpose of explaining events in England.5 And in a less brazen way,
the same can be said of Austin Woolrych™s Britain in Revolution (2002)
or even of David Scott™s richly textured Politics and War in the Three Stuart
Kingdoms (2004).6 This kind of history has appealed to those principally
concerned with political conflict and the history of ideas À with any aspect
of state formation or the patterning of Reformation thought or politics.
It has not been favoured by those concerned with political culture, social
and economic development or identity formation.
This has produced as an interesting counter in an enriched Scottish
history of the kind recently and spectacularly demonstrated by Allan
Macinnes in his The British Revolution (2004).7 This is a challenging
and constantly startling account of the War of the Three Kingdoms
from a Scottish hub, with the involvement of all the European states
evaluated from an Edinburgh and not a London perspective. Whether
everyone will find persuasive Macinnes™s attempted dialectic between
˜Britannic imperial monarchy™ (the drive to incorporative union) and
˜gothic constitutionalism™ (ancient constitutionalism and little-
Englanderism) remains to be seen. In the meantime, this attempt to
see the failure of the one and the accommodation of the other startles and
unsettles; and it certainly derails the Britannic historicism also known as
˜enriched™ English history.
Then there are advocates of confederal history, in the form of those
who demonstrate the case for separate histories but overlay it with
a concern with how the histories influence one another. A good example
of this is the more recent work of Nicholas Canny (in his editorial
conceptualization and participation in the first volume of The Oxford
History of the British Empire (1998); but also in a range of essays including
˜Irish, Scottish and Welsh Responses to Colonization c. 1530Àc. 1640™,8
included in a collection of essays which itself exemplifies this approach).
It is here that David Stevenson was a pioneer in his work locating
Scottish-Irish history in a British context with his studies of the Scots,
English and Irish armies in Ireland and of Montrose™s campaigns with
Irish troops in the mid 1640s. These are studies that illuminate the history
of each kingdom by transcending them; but the aim is to illustrate each
not some ˜greater™ history.9 A particularly fine example of this is

5 6
Russell 1990; Russell 1991. Woolrych 2002; D. Scott 2004.
7 8
Macinnes 2004. Canny 1998; Canny 1995.
9
Stevenson 1980; Stevenson 1981.
Thinking about the New British History 27
Jane Dawson™s The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary Queen of Scots:
The Earl of Argyll and the Struggle for Britain and Ireland (2002).10 This is
first and foremost a masterly study of the politics and political culture
of mid sixteenth-century Scotland. It is also a study of international
and above all English intervention in the high politics of Scotland and
how the fifth Earl of Argyll accommodated himself to the skilful and
effective politicking of William Cecil and the unskilful and disruptive
politicking of Elizabeth I. Central to the thesis is how Cecil™s manage-
ment helped to stabilize English interests in Ulster (and Elizabeth™s
to destabilize them), given that the ˜highland™ side of the Campbells
straddled the channel between Antrim and the Western Isles. Three
histories are illuminated; no new history is created.
A more characteristic example would now be the volume edited by
Allan Macinnes and Jane Ohlmeyer that began life as a conference
entitled ˜The Awkward Neighbour™ and which now has a subtitle of
˜Awkward Neighbours™.11 Essays in that book illustrate the way that
confederal British history is best suited to cultural history: ˜Sense of
Identity in the Armies of the English Republic™; ˜Britain, Race and
the Iberian World Empire™; ˜The Formation of Cultural Attitudes: The
Example of the Three Kingdoms in the 1650s™. When it turns to political
and intellectual history, anxieties about the approach mount: as one essay
asks, ˜Is British History International History?™.12
If we are looking for ˜perfect™ British history, we mainly have to look
thus far at biography. For it is perfectly clear that there are important
individuals who see their worlds as one. They might have multiple
identities as they have multiple titles (Duke of Lennox and of Richmond;
Marquis of Hamilton and Earl of Cambridge; Earl of Clanrickarde and
of St Albans), but they thought and acted in a way that transcended the
limitations of single-nation or single-kingdom history. They resided at
a court at which the nobility of three kingdoms mingled; their land-
ownership, marriage and entrepreneurial strategies were archipelagic;
when civil war broke out they thought about how to utilize and safe-
guard their interests by an archipelagic plan. We are beginning to get
a generation of political and intellectual biographies that demonstrate this
new dimension: for example, Jane Ohlmeyer™s Civil War and Restoration
in the Three Stuart Kingdoms: The Career of Randal Macdonnell, Marquis

10 11
Dawson 2002. Macinnes and Ohlmeyer 2002.
12
These essays are, in turn, by James Scott Wheeler, Arthur Williamson, Sarah Barber and Conrad
Russell in Macinnes and Ohlmeyer 2002.
28 john morrill
of Antrim, 1609À1683 (1993), the life of a man married to the widow of the
great Duke of Buckingham, heir to the Lordship of the Isles and the last
great Catholic landowner of Ulster; or Patrick Little™s Lord Broghill and
the Cromwellian Union with Ireland and Scotland (2004), the study of a
scion of an English settler in Ireland and a strong voice in all parts of the
Cromwellian imperium.13 Studies of the first Duke of Ormonde and the
second Marquis of Hamilton are hot on their heels.14
As for the pontoon-builders, I will simply point out that much
intellectual history remains breathtakingly blinkered. Look at the exten-
sive literature on monarchical republicanism 1540À1640. None of the
discussion of how to regulate and make accountable queens and kings
of England À and how to make disputed succession subject to positive
and not to natural and divine law À notices the much greater dilemmas
and the more radical solutions that were proposed by the Presbyterian
Scots and the Catholic Irish in the century and a half after the accession
of Elizabeth and specifically the century beginning around 1580.15 Thus
the thought of both the English and the Old English in Ireland about
the constitution appropriate to a kingdom from which the King™s person
was perpetually absent had its own impact on English thought about
English monarchy; just as the political thought of the supporters of
the Irish rebels during the Nine Years War (itself deeply influenced
by debates amongst the Leaguers in France, where many of the Irish
bishops studied or lived) challenged many of the assumptions of the
English about the applicability of humanist models across a federated
monarchia.16
In 1649, the English beheaded the King of Britain and Ireland, but
only abolished monarchy in England and Ireland. The Scots were told
to resume their historic identity as a freestanding monarchy to the North
of the English Commonwealth. They refused to accept independence
and committed themselves to restore the Stuarts to all their king-
doms À but within as perfectly formed a monarchical republic as it was

13
Ohlmeyer 1993; Little 2004.
14
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography also shows the way forward: compare the lives
of the following in the ODNB with those in the original late Victorian/Edwardian Dictionary
of National Biography: James, 1st Duke of Hamilton (by John Scally), Archibald Campbell,
5th Earl of Argyll (by Jane Dawson), Alexander Henderson (by John Coffey).
15
Armitage 2000; Armitage, Himy and Skinner 1995; Burns and Goldie 1991; Norbrook 1999;
van Gelderen and Skinner 2002, chs. 2, 5, 15; Skinner 2002b, chs. 1, 2; Wootton 1996.
16
See the forthcoming studies of Irish constitutionalism by Alan Orr and Catholic political
thinking by David Finnegan.
Thinking about the New British History 29
possible to imagine: as covenanted trustees with strictly circumscribed
powers. This dramatic development has gone essentially unnoticed
and its significance unevaluated.17 Jonathan Scott is one of the his-
torians who have consistently refused to examine the internal dilemmas
of the British and Irish kingdoms and peoples in his remarkable books
on English state formation. This is in part because he wants to examine
the dynamic and dialectical intellectual and geopolitical interactions
between England and continental Europe. So his references to Scotland
and Ireland are pontoon-building. As we will see, I do not see these as
alternative, but as integrated parts of the process.18
We have thus moved a long way in the past thirty years of fevered
activity. There are at least twenty collections of essays that arose from
conferences about the early-modern British problem. These include the
Anglo-American Conference of Historians in the Institute of Historical
Research in London, the first ever Trevelyan Fund Conference in
Cambridge and the first meeting of leading historians from all the
territories of the would-be British state system in Galway. Journals
including the American Historical Review have devoted special numbers to
the issue or to its ancillary, Atlantic history. Major universities including
Cambridge and then Oxford have created courses devoted to the self-
conscious activity of thinking about the relationship. And the PhDs
and the monographs have followed.

iii
It is important to stress how much of a revival or recovery this is. In the
decades before the 1970s there was virtually no historical exploration
of the links between the polities ruled by the Tudors and Stewarts,
no ˜British history™ of the kind just discussed. If there were more space
than I am permitted here, we could fruitfully explore how concern with
˜the matter of Britain™ waxes whenever there is a threatened and actual
shifting of the tectonic plates which lie beneath ˜Britain™. In the years
around 1921, around 1800, around 1707, around 1603 and around 1541
the relationship between the peoples and polities within the archi-
pelago shifted. At each moment there is a surge of interest in the history


17
See the third of my Ford™s Lectures in British History, ˜Inextricable Labyrinths: Presbyterian
Dilemmas, 1648À1650™, delivered in the University of Oxford, February 2006.
18
See the indexes in J. Scott 2000; J. Scott 2004.
30 john morrill
of their relationships. Then interest ebbs away until the next quake
approaches.
Within the early-modern period itself, we find the same discussion
amongst historians as in the 1980s and 1990s. Whether it was the long
assault by Renaissance and Reformation Scottish historians on, and the
increasingly half-hearted defence by English historians of, Geoffrey of
Monmouth™s account of the Trojan origins of the British kingdoms and
the natural subordination Wales and Scotland to Brutus™s kingdom;19
whether it is the way that the Union of the Crowns in 1603 caused
historians like John Clapham to republish his Historie of England (1602),
suitably amended, as The Historie of Great Britannie in 1606, or Edward
Ayscough to focus on the relations between the kingdoms in his Historie

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