On the 22nd July 1706, the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of Great Britain was laid when commissioners from England and Scotland agreed the Acts of Union. Although both countries had been under the same monarch since King James I and VI, it took over a century for the two countries to be united as Great Britain.

Previous attempts to unite Scotland and England had taken place since James came to the throne, but each had resulted in failure. However by the start of the 18th century each country found itself in a position where political union would be advantageous. Scotland would benefit from the economic security of union, while England hoped to remove Scotland as a ‘backdoor’ for French attacks or a possible Jacobite restoration.

The 31 English and 31 Scottish commissioners chosen to carry out negotiations for union first met at the Cockpit, a government building at Whitehall in London, on 16th April. As well as their demands, each side also had a bargaining card: England would grant Scotland freedom of trade and access to colonial markets, while Scotland would agree to Hanoverian succession after Queen Anne.

The demands and compromises lined up incredibly well with each other, and after just three days the commissioners had agreed on the basic principles of union. However, it took three months in total to draw up the detailed treaty before it could go to the Scottish and English Parliaments to be ratified. Royal assent was given on the 6th March 1707, and on May 1st the Acts went into effect.

The royal Exchequer Rolls from Scotland recorded the first known written reference to Scotch whisky.

The Scottish Exchequer was responsible for recording royal income and expenditure in Scotland. The well-preserved calfskin parchment, better known as vellum, bears an entry on 1 June 1495 that records “To Friar John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae VIII bolls of malt.”

The Latin term aqua vitae means ‘water of life’. In Scottish Gaelic this same phrase translates as uisge-beatha, the first word being pronounced ‘ush-kee’. English language transcriptions subsequently recorded the word as ‘whisky’.

In terms of the quantity, the boll was a form of measurement in Scotland at the time. Consequently the record indicates that King James IV provided enough malt to distil approximately 1,500 bottles of alcohol in the last accounting year. Such a quantity suggests that the distillation process was well-established by this time, but no earlier reference to the production of what we now call Scotch whisky have ever been found.

Friar John Cor, the recipient of the malt, was a monk from the Tironensian order based at Lindores Abbey in Fife. Little is known about the monk himself, with historians even being unsure of the extent of his role in the distillation process. Later records do however show him receiving money from the king at Christmas and being given black cloth for clothing as a clerk in royal service.

While the records are therefore a key part of the story of Scotch whisky, subsequent writers have only been able to guess that exchequer rolls’ exclusive reference to ‘malt’ suggest that it must have been a single or blended malt whisky. It’s also unknown how much of the estimated 800 gallons of whisky was drunk.

Andrew Watson’s father, Peter Miller Watson, was the manager of a sugar plantation in British Guiana while his mother was a local woman called Anna (or Hannah) Rose. Having been born illegitimately, accurate details of Watson’s early life are virtually non-existent. It was only after his father moved the young Andrew and his sister Annetta to Scotland in the early 1860s that any reliable evidence began to appear.

Peter Watson died in 1869 while his son was enrolled at a boarding school in Halifax in West Yorkshire. He and his sister inherited a significant amount of money that secured their financial futures and, after attending King’s College School in Wimbledon, Watson took up a place to study mathematics, engineering and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. With his existing interest in football flourishing and, having left university after just one year to take up an engineering apprenticeship, Watson’s talents as a full back saw him join a succession of increasingly bigger clubs.

By 1880 Andrew Watson was playing for Queen’s Park – Britain’s leading team – and the next year he was called up to captain the Scottish national side in a match against England on 12 March 1881. Played at the Oval in London, which currently serves as an international cricket venue, the Scots defeated England by an incredible 6 goals to 1 in a match that is still the heaviest defeat ever suffered by England on home soil. He later moved to London where he became the first black player in the English FA Cup when he joined Swifts in 1882.

The Forth Railway Bridge stretches almost 2.5km across the Firth of Forth, a large estuary area to west of Edinburgh. The bridge, which features two main spans of over 500m each, continues to operate as vital rail link between Fife and the Lothians.

The Forth Bridge was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker using the cantilever principle in which a central span is supported by the tension and compression of supporting arms that are only anchored at one end.

Before construction even began on the bridge in 1882, the contractor Sir William Arrol & Co. landscaped the shores on each side. They then constructed buildings such as workshops, as well as huts and houses to accommodate the more than 4,500 workers who worked on the bridge. Of these, 73 are known to have died in work-related accidents.

The bridge was finally completed in December 1889 and was tested the following month to ensure that it operated properly under load. Satisfied that the bridge was safe, the chairmen of the various railway companies involved in funding the £3.2 million construction travelled over it several times on 24 February. A week later the future King Edward VII formally opened the bridge and secured the last of 6.5 million rivets.

The bridge continues to carry more than 200 trains a day, and is an important symbol of Scotland. Thanks to the development of a new coating, it is also no longer necessary to continuously paint the bridge, a task that takes 10 years to complete.

The Northern Isles, which consist of the two island groups of Shetland and Orkney, have been inhabited since prehistoric times but were formally annexed by the Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre in around 875 after he subdued the Vikings who used the islands as a base from which to raid Norway and Scotland.

The islands remained under Norwegian control for almost 600 years, despite increased Scottish interest from the 13th century onwards. Scottish influence began to grow following the death of Jon Haraldsson, the last of an unbroken line of Norse jarls or earls, in 1231 after which the Jarldom passed to ethnic Scots noblemen with permission of the Norwegian King Håkon Håkonsson.

By the time the Scottish noble Henry Sinclair was appointed to the Jarldom of Orkney in 1379, Norway was in decline as a result of the devastating effects of the Black Death that had struck in 1349. The Kalmar Union of 1397 then joined the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway with Sweden under a single monarch.

By the time Margaret of Denmark, the daughter of King Christian I of Denmark and Norway, was betrothed to James III of Scotland in 1468 the Scandinavian monarchy was in a dire financial situation. Unable to raise the dowry payment of 50,000 Rhenish Florins, Christian pledged the islands as security until he could pay. As it became increasingly clear that the dowry was unlikely to be paid, James declared Orkney and Shetland forfeit and they were formally annexed to Scotland on 20 February 1420 through an act of parliament. Although later Danish monarchs attempted to regain the islands by paying the debt, the Scottish kings resisted their efforts.

Regular visitors may remember that earlier this week I released a podcast about the release of the the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the 6th December 1768. As with all episodes of HistoryPod, I researched this thoroughly and cross-referenced the date against as many sources as I could to ensure reliability.

In the evening of the 6th December I received a message from the editors of Britannica themselves. They thanked me for including the Encyclopaedia in an episode, but also included a correction – Britannica’s was first published not on the 6th December but the 10th. Based on my research, the date of the 6th appears to have come from an advert in an Edinburgh broadsheet newspaper on that day for the new Encyclopaedia. However, in the message from Britannica they revealed that they have only recently determined that the first edition was actually published on the 10th.

Consequently I’m releasing this brief correction to recognise the work of Britannica in confirming the real publishing date, and to ensure that HistoryPod remains an up-to-date and accurate record of significant events from our past. In case you missed it, here’s the story.


Officially titled Encyclopædia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, compiled upon a New Plan, the Britannica was published in three volumes over a three year period. A key part of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Britannica was founded by Edinburgh printers Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell although it was published under the pseudonym “A Society of Gentlemen in Scotland” to reflect the numerous people involved in its production.

Although considerably shorter than the 17-volume French Encyclopédie that inspired it, the Britannica was notable for its “new plan” that saw related topics on major themes grouped together into a single “treatise”. More than forty treatises on topics ranging from surgery to watch and clockwork were inserted in alphabetical order alongside shorter articles and technical definitions. This meant that the Britannica could be used for both quick reference and more comprehensive study.

Edited by 28-year old William Smellie, the first edition was released in weekly instalments known as “numbers” that were later bound into volumes. These included 160 copperplate engravings by Andrew Bell and stretched over 2,500 double-columned pages. An estimated 3,000 copies of the first edition were sold, with the completed set being reprinted twice before work on a second edition began in 1776.

Having gone through fifteen editions that grew to 32 volumes, the last printed version of the Britannica was released in 2010. It is now exclusively distributed through digital mediums including a subscription-based website.

Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh-American journalist and explorer, allegedly greeted the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone with the phrase, “Dr Livingston, I presume?”

David Livingstone was born in 1813 and, having completed training as a doctor, made his first journey to Africa in 1841. He converted his first and only African eight years later, after which he became convinced that further missionary work could only succeed if Africa’s rivers were mapped to become ‘highways’ to the interior.

Livingstone sent his family back to Britain in 1852 prior to beginning an expedition to explore the Zambezi. Over the course of the next four years he crossed the African continent and mapped almost the entire Zambezi while becoming the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall, which he renamed Victoria Falls.

Livingstone returned to Britain in 1856, but sailed back to Africa in 1858 with the intention of opening the Zambezi to ‘legitimate’ British trade to combat slavery. After this expedition failed in its aim to find a navigable route to the interior Livingstone again returned to Britain. He began his final journey to Africa in January 1866.

Hoping to find the source of the Nile, the expedition began to fail as Livingstone’s assistants began to desert him. With the outside world having heard nothing of him for over three years, Henry Morton Stanley was sent to find the Scot by the New York Herald newspaper in 1869. He was eventually found on 10 November 1871 in the town of Ujiji. Stanley is alleged to have greeted him with the words “Dr Livingston, I presume?” although this phrase is likely a fabrication since the relevant pages in Stanley’s diary were torn out, and Livingstone himself never mentioned it.

On the 5th November 1605, the Gunpowder Plot was foiled when Guy or Guido Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in an undercroft below the House of Lords in London. The failure of the plot and execution of the conspirators has since been commemorated in Britain on what is known as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, where effigies of Guy Fawkes are traditionally burned on a bonfire amidst large firework displays.

The Gunpowder Plot was conceived at a time of significant religious tension in the British Isles. Less than a century had passed since Henry VIII broke from Rome, and Catholics continued to be persecuted when James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England. Led by Robert Catesby, a group of thirteen Catholics conspired to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament, when James would be inside the building. Having killed the king, they would then initiate a revolt that would bring James’ young daughter Elizabeth to the throne as a puppet queen. However, the plot was revealed in an anonymous letter and the search of the undercroft was conducted late in the evening of the 4th November.

Most people know that Guy Fawkes, along with the other surviving conspirators, was sentenced to execution by being hung, drawn and quartered. However, what is less widely known is that he managed to leap from the gallows and break his neck. Fawkes was therefore already dead by the time the executioner began to carry out the more gruesome parts of his sentence.

The world’s first submarine transatlantic telephone cable system was inaugurated.

Known as Transatlantic No. 1 or TAT-1, the £120 million system actually consisted of two identical cables to allow transmission in each direction. Prompted by the successful installation of a submarine cable between Florida and Cuba in 1952, a consortium of the UK’s General Post Office, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation agreed to investigate the feasibility of a transatlantic cable.

It was already possible to make a transatlantic telephone call when the 1,950 nautical mile long cable began to be laid in 1955. However, this involved numerous radio links to be booked in advance and was consequently an expensive method of communicating that required significant advance planning.

Stretching from Oban in Scotland to Clarenville in Newfoundland, TAT-1 was able to carry 35 simultaneous telephone calls while a 36th channel provided an additional 22 telegraph lines. Calls from the UK were charged at £1 per minute, a significant reduction from the cost of the radio alternative.

Having gone into operation almost as soon as the two ends were connected, TAT-1 went on to carry over 600 transatlantic calls in the first 24 hours of public service. In 1963, following the de-escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, TAT-1 also carried the Moscow-Washington hotline that linked the Kremlin to the White House.

TAT-1 was eventually retired in 1978 having been superseded by other transatlantic cables that were capable of transmitting a greater number of concurrent signals.

On the 29th July 1567, James VI was crowned king of Scotland when he was just 13 months old. As the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, he succeeded Elizabeth I and became the first monarch to rule all three countries almost 36 years later.

James was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and as such immediately became heir to the Scottish throne when he was born. However, his mother’s Roman Catholic faith caused her reign to be constantly under threat from the largely Protestant nobility, and was one of many reasons for her arrest and imprisonment in June 1567. She was forced to abdicate in favour of her young son a month later, and never saw him again as he was quickly taken away to be raised in Stirling Castle as a God-fearing Protestant king.

Having been crowned king when he was barely one year old, James obviously didn’t rule Scotland himself. Instead power lay with a series of four regents who handled the affairs of government until his minority ended in 1578 when he was 12 years old. However, he didn’t gain complete control over the government for another 5 years.

James ruled Scotland on its own until the 24th March 1603, when Elizabeth I of England – James’ first cousin twice removed – died and James was proclaimed king in a surprisingly smooth and peaceful succession. As such he was the first monarch to rule Scotland, England and Ireland in what is referred to as the Union of the Crowns.