Source and activity 3

'The superiority and Direct Dominion of the Crown of England over the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland, reasserted'

Atwood essay title page
Atwood's 1705 'reasserted' essay.
[NLS shelfmark: L.C. 658]

William Atwood's original essay was published in London in 1704, just three years before the Treaty of Union. In it, Atwood attempted to revive the medieval English claims to superiority over Scotland, and to back these with historical evidence.

Scottish reaction

Scots' feeling on the matter were contrasted by Scottish lawyer James Anderson's subsequent publication 'An historical essay showing that the crown of Scotland is free and independent'. He was paid an astonishing £4,800 by the Scottish Parliament. This amounts to over £375,000 today and shows the depth of the constitutional crisis at the time.

The Scottish Parliament promptly ordered Atwood's original work to be burned by the hangman on the High Street. The sentence was carried out in August 1705 at the Market Cross in Edinburgh. He responded with a second essay, this time with his argument 'reasserted'.

William Atwood (died 1712)

Atwood was a lawyer and political writer. As a laywer, he became highly proficient in early English law and used his knowledge of English history and law to uphold the rights of Parliament and promote England's ancient constitution.

In June 1700 he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of New York and emigrated there with his son, who was also a lawyer. Some time later, he was accused of corruption and dismissed by the governor, Lord Cornbury. In his defence Atwood published a pamphlet describing the lawlessness and factionalism he found in New York and how he and his son had to race back to England in fear of their lives. He ended it by stating that it was a 'hazardous post of no profit'.

Suggested discussion questions

An independent Scotland is now a real possibility, with a referendum promised in 2014.

Whatever your views on the matter, do you think governments should be allowed to restrict or ban views that are in opposition to them?

The Scottish Parliament paid James Anderson to publish what might be regarded as nationalist propaganda — is this a legitimate action for a government?

Source and activity 4



Themes in focus: Censorship


Censorship related material at NLS

Browse a selection of NLS material relating to all aspects of censorship by typing the term 'censorship' in the search box above.


Visit the 'Banned books' web pages that accompanied our blockbuster 2011 exhibition.

Censorship on the web

Index on Censorship is Britain's leading organisation promoting freedom of expression.


'The Guardian' website has a dedicated section on global press and media censorship.


Scottish PEN is part of a global organisation committed to campaigning for writers under threat.

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