Mar 112018

The Scottish Militia Bill (An Act for settling the Militia of that Part of Great Britain called Scotland) was passed by the House of Commons and House of Lords of the Parliament of Great Britain in early 1708. However, on this date in 1708, queen Anne withheld royal assent on the advice of her ministers for fear that the proposed militia created would be disloyal. The Bill’s object was to arm the Scottish militia, which had not been recreated at the Restoration. On the day the Bill was meant to be signed, news came that the French were sailing toward Scotland, and there was suspicion that the Scottish might join with the French and defect from their union with England. Therefore, support for a veto was strong. Today’s date is important because it was the last time that a royal veto on a Bill was used.

A little bit of context is in order here. England and Scotland were effectively unified in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. But the two countries remained separate nations. Full unification did not occur until the Acts of Union of 1707 had been passed under queen Anne. Both the Tudor and Stuart monarchies were incredibly turbulent times for England in terms of religious authority, methods of governance, and foreign affairs. Scotland, in particular, was always a threat. Making James the first king of England after the death of Elizabeth was one attempt to defuse the threat from Scotland. James’s reign was relatively quiet religiously and politically because he was a shrewd ruler who knew how to be diplomatic. His son, Charles I, acted the tyrant with Parliament that was beginning to feel its power, and, in the end, got his head chopped off because of his actions. After playing with being a republic for 11 years, England went back to being a monarchy with the powers of the king considerably weakened. Down through the Stuarts, parliament became stronger and stronger with the monarchy conversely becoming weaker and weaker, until by Anne’s time the only power the monarch had was the right to refuse royal assent to bills that had passed up through the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Anne’s brother-in-law and predecessor to the throne, William III, had vetoed Bills passed by Parliament six times, but by Anne’s time, royal assent to Bills generally came to be viewed as a mere formality once both Houses of Parliament had successfully read a Bill three times, or a general election had taken place. In the British colonies, the denial of Royal assent had continued past 1708, and was one of the primary complaints of the United States’ Declaration of Independence in 1776: that the king “has refused his Assent to Laws, most wholesome and necessary for the public Good” and “He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance.”

Anne did not withhold royal assent to the Scottish Militia Bill capriciously, nor on her own account. She acted on the advice of ministers who had passed the Bill in good faith, but then had a change of heart when they caught wind of a French fleet sailing for Scotland. By rights Scotland should have had a militia, as it had had as a sovereign nation prior to the Acts of Union of 1708. The Scottish Militia Bill was supposed to be no more than a final codicil tacked on to tidy up some loose ends. The French fleet’s arrival complicated things. Scotland and France had been in formal and informal alliance against England for centuries. Fearing something was afoot, the ministers regretted arming a militia in Scotland that might prove to be a hostile power, but they had already passed the bill through both Houses. The only remedy was to ask Anne to veto the Bill. Subsequently no Bill (in Great Britain) has been refused royal assent.

Anne was the last of the Stuarts. The Hanoverian line, starting with George I, has changed the name of its houses several times, but there have been no dynastic fractures as there were in previous eras. Neither has there been much in the way of changes to the roles of monarch and parliament. If a contemporary monarch were to exercise the royal veto that would undoubtedly be their last act before being voted out. Great Britain is one of only three constitutional monarchies in the world today where – technically – the reigning monarch has the power of veto over parliament. I suppose that it is a safeguard should a situation arise as did in Anne’s day but it is hard to imagine.

A banquet menu from the later half of the 17th century gives insight into the kinds of foods queen Anne enjoyed (and she was well known to enjoy her food).

Soup from Ox tongue spiced with nutmeg
Sliced leg of lamb with artichoke heart, kidneys and topped with raspberries and redcurrant.
Herring pie
Scrambled eggs, anchovies and nuts
Stewed prawns.
Minced Pies

Here you have plenty of scope for improvisation. The leg of lamb seems enticing. The “minced pie” would have been rather similar to mince pies served at Christmas these days, but with meat instead of simply suet. An ox tongue soup with nutmeg would be easy enough to recreate, as would scrambled eggs with anchovies and nuts. Almonds or hazel nuts would work well.

For the cheesecake you can try any number of recipes from Robert May’s Accomplisht Cook, 5th edition (1685) available here:  Here are two of them:

To make Cheesecakes.

Let your paste be very good, either puff-paste or cold butter-paste, with sugar mixed with it, then the whey being dried very well from the cheese-curds which must be made of new milk or butter, beat them in a mortar or tray, with a quarter of a pound of butter to every pottle of curds, a good quantity of rose-water, three grains of ambergriese or musk prepared, the crums of a small manchet rubbed through a cullender, the yolks of ten eggs, a grated nutmeg, a little salt, and good store of sugar, mix all these well together with a little cream, but do not make them too soft; instead of bread you may take almonds which are much better; bake them in a quick oven, and let them not stand too long in, least they should be to dry.

To make Cheesecakes otherways.

Make the crust of milk & butter boil’d together, put it into the flour & make it up pretty stiff, to a pottle of fine flour, take half a pound of butter; then take a fresh cheese made of morning milk, and a pint of cream, put it to the new milk, and set the cheese with some runnet, when it is come, put it in a cheese-cloth and press it from the whey, stamp in the curds a grated fine small manchet, some cloves and mace, a pound and a half of well washed and pick’t currans, the yolks of eight eggs, some rose-water, salt, half a pound of refined white sugar, and a nutmeg or two; work all these materials well together with a quarter of a pound of good sweet butter, and some cream, but make it not too soft, and make your cheesecakes according to these formes.