‘Conflict, Commerce and Communities: British markets and society in France, 1603-1763’.

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On 24 February 2015, the Centre was delighted to welcome Siobhan Talbott to discuss  ‘Conflict, Commerce and Communities: British markets and society in France, 1603-1763’. This continued the ‘Scotland and Europe’ seminar series. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Siobhan’s talk centred on two key elements: 1) To move away from the idea that Scotland could not govern her own commercial agenda (especially after 1707); 2) To reconsider the blinkered focus on big political events to explain patterns of commerce.

On the first point, Scotland has long been portrayed as handicapped after the Glorious Revolution, with its maritime interests subsumed within a larger British context. The Union of 1707 only amplified the domination by England. There certainly were fears among contemporaries of just this eventuality: the Mercator commented in 1706 that ‘the whole trade would be ruin’d’. However, Scotland (and Ireland) both operated within independent spheres and in some instances held the advantage in commercial enterprise. Trade with France was lucrative and continuous, even during times of war. This is mainly explained by the privileges bestowed Scottish merchants thanks to the ‘Auld Alliance’ between Scotland and France, which ostensibly ended in 1560, but (in terms of priveleges at least) continued even beyond 1707. Scottish merchants continued to trade with France while English merchants faced heavy restrictions. During the 9 Years War for example, English ships were prohibited from trading with French ports, and also fell prey to French privateers. A strong Scots presence was found at Bordeaux, and the Irish were well-documented in Nantes.


Some scholars have attributed these successes to political circumstances, for example, a common Catholic religion (between the French and Irish) and support of the Jacobite cause.  However, the trade benefits afforded the Scots and Irish pre-dated 1688 and post-dated 1715/45, perhaps minimising the influence of Jacobitism. Siobhan argued that the merchants (both French and Scottish/Irish) were little concerned with political or religious affiliation –  they were there to trade! Bordeaux was a hot-spot for the Scots because some Scottish families had become established there, and thanks to their privileges they were afforded automatic naturalisation and allowed to hold land/office. Generations of Scottish merchant families then looked out for their fellow countrymen, and their institutional involvement stimulated commercial activity. The same was equally true of Nantes for the Irish and the town even recorded their deaths. Patterns of trade movement and commercial can not be entirely explained by the political context, as local customs and social contexts clearly exerted a powerful influence.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our series continues on Tuesday 10 March with David Ditchburn’s, ‘Scotland, France and The Auld Alliance: Was there an Alternative?’. This will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.   

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