‘Scotland and the Flemish People Project: Analysing International interactions in the Middle Ages’

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On 11 November 2014 the Centre was pleased to welcome Amy Eberlin and Morven French (University of St Andrews) to discuss ‘Scotland and the Flemish People Project: Analysing International interactions in the Middle Ages’. This continued the ‘Scotland and Europe’ series. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Amy and Morven are research students attached to University of St Andrews’ research project ‘Scotland and the Flemish People’.

Main website: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/flemish/

Project blog: http://flemish.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/

Amy’s talk focused on political and diplomatic links between Flanders and Scotland before and after the linchpin date of 1347. Some of the earliest documented residents of Scottish burghs were Flemish, mostly merchants, though much of the early (pre-12th century) period relies upon place name evidence. The high-point of Flemish immigration occurred prior to the 14th century, before the 1347 General Council which saw the expulsion of all Flemings in Scotland in reaction to an equivalent expulsion of Scots from Flanders. Following the twin-defeats in 1346 of the Scots at Neville’s Cross and the French at Crécy, political uncertainties dominated the Scottish court. The capture of David II at Neville’s Cross compounded the issue, as the country was left in charge of his nephew, Robert (the later Robert II), who may have had divergent interests to the absentee king. Fears about an English/Flemish alliance caused a rupture in relations between Scotland and the Low Countries, which had, until this point, enjoyed friendly trade.

The Scots moved their ‘staple’ from Bruges in Flanders to Middelburg in Zeeland, possibly to ensure a strong bargaining position for future negotiations with the Flemish. Amy argued the expulsion of the Flemish from Scotland was also an attempt to wrest back control of their export trades.

After 1347, there was a marked decrease in Flemish trade and immigration to Scotland, while Scots became increasingly involved in embassies. Mercantile interests in Scotland were now in the hands of local Scots, rather than Flemish traders.

Continental wool merchants buying sheep.
‘Scotland and the Flemish People’ project image.

Morven’s presentation explored trade relations between Scotland and Flanders through material culture. The traditional view of trade relations is one of inter-dependence. Flanders was highly industrialised, yet relied upon cheap Scottish wool to fuel that industry. Scotland was mainly rural and imported most of its manufacturing from abroad. Writing in the mid-14th century, Jean Froissart claimed that Scotland imported all of its iron and leather (to make swords, saddles etc) from Flanders.

Morven argued that the peak of trade was in the 14th century, before a marked decline in the 1380s. In 1372, customs receipts amounted to £40,000, which had declined to just £3,000 by 1418. Among the elites, trade (or gifts) of Flemish items can be found in the Lord High Treasurer’s Accounts and the Exchequer Rolls, including ‘luxury’ items like artillery or manuscripts.

Evidence from lower down the social-scale relies upon archaeology. A large sample of textiles (both wool and silk) has been excavated in Perth, and interestingly, none of these have been identified as Flemish products. This suggests Scottish production levels were far greater than has previously been suggested. A similar trend is found in pottery, with foreign imports amounting to only 5% of surviving examples. Stylistically, some were imitations of Flemish imports, yet these were the exception.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our seminar series continues next Tuesday 18 November with Esther Meijers’, ‘William Carstares in the Netherlands: The Making of a Moderate Mind’. This continues the ‘Scotland and Europe’ series and will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

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