‘Scotland, France, and The Auld Alliance: Was there an Alternative?’

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On 10 March 2015, the Centre welcomed David Ditchburn to discuss ‘Scotland, France, and The Auld Alliance: Was there an Alternative?’. This continued the ‘Scotland and Europe’ strand of seminars. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Most modern historiography on Scottish diplomatic relations with Europe focuses on the Franco-Scottish dimension: the ‘Auld Alliance’, first established in 1295. The alliance could be mutually beneficial through diplomacy and military aid, but could also be limited or token. For every military success (the Battle of Baugé in 1421) there was a defeat (the Franco-Scottish invasion of England in 1385). Relations could be tense, such as when the Scots were collectively condemned by the French as ‘winebags and mutton guzzlers’.

Was there an alternative? Dr Ditchburn suggested that the Scottish alliance with Burgundy and the Low Countries has been downplayed, despite the efforts of historians like Alexander Stevenson. The Netherlands was a key economic contact for the Scots throughout the medieval period, and a major importer of the core Scottish goods: wool and leather. For the Netherlands, this trade was very profitable, and they attempted to curry favour with important Scottish envoys through lavish displays of hospitality.

The Jerusalem Church in Bruges.
The Jerusalem Church in Bruges featuring the tomb of Anselm Adornes who died in Scotland in 1483.

The military dimension was also a crucial aspect of this alliance. Scottish soldiers were found in the employ of the Dukes of Burgundy. Perhaps most notable was Alexander Stewart, the earl of Mar, paid in 1408 for the service of his ‘excellent bowmen’. The marriage package of Mary of Guleders who married James II of Scotland in 1449 was an extraordinary investment by the Duke of Burgundy (Mary’s uncle). It included a dowry of £20,000 Scots, a huge assortment of weaponry (87 suits of armour; 22 cannon; 480 swords; 30,000 crossbow bolts), and a massive entourage of prominent Burgundian nobles. The Duke may have expected dividends from such an investment, perhaps in the form of a defensive alliance against England. Joint military action by the Scots and the Burgundians may be evident in the simultaneous sieges of Roxburgh and Calais in 1436.

The alliance wobbled several times (after the assassination in 1419 of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy for example), but a breach in the Burgundian relationship emerged with James IV, who  took little interest in economic matters and cultivating the alliance. Due to its geographical location, the Netherlands had more extensive continental links than the Scots, and maintained a number of important alliances. The Scots reliance on one (or two) big alliances sometimes left them politically exposed.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our series continues next week 17 March with Sheila Kidd’s ‘”You seem a very intelligent man, and can speak English. What is it you want to tell us?”: Gaels and Government Inquiries in the Nineteenth Century’. This will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

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