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The Auld Alliance

Scottish Pub - Paris

The Auld Alliance

The ancient Franco-Scottish connection has it's roots in a centuries-long association of the two peoples in a political and military alliance.

It was an alliance of a classical pattern, many times repeated in the history of international relations. An old political commentator recommended, 'Stand well with your neighbour, but better with your neighbour's neighbour'. And so a Franco-Scottish alliance evolved that was as often as not defensive in nature to protect both parties from conquest by England.

First embodied in a written treaty in 1295 the alliance was to endure for nearly three hundred years, as long as the wars between Scotland and England lasted. At the time it was a step towards the opening of hostilities between Scotland and England. This led to the temporary conquest of Scotland by Edward 1 and to the resistance of the Scots, at first unsuccessfully under William Wallace and then successfully under Robert Bruce.

Wallace himself, after being defeated by the English in 1298, went to France to seek help; he and his fellow envoys received financial support while they were at the French court. Robert Bruce challenged Edward and when he was strong enough to hold a parliament (1309) a letter was sent to France acknowledging a message in which the French king had evidently expressed 'extraordinary and peculiar affection for King Robert' in accordance with 'the alliances formerly existing and maintained between the two kingdoms of France and Scotland.

When King Robert died in 1329 his son David was sent for safety to France as Scotland was once more in danger of conquest from England. The Hundred Years' War between France and England began at this time with the Franco-Scottish alliance being renewed and invoked many times. At the apex there was a series of royal marriages, intended to reinforce the alliance in a period when the direction of policy was mainly in the hands of monarchs. Again and again Scots went to fight alongside the French, especially when the latter's prospects looked particularly bleak. A good many of the Scots who went to France as warriors neither fell in battle nor returned home. Some of them settled in France where they were endowed with lands by French Kings or acquired estates by marrying heiresses.Thus Robert Patillo, from Dundee, who earned the nickname 'petit roi de Gascogne' for his military exploits, became Lord of Sauveterre.

Before the long wars with England began, Scots who wanted higher education had usually, it would seem gone to Oxford or Cambridge. The wars interrupted such scholarly intercourse, and it is significant that in 1326, the year in which Robert 1 renewed the league with France in the Treaty of Corbeil, provision was made for Scottish students in Paris. Just as Scottish scholars sometimes settled in France, so it was the way of Scots who went abroad as traders to spend long periods in France.

For generations the favourite drink in Scotland was claret. The clothing of a well-to-do Scot, the furnishings of his house and the food and drink on his table reflected the fine wares of France. In return for the imports, Scotland sent out fish, coarse cloth, wool and skins. During the sixteenth century Louis XII granted Scottish merchants many privileges including freedom from most customs in Normandy, direct access to the vine-growers of the Bordeaux hinterland and the right to sell their own goods from the holds of their ships without exposing them on the open quayside.

In 1584 the young Queen Mary who had once been designated the bride of the heir of the throne of England, was instead sent to France as the prospective bride of the heir of the throne of France. Mary married Francis in 1558 and in 1559 he became king as Francis II. Under Francis and Mary, 'King and Queen of France and Scotland', we reach the apogee of the Franco-Scottish alliance.

The French government had previously conceded to Scots the rights of native Frenchmen, and in 1558 the Scottish government reciprocated, thus establishing mutual naturalisation or joint nationality. With the end of The Hundred Year War and the advent of the Reformation in the 1520s, the circumstances in which the alliance had been formed ceased to exist. However, in the three centuries which the alliance had been a reality, England had been so persistently 'the auld enemy' and France 'the auld ally' that the Scots could hardly conceive of a time when it had not been so.

The Franco-Scottish connection has been maintained in many diverse ways through the centuries. In the Middle Ages it was largely owing to the associations with France that Scotland was able to draw on the resources of the culture of the European continent. Scotland, for its part, through its soldiers and scholars, made important contributions to the survival, and development of its French ally. A special affection for France is still widespread in Scotland, whilst at the same time there are many signs of an exceptional French response to things Scottish. Nowadays the cultural association has more enduring results than the diplomatic and military. There is a very real sense in which the Auld Alliance flourishes still.

source: Gordon Donaldson; The Saltire Society & L'Institut Francais d'Ecosse; 1985