saint andrews university

On October 23 1295 the “Auld Alliance” treaty was signed between John Balliol, King of Scots, and Philippe IV of France.

The history of the old alliance between France and Scotland, better known as the “Auld Alliance”, is unique in the history of nations because there is no equivalence in terms of duration and intensty.

The formal part of this alliance is mainly linked to a succession of military treaties, renewed reign after reign (20 times between 1326 and 1558). The culmination was during the Hundred Years War and particularly with the Scots troops who disembarked at la Rochelle (up to 30 000 soldiers) in the period 1419-1429 and played a major role, beside the dauphin Charles and Joan of Arc, in the recovery of the French territory.

But in 1295, date of the oldest treaty recorded in Paris National Archives, the name was already “Auld Alliance”, and this shows that this alliance was far older. Some historians claim that it went back to the VIII th century with Charles Martel and Charlemagne. Legend suggests the Auld Alliance (or Vieille Alliance if you are French) originated in 809, when a Scots king named Achaius or Eochaid allegedly agreed to help Charlemagne fight the Saxons.

This alliance also had cultural and commercial aspects. The Scottish students went to French universities such as Paris, Orléans, Bourges, Montpellier, and the first Scottish universities, Saint Andrews and Aberdeen, were designed upon French university model.

By the XVIth century and through general letters of naturality, granted by kings of France and kings of Scots, French and Scots living abroad had dual nationality.

Scotland was at that time one of the major commercial partners of France, especially regarding the Bordeaux wine called “Claret”, and had a low tax status.

Nowadays France is a major commercial partner for Scotland especially concerning Scotch Whisky.

Over the centuries and still today, France and Scotland have enjoyed strong connections, recently demonstrated by numerous French and Scottish twined towns. My own home town of Loanhead is twinned with Dalum, a town in Denmark, but not many will know that it is also twinned with Harnes in northern France, which also has a strong mining tradition.

Some quotes about the Auld Alliance.

After the Battle of Baugé during the 100 year war in which the Earl of Buchan led a Scots-French army to victory Pope Martin V passed comment by reiterating a common medieval saying, that “Verily, the Scots are well-known as an antidote to the English.”

In 1525, the French Regent Louise de Savoie, Duchesse d’Angouleme, wrote a letter to the Estates of Scotland expressing “the ancient and inviolable love, alliance, federation and affinity, which has been from the earliest times, and is now, between the House of France and that of Scotland.”

And in 1472, Alain Chartier, Chancellor of Bayeux, hoping to unite the countries through the marriage of the dauphin to the daughter of James I, gave the following speech: “We have tested the faith of the Scots in adverse times - a faithful nation, a people most worthy of friendship and renown, tried in manhood, whom we cannot honour enough or praise worthily. Nor is the league between us written in parchment of sheepskin, but rather in the flesh and skin of men, traced not in ink but in blood shed in many places.”

Just over half a 500 years later, in a speech given in Edinburgh in 1942, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the free French, referred to what he believed was ‘the oldest alliance in the world’: “In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship.” Now, in a world riven by those who would see such unity destroyed and people driven by hatred, it is perhaps most important to remember the spirit of such long lasting friendships. For in these things, people bring out the best in each other.“