Brian Milne once again visits Scotland to examine the basis for independence. This time he examines the strong historic connection with mainland Europe, especially their oldest alliance, to argue for independence that would enable them to re-join the EU.

I possibly have something of a reputation for when Europa United has something to say. So even the briefest mention, about Scotland then it is likely to be me writing. And here I am again, doing just that. I have good reason. I am of Scots origin, living in France, married to an Italian first language speaker, have strong connections with Germany and, in my time, professionally a serious user of Spanish. Thus said, I am a European of Scots roots. I shall start with myself, but my point is more to inform exactly why Scots are European, unlike their southern neighbour that imagines reliving a past during which they ruled over a vast empire.

To take my roots back a little further, it is likely that far back in time my ancestry was French. I shall therefore explain briefly. The Milnes are a sept of Clan Gordon. When I wear the kilt, it is Gordon tartan, there is no ancient Milne tartan, but the family does carry some very old markers. One of those is that the arms of the Milnes in Scotland and Molyneux family in France are identical, thus a possible origin in Moulineaux near Rouen. Certainly the name Molyneaux or Molyneux first appeared as Molendinarius in the mid fourteenth century, a little later as de Molendino and Myln or Milln by the end of the century in part of what are now Aberdeenshire and Moray. Gàidhlig was then the common language, but there was no version of our family name in that language used, so it can be clearly understood to be an introduction that was gradually corrupted to the present form and other variants. Thus the Gàidhlig version of my name, Brian mac a’Mhuilleir, is very much more recent than the arrival of the name in Scotland. It has, however, always been a name mainly located in the upper regions of Aberdeenshire into Moray. Thus said, I make no pretence about archaic origins preceding the fourteen century. I used this as an example of the intercourse between the two nations, here a French family settling in Scotland. It is an example of probably many including Fraser that originally derives from the French ‘fraise’, meaning strawberry, Bruce that derives from de Brus or the more obvious family name French that needs no explanation.

This could be thrown back as connected to the Norman invasion of England. However that was in the eleventh century. By the fourteenth century France was at war with England. From the time of the 1109 to 1113 Anglo French war between the Capetian Dynasty, the French monarchy, and the House of Normandy, the noble family originated from the Duchy of Normandy, whose members were counts of Rouen, dukes of Normandy and kings of England after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 until the death of the English king Stephen in 1154. However, wars were frequent; the crown of France or parts of what is now France being claimed by what were by then in first line English kings. At the time of the eleventh war, the Guyenne War from 1294 until 1303, Scotland needed an ally in conflict with England.

The Auld Alliance

In 1295 Scotland was a country with its own king; however the English king, Edward I, wanted to say who should be king of Scotland. This came about when Scotland’s seven year old queen, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, died without an heir to the throne in 1290 that Edward tried to claim. The Scots did not accept that attempted accession, thus to stop Edward, they sought help from friends who were also in conflict with him. Thus the two countries, Scotland and France, decided to stand up to Edward by making a treaty which said that if Edward invaded Scotland, the French would help the Scots and if Edward crossed the channel to fight the French, the Scots would cross the Scottish/English border and attack Edward. This treaty is known as the ‘Auld Alliance’ (Ald Allyance) or ‘Vieille Alliance’ respectively, it was signed by the Scots and French kings, John Balliol and Philippe IV in 1295, since when the two nations have remained friends to this day.

However this treaty was not only a military alliance, but became cultural and commercial as a brief look at language later will show. If somebody was, for instance, a Scots importer of wine, brandy or other French goods living in France, they and their family had dual nationality, five hundred years before the European Union was even thought of and nearly seven hundred years before that happened. Letters of Naturality were issued to Scots and French as part of their agreement. The part of the alliance that originally granted dual citizenship in both countries was eventually revoked by the French government in 1903. The French were to lose their right during 1560s, when after more than 250 years formal treaties between Scotland and France were officially ended by the Treaty of Edinburgh. This has been questioned, a point to which I shall return a little later.

At one time it was customary for kings of Scotland to go to France to seek a wife, which they considered made the friendship between Scotland and France stronger. In 1517 a clause of the Treaty of Rouen provided that so long as the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland was maintained, James V should have a French royal bride. He renewed the Auld Alliance and fulfilled the treaty by marrying the king’s daughter, Madeleine de France, with a magnificent wedding in Notre Dame de Paris on 1 January 1537. She had long been affected with a wasting disease and died soon after arrival in Scotland in July 1537. James then married Marie de Guise, daughter of Claude, Duc de Guise, also widow of Louis II d’Orléans, Duc de Longueville, in 1538. The union produced two sons, but both died in 1541, thus their daughter, James’s only surviving legitimate child, Mary, was born in 1542 at Linlithgow Palace. Mary Stuart married François, Henri II’s son. When François became king, she became queen of France and Scotland. She lived in France, spoke French until François died young, thus returned to Scotland with her mother, bringing with her so many French people that the area in Edinburgh where they lived became known as ‘Little France’ which it remains to this day.

Our language

Other place names came with the friendship, Beauly near Inverness, from ‘beau lieu’ or beautiful place, Burdiehouse meaning ‘House of Bordeaux’ in Edinburgh or Champfleurie near Linlithgow, all bearing testimony to the special relationship with France. When the French in Little France spoke English, they added a few of their own which the Scots were amused by, so began to use them as well. In the Scots language word ‘bonnie’ meaning pretty the French ‘bonne’, good, share origins. The national dish ‘haggis’ is really the French word ‘hâché’ meaning ‘minced’. The word for a dish or the small pie made in the Scots ‘achet’ comes from the French word ‘assiette’ meaning a plate. The Scots ‘jigot’, a leg of lamb, is the French ‘gigot’. A ‘tassie’ is similar, ‘tasse’, both meaning ‘cup’. ‘Tartan’ is ‘tertaine’ although the French refers to the type of cloth and weave itself rather than the pattern. ‘Douce’: in Scotland this means mild-mannered or sweet-tempered, whereas in France it tends now to mean soft (of materials) or low (of sound, especially voice). ‘Fash/(se)’, ‘fâcher’, means the same in both languages to the present – to annoy/bother or get annoyed. The French spelling simply changed, so that the ‘s’ is indicated by the circumflexed ‘â’. A man we call ‘Maister’ is as both ‘Maître’ and ‘Maitre’ in France. Our almost venerated ‘Hogmanay’ is ‘hoguinané’, or ‘hoginané’, derived from sixteenth century Middle French ‘aguillanneuf’ meaning a gift given at New Year or a children’s plea for a present, now meaning New Year’s Eve. That brought with it a popular gesture from the middle ages each New Year. In France it was customary to wish relatives and friends a happy new year by giving them a bunch of mistletoe, in French ‘gui’; instead of saying ‘bonne année’, they said ‘Au gui l’an neuf’ then kissed under the mistletoe, which is where the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.

Whatever else it was, the Auld Alliance was built upon Scotland and France’s interest in keeping English expansion plans seeing them invaded, defeated and taken over. Most certainly, the military intervention of the Scots bought France precious respite, ultimately saving them from English domination. Numerous Scots remained in France; some joined Joan of Arc in her relief of Orleans, whilst others formed the Garde Écossais, elite bodyguard of the French Kings that protected them in battle and still existed well into the nineteenth century. Many of the mercenaries eventually settled in France, although then as now, they always thought of themselves as Scots first. The Auld Alliance was shaken by the Reformation, so that trade between Protestant Scotland and Catholic France was no longer deemed feasible. Nonetheless records indicate Scots merchants were still going to Bordeaux in order to bring back their beloved claret as late as 1670. Even after the Union of Parliaments with England in 1707, claret continued to be smuggled into Scotland, thus avoiding taxes. Scots have upheld part of their affinity with France by toasting ‘the King over the water‘ with a drop of the finest claret. So, while it does appear that the Reformation extensively affected trade between the two nations, the one exception was claret which Scots apparently could not exist without. The Alliance has also always had cultural and economical proclivities. Numerous Scots studied in French universities such as the Sorbonne and Orléans, and their own St Andrew’s University founded in 1411, was based on those models. Until the sixteenth century, Scotland was the most important client of France, whereas today France is still Scotland’s principal client.

Still valid

Historian Dr Siobhan Talbott spent several years researching the treaty signed in 1295 and has suggested that there is no actual evidence that it was ever formally rescinded. Others have suggested that it was dissolved by the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560, as a by-product of the Reformation in Scotland, but she is convinced that there is nothing in the treaty to support that view. Three particularly salient facts also bear out her view. Firstly, Henri IV again ratified the naturalisation of all Scots in 1599; secondly that established trading privileges continued even after 1707 and have never actually been annulled, furthermore the third point is that in 1942 Charles de Gaulle made a speech in Edinburgh that described the Auld Alliance as an active agreement, claiming it was the ‘oldest in the world’. There are historians who claim that the Auld Alliance really existed, albeit without formalisation, to the Battle of Poitiers in 732, when Scots fought alongside Charles Martel. However, it was formalised in 1295 then renewed over the centuries, including the terms of marriage between François II and Mary Stuart in 1558 and concluding with the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1745. The Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560 is considered by some to be the end of the Auld Alliance which cannot be the case, since Mary Stuart, the reigning monarch of Scotland at the time did not ratify it, therefore it could not put an end to the Auld Alliance.

Scotland’s legal and educational systems still owe much to its earlier close relationship with France, to some point also Norse influence that also gave them some of their language, always something more than is commonly believed to be ‘English’ injected into the Scots way of being. Scots still remember the hundreds of years of enmity with their immediate neighbour and occasions such as the 1745 Jacobite rising when Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ or the ‘Young Pretender’ led a rebellion that saw a Scots army reach as far south as Derby. A French ‘promise’ to invade in the south to support the Scots cause never materialised, the French failed in their allegiance. That is, however, allowed to pass by; the relationships between the two nations continue discreetly, but ever present, as the growth of the Auld Alliance/Vieille Alliance clubs throughout France bear witness. Scotland is a European nation, not part of an idealised notion of ‘British’ that means to be a subjugate nation under a dominant power, but one of a community of nations with a long and established continental connection.

There has long been a great love of things Nordic, part of their older less well remembered heritage, which is gently driving Scotland toward attempting to realign itself within the North Atlantic/Nordic/Scandinavian sweep from Iceland to Finland down to Denmark. It carries a strong sense of a search for a more just society built on social democratic lines, something that has now become impossible in UK, thus steering First Minister Sturgeon’s presentation of her government’s very different approach to that of Westminster. Indeed, in terms of population, Scotland is only one small city smaller than Denmark, thus making the ‘too small’ to succeed in the EU alone argument at best tenuous.

Within Scotland, opinions are changing toward independence, what may help now is hands extended outward from EU friends, our ancient ally of course, to welcome us home into the union we choose ourselves, not what a foreign parliament in London tells us we must have. Saor Alba.

Brian Milne
A Social anthropologist who specialises in the human rights of children. In practice Brian Milne has worked on the street with 'street children', child labour, young migrants, young people with HIV and AIDS. Brian’s work has taken him to around 40 countries, most of them developing nations; at least four of them have been in a state of conflict or war, thus taking him to the front line in two. Brian’s theoretical work began with migration; working on, written and publishing on citizenship and generally best known as an 'expert' on the human rights of children. Brian has a broad knowledge of human and civil rights for all ages, environmental issues and has been politically active most of his life. An internationalist and supporter of the principle of European federalisation.

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