The ‘Auld Alliance’ treaty was agreed between John Balliol, King of Scots, and Philippe IV of France, on the 23rd of October, 1295.
The story of the ‘Auld Alliance’ or ‘the oldest alliance in the world’ as Scots are wont to refer to their relationship with France, is full of myths and fables, which have, more often than not, obscured the facts. It was conceived as a Treaty for military aid between the Scots and the French against the aggression of their ancient, mutual enemy, England. Nevertheless, it seems to have been fairly one-sided, in favour of the French, throughout its chequered history. When the Scots were troubled by English invasions, the French were, in the main, conspicuous by their absence. When the French were threatened by the English, very many Scots were conspicuous, but only by the bravery they showed in fighting and dying ‘in a far off foreign land’ on behalf of their ally.
During the 14th and 15th Centuries, the treaty was ‘invoked’ half a dozen times. In 1336, at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, Philippe VI of France provided a measure of support for the Scots. He had previously welcomed the young David II as an exile to France whilst the likes of Douglas, Stewart and Murray carried on a campaign of resistance to Edward III. Philippe also provided much needed supplies, but his military support was limited to attacking a few English merchant ships in the Channel. Ten years later, when France needed Scotland to mount a diversionary attack after it had suffered badly at the Battle of Crécy, David II, by then back home in Scotland, invaded England. David was defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross, suffered the ignominy of being taken prisoner and was held captive for eleven years. At the end of the 14th Century, the balance was tipped firmly towards the French, wouldn’t you say?
Later, in 1421, whilst the Hundred Years’ War was approaching its namesake in years, Scottish forces joined the French and helped them beat the English at the Battle of Baugé. Then, three years later at the Battle of Verneuil, in 1424, a Scottish army was annihilated in the service of France. Charles VII had granted John Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Archibald, Earl of Douglas, the French titles of Constable of France and Duke of Touraine respectively, but both men died along with thousands of Scotchmen in the service of France. On that occasion, those brave Scots gave the French a valuable breathing space and effectively saved France from English domination. Later still, in 1429, many Scots came to the aid of Joan of Arc during the famous ‘Relief of Orléans’. At the end of the 1420s, the balance of favour was even more firmly tilted Frenchwards.
The most famous episode occurred in 1513, when the undeniably chivalrous James IV of Scotland invaded England when the French were attacked by the English during the War of the League of Cambrai. Once again, Scotland paid dearly for its support of its French ally. The ‘Flower of Scotland’ was destroyed on Branxton Moor; the Battle of Flodden Field as recalled in ‘Marmion’ by Sir Walter Scott:
“Still from the sire the son shall hear
Of the stern strife and carnage drear;
Of Flodden's fatal field,
Where shivered was fair Scotland's spear,
And broken was her shield!”
Scotland fulfilled its part of the bargain, nobly and amply. Over the centuries, thousands of the bravest gave their lives in aid of la Belle France. They paid dearly for what? A leading Scottish historian, J. B. Black, once wrote that the Scots’ “love for their ‘auld’ ally had never been a positive sentiment nourished by community of culture, but an artificially created affection resting on the negative basis of hatred of England.” Maybe that’s true on the whole, however, there were certain benefits. Several of the noblest families in Scotland rose to high positions in France. There was John Stewart of Darnley, Constable of the Scots in France, who gained the King’s favour to such an extent that, in 1424, he was made Lord of Aubigny and afterwards Marshal of France. Darnley’s descendants became hereditary Captains of the Scots Guards – the ‘Garde Écossaise’ – the fanatically loyal bodyguard of the Monarchy, which continued until the abdication of Charles X in 1830. One hundred years after Darnley’s honour, John Stewart, Duke of Albany, was Viceroy of Naples, General of the Galleys of France, Governor of several provinces and had a seat in Parliament.
The alliance did bring tangible benefits through trade links and it also infused Scottish culture with French influences; in architecture, law, language and cuisine. Part of the influence was intellectual, with many prominent Scots attending French Universities; something that continued up to Napoleon’s time. The records show there were no less than thirty Scots, who at different times held the high position of Rector of the University of Paris. Additionally, Andrew Foreman was Archbishop of Bourges, David Bethune was Bishop of Mirepoix, and David Panton and James Bethune were successively, Abbots of L'Absie. Curiously, certain provisions of the original treaty remained in force and, in particular, the rights of all Scots as bona fide French citizens was something that wan’t revoked until 1903. So, besides providing work for mercenaries, the ‘Alliance’ helped Scots to gain a large measure of influence and respect throughout Europe.
The treaty that kicked off the ‘Alliance’ was known as the ‘Treaty of Valois’ as part of the arrangement was the betrothal of Edward Balliol, son of King John, to Joan of Valois, the niece of Philippe ‘the Fair’. In the treaty, Edward was described as the ‘future King of Scotland’ and confirmed as heir apparent. The treaty was prompted by Edward I going to war in Gascony, in 1294. The following year, a council of twelve Scots sealed the alliance with Philippe IV, on behalf of Balliol, on the 23rd of October. After Robert the Bruce renewed the treaty with Charles IV in 1326, it was renewed a further ten times before Henry II and Mary, Queen of Scots, put pen to paper again in the 16th Century.