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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 1 - The Ancient League with France - Part 1


The Charlemagne and Achaius Question settled—The War of Independence — The established Quarrel with Scotland and England—Its Consequence in the League with France—Wallace’s Share in the Transaction—The old Treaties—Social Life in France during the Hundred Years’ War — The Constable Buchan—The Battles of Baugę, Crevant, and Verneuil — The Establishment of the Scots Guard—Some of their Feats.

I HAVE long thought that the story of the old League between France and Scotland is so significant of national character, is so fruitful in romantic personal incident, and held so powerful an influence on the destinies of Europe, that an account of it could not fall of interest in the hands of any one content merely to tell the facts and briefly explain the political conditions out of which they arose. Its own proper interest is so deep and true as to gain rather than lose when its history is stripped of the remote antiquity and other fabulous decorations by which enthusiastic national historians have attempted to enhance it. We are told how the Emperor Charlemagne, having resolved to establish a vast system of national or imperial education, looked around for suitable professors to teach in his universities; and perceiving Scotland to be the most learned of nations, and the most likely to supply him with the commodity he desired, he forthwith entered into a league with Achaius, the then ruling monarch of that ancient kingdom. Such is the account of the origin of the League with France, as told by Boece and our ether fabulous chroniclers, and courteously accepted on the side of France by Mezeray and his brethren, who seem gladly to welcome so valuable a piece of authentic information. No doubt one finds, on minute inquiry, that, contemporary with the reign of the Charlemagne of France and the Kaiser Karl of the Germans, there flourished a chief—or a king, if you will—called Eochy or Auchy, holding sway over some considerable portion of the Celtic people of the west, and probably living in a sort of craal built of mud and wattles. But that the Emperor ever knew of his existence is not very probable; and instead of receiving an embassy from Charlemagne as a contemporary monarch seeking the friendship of an honoured and powerful fellow-sovereign, Eochy doubtless owed it to his own insignificance, and his distance from the centre of European power, that he was not called upon to acknowledge the supreme authority of him who had resumed the empire of the world.

In reality, it spoils the interest and significance of the alliance to attempt to trace it farther back than those political conditions which, four hundred years later, gave it efficient purpose. These were the war of independence against the dominion of England, and the contemporary claims of the English kings on the succession to the throne of France. These concurring sources of contest rendered the League the most natural thing in the world. It enabled the kings of the house of Valois to fight their battle on British ground without sending an army there; it provided to the Scots, whenever they could safely leave their homes, an opportunity for striking a blow at the enemy and oppressor of their land.

To see the influence of this adjustment, not only on the nations immediately concerned, but on Europe at large, let us look a little more closely into details. Taking any old-established state, with a fixed natural boundary and distinct institutions of its own, it is difficult to realise in the mind the same area of territory and its people at a time when neither the boundaries nor the institutions existed. Our natural indolence makes us lean on these specialties as a means of obtaining clearness at an easy price to the intellect; and rather than leave them and grope at the truth, we carry them back step by step, until they have gone infinite ages beyond their real beginning. There is retribution for this as for other instances where indolent reliance supersedes independent judgment. Those of our historians who have had too much honesty to go headlong into the accepted fables of their predecessors, have had cruel difficulties in identifying ancient Scotland. At one time they find the territories of some Saxon king stretching to the Tay; at another, the King of Scots reigns to the Humber or farther. It would have saved them a world of trouble and anxiety to come at once to the conclusion that Scotland was nowhere—that the separate kingdom marked off against England by a distinct boundary on the physical globe, as well as by a moral boundary of undying hatred, did not then exist.

A common language stretched along from north to south, varying perhaps in its substance and tone by imperceptible degrees in the ears of the travelling strange; as the language of each of the two countries now does. Unfortunately, this simple view brings us to the verge of a perilous controversy. There are some topics which the temper and reason of the human race seem not to have been made strong enough to encounter, so invariably do these break down when the topics in question are started. Of such is the question, To which of the great classes of European languages did that of the people called Picts belong? The contest, like a duel with revolvers over a table, has been rendered more awful by the narrowness of the field of battle, since some time ago the world possessed just one word, or piece of a word, said to be Pictish, and now one of the most accomplished antiquarians of our day has added another.

Keeping clear of this scene of peril, let us content ourselves with the obvious fact, that at an early age the eastern and northern parts of what now is Scotland were peopled by a race of very pure Teutonic blood and tongue. They formed a portion of that brotherhood of Saxon states, among which the amalgamations and splittings, and the drifting-in of fresh swarms among old settlers, make so complex and confused a web of Anglo-Saxon history. It would happen, in these gains and losses of territory, that some ambitious Bretwalda of the south would extend his dominion or his influence far northward; and from such incidents the pedante of the feudal law, who could not look beyond their own forms and nomenclature into the conditions of an age when there was neither feudality nor a Scotland to be feudalised, invented a feudal superiority in the Saxon kings over the kingdom of Scotland.

The conquest of the south, of course, changed its position towards the north. England became Normanised, while Scotland not only retained her old Teutonic character, but became a place of refuge for the Saxon fugitives. The remnants of Harold’s family—the old royal race of England—came among the other fugitives to Scotland, and took up their position there as an exiled court awaiting their restoration, and looking to their brethren of Scotland to aid them in effecting it. At the head of these princely exiles was Edward the AEtheling. His sister, the renowned St Margaret, married Malcolm the King of the Scots, who thus became more than ever the hope of the Saxon party. The names of their children have a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon sound: Edgar, the eldest, who succeeded to the throne; Edward, named after his maternal relation the Confessor; Edmond, and Ethelred. King Malcolm, in his marriage, is not to be altogether viewed as having, with chivalrous generosity, made a home for a persecuted princess in the only way in which such an arrangement could be decorously accomplished. He had hopes of solid results from the brilliant connection, and made a bold effort to render them good by an invasion of England; for there can be little doubt that Harding is right when he says of that fierce raid into Cumberland which ended in the battle of the Standard, that "King Malcolm of Scotland warred in England for his wife’s right, pretending that she was right heir of England."

During the interval of two hundred years between their invasion of England and their invasion of Scotland, the Normans had been gradually extending their social influence northward. As the flower of chivalry and the leaders of fashion they were personally popular in Scotland, where many of them became favourites at courts and formed rich matrimonial alliances. it is possible that the wise men of the day may have deemed it a good policy to plant in the country offshoots of that mighty race who seemed destined to rule mankind wherever they went; but if they thought that they would thus establish a Norman aristocracy, who in time would have a patriotic interest in the soil, and protect it from the designs of the aggrandising kings of England, their policy in the course of events turned out to be a failure.

In the mean time the country saw chiefly the bright side of the Norman character; for it is observable that the settlers had not so deeply rooted themselves as to cover the land with those castles which are everywhere the most remarkable and enduring memorials of their presence. Fortresses, no doubt, existed before their day, but these were generally mounds or ramparts, within which people inhabited open dwellings of wood, turf, or wattles. The Norman was the first to plant the feudal castle—a building comprising within its four thick stone walls a rich man’s dwelling, a fortress, and a prison, signifying that he who built it intended to consume the fruit of the soil, to make war upon his enemies, and to administer his own justice among the people. The castles scattered over Europe not only show how far the Normans have penetrated, as the shingle on the beach marks the height of the tide; but their various architectural types indicate, like those of fossils in geology, the historical period of deposit. The annalists tell us how, after William’s arrival, England was covered with Norman strongholds; and that country is rich in remains of the earliest type of castle—the great square block, destitute of the later adjunct of flanking works, and the round arch, marking the lingering predominance of Roman forms. If there ever were castles of this sort in Scotland, they were at least so rare that no specimen now remains—at least I can find none after diligent search. On the other hand, of the later and richer type of feudal architecture — the pointed Gothic buildings with outworks, peculiar to the reigns of the Edwards—there are many fine specimens. The same phenomena may be seen in Ireland and Wales. Over all three countries the tide of Norman conquest had rolled; and though in Scotland the tide was driven back, it left these characteristic relics behind.

Luckily for England, and for the liberties of the world, there were elements of national strength which in the end worked the tyranny of Norman rule out of the constitution. Of the misery which the Saxon people had to endure under the earliest Plantagenet monarchs we have scanty traces, for such things are not with safety committed to writing; but what we have is sufficiently expressive. Perhaps the following, taken from the sober unobtrusive narrative, the ‘Saxon Chronicle,’ may suffice for this occasion :—

"They cruelly oppressed the wretched men of the land with castle-works. When the castles were made, they filled them with devils and evil men. Then took they those men that they imagined had any property, both by night and by day, peasant men and women, and put them in prison for their gold and silver, and tortured them with unutterable torture, for never were martyrs so tortured as they were. They hanged them up by the feet, and smoked them with foul smoke; they hanged them by the thumbs, or by the head, and hung fires on their feet; they put knotted strings about their heads, and writhed them so that it went to the brain. They put them in dungeons in which were adders and snakes and toads, and killed them so. Some they put in a ‘crucet hus ‘—that is, in a chest that was short and narrow and shallow—and put sharp stones therein, and pressed the man therein, so that they brake all his limbs. In many of the castles were (instruments called) a ‘loathly and grim;’ these were neck-bonds, of which two or three men had enough to bear one. It was so made, that is (it was) fastened to a beam; and they put a sharp iron about the man’s throat and his neck, so that he could not in any direction sit, or lie, or sleep, but must bear all that iron. Many thousands they killed with hunger. I neither can nor may tell all the wounds or all the tortures which they inflicted on wretched men in this land; and that lasted the nineteen winters while Stephen was king, and ever it was worse and worse. They laid imposts on the towns continually, and called it ‘censerie.’ When the wretched men had no more to give, they robbed and burned all the towns, so that thou mightest well go all a day’s journey and thou shouldst never find a man sitting in a town, or the land tilled. Then was corn dear, and flesh, and cheese, and butter; for there was none in the land. Wretched men died of hunger; some went seeking alms who at one while were rich men; some fled out of the land."

This is set down to the reign of Stephen, just about the time of the battle of the Standard, and about half-way between the conquest of England and the war of resistance in Scotland. Seeing this going on more or less for two hundred years, it is not wonderful that the Scots, continuing and flourishing under their old Saxon institutions, were grimly resolved to fight to the death against such a rule. The representative of this national feeling was the renowned William Wallace. Of him so much old romance and modern nonsense has been uttered that cautious people are apt to shun his name in history, as, like Arthur, Merlin, Roland, and Odin, that of a mythical person not susceptible of articulate identification. But few historical figures come out so distinctly and grandly when stripped of the theatrical properties. He was a skilful and brave general, an accomplished politician, and a public man of unstained faith and in-dying zeal.

Nor is it at all necessary, in vindicating his fame, utterly to blacken those who would not co-operate with him. The Normans, who had acquired recent wealth and rank in Scotland, were not zealous in standing up for the independence of the people of the country and their protection from Norman tyranny—how could they be expected to be so? One name among them has been consigned to eminent historical infamy, and for centuries has borne the burden of the ardent hatred of all true-hearted Scots—the elder Baliol. I remember our being taught at school carefully to avoid confounding his name with another specially dedicated to infamy—the Belial of Scripture. It is lucky for those who thus lie under historical ban that they are generally beyond the condition of suffering, either in body or spirit, from the execrations heaped upon their memory. And if we should say that even the fame of the departed has a right to be protected from injustice—to receive due praise if its owner has done service to mankind, and at least quiet oblivion if he has done no harm—a more easy consolation for the injustice done comes in the reflection that, under the same name, the demon of the historians is a different being from the harmless commonplace man who owned the name in the flesh. So this Baliol, while in history he stands forth as the foul betrayer of his country’s independence—as traitor to the vile allegiance he had sold himself to—as guilty of every political crime which historical magniloquence can express—was, in the flesh, a very ordinary sort of man, who, in agreeing to do homage for a territory to the monarch who had preferred him to it, acted on much the same principle as the holder of a snug office at the present day who sides with the statesman who has appointed him to it. And if he was at one time, under sore temptation, guilty of tampering with his allegiance, he did the best he could afterwards to put matters right. Looking to the social and political conditions of him and his class, it would be difficult to find a proposition that would have seemed more preposterous to them than that they should sacrifice the prospects of a good fief for the preservation either of a separate nationality or the liberties of a truculent, self-willed people. The Bruces themselves belonged to the same set; but ere the grandson of the original claimant gained his great victory, the lapse of a quarter of a century of animosity may have nourished a sense of nationality towards the people for whom he fought; and even if he was, after all, only the Norman adventurer, who saw a grand career of ambition as the leader of a people who would not be enslaved, he fairly won the crown he wore.

The battle of Bannockburn, in being the conclusive act which relieved Scotland from the domination of the English King, became also the crisis at which France and Scotland became united in fast friendship. This friendship had been growing during the war of independence, but it could exist as a permanent European institution only after that was over. And at this point arises one of those occasions for rendering history distinct by unravelling minor confusions, which sometimes bring those who do the work of unravelling under suspicion as lovers of paradox. We shall all the more clearly understand the nature and tendency of the alliance by starting with the fact that, before a thorough external union with France, Scotland cast forth certain French characteristics which had found their way into the elements of her political and social condition. The rule of the Normans was the rule of a race who had made themselves French; however rapidly, among a kindred Teutonic people, they were returning to their old Norse character. Of the Norman families which had established themselves in the country, Scotland retained but a small minority after the war of independence, for the obvious reason that the great majority had cast their lots with their natural leader, the King of England. The topographical antiquary, tracing the history of the early ownership of estates in Scotland, sees the change expressed with a distinctness plainer than any historical narrative. The early charters are rich in such a courtly Norman nomenclature as De Quincey, De Vere, De Vipont, D’Umfraville, Mortimer, and De Coucy. When order is restored, and the lands are again recorded as having lords, there are Johnstons, Bells, Armstrongs, Scots, Kerrs, Browns, and suchlike, telling at once of their native Saxon origin. The loss of their estates, indeed, was a substantial grievance to the Norman holders, who would not relinquish them without a struggle; and in their effort to get them back again, under Edward Baliol, whom they had set up as King of Scotland for that purpose, they were very nearly successful in crushing the newly-bought independence of the land.

Thus the extinction of the English rule had at first the effect of removing French elements out of Scotland. In England, the language of France, being the language of the Court, became that of the law, in which it has left to our own day some motley relics, remaining imbedded in it like grotesque organic remains. If, along with the influx of Normans, their language may have at one time been creeping into legal practice in Scotland, the efforts of the Edwards to enforce the English forms of law throughout the country made their technicalities especially odious. All the way from the border to the Highland line, the people, high and low, came to speak in very pure Teutonic; for it is curious that the language of the Lowland Scots has not received the slightest tinge from close contact with the Celtic. Whatever it may have been among the common people, the literary language of England became afflicted with Gallicisms; and so it came to pass that Barbour sang the liberation of his country from the English kings in purer English, according to the canon of the present day, than his contemporary Chaucer, whose more finished verses are not so easily read by Englishmen as those of the Aberdonian. England in the end outgrew these French elements, but Scotland cast them forth at once. And we shall find that, however close became the intimacy of the two nations, and however powerful the influence of the greater on the destinies of the less, the symptoms of that influence were ever external and superficial—it never penetrated to the national heart. After the expulsion of the English— or, more properly, of the Normans—from the north, it becomes a key-note in French history that England is to be fought from Scotland; while, on the English side of European history, the response is that everything must be right on the Border before it will be prudent to send an expedition to the Continent.

When we have a clear hold on those great national conditions of which the League was an inevitable result, it is of less moment to know the minute particulars about the dates and tenor of the treaties, and the statesmen who negotiated them. But these too have their interest. The first name practically connected with them is Wallace’s; and there is some reason, besides his renown as a warrior, and an organiser and governor of his fellow-men, to award to him the reputation of a successful diplomatist. The legendary chroniclers, such as Blind Harry the minstrel, tell us that he frequented France; that he became a respected friend and a favoured counsellor of the French monarch; that he performed valorous feats on French soil, and that he chased pirates on French waters. These stories have been discredited by the grave, to whom it did not commend them that one of his feats was the hunting and slaying of a lion in Guienne. But there is an odd tenacity of life in the fundamentals of even the most flagrant legends about the Scottish hero. Few names have been so saturated with nonsense in prose and verse; and the saturation seems to be ceaseless, having developed a formidable access in our own very times. Yet when we come to documents and other close quarters, we generally realise in some shape or other almost all the leading events of his wonderful legendary career. The statements of the graver of the old Scots historians are sufficient to convince the man who has worked hardest of all in clearing up the history of the League, that he was received at the French Court. For those of narrower faith there is one little scrap of what lawyers call real evidence, worth more than all the narratives of the chroniclers. When Wallace was apprehended and taken to London for trial, after the fashion of dealing with other criminals he was searched, and the articles in his possession duly removed and inventoried. Among these were letters of safe-conduct from King Philip—his French passport, in short; a valuable piece of evidence, had any been needed, of practices hostile to the King of England. That he should, at the Court of Philip, have forgotten the great cause to which he was devoted is an inadmissible supposition; and he is at least as likely as any one to have suggested that the common interest of France and Scotland lay in enmity towards England.

But we find more distinct traces of Wallace having dealt with France through a diplomatic agent. When he held the office of Governor of Scotland, like every other man in power he required conformity in those who worked with him; and when they would not conform, displaced them. If he needed an excuse for strong measures, he had it in the urgency of the question at issue—the preservation of the national independence. Accordingly, he drove out the primate who leaned to the Norman side, and got William Lamberton, a partisan of the national independence, elected Archbishop of St Andrews. Certain articles presented against this archbishop to his ecclesiastical superior, the Pope, by King Edward, bear that— "Being thus made bishop, Lamberton continued at the Court of France with other the great men of Scotland, the King’s enemies, labouring continually to do all the harm and injury in his power against his liege lord, until the peace was finally concluded between France and England. And after the conclusion of such treaty, he, Lamberton, by letters-patent under his seal, urged and excited the prelates, earls, barons, and all the commonality of Scotland (these being the King’s enemies), to carry on the war vigorously until the bishop and the other lords in France could return to Scotland. . . . Moreover, the bishop addressed his special letters, sealed with his seal, to the traitor Wallace, and prayed that, for the love of him the bishop, he, Wallace, would do all possible hurt and damage to the King of England. And Lamberton also wrote to his officers in Scotland to employ a portion of his own provision for the sustenance of Wallace."

Soon afterwards Scotland was too effectually subdued to hold independent diplomatic relations abroad. In a curious way, however, the thread of the negotiations so begun may be traced through the intervening confusions, until the whole was resumed when France and Scotland could speak to each other both as separate independent kingdoms, and both having deep cause of enmity against England. In the mean time, between Philip of France and Edward of England there was enacted a series of feudal pedantries which were the farce to the tragedy going on in Scotland, Edward reversing his position, and acting the truculent vassal. Both affairs arose out of those curious conditions of the feudal system which made monarchs do homage to each other for the sake of little additions to their available territories. Thus had the King of the Scots done homage at Windsor for the fief of Huntingdon and several other benefices held within the kingdom of England; and so, when the opportunity came, the King of England called this homage-doing King his vassal. In like manner, Edward himself acknowledged the feudal superiority of the King of France in respect to his Continental possessions. So it came to pass that, as some English sailors committed acts of piracy against French subjects, Philip of France called on Edward of England to come to Paris and do homage, and stand trial for misconduct as a disobedient vassal to his liege lord, just as Edward himself had called on Baliol to come to Windsor. But the total disproportion between the demand and the power to enforce it made the summons of the French King ridiculous. It would have been a sight to behold the countenance of the fierce and determined long-legged Edward when be received it. The foolish bravado brought on the first English war in France, making way for those which followed it. The French were too glad to get out of the affair by the treaty of 1303; but, hard pressed as they then were, they tried to keep true faith with their friends of Scotland. Somewhat to the surprise of Edward, they introduced the Scots, their good allies, as a party to the negotiations; and when Edward said that if there ever were an alliance of Scotland and France his vassal Baliol had freely resigned it, the French told him that Baliol, being then a prisoner of war, was no free agent, and could renounce nothing for the kingdom of Scotland. This time, however, the support of France availed nothing, for Scotland was speedily afterwards blotted for a time out of the list of independent nations.

It is under the year 1326—twelve years after the battle of Bannockburn—that in Rymer’s great book of treaties we read the first articulate treaty between France and Scotland. There the French monarchs came under obligation to those of Scotland, "in good faith as loyal allies, whenever they shall have occasion for aid and advice, in time of peace or war, against the King of England and his subjects." On the part of the Scots kings it is stipulated that they shall be bound "to make war upon the kingdom of England with all their force, whensoever war is waged between us and the King of England." In 1371, when the alliance was solemnly renewed, a hundred thousand gold nobles were advanced to Scotland on curious and shrewd conditions. The money was to be employed for the ransom of King David from custody in England. Should, however, the Pope be pleased to absolve the Scots Government of that debt, then the gold nobles were to be employed in making war against England. When proffers were made to France for a separate truce, not including Scotland, they were gallantly rejected. On the other hand, when Scotland was sorely tempted by the Emperor Maximilian, and by other potentates from time to time, to desert her ally France, she refused. It endeared the alliance to both nations to sanctify it with the mellowness of extreme antiquity, and references to its existence since the days of Charlemagne find their way even at an early period into the formal diplomatic documents.


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