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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 1 - The Ancient League with France - Part 3


We cannot rightly estimate the influence over the destinies of Europe of the events which severed Scotland from England and allied her to France, without remembering that it was long the aim of every powerful European monarch to follow the example of Charlemagne, and restore the Roman Empire. People have been so much occupied in discussing the religious hierarchy bequeathed to the world by the old Empire, that they seem to have forgotten how much of its political organisation remained to influence mankind. Roman institutions, in fact, live and influence our everyday habits and customs, and many of our greatest political organisations have their root in the established practice of the Empire. It is there, for instance, that we shall find how, in European diplomacy and international law, there are rules obeyed by nations, obligations performed by them, and rights exacted by them, without any paramount authority to enforce obedience. The paramount authority existed once in the person of the Emperor of the world; and though it has departed, the practices and traditions which kept the various states of Europe together have remained in force, and have been worked by "the great powers," who may be said to hold the functions of the old Empire in a sort of commission. It is observable that at the present day the established rules of diplomacy have scarcely extended beyond the bounds of the old Empire, except by including Russia; but though the greater part of the Russian territory was beyond the pale, there is no court in Europe where the traditions of the Empire are so religiously maintained as in that of Russia—where, indeed, the ambition which made the monarchs of the middle ages aim at the restoration of the empire of the world is believed still to guide the policy of the house of Romanoff. We cannot get the Oriental nations to accept of our system of diplomacy, except by sheer force. An ambassador they count an intruder and a spy, and they preserve no treaty which they can break. Even in the American States, where diplomacy and international law are studied more than anywhere else, it seems impracticable to apply those old traditional rules called the laws of war and peace, which have kept Europe together.

The municipalities which have so deeply influenced the history of Europe are a section of the institutions of the Empire. There are towns whose existing governments were given to them by the Ceasars; and it was a signal testimony to the vitality of these institutions, that in the late reconsolidation of Italy they formed the means of dovetailing together the fragments which had been so long separated. In some countries the Justinian collections are the only absolute authorities in the law - in all they have more or less a place. In England even, for all the abuse it has met with from the common lawyers, the civil law has an acknowledged place in Equity, the Ecclesiastical Courts, and the Admiralty jurisdiction; and large masses of it have, surreptitiously and under false names, been brought into the sacred precinct of the common law itself. It would be difficult to say of the laws which adjust rights and obligations between man and man in England, whether one would find a greater quantity in the Statutes at Large than in the Pandects.

The political machinery of the Imperial system, though broken into fragments, remained in its several parts so compact and serviceable for centuries as to be available for consolidating the power of Napoleon. It may easily be understood, then, how readily it would serve any monarch of the thirteenth or fourteenth century who felt strong enough to use it. Hence these monarchs were not merely excited by vague notions of influence and conquest with indefinite results, but saw a distinct, recognised office, supreme among worldly monarchies in dignity and power, which had been held of old, and might be aspired to again, as a legitimate object of ambition. The double-eagle in the achievement, figurative of the conjoined empires of the East and of the West, indicates powers which have some time or other aspired at the empire of the world—at renewing the conditions under which Ceasar could decree "that all the world should be taxed."

It is curious to see how the newly-grown feudal system, with its fictions and pedantries—its rights of property and possession, for instance, as separated from its rights of superiority—aided the influence of the Imperial organisation in the hands of clever and vigilant princes. A troublesome territory would be handed over by a great king to some smaller neighbour, who, nearer the spot, was better able to govern it, and who, if it were not handed over to him, might take it. He came under obligation to do homage for it to the giver, but the practical result of this obligation would depend on subsequent events. If generation after generation of his house were gradually acquiring such fiefs, they might soon possess a power sufficient to defy the feudal superior. On the other hand, the practice of doing homage for a part of their possessions might taint a decaying house with the sense of inferiority, and bring them in at last for homage for the whole. When Edward I. summoned Baliol to come to Windsor and give account of his conduct, and when that same Edward was himself cited by Philip of France to kneel before him and answer for certain piracies committed by Englishmen, the feudal formalities were the same, but behind them were certain realities which made the two affairs very different. Thus Europe presented to the able and ambitious among her monarchs two kinds of apparatus of aggrandisement. In the one, a vassal house, gaining fief after fief, would work its way to the vitals of a monarchy, and extinguish its life; in the other, a great power would crush one by one its smaller neighbours, by gradually enlarging the prerogative of the lord paramount.

Whoever would wish to see this sort of game played with the most exquisite skill and the most curious turns of luck, should study closely the history of the absorption of Burgundy into France. In our own country the play was more abrupt and rough. It was handled with a brute force, which succeeded in Ireland and Wales, but drove Scotland to effective resistance. The significance of this resistance was not limited to this island. The Normans were then bearing it with a high hand over all the nations of Europe. If the Empire was to be restored, he who should be chief among the Norman rulers would be the man to restore it. Had Henry V. been King of all Britain, it would have been the most natural of effects to such a cause that he should also have been undisputed King of France; and with such a combination of powers in his hand, what was to prevent him from being the successor of Charlemagne? The battle of Bannockburn was the ostensible blow which broke this chain of events. It was not the only interruption which Norman aggrandisement had then to encounter. Only twelve years earlier than Bannockburn, the Flemings had gained a popular victory over the chivalry of France at Courtrai; within a year after the defeat of Edward, the Swiss bought their independence in the terrible battle of Morgarten. The coincidence is not purely incidental. The three battles were types of a general revulsion against Norman aggrandisement arising in the hearts of the oppressed in various parts of Europe.

As part of an empire which included France and Scotland, with whatever else so much power might enable its owner to take, it is hard to say how it would have fired with the liberties of England, governed perhaps from Paris rather than London; and some have thought that the enjoyers of these liberties owe a debt to the victors at Bannockburn.

Everybody has heard of the famous Scots Guard of France. The same authorities that carry back the League to the days of Charlemagne, make him the founder of this force. it is a pity that we have no distinct account of its origin, and can only infer from historical probabilities that Claude Fauchet is right in saying that it was formed out of that remnant of the Scots who survived the slaughter at Verneuil, and did not desire to return home.* If Charles VII. was not the founder of the Guard, it is pretty certain that he adjusted its organisation as a permanent institution of the French Court. This easy, lucky monarch was so thoroughly the parent of the Scots Guard, that they wept for him in a demonstrative manner, which induced an old chronicler to say—

"Et les Escossoys hault crioient
Par forme de gemissement."

The Scots Guard consisted of one hundred gensdarmes and two hundred archers. They had a captain who was a high officer of state. The first captain of the Guard who appears in history—and probably the first person who held the office—was John Stewart, lord of Aubigné, the founder of a great Scots house in France, of which more hereafter. By a chivalrous courtesy the appointment to this high office was confided to the King of Scots. This was an arrangement, however, that could not last. As the two nations changed their relative position, and the Guard began to become Scots only in name, it became not only out of the question that the captain should be appointed by a foreign government, but impolitic that he should be a foreigner. It is curious to notice a small ingenious policy to avoid offence to the haughty foreigners in the removal of the command from the Scots. The first captain of the Guard who was a native Frenchman, was the Count of Montgomery, who, for his patrimonial name, which corresponded with that of an old Scots family, passed for a man of Scots descent. It was thought prudent that his son should succeed him; but the selection was not fortunate, for he was the same Montgomery who hit King Henry II. at the jousts in honour of his daughter Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip II., and so made Mary Stewart Queen of France.

According to the old courtly creed of France, the privileges of the Scots Guard had an eminence that partook of sacredness. Twenty-four of them were told off as the special protectors of the royal person. They took charge of the keys of the chamber where the King slept, and the oratory where he paid his devotions. When, on a solemn progress, he entered a walled town, the keys were committed to the custody of the captain of the Guard. They guarded his boat as he crossed a ferry, and were essential to the support of his litter when he was carried. On ordinary occasions two of them stood behind him; but in affairs of great ceremony—the reception of embassies, the conferring high honours, the touching for the king’s evil, and the like—six of them stood near the throne, three on either side. It was deemed a marked honour to them that the silk fringe with which their halberts were decorated was white—the royal colour of France.

There is something melancholy beyond description in contemplating the condition of a country, the vital treasures of which had to be confided to the fidelity and bravery of hireling strangers. If there was a fault in the affair, however, it was not with the Scots: they were true to their trust, and paid faith with faith.

On their side of the bargain, too, there is something touching in the picture of a hardy high-spirited race robbed of their proper field of exertion at home, and driven to a foreign land, there to bestow the enterprising energy that might have made their own illustrious; and serving a foreign master with the single-minded fidelity that had been nourished within them by the love of their own land and kindred. But it must be admitted that their hospitable patrons made their exile mighty comfortable. When the lank youth left behind him the house of his ancestors, standing up grey, cold, and bare, on the bleak moorland, it was not to pass into hard sordid exile, but rather to exult in the prospect of a land of promise or Eldorado: and faithfully was the promise kept; for the profuse hospitality and lavish generosity of France to her guests is a thing hardly to be elsewhere paralleled in history. It was but just that it should all be requited with sound fidelity and ardent devotion.

The trust which Louis XI. reposed in the Guard has been already referred to. It was not their blame that he took their assistance in grubbing up the roots of all the political institutions which checked or modified the supreme authority of the Crown. If we were to suppose, indeed, that they passed beyond the routine of duty to think of the political results of the affairs in which they were engaged, they would find a good many partisans in the present day, had they adopted the designs of their crafty master as their own, and backed them as the soundest policy for the future of France and of Europe at large; for Louis XI. is by no means championless.

In one of the most amusing of all the chronicles ever written—that of Comines—the Scott Guard figure frequently, and always creditably. Louis, who was reputed to trust no other creatures of human make, appears to have placed entire reliance on them. They saved him at a crisis of great peril in his renowned attack, along with the Duke of Burgundy, on the city of Liege. Both potentates were deeply plotting—the one to bring the Burgundian territories directly under the crown of France, the other to change his dukedom for a kingdom, which might in the end comprise France itself. Both were of one mind, for the time, in deadly malice and murderous projects against the industrious burghers of the city. By a concurrence of events which broke through the fine texture of his subtle policy, Louis found himself in the hands of his fierce rival; for he was within the lines of Burgundy’s army, with no other resource or protection apparently but his Scott Guard. There was to be a storming of Liege, which was anticipated by the citizens breaking out and attacking the camp of the Duke. In the confusion of such an affair at such a juncture, it is easy to suppose that Louis could not know friends from enemies, and had reason to believe the enemies to be far the more prevalent of the two. Comines gives this distinct and homely narrative of what he saw of the affair, for he was present:—

"I, and two gentlemen more of his bed-chamber, lay that night in the Duke of Burgundy’s chamber (which was very small), and above us there were twelve archers upon the guard, all of ‘em in their clothes, and playing at dice. His main guard was at a good distance, and towards the gate of the town; in short, the master of the house where the Duke was quartered, having drawn out a good party of the Liègeois, came so suddenly upon the Duke, we had scarce time to put on his back and breast plate and clap a steel cap upon his head. As soon as we had done it, we ran down the stairs into the street; but we found our archers engaged with the enemy, and much ado they had to defend the doors and the windows against ‘em. In the street there was a terrible noise and uproar, some crying out, ‘God bless the King! Others, ‘God bless the Duke of Burgundy!’ and others, ‘God bless the King, and kill, kill!’ It was some time before our archers and we could beat the enemy from the doors and get out of the house. We knew not in what condition the King was, nor whether he was for or against us, which put us into a great consternation. As soon as we were got into the street, by the help of two or three torches we discovered some few of our men, and could perceive people fighting round about us; but the action there lasted not long, for the soldiers from all parts came in thronging to the Duke’s quarter. The Duke’s landlord was the first man of the enemy’s side that was killed (who died not presently, for I heard him speak), and with him his whole party (at least the greatest part of them) were cut in pieces.

"The King was also assaulted after the same manner by his landlord, who entered his house, but was slain by the Scotch Guard. These Scotch troops behaved themselves valiantly, maintained their ground, would not stir one step from the King, and were very nimble with their bows and arrows, with which, it is said, they wounded and killed more of the Burgundians than of the enemy. Those who were appointed made their sally at the gate, but they found a strong guard to oppose them, which gave ‘em a warm reception and presently repulsed ‘em, they not being so good soldiers as the others. As soon as these people were repulsed, the King and Duke met, and had a conference together. Seeing several lie dead about them, they wore afraid their loss had been greater than really it proved to be; for upon examination they found they had not lost many men, though several were wounded; and without dispute, if they had not stopped at those two places, and especially at the barn (where they met with some small opposition), but had followed their guides, they had killed both the King and the Duke of Burgundy, and in probability would have defeated the rest of the army. Each of these princes retired to his quarters greatly astonished at the boldness of the attempt; and immediately a council of war was called to consult what measures were to be taken the next morning in relation to the assault, which had been resolved upon before. The King was in great perplexity, as fearing that if the Duke took not the town by storm, the inconvenience would fall upon him, and he should either be kept still in restraint, or made an absolute prisoner, for the Duke could not think himself secure against a war with France if he should suffer him to depart. By this mutual distrust of each other one may clearly observe the miserable condition of these two princes, who could not by any means confide in one another, though they had made a firm peace not a fortnight before, and had sworn solemnly to preserve it."

French historians are tolerably unanimous in their testimony that the Guard were faithful fellows. As a small select body of men, highly endowed with rank and remuneration, they were naturally the prize-holders of a considerable body of their countrymen, who in the army of France strove to prove themselves worthy of reception into the chosen band. Thus the Scots in the French army carried the spirit of the service beyond the mere number selected as the Guard; and there was among them a fellow-feeling, mixed with a devotion to the crown of France, of a kind which there is no good term for in English, while it is but faintly expressed by the French esprit de corps. A few of the facts in the history of the Scots troops employed by France bring it closer home than any generalisation can; for instance, after other incidents of a like character, M. Michel quotes from D’Auton’s Chronicle, how, in a contest with the Spaniards in Calabria, in 1503, the banner-bearer, William Turnbull, was found dead with the staff in his arms and the flag gripped in his teeth, with a little cluster of his countrymen round him, killed at their posts, "et si un Ecossais était mort d’un côté, un Espagnol ou deux l’étaient de l’autre." The moral drawn from this incident by the old chronicler is, that the expression long proverbial in France, "Fier comme un Ecossais," was because the Scots "aimaient mieux ‘mourir pour honneur garde, que vivre en honte, reprochez de tache de lascheté.’"

When the two British kingdoms merged towards each other in the sixteenth century, the native element was gradually thinned out of the Scots Guard. When Scotland became part of an empire which called France the natural enemy, it seemed unreasonable that her sons should expect to retain a sort of supremacy in the French army. But there are no bounds to human unreasonableness when profitable offices are coming and going, and many of our countrymen during the seventeenth century were loud in their wrath and lamentation about the abstraction of their national privileges in France. Some Scotsmen, still in the Guard in the year 1611, had a quarrel with the French captain, De Montespan, and brought their complaint before King James. As French soldiers appealing to a foreign monarch, they were very naturally dismissed. Of course, they now complained at home still more loudly, and their cause was taken up by some great men. The French behaved in the matter with much courtesy. The men dismissed for a breach of discipline could not be replaced at the instigation of a foreign Court, but the Government would fill their places with other Scotsmen duly recommended. So lately as the year 1642, demands were made on the French Government to renew the ancient League and restore the "privileges" of the Scots in France, including the monopoly of the appointments in the Guard. But though made in the name of King Charles I. by the Scots Privy Council, these demands were, like many of the other transactions of the day, rather made in hostility to the King than in obedience to his commands. Louis XIV. gave a brief and effective answer to them. He said that he would renew the League only on the condition that the Scots should cease to act as the ally of England, either by giving obedience to the King of that country, "or under pretext of religion, without express permission from the King, their master "—a pretty accurate diplomatic description of the position of the Covenanting force.

Down to the time when all the pomps and vanities of the French crown were swept away along with its substantial power, the Scots Guard existed as pageant of the Court of France. In that immense conglomerate of all kinds of useful and useless knowledge, the ‘Dictionnaire de Trevoux,’ it is set forth that "la premiere compagnie des gardes du corps de nos rois" is still called "La Garde Ecossaise," though there was not then (1730) a single Scotsman in it. Still there were preserved among the young Court lackeys, who kept up the part of the survivors of the Hundred Years’ War, some of the old formalities. Among these, when the Clerc du Guet challenged the guard who had seen the palace gate closed, "il repond en Ecossois, I am hire— c’est à dire, me voilà;" and the lexicographer informs us that, in the mouths of the Frenchmen, totally unacquainted with the barbarous tongue in which the regimental orders had been originally devised, the answer always sounded, "Ai am hire."

In some luxurious libraries may be found a gorgeous volume in old morocco, heavily decorated with symbols of royalty, bearing on its engraved title-page that it is "Le Sacre de Louis XV., Roy de France et de Navarre, dans l’Eglise de Reims, le Dimanche, xxv. Octobre, MDCCXXII." After a poetical inauguration, giving assurance of the piety, the justice, the firmness, the devotion to his people, of the new King, and the orthodoxy, loyalty, and continued peace that were to be the lot of France, with many other predictions, wide of the truth that came to pass, there come a series of large pictures, representing the various stages of the coronation, and these are followed by full-dress and full-length portraits of the various high officers who figured on the solemn occasion. Among these we have the Capitain des Gardes Ecossois in full state uniform. This has anything but a military aspect; it is the single-breasted broad-flapped coat of the time, heavily embroidered, a short mantle, and a black cap, with a double white plume. The six guards are also represented in a draped portrait. It is far more picturesque than that of their captain, yet in its white satin, gold embroidery, and fictitious mail, it conveys much less of the character of the soldier than of the Court attendant, as will be seen by the inventorial description given below. In the original engraving, by the way, the artist has thrown an air of absorbed devotedness into the very handsome countenance drawn by him, which is at variance, in some measure, with the tone of the attitude and costume, as pertaining to a mere figure in a state pageant.

Gardes Ecossois


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