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Aubigny in France

I wonder how many Scots know that there is a town in France that's more Scottish than many towns in Scotland.

It all goes back to 1419 during the Hundred Years War. The French dauphin, later to become Charles VII, was struggling against the English in nearby Bourges and appealed to Scotland for assistance. Always willing to do battle against the Sassenachs, an army of some ten thousand Scots made its way to Bourge and eventually the war swung in favour of the French. As the war had drained his finances, the dauphin handed over the town of Aubigny  to the leader of the Scots, John Stuart of Darnley, as payment for his assistance. The Stuart family were highly influential in Aubigny and its surrounding area for many years until the line eventually died out and the whole affair became forgotten in history. However, in 1931 the Scottish connection was brought to the surface once again in the shape of a festival and has been celebrated since then. The town's hotel is named the Cutty Sark and there is an Aubigny tartan, worn regularly by many of the male inhabitants of the town, several of whom play in the town's pipe band.

Aubigny is twinned with Haddington in East Lothian and I'm sure that someone from Haddington would shed much more light on this wonderful example of  the Auld Alliance than the few lines that I have scribbled.

George Wilkie

In time many Scots settled in Aubigny, setting up cloth and glass industries, while the Stuarts themselves continued to live there for more than 200 years.

Disaster struck in 1512 when most of the town was destroyed by fire, but the then Stuart incumbent, Robert, allowed trees from his estate to be used in the rebuilding and it is from this period that many of the half-timbered houses date. It is said that it took the wood from three of the five forests on his estate to complete the restoration...

The temperature is in the low 30s. Hardly a heatwave, but just hot enough to banish rash thoughts of any serious physical effort. Better just to sit here on the terrasse and enjoy a glass of chilled petit gris (Sancerre rosé) while contemplating the aroma of haggis grilling slowly to mouth-watering perfection on the barbecue.

At the far end of the street, pipers tune up, in a shrill Celtic cacophony. Gradually, the anarchic whines become a low musical hum. A crisp clear roll on a snare drum brings the pipes to order. The first notes of ‘Scotland the Brave’ ring out loud and proud across Aubigny-sur-Nère.

Welcome to the Fêtes Franco-Écossaises – the best of Scotland in the heart of rural France. However, if you believe Aubigny’s deputy mayor François Gresset, we are technically not in France but in a small, far-flung corner of Scotland.

“Aubigny, or Albany as the Scots called it, was given to John Stuart, Lord Darnley by Charles VII of France, for services rendered during the Hundred Years’ War. Both Scotland and France had signed a mutual defence pact in 1295, which became known as the ‘Auld Alliance’. In 1419, Charles VII, who was still Dauphin, had withdrawn to Bourges, about the only part of France that was still French. English, Armagnac and Burgundian armies hemmed him in. He called on the Scots for help under the terms of the alliance. In 1419, Scottish archers and men at arms started to land at La Rochelle. At first there were only a few hundred.

“Over the following six years, 17,000 Scottish troops arrived in France. In 1421, John Stuart of Darnley landed at La Rochelle with 5,000 troops and marched straight to the town of Baugé in the Anjou to help the French. In the ensuing battle, a combined army of French and Scottish soldiers routed an English army almost twice their size. The victory was made even sweeter when it was learned that the Duke of Clarence, Henry V’s brother, had been killed in the battle.

“At the time, the French monarchy was hard up, so the only way to reward the Scots was by giving them land. John Stuart of Darnley was given Aubigny. The town and surrounding lands were to be his possessions forever, passing down through the generations to the next male heir. As Duke of Aubigny, Darnley entered the French nobility.

“Since then, Aubigny has played a substantial part in French and Scottish history. Mary Queen of Scots was betrothed in the castle here, and when Charles II became king of England, he got Louis XIV to give Aubigny to his French mistress Louise de Keroualle. The fruit of Charles’ illicit union was a certain Charles Lennox, who later became the Duke of Richmond, a direct ancestor of the late Lady Diana. Technically, this makes Prince William claimant to the title of Duke of Aubigny.”

At first glance, there’s not much Scottish about Aubigny, a quaint half-timbered, picture-postcard town on the edge of the Sologne, without an austere grey Scottish stone in sight. However, the good citizens of Aubigny have their own pipe band, their own tartan (Stuart hunting) and even their own whisky, though that is actually made in Scotland and shipped over.

In the early 90s, the maire of Aubigny Yves Fromion decided that something had to be done to celebrate Aubigny’s Scottish connexion. He hit upon the idea of the Fêtes Franco-Écossaises.

This year’s Franco- Scottish festivities run from July 8 to 16. As usual, there will be parades of Scottish pipe bands, a Highland Games to celebrate Bastille Day, a huge brocante and a vast son et lumière (sound and light) portraying Aubigny’s history.

Visiting Scots (and Sassenachs) are cordially invited to take part though, laughs François Gresset, the Scots have never actually left Aubigny: “Just take a quick glance through the local phone book – it’s full of Scots: Archer, Archambault, Bailly, Baillard and Baillieul, all names of Scottish origin, all still going strong in the Berry.”

Aubigny Auld Alliance District tartan

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