How old is the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland?
Centuries ago, France and Scotland came together to form a bond based on a strong, shared feeling between the nations: anti-Englishness. Jonny Wilkes gives the history of one of the most famous international alliances in history…
The purpose of France and Scotland forming the Auld Alliance can be summed up by an adage: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Forged by a treaty signed on 23 October 1295 by King of Scots John Balliol and Philip IV of France, it stated that if either country was attacked by the English, the other would retaliate.
At that time, the Scots were in desperate need of allies, and by aligning with a major European power they hoped to curb the expansionist aims of their neighbours to the south.
What did the Auld Alliance mean for France and Scotland?
In practice, the Auld Alliance did not offer the fullest of protections to the Scots. Edward I of England invaded the following year, setting off the long First War of Scottish Independence as well as the careers of the likes of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. But it did have its perks. Scottish mercenaries could find work in France’s armies, while barrel after barrel of the finest French wines made their way to ports like Leith.
When necessity arose – in other words, when the English and French engaged in one of their many wars – the Scots honoured the alliance, often at great cost.
Thousands of Scots fought alongside the French during the Hundred Years’ War, including at their victory in the battle of Baugé in 1421 when the French killed Henry V’s brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence. Three years later, the English had their revenge when they destroyed the Scottish forces at Verneuil.
Still, Scottish soldiers continued to cross the Channel and fight, for which many were offered lands and titles in France. A special royal bodyguard was even formed, called the Garde Écossaise. The Auld Alliance was renewed by essentially all the monarchs of the two countries well into the 16th century, even if neither were actually at war with England.
When war did break out again, the English knew they may be fighting on two fronts, in the north and mainland Europe. In 1513, the Scottish invasion under James IV was intended partly to divert English troops away from their campaign on the continent, although this did lead to a heavy defeat of the Scots and the death of their king at the battle of Flodden.
When did the Auld Alliance end?
The end of the Auld Alliance is traditionally dated to the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560. Religion had become a major obstacle, as by then the majority of Scotland was Protestant, which put the country at odds with Catholic France.
But, in one of those technical quirks with historic treaties, the Auld Alliance was never formally revoked.
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Its spirit lingered too. In a speech delivered in Edinburgh in June 1942, the French leader Charles de Gaulle described what he called “the oldest alliance in the world”, saying: “In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship.”
Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York
Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York.