This is a first article of a series on the Flemish Scottish connections
By Margaret Hilton.
The 12th and 13th centuries were a time of consolidation and further settlements of Flemings in Scotland: David I’s wife, Mathilda, brought with her to her new home a court of Flemish nobles. For the sake of his wife David « changed the coarse stuffs of his own land for priceless vestments and covered its ancient nakedness with purple and fine linen. » Many of these new fabrics came from Flanders and the fashions of the nobles who formed the court spread throughout Scotland.
David I’s son encouraged more Flemings to come and settle in Scotland, particularly in Clydesdale, and from these early settlers many of Scotland’s greatest families have come. Some of these knightly settlers were granted land and became strong supporters of the King. But there were also more humble followers of these knights and they soon resumed their agricultural pursuits and their skills of weaving. Soon these Flemings began to rise to positions of authority. We have, for example Michael Fleming as Sheriff of Edinburgh about 1200 and Gilbert Fleming, a baillie of Biggar in 1322.
David I was known as a ‘sair sanct for the croon’ and he certainly had a great influence on the life and organisation of the church in Scotland. He was responsible for the foundation of many abbeys, including Kelso in the Scottish Borders. Soon after, its neighbour, Melrose, was established and both these abbeys became involved in sheep farming and the wool trade. Their position near the East Coast meant that their wool was exported to Flanders. In 1 182 Philip, Count of Flanders, granted exemption of taxes to Melrose who had requested free passage to sell their wools. In 1 225 again the monks of Melrose asked permission to sell their woof in Flanders. But also in the 13th century, Guy de Dampierre confiscated the property of Scottish merchants.
The wool trade of Melrose was sometimes interrupted by the wars with England, which meant that the monks could not use the port of Berwick but must send their wool through Scottish ports such as Leith. In 1296 Melrose exported through Berwick 2.000 fleeces, 3.000 sacks of wool to Bruges.
But it was not just wool which formed the links between Scotland and Flanders in the Middle Ages. In the Melrose records we read how, in 1441 Cornelius Aeltre of Bruges; carpenter; contracted to make a set of choir stalls, after the model of a church in Flanders. He received full payment beforehand. Unfortunately, immediately after the contract there was a great financial crisis and he had to pay his workmen in good new money while he himself had been paid in the old. Moreover there had been a strike and a riot in Bruges. As the stalls were not delivered the case was pleaded before the aldermen of Bruges by John Crawford, monk of Melrose. The stalls were stored in the Franciscan house of Bruges for many years.
But it was not only the monasteries which benefited from the wool trade with Flanders. From the time of David 1 onwards the Scottish records are full of laws which were enacted to regulate the trade. In the Leges Burgorum ofDavid I, it was said that all Flemings must treat only with burgers merchants.
In 1348 a Treaty of Fair Trade and perpetual friendship between Scotland and Flanders was made and this was renewed in 1459 and again in 1394.
Matters however were not always so friendly. In 1412 the merchants League of Flanders declined to purchase from Scotsmen either at Bruges or at any other place. Cloth, either dressed or undressed manufactured from Scottish wool and in 1 418 the Compter at Bruges was ordered to refrain from all commercial relations with the Scots.
But affairs improved in 1442 when the Scottish Parliament agreed to endow a chapel of St. Ninian in the Carmelite House at Bruges and tolls were collected from ships for its support. It was here the Scottish merchants worshipped when they were in Flanders and they had their own chaplain there. It was near to their ‘Place’, near to their Consular House, adjoining the Augustinian Monastery but in 1470 the merchants transferred themselves to the Place St. Martin, then called Scottenplaets. For some time in the 14th century the Scottish Staple was at Bruges.
One of the most famous of the Bruges merchants at this time was Anselm Adorne. His family was influential in Bruges and he himself was widely travelled. In 1468 he came to Scotland on a trade mission to try to re-establish trade between Scotland and Flanders and while he was in Scotland he met King James III. In 1472 he returned to Bruges and was made Conservator of Scottish privileges granted by the Duke of Burgundy to 3pursue, procure, request or defend the goods of the said merchants and their rights and actions in the said city of Bruges. » He was back in Scotland in 1 474 and was made Keeper of Linlithgow Palace by James III. He ran into trouble in Bruges in 1477 and was put into prison for misuse of funds. On his release he returned to Scotland and in 1483 he was murdered. He was buried in Linlithgow and there is now a plaque in the church there to commemorate him. His heart was cut out and sent to Bruges to be buried beside his wife Margaret in the family church : the Jerusalemkerke in Bruges.
A later conservator of Scottish privileges was Andrew Halyburton (1493-1503). It was said of him that « he looked after the weal of his fellow Scots carefully and saved them much expense ». In 1620 Peregrine Paterson was the Conservator and had a difficult time as he had to assist and relieve many ruined Scottish merchants.
By the 16th century the Conservator was lodging in Antwerp for that town had provided a pleasant house for the use of the Conservator in which he might also lodge Scottish traders’ Merchandise. When a fleet arrived from Scotland and there were too many for that house the Burgomaster was empowered to find them other lodgings. The Government of Scotland was said to be very content with their treatment. The Famous Treaty of Free Trade was ratified at Antwerp in 1551. Mary, Queen of Scots had drawn it up on one side and Charles V on the other.
But the links between Scotland and Flanders encompassed much more than the wool trade, valuable to both countries as that was. Religion also played its part. During the early Middle Ages Europe was united by a common faith and scholars, monks and clergymen travelled freely from country to country teaching, preaching and learning (For example, a Scot, Henry de Leighton, was Rector of Louvain in 1432 and later Bishop of Aberdeen). There was frequent communication between the houses of the different Monastic orders. Travel to the Papal Court in Rome (and also in Avignon) by clergymen from every country in Europe was commonplace. But perhaps the greatest number of travellers were the Crusaders and pilgrims who had recognised routes to Jerusalem and to the shrines of the Saints such as St. James at Compostella and St Giles at the Mouth of the Rhone. St Giles also forms a link between Scotland and Flanders. The High Kirk of Edinburgh is dedicated to St Giles, and in the 15th century it received from a Crusader, William Preston, one of its greatest treasures, an arm, of St Giles as a relic. At almost the same time the church of St Giles in Bruges also received from a Crusader, Guillaume de Grauchet, an arm of St Giles. At the time of the Reformation St Giles, Edinburgh lost the relic, but St Giles in Bruges which had had its arm authenticated by the Pope, still has its relic. When the Thistle Chapel was being built in Edinburgh at the beginning of this century, an arm in a reliquary was discovered and it was sent to Bruges for comparison to see if it could be the lost arm of St Giles. But alas, both arms were left arms so the Edinburgh discovery could not be authentic.
The Wool Trade and Religion can thus be seen to have forged close links between Scotland and Flanders, but the Flemings also had a great influence on the domestic life of Scotland. When they settled here they brought their skills particularly in weaving and agriculture. More will be said about their contribution to the textile industry in a later section of this catalogue, for this included not just wool but linen, lace and blankets.
In the houses of the Mediaeval period both the large halls and palaces, as well as in the small homes of the workers the influence of the Flemish settlers was immediately apparent. In furniture the wood working skills were seen in the Flemish Kist which was very popular. The tapestry and hangings both large and small were much admired. James V in 1 539 purchased $77-18s Tapestry Arras hangers from Flanders and in 1541 John Moffat Steward brought from Flanders furnishings for the King. Tapestries were hung in churches and in town halls and for any ceremonial processions the streets were decorated with them, as in the welcome to James III’s bride, Margaret of Denmark. Margaret Tudor, coming north in 1474 to marry James IV brought « according to Flemish fashion a kirtle of satin and a long gown of crimson satin, a riding gown of black Ypres cloth and a cloak and hood of same ». Where the Queen led others followed and Flemish furriers, weavers of velvet, glovers and skinners were well patronised by the ladies and gentlemen of the court. That the fashion for things Flemish continued can be seen in the will of Queen Mary Stuart, where each of her four Maries received a velvet cloak of Flemish style.
In the fields of the Arts and Culture too the Flemings left their mark on Scotland. One of the finest paintings in the National Gallery in Edinburgh is the Trinity Altarpiece of Hugo van der Goes which was commissioned by Mary of Gueldres, wife of James II, for the church she founded here. It now belongs to the Queen. Van der Goes was Dean of the Guild of Painters in Ghent from 1473-1475.
Many of the Scottish Merchants trading with Flanders brought home paintings and works of Art as did Francis Spottiswood, cloth merchant of Edinburgh who brought « ane hingand brod of oleg cullouris fra Flanders ». He also brought a mirror or keeking glass from the Flemish glass-works in 1521.