Unless you went by the title, you were probably stumped. Maybe you believe it is England and Portugal at 638 years. You were unlikely to guess Scotland and France but a University of Manchester historian says she has uncovered evidence which shows a defensive alliance between Scotland and France (against the English, naturally) might never have formally ended – potentially making it the longest in history.
In a paper to be published next year, Dr. Siobhan Talbott argues the Franco-Scottish Auld Alliance of 1295 survived numerous wars between Britain and France, even after the Act of Union was signed in 1707. Trade, she says, is a major reason for its longevity.
The prevailing view of historians that Scotland sided with the English, moving away from her friendship with France after 1560, when the country converted to Protestantism, is also disputed by Talbott. J. Macpherson, published in Scottish Field in 1967, said that France refused to accept Westminster’s abrogation of the Scottish side of the Auld Alliance in 1906, following the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. By French law, a Scotsman born before 1907 still possesses the full rights and privileges of Franco-Scottish nationality.
The 716-year-old citizenship and trading privileges enjoyed by Scots in France, she suggests, are possibly intact today. “It’s going to be difficult to prove conclusively that Auld Alliance of 1295 is the longest in history - but there is strong evidence to suggest that this could indeed be the case. If we accept 1906 as an 'end date', this would make the Auld Alliance 611 years old, compared to 638 years for what many regard as world’s oldest alliance between England and Portugal. However, when Charles de Gaulle spoke in Edinburgh in June 1942, he stated that the Auld Alliance was 'the oldest alliance in the world'.”
Some historians accept the 1560 Treaty of Edinburgh, along with Scotland’s conversion to Protestantism, as ending the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Not so, according to Talbott: some French troops remained in Scotland and there is no reference to ending the Alliance in the text. Even during the eighteenth century, after the Act of Union was signed, Scotland and France continued to have an active and close relationship, based on the historic Auld Alliance.
And Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led his Jacobites against the English in the rebellion of 1745, was more French than Scottish despite his Stewart name.
Trade flourished between the two countries even after the Scottish switch to Protestantism. Scottish merchants paid less or no customs at some French ports, whereas some ports would not trade with the English at all. The Scots exported a range of goods including coal, wool and animal skins to France. French exports included salt, wine, luxury cloth, musical instruments, furniture, beds and spectacles.
There remained established communities of Protestant Scots in Bordeaux, Paris and La Rochelle during the seventeenth century. Talbott said, “It has been previously recognised that trade continued to take place between the two countries in the eighteenth century. But by examining merchants’ records from the period, I can now say that it was much more extensive than realised, and that it continued despite conflict such as war which many historians have maintained prevented it.
“Scots saw their country as an independent entity throughout the eighteenth century, even after the Union of the Scottish and English monarchies in 1603 and the Union of their parliaments in 1707 - and other European nations regarded them like that too. This might explain why Scots seem to have more of a notion of independence than the English, who appear to more readily see themselves as 'British' - and it will be interesting to see if the results of the 2011 Census and the proposed 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence reflects this.”
The paper that will be published in the journal Historical Research is titled "'If you were hier you could gaine what you please, for there is many English and severall Scots that you might deall with': British Commercial Interests on the French Atlantic Coast, c. 1560-1713".
"Beyond ‘the antiseptic realm of theoretical economic models: New Perspectives on Franco-Scottish Commerce and the Auld Alliance in the Long Seventeenth Century" is published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Research, 31:2 (November 2011).