Politics, diplomacy and commerce

Claire Hawes
Saturday 16 April 2016

This posting is the fourth in the series on themes that will be addressed at a conference held in St. Andrews on June 16 and 17 this year.   The relationship between Scotland and Flanders in the medieval period had many dimensions: political, diplomatic and commercial. One important figure who helped shape this relationship was Philip d’Alsace. He was Count of Flanders in the second half of the 12th century and is the subject of a paper prepared by Alexander Stevenson.  The relationship was not always harmonious, however, as evidenced by Amy Eberlin’s account of shifts in Scotland’s staple port  between Bruges (in Flanders)  and Middelburg (in Zeeland) in the 15th century.  The role that individuals played in oiling the trading relationship between Scotland and Flanders is highlighted in Lauran Toorian’s research on Jan Moffet who was appointed Conservator of the Scottish Privileges— the Scottish government’s representative in the Netherlands—and who lived for part of his career in Bergen op Zoom near Antwerp.   

 Session overview 

Philip d’Alsace, Count of Flanders and the first Franco-Scottish Alliance

Count Philip d’Alsace, who ruled from 1157 to 1191, was the most powerful and influential ruler of Flanders before the county was absorbed by the Valois dukes of Burgundy in the late fourteenth century. His rule extended from across most of what is now the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands to within 25 miles of Paris. His policies transformed the county and greatly increased Flemish trade. He was also renowned for his martial prowess and diplomacy: admired and trusted by King Louis VII of France, King Henry II of England and his sons, and by Thomas Becket, all of whom turned to him at different times for support. Though almost unremarked by modern historians, his fame and influence were such that he was a driving force possibly the driving force behind a war in France and England that nearly dethroned King Henry II. Scotland was drawn into the war, with momentous consequences for all.  Alexander Stevenson. 

The Flemish dimension of fifteenth century Scottish politics

The 1347 general council act that expelled Flemings from Scotland gave an overly simplistic reason for its creation: a similar expulsion of Scots from Flanders. The true reasons for the implementation of an act exiling the merchants of a major trading partner were far more nuanced. The political context of 1346, particularly the English defeat of the French at the battle of Crécy and the Scots at the battle of Neville’s Cross, and capture of David II on the battlefield, was a significant factor in the creation of this economic protectionist policy. In 1425, James I instituted a similar economic policy, transferring the Scottish staple to Middelburg (in Zeeland) and threatening the forfeiture of any Scottish merchant who passed through Flanders. This paper will argue that James I made these economic moves as a result of the political environment of early fifteenth century Scotland and the precedent of the 1347 expulsion of Flemings from Scotland. In looking at a solely economic picture of these events, we underestimate the importance of politics, domestic and international, on the trade relationship between Scotland and Flanders in the fifteenth century. Amy Eberlin.

 Jan Moffet and Scottish traders in Bergen op Zoom in the early sixteenth century

Between 1365 and 1565 the city of Bergen op Zoom, north of Antwerp on the Scheldt River, had two large fairs every year, one around Easter and the other early in November. Traders from far and wide came to these fairs and among them were traders from Scotland as well. From the decades around 1500 the city archives allow a closer look at this group. A number of Scotsmen possessed houses just outside the city wall (and moat) and there also was an altar for St Trinian (or Ninian) in the parish church. In the mid-1530’s this group was led by Jan (or John) Moffet who for a while also acted as ‘conservator of the privileges of the nation of the realme [in Scotland] in Flanders’. This fact, that the conservator was once actually living in Bergen op Zoom, was until recently not well known. It highlights the role Bergen op Zoom played in the struggle between Flanders, Zeeland and Brabant to get the Scottish staple for the Low Countries. The better-known and slightly earlier conservator and trader Andrew Halyburton traded with Bergen op Zoom as well.

That Jan Moffet had Scottish roots is not certain, but we can guess his name refers to Moffat in Annandale (Dumfriesshire). Moffet himself was born in Abbeville at the mouth of the river Somme in Northern France. Since 1509 he was a burgher (with formal citizenship) of Bergen op Zoom and may have died around 1552. He held the office of conservator from 1528 onwards. Moffet had a house within the city walls and thus did not live with the other Scottish traders in the Scottish quarter just outside the walls. All this is intriguing because in this period the Scottish staple was in Veere (Campvere) and in the literature about the Scottish trade with the Low Countries Bergen op Zoom hardly plays a role.  During and after the Dutch Revolt (‘Eighty Years War’) the Scottish presence in Bergen op Zoom continued with Scottish regiments manning the garrison of the now fully fortified city. Lauran Toorians.

Session participants 

Alexander Stevenson is a retired senior civil servant. He is a historian by training and has a special interest in the Low Countries.  In 1982 he completed a PhD thesis on medieval Scottish links with the Low Countries, primarily Flanders, which he is currently reworking for publication.

Amy Eberlin is a final year PhD student at the University of St Andrews, Institute of Scottish Historical Research and is a member of Scotland and the Flemish People Project. Her research primarily focuses upon the Scots involved in trade and diplomacy between Scotland and Flanders in the late medieval period. 

Lauran Toorians studied medieval history and comparative linguistics at Leiden University, the latter with a heavy accent on the Celtic languages. He is currently an independent scholar, working in part as a journalist in the field of the arts and culture while simultaneously undertaking research in medieval history as well as Celtic languages and literature. He has a special interest in the historical relations between the Low Countries and the Celtic-speaking world.