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Scotland - French Influence

From the death of David II in 1472 to the beginning of the reign of Mary in 1542 is a well-marked period of Scottish history, during which the national institutions assumed the general form which they maintained till the union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707. Throughout this entire period the dread of English aggression was still the constant preoccupation of the people, and this permanent dread at once deepened the national traits of hardihood and caution and contributed to the strengthening of national sentiment In the development of institutions we have again to note the action of causes common to western Europe.

Like the kings of other countries the kings of Scots deliberately aimed at crushing the power of the feudal nobles and establishing a central authority over which they should be supreme. But in this endeavor they were checked by two hostile forces the power of the Scottish nobles themselves and the insubordination of their Celtic subjects in the Highlands and the Western Islands. As the result of these opposing forces, whose relative strength was constantly changing, a Parliament, like that of England, with well-defined privileges and efficaciously representing the different classes of the people, could not come to birth in Scotland.

In the Scottish Parliament or Estates (so-called in imitation of the French Etats), the Lords Temporal and Spiritual, the Commissioners for the Shires and Burghs, sat in one House and nominally legislated for the nation, but the actual power of the Parliament was in the hands of a committee known as "The Lords of the Articles," the choice of which lay with the king or the greater barons according as the one or the other was in the ascendant. Till the Scottish Parliament ceased to exist, therefore, it was but the convenient instrument of whatever authority chanced to preponderate in the State.

In the case of other institutions it was from France that Scotland borrowed the models she sought to imitate. It was from France, mainly during this period, that she took over the Roman law, thus departing from the example of England; and the College of Justice (the present Court of Session), established by James V in 1532, was formed on the pattern of the Pariement of Paris. In the election of municipal bodies in the burghs the method of France was likewise adopted (the retiring body electing its successor), a method which prevailed till as late as the 18th century. From France, also, during the same period was taken the arrangement of fee-farm by which land was leased in perpetuity an arrangement encouraged by the Estates and intended (ineffectually as it proved) to remedy the system of short and precarious leases which till the 19th century disastrously affected agriculture in Scotland.

When to these borrowings are added the fact that the majority of highly educated Scots studied in the schools of France, it will be seen that, apart from the political results of the alliance, the influence of France in Scotland is one of the important facts in the national development.

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Page last modified: 26-11-2012 18:58:14 ZULU