June 2024
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The Scottish-French Auld Alliance Revives in the ‘Stuart City’ of Aubigny-sur-Nère

Aubigny-sur-Nère church and half-timbered houses © 2010 Scotiana

In the heart of France, on the borders of romantic Sologne and Berry, the flowered little town of Aubigny-sur-Nère, with its old church and picturesque half-timbered houses, boasts a rich Scottish heritage on the ‘Route Jacques Coeur’.

Aubigny-sur-Nère wrought iron piper © 2010 Scotiana

So don’t be surprised if, on entering the town, as mentioned in my first post about Aubigny, you’re welcomed by a big wrought iron Scottish piper. Of course, people who come here for the first time, without knowing anything about local history and the Scottish-French Auld Alliance, have good reasons to be surprised.

Aubigny-sur-Nère Scottish Tug of War © 2010 Scotiana

And it’s only a beginning, for the piper, which must have been born out of the talented hands of one of the local wrought iron artists, is only the first sign of the Scottish omnipresence in the ‘City of the Stuarts’. Look for the funny Scottish wood dummies scattered all over the town… aren’t these two ones training for the game of ‘Tug of War’ which is a favourite in the Highlands games 😉

Aubigny-sur-Nère Stuarts Castle © 2010 Scotiana

If you want to know why and when our Scottish friends came and settled in this quiet little French town and in the neighbourhood, go straight to the Hotel de Ville which is situated in the ancient ‘Château des Stuarts’ and shelters the very interesting Auld Alliance Museum. There, in a most vivid way, you will learn a page of Scottish-French history which most of us – on the French side especially – have forgotten or, still more probably, have never been taught about. After visiting this little museum you will be unbeatable about the Auld Alliance and the local history, for everything seems to be done here to make the rich Scottish-French heritage and friendship revive and perdure. Indeed, Aubigny-sur-Nère is twinned with Haddington, a Scottish town situated not far from Edinburgh, and the French ‘comité de jumelage’, whose president is Michel Vannier, seems to be particularly active. If you want to improve your knowledge further, the Aubigny library, which is situated  in front of the castle just behind the Auld Alliance Memorial, hosts “Un centre de recherche sur la vieille Alliance”. It must be quite interesting to browse through the local archives…

If you like walking, we advise you to go to the ‘Office du Tourisme’ and make a reservation to join one of the walking tours regularly organized around the town. There are even thematic guided tours focusing on subjects such as the half-timber architectural style which is particularly flourishing in Aubigny. These tours last about two hours. Ours began on the benches of St Martin’s Church. Our group was led by Delphine, a very interesting guide, and we won’t forget the many lively anecdotes she told us about St Martin’s Church, the castle, the market place, the bridge on the Nère, the street names (the ‘rue Pousse-Panier’!). We particularly loved the half-timbered houses: the  Ironmonger’s shop with its emblematic sign and symbols,  the so-called house of François 1er (he never came there) which hosts a very interesting iron wrought art exhibition…also the journeyman carpenter’s strange house with its unique spiral steeple. What a tour !

Aubigny-sur-Nère A Guided Walk Jacques Gaurant 1993

For those who don’t want or can’t follow the guide into the old streets of Aubigny, a very interesting little book, with beautiful illustrations, has been published.

Aubigny-sur Nère British postal box and French bike © 2010 Scotiana

And if you don’t like walking why not take your bike! Whatever the means of transport, all roads lead to Scotland here 😉

Aubigny-sur Nère Le château des Stuarts et son blason fleuri © 2010 Scotiana

I give you rendez-vous to the Auld Alliance Museum. You can’t miss it since it is situated in the Stuarts Castle, also known as the Hotel de Ville. On its façade there is a big and vividly coloured reproduction of the Stuarts of Aubigny’s coat-of-arms. That blazon would be worth a post in itself …

Aubigny-sur Nère Le Château des Stuarts Scottish guard © 2010 Scotiana

So, here we are, in front of the old château des Stuarts. A Scottish guard seems to be waiting for us, ready to open the door of history. At the entrance, after catching a glimpse at the Marriage Registry whose long table is covered with a piece of Stuart Tartan – the Council Chambers are situated on the floor above – we are equipped with headphones that seem to be connected with the invisible world for a Scottish ghost soon invites us to follow him… his name is Quentin and this makes me think of Quentin Durward 😉

France Berry Aubigny-sur-Nère Museum Auld Alliance Treaty © 2010 Scotiana

We’re immediately propelled back in time and down to the year 1295. Something very important seems to be happening there… let us approach !

Aubigny-sur-Nère Museum Auld Alliance Treaty French King Philippe le Bel © 2010 Scotiana

Aubigny-sur-Nère Museum Auld Alliance Treaty Scottish King John Balliol © 2010 Scotiana

We soon notice that the two protagonists of what appears to be a historical scene are wearing sumptuous clothes with the royal arms of Scotland (red lion rampant) and France (fleurs de lys) on them. Our ghostly friend, who seems to navigate quite easily in the corridors of time and history, introduces us to John Balliol and Philippe le Bel. The moment is solemn. We curtsey. Both Kings have just signed ‘The Auld Alliance Treaty’, a document often considered as the most ancient European Treaty, which seals the destinies of Scotland and France in a united effort to protect them against England, their common enemy. I’ve heard, but I’m not sure it is true, that Norway also signed the Treaty. The origins of the Auld Alliance may well date back to more ancient times but, as far as France is concerned, this pact gave momentum during ‘The Hundred Years War’, when the French realm was at its worst, after the defeat of Azincourt (1415). The French King, Charles VI, was in a perilous situation while his son, the ‘Dauphin’, had taken refuge in Bourges.

There is a popular French rhyme or ‘comptine’ entitled ‘Le carillon de Vendôme’, which is deploring the state of France at the time of the ”entil dauphin’… I don’t know the origins of the rhyme nor of its tune which the bells of the French churches and abbeys were supposed to be ringing  then, three times a day, at the hour of the Angelus :

Mes amis
Que reste-t-il
À ce Dauphin si gentil ?
Orléans, Beaugency,
Notre-Dame de Cléry,
Vendôme, Vendôme !

‘Le petit roi de Bourges’ was in desperate need to find allies and he called to his Scottish friends for help. They soon arrived with a strong military contingent led by John Stuart, Earl of Buchan, son of the Duke of Albany (Scottish Regent). A major victory was won in Baugé, the 22nd March 1421. In 1422, Charles VI died and the Dauphin succeeded him.

Aubigny-sur-Nère Auld Alliance Museum Royal Marquee © 2010 Scotiana

Charles VII was eager to reward his Scottish allies. In March 1423, John Stuart who had already been made ‘Grand Connétable de France’ and given ‘La Seigneurie de Concressault’, in Berry, was now awarded ‘La Seigneurie d’Aubigny”. But the courageous knight would never enjoy life in his land of Aubigny for while fighting on other French battlefields, he lost an eye and was made prisoner before being killed in 1429, with his brother, while defending the city of Orléans. Charles VII was deeply grieved by the loss of his friends and he ordered that they be buried in the choir of the cathedral of  Orléans. The Seigneury of Aubigny remained in the hands of the Scottish family for it passed to John Stuart’s heir.

Aubigny-sur-Nère Auld Alliance Museum scene of Charles VII coronation at Reims with Joan of Arc carrying the French flag and John Stuart's son the

With the help of their Scottish Allies the French troops, led by the charismatic Joan of Arc, finally managed to drive the English out of France and after so many bloody fights and losses, the Dauphin Charles VII was finally sacred King of France on 14 july 1429, in the cathedral of Reims. But the valorous John Stuart was no more and it is to his son that came the honour to carry the Scottish standard while the French heroin Joan of Arc held the French one.

The Auld Alliance didn’t begin and doesn’t end with this important page of history. It went on along centuries with more or less success but the friendship between the two countries never failed. Aubigny-sur-Nère, ‘lieu de mémoire’ is a good example of what can be done today not to forget our common history and to maintain close ties between our countries.

Aubigny-sur-Nère Auld Alliance Memorial stone © 2010 Scotiana

L’Auld Alliance n’a point été écrite sur un parchemin de peau de brebis
mais est gravée sur de la chair vive et de la peau d’homme,
tracée non par de l’encre mais par le sang.

(Alain Chartier XVème siècle)

The Auld Alliance was not written on a ewe skin parchment
but was engraved on the living flesh and skin of men,
traced not in ink but in blood.

Now, if you happen to go to Aubigny-sur-Nère, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to see a Scottish piper standing amidst a flowery roundabout, but stay tuned for my story does not end here. It is to be continued, this time in a very romantic castle, not far from Aubigny…

A bientôt, Mairiuna.

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