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Scotland Revisited

A.J.G.Cummings explores Scotland's links with Europe from 1600-1800.

Although situated in the remote north-western comer of Europe, Scotland's links with its continental neighbours have always been strong. Since the Middle Ages, merchants from the east coast ports had been trading to continental Europe and these links were to be strengthened in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were increasingly to involve the west coast ports. Scottish monarchs regularly looked to Europe for their brides. James VI married Anne of Denmark, Charles I, Henrietta Maria of France and Charles II, the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza. Education and the law also showed strong European influences. Whereas England developed her own highly individual universities and legal system, those of Scotland drew very much on continental models and for much of the period many Scots were still educated abroad. But above all, Scotland has always been noted for its export of manpower. Whether as traders, soldiers or as scholars, Scots have left their native land and often made a considerable impact on their adopted homes.

Down to 1672, overseas trade in Scotland was the monopoly of the royal burghs, holding charters of incorporation from the crown. Within these towns, this privilege was only extended to the members of the merchant guild who, as leading citizens, dominated the town councils. Ties of kinship meant they were often related to many other merchants within their own or indeed other burghs. It was through such links that Protestant ideas had infiltrated Scotland in the sixteenth century. The royal burghs for their part were represented in Parliament and in the Convention of Royal Burghs. The latter met regularly, acted as a regulator of the activities of its members and was, on occasion, consulted by the government as a sounding-post for public opinion on economic matters. Thus the merchants represented a commercial elite in Scotland with at least some voice in the running of the kingdom.

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