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Jehanne d’Arc et sa Garde écossaise. Painting by John Duncan Scottish symbolist painter (Commons Wikimedia)


The Auld Alliance and the Scots Guard

A colleague suggested that John Neilson, who was born in Scotland, may have been influenced by the long friendship that has united Scotland and France. The Auld Alliance dates back to 1295. That year, Scotland and France joined forces in an effort to curb England’s numerous invasions. Moreover, in 1418, Valois Charles VII of France appointed a Scots Guard who would be bodygards to the King of France. “They were assimilated in the Maison du Roi,” the King’s immediate entourage (See Garde écossaise, Wikipedia). In fact, several members of the Scots Guard settled in France permanently. The Auld Alliance was replaced by an Anglo-French alliance under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, 1560.

Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orléans by Jules Eugène Lenepveu, painted 1886–1890 (Wikipedia)

The Garde écossaise is remembered for its role in the Hundred Years’ War. It was appointed by Charles VII, who may not have been crowned had Jeanne d’Arc not heard voices and followed their call. The Siege of Orléans had lasted six months and the English and their French allies appeared to be defeating France. The siege collapsed nine days after Joan’s arrival. The image inserted at the top of this post, a painting by John Duncan, shows Jeanne d’Arc and her garde écossaise. She has the support of angelic Scottish guards which suggests a somewhat supernatural victory.

The Auld Alliance may have exerted a very real influence on the mind-set of Scots who explored Canada guided by Amerindians and voyageurs. Scots also engaged in the fur trade. As for Mr Neilson, a Scot, he promoted an amicable blend of the French and English “races” in Canada: nation building. When Mr Neilson met Alexis de Tocqueville, he spoke French. He had said to his mother that by marrying Marie-Ursule he wanted to help eradicate the “baneful prejudices” that separated the French and the British. As early as 1822, a Union Bill was proposed in the hope that the French in Canada would be assimilated. (See John Neilson, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

Louis-Joseph Papineau and Mr Neilson were sent to England as delegates. They presented a petition against a proposed Union Bill (see John Neilson). The Union Bill was introduced in 1822 in the hope that Union would lead to the assimilation of French-speaking Canadians. The French, in Canada wanted to retain their cultural identity. They were, as John Neilson and Robert Baldwin saw them: a nation.

However, he could see “baneful prejudices.” One shares John A Macdonald‘s vision of a country that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, but he was not as kind un Anglais as John Neilson. We will meet un bon Anglais in Philippe Aubert de Gaspé’s Les Anciens Canadiens, an historical novel (1863). Scottish Archibald Cameron of Locheill, called Arché, is a bon Anglais. As the main architect of Canadian Confederation, John A Macdonald, a Scot, furthered colonisation in his relationship with both Amerindians and French-speaking Canadians. As we know, Quebec would be the only province where the languages of instruction would be French or English.

The two Canadas were united following Lord Durham‘s Report on the Rebellions of 1837-1838. However, assimilation did not occur. Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine‘s effort led to a bilingual and bicultural Canada which was granted a responsible government in 1848. Theirs was the Great Ministry. In fact, it is somewhat difficult for me to understand that, as the main architect of Canadian Confederation, John A Macdonald furthered colonisation in his relationship with both Amerindians and French-speaking Canadians. It was a throwback. As John Neilson told his mother, there were “baneful prejudices” (des préjugés funestes).

La Princesse de Clèves remembered

Ironically, the Auld Alliance and the Scots Guards take us back to Madame de La Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves. Henri II, King of France, was accidentally but fatally wounded by one of his Scottish guards, Gabriel 1er de Montgommery. They were jousting. Henri II forgave Gabriel de Montgommery, or Gabriel de Lorges. However, Catherine de’ Medici would not be so kind. He was captured as a protestant leader, and Catherine watched from a window as he was tortured and decapitated.

After Henri II’s death, François II, who had married Marie Stuart, was King of France and, as Marie Stuart’s husband, he was also King consort of Scotland. An emissary signed the Treaty of Edinburgh (1560), an Anglo-French alliance. However, Francis II died of an ear infection in December 1560. He had reigned for a mere fifteen months. Marie Stuart returned to Scotland, but she was a Catholic in a country where citizens were converting to Protestantism. As Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie Stuart was beheaded.

As for Canada, Quebec folklore has Celtic roots and many French-speaking Canadians have Celtic ancestry. However, New France was conquered. We are, therefore, looking at different dynamics. John Neilson was an exceptional Canadian.


“In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship.”
Charles de Gaulle, 1942 in Auld Alliance


Alexis de Tocqueville and John Neilson: a Conversation, 27 August 1831
(13 May 2021)
Alexis de Tocqueville on Lower Canada (17 Janvier 2018)
Canadiana.1 (page)

Sources and Resources

John Neilson (Dictionary of Canadian Biography)
Document2 (ameriquefrancaise.org)
Upper Canada – Library and Archives Canada (bac-lac.gc.ca)
Denis Monière, Le Développement des idéologies au Québec (Éditions Québec/Amérique, 1977), Chapître III.
The Union Bill of 1822
House of Stuart, Wikipedia


Love to everyone 💕

I apologize for a long absence.

Capitaine des Gardes du Corps du Roi, (1820) (Wikimedia Commons)

© Micheline Walker
20 May 2021