world we live in today: of finance, capital flows, international
trade, economic unpredictability and scientific advance, was created
in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries with the expansion of European
trade. In Scotland, it wasn't facilitated simply through the efforts
of royal courts or clergy, but largely through the enterprise and
labour of ordinary Scots. For the most part those people have left
little trace in the historical records but their legacy lies all
Over 600 years
ago, Scotland lay at the edge of a developing European economy,
and life on the edge made many Scots enthusiastic traders and travellers
in search of the opportunities for a better life. The entry port
to Europe for many of them was Bruges in Flanders, now in modern
Belgium. From there they flowed onto the continent to trade goods,
find a job or take up the opportunities of warfare and university
To buy expensive luxuries the Scots exported a commodity they had
in abundance: wool. The centre of the medieval wool trade was Bruges,
where raw wool was woven into fine cloth and luxurious tapestries.
From across Europe merchants came to buy Flemish cloth and knew
to ask for Melrose wool by name.
In the 15th century, Bruges was the Scottish staple port. Staple
status gave Bruges a monopoly in the Scots trade of certain products
in return for privileges being extended to Scottish merchants. This
connection was of tremendous importance. Initially wool was the
Scots primary export, with the livelihoods of thousands of
shepherds, lairds and landowners dependent on the market in Bruges.
Later in the 16th century the wool trade declined and the Scots
exported other raw materials such as coal, salt, malt, hides, skins,
tallow and salmon. Then, as the harbour at Bruges silted up, the
focus of Scots trade moved north to the Dutch ports of Middleburg
and Veere, with Veere gaining staple status in 1541.
This European lifeline wasnt restricted to the staple ports
of the Low Countries. Scots merchant communities were established
across Northern Europe in Bordeaux and Dieppe in France, Bergen
in Norway, Mälmo in Sweden, Elsinore and Copenhagen in Denmark,
into the Baltic Sea at Danzig, and even as far afield as Russia.
Where ever they
went the Scots stuck together and established their own trading
networks, as well as their own Kirks, often with altars dedicated
to St Ninian (the first Scottish Saint).
17th century, Poland was described as Scotlands America.
Contemporaries estimated that 15,000-40,000 Scots were settled in
Poland mainly as merchants, peddlers and craftsmen. This mass migration
is largely forgotten in modern Scotland, though is remembered still
in Poland. The names of the descendants of Scots immigrants are
still to be found in Polish phone books, such as Ramzy from Ramsay,
or Czarmas from Chalmers. Danzig still has many Scottish street
names and villages in the hinterland are named after the Scots -
Dzkocja, Skotna Góra, Szotniki or Szoty.
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