Feature

Jul 2004

1000 years old and still fresh as a tulip

Historical alliances

It's said that the first people from the Low Countries to settle in Scotland came in the wake of Mathilda's marriage to the Scottish king, David I, during the Dark Ages. Craftsmen and tradesmen followed courtiers and in later centuries a brisk trade grew up between our two nations: Scotland's primary goods (wool, hides, salmon and then coal) in exchange for the luxuries obtainable in the Netherlands, one of the major hubs of European trade.

By 1600, trading colonies had grown up on either side of the well-travelled shipping routes: the Dutch settling along the eastern seaboard of Scotland; the Scots congregating first in Campvere – where they were allowed to land their goods duty free and run their own affairs – and then Rotterdam, where Scottish and Dutch Calvinism coexisted comfortably. Besides the thousands of local descendants with Scots ancestry, both ports still show signs of these early alliances. Now a museum, 'The Scots House' in Vere was the only place outside Scotland where Scots Law was practised. In Rotterdam, meanwhile, the doors of The Scots International Church have remained wide open ever since 1643.

When they weren't trading with each other, the Scots and Dutch were taking up arms together against a common enemy – whoever that might be. Over 300 years ago, Scots mercenaries joined William of Orange in an invasion of Great Britain. 60 years ago, thousands of Scots were involved in the liberation of Holland. And only this June, the Dutch Navy were exercising in Scottish waters during NATO manoeuvres.

Exchange of ideas

The two countries traded in ideas as well as goods during these formative years. Scottish students in search of a professional education in Law or Medicine made a beeline for Leiden near Rotterdam. Among the most noteworthy was Sir Robert Sibbald, the first Professor of Physics at Edinburgh University. Returning from Leiden, he went on to create Edinburgh's Botanical Garden, based on a Dutch model. Years later, Edinburgh's world famous Medical Faculty was founded and staffed exclusively by Leiden graduates. Even Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary was based on a Leiden hospital and, in the world of finance, The Bank of Scotland followed the eminent example set by The Bank of Amsterdam.

The trade in ideas was two-way. Within the realm of philosophy, in particular, Scots made a major contribution. William MacDowell helped to found the University of Groningen in 1614, and no fewer than five Scots taught the subject at Leiden during the seventeenth century. It's a transfer of knowledge that has continued to this day. Professor Richard Morris, a leading neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh, recently led a series of lectures, scientific presentations and discussions in Amsterdam as part of a Dutch British bilateral initiative on Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Over at the University of Glasgow's Department of Computer Science, meanwhile, Dutch Professor Keith van Rijsbergen is advancing the study of information retrieval with his current project, Terrier. Turn to complementary medicine and Dutch-born but Scottish resident Jan de Vries has established himself as Britain's most famous alternative health practitioner boasting no fewer than ten clinics, including those in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Troon and London.

Business partners

Given all our historical links and the many synergies between our two economies (Scotland and The Netherlands both have a strong banking, fund management and insurance base), it's perhaps not surprising that we share so much in the way of commercial success. Many high flyers – from telecommunications and oil industry specialists to purchasing service providers – have a foot in both camps.

It's all Double-Dutch . . .

. . . isn't a term you'd ever expect a Scot to say. Why? Because over the years, our nations have been happy to loan each other words and share expressions. Etymology has it, for instance, that the Scots word 'keek' – which means 'to glance, look furtively or peep' – is derived from a similar word in Middle Dutch. Similarly, the word 'crack' or 'craic', usually taken to be Lowland Scots – meaning 'fun company' – comes from the Dutch 'kraaken'.

Talking of good company, the Netherlands offers plenty of opportunities for Scots and those with an interest in Scotland to get together to celebrate. Among the organisations keeping the Saltire flying with St Andrew's Day festivities, Burns' Nights and ceilidhs are the St Andrew's Society of The Netherlands and Scots Heritage. And don't miss the Dutch Highland Games – or Lowland Games – as they're better known!

The Scots International Church

St Andrew's Society of The Netherlands