Scotland, Sweden, and the Universities of the United Provinces of the Netherlands

The significance and implications of Scots studying law abroad have long interested and intrigued your blogger. Of course, most attention has been devoted to study in the Northern Netherlands. The connections of Scotland and the Low Countries have recently been the subject of two excellent programmes by the broadcaster Billy Kay. The first one, “Will Ye gae tae Flanders”, explores the links between Scotland and Flanders, covering Flemings coming to Scotland, bringing skills and expertise, as well as Scots trading in wool, notably with Bruges, which, for a while, was the Scottish staple port. Flemish influenced the Scots language. As well as the obvious surname “Fleming”, many other Scottish names have a Flemish origin. They assimilated into all ranks of Scottish society; many Scots correspondingly settled in Bruges as merchants. This is also reflected in Scottish political links with the Duchy Of Burgundy, once Flanders became under the control of the Dukes. The second is a programme is entitled “The Scots Dutchmen”. This focuses on the move of the Scottish links to the Netherlands, to the north, to the United Provinces, for whose independence from the Spanish Habsburgs many Scots fought in the Eighty Years War, and indeed for whom many continued to fight in the Scots Brigade. Significant in this was the shared Calvinism of the Northern Netherlands and the Scots. The Scottish staple moved north eventually settling in Campvere. The northern Netherlands now became a major focus for Scottish trade and intellectual life, as many Scots traders settled there while many Scots students studied in the Universities of the United Provinces, notably Utrecht and Leiden. There Scottish students learned law, notably the Roman (or Civil) law central to Scots legal practice, theology, and medicine, all, of course, taught in the lingua franca of Latin. But students did not confine themselves to narrow disciplines, but law students might also study chemistry or mathematics, and all might takes classes in dancing, fencing, horse-riding, and other skills necessary for gentlemen, while visiting relatives serving in the Dutch army. Utrecht was popular, as Scots students could there mingle with the local Dutch gentry, who spoke French, a language much desired by these young gentlemen. The great reforming Principal of Edinburgh University, Carstares, spent years in exile in the United Provinces, and his reforms drew on his experience and knowledge of the Dutch universities. The liberal, late-Humanism of Dutch culture of this period had an important impact on the Scottish Enlightenment. These programmes, involving interviews with noted scholars on either side of the connecting North Sea, are currently available on the BBC, are recommended as a good introduction

Scottish study in the United Provinces tailed off, basically ceased, after 1750. But at its height it was noted as a phenomenon. Of course, Scots were not the only students to study there. People form many northern European countries studied in the Dutch Republic. A recent work on Swedish lawyers studying abroad raises many interesting issues in the mind of a Scottish scholar. It invites a detailed comparison, not possible here. This monograph is Learning Law and Travelling Europe: Study Journeys and the Developing Swedish Legal Profession, c. 1630-1800, published with Brill (ISBN 978-90-04-43165-2) in 2020 by Marianne Vasara-Aaltonen. She places the phenomenon of study abroad in the context of the developing Swedish state’s need for trained judges and trained administrators. One can point out among obvious differences that Scotland was not part of an absolutist state with similar bureaucratic requirements, while the legal histories of the two countries were in many ways very different. One can also note that the Swedish law students, like the Scots, rarely took degrees. Whereas many Scots who studied law in the Netherlands became advocates, this is not so clear for the Swedes. The peak of Swedish study in the United Provinces, was earlier than that of the Scots, possibly because the Thirty Years War made German universities, which attracted few Scots in this era, less appealing. This is a thought-provoking work, revealing the complexities of this phenomenon of foreign study. it is recommended.