How the French and the Scots Became Friends
Years passed on and many kings ruled in Scotland. They were years of war and bloodshed, for the country was still divided into different kingdoms, and besides the Picts and Scots and Britons, there were Saxons, who, although they could not succeed in conquering Scotland as they had conquered England, had settled in the part south of the Forth. Sometimes the Picts and Scots fought against each other; sometimes they joined and fought against the Britons; or again they would join with the Britons and fight against the Saxons. But always and always the story is of war.
At last there arose a good and wise king called Achaius. He tried to rule well and bring peace to his land.
In the time of Achaius the greatest ruler in Europe was Charlemagne, King of France and Roman Emperor. He was very powerful, but even he dreaded the wild Saxons, for they invaded France as they invaded Briton, and did many wicked and cruel deeds.
When Charlemagne heard how the Picts and the Scots resisted the Saxons and remained free, he resolved to make a league with them against their common enemy. He wanted too, to make his people love learning, and in all the world he could hear of no people so learned as the Scots. He resolved therefore to send to them and ask them to come to teach his people. So he called some of his greatest nobles and sent them with a message to Achaius, King of Scots.
These nobles stepped into a beautiful ship with purple sails and gilded prow and sailed away to Scotland. As soon as they landed they were led to the court of King Achaius, who greeted them kindly and treated them with great honour.
"Noble King," said the messengers, bowing low before Achaius, "our master, the most Christian Prince Charlemagne, sends you greeting. The fame of your good name and of the love you bear to the Christian faith has come to him. He has heard too of the learning and the bravery of your people, and of how they have resisted the heathen Saxons who have invaded Britain and done many evil and cruel deeds there. Our noble King desires therefore to be in fellowship with you and with your people, so that Scotsmen shall help Frenchmen and Frenchmen shall help Scotsmen. To this end let it be sworn between us that whenever the Saxons come with an army to France the Scots shall invade England. And if the Saxons come with an army to Scotland then the French shall take their ships and invade England."
When the messengers had made this long speech they again bowed low and waited for King Achaius to answer.
"I thank your noble King for the love he shows towards me," he replied, "and when I have taken counsel with my lords and nobles you shall have my answer to carry back to him."
Then the messengers were led to splendid rooms in the King's palace. Everything was done to please and amuse them. There were great banquets and hunting parties in which some of the nobles took part, but the greatest and wisest gathered round the King to give advice.
Long they talked, for the lords and nobles could not agree. "Why should we make friends with a people from over the sea?" said one noble. "Would it not be far more sensible to make friends with the Saxons who live in the same island as we do?"
"No," said another, "we can never be sure of the Saxons, they are full of falseness and treason. What misery and trouble have fallen upon the Britons through the deceit of the Saxons. Do not mistake, they do not wish to be our friends. They have conquered Britain, they also desire to conquer our land. Therefore if we intend to avoid the hatred of our most fearful enemies; if we intend to honour the faith of Christ for whose defence the French now bear arms; if we have more respect for truth than falsehood; if we labour for the fame and honour of our nation; if we will defend our country and bring it to peace; if we will defend our liberty and our lives, which are most dear to man, let us join with France, and let this bond be a defence to our country in all times to come.
Then all the lords and nobles shouted, "It is well said. Let it be done."
King Achaius then sent to the messengers, commanding them to come to court the next day to hear his answer. That night there was great feasting and rejoicing in the palace, and next day the King in his royal robes, surrounded by his nobles, waited to receive the messengers of the French King.
"My lords," said the King, "I desire you to take to your master, the most Christian King Charlemagne, my greeting and thanks. Say to him that my people and I desire above all things to enter into a bond with him, which shall last for all time, and be for ever a joy to both nations. To make the bond more sure, I send back with you my own brother, who is a true and trusty knight, and with him shall go a company of soldiers and four wise men. The soldiers shall fight for the Emperor whenever he goes against the enemy, and the wise men shall teach his people."
Then the messengers rejoiced greatly, and thanking the King they departed to their own land. The Scottish soldiers who went with them formed the beginning of a French Scots guard which afterwards became famous, and the four wise men founded schools and colleges in France, and so added honour to the name of Scotsman.
King Achaius had taken for his standard a red lion rampant (that is, standing upon his hind legs) upon a yellow ground. Now, in order that the nobles might never forget his bond with France, he surrounded the red lion with a double row of fleurs-de-lis, the emblem of France. This was meant to show that the fierce lion of Scotland was armed with the gentleness of the lilies of France, and that the two peoples were friends for ever.
Wise people say that the story of Achaius and Charlemagne can only be a fairy tale, for that at the time when Charlemagne ruled, the people of Scotland were still a poor, half-savage, ignorant people, and that a great king like Charlemagne could have learned nothing from them, and that he would not have wished to make a bond with them.
However that may be, you will find as this story goes on that the French and the Scots were friends through many ages, and if you look at the Scottish Standard you will see that the lion is surrounded by the lilies of France.
It is said that King Achaius founded the Order of the Knights of the Thistle. This is the great order of knighthood in Scotland, just as the order of the Garter is the great order of England.
When King Achaius founded the Order of the Thistle, he made only thirteen knights—himself and twelve others. This was in imitation of Christ and his twelve apostles. So it was considered a very great honour to be made a Knight of the Thistle. There were never more than thirteen Knights of the Thistle until hundreds of years later, when King George iv. made a law that there should be more.
The ornament worn by the Knights of the Thistle is a picture of St. Andrew with his cross surrounded by thistles and rue. The thistle was the badge of the Scots. Rue was the badge of the Picts. Thistles prick and hurt you if you do not touch them carefully; rue soothes and heals, and was supposed to cure people who had been poisoned.
Some people say, however, that this Order was not founded in the time of King Achaius but in the time of King James v. , a King who lived many, many years later.