Edinburgh Book Festival: Thomas A. Clarke and Roger Mason; "The Impact of Flemish Immigration on Scotland", Review

Edinburgh Festival review
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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Professor Roger Mason, Thomas A. Clarke
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Although not quite as common a surname in Scotland as it once was, Flemings can still be found in telephone directories and many parts of Scotland. Like Inglis, it indicates an origin furth of the country.

Professor Roger Mason has lately researched the history of the Flemish community in Scotland in the late medieval and early modern periods. Thomas A Clark is a Borders bred and based specialist in Scots language. Each gave a distinct and distinctive contribution to our understanding of the economic, cultural and linguistic contribution of the Flemish community to the Scotland of their time.

Some clearly arrived through trade links, such as the once-thriving community based around Aberdeen, whose impact on local speech has been lasting enough for this reviewer to recall a 4.00 a.m. conversation with a quine fi Gamrie (a fishing village on the Buchan coast) then briefly in Amsterdam, announcing in complete drunken confidence that she could speak Dutch.

Professor Mason, after refreshingly announcing that he had (as yet) no book to promote, embarked on a wide-ranging discussion of the influence and impact of the Flemish community on the Scotland they came to. Many arrived in the Borders following Henry II of England’s expulsion, but their presence increased in the ways of many other immigrant groups, and like those others, imperceptibly changed their host community. Flemish practitioners influenced the art and possibly the architecture of renaissance Scotland, and there is little doubt that language was also altered.

As Thomas A. Clarke demonstrated, Flemings contributed to the growth and richness of what, by Gavin Douglas’ time, would be called ‘Scottis tongue’, an outgrowth of Northumbrian English. Mutch, golf, corbie and many other words once or still in Scots usage originated in Flanders, and even ‘dreich’ has its French Flemish equivalent in ‘la drache’. Language was not the only form of cultural expression given us by the Flemings; the flaunting of the Selkirk banner at the culmination of the town’s Common Riding clearly echoes a practice in the Low Countries in the early modern period.

On a personal note, this reviewer’s mother remembers an aunt being under deep suspicion during World War Two as a result of her address in the Angus village of Froikheim. As Clarke reminded us, there remain descendants of those Flemish immigrants as far away as Aberdeen and the Shetland Islands.

A Book Festival event not about a book, but concerned very much with an aspect of Scottish history and culture we tend to forget remains very much among us.