Ally Parker-Banks, University of Glasgow
How we interpret the past greatly impacts our interpretation of the future, and how we see ourselves in the present. Memory plays a strong role in history, whether oral or written, and in our interpretation of artefacts and architecture. How we remember is just as important as what we remember, and where new memories replace the forgotten ones, this leads to new narratives and interpretations of communal and societal values. There has been extensive research on memory in archaeology and history, helping to define different forms of memory and how they can be distinguished from each other (Alcock 2001).
The idea of investigating Memory Theatres began during my masters degree, when I was inspired by Susan Alcock’s work, The Reconfiguration of memory in the Eastern Roman Empire (2001). In this article, she describes how the Romans used architecture and art to recreate the memory and identity of their empire. This led me to searching how this method was used elsewhere and inspired my masters and PhD research on the Auld Alliance.
As my previous studies centred around classical studies, I have gone in a new direction with a strong interest in the Auld Alliance, one of the oldest alliances in the world, to continue my study on Memory Theatres. My research ranges from the medieval period to present day, allowing me to test the idea that Memory Theatres can be used to sculpt societies throughout different periods of time. Memory Theatres can often be associated with acts of dominance and resistance as they are used to portray good, or erase unappealing, memories of empires and societies, to create and support new identities and ideologies. It becomes both memory and memory making in this case (Witcomb 2007).
I am currently in the first year of my PhD in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. I am hoping to take my research on Memory Theatres further by looking to build what I call ‘Digital Memory Theatres’. This will allow me to tell stories of the Auld Alliance on a digital platform, with a particular focus on the women during this time. I am greatly interested in the intertwining of the two cultures throughout the duration of the Auld Alliance, which some believe to date as far back as the 8th century AD (Gilles 2018).
The alliance provided more than armies and support during times of war against England. It also influenced trade agreements, marriages, resulting in joint nationalities. Scotland was one of the first countries to trade with France, with deliveries of approximately two million litres of Bordeaux wine per year to Scotland during the 1400s (Gilles 2018). Along with commerce and exchange of products, there was also an exchange of language (for example, the French words tirelaine becoming tartan, and hachis becoming haggis). Even the architecture of the University of St Andrews, opened in 1411, was heavily inspired by the Sorbonne in France (Gilles 2018). Moreover, the marriages were often used to secure the alliance in times of uncertainty, and create large armies during times of war. With such a rich exchange of culture, I intend to make a digital Memory Theatre that will combine each aspect, allowing me to tell the often underrepresented stories of women that kept the alliance alive.
In June 2023, I received funding through ScARF’s Early Career Research bursary, which provided me the opportunity to attend the conference and commemoration of Margaret of Scotland’s marriage to the future Louis XI in 1436, organised by l’Association de la vielle Alliance. As my research extends to more modern times, I have a particular interest in people’s association with the Auld Alliance in the present day. Attending this conference gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with people who have been researching the Auld Alliance for over 20 years. This gave me an insight into what aspects of the Auld Alliance they had been focusing on and their understanding of the roles women played in securing the Auld Alliance. I was also lucky enough to meet the president of the Archaeology Society of Touraine, who made me aware of the Auld Alliance artefacts they still hold in their warehouse. I came away from this conference inspired to continue my studies and to see how I can present something new.
Many of the people organising the conference have traced their family history back to find that they are descendants of Scottish guards who settled in France. This, among other things, sparked their interest in the Auld Alliance. One prominent topic of conversation was how the Auld Alliance is not taught in any school curriculums in France, and once you reach university level education it is summarised very briefly. The Society has a strong sense of duty to educate people on the Auld Alliance, especially in communities that live in significant places like Tours and Orleans.
During the commemoration, the Society unveiled a plaque on the grounds of the Chateau de Tours. The plaque reads:
‘Marriage of the Dauphin Louis and of Margaret of Scotland
24th and 25th June 1436
The wedding blessing took place on the 25th of June 1436 in the chapel of the Chateau of Tours of the future Louis XI and of Margaret of Scotland, given by the Archbishop of Reims Regnault of Chartres, in the presence of the King Charles VII and the Queen Marie of Anjou and the high dignitary of the Kingdom of Scotland, of which William Sinclair, Admiral of Scotland, and John of Crannach, Bishop of Brechin.
Plaque inaugurated by the city of Tours, the association of the Auld Alliance, and the Society of Archaeology of Touraine, the 24th of June 2023.’Translation by Ally Parker-Banks
Attending this conference and commemoration has given me the chance to network and communicate with people sharing a similar interests to me in the early stages of my research as I seek to refine my focus. I was able to identify how people remember the Auld Alliance in present day and how certain societies and communities recognise its importance. I also identified gaps in the research conducted around the Auld Alliance, mainly the stories of the women, which has helped me steer my research in the correct direction. Furthermore, I found a supportive group of people that are equally interested in my research and the digital aspect my work will bring to the subject.
Alcock, S E 2001 ‘The Reconfiguration of memory in the Eastern Roman Empire’, in Alcock, S E, D’Altroy, T N, Morrison, K D and Sinopoli, C M (eds), Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 323–340.
Gilles, P 2018 Quand le Chardon d’Écosse sauva les Lys de France (1419-1429), France: Au loup éditions.
Witcomb, A 2007 ‘The Materiality of Virtual Technologies: A New Approach to Thinking about the Impact of Multimedia in Museums’, in Cameron, F and Kenderdine, S (eds), Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse. Massachusetts: MIT Press.