For the Love of Kilt and &#379upan: Scots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Poland and Scotland battled to a 2:2 tie in yesterday’s Euro 2016 qualifier in Warsaw. This naturally begs the question: when did the first Scots arrive in Poland? Naturally. Ok, maybe not to you, but now that you’re here, you’re about to find out!

Scots found their way to Poland as far back as 1438 when a Scottish student enrolled at the Krak&#243w Academy (the Jagiellonian University). Later, lured by economic opportunity and religious freedoms, Scottish traders settled in many towns and villages, most notably Gda&#324sk and Krak&#243w. King Stefan Batory granted Scotsmen right to free trade and also signed the Royal Grant of 1576 which assigned a district in Krak&#243w to Scottish immigrants. Half of the population of K?dainiai, a village in today’s Lithuania, was Scottish.

A “Scots Pedlar’s Pack,” which usually consisted of woolen goods and linen kerchiefs, became a well known phrase in Poland. These poorer traders developed a bit of a reputation for drunkenness, so, in other words, they fit right in.

By the 1600s, there were as many as 40,000 Scots living in the Commonwealth (although 30,000 is the more frequently given number) and by the 1640s, Scottish goods numbered about 10% of the total imports to the city of Gda&#324sk.

Many Scottish names became Polonized: MacLeod became Machlejd, MacAulay became Makali&#324ski, Cochrane became Czochran etc. Let’s not forget that Bonnie Prince Charlie was half Polish and a great-grandson of King Jan III Sobieski, you know, the guy that stopped the Turks from conquering Europe in 1683. (That’s kind of a big deal.) There are a number of villagers and districts named “Szkocja” and “Nowa Szkocja” in Poland.

Furthermore, there were a number of Scottish gentlemen named Gordon fighting at the Siege of Gda&#324skin 1577 (admittedly, on both sides). During World War II, there were a number of Polish gentlemen named Gordon who served Scotland (and this is a good moment to mention Wojtek retired in Scotland. Right, that Wojtek: the Polish soldier who also happened to be a bear. Look it up if you have to. Look up the Great Polish Map of Scotland while you’re at it, it’s pretty cool).

A number of Scots also rose to considerable positions of respect, power and influence. King Batory granted a certain John Gipson the right to retail his goods to the Royal Court. Another 8 Scots became royal courtiers to King Batory. James Kabrun (Cockburn) a wealthy Gda&#324sk merchant financed the building of a theater in the city. Robert Portius was the wealthiest man in Krosno and financed the construction of a church. Robert Gordon made his fortune from the Aberdeen-Gda&#324sk trade route and built a hospital which today is the Robert Gordon University (yes, he lived in Aberdeen but I’m including him). Scottish immigrants organized into brotherhoods and built Protestant churches (remember the religious toleration bit?) Seems they liked building things.

Moving on, James Murray was made Chief Engineer of the Polish Navy in 1620 (no Polish Navy jokes, its size might have been small, but its perseverance was great [I might have just added fule to the fire]). Another well known Scot in Poland was Alexander Chalmers (Czamer) who became a Warsaw burgher in 1673, was a leader of the Scottish immigrants, a judge and a four time mayor of Warsaw between 1691 and 1702. Finally, Jan Collison became the court painter of King Jan II Kazimierz in 1664.

Plaque on the house of Alexander Chalmers in Warsaw. Wikipedia.
Plaque on the house of Alexander Chalmers in Warsaw. Adrian Grycuk-Wikipedia.

The Scottish presence in the 17th century was so influential, Henryk Sienkiewicz, the late 19th-early 20th century novelist and a Nobel Prize laureate created the character of Hassling-Ketling of Elgin in his Trilogy (its influence on the rise of national consciousness and pride cannot be overstated). Ketling was intelligent, well-mannered and a lover of poetry. He moved to Poland and became Colonel of Artillery under Jan II Kazimierz in the 1660s. He led the defense of Kamieniec along with his best friend Micha&#322 Wo&#322odyjowski where they both sacrificed themselves by blowing themselves up in the gunpowder depot, thus fulfilling their pledge to defend the fortress to the death.

So now you have one more weapon in your arsenal for those cocktail parties.