Veere is a miniature town with an amazing story behind it: situated in Zeeland, on the former island of Walcheren, it was for several hundred years the main Dutch port for trade with Scotland! Besides a charming small harbor, it hosts a number of beautiful medieval monuments and offers the perfect retreat for a quiet week-end.
In 1444 Wolfert VI of Borselen, Lord of Veere found a very favorable match: he married Mary Stuart, the daughter of the Scottish king James I. The marriage would mark the start of a privileged relationship between the small Dutch town and Scotland, that would continue eventually for more than 350 years. Veere would become in the following decades the staple port for Dutch and Flemish trade with Scotland. That meant that any Scottish ship that wanted to trade with the Low Countries had to bring its goods first for sale in Veere. Only if it found no customers there, it was allowed to move further to other towns. Scottish wool was the most important raw material for the Flemish cloth industry, so the arrangement was very profitable for the town’s economy.
Other goods imported were coal, hides, whisky, flax, grain and fish. In exchange, more refined goods like cloth, wines and spirits, brassware, tiles and leather were exported to Scotland. Scottish court chronicles mention even a ‘very good, tame lion’, which was sent to the king as a gift from the people of Veere.
The Scottish traders received several privileges. Their ships were given priority in the harbor, and enjoyed special taxes. The merchants were allowed to use their own legal system. They were governed by their own Lord Conservator, whose residence was at the House of the Scottish nation. The “Scottish Houses” built in this period incorporated offices and warehouses, but also a hotel and tavern, which apparently sold tax-free beer!
The special relationship developed well, and by 1600 a tenth of Veere’s population was Scottish. In 1612 the community was given the right to establish a chapel with a graveyard: it was the first Scottish Kirk established on foreign soil. Basically, a small island of Scottish culture developed in the Netherlands, and prospered here for a few hundred years. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Veere was a prosperous trading city, with about 750 houses inside the city walls, compared to about 300 in 2013.
The Napoleonic period brought all this to an end. Due to almost constant war with England and the Continental blockade system imposed by the French emperor, Scottish trade stopped. All persons under the former jurisdiction of the Scottish Court had to leave the Netherlands. After the expulsions,Veere lost a big part of its population and remained for the next 200 years a sleepy provincial town.
What’s left of this special connection today? First, the two Scottish houses, beautiful examples of late Medieval architecture. Then an impressive town hall and a church, witnesses of the Veere’s former prosperity, as well as a nice small harbor, with strong fortifications. And finally, the Scotland- Veere Association, which tries to organize regularly cultural events and exhibitions about the town’s history. Veere is one of the prettiest towns I have seen in Holland, and it is definitely worth a trip. Easy access to Zeeland’s beaches and other tourist spots (Middelburg or Zierikzee for example) make it even more attractive as a destination. The local community invested a lot in tourism in recent years, and will be more than glad to welcome you.