Scotland and Its War for Existence - Sarah Woodbury

Scotland and Its War for Existence

Today I have a guest post on a parallel subject to my interest in Wales:  JR Tomlin on the Scottish quest for independence.  Her book,  Freedom’s Sword, is available from Amazon or Smashwords:  Welcome!


Because I write about Scotland, I felt it would be a good idea to briefly discuss Scotland’s history, and in particular, its invasion by England, as well as the eventual loss of its independence. I won’t do so with an emphasis on academics. For that, I suggest reading the work of G. W. S. Barrow, Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh and probably the pre-eminent medievalist of the last century. In particular, I recommend reading both his Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland and his Kingship and Unity: Scotland, 1000–1306, that is if you have a deep interest in the subject.

 Otherwise, just read my rather lighter, if somewhat educated, ramblings on the topic.

Most people begin their interest in the topic with what is generally referred to as the Scottish War of Independence. More properly, it is the First Scottish War of Independence.

Many people have the impression from Mel Gibson’s un-researched and historically inaccurate movie, Braveheart, that Scotland had long been conquered by England. This is not true. In fact, it is an outright lie–as is most of “that movie”, except for the fact that William Wallace was brutally and unjustly executed in 1305.

So what did happen?

In the year 1286, Scotland had been at peace since defeating a Norwegian incursion at the Battle of Largs twenty-five years earlier. This occurred under Scotland’s strong and able King Alexander III. However, King Alexander’s untimely death from a fall while riding up a steep cliff on his way to visit his bride in 1286 left only his 4-year-old granddaughter, Margaret, as his heir.

Margaret was the daughter of the King Alexander’s daughter and King Eric II of Norway and is generally referred to as the Maid of Norway. Scotland would be ruled by Guardians of the Realm during her minority. Disastrously, the Maid of Norway died on her way to her kingdom in 1290.

There was now no clear heir to the throne of Scotland. However, there were two men with very strong claims through the female line. They were Robert the Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale, grandfather of the future King Robert the Bruce, and John Balliol, Lord of Galloway. Both families were powerful, noble and had a strong following. Scotland was on the brink of a civil war.

In order to prevent civil war, the Guardians of the Realm made a mistake. It was a mistake that would lead to untold suffering and bloodshed.

They asked Edward I of England, as ruler of a supposedly friendly realm, to arbitrate between the contenders. They believed his oath not to interfere in the affairs of Scotland after the arbitration. They thought this would avoid a war. Instead, this dreadful mistake cost decades of years of warfare. [Sarah’s note . . . after what happened in Wales, you’d think they would have known better!]

After several years of dispute, Edward I decided in the favor of John Balliol. Later Scots were convinced he did so because he believed that Balliol would be the easier to manipulate. There is no doubt he was the less capable of the two men.

There is also no doubt that once Balliol was crowned, Edward I broke every oath he had made to the Scots. He began to interfere in the affairs of Scotland, even demanding that the King of the Scots come to England to appear before an English court and demanding that major castles bordering England be given over to him, thus leaving Scotland vulnerable to invasion.

Balliol at first caved in to the English king; however, at the insistence of the Scottish nobility, he eventually refused to accede to King Edward’s demands for power over Scotland. They insisted that King John Balliol summon all able-bodied Scotsmen to arms. An English army sat on their border.

Edward I had spent his life at war, especially the terrible war of conquest of Wales and long wars in France. He was a powerful and skilled warrior-king. Now he thought to conquer Scotland.

Thus, in 1296, began a bloody war in which Scotland would lose her independence only to regain it under her own warrior-king, Robert the Bruce.

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