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An Outline of the Relations between England and Scotland (500-1707)
Chapter III - The Scottish Policy of Edward I 1286 - 1296


When Alexander III was killed, on the 19th March, 1285-86, the relations between England and Scotland were such that Edward I was amply justified in looking forward to a permanent union. Since the ill-fated invasion of William the Lion in 1174, there had been no serious warfare between the two countries, and in recent years they had become more and more friendly in their dealings with each other. The late king had married Edward's sister, Margaret, and the child-queen was her grand-daughter; Alexander and Margaret had been present at the English King's coronation in 1274; and, in addition to these personal connections, Scotland had found England a friend in its great final struggle with the Danes. The misfortunes which had overtaken Scotland in the premature deaths[41] of Alexander and his three children might yet prove a very real blessing, if they prepared the way for the creation of a great island kingdom, which should be at once free and united. The little Margaret, the Maid of Norway, Edward's grand-niece, had been acknowledged heir to the throne of her grandfather, in February, 1283-84, and on his death her succession was admitted. The Great Council met at Scone in April, 1286, and appointed six Guardians of the Kingdom. It was no easy task which was entrusted to them, for the claim of a child and a foreigner could not but be disputed by the barons who stood nearest to the throne. The only rival who attempted to rebel was Robert Bruce of Annandale, who had been promised the succession by Alexander II, and had been disappointed of the fulfilment of his hopes by the birth of the late king in 1241. The deaths of two of the guardians added to the difficulties of the situation, and it was with something like relief that the Scots heard that Eric of Norway, the father of their queen, wished to come to an arrangement with Edward of England, in whose power he lay. The result of Eric's negotiations with Edward was that a conference met at Salisbury in 1289, and was attended, on Edward's invitation, by four Scottish representatives, who included Robert Bruce and three of the guardians. Such were the troubles of the country that the Scots willingly acceded to Edward's proposals, which gave him an interest in the government of Scotland, and they heard with delight that he contemplated the marriage of their little queen to his son Edward, then two years of age. The English king was assured of the satisfaction which such a marriage would give to Scotland, and the result was that, by the Treaty of Brigham, in 1290, the marriage was duly arranged. Edward had previously obtained the necessary dispensation from the pope.

The eagerness with which the Scots welcomed the proposal of marriage was sufficient evidence that the time had come for carrying out Edward's statesmanlike scheme, but the conditions which were annexed to it should have warned him that there were limits to the Scottish compliance with his wishes. Scotland was not in any way to be absorbed by England, although the crowns would be united in the persons of Edward and Margaret. Edward wisely made no attempt to force Scotland into any more complete union, although he could not but expect that the union of the crowns would prepare the way for a union of the kingdoms. He certainly interpreted in the widest sense the rights given him by the treaty of Brigham, but when the Scots objected to his demand that all Scottish castles should be placed in his power, he gave way without rousing further suspicion or indignation. Hitherto, his policy had been characterized by the great sagacity which he had shown in his conduct of English affairs; it is impossible to refuse either to sympathize with his ideals or to admire the tact he displayed in his negotiations with Scotland. His considerateness extended even to the little Maid of Norway, for whose benefit he victualled, with raisins and other fruit, the "large ship" which he sent to conduct her to England. But the large ship returned to England with a message from King Eric that he would not entrust his daughter to an English vessel. The patient Edward sent it back again, and it was probably in it that the child set sail in September, 1290. Some weeks later, Bishop Fraser of St. Andrews, one of the guardians, and a supporter of the English interest, wrote to Edward that he had heard a "sorrowful rumour" regarding the queen.[42] The rumour proved to be well-founded; in circumstances which are unknown to us, the poor girl-queen died on her voyage, and her death proved a fatal blow to the work on which Edward had been engaged for the last four years.

Of the thirteen[43] competitors who put forward claims to the crown, only three need be here mentioned. They were each descended from David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion and grandson of David I. The claimant who, according to the strict rules of primogeniture, had the best right was John Balliol, the grandson of Margaret, the eldest daughter of Earl David. His most formidable opponent was Robert Bruce of Annandale, the son of Earl David's second daughter, Isabella, who based his candidature on the fact that he was the grandson, whereas Balliol was the great-grandson, of the Earl of Huntingdon, through whom both the rivals claimed. The third, John Hastings, was the grandson of David's youngest daughter, Ada. Bishop Fraser, in the letter to which we have already referred, urged Edward I to interfere in favour of John Balliol, who might be employed to further English interests in Scotland. The English king thereupon decided to put forward a definite claim to be lord paramount, and, in virtue of that right, to decide the disputed succession.

Since Richard I had restored his independence to William the Lion, in1189, the question of the overlordship had lain almost entirely dormant. On John's succession, William had done homage "saving his own right", but whether the homage was for Scotland or solely for his English fiefs was not clear. His successor, Alexander II, aided Louis of France against the infant Henry III, and, after the battle of Lincoln, came to an agreement with the regent, by which he did homage to Henry III, but only for the earldom of Huntingdon and his other possessions in Henry's kingdom. After the fall of Hubert de Burgh, Henry used his influence with Pope Gregory IX, who looked upon the English king as a valuable ally in the great struggle with Frederick II, to persuade the pope to order the King of Scots to acknowledge Henry as his overlord (1234). Alexander refused to comply with the papal injunction, and the matter was not definitely settled. Henry made no attempt to enforce his claim, and merely came to an agreement with Alexander regarding the English possessions of the Scottish king (1236). During the minority of Alexander III, when Henry was, for two years, the real ruler of Scotland (1255-1257), he described himself not as lord paramount, but as chief adviser of the Scottish king. Lastly, when, in 1278, Alexander III took a solemn oath of homage to Edward at Westminster, he, according to the Scottish account of the affair, made an equally solemn avowal that to God alone was his homage due for the kingdom of Scotland, and Edward had accepted the homage thus rendered.

It is thus clear that Edward regarded the claim of the overlordship as a "trump card" to be played only in special circumstances, and these appeared now to have arisen. The death of the Maid of Norway had deprived him of his right to interfere in the affairs of Scotland, and had destroyed his hopes of a marriage alliance. It seemed to him that all hope of carrying out his Scottish policy had vanished, unless he could take advantage of the helpless condition of the country to obtain a full and final recognition of a claim which had been denied for exactly a hundred years. At first it seemed as if the scheme were to prove satisfactory. The Norman nobles who claimed the throne declared, after some hesitation, their willingness to acknowledge Edward's claim to be lord paramount, and the English king was therefore arbiter of the situation. He now obtained what he had asked in vain in the preceding year--the delivery into English hands of all Scottish strongholds (June, 1291). Edward delayed his decision till the 17th November, 1292, when, after much disputation regarding legal precedents, and many consultations with Scottish commissioners and the English Parliament, he finally adjudged the crown to John Balliol. It cannot be argued that the decision was unfair; but Edward was fortunate in finding that the candidate whose hereditary claim was strongest was also the man most fitted to occupy the position of a vassal king. The new monarch made a full and indisputable acknowledgment of his position as Edward's liege, and the great seal of the kingdom of Scotland was publicly destroyed in token of the position of vassalage in which the country now stood. Of what followed it is difficult to speak with any certainty. Balliol occupied the throne for three and a half years, and was engaged, during the whole of that period, in disputes with his superior. The details need not detain us. Edward claimed to be final judge in all Scottish cases; he summoned Balliol to his court to plead against one of the Scottish king's own vassals, and to receive instructions with regard to the raising of money for Edward's needs. It may fairly be said that Edward's treatment of Balliol does give grounds for the view of Scottish historians that the English king was determined, from the first, to goad his wretched vassal into rebellion in order to give him an opportunity of absorbing the country in his English kingdom. On the other hand, it may be argued that, if this was Edward's aim, he was singularly unfortunate in the time he chose for forcing a crisis. He was at war with Philip IV of France; Madoc was raising his Welsh rebellion; and Edward's seizure of wool had created much indignation among his own subjects. However this may be, it is certain that Balliol, rankling with a sense of injustice caused by the ignominy which Edward had heaped upon him, and rendered desperate by the complaints of his own subjects, decided, by the advice of the Great Council, to disown his allegiance to the King of England, and to enter upon an alliance with France. It is noteworthy that the policy of the French alliance, as an anti-English movement, which became the watchword of the patriotic party in Scotland, was inaugurated by John Balliol. The Scots commenced hostilities by some predatory incursions into the northern counties of England in 1295-96.

Whether or not Edward was waiting for the opportunity thus given him, he certainly took full advantage of it. Undisturbed by his numerous difficulties, he marched northwards to the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Tradition tells that he was exasperated by insults showered upon him by the inhabitants, but the story cannot go far to excuse the massacre which followed the capture of the town. After more than a century of peace, the first important act of war was marked by a brutality which was a fitting prelude to more than two centuries of fierce and bloody fighting. On Edward's policy of "Thorough," as exemplified at Berwick, must rest, to some extent, the responsibility for the unnecessary ferocity which distinguished the Scottish War of Independence. It was, from a military stand-point, a complete and immediate success; politically, it was unquestionably a failure. From Berwick-on-Tweed Edward marched to Dunbar, cheered by the formal announcement of Balliol's renunciation of his allegiance. He easily defeated the Scots at Dunbar, in April, 1296, and continued an undisturbed progress through Scotland, the castles of Dunbar, Roxburgh, Edinburgh, and Stirling falling into his hands. Balliol determined to submit, and, on the 7th July, 1296, he met Edward in the churchyard of Stracathro, near Brechin, and formally resigned his office into the hands of his overlord. Balliol was imprisoned in England for three years, but, in July, 1299, he was permitted to go to his estate of Bailleul, in Normandy, where he survived till April, 1313.

Edward now treated Scotland as a conquered country under his own immediate rule. He continued his progress, by Aberdeen, Banff, and Cullen, to Elgin, whence, in July, 1296, he marched southwards by Scone, whence he carried off the Stone of Fate, which is now part of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. He also despoiled Scotland of many of its early records, which might serve to remind his new subjects of their forfeited independence. He did not at once determine the new constitution of the country, but left it under a military occupation, with John de Warrenne, Earl of Surrey, as Governor, Hugh de Cressingham as Treasurer, and William Ormsby as Justiciar. All castles and other strong places were in English hands, and Edward regarded his conquest as assured.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 41: David, the youngest child of Alexander and Margaret of England, died in June, 1281; Alexander, his older brother, in January,1283-84; and their sister, Margaret, Queen of Norway, in April, 1283.Neither Alexander nor David left any issue, and the little daughter ofthe Queen of Norway was only about three years old when her grandfather, Alexander III, was killed.]

[Footnote 42: Nat. MSS. i. 36, No. LXX.]

[Footnote 43: Cf. Table, App. C.]


 

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