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Significant Scots
John Baliol, King of Scotland


BALIOL, JOHN, king of Scotland, was the son of John de Baliol, of Bernard’s Castle in the county of Durham, a man of great opulence, being possessed of thirty knights’ fees, (equal to 12,000 of modern money,) and who was a steady adherent of Henry III., in all his civil wars. The mother of Baliol was Devorgilla, one of the three daughters and co-heiresses of Allan, Lord of Galloway, by Margaret, eldest daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of Malcolm IV. and William the Lion, kings of Scotland. The first of the English family of Baliol was a Norman noble, proprietor of the manors of Baliol, Harcourt, Dampat, and Horne in France, and who, coming over with the Conqueror, left a son, Guy, whom William Rufus appointed to be Lord of the forest of Teesdale and Marwood, giving him at the same time the lands of Middleton and Guiseford in Northumberland. Guy was the father of Bernard, who built the strong castle on the Tees, called from him Bernard’s Castle. Eustace, son of this noble, was the father of Hugh, who was the father of John de Baliol, [John de Baliol has distinguished himself in English literary history, by founding one of the colleges of Oxford, which still bears his name. As this institution is connected in more ways than one with Scotland, the following account of its foundation, from Chalmers’ History of Oxford, may be read with interest. "The wealth and political consequence of John de Baliol were dignified by a love of learning, and a benevolence of disposition, which, about the year 1263 (or 1268, as Wood thinks,) induced him to maintain certain poor scholars of Oxford, in number sixteen, by exhibitions, perhaps with a view to some more permanent establishment, when he should have leisure to mature a plan for that purpose. On his death, in 1269, which appears from this circumstance to have been sudden, he could only recommend the objects of his bounty to his lady and his executors, but left no written deed or authority: and as what he had formerly given was from his personal estate, now in other hands, the farther care of his scholars would in all probability have ceased, had not his lady been persuaded to fulfil his Intention in the most honourable manner, by taking upon herself the future maintenance of them. * * * * The first step which the Lady Devorgilla took, in providing for the scholars, was to have a house in Horsemonger Lane, afterwards called Canditch (from Candida Fossa) in St Mary Magdalene’s parish, and on the site where the present college stands; and being supported in his design by her husband’s executors, continued the provision which he allotted. In 1282, she gave them statutes under her seal, and appointed Hugh de Hartipoll and William de Menyle as procurators or governors of her scholars. * * * * In 1284, the Lady Devorgilla purchased a tenement of a citizen of Oxford, called Mary’s Hall, as a perpetual settlement for the principal and scholars of the House of Baliol. This edifice, after receiving suitable repairs and additions, was called New Baliol Hall, and their former residence then began to receive the name of Old Baliol Hall. The same year, she made over certain lands in the county of Northumberland, the greater part of which was afterwards lost. The foundation, however, was about this time confirmed by Oliver, bishop of Lincoln, and by the son of the founder, who was afterwards king of Scotland, and whose Consent in this matter seems to entitle him to the veneration of the society. * * * * The revenues of the college were at first small, yielding only eight-pence per week to each scholar, or twenty-seven pounds nine shillings and fourpence for the whole per annum, which was soon found insufficient. A number of benefactors, however, promoted the purposes of the founder, by enriching the establishment with gifts of land, money, and church livings."

Mr Chalmers also mentions, that in 1340 a new set of statutes for the college, received, amongst other confirmatory seals, that of "Edward Baliol, king of Scotland, namely, the grandson of the founder. The seal attached by Devorgilla to the original statutes contains a portrait of her. She died in 1289.] the father of the king of Scotland.

The circumstances which led to the appearance of John Baliol in Scottish history, may be thus briefly narrated. By the death of Alexander the third, the crown of Scotland devolved on the Maiden of Norway, Margaret, the only child of Alexander’s daughter, late Queen of Norway. As she was only three years of age, and residing in foreign parts, the convention of estates made choice of six noblemen to be regents of the kingdom during her absence or minority; but dissensions soon arising among them, Eric, king of Norway, interposed, and sent plenipotentiaries to treat with Edward king of England, concerning the affairs of the infant Queen and her kingdom. Edward had already formed a scheme for uniting England and Scotland, by the marriage of his eldest son with Margaret, and, accordingly, after holding conferences at Salisbury, he sent an embassy to the parliament of Scotland, on the 18th of July, 1290, with full powers to treat of this projected alliance. The views of Edward were cheerfully met by the parliament of Scotland: a treaty was drawn out honourable to both parties, in which—to guard against any danger that might arise from so strict an alliance with such a powerful and ambitious neighbour—the freedom and independency of Scotland were fully acknowledged and secured; and commissioners were despatched to Norway to conduct the young Queen into her dominions. But this fair hope of lasting peace and union was at once overthrown by the death of the princess on her passage to Britain; and the crown of Scotland became a bone of contention between various competitors, the chief of whom were, John Baliol, lord of Galloway, Robert Bruce, lord of Annandale, and John Hastings, lord of Abergavenny. In order to understand the grounds of their several claims, it will be necessary to trace briefly their genealogy.

On the death of the Maiden of Norway, Alexander’s grandchild, the crown of Scotland devolved upon the posterity of David, earl of Huntington, younger brother, as already mentioned, of the kings Malcolm and William. David left three daughters, Margaret, Isabella, and Ada. Margaret, the eldest daughter, married Allan, lord of Galloway, by whom she had an only daughter, Devorgilla, married to John Baliol, by whom she had John Baliol, the subject of this article, who, therefore, was great-grandson to David Earl of Huntington, by his oldest daughter. Isabella, the second daughter of David, married Robert Bruce, by whom she had Robert Bruce, the competitor—who, therefore, was grandson to the Earl of Huntington, by his second daughter. Ada, youngest daughter of David, married John Hastings, by whom she had John Hastings—who, therefore, was grandson to David, by his third daughter. Hastings could have no claim to the crown, while the posterity of David’s elder daughters were in being; but he insisted that the kingdom should be divided into three parts, and that he should inherit one of them. As, however, the kingdom was declared indivisible, his pretensions were excluded, and the difficulty of the question lay between the two great competitors Baliol and Bruce,—whether the more remote by one degree, descended from the eldest daughter, or the nearer by one degree, descended from the second daughter, had the better title?

The divided state of the national mind as to the succession presented a favourable opportunity to the ambitious monarch of England for executing a design which he had long cherished against the independence of Scotland, by renewing the unfounded claim of the feudal superiority of England over it. It has been generally supposed, that he was chosen arbitrator by the regents and States of Scotland in the competition for the crown, but it appears that his interference was solicited by a few only of the Scottish nobles who were in his own interest. Assuming this however as the call of the nation and collecting an army to support his iniquitous pretensions, he requested the nobility and clergy of Scotland and the competitors for the crown to meet him at Norham within the English territories. There, after many professions of good willand affection to Scotland, he claimed a right of Lord Paramount over it and required that this right should be immediately recognized. The Scots were struck with amazement at this unexpected demand, but feeling themselves entirely in his power could only request time for the consideration of his claim. Another meeting was fixed upon; and during the interval, he employed every method to strengthen his party in Scotland, and by threats and promises to bring as many as possible to acknowledge his superiority. His purpose was greatly forwarded by the mutual distrusts and jealousies that existed among the Scots, and by the time-serving ambition of the competitors, who were now multiplied to the number of thirteen—some, probably, stirred up to perplex the question, and others, perhaps, prompted by vanity. On the day appointed (2d June, 129l) in a plain opposite to the castle of Norham, the superiority of the crown of England over the crown of Scotland was fully acknowledged by all the competitors for the latter, as well as by many barons and prelates; and thus Edward gained the object on which his heart had been long set, by conduct disgraceful to himself as it was to those who had the government and guardianship of Scotland in keeping. All the royal castles and places of strength in the country were put into his hands, under the security that he should make full restitution in two months from the date of his award, and with the ostensible reason that he might have a kingdom to bestow on the person to whom it should be adjudged. Having thus obtained his wish, he proceeded to take some steps towards determining the claim of the competitors. Commissioners were appointed to meet at Berwick; and after various deliberations, the crown was finally adjudged to John Baliol, on the 19th of November, 1292, and next day Baliol swore fealty to Edward at Norham.

Baliol was crowned at Scone shortly after; but, that he might not forget his dependancy, Edward recalled him into England, immediately after his coronation, and made him renew his homage and fealty at Newcastle. He was soon loaded with fresh indignities. In the course of a year he received no fewer than six citations to appear before Edward in the English parliament, to answer private and unimportant complaints which were preferred against him by his subjects. Although led by an insidious policy, and his own ambition, into the most humiliating concessions, Baliol seems not to have been destitute of spirit, or to have received without resentment the indignities laid upon him. In one of the causes before the parliament of England, being asked for his defence— "I am king of Scotland," he said, "I dare not make answer here without the advice of my people." "What means this refusal," said Edward, "you are my liegeman; you have done homage to me; you are here in consequence of my summons!" Baliol replied with firmness, "In matters which respect my kingdom, I neither dare nor shall answer in this place, without the advice of my people." Edward requested that he would ask a delay for the consideration of the question; but Baliol, perceiving that his so doing would be construed into an acknowledgment of the jurisdiction of the English parliament, refused.

In the meantime, a war breaking out between France and England, Baliol seized upon it as a favourable opportunity for slinking off a yoke that had become intolerable. He negotiated a treaty with Philip, the French king, on the 23d October, 1295, by which it was agreed to assist one another against their common enemy the king of England, and not to conclude any separate peace. At the same time, Baliol solemnly renounced his allegiance to Edward, and received from the Pope an absolution from the oaths of fealty which he had sworn. The grounds of his renunciation were these—That Edward had wantonly and upon slight suggestions summoned him to his courts;—that he had seized his English estates, his goods, and the goods of his subjects;—that he had forcibly carried off and still retained certain natives of Scotland;—and that, when remonstrances were made, instead of redressing, he had continually aggravated these injuries. Edward is said to have received Baliol’s renunciation with more contempt than anger. "The foolish traitor," he exclaimed, "since he will not come to us, we will go to him." He accordingly raised a large army; and, sending his brother into France, resolved himself, in person, to make a total conquest of Scotland.

While Edward advanced towards Berwick, a small army of Scots broke into Northumberland and Cumberland, and plundered the country. The castle of Werk was taken; and a thousand men, whom Edward sent to preserve it, falling into an ambush, were slain. An English squadron, also, which blocked up Berwick by sea, was defeated, and sixteen of their ships sunk. But these partial successes were followed by fatal losses. The king of England was a brave and skilful general; he conducted a powerful army against a weak and dispirited nation, headed by an unpopular prince, and distracted by party animosities. His eventual success was, therefore, as complete as might have been anticipated. He crossed the Tweed at Coldstream, took Berwick, and put all the garrison and inhabitants to the sword. The castle of Roxburgh was delivered into his hands; and he hastened Warenne Earl of Surrey forward to besiege Dunbar. Warenne was there met by the Scots army, who, abandoning the advantage of their situation, poured down tumultuously on the English, and were repulsed with terrible slaughter. After this defeat, the castles of Dunbar, Edinburgh, and Stirling, fell into Edward’s hands, and he was soon in possession of the whole of the south of Scotland.

Baliol, who had retired beyond the river Tay, with the shattered remains of his army, despairing of making any effectual resistance, sent messengers to implore the mercy of Edward. The haughty Plantagenet communicated the hard terms upon which alone he might hope for what he asked; namely, an unqualified acknowledgment of his "unjust and wicked rebellion," and an unconditional surrender of himself and his kingdom into the hands of his master. Baliol, whose life presents a strange variety of magnanimous efforts and humiliating self-abasements, consented to these conditions; and the ceremony of his degradation accordingly took place, July 2, 1296, in the church-yard of Stracathro, a village near Montrose. Led by force and in fear of his life, into the presence of the Bishop of Durham and the English nobles, mounted on a sorry horse, he was first commanded to dismount; and his treason being proclaimed, they proceeded to strip him of his royal ornaments. The crown was snatched from his head; the ermine torn from his mantle, the sceptre wrested from his hand, and every thing removed from him belonging to the state and dignity of a king. Dressed only in his shirt and drawers, and holding a white rod in his hand, after the fashion of penitents, he confessed that, by evil and false counsel, and through his own simplicity, he had grievously offended his liege lord, recapitulated all the late transactions, and acknowledged himself to be deservedly deprived of his kingdom. He then absolved his people from their allegiance, and signed a deed resigning his sovereignty over them into the hands of king Edward, giving his eldest son as a hostage for his fidelity.

The acknowledgment of an English paramountcy has at all times been so disagreeable to the Scottish people, and the circumstances of this renunciation of the kingdom are so extremely humiliating to national pride, that John Baliol has been ever since held in hatred and contempt, and is scarcely allowed a place in the ordinary rolls of the Scottish monarchs. It must be said, however, in his defence, that his first acknowledgment of the paramountcy was no more than what his rival Bruce and the greater part of the nobles of the kingdom were also guilty of; while he is certainly entitled to some credit for his efforts to shake off the yoke, however inadequate his means were for doing so, or whatever ill fortune he experienced in the attempt. In his deposition, notwithstanding some equivocal circumstances in his subsequent history, he must be looked upon as only the victim of an overwhelming force.

The history of John Baliol after his deposition is not in general treated with much minuteness by the Scottish historians, all of whom seem to have wished to close their eyes as much as possible to the whole affair of the resignation, and endeavoured to forget that the principal personage concerned in it had ever been king of Scotland. This history, however, is curious. The discrowned monarch and his son were immediately transmitted, along with the stone of Scone, the records of the kingdom, and all other memorials of the national independence to London, where the two unfortunate princes were committed to a kind of honourable captivity in the Tower. Though the country was reduced by the English army, several insurrections which broke out in the subsequent year showed that the hearts of the people were as yet unsubdued. These insurgents invariably, rose in the name of the deposed king John, and avowed a resolution to submit to no other authority. It is also worth remarking, as a circumstance favourable to the claims and character of Baliol, that he was still acknowledged by the Pope, the King of France, and other continental princes. When Wallace rose to unite all the discontented spirits of the kingdom in one grand effort against the English yoke, he avowed himself as only the governor of the kingdom in name of King John, and there is a charter still extant, to which the hero appended the seal of Baliol, which seems, by some chance, to have fallen into his hands. The illustrious knight of Elderslie, throughout the whole of his career, acknowledged no other sovereign than Baliol; and, what is perhaps more remarkable, the father of Robert Bruce, who had formerly asserted a superior title to the crown, and whose son afterwards displaced the Baliol dynasty, appeared in arms against Edward in favour of King John, and in his name concluded several truces with the English officers. There is extant a deed executed on the 13th of November, 1299, by William, Bishop of St Andrews, Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and John Comyn the younger, styling themselves guardians of the kingdom of Scotland; in which they petition King Edward for a cessation of hostilities, in order, as they afterwards expressed themselves, that they might live as peaceable subjects under their sovereign King John.

There is, however, no reason to suppose, that these proceedings were in accordance with any secret instructions from Baliol, who, if not glad to get quit of his uneasy sovereignty, at the time he resigned it, at least seems to have afterwards entertained no wish for its recovery. A considerable time before his insurgent representatives made the above declaration in his behalf, he is found executing a deed of the following tenor: "In the name of God, Amen. In the year 1298, on the 1st of April, in the house of the reverend father, Anthony, Bishop of Durham, without London. The said Bishop discoursing of the state and condition of the kingdom of Scotland, and of the inhabitants of the said kingdom, before the noble lord John Baliol; the said John, of his own proper motion, in the presence of us, the Notary, and the subscribing witnesses, amongst other things, said and delivered in the French tongue to this effect, that is to say, that while he, the said realm of Scotland, as King and Lord thereof, held and governed, he had found in the people of the said kingdom so much malice, fraud, treason, and deceit, that, for their malignity, wickedness, treachery, and other detestable facts, and for that, as he had thoroughly understood, they had, while their prince, contrived to poison him, it was his intention never to go or enter into the said kingdom of Scotland for the future, or with the said kingdom or its concerns, either by himself or others, to intermeddle, nor for the reasons aforesaid, and many others, to have any thing to do with the Scots. At the same time, the said John desired the said Bishop of Durham, that he would acquaint the most magnificent prince, and his Lord, Edward, the most illustrious king of England, with his intention, will, and firm resolution in this respect. This act was signed and sealed by the public notary, in the presence of the Bishop of Durham aforesaid, and of Ralph de Sandwich, constable of the Tower of London, and others, who heard this discourse." [Prynne’s Collections, iii. 665.]

We regret for the honour of Scotland, that, excepting the date of this shameful libel, there is no other reason for supposing it to be dictated in an insincere spirit. Baliol now appears to have really entertained no higher wish than to regain his personal liberty, and be permitted to spend the rest of his days in retirement. Accordingly, having at last convinced King Edward of his sincerity, he and his son were delivered, on the 20th of July, 1299, to the Pope’s legate, the Bishop of Vicenza, by whom they were transported to France. The unfortunate Baliol lived there upon his ample estates, till the year 1314, when he died at his seat of Castle Galliard, aged about fifty-five years. Though thus by no means advanced in life, he is said to have been afflicted with many of the infirmities of old age, among which was an entire deprivation of sight.


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