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A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times
Chapter V.—The Ragman Roll

Alexander III. was accidently killed by a fall from his horse at Kinghorn, March 19, 1286. Within a fortnight after his death, the Bishops of St. Andrews and Glasgow, “ in their own name, and in the name of the clergy, of the earls and barons, and of all others of the realm of Scotland, who had been present at the burial of the lord Alexander of good memory, the King of Scotland,” sent from Dunfermline two Dominican friars charged with a letter and a secret verbal message to the English Court. The exact purport of the message is not known, but their business was in all probability to acquaint Edward with the state of affairs in Scotland and to consult him as to the settlement of the succession to the Crown.

Shortly after, on April 11, six Guardians of the realm were appointed to carry on the government of the country in the name of the Maid of Norway, then residing at the Norwegian Court, who, during the life time of her grandfather, Alexander III., had been solemnly recognised by the prelates and nobles present at a great assembly of the Estates at Scone as his successor, in the event of his dying without male issue. Among those present at this meeting were James, the High Steward, who had recently succeeded his father, Alexander, and Sir Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick. The Steward was appointed one of the Six Guardians.

From the meeting of the Estates at Scone Sir Robert Bruce retired to Carrick,. raised his men, attacked the castle of Dumfries, and having driven out the royal forces, advanced to the castle of Botil or Buittle, which belonged to Balliol.4 His intention was evidently to override the agreement come to at Scone, and to which he had been a party. Within six months he was joined at Turnberry Castle by the Steward and a strong body of adherents, who executed a bond of mutual defence, by which they undertook to defend each other in all matters, “ saving their fealty to the King of England and the person who shall obtain the Scottish Kingdom, being of the blood of Alexander III., and according to the ancient customs of Scotland.” In this document no mention is made of the Maid of Norway, from which it is clear that some other successor was contemplated. This, there can be little doubt, was Bruce, who had already taken up arms in defence of his claim and regarded himself as “ of the blood of Alexander III.,” and also as heir “ according to the ancient customs of Scotland.”

In the negotiations which followed for the union of the two Kingdoms by the marriage of Margaret to Edward, Prince of Wales—a project which appears to have been widely, if not universally, favoured in Scotland—the Steward as one of the Guardians must have taken a considerable share. Though not present at Salisbury, like Bruce, when the treaty for the marriage was finally concluded, with the rest of the Guardians he sent a letter to Eric, the father of Margaret, urging him to send her to England immediately, and was present along with Bruce, the Abbot of Paisley, and others, at Brigham on the Tweed when the treaty was ratified by the Scots Estates.

All through the negotiations the Steward and Bruce worked in the interest of the projected union. This was probably in virtue of the clause in the Turnberry band—“ saving our fealty to the King of England.” Both of them were Norman knights, and both of them had much to lose with the loss of Edward’s friendship.

But the project on which Edward had set his heart, and to the consummation of which the people of Scotland were looking forward with the brightest hopes, suddenly came to naught. Margaret died in Orkney when on her way to England. The ship which Edward had with so much solicitude sent to fetch her, carried her remains to Norway, and the hopes which had been built upon her union with the English Prince vanished, disclosing a sea of trouble.

Meantime the Steward had been appointed Sheriff of Ayrshire in succession to Andrew de Moray. During the competition for the crown, as might naturally be expected from the long and intimate friendship between the two houses, he steadily supported the claims of Bruce. On June 11, 1291, as one of the four remaining Guardians, he delivered the kingdom into the hands of Edward, by whom he and three others, were immediately after appointed Regents and entrusted with the government of the country. Two days later he swore fealty to Edward as Over-lord of Scotland, and on July 12 was appointed along with Nicholas de Segrave to receive the oaths of fealty to Edward at the “ new castle in Ayr.” The following year he appears as Sheriff of Dumbarton. In November of the same year, he laid down his office as one of the Regents, having received from Edward the promise of lands of the yearly value of 100. On January 16, 1292-3, he affixed his seal to an indenture testifying that King John de Balliol had done fealty to Edward, King of England, at Norham, on Thursday, the Feast of S. Edmund, King and Martyr. Among the other seals attached to this document are those of the Bishops of St. Andrews and Glasgow, the Earls of Buchan, March, Ross, Menteith, Alexander of Argyll, Alexander de Balliol, and Patrick Graham.

Whether the Steward supported Balliol in resisting the demands of Edward as Over-lord of Scotland is not clear. Nor is it clear that he favoured the treaty into which Balliol entered to support France against Edward. He is represented as renouncing the league with France, but it does not necessarily follow that he ever approved of it. The probability is that he was never at any time a supporter of Balliol and that he recognised his title only because of the decision of Edward, against which at the time there was no appeal.

In April 1296, Edward held a parliament at Berwick, and then, after inviting vagabonds and criminals to accompany him, began his march into Scotland, to punish Balliol for his rebellion, and to overawe the country. The Steward went to meet him at Roxburgh, and on May 13, having come into his peace, swore fealty to him on the Holy Evangels, and especially to aid him against John de Balliol and all his abetters in Scotland or elsewhere.4 He was probably present in the cemetery of Stracathro “at the hour of vespers” on July 7, when “ John, King of Scotland, renounced his league with France, and confessed his sins against his liege lord the King, 'desiring to be reconciled to him; ” and, again, at Brechin Castle, three days later, when Balliol “ of his own free will resigned his kingdom, his royal dignity, his lands and goods, homages and all rights, saving only incarceration, into the hands of the King of England, together with his royal seal in a purse under his privy seal.”

The affairs of the country had now sunk to their lowest ebb. Edward marched north to Banff and Elgin without opposition, receiving the castles and strongholds and leaving troops behind him to garrison them. The country was completely overawed. It may be remarked, however, that Edward came no further west than Stirling, and that he left the counties of Renfrew and Ayr, where the Steward and Bruce were supreme, unvisited, probably because he was sure of the adherence of these two powerful nobles and had no anticipations of trouble upon the lands they owned.

The Steward, as we have seen, swore fealty to Edward on May 13 at Roxburgh. His name stands first on the Ragman Roll, whereon are recorded the names of about two thousand individuals from all parts of the country who acknowledged Edward as King and swore fealty to him between May 13 and August 28, 1296. The second name is that of John Steward, brother of the High Steward, who signed on May 15. The Steward’s signature is repeated on August 28. On the same day the Roll was signed, at Berwick-on-Tweed, by Patrick Earl of March, by Robert de Brus le veil, and by Robert de Brus lejeovene Earl of Carrick and Walter abbot of Paisley. Among other names upon the roll are :—Gilbert de Akenhead, John de Montgomery, Fynlawe de Hustone knight, William le Fleming knight, Hewe de Danielston knight, Thomas de Raulfestone, John de Irskyn, William de Shawe, Wautier Spreul, John de Glen, Gyles del Estwode, Robert de Kent, Patrick de Selvenland, John de Maxwell, Symon de la Schawe, Aleyn fitz Thomas de Fultone, Nicol de Fultone, William fitz Nicol de Stragryfe, Peres de Pollok, David de Cressvell, William le Porter, Henry de Foultone, Robert Cruk of Fingalde-stone, John Hunter de la foreste de Passelay, John de Aneslye de Crucsfeu, William de Coughran, Peres fitz Gerard de Stragrife, Hewe le Hunter of Stragrife, Richard le Hunter of Stragrife, Thomas le Breuster of the forest of Passelay, Thomas le Whright of the Blakehalle, William Knightessone of Eglesham, Johan Petyt del Miernes, Huwe de Grenhok, Gilbert fitz de Gregory de Crourotheryk, Gotheric fitz Matthew de Crourotheryk. All these are said to be “ del counte de Lanark,” which still included what is now the county of Renfrew. They are all Renfrewshire names, and, with one or two exceptions, are all of Saxon or Norman origin. A number of priests’ names stand on the roll, but, with the exception of that of the Abbot of Paisley, there is no name of a priest from Renfrewshire. Several Ayrshire Wallaces appear on the roll, but of the Wallaces of Renfrewshire there is none.

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