John Balliol was a King of Scotland, who reigned between November 30th 1292 and July 10th 1296. He was chosen to succeed Margaret, Maid of Norway, who died in September 1290 leaving no obvious heir. Following her death the Guardians of Scotland, who had been appointed to govern the realm during the young Queen's minority, called upon Edward I of England, to decide between various competitors for the Scottish throne in a process known as the Great Cause. Edward and his council would choose John, but the English king used it as an opportunity to turn Scotland into one of his vassals and what ensued was the bitter struggle of the First War of Scottish Independence.
Little of Balliol's early life is known. He was born between 1248 and 1250 at an unknown location; possibilities include Galloway, Picardy and Barnard Castle, County Durham. He derived his claim from being the great-great-great-grandson of David I (who reigned between 1124 and 1153), being senior in genealogical primogeniture but not in proximity of blood. His main rival was Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale (grandfather of Robert the Bruce, who later became king) and so following the Margaret's death there was a great risk that this rivalry would descend into a catastrophic civil war.
In an attempt to avoid conflict Guardians and other Scots magnates asked Edward I to intervene. Edward issued the ultimatum that his involvement would be on the condition that the realm of Scotland become a feudal dependency of the English throne. This was a long held ambition of the English monarchy, and while it was not unusual for Scottish kings to pay homage to their English neighbours, the practical implications were usually non-existent. What Edward sought was something more legally binding. This condition was not forthcoming, however a compromise was reached where Edward was put in temporary control of the principal royal castles of Scotland and for his part, Edward agreed that he would return control of both kingdom and castles to the successful claimant within two months.
Fourteen nobles put themselves forward as candidates for the throne. In reality only four had genuine claims, namely Balliol, Bruce, John Hastings, 1st Baron Hasting and Floris V, Count of Hooland. Of these only Bruce and Balliol had realistic grounds on which to claim the crown. The rest merely wished to have their claims put on the legal record. Edward gave judgement on November 17th 1292 and Balliol was chosen as king, with Edward’s son, the future Edward II, becoming heir designate. This decision had the support of the majority of Scots nobles and magnates. Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone on November 30th 1292, St. Andrew's Day.
With the new king in place, Edward I coerced recognition as Lord Paramount of Scotland, the feudal superior of the realm, and steadily went about undermining John's authority. He demanded homage to be paid towards himself, legal authority over the Scottish King in any disputes brought against him by his own subjects, contribution towards the costs for the defense of England, and military support was expected in his war against France.
The Scottish nobility soon became weary of their king’s compromised position and so John’s authority was taken from him by the leading men of the kingdom, who appointed a council of twelve at Stirling in July 1295. They went on to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France, known in later years as the Auld Alliance.
The Franco-Scottish negotiations did not go unnoticed in England and in early October, Edward began to make preparations for an invasion of Scotland. One of Edward’s key appointments was that of Robert Bruce, 6th Lord of Annandale (father of the future King Robert the Bruce) as the governor of Carlisle Castle. He also ordered John to relinquish control of the castles and burghs of Berwick, Jedburgh and Roxburgh. Bit by bit, the English king began to build up his forces along the Scottish border.
In response John summoned all able-bodied Scotsmen to bear arms and gather at Caddonlee by March 11th 1296. Several Scottish nobles chose to ignore the summons, including Robert Bruce. On the 30th March, Edward sacked Berwick and then moving his forces north, met the Scots on the April 27th at the First Battle of Dunbar. The battle was a crushing defeat for the Scots, effectively ending the Scottish war effort. John retreated north, reaching Perth on June 21st, where he received a message from Edward, inviting him to surrender.
John abdicated at Stracathro near Montrose on July 10th 1296. Here the arms of Scotland were formally torn from his surcoat, giving him the abiding name of "Toom Tabard" (empty coat). By the end of August, most of Scotland was under Edward’s control and, after removing the Stone of Destiny from Scone Abbey and transporting it to Westminster Abbey, Edward convened a parliament at Berwick, where the Scottish nobles paid homage to him as King of England.
John was imprisoned in some comfort at the Tower of London until July 1299, when he was allowed to go to France on the request of Pope Boniface VIII. While initially he was required to stay with the Pope, in 1301 he was released and spent the rest of his life on his family’s ancestral lands in Picardy, France. He died in late 1314. He was survived by his son Edward Balliol, who later revived his family's claim to the Scottish throne and with the support of the English, would manage to briefly establish himself as king in opposition to David II.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of Scotland. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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