john baliol

Today in 1292, John Baliol was pronounced King of Scotland by the English King Edward I.

There were contenders for the crown with a stronger blood link to the throne, but Baliol was chosen as he had promised to swear fealty to Edward I as overlord of Scotland.  This was not popular with many of the Scottish nobles.  Hence his reign as Scottish King was always going to be a short one !

The argument over who should inherit the Scottish throne had come about with the death of Alexander III in 1286.  Alexander and his wife Margaret (a daughter of the English King), had three children, a girl and two boys.  His daughter, Margaret, was sent to Norway and married into their royal family.  Unfortunately all three of his children predeceased Alexander, one son dying as a child and his heir, also called Alexander, at the age of 20, Margaret dying shortly after giving birth to her only child, a daughter, also named Margaret.

As his wife had also died by this time, there was no prospect of another heir and the only obvious heir that remained was the young granddaughter, Margaret of Norway. Upon the death of Alexander III, she was duly named as Queen Regnant of Scotland.

It was expected that she would marry the son of England’s Edward I, also called Edward.  She was sent to Scotland to take up her place as Queen in 1290, but she did not make it to her new country.  At that time the Orkney Islands were owned by Norway, she made it to one of the southern islands (traditionally thought to be South Ronaldsay, at a place named St Margarets’s Hope in her honour, though this is not definitely where she went) and unfortunately died there shortly after arriving.  It is said that she died of the effects of sea sickness caused by the long journey.

Therefore a lack of an obvious heir, created a void and two clear contenders for the crown of Scotland came to the fore.  John Baliol was one, Robert Bruce (grandfather of THE Robert Bruce) Lord of Annandale was the other, whose claim was actually one generation closer to the throne, but who was seen as being more difficult to control by Edward I.

Baliol was also born outside of Scotland, which made him even more unpopular.  His father was Lord of Barnard Castle, among other titles, and it is likely that he was born there.  His claim to the Scottish throne came through his mother.

Edward became increasingly bossy over Baliol over the next three years, leading to a new Parliament being created in 1295 and an alliance with France being sought in order to help Scotland against the English.

Edward took offence and invaded Scotland.  After being defeated at Dunbar, Baliol was forced to abdicate and sent to the Tower of London as a prisoner.  He was later released from there and exiled to France, where he lived until his death.

The Scottish throne remained empty for almost ten years until Robert the Bruce, grandson of the above Bruce, was acclaimed King in 1306, following many years of fighting between the English and Scottish forces.

Baliol is often thought of as a puppet king.  He was elected by and under fealty to the English King, who simply wanted to conquer the Scots land and add it to his own realm.  Maybe he saw an opportunity to advance himself and went into it without realising what Edward was asking in return?  Being naive is not an excuse for selling out his country, but it could explain why it took him so long to turn on the English King and rebel.

It was a sad time for Scotland, losing control to the English in such a way.  Had longshanks lived longer, or his son been a stronger man, it is possible that Bruce would not have been able to rescue the country and give it back it’s independence.

In the end, it was the Scottish King who took over the English throne when the Stewarts were invited to accede on the death of Elizabeth I.

Though Scotland still fights for it’s independence now, in a different way, hundreds of years later.  Are lessons ever truly learned from history??


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