Rule of David II

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King David II of Scotland

Robert the Bruce may have been one of Scotland's greatest heroes - but his son was a disaster who very nearly gave his own crown away to the English.

Incredibly, it was only a people's rebellion which blocked King David II from striking a deal with England which could have seen the two countries joining together hundreds of years before the eventual 1707 Treaty of Union.

The row between the king and his own Scottish parliament blew up because of two major factors - money and David's own selfish desire to control the fate of the Scottish monarchy.

Petty jealousies with his rivals and the massive drain of cash from Scotland south of the border led the king to try and demand that his parliament - made up at that time of burgesses and merchants from Scotland's rapidly growing towns and burghs - allow an English monarch to take the Scottish thone on his death.

The members of parliament put their foot down and refused - effectively saving Scotland as an independent kingdom - because they thought that to hand the crown over to the hated English would be an abrogation of everything the Bruce fought for.

While Robert's victory at Bannockburn forced the English to respect and even admire him, his son David was seen as little more than a pushover, and he is regarded as one of Scotland's least effective - although most interesting - medieval kings.

One of Robert's biggest problems in trying to rule Scotland was not of his own making. He was only five when his father died in 1329, leaving him with the throne at an age when most children of today would still be in nursery school.

Incredibly, despite being so young, David was already married - he'd been betrothed the year before to Joanna, the sister of King Edward III of England, as part of an attempt to bring the two warring countries together in a new spirit of friendship and reconciliation.

As usual, however, the attempts at peace didn't last. The Bruce's death led to bitter infighting within Scotland as Edward Balliol, the son of the ousted former Scottish king John Balliol in whose name William Wallace had fought, tried to press his own claim to the Scottish throne.

During the 1330's Balliol's forces - aided by Scottish nobles who the Bruce had disinherited when he was on the throne - overran southern Scotland. They routed the Scottish army at the Battle of Dupplin Moor near Perth (12 August 1332), where thousands of Scottish soldiers were trampled underfoot, in 1332 and again the following year at Halidon Hill near Berwick.

The young king was kept safe at Dumbarton Castle as the raids went on, and the guardians who actually ruled Scotland in his name, such as Donald Earl of Mar, decided it was far too dangerous for him to stay in the country.

Sending David to England was out of the question - Edward III was a close ally of Balliol - so he was despatched to Scotland's ancient ally, France, instead. King Philip IV accepted his presence without problems, putting him up in grand style in Chateau Gaillard on the Seine.

The French were perfectly happy to look after the Scottish boy king, as England was their sworn enemy and they would do anything to try and disrupt Edward III's own ambitions for conquest on the continent. By the time David was 17, however, it was felt he was old enough to return to Scotland, and so he came home in 1341.

During his absence Scotland had been ruled on a day-to-day basis by a number of guardians such as John Randolph, the Earl of Moray and Robert the Stewart, though these guardians may not have always agreed with each other and there seem to have been tensions about the best way to run the country.

As soon as David returned, he attempted to stamp his authority back on the kingdom. He wanted to try and win recognition of his kingship from the English, has his father had done, and his boyhood hospitality from the French had left him with obligations to fulfil.

His opportunity came when Edward - who had been officially at war with the French since 1337 - was away fighting the Battle of Crecy. The French were in desperate trouble and David attempted to create a diversion by taking on the English on their home soil. His attempt to take on Edward's army may also have been bolstered by the fact that the English king was away in France and so not able to give a fight against the Scots the benefit of his personal direction.

The two armies met at the Battle of Neville's Cross near Durham in 1346. The skirmish turned out to be a disaster for the Scots, as David was severely wounded in the conflict and captured by the English, and most of his nobles were either taken prisoner or killed.

During the attack, David's nephew and supposed ally Robert the Stewart - who, according to documents signed by The Bruce, was the legitimate successor as Scottish king - is said to have fled from the battlefield, taking his troops with him.

After having been taken to London and locked up in the Tower, David was initially left to try and negotiate his own release. It was clear, however, that the Scots would have had to pay a ransom to get him back, and Robert the Stewart, who served as guardian during David's imprisonment, was not too keen on doing this - if only because with the proper king of Scots locked up down south, he could consolidate his own claim to the Scottish throne.

Dr Steve Boardman of the Scottish History Department at the University of Edinburgh, who is an expert on the reign of David II, says that being in custody actually worked out well for the king of Scots. "It meant that Edward would be able to get a ransom and a political deal from Scotland in return for releasing him, so it meant that he, the English king, no longer had to forge an alliance with Edward Balliol."

Nevertheless, as Robert the Stewart failed to make a deal to have David released, the Scots king became increasingly desperate. So he tried to strike an agreement with the English monarch to allow one of Edward's younger sons to become the next king of Scots if he, David, died childless.

If this had happened, then it would have meant Scotland being ruled by an English king. In fact, by offering such a deal, David may have simply been playing a crafty game, believing that he was still young enough to produce his own heir which who, of course, would have been the natural successor and so scuppered the whole plan.

However, he was unable to broker such a deal for the simple reason that the Scots nobles and parliament wouldn't allow it. At the end of the day, in 1357, David was finally released for the huge ransom of 100,000 merks.

The sum was so vast - it was equivalent to seven years' total royal income - that, once back in Scotland, David had huge problems paying it. So, still aware that his now deadly foe Robert the Stewart would succeed him if he died, he tried to do another deal with Edward, allowing the English king to also rule Scotland if only he would agree to scrapping the ransom payments.

Edward seems to have been keen on the plan, but it was again blocked by the Scottish parliament, which was the body funding the Scots royal coffers. The nobles and burgesses wanted to see Scotland's independence and the Bruce's legacy protected.

Says Steve Boardman: "If both crowns had united, it would have had profound implications for Scotland. The survival of the Scottish kingdom during this period was by no means guaranteed."

David never did get his way. Most of the ransom was eventually paid, and so the Scottish parliament ensured that their king could not sell off his crown for English gold.

David never did father a child of his own and, on his deathbed, suffered the ultimate personal ignominy. The Scottish crown, just as the Bruce has directed, passed directly to his enemy Robert the Stewart, who became Robert II of Scotland. The age of the Stewarts had begun.

Meanwhile...

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