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Timeline of Scottish History

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John Balliol

John Balliol / Kings and Queens

  • Name  : Balliol
  • Born  : 1249
  • Died  : 1313
  • Category  : Kings and Queens
  • Finest Moment : Being crowned at Scone, St Andrew?s Day, 1292.

Born in 1249, one of three sons of John Balliol and Devorguilla, daughter of Alan, the last Celtic lord of Galloway (after the death of John Balliol senior, his widow completed his support of several Oxford students, their house being formally chartered as Balliol College in 1282). The Balliol family were originally from Bailleul (Somme) in Normandy. They presumably waxed their moustaches and had a liking for garlic, but this is sheer conjecture.

John Jnr. married Isabella, daughter of the Earl of Surrey. This was a canny move financially. Additionally, several elder brothers died (childless) before him, leaving him a very rich man indeed. Unfortunately money cannot buy one either brains or courage, features which are useful when dealing with a ruthless King Edward of England.

The Scottish throne was open season, due to the recent and premature death of Margaret of Norway. There were various 'Competitors' for the throne, including the Bruce family, and to help stabilise the country, Guardians had been set up. In 1291 Balliol claimed the throne, helped by the cunning Antony Bek, Bishop of Durham. Robert de Bruce of Annandale (grandfather of Robert the Bruce) had at least an equally good claim, and it looked as if civil war loomed. The Scots asked Edward to mount an enquiry. In doing this, they exhibited an unfortunate Scottish trait of overtrust. Naturally he used this for his own ends.

In a great court case, using a total of 104 auditors, the case was debated, coming down, as could be predicted, to a choice of two claimants to the throne, Robert the Competitor, and John Balliol. King Edward in private at first favoured Bruce, but the slimy Bishop of Durham had a word in his ear, reminding Edward that Bruce was such a noble man that were he to be King of Scotland then he would be a formidable enemy. As the Scots could not agree on the rules of inheritance, it fell to the auditors appointed by Edward. Surprise, surprise, they went along with Edward and the laws of England, and Balliol it was.

On 30th November, 1292, he was crowned at Scone; in December he was on his knees before Edward again, rendering homage to his 'superior lord.' His humiliation would not take long to complete, as within a few months Edward was busy breaking the Treaty of Birgham (whereby no Scottish lawsuit should be dealt with outside the Kingdom). In October 1293 Balliol's humiliation was complete, as Edward had him summoned south to another court case where he was treated miserably.

The other Scots, the real Scots, were becoming tired of this abuse of their legal ruler, and had by now resumed talking to their auld pals in France. This came to a head in 1295, when Edward demanded Scots troops to fight in France. The Scots persuaded Balliol to resist, and when Edward invaded Scotland, sacking poor old Berwick (redecoration was an art in that city), Balliol fled. He made a cringing appearance before Edward at Stracathro, Montrose in July 1296, where Edward publicly stripped off his royal insignia. This lead to his immortal nickname of Toom Tabard, 'empty coat'.

Slammed, inevitably, into the Tower of London, he was eventually released into Papal custody, before being released in 1299 and making his sad way back to the family home in Bailleul, Picardy, to wax his moustache, eat garlic, and think on his not so good old days back in Scotland. And there he died, blind and forgotten, in 1313.

Tags: Kings

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