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History of Scotland by Patrick Tytler 2

Accession of Alexander III

Alexander the Third had not completed his eighth year, when the death of the king, his father, on the 8th July, 1249, opened to him the peaceable accession to the Scottish throne. He was accordingly conducted by an assembly of the nobility to the Abbey of Scone, and there crowned.

A long minority, at all times an unhappy event for a kingdom, was at this time especially unfortunate for Scotland. The vicinity of Henry the Third of England, who, although individually a weak monarch, allowed himself sometimes to be directed by able and powerful counsellors, and the divisions between the principal nobility of Scotland, facilitated the designs of ambition, and weakened the power of resistance; nor can it be doubted, that during the early part of this reign, the first approaches were made towards that great plan for the reduction of Scotland, which was afterwards attempted to be carried into effect by Edward the First, and defeated by the bravery of Wallace and Bruce. But in order to show clearly the state of the kingdom upon the accession of this monarch, and more especially in its relations with England, it will be necessary to go back a few years, to recount a story of private revenge which happened in the conclusion of the reign of Alexander the Second, (1242,) and drew after it important consequences.

A tournament, the frequent amusement of this warlike age, was held near Haddington, on which occasion Walter Bisset, a powerful baron who piqued himself upon his skill in his weapons, was foiled by Patrick earl of Athole. An old feud which existed between these families embittered the defeat; and Athole was found murdered in his house, which, probably for the purpose of concealment, was set on fire by the assassins. The suspicion of this slaughter, which, even in an age familiar with ferocity, seems to have excited unwonted horror, immediately fell upon the Bissets; and, although Walter was the person present at the tournament, the popular clamour pointed to William, the chief of the family.* He was pursued by the nobility, who were incited to vengeance by the Earl of March and David de Hastings; and would have been torn to pieces, had not the interference of the king protected him from the fury of the friends of Athole. Bisset strenuously asserted his innocence. He offered to prove, that he had been fifty miles distant from Haddington when the murder was committed; he instantly procured the sentence of excommunication against the assassins to be published in every chapel in Scotland; he offered combat to any man who dared abide the issue; but he declined a trial by jury on account of the inveterate malice of his enemies. The king accepted the office of judge: the Bissets were condemned, their estates forfeited to the crown, and they themselves compelled to swear upon the Holy Gospel that they would repair to Palestine, and there, for the remaining days of their lives, pray for the soul of the murdered earl.

Walter Bisset, however, instead of Jerusalem, sought the English court,  There, by artfully representing to the king that Alexander owed him fealty, and that, as lord superior, he ought to have been first consulted before judgment was given, whilst he described Scotland as the ally of France and the asylum of his expatriated rebels, he contrived to inflame the passion of the English monarch to so high a pitch, that Henry determined on an immediate invasion. Nor was the temper with which Alexander received this information in any way calculated to promote conciliation. To the complaints of the King of England, that he had violated the duty which he owed to him as his Lord Paramount, the Scottish monarch is said to have answered, that he neither did, nor ever would, consent to hold from the King of England the smallest portion of his kingdom of Scotland. His reply was warmly seconded by the spirit of his nobility. They fortified the castles on the marches; and the king soon found himself at the head of an army of nearly a hundred thousand foot and a thousand horse. Henry, on the other hand, led into the field a large body of troops, with which he proceeded to Newcastle. The accoutrements and discipline of these two powerful hosts, which were commanded by kings and included the flower of the nobility of both countries, are highly extolled by Mathew Paris. The Scottish cavalry, according to his account, were a fine body of men and well mounted, although their horses were neither of the Spanish nor Italian breed; and the horsemen were clothed in armour of iron net-work. In the number of its cavalry the English army far surpassed its rival force, including a power of five thousand men-at-arms, sumptuously accoutred. These armies came in sight of each other at a place in Northumberland called Ponteland; and the Scots prepared for battle, by confessing themselves to their priests, and expressing to each other their readiness to die in defence of the independence of their country. As Alexander, however, was much beloved in England, the nobility of that country coldly seconded the rash enterprise of their king, and showed no anxiety to hurry into hostilities. Richard earl of Cornwall, brother to Henry, and the Archbishop of York, thought this a favourable moment for proposing an armistice; and, by their endeavours, such great and solemn preparations ended in a treaty of peace, without a lance being put in rest. Its terms were just, and favourable to both countries.

Henry appears prudently to have waved all demand of homage from Alexander for the kingdom of Scotland; and the Scottish monarch, on the other hand, who possessed land in England for which, although the English historians assert the contrary, he does not appear to have ever refused homage, consented, for himself and his heirs, to maintain fidelity and affection to Henry and his heirs, as his liege lord, and not to enter into any league with the enemies of England, except in the case of unjust oppression. It was also stipulated, that the peace formerly signed at York, in the presence of Otto the pope's legate, should stand good; and that the proposal there made, of a marriage between the daughter of the King of England and the son of the King of Scots, should be carried into effect. Alan Durward, at this time the most accomplished knight and the best military leader in Scotland, Henry de Baliol, and David de Lindesay, with other knights and prelates, then swore on the soul of their lord the king, that the treaty should be kept inviolate by him and his heirs.

Thus ended this expedition of Henry's into Scotland, formidable in its commencement, but happy and bloodless in its result ; and such was the relative situation of the two countries, when Alexander the Third, yet a boy in his eighth year, mounted the Scottish throne.

The mode in which the ceremony of his coronation was performed, is strikingly illustrative of the manners of that age. The Bishops of St Andrews and Dunkeld, with the Abbot of Scone, attended to officiate ; but an unexpected difficulty arose. Alan Durward, the great Justiciary, remarked, that the king ought not to be crowned before he was knighted, and that the day fixed for the ceremony was unlucky. The objection was selfish, and arose from Durward, who was then at the head of the Scottish chivalry, expecting that the honour of knighting Alexander would fall upon himself,  But Comyn earl of Menteith, insisted that there were frequent examples of the consecration of kings before the solemnity of their knighthood; he represented that the Bishop of St Andrews might perform both ceremonies; he cited the instance of William Rufus having been knighted by Lanfranc archbishop of Canterbury; and he earnestly urged the danger of delay. Nor was this danger ideal. Henry the Third, in a letter to Rome, had artfully represented Scotland as a fief of England; and had requested the pope to interdict the ceremony of the coronation until Alexander obtained the permission of his feudal superior.

The King's Marriage

Fortunately the patriotic arguments of the Earl of Menteith prevailed. The Bishop of St Andrews girded the king with the belt of knighthood, and explained to him the respective oaths which were to be taken by himself and his subjects, first in Latin, and afterwards in Norman French.They then conducted the boy to the regal chair, or sacred stone of Scone, which stood before the cross in the eastern division of the chapel. Upon this he sat: the crown was placed on his head, the sceptre in his hand; he was invested with the royal mantle; and the nobility, kneeling in homage, threw their robes beneath his feet. A Highland sennaohy or bard, of great age, clothed in a scarlet mantle, with hair venerably white, then advanced from the crowd; and, bending before the throne, repeated, in his native tongue, the genealogy of the youthful monarch, deducing his descent from the fabulous Gathelus. It is difficult to believe that, even in those days of credulity, the nobility could digest the absurdities of this savage genealogist.

Henry the Third, at this time influenced by the devotional spirit of the age, had resolved on an expedition to the Holy Land; and in order to secure . tranquillity to his dominions on the side of Scotland, the marriage formerly agreed on, between his daughter Margaret and the young Scottish king, was solemnized at York on Christmas day, with much splendour and dignity. The guests at the bridal were the King and Queen of England; Mary de Couci queen-dowager of Scotland, who had come from France, with a train worthy of her high rank ; the nobility, and the dignified clergy of both countries, and in their suite a numerous assemblage of vassals. A thousand knights, in robes of silk, attended the bride on the morn of her nuptials; and after some days spent in tournaments, feasting, and other circumstances of feudal revelry, the youthful couple, neither of whom had reached their eleventh year, set out for Scotland. "Were I," says Mathew Paris, in one of those bursts of monastic eloquence which diversify his annals, "to explain at length the abundance of the feasts, the variety and the frequent changes of the vestments, the delight and the plaudits occasioned by the jugglers, and the multitude of those who sat down to meat, my narrative would become hyperbolical, and might produce irony in the hearts of the absent. I shall only mention, that the archbishop, who, as the great Prince of the North, showed himself a most serene host to all comers, made a donation of six hundred oxen, which were all spent upon the first course; and from this circumstance, I leave you to form a parallel judgment of the rest.In the midst of these festivities, a circumstance of importance occurred. When Alexander performed homage for the lands which he held in England, Henry, relying upon the facility incident to his age, artfully proposed that he should also render fealty for his kingdom of Scotland. But the boy, either instructed before-hand, or animated with a spirit and wisdom above his years, replied, "That he had come into England upon a joyful and pacific errand, and that he would not treat upon so arduous a question without the advice of the states of his kingdom upon which the king dissembled his mortification, and the ceremony proceeded.

Alan Durward, who, as High Justiciar, was the Scottish king's, chief counsellor, had married the natural sister of Alexander; and, during the rejoicings at York, was accused, by Comyn earl of Menteith and William earl of Mar, of a design against the crown. The ground on which this accusation rested, was an attempt of Durward, in which he was seconded by the Scottish chancellor,to procure from the court of Rome the legitimation of his wife, in order, said his accusers, that his children should succeed to the crown, if the king happened to die without heirs. From the ambitious and intriguing character of Durward, this story probably had some foundation in fact, and certain persons who were accused, actually fled from York; upon which Henry made a now appointment of guardians to the young king, at the head of whom were placed the Earls of Menteith and Mar.

Jealousy of English Influence

The peace of Scotland was for many years after this interrupted by that natural jealousy of England, so likely to rise in a kingdom its equal in the sense of independence, although its inferior in national strength. Henry, too, adopted measures not calculated to secure the confidence of the Scottish people. He sent into Scotland, under the name of guardian to the king, Geoffry de Langley, a rapacious noble, who was immediately expelled. He procured Innocent the Fourth to grant him a twentieth of the ecclesiastical revenues of that kingdom, nominally for the aid of the Holy Land, but really for his own uses; and he despatched Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, on a mission, described as secret in his instructions, but the object of which may be conjectured from the increasing animosity of the disputes between the Scottish nobility. Many English attendants, some of them persons of rank and consequence, accompanied Margaret into her new kingdom; and between these intruders and the ancient nobility of Scotland, who fiercely asserted their privileges, disputes arose, which soon reached the ears of the English court. The young queen, accustomed to the indulgence and superior refinement of her father's court, bitterly lamented that she was immured in a dismal fortress, without being permitted to have her own attendants around her person, or allowed to enjoy the society of her husband, the king.

These complaints, which appear to have been highly exaggerated, and a still more horrid report that the queen's physician had been poisoned by the same party because he ventured to remonstrate against the confinement of his mistress, were not lost upon Alan Durward, the late justiciar. He had accompanied Henry in his expedition to Guienne, where, by his courage and address, he regained the confidence of that capricious monarch; and he now prevailed upon the king to despatch the Earl of Gloucester and MaunseU his chief secretary, to the Scottish court, for the purpose of dismissing those ministers who were found not sufficiently obsequious to England.

In sending these noblemen upon this mission, Henry solemnly engaged to attempt nothing against the person of the Scottish king, and never to insist upon his being disinherited, or upon the dissolution of the marriage settlement; promises, the particular history of which is involved in much obscurity, but which strongly, though generally, demonstrate, that the English king had been accused of designs inimical to the honour and independence of Scotland. At the head of the party which steadily opposed the interested schemes of Henry, was Walter Comyn earl of Menteith, whose loyalty we have seen insisting on the speedy coronation of the young king, when it was attempted to be deferred by Alan Durward. Many of the principal nobility, and some of the best and wisest of the clergy, were found in the same ranks.

The Earl of Gloucester and his associates accordingly repaired to Scotland; and, in concert with the Earls of Dunbar, Strathern, and Carrick, surprised the castle of Edinburgh, relieved the royal couple from the real or pretended durance in which they were held, and formally conducted them to the bridal chamber, although the king was yet scarcely fourteen years of age.English influence appears now to have been predominant; and Henry, having heard of the success of his forerunners Maunsell and Gloucester, and conceiving that the time was come for the reduction of Scotland under his unfettered control, issued his writs to his military tenants, and assembled a numerous army. As he led this array towards the borders, he took care to conceal his real intentions, by directing, from Newcastle, a declaration, that in this progress to visit his dear son Alexander, lie should attempt nothing prejudicial to the rights of the king, or the liberties of Scotland. In the meantime, the Comyns collected their forces, and the opposite faction suddenly removed the king and queen to Roxburgh, in which castle Alexander received Henry, who conducted him, with pomp and acclamation, to the Abbey of Kelso. The government of Scotland was there remodelled; a new set of counsellors appointed; and the party of the Comyns, with John Baliol and Robert de Ross, completely deprived of their political influence. In the instruments drawn up upon this occasion, some provisions were inserted, which were loudly complained of as derogatory to the dignity of the kingdom; the abettors of England were stigmatized as conspirators, who were equally obnoxious to prelates, barons, and burgesses; and the Bishop of Glasgow, the Bishop elect of St Andrews, the chancellor, and the Earl of Menteth, indignantly refused to affix their seals to a deed, which, as they asserted, compromised the liberties of the country.

Change of Councillors

A regency was now appointed, which included the whole of the clergy and the nobility who were favourable to England, to whom were intrusted the custody of the king's person, and the government of the realm for seven years, till Alexander had reached the age of twenty-one. Henry assumed to himself the title of "principal counsellor to the illustrious King of Scotland;" and the Comyns, with Bishop Gamelin, the Earl of Mar, Baliol, Ross, and their chief accomplices, were removed from all share in the government of the kingdom.

Alexander, upon his part, engaged to treat his young queen with all honour and affection; and the Earl of Dunbar, according to a common solemnity of this age, swore upon the soul of the king, that every article of the agreement should be faithfully performed. Thus ended a negotiation conducted entirely by English influence; and which, although the ambition of the Comyns may have given some plausible colour to the designs of their enemies, was generally and justly unpopular in Scotland. Alexander and his queen now repaired to Edinburgh; and Henry, after having attempted to recruit his exhausted coffers, by selling a pardon to John de Baliol, and confiscating the estates of Robert de Ross, returned to commit new attacks upon the property of his English subjects.

Visit of Alexander and his Queen to England

Upon his departure, Scotland became the scene of civil faction and ecclesiastical violence. There were at this time in that kingdom thirty-two knights and three powerful earls of the name of Comyn; and these, with their armed vassals, assisted by many of the disgraced nobility, formed an effectual check upon the measures of the regency. Gamelin, the Bishop elect of St Andrews, and the steady enemy of English influence, unawed by his late removal, procured himself to be consecrated by the Bishop of Glasgow; and although placed without the protection of the laws, he yet, in an appeal to the court of Rome, induced the pope to excommunicate his accusers, and to declare him worthy of his bishopric. Henry, enraged at the bold opposition of Gamelin, prohibited his return, and issued orders to arrest him if he attempted to land in England; while the regents performed their part in the persecution, by seizing the rich revenues of his see.

In the midst of these scenes of faction and disturbance, the King and Queen of Scotland proceeded to London on a visit to their father, and were received with great magnificence. They were entertained at Oxford, Woodstock, and in London. Tents were raised in the meadows for the accommodation of their followers; and Henry renewed to Alexander a grant of the honour of Huntingdon, which had been held by some of his predecessors.§ The party of the Comyns, however, were slowly regaining ground. The pope, by his judgment in favour of Gamelin, espoused their quarrel; and they soon received a powerful support in Mary de Couci the widow of Alexander the Second, and John of Acre her husband, who at this time passed through England into Scotland.This was deemed a favourable conjuncture by the delegates of the pope, to publish the sentence of excommunication against the counsellors of the king. The ceremony, in those days an affair of awful moment, was performed by the Bishop of Dumblane, and the Abbots of Jedburgh and Melrose, in the abbey church of Cambuskenneth, and repeated, "by bell and candle," in every chapel in the kingdom.

The English faction put down by the Comyns

To follow this up, the Comyns now assembled in great strength: they declared that the government of the kingdom had been shamefully mismanaged,— that foreigners were promoted to the highest offices,— that their sovereign was detained in the hands of excommunicated 'and accursed persons,—and that an interdict would soon be fulminated against the whole kingdom. Finding that their party increased in weight and popularity, they resorted to more desperate measures. Under cover of night they attacked the court of the king, which was then held at Kinross; seized the young monarch in his bed; carried him and his queen before morning to Stirling; made themselves masters of the great seal of the kingdom; and totally dispersed the opposite faction. Nor were they remiss in strengthening their interest by foreign alliance. They entered into a remarkable treaty with Wales— at this time the enemy of England—which, with a wisdom scarcely to be looked for in those rude times, included in its provisions some important regulations regarding the commerce of both countries.

Alan Durward meanwhile precipitately fled to England; and the Comyns, eager to press their advantage to the utmost, assembled their forces, and marched with the king against the English party. A negotiation at length took place at Roxburgh; and the nobility and principal knights, who had leagued with Henry, engaged to submit themselves to the king and the laws, and to settle all disputes in a conference to be held at Forfar. This was merely an artifice to gain time, for they immediately fled to England; and the Earls of Hereford and Albemarle, along with John de Baliol, soon after repaired to Melrose, where the Scottish king awaited the arrival of his army. Their avowed purpose was to act as mediators between the two factions: their real intention to seize, if possible, the person of the king, and to carry him into England.But the plot was suspected; and Alexander, with the Comyns, defeated all hopes of its success, by appointing for the scene of their conference the forest of Jedburgh, in which a great part of his troops had already assembled.

The two English earls, therefore, resumed their more pacific design of negotiation. It was difficult and protracted; so that in the interval, the king and the Comyns, having time to collect a large force, found themselves in a situation to insist upon terms which were alike favourable to their own power and to the liberty of the country. The King of England was compelled to dissemble his animosity, to forget his bitter opposition against Bishop Gamelin, and to reserve to some other opportunity all reference to the obnoxious treaty of Roxburgh. A new regency was appointed, which left the principal power in the hands of the queen-mother and of the Comyns, but endeavoured to reconcile the opposite parties, by including in its numbers four of the former regents. Meanwhile the country, torn by contending factions, was gradually reduced to a state of great misery. Men forgot their respect for the kingly authority, and despised the restraint of the laws; the higher nobles enlisted under one or other of the opposite parties, plundered the lands and slew the retainers of their rival barons; churches were violated, castles and hamlets razed to the ground, and the regular returns of seed-time and harvest interrupted by the flames of private war. In short, the struggle to resist English interference was fatal, for the time, to the prosperity of the kingdom; and what Scotland gained in independence, she lost in improvement and national happiness.

Unhappy State of the Country

At this crisis, when they had effectually succeeded in diminishing, if not destroying, the English influence, the Comyns lost the leader whose courage and energy were the soul of their councils. Walter Comyn earl of Menteith died suddenly. It was reported in England that his death was occasioned by a fall from his horse ; but a darker story arose in Scotland. The Countess of Menteith had encouraged a criminal passion for an English baron named. Russel, and was openly accused of having poisoned her husband to make way for her paramour, whom she married with indecent haste. Insulted and disgraced, she and her husband were thrown into prison, despoiled of their estates, and at last compelled to leave the kingdom.* Encouraged by the death of his opponent, and anxious to regain his lost influence, the English king now became desirous that Alexander and his queen should pay him a visit at London; and for this purpose he sent William de Horton, a monk of St Albans, on a secret mission into Scotland. Horton arrived at the period when the king and his nobles were assembled in council, and found them jealous of this perpetual interference of England.

They deemed these visits incompatible with the independence of the country; and the messenger of Henry met with great opposition.The nature of the message increased this alarm. It was a request that Alexander and his queen should repair to London, to treat of matters of great importance, but which were not communicated to the parliament; and it was not surprising that the nobility, profiting by former experience, should have taken precautions against any sinister designs of Henry. Accordingly, the Earl of Buchan, Durward the Justiciar, and the Chancellor Wishart, were in their turn despatched upon a secret mission into England; and the result was, that Alexander and his queen consented to visit London, under two conditions: first, an express stipulation was made that, during their stay at court, neither the king, nor any of his attendants, were to be required to treat of state affairs; and, secondly, an oath was to be taken by the English monarch, that if the Queen of Scotland became pregnant, or if she gave birth to a child during her absence, neither the mother nor the infant should be detained in England; so great, at this moment, in the minds of the Scottish nobility, was the jealousy of English ambition and intrigue.

Second visit of Alexander and his Queen to the English Court

In fulfilment of this promise", the King of Scotland repaired with a concourse of his nobility to the court of England; and left his queen, whose situation now speedily promised an heir to the Scottish throne, to follow him, by slow stages, with the Bishop of Glasgow. On her approach to St Albans, she was met by her younger brother Edmund, who received her with a splendid retinue, and conducted her in the morning to London. The object of this visit of Alexander was not solely to gratify the King of England. He was anxious to exercise his rights over the territory of Huntingdon, which he held of the English crown; and the payment of his wife's portion had been so long delayed, that he wished to reclaim the debt.

The reception of the royal persons appears to have been unusually magnificent; and the country round the court was greatly exhausted by the sumptuous entertainments, and the intolerable expenses which they demanded.f In the midst of these festivities, the queen drew near her time; and, at the pressing instance of her father, it was agreed that she should lie-in at the court of England: not however without a renewed stipulation, sworn upon the soul of the king, that the infant, in the event of the death of its mother or of Alexander, should be delivered to an appointed body of the Scottish nobility.

Having secured this, Alexander returned to his kingdom; and in the month of February 1261, his young queen was delivered at Windsor of a daughter, Margaret, afterwards married to Eric king of Norway.

Birth of Princess Margaret at Windsor

Having secured this, Alexander returned to his kingdom; and in the month of February 1261, his young queen was delivered at Windsor of a daughter, Margaret, afterwards married to Eric king of Norway.

In the beginning of the following year, Henry seems to have interposed his good offices, to prevent a rupture between Alexander and Haco king of Norway, regarding the possession of the western islands, the petty chiefs of which had for a long period been feudatory to the Norwegian crown." Their habits of constant war and piratical excursion had at this time rendered the Norwegians a formidable people; and their near vicinity to Scotland enabled them, at a very early period, to overspread the whole of the Western Archipelago. The little sovereignties of these islands, under the protection of a warlike government, appear to have been in a flourishing condition. They were crowded with people; and the useful and ornamental arts were carried in them to a higher degree of perfection than in the other European countries. A poet of the north, in describing a dress unusually gorgeous, adds, that it was spun by the Sudreyans. And even in science and literature, this remarkable people had, in their colonies especially, attained to no inconsiderable distinction.