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Timeline of Scottish History

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Edward I and Time of Wallace

The Estates of Scotland met at Scone (April 11, 1286) and swore loyalty to their child queen, “the Maid of Norway,” granddaughter of Alexander III.  Six guardians of the kingdom were appointed on April 11, 1286.  They were the Bishops of St Andrews and Glasgow, two Comyns (Buchan and Badenoch), the Earl of Fife, and Lord James, the Steward of Scotland.  No Bruce or Baliol was among the Custodians.  Instantly a “band,” or covenant, was made by the Bruces, Earls of Annandale and Carrick, to support their claims (failing the Maid) to the throne; and there were acts of war on their part against another probable candidate, John Balliol.  Edward (like Henry VIII. in the case of Mary Stuart) moved for the marriage of the infant queen to his son.  A Treaty safeguarding all Scottish liberties as against England was made by clerical influences at Birgham (July 18, 1290), but by October 7 news of the death of the young queen reached Scotland: she had perished during her voyage from Norway.  Private war now broke out between the Bruces and Balliols; and the party of Balliol appealed to Edward, through Fraser, Bishop of St Andrews, asking the English king to prevent civil war, and recommending Balliol as a person to be carefully treated.  Next the Seven Earls, alleging some dim elective right, recommended Bruce, and appealed to Edward as their legal superior.

Edward came to Norham-on-Tweed in May 1291, proclaimed himself Lord Paramount, and was accepted as such by the twelve candidates for the Crown (June 3).  The great nobles thus, to serve their ambitions, betrayed their country: the communitas (whatever that term may here mean) made a futile protest.

As lord among his vassals, Edward heard the pleadings and evidence in autumn 1292; and out of the descendants, in the female line, of David Earl of Huntingdon, youngest son of David I., he finally (November 17, 1292) preferred John Balliol (great-grandson of the earl through his eldest daughter) to Bruce the Old, grandfather of the famous Robert Bruce, and grandson of Earl David’s second daughter.  The decision, according to our ideas, was just; no modern court could set it aside.  But Balliol was an unpopular weakling—“an empty tabard,” the people said—and Edward at once subjected him, king as he was, to all the humiliations of a petty vassal.  He was summoned into his Lord’s Court on the score of the bills of tradesmen.  If Edward’s deliberate policy was to goad Balliol into resistance and then conquer Scotland absolutely, in the first of these aims he succeeded.

In 1294 Balliol was summoned, with his Peers, to attend Edward in Gascony.  Balliol, by advice of a council (1295), sought a French alliance and a French marriage for his son, named Edward; he gave the Annandale lands of his enemy Robert Bruce (father of the king to be) to Comyn, Earl of Buchan.  He besieged Carlisle, while Edward took Berwick, massacred the people, and captured Sir William Douglas, father of the good Lord James.

In the war which followed, Edward broke down resistance by a sanguinary victory at Dunbar, captured John Comyn of Badenoch (the Red Comyn), received from Balliol (July 7, 1296) the surrender of his royal claims, and took the oaths of the Steward of Scotland and the Bruces, father and son.  He carried to Westminster the Black Rood of St Margaret and the famous stone of Scone, a relic of the early Irish dynasty of the Scots; as far north as Elgin he rode, receiving the oaths of all persons of note and influence—except William Wallace.  His name does not appear in the list of submissions called “The Ragman’s Roll.”  Between April and October 1296 the country was subjugated; the castles were garrisoned by Englishmen.  But by January 1297, Edward’s governor, Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and Ormsby, his Chief Justice, found the country in an uproar, and at midsummer 1297 the levies of the northern counties of England were ordered to put down the disorders.


In May the commune of Scotland (whatever the term may here mean) had chosen Wallace as their leader; probably this younger son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, in Renfrewshire, had already been distinguished for his success in skirmishes against the English, as well as for strength and courage. {36}  The popular account of his early adventures given in the poem by Blind Harry (1490?) is of no historical value.  His men destroyed the English at Lanark (May 1297); he was abetted by Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, and the Steward; but by July 7, Percy and Clifford, leading the English army, admitted the Steward, Robert Bruce (the future king), and Wishart to the English peace at Irvine in Ayrshire.  But the North was up under Sir Andrew Murray, and “that thief Wallace” (to quote an English contemporary) left the siege of Dundee Castle which he was conducting to face Warenne on the north bank of the Forth.  On September 11, the English, under Warenne, manœuvred vaguely at Stirling Bridge, and were caught on the flank by Wallace’s army before they could deploy on the northern side of the river.  They were cut to pieces, Cressingham was slain, and Warenne galloped to Berwick, while the Scots harried Northumberland with great ferocity, which Wallace seems to have been willing but not often able to control.  By the end of March 1298 he appears with Andrew Murray as Guardian of the Kingdom for the exiled Balliol.  This attitude must have aroused the jealousy of the nobles, and especially of Robert Bruce, who aimed at securing the crown, and who, after several changes of side, by June 1298 was busy in Edward’s service in Galloway.

Edward then crossed the Border with a great army of perhaps 40,000 men, met the spearmen of Wallace in their serried phalanxes at Falkirk, broke the “schiltrom” or clump of spears by the arrows of his archers; slaughtered the archers of Ettrick Forest; scattered the mounted nobles, and avenged the rout of Stirling (July 22, 1298).  The country remained unsubdued, but its leaders were at odds among themselves, and Wallace had retired to France, probably to ask for aid; he may also conceivably have visited Rome.  The Bishop of St Andrews, Lamberton, with Bruce and the Red Comyn—deadly rivals—were Guardians of the Kingdom in 1299.  But in June 1300, Edward, undeterred by remonstrances from the Pope, entered Scotland; an armistice, however, was accorded to the Holy Father, and the war, in which the Scots scored a victory at Roslin in February 1293, dragged on from summer to summer till July 1304.  In these years Bruce alternately served Edward and conspired against him; the intricacies of his perfidy are deplorable.

Bruce served Edward during the siege of Stirling, then the central key of the country.  On its surrender Edward admitted all men to his peace, on condition of oaths of fealty, except “Messire Williame le Waleys.”  Men of the noblest Scottish names stooped to pursue the hero: he was taken near Glasgow, and handed over to Sir John Menteith, a Stewart, and son of the Earl of Menteith.  As Sheriff of Dumbartonshire, Menteith had no choice but to send the hero in bonds to England.  But, if Menteith desired to escape the disgrace with which tradition brands his name, he ought to have refused the English blood-price for the capture of Wallace.  He made no such refusal.  As an outlaw, Wallace was hanged at London; his limbs, like those of the great Montrose, were impaled on the gates of various towns.

What we really know about the chief popular hero of his country, from documents and chronicles, is fragmentary; and it is hard to find anything trustworthy in Blind Harry’s rhyming “Wallace” (1490), plagiarised as it is from Barbour’s earlier poem (1370) on Bruce. {38}  But Wallace was truly brave, disinterested, and indomitable.  Alone among the leaders he never turned his coat, never swore and broke oaths to Edward.  He arises from obscurity, like Jeanne d’Arc; like her, he is greatly victorious; like her, he awakens a whole people; like her, he is deserted, and is unlawfully put to death; while his limbs, like her ashes, are scattered by the English.  The ravens had not pyked his bones bare before the Scots were up again for freedom.

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