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The Wars of Scottish Independence, 1290-1328

Last time we spoke about Edward I’s conquest of Wales, and its subsequent domination by the English.  This post will focus on the Anglo-Scottish struggles during Edward’s reign, and that of his son and successor, Edward II.  These struggles are important in the understanding of the Scottish fight to maintain independence.  Edward I’s handling of his Scottish affairs in many ways resembles that of his Welsh policies, but the aspects of the two conflicts were very different.

There had been antagonism and conflict between the English and Welsh throughout the thirteenth-century, which had seen a growing contempt for the Welsh amongst the English, but despite Llewelyn’s refusal to do homage to Edward I, Welsh princes had never gone as far as to deny the feudal overlordship of the Englishy king.  The situation in Scotland was completely different.  Scotland had been a kingdom since the year 843, and was a separate state from the English kingdom.  The Scottish king and nobles were therefore completely unwilling to accept any English claim to feudal overlordship.  The Scottish political structure was modelled to a large extent on those of England, and since the Norman conquest of England in 1066, Anglo-Norman families had peacefully migrated northward into Scotland over the 2 centuries between then and the period we are currently discussing.  Many of these families therefore owned land in both the kingdoms, and a peaceful and stable situation on the England-Scotland border was essential to maintaining cohesion in their landholdings.
Anglo-Scottish relations during the thirteenth-century had been, for the most part, peaceful, and this was shown particularly in the Scottish position during the barons wars of the 1250s and 60s, when the Scottish king Alexander III had not sought to take advantage of the situation to expand his influence or kingdom at the expense of England whilst Henry III was in a precarious position.  Rather, Alexander had instead married Henry’s daughter Margaret.  This contrasted wildly to the Welsh position of the  period of the barons wars, when Llewelyn created close relations with Simon de Montford and sought to marry his daughter Eleanor.  Edward also did not have any comparable marcher lords on the border with Scotland that he had been able to make use of in his dealings with Wales.  There was a need of Edward to see stability in Scotland so as to maintain stability within his own kingdom.
This stability was ruffled with the death of King Alexander III of Scotland in March 1286.  He left only a single heir: his three year old granddaughter Margaret, who was the daughter of the King of Norway.  The Scottish nobles organised for Margaret to come to Scotland to take up the throne, and then brokered a deal with Edward I for Margaret to marry his son and heir, Edward of Caernarvon (later Edward II).  This deal resulted in the Treaty of Birgham in July 1290, and the terms stated that the marriage would remain a personal one, and would see both kingdoms remain separate entities.  Unfortunately for the Scots, Margaret died in September 1290, and a struggle between the Scottish baronage for the right to succeed to the vacant throne ensued, threatening civil war.  It was at this point that the Bishop of St Andrews sought Edward I of England to arbitrate in the succession dispute.
In November 1291, Edward met the Scottish nobles at a parliament at Norham, and argued that he could not arbitrate and give judgement unless the Scottish nobility accepted him as their feudal overlord, and came under his jurisdiction.  This was a clever move on the part of Edward, using the crisis to officially create his overlordship over Scotland.  The nobility eventually agreed to Edward’s term, and Edward subsequently presided over the succession debates, where he ruled the kingdom must remain a united one and not be split between the baronage.  The debate on the succession came down to a choice between Robert Bruce (Grandfather of the future Robert I, King of Scotland) and John Balliol, of which Edward favouring the latter.  After Edward’s decision, Balliol paid homage to him at Newcastle in December 1292.
War broke out between England and France in May 1294, and Edward’s new need for increased finance and resources led him to increasingly demand payments and contribution from the Scottish kingdom, treating it as a feudal vassal state.  Balliol had attended a parliament at Westminster in June 1294, and promised Edward aid in his French war, yet the increased pressures and disrespect placed on the Scottish king led to the signing of a military alliance with France in 1295, in which neither would sign a separate peace treaty with the English.
Edward’s response to the alliance was to invade Scotland, from whence the Wars of Scottish Independence commenced.  His fast paced campaign into Scotland in the spring of 1296 saw the capture of Berwick upon Tweed on March 20th, Dunbar on April 27th, and eventually forced Balliol to abdicate the Scottish throne on July 2nd, 1296.  Edward held a parliament at Berwick on his return south, receiving the submission of the majority of the Scottish nobility, and seeing the Scottish kingdom come under the leadership of Edward.  Those of the Scottish nobility who refused to submit to Edward were replaced by loyal English nobles,  By now, the conquest seemed complete, so Edward felt safe to turn his attention southward toward the war in France.
The war with France drained the kings purse, and resulted in the need to raise taxes to unprecedently high levels, including on the clergy.  A Papal Bull was signed at roughly the same time by the Pope, Boniface VIII, that prohibited the paying of clerical tax to lay rulers, and a domestic crisis ensued in England that saw the outlawing of the clergy by Edward I in January 1297.  There was also conflict over the terms of military service and of the rights of Edwards exactions and seizures of goods to supply his forces and to sell in order to acquire capital to fund his war.  England by summer 1297 looked set to be heading toward civil war.  The timing of the Scottish rebellion in the summer of 1297 therefore seems at first hand to have been good, and presented a good opportunity to throw off the English yolk.  Unfortunately, rather than increase pressure on the English king, the rebellion forced the English to settle their differences, and in October 1297, Edward reaffirmed Magna Carta, and agreed to insert clauses to appease the baronage.  This provided the English with a united front against the Scots.
The rebellion of 1297 flared up under the leadership of a member of a petty knightly family, William Wallace.  The rebel forces under his leadership met an English army at Stirling Bridge on September 11th, 1297, and routed them.  The rebels then undertook a campaign into northern England in the winter of 1297/98, laying waste to north Cumberland and to Northumberland.  Edward had managed to broker a truce with France whilst the crisis of 1297 was underway, and could ill afford to fight a war on two fronts with the resources available to him.  This truce allowed him to turn northward to deal with the Scottish rebellion, and he made preparations at York for a campaign in 1298.  In July of 1298, Edward marched northward, but his campaign fell into trouble when he was unable to secure his supply lines.  The English were on the verge of a need to retreat when Wallace and the Scottish forces offered battle at Falkirk on July 22nd.  Edward defeated these forces, then marched on Perth, whilst defeat had forced Wallace to flee to France.  Edward, having met little resistance on his march to Perth, subsequently returned to Carlisle, confident the rebellion had been put down.
Scottish resistance, however, continued.  By 1299, a Triumvirate leadership emerged, consisting of Robert Bruce (future King Robert I), John Comyn, and the Bishop of St Andrews.  They undertook a campaign to retake Stirling in the autumn of 1299, and continued campaigning throughout the next four years.  Edward’s domestic disputes re-emerged, and although campaigns took place in 1300 and 1301, he was unable to break the Scottish will to resist.  By February 1303 much of southern Scotland had been recovered, and Edward’s campaign of 1303 saw him march north, taking Perth, Aberdeen and Elgin, and saw Scottish resistance finally collapse.  Edward then attempted to establish a government of Scotland, consisting of loyal Scottish nobles, and 21 Englishmen whom he had appointed.
Small-scale resistance continued in the north and west of Scotland, where the terrain allowed effective guerrilla warfare to be undertaken against the English, and in February 1306, Robert Bruce murdered his main rival for the throne and was installed as king of Scotland at Scone in March before Edward or any of his other opponents could react.  Edward I marched north to meet Robert in battle in 1307, but died on July 7th near Burgh.  His son, Edward II, succeeded him, but divisions within the English government in the half decade after Edward’s accession prevented a unified campaign taking place, and this allowed the Scottish time to recover their position and for Robert to consolidate his rule.  Robert also used his forces to terrorise the north of England, and levy protection money from towns that his forces advanced upon.  Robert was able to retake southern Scotland, barring a strip of forts in the borderlands and Stirling, and also took the Isle of Man in 1313.

Tomb of King Robert I, Dunfermline Abbey

The success of Robert during this period eventually led to an expedition by Edward II in 1314, in an attempt to relieve the besieged castle at Stirling.  As he advanced northward, the Scottish forces under Robert halted him, and defeated him at the Battle of Bannockburn on the 23rd and 24th of June, 1314. The victory of Robert conversed much legitimacy on his rule, and saw the English forced out of Scotland.  For Edward in contrast, the defeat had been the first time that an English king had led forces on the field of battle against the Scots and been beaten, severely damaging his reputation.  Robert’s forces campaigned in England and Ireland in the years following Bannockburn, and eventually a 13 year truce was signed in 1323.
Edward II was deposed in 1326 by his wife Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, and eventually was murdered on September 21st, 1327.  The internal English turmoil presented an opportunity to the Scottish that Robert felt he could capitalise on, yet his attack on Norham Castle failed utterly.  By the winter of 1327/28, negotiations were underway for a peace settlement between the English and Scottish, and the peace treaty was declared by Edward III of England on March 1st, 1328, seeing him renounce any claim he had to the Scottish throne, and a marriage between Edward’s sister Joan, and Robert’s son David.  Thus ended the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Edward I had attempted to take advantage of the turmoil that had ensued after the Scottish succession crisis of 1290/91, but wildly underestimated the Scottish desire for independence, and the will of the Scottish people to resist.  These wars are important in the history of Britain, for the kingdoms of England and Scotland only officially became one as the United Kingdom in 1707, almost 400 years after Edward’s attempt at the Scottish throne.

Important points from this blog entry:

    • Edward I initiated the Wars of Scottish Succession when he invaded and deposed Balliol in 1296
    • The views of the Scots was not taken into consideration by Edward, and he was unable to put down constant rebellion
    • Internal struggles in England, and war with France, prevented the English from pooling their resources and successfully conquering Scotland
    • The Scottish Kingdom lasted until 1707, when it united with England to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Ross Lane, 2012

Further Reading:

Harding, A., England in the Thirteenth Century, (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Holmes, G., The Later Middle Ages 1272-1485, (London; Sphere Books Ltd, 1974)

Powicke, Maurice., The Thirteenth Century; 1216-1307, (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1962), 2nd Ed

Prestwich, M., English Monarchs: Edward I, (London; Methuen London Ltd, 1988)

Prestwich, M., War, Politics and Finance under Edward I, (Aldershot; Gregg Revivals, 1991

Salzman, L. F., Edward I, (London; Constable & Company Ltd, 1968)

Tuck, A., Crown and Nobility: 1272-1461, (London; Fontana Press, 1985)

Watson, F., Under the Hammer: Edward I and Scotland, 1286-1307, (Edinburgh; The Tuckwell Press, 1998)