Central to Robert Bruce’s struggles, and Scotland’s Wars of Independence which form the backdrop of The Blue Bells Trilogy, is England’s claim to be overlords of Scotland.
Why Edward I claimed, in the late 1200′s, to be overlord of Scotland requires a trip back to 1174. (Fasten your seatbelts, our time machine is revving its engines!) David I is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest kings. I will quote a historian who says it well: “‘He had found Scotland an isolated cluster of small half-united states, barely emergent from the Dark Ages; he left her a kingdom, prosperous, organised, in the full tide of medieval life, and fully part of Europe, as she remained through the rest of the middle ages and some time after.”
David’s son, Henry, died before David. He left three sons, two of whom became kings of Scotland. Malcolm IV reigned only twelve years and died without an heir. William the Lion, his younger brother, took the throne on December 9, 1165. In contrast to his brother, he was a strong king and a man of action. He is said to have been powerfully built, with red hair, and very headstrong. The title ‘the Lion,’ however, refers not to his strength or character, but to the fact that it is he who adopted the Lion Standard, the rearing red lion on a field of gold, which Robert the Bruce would carry 150 years later, and is still the royal standard of Scotland today.
One of William’s goals was to regain control of Northumberland, in the north of England. This had long-lasting consequences on Scotland’s future.
In the early years of his reign, he had something of a friendship with Henry II of England. He went to Normandy with him in 1166 and spent Easter 1170 as his guest. However, not entirely trusting Henry, he also joined an early incarnation of the Auld Alliance, a mutual pact of protection between Scotland, France, and Norway. When Henry’s three sons and wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, revolted against him in 1173, William stepped into the conflict, agreeing to help Eleanor in exchange for Northumberland.
In a stunning display of over-confidence at the ensuing Battle of Alnwick (which castle is better known today as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies!), William single-handedly charged the English troops, shouting, “Now we shall see which of us are good knights.” Apparently, given the odds, the English were. They captured William, and led him in chains to Newcastle, Northampton, and finally, Falaise, in Normandy.
He remained a prisoner for five months, obtaining his release only by signing the Treaty of Falaise on December 8, 1174. The treaty stated that Scots would be taxed to pay the cost of the occupying English armies, England would control Edinburgh, Stirling, and other key castles, and, most importantly to the events that would follow more than a hundred years later, that William recognize Henry as his feudal overlord. In 1175, he swore fealty to Henry at York.
In 1189, Richard I became king and launched his Crusades. By the third, he needed money, and so, sold back to Scotland, for 10,000 silver marks, the rights signed away by the Treaty of Falaise. Thus, for 15 years, England’s king was the overlord of Scotland.
Jump back to the reign of Alexander III in the 1200′s. Alexander became king at the age of 8. Henry III, now king of England, saw an opportunity in the youth of Scotland’s new king. At age 10, Alexander married Henry’s daughter, Margaret, and Henry began pressuring Alexander to swear fealty to Henry and England. Alexander sidestepped the demands, until after Edward I succeeded Henry III, when, with carefully chosen words, he swore this: “I become your man for the lands I hold of you in the Kingdom of England for which I owe homage, saving my Kingdom.”
Edward did not give up dreams of being overlord, like Henry II. His opportunity came in 1290. Four years earlier, Alexander III had died in a fall over a cliff, while trying to get home to his bride. His granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was his only heir, but on her journey to Scotland to claim the throne, she, too, died, leaving Scotland a kingdom without a king.
Into the void stepped thirteen men claiming to be the rightful heir. Fearful of civil war, the Scottish nobles asked Edward to choose. Edward agreed on the stipulation that he be recognized as overlord. The Scots, not surprisingly, rejected his kind offer, saying that, as there was no king, no one in their realm had the authority to agree to such a thing. They countered with the offer that he could be overlord until he chose a king.
The real choice was between Robert the Bruce (the Competitor, grandfather of the Robert the Bruce) and John Balliol. While some believe that Balliol did indeed have the stronger claim to the throne, it is generally accepted that Edward chose him more because he regarded him as the weakest man, one whom he could control and thus effectively rule Scotland. Thus, even after Balliol was crowned on November 30, 1292, Edward continued to act as overlord. Balliol soon refused to comply, leading to his forced abdication on July 10, 1296.
At issue remained Edward’s claim to be overlord of Scotland, stemming from the days of William the Lion more than a century prior. The Scots of course objected strongly, and it is at this stage that William Wallace rose, fighting for Scotland’s freedom. After his death in August of 1305, Robert the Bruce (grandson of the Competitor) took the throne of Scotland (that story is told elsewhere in my blog). From his crowning in March 1306, he fought against the English armies that occupied his country, leading steadily to the Battle of Bannockburn in June, 1314, in which Bruce pitted his own small army against the might of England, an army two to three times the size of his own.
It is this battle, stemming from years of England’s claim to sovereignty over Scotland, for which Niall, in Blue Bells of Scotland, is meant to make his cross-country trip to raise men, and this situation into which Shawn inadvertently wakes up, finding himself making the mission in Niall’s place.
Sources: Electric Scotland, Undiscovered Scotland, BritRoyals, and more.