John I


John I

John Balliol was born in 1248. After the death of Margaret of Norway in 1290 there was no heir apparent and Scotland slipped towards civil war. The two main rivals for the crown were John Balliol and Robert Bruce (the elder). Balliol was the great-great grandson of David I and so had the strongest claim to the throne.

The Guardians of Scotland turned to the English King Edward I for help in resolving the dispute. His price was the acknowledgment of him as overlord of Scotland. His real aim was to abolish Scottish independence and assimilate the country completely.

Edward was able to get the various claimants and the other noble families of Scotland to agree to him becoming lord superior while he held proceedings to determine the next king. This battle for the crown was known as the Great Cause and in November 1292 Balliol was declared the winner and crowned at Scone on St Andrews day.

Edward was not satisfied with his position as lord superior and was clearly still interested in applying direct control. The Bruce family were also unhappy at losing their claim to the throne and so it was a precarious situation that the newly made King John found himself in.

Edward was quick to humiliate the Scottish king whenever the opportunity arose. In 1293 King John was summoned to appear before an English court, found in contempt and compelled to give up his three main castles. While John was willing to be a vassal king Edward expected him to be a humble servant and put him in an impossible position. When war broke out between France and England Edward's requests became even more outrageous and King John went to make a treaty with France. The treaty of 1295 meant neither country could seek a separate peace with England.

King John raised an army and marched on Carlisle. The force he raised was small, as other claimants to the throne such as Bruce would not fight alongside him, and poorly trained and equipped. In 1296 the English took Berwick and slaughtered the residents. Edward advanced and soon held most of the major strongholds in the lowlands. John had few allies and indeed few options left and he surrendered to Edward in 1296, signing a document which admitted his folly in attacking Edward and handed over control of the land and people of Scotland.

Edward made John suffer by having him dress up as king one last time and then taking the crown from his head, the sword and sceptre from his hands, the ring from his finger and even the fur from his coat. John was completely humiliated and earned the nickname Toom Tabard (empty coat). Balliol was imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually released into the custody of the pope. By 1301 he was living on his estate in Picardy where he remained until he died in 1314.

Wallace would soon lead an uprising in Balliol's name but the fallen king never returned to Scotland and after 1302 he made no attempts to return or support the Scots.