Chapter 2 – The Competition and John Balliol

Submitted by Owen McCafferty on Thu, 2009-11-19

There were 13 claimants to the throne, but only two were worthy of serious concideration. The two rivals were John Balliol and Robert Bruce, and most of the countries support was divided between these two. In an effort to avoid civil war, Edward was asked to arbitrate between the claimants. It must be remembered that at this time Edward was still considered to be a friend of Scotland, and had not yet earned the title ‘Hammer of the Scots’.

Edward set out for Scotland in November of 1290 and disaster immediately struck. On the journey, Eleanor, his wife of thirty-five years died from a fever. Edward immediately returned to London to bury his wife. Her death brought about an evil change in Edwards nature. As a child he had been prone to acts of cruelty but had been tamed over the years by her gentleness. Now without her restraining influence, his earlier temperament was to reassert itself against any who thwarted his plans. After her funeral he immediately set back north. Things would not be the same.

Edward brought with him a small force and many barons and nobles. He also left quiet instructions for an army to be gathered and brought north to meet him. He asked the claimant’s to meet with him on May 30th, 1291. Once gathered, he insisted that the claimants recognize him as their feudal lord. This was unexpected and took the claimants aback. They asked for time to consider their response and they were granted three weeks, by which time Edward knew that his army would be at his side. At the end of the three weeks, the claimants were in a very awkward position. Edward lay at their border with a formidable army, Scotland was unprepared for war after 100 years of peace and none of the claimants could really deny him for fear of weakening their case. In fact, several of the claimants already owed him fealty for their lands in England, Balliol and Bruce included. So in June of 1291 each of the claimants publicly swore to Edward.

The two strongest claims were held by John Balliol and Robert Bruce. Both were descended from David, brother of King William ‘the Lion’ of Scotland. Balliol was grandson of Davids eldest daughter, Bruce was son of his second Daughter. So Balliol had the elder lineage, but Bruce the closest. Unfortunately, the rules of succession in Europe varied widely and both were perfectly valid claims. Edward initially favored Bruce’s claim, until the Bishop of Durham reminded him of the personalities of the two men. Bruce was an independently minded man who had the loyalty of half of Scotland’s Nobles, lands and armies. Balliol, on the other hand, was rather weak willed, and barely Scottish. Most of his lands were in France and England, and his real claim to Scotland was being related to John Comyn, mortal enemy of the Bruces. Edward chose in favor of Balliol. On November 6th, having been informed of the Kings decision, Robert Bruce, delegated his claim to the throne to his son, Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick. Two days later, this Robert Bruce delegated his claim to his own son and heir, then eighteen year old Robert Bruce.

On November 17, 1292 the kings official judgement was read aloud. Of the thirteen competitors, seven had withdrawn and three had been dismissed. Of the remaining three, Edward proclaimed that the senior branch held precedence and that John Balliol was heir to the throne. Upon hearing this, the young Robert Bruce left the room, refusing to pay homage or swear fealty to John Balliol. Bruce felt that a great injustice had been done and that his Grandfather was rightful King of Scotland.

On November 30, John Balliol was crowned King of Scotland and again swore fealty to Edward, firmly establishing himself as a vassal king. Over the next year, Edward went out of his way to crush the already weak willed King John. The climax came when John was called to London to answer charges placed against him by a minor noble. Normally this would have been unheard of, but John meekly submitted. Once in London, John tried to stand firm and refused to answer the charges. The English Parliament found him in contempt and he was ordered to surrender the three largest castles in Scotland as a result. At this, his will failed him and he gave in.

John Balliol pays homage to Edward I, 1292

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