Scotland in the Late 13th Century
Alexander III is generally recognised as one of the greatest Kings of
Scotland. Born in 1241 in Roxburgh, he was crowned King in 1249 at the
age of eight, and immediately became a political pawn in the struggle
for power between the great men of the kingdom. Married to the princess
Margaret of England (daughter of Henry III) in 1251, Alexander found himself
facing a demand that he perform homage to his new father-in-law. Presumably
guided by his regents, he refused.
Gaining his majority at the age of 21, Alexander went on to beat off
a Norwegian fleet commanded by King Haakon at the Battle of Largs in 1263,
and in 1266 persuaded Norway to part with the Hebrides and the Isle of
Man in return for cash.
Although Alexander and Margaret had three children, the youngest, David,
died at the age of 9 in 1281, and in the first four months of 1283 was
followed by his brother Alexander (20), and sister Margaret at the age
of 23 while giving birth to her first child, also called Margaret, from
her marriage to King Eirik II of Norway. During 1284, this one remaining
member of the royal line was made heir, while Alexander sought a new wife
to provide a stronger successor to the throne.
Having married Yolande de Dreux in 1285, Alexander was riding home to
his new wife in March 1286 when his horse threw him in the dark. Scotland
had lost one of its greatest kings, and was left with only a three year
old child in Norway as its monarch.
Arrangements were made for Margaret to be brought to Scotland, but it
wasn't until 1290 that she set sail. However, on the journey she became
increasingly ill, and in Orkney she died at the age of 7.
Left with no heir, the nobility of Scotland turned to Edward I of England
in an attempt to avoid civil war, hoping that Edward could decide on who
had the best claim to the throne from the 13 claimants who came forward.
In 1292, in what appears to be a calculated move, Edward chose John de
Balliol as King, and effectively set him up as an English puppet. Over
the next four years, Balliol was increasingly humiliated by Edward, and
eventually took a stand by signing a treaty of mutual assistance with
Norway and France in 1296 which led Edward to invade in an effort to bring
his puppet back into line. Slaughtering the population of Berwick, and
defeating the Scots at Dunbar on the 27th April, Edward gained full control
of Scotland and forced Balliol to abdicate under duress.
Balliol was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and Edward garrisoned
the castles of Scotland with his troops. Sheriffs were appointed to enforce
the laws and suppress any hint of further rebellion, and the nobility
of Scotland were summoned to Berwick to sign an oath of allegiance to
Edward in return for retaining their lands - known as the Ragman Roll
due to the number of seals hanging from it.
Resentment and unrest simmered below the surface, waiting for a spark
to light the flame which would turn into a full-scale war to recover the
lost independence of Scotland. William Wallace was to be the man to provide