Yesterday, we were left with one hell of a cliff hanger — King Alexander III of Scotland tumbled from the cliffs of Kinghorn. See what happens next? 

 ‘With the death of the king, many put forward their claims for the crown. One such claimant was old Robert Bruce (the Lord of Annandale and grandfather of Robert the Bruce) who became known as the Competitor. Rival factions threatened to split the country. The Scottish parliament sent envoys to seek out Edward I of England in far off Gascony in southern France, and ask for his advice and protection.’ 

 From our perspective, this seems a naïve act but back then …

‘Scotland’s relationship with England’s monarchs had been on favourable terms: respectful, but wary. Even Alexander III had been prepared to acknowledge, as did many Anglo-Scottish barons, King Edward’s overlordship. However, this extended only to their lands in England, not those in Scotland. Encroachment by their capricious neighbour was an ever-present danger. The country threatened to implode.

They even tried a treaty of sorts — to marry the royal heirs of England and Scotland and join the kingdoms. This was a tried and true formula. Did it work this time?

‘With the Treaty of Birgham, six-year-old Margaret, granddaughter of the deceased King of Scots and daughter of Eric II of Norway, was to marry Edward’s infant son. Some objected, concerned this marriage – where Margaret was, but a pawn to be used – could give the English king the pretext to interfere in the affairs of Scotland. Scottish and English nobles were sent to collect the child. During the voyage, the little Maid of Norway sickened and died. The year was 1290.’

Could it get any worse? Oh yes!

From that time on, battle lines were drawn by the attorneys and adjudicators of the thirteen claimants for the Scottish crown, delivering the complexities of claim and counter claim before a far-from-impartial judge: Edward of England. It was achieved by a piece of adroit political manoeuvring on his part, which would spell trouble for Scotland as an independent country.’

The legal battle came down to two claimants who were descended from an old Scottish king, David I. In the Anglo-Norman world of England and Scotland, rules of hereditary decreed who would be king. But Scotland was also a Celtic nation and the Celts had a different system. Civil war loomed for there were two families prepared to fight over the crown.

‘Principal amongst those claims was that of John Balliol who was perceived to have the most direct, and therefore senior hereditary right of primogeniture to the throne. His claim was supported by the closely-related and powerful Comyn family. One of their territories, the region of Galloway in southwest Scotland, bordered that of their long time rivals: the Bruce family, the Earls of Carrick and Lords of Annandale.’

Find out next time who wins…

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