Last time we ended with the conclusion of the Great Cause, and with the proud inauguration of John Baliol as king of Scots in traditional fashion at Scone. King John is not a favourite figure of Scottish history, in fact if this was the world of shellfish, the poor guy would be relegated to the most bottom of the bottom feeders, right down there in the mud that lies below the pool of Scottish history. Maybe even Shakespeare’s MacBeth, let alone the historical Macbeth, would be preferable.
He pretty quickly acquired the name Toom Tabard, empty vest, a contemptuous name that records his ultimate humiliation. So bad is the poor lad’s reputation that when John Stewart succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1390, he had himself crowned as Robert III, just so that he would not be associated in anyway whatsoever with the first Scottish King John. Baliol is the victim of propaganda; it was English chroniclers who gave him the contemptuous nickname Toom Tabard, because, honestly, the English Chroniclers were pretty relentlessly neggy Scots-wise. And medieval Scottish chroniclers went into the attack later because they were keen to big up the Stewarts and Bruces. So John Balliol gets the squeeze.
I’m not going to tell you that actually John was a great guy, loved taking his dog for a walk, something of an amateur poet and a great family man, and a great hero to the people of Scotland. But I will confess to a bit of sympathy for the man. In a world of hospital balls, the ball passed to him in 1292 along with the Scottish crown has got to be the most hospit-ally of all.
First thing then is that at the inauguration ceremony at Scone, the tradition was that the MacDuff Earls of Fife conducted the ceremony. This did not happen for John, because the earl of Fife was only 2 years old at the time. This was because his dad, Duncan Macduff the 8th Earl of Fife and one of the Guardians appointed in 1286, had been brutally and inexplicably murdered. The death of MacDuff was soon to be significant as a trigger for a spot of chaos, but we will come to that in a moment. More immediately worrying in the hospital ball department for the moment, was what happened immediately after the inauguration at Scone. Because John next travelled to Newcastle, to where Edward I was holding his Christmas court; and there he knelt before Edward, placed his hands in his and swore
Lord Edward, lord superior of the realm of Scotland, I John Baliol, king of Scots, become your liegeman for the whole of Scotland
No wriggle room there then. Edward did some nice things, returning the Isle of Mann to Scottish lordship for example, but the nice things are of the chicken feed level of niceness. Edward was the superior lord able to act as a court of appeal for any of Baliol’s disgruntled subjects. And if they did that the Balliol nose would be firmly ground in the dung for all to see, the new found submission of the Scottish throne to the English on public view.
And ensuring that his subjects were sufficiently gruntled was not a simple matter. As we’ve heard, the years after the death of Alexander III had become increasingly factionalised; and the Great Cause itself had emphasised that. Baliol was now surrounded by a row of the eager little faces of his supporters, men like Bishop Fraser, the Comyns, the MacDougalls in the western isles. These men were smiling, clapping him on the back, and holding out their little paws, waiting expectantly for the little jewels and gifts their candidate would no doubt gratefully place there. There was another row of faces, sullen, grumpy, suspicious – the Bruces, Stewarts, MacDonalds. They had their arms folded, or were disdainfully drawing aside their imaginary skirts. The body language was ‘go on then, make me an offer, convince me’.
Essentially, John had to reward his followers; he had to win the allegiance and confidence of his recent competitors, he had to keep his overlord happy, while not rubbing the subjection of the Scottish crown in the faces of the Scots. Very few of these people, gentle listener, were to prove helpful to King John in this – though some were. But what you can put out of your mind is the idea that Baliol returned to Scotland to general outrage that he’d submitted to the English king – they’d all been forced to do that, they were all complicit at this point.
Baliol started brightly enough – by calling the first Scottish parliament. This is a contentious statement – rather, it was the first formal record of a parliament summoned by a Scottish king. This calls for a digression.
There’s no doubt that large assemblies of magnates were regularly called by Scottish kings, such as the one Alexander III called in 1284 to confirm the succession; such meetings were clearly designed to gain consent. However they had no specifically defined function, no set composition, despite the fact that English records, used to the idea of parliaments from their own context, referred to these meetings as parliaments from the 1250s. In it a deep, deep irony therefore that the first Scottish parliaments were those called by Edward I while the Great Cause was being decided – the first in April 1291 at Berwick.
So, king John called the first parliament called by a Scottish king, and he would call 8 of the things over the next 3 years. These parliaments included nobles, prelates and ecclesiastical lords and representatives of the burghs. John’s strategy made absolute sense – it allowed him to draw the community of the realm around him in a series of difficult decisions that needed to be made. First off then, the rewarding of his followers thing; John created new sheriffdoms to reward John Comyn and William the earl of Ross; Alexander MacDougall was given powers in Argyl and Mull, James Steward also rewarded.
While John was dishing out the goodies, a more disturbing development was going on. Essentially, the teeth of the MacDuff murder case I mentioned were quietly closing on John Baliol’s bum. The successor to the murdered MacDuff was his Uncle. In 1292, before Baliol was taken to the winner’s podium for the King of Scotland race, the macDuff Uncle had complained to Edward I that the Bishop of Fraser of St Andrews was stopping him from taking possession of the MacDuff lands – presumably so that Bishop Fraser could continue to draw the revenues of the land. Uncle Macduff asked for Edward to act to defend and confirm his rights. The potential was there at this point for Edward to make a judgement, and then all the world would see Edward demonstrating his position, but actually Edward waited, and then passed the judgment to Baliol to make which is good. When it came to judgement though, Balliol of course faced a problem – because Bishop Fraser was Baliol’s chum, and Fraser had supported him through the process, and Balliol did not have enough friends to irritate one of them. So Baliol called Uncle MacDuff to the parliament to prove his right. But rather than awarding him his lands – Macduff was chucked in prison. Sweet. And there it stayed for the moment.
All off this meant that Baliol did a good job of rewarding his followers. But he did less of a good job though of healing the divisions of the realm. Bruce V, Bruce the Competitor angrily passed the rights to all his lands in Scotland to his son Bruce VI, just so that he did not have to suffer the indignity of paying homage to his enemy John Baliol, and off he stalked to his English lands. Angus of Islay, head of the clan MacDonald was livid at seeing a MacDougall set above him and rewarded – these were deadly rivals.
So there remained a group of the disenchanted, who were looking to embarrass John. And Angus of Islay knew a way. Angus orchestrated a group of Islemen who sent a complaint to the court of king Edward – because of course you could do that now, because Edward was the feudal overlord. That would both help a potential ally, Uncle Macduff currently in Balliol’s prison; and it would undermine John’s authority.
You might now here Baliol squeak slightly and shift uncomfortably on the throne – that would be the teeth of the macDuff case, because – uncle macduff also appealed to Edward. Edward now demanded that Baliol come down to the English court in September 1293 to answer for his actions. Now Baliol showed the manner of his backbone. At Westminster he bravely denied Edward’s right to adjudicate in matters of Scotland. Edward got nasty, and I’m not going to lie to you, Baliol was less than heroic at this point. He collapsed and agreed to return with a decision next year, and meanwhile Edward took over the wardship of the Earldom of Fife until he’d done so. So now neither macDuff nor Fraser had their land. Edward I had a legalistic frame of mind, and consistently showed absolutely no sympathy to Baliol’s fate. Maybe, just maybe, with a bit of respect and forebearance, the Scottish nobility could have come to accept a king whose legal right to the throne was pretty universally accepted, even if not yet universally liked. But Edward would consistently leave him with no place to hide, no fig leaf to hide his modesty, his humiliation was constant and public. The teeth of the MacDuff case were now chewing hungrily on the Baliol backside as Baliol shrieked all the way back to Scotland. Edward, his intransigence and lack of nuance was more responsible for what followed that was John Baliol.
The wider affairs of Edwards kingdom now have a major influence on affairs. In 1294, King Philip of France manufactured a complaint against Edward and had him stripped of his possessions of Gascony, and invaded. He was using exactly the same lever as Edward was using against Baliol – the right of a feudal overlord to exercise justice. The first impact of this was that Edward came back to his vassals and called them to war for their liegelord – including the Scots and Welsh. In 1294 the Welsh rose in revolt. Some of the Scots went to join their ultimate lord. But many did not – Baliol and 26 of his magnates did not, angrily reflecting that this was one of the things the treaty of Birgham in 1290 had specifically been aimed to prevent. And who had signed that? Oh yes, Edward blessed Plantagenet.
Despite Ballol’s refusal to attend, there was clearly a group who saw his trouble with Edward as an opportunity, because from this stage some see signs that there is a group of Scots working to undermine Baliol’s leadership; there’s talk of a Council of 12, and it could be that this group of magnates effectively took power from Baliol’s hands, but it’s not clear. And more recently, the inevitable revisionists have argued that the idea of a glorious Council of 12 is just propaganda designed to reinforce the later story of the brave resistance of the Bruce. What we know is that Baliol rediscovered a backbone and fought back against Edward – whether that backbone was his own, or caused by members of his parliament standing behind him with his arm held firmly up his back is not clear. Anyway, Baliol called another parliament, and as a result concluded a military alliance with France, and refused to go south as promised to report his judgment on the Macduff case. For the scots, this was the right of an independent kingdom. For Edward – this was simply rebellion, and he would treat his opponents accordingly. In 1296, when the circumstances of his war with France allowed, he came north at the head of a large army to crush the rebel Baliol.
As Baliol trotted forth to defend his kingdom in 1296 at the head of his feudal army, he kept looking over his shoulder, in a wistful kind of way. Because in the ranks of his army were some significant gaps. The Bruces were not there, nor was the Earl of Dunbar. Baliol and his magnates took a conventional approach to this war, in the sense that they raised as large an army as they could to fight Edward off, but they tried to slow Edward down by raiding south of the border. Edward meanwhile was not to be diverted, and the Scots retreated before him. Which brought Edward to the walls of Berwick. Berwick is a problem of course, because until 15th century it’s a bit tricky to remember at any one point in time whether it’s in a Scottish phase or an English phase, but in 1296 it was in a Scottish phase, and one of the most important towns in Scotland. It was defended by William Douglas, who although well prepared appeared to have done a rotten job. Edward called for the town’s surrender, and nobody turned up – so it was defiance then. Edward’s men flowed into the town with apparent ease. And by tradition perpetrated an atrocity, a massacre. This is Walter Bower’s, the 15th century continuer of the Fordun chronicle.
When the town had been taken in this way and its citizens had submitted, Edward spared no one, whatever the age or sex, and for two days streams of blood flowed from the bodies of the slain, for in his tyrannous rage he ordered 7,500 souls of both sexes to be massacred…So that mills could be turned round by the flow of their blood.’
Actually this is the lowest of the contemporary estimates, which go as high as 25,000 killed. And modern popular histories tend to repeat the story; one of them goes for 13,000 killed. It’s very probable indeed that Edward allowed his men to sack Berwick – after all these were the rules of sieges where a town refused to surrender. The numbers, though, sound very much like hyperbole. The largest towns in Scotland at the time – Perth, Edinburgh, Aberdeen – are estimated to have populations of the order of 2,000 at the time, so let’s say that Berwick was much bigger, given that it was a successful port, and lets say it was swollen by folks from the countryside. Maybe 5,000 then; it is most unlikely all were killed – and indeed we are specifically told that the priests managed to stop Edward before all were killed.
The sacking of Berwick is one of those black marks against Edward, one of the bits of evidence used to show what a hideous tyrant he was. Actually there are plenty of good examples of Edward’s political mismanagement and arrogance, but the sacking of Berwick stands as simple black propaganda against him. The sacking of Berwick was entirely in line with the rules of war at the time. The number who dies are massively exaggerated. As a bit of further evidence you might look at the behaviour of William Douglas, who seems to have declared defiance and then done nothing to defend the town. You might also reflect what happens next; having watched the sacking, Douglas, holed up in the castle, did now surrender – and hey presto, the lives of Douglas and his men were duly spared.
John Baliol now formally withdrew his homage to Edward, and Edward ordered John Warenne the earl of Surrey northwards, Warenne took Dunbar Castle, and there met the Scottish army, and battle was offered by Balliol, and battle was joined. The result was a disaster – Dunbar was an overwhelming English victory, and with the Earls of Mentieth, Ross and Atholl were captured. Scottish resistance collapsed, and Edward was able to march basically unopposed all the way through Scotland to Aberdeen, capturing towns as he went. As he marched, the Scottish nobles came in their droves to submit. Baliol and a significant group of notables including the Comyns retreated without being able to organise any significant resistance, until in July John also gave in and made a very abject submission.
1296 was military failure, but it was also a political failure for the Scots. Support for Baliol was weak, and with the first push magnates quickly decided that they would rather have access to Edward’s patronage than spend a life on the run. This is not simple self interest; the point of a lord was to provide protection, and Ballopl had proved unable to provide it; his magnates needed then to think of the interests of their own tenants. Their own people needed to be protected from the retribution the victorious Edward might impose, or indeed the arrival of new possibly alien landlords. Baliol, however sympathetically you might view him, did not provide the kind of steadfast leadership that would be shown by William Wallace and Robert Bruce.
After Dunbar, Edward was in fine fettle, on top form. There is no record of such a thing, but as he viewed the prospect of a triumphant march through Scotland in the spring and summer of 1296, he may well have hummed to himself as he rode, maybe a gleeful smile played on his cherry lips. At one point the current head of the Bruce family, Robert Bruce VI, came to have a chat with him. The old warhorse Robert Bruce V had finally had the good grace to die in 1295, and so now his son, Robert VI was lord and inheritor of all his rights. So as I say, he came for a chat, and suggested that since Baliol was now obviously no longer in Edward’s good graces, it would seem appropriate to award the crown to the other main competitor in the Great Cause, you know, the Bruce otherwise known as me.
Have we nothing else to do but to win kingdoms for you?
Was Edward’s majesterial put down. It’s quite crushing, but more than that, it’s quite worrying. What were Edward’s plans for Scotland then? By the summer it became clear. On 2nd July 1296, Baliol submitted to Edward. On 7th he renounced the French treaty. On 10th July at Brechin Castle he resigned to Edward his rights to the Scottish throne. The wheels had come off firmly and finally. He was taken to Melrose and there had to go through a nasty little ceremony where he was publicly cashiered the poor lad – in particular, the royal insignia was stripped from his surcoat, or tabard. Here then is the meaning of the name Toom Tabard – empty coat, and it’s a very effective phrase, speaking of a physical humiliation but also a spiritual incapability. Off he went to the Tower of London and eventually he was allowed to leave and go and live on his estates in Picardy. He has a son, Edward Baliol, and John continued to call himself king of Scots, a bit like Pearl the singer, who they say once cut a record. They played it or a week or so on the local radio, but like John Baliol, she never made it. And so I imagine John Baliol on his estate bar in his nightgown, sitting at the beer stained table, dreaming of the things he never got to do.
The reason why Baliol was released from the Tower is interesting though, and important to the later story. It was the Pope that ordered Edward to release him, which is slightly surprising since by and large the Pope tens to support Edward in his rights. But here, he was persuaded after fierce representation from the Scottish church. This will be a central thread throughout the wars of independence. The Scottish church had managed to win independence from the ABY during the reign of William the Lion; English lordship brought the danger of being integrated into one British church. The Scottish bishop’s hatred of this idea meant that the Scottish church played a fundamental and consistent and part in Scotland’s fight to free herself.
Edward was still cookin’ though. By August 1296 he was back in Berwick and he convened a parliament, a sort of victory roll parliament. To his parliament was brought a truly remarkable document called the Ragman Roll.
The name, Ragman Roll, comes from a game called Ragman, where a word was attached to a string, and drawn out from a scroll by pulling on it. Basically the Ragman roll is a document with a vast number of seals attached by a piece of ribbon – so it looks like the game. Huh, I hear you say. You might also like to know that from this messy, complicated document comes the word rigmarole for a complicated, messy and slightly disreputable process. I will leave that with you. Anyway, what happened was that Edward’s men went all over Scotland, and they took an oath of fealty from each lord to Edward, and they insisted that each noble landholder attach their seal by a piece of ribbon. By the time the Ragman Roll came back to Berwick to be presented, there were 1600 ribbons – which has got to be pretty much every significant landholder in Scotland. The Ragman Roll is a deeply uncomfortable document for the patriotic Scot, as though it was shameful admission of defeat – again one of the popular histories I read almost weeps with shame. It seems to me to be a very modern reading of the document. It really wasn’t a mark of shame. This was a different age, all these were simple giving allegiance to Baliol’s liegelord acknowledged still at this stage by the magnates of the land, and at this stage they had every expectation that their rights within an independent Scotland would continue. Having said that – there was at least one significant seal missing, which we will talk about next week. That missing seal was not however, repeat not that of anybody called Robert Bruce. Robert Bruce VI and Robert Bruce VII were both there.
Robert Bruce VII, by the way is our Robert Bruce the famous Bruce, at last entering the story. He was about 22 years old at this stage. His father Bruce VI also seems to have resigned the Earldom of Carrick to his him, which allowed Bruce VI to remain a peaceful English lord effectively, and his son could take whatever grief was coming for Scotland. Thus split loyalties were avoided for each individual Bruce, though not avoided for the Bruce family as a whole.
It now became clear why Edward had been so cavalier in his answer to Robert Bruce VI. Because he had no intention of putting a new king of Scotland in King John’s place. This would now be direct rule, Scotland was to be like Wales, this was conquest, or colonisation, this was English imperialism. John Warenne, another Englishman, was to be his lieutenant in Scotland. A series of appointments were made to sheriffdoms – and the vast majority were Englishmen, a radical and startling development. The sheriffs would be backed up by English garrisons is castles up and down the country. The regalia of Scottish monarchs were removed – the Holy Rood of Margaret and much more famously of course, the Stone of Destiny from Scone, were taken and removed down to Westminster.
Game, set and match, down and out in Aberdeen and Wigtown, one hundred and eighty – it seemed all over. Edward’s new treasurer the enormously fat Hugh Cressingham, managed to produce £5,000 worth of revenue from Scotland in the first year, and Edward once more demanded and confidently expected military service for his war in France, from just one other province in his Empore.
But Edward had made a critical change in his approach. The magnates had submitted in 1296 because very often their allegiance to Baliol was weak, and because his leadership was weak; they deserted because they were sure Edward would retain them in their position as the autonomous aristocracy of Scotland. I’m not necessarily saying they were reconciled to Edward as their king, but some were, some remained to be convinced. But now he had touched their rights and their authority. And below them, the people who had sealed the Ragman Roll were suddenly faced with major threats to their position. Previously, sheriffs had been local men, now there were alien Englishmen with incomprehensible accents smelling of Fish and Chips and Brown sauce taking their jobs and collecting their taxes. These men had no appreciation of their traditions liberties and customs. Uncertainty arrived, rumours circulated and were believed; for example, the Burgesses in many towns panicked that there would be seizures of wool for sale by the Crown. A rumour appeared that even that squires, burgesses, freeholders would be
Seized and sent beyond the sea in Edward’s war to their great damage and destruction
Panic spread among the clergy; maybe benefices would now all be given to English clergy; maybe the idea of the supremacy of the ABY would be brought back, and the hard won independence of the Church in Scotland would be lost. After Berwick it had become clear that their own king had been removed, but when they signed up for Edward in the Ragman Roll, they’d assumed Scottish rights, customs and local leadership would be safe. Now they were not so sure, and indeed evidence was in front of them that they would be ruled by aliens. Over the winter and into the Spring rumours and discontent spread, tenant talked to tenant, talked to magnate, merchant talked to merchant.
There might be trouble ahead. Someone might well just face the music and dance.