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To the 11th century AD
11th - 15th century
     The Scottish kingdom
     Margaret, the Maid of Norway
     Edward I and Scotland
     Scotland's Wars of Independence
     Robert the Bruce
     Bannockburn and after
     The Stewart dynasty

16th century
17th century
18th century
19th - 20th century

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The Scottish kingdom: 1058-1286

The Scottish crown remains in the family of Malcolm III for more than two centuries. During this time Scotland becomes more prosperous and more civilized, with the founding of great monasteries in the southern parts of the country.

Meanwhile the north is gradually recovered from the Vikings. A turning point is the battle of Largs, in 1263. The king of Norway lands a fleet to assert his long-standing right over the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. He is defeated by the Scottish king, Alexander III. In 1266, at a treaty agreed in Perth, the Norwegians cede the western isles to the Scottish king. Only the Shetlands and Orkneys remain in Norse hands.


The most significant theme during these reigns is the relationship of the Scottish kings with their Norman neighbours to the south. It is one of considerable complexity, involving both cooperation and hostility. In several generations the royal families of Scotland and England intermarry. The Scottish kings give land and power to great Norman families. They introduce into Scotland the structures of Norman Feudalism.

Yet at the same time the border between the two kingdoms is a region of almost constant warfare. And the relationship between the kings themselves is one of prolonged struggle within a feudal framework.


The kings of England like to consider the Scottish kings their vassals, and at certain periods this status is accepted in Scotland - most notably for a while after 1174. In that year William the Lion is captured raiding into Northumberland. After a humiliating journey south, with his feet tied beneath his horse, he is imprisoned by Henry II. He is released only when he does homage to the English king 'for Scotland and all his other lands'.

In the long run neither side prevails in this uneasy relationship, until matters are brought to a head by a vacancy on the Scottish throne. In 1286 Alexander III dies. His only heir is Margaret, a young Norwegian princess, the child of his deceased daughter Margaret and of Eric II, king of Norway.


Margaret, the Maid of Norway: 1286-1290

At first the succession of the 4-year-old Margaret to the Scottish throne seems to offer an easy solution to the problem of the two kingdoms. She is acclaimed queen of Scotland in 1286. The king of England, Edward I, sets about arranging a marriage between the child and his own infant son (two years younger than Margaret), the future Edward II. The intention is that the bridegroom shall eventually rule over both kingdoms, with safeguards to ensure the separate integrity of Scotland.

In 1289 the pope gives his approval. In 1290 Margaret sails from Norway to meet her intended husband. During the journey she falls ill. She never reaches her Scottish kingdom. She dies, at the age of eight, in the Orkneys.


Edward I and Scotland: 1290-1297

When the Maid of Norway dies, in 1290, there are thirteen claimants to the vacant Scottish throne - each somewhat tenuously related to the royal family. The king of England, Edward I, asserts his right as the feudal overlord to choose between them.

The two most serious contenders, descended from great-granddaughters of David I, are John de Balliol and Robert de Bruce. In 1292 Edward chooses John - an entirely reasonable choice, since John descends from the elder of the great-granddaughters. But Edward's humiliating treatment of the new king as his feudal vassal is less than tactful. So are his demands that Scottish barons shall do service in England's war against France.


Scottish resentment is expressed, in 1295, in a treaty with France against England. This prompts, in 1296, a swift and brutally effective invasion by Edward. It begins with the massacre of almost the entire male population of Berwick. Seventeen days later Stirling and Edinburgh castles are in English hands. John de Balliol and his court are prisoners, destined for the Tower of London. The sacred Scottish coronation seat, the Stone of Scone, travels south at the same time - to a new home (until 1996) in Westminster Abbey. An English government is set up north of the border.

Scotland is humiliated, but only briefly so. The very next year, 1297, a war of independence is launched.


Scotland's Wars of Independence: from1297

The main leader to emerge from the uprisings in Scotland in 1297 is William Wallace. Confronted by an English army outside Stirling, on September 11, he holds back his troops and thus entices the enemy across a narrow bridge over the river Forth. When about half are over the river, Wallace attacks so forcefully that nearly all the English on the northern bank are killed or are drowned in flight.

The prestige of this victory at Stirling Bridge enables Wallace to rule Scotland briefly on behalf of the imprisoned John de Balliol. But the situation brings Edward I north in person in 1298.


At Falkirk, in 1298, Edward avenges the humiliation of Stirling Bridge. English and Welsh archers inflict devastating casualties on the massed ranks of Scottish spearmen, in an early example of the power of the longbow (half a century before its more famous deployment at Crécy).

This defeat undermines the authority of Wallace, who vanishes from history until his capture and execution in 1305. But Edward is committed now to holding down the Scots by force of arms - a task more difficult, over a much wider region, than his subjection of Wales. And from 1306 he is confronted by a newly proclaimed Scottish king, in the person of Robert de Bruce.


Robert the Bruce: 1306-1314

Robert de Bruce, or Robert the Bruce as he is often known in British history, is the grandson of the Robert de Bruce whose claim to the Scottish throne was rejected in favour of John de Balliol's. The Bruces are one of the great Norman families invited north of the border by the Scottish kings. The eldest son in every generation of the family is christened Robert. The head of the family in the early 14th century is Robert de Bruce VIII.

By 1306, with Wallace dead and John de Balliol living privately in Normandy (after renouncing his throne), the Scots lack both a leader and a king. Bruce's ambition to fill both roles becomes evident after an act of violence in 1306.


John Comyn, a member of another great Norman family and a nephew of John de Balliol, is a natural rival of Bruce's with perhaps slightly better claims to the Scottish throne. On 10 February 1306 the two men and several of their followers are in the Franciscan church in Dumfries. A quarrel breaks out. It is not known whether the event is premeditated. But it ends with John Comyn lying dead before the high altar.

After the murder Bruce moves quickly to secure his position. On March 25 he is crowned at Scone, still the sacred site for the occasion - even though it now lacks the ancient Stone of Scone, linked with Scottish kingship.


During the next few months the new king's fortunes could hardly sink lower. Defeated in two battles, in June and August, he flees for safety to the island of Rathlin off the northern Irish coast. (His supposed place of refuge is still shown as Bruce's Cave, but the story of the spider demonstrating to him the importance of perseverance is first told in the 19th century by Walter Scott.) In Bruce's absence three of his brothers are captured by the English and are executed.

In February 1307 Bruce returns to Scotland, to persevere in self-advancement. His final success, firmly establishing his authority within the kingdom, comes with victory at Bannockburn in 1314.


Bannockburn and after: 1314-1328

By 1314 Bruce's slow campaign of guerrilla warfare and attrition has brought into his hands all the English strongholds in Scotland except Stirling. The Scottish threat to this great castle brings Edward II north to its defence.

On June 24 Bruce, with only about 8000 men, is confronted by an English army of double that size. But he chooses his ground well - an area of boggy turf about two miles south of Stirling, with a narrow front and the Bannock burn to cut off the enemy's retreat. The English cavalry flounder in the face of Scottish footsoldiers armed with spears. The day is a resounding success for Scotland, bringing rich rewards in prestige, booty and ransom.


In the years after Bannockburn, Bruce continually raids south across the border into England. And he extends his campaign against the English by sending Edward Bruce, his only surviving brother, to attack them in 1315 in Ireland.

The Irish campaign ends in 1318 with the death of Edward Bruce, but in the north of England Robert Bruce's aggressive tactics go unchecked. Edward II marches north with large armies in 1319 and again in 1322, but achieves nothing. After his death, in 1327, the English are ready to come to terms.


At Edinburgh, in March 1328, a treaty is agreed - and is ratified at an English parliament in Northampton the following month. The Scots are to pay 20,000 in reparation for damage done in the northern counties of England, but otherwise the concessions are all to their benefit. Above all it is agreed that Scotland shall 'remain to Robert king of Scots and his heirs and successors free and divided from the kingdom of England, without any subjection, right of service, claim or demand'.

As a token for a better future, Bruce's 4-year-old son David is married in July, in Berwick, to Joanna, the 7-year-old sister of the new English king, Edward III.


The agreements of 1328 raise the hope that Scotland is due at last for a period of calm. But the death of Robert the Bruce in 1329 brings his son David, now aged five, to the throne. The English instinct to meddle in Scottish affairs is revived. Edward, the son of John de Balliol (who has died in 1314), is encouraged to stake a claim to his father's throne. Scotland is again plunged into war.

Robert the Bruce's son, David II, spends much of his reign in exile or in captivity. But he is still on the throne when he dies, childless, in 1371. The future of the royal house lies with the descendants of his elder sister, Marjorie. She married, in 1315, one of Scotland's hereditary stewards.


The Stewart dynasty: 1371-1503

The Stewarts, a family from Brittany, take their name from their job. In Brittany in the 11th century they are stewards to the local count. In about 1136 one of the family, Walter, becomes steward to the king of Scotland. Two decades later the appointment is made hereditary.

Another Walter, the 6th steward in this line, fights beside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314. He is knighted by the king on the field of battle. In the following year he marries Bruce's daughter Marjorie. Their child Robert, the 7th steward, succeeds his uncle David II as king of Scots in 1371 - ruling as Robert II, and establishing the Stewart dynasty on the Scottish throne.


Stewart rule in Scotland is bedevilled from the start by the power of great barons (in particular the Douglas family), whose rich ancestral territories have been the reward for their support of Robert the Bruce or of his son David II. To the south the English remain as eager as ever to foment trouble when an opportunity presents itself.

Even so, during the 15th century, royal authority is gradually established in most parts of the kingdom. And the marriage of James III in 1469 to Margaret of Denmark brings into Scottish hands the last two island groups held by Scandinavians - the Orkneys and Shetlands.


Even the long centuries of turmoil with England seem to be settled (once again), when James IV makes two promising alliances with Henry VII. In 1502 the monarchs agree to a 'treaty of perpetual peace'. And in 1503 James marries Henry's daughter, Margaret Tudor.

In exactly 100 years' time this marriage will result in a final ironic reversal of the long English struggle to dominate the royal family of Scotland. It will deliver the English crown to the Stewarts. But the intervening years bring many setbacks for the Scots.


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