One of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Balliols took their name from Bailleul in Northern France and were invited to Scotland and given lands by King David I. At the end of the 13th Century, Scotland was without a King and Edward I of England was asked to decide between powerful claimants to the throne (including the father of Robert the Bruce). He chose John Balliol, who was allied with the equally powerful Comyn family. In return for this King John was asked to pay homage to and raise troops for the English monarch's war in France. He was in effect meant to act as a puppet king with Edward as his feudal overlord. Due to this he is often seen as a weak king, but John did not surrender his rule to Edward and rebelled against English dominance, only to be defeated and humiliated by having his coat of arms - then the Royal one, the Lion Rampant, ripped from his clothes. He was then known as 'toom tabard' which means 'empty coat'. Edward then assumed control over Scotland, triggering the events now known as 'The Scottish Wars of Independence'. William Wallace remained loyal to King John and his rebellion was in the name of the now exiled King, which is possibly why no mention of Wallace appears in Scottish chronicles written by courtiers of Robert the Bruce.
The Balliols probably held the Kilmarnock Estate around 1300, but Bruce gave it to one of his commanders, Robert Boyd, in 1316.
Like many early coats of arms, that of the Balliols is very plain. As time progressed and all the simple designs such as this were used up and knights had to find more and more complicated designs.