King John Balliol

John Balliol was king of Scotland between 1292 and 1296 and was the last Scottish Monarch to be crowned (St. Andrew's day 1292) upon the Stone of Destiny. Balliol has been much maligned over the years as being weak or as 'a puppet king' subservient to Edward I King of England. Much of this has to do with the efforts of Robert the Bruce in having Balliol's reign pretty much overwritten with his own achievements. The truth is that Balliol had a stronger claim to the throne than Bruce, and Bruce, in order to strengthen his own position as King had to weaken that of Ballio and his supporters.

When Bruce took power in Scotland Balliol's closest supporters, most notably the powerful Comyn and Soulis families, found themselves losing position and influence with immediate affect. To add further insult most lost their lands, Bruce needed major areas controlled by his own supporters, and dished out these lands to those closest to him. The Soulis family for instance, who had been one of the most powerful and influential families in south west Scotland was all but wiped out. In Bruce's biography by John Barbour, even the figure of William Wallace has been omitted. Wallace had fought in Balliol's name and therefore it did Bruce no favours to remind people of his contribution to the struggle for Scottish Independence. 

Balliol came to power after the deaths of Alexander III and his niece, 'the Maid of Norway'. Many candidates had come forward to fill the vacant throne including the father of Robert the Bruce, Robert, Earl of Carrick. The Scottish nobles, unable to come to a decision, asked Edward I of England to adjudicate. This was not unusual, Scottish Kings for generations had had feudal obligations to the King of England (Balliol was not setting a precedent here, Bruce would have no doubt given fealty to Edward in order to gain the crown also). Edward chose Balliol, a middle aged man with extensive lands and influence in south west Scotland and England as well as his family's ancestral lands of Balieul in France, to be the new King of Scots. In fact Balliol's father, also John, and his mother Devorgilla, had been the largest landowners in Europe. He was not chosen, as is often written, because Edward thought Balliol would be an easy mark (although he did subject the new Scottish King to various humiliating situations so that everyone knew where the real power lay), he was chosen because he did have the strongest claim to the throne and also had the most support, so it would be unfair to suggest that he was either a puppet of Edward or undeserving of the crown. 

Although Balliol's reign was blighted by his relationship with Edward, who repeatedly made King John pay homage to him as his vassal in public exhibitions of subjugation, he did manage to set up parliaments of his own and appointed sheriffs to keep the peace throughout the west coast of Scotland. Edwards's excessive humiliation of Balliol may have been intentionally provocative; Edward probably already had an eye on Scotland for himself and may have simply been goading the Scottish monarch into a fight. 

King John did not remain a pushover for Edward and the English king soon got his fight. When Edward demanded that Scotland supply him with troops for his war with France it was the last straw. Balliol refused and went as far as renewing Scotland's alliance with France which had been first established by William I (the Lion) in the 12th Century. This was just what Edward was waiting for, Balliol and his little ununited kingdom didn't stand a chance and Edward was about to earn his nickname 'Hammer of the Scots'. The English army crossed the border in spring 1296 and sacked the town of Berwick, slaughtering the entire population (which was no mean feat, Berwick was one of Scotland's largest towns and was home to many thousands of people - the slaughter lasted for two entire days). Rather than the having the desired effect of scaring the Scots into submission this single act may have been the main event which sparked the Scots into the wars of resistance to English rule which are now known as the Wars of Independence. After all, before this it probably mattered little to the majority of people if their feudal Lord held lands North or South of the border - frequently they held lands in both countries. Next the English Earl of Surrey (Balliol's father-in-law!) met the Scottish army in battle at Dunbar. Heavily defeated, the Scots scattered and King John fled north, later surrendering to Edward I and the pursuing English at Montrose. 

Edward's victory was complete, in a final act of humiliation, the captured Scottish monarch was stripped of the Royal Insignia on his heraldic surcoat earning him the name 'Toom Tabard' or 'empty coat'. Edward had the Stone of Destiny (the symbolic stone upon which Scottish Kings were traditionally crowned) removed to London. It remained in London for the next 700 years until being returned to Scotland in 1996! John Balliol after a spell of imprisonment in the Tower of London was eventually allowed to remove himself to his lands in France and remain there in exile. In a twist of fate it was now that Balliol was to prove himself most valuable to Scotland's struggle. The exiled King found himself a focus of the resistance against Edward as others; William Wallace, Andrew Moray and John de Soules among them, gathered men and rose up in open rebellion against English rule in Balliol's name. 

Paradoxically, many of these early resistance fighters lost out in the long run when Robert the Bruce finally secured Scotland's Independence. As was said earlier, although Bruce was now the recognised King of Scotland, he had to consolidate his position and to do this he had to weaken support for Balliol (who was still alive and remained the favourite for many of the powerful nobles). Lands were confiscated and distributed to Bruce supporters. In south west Scotland many Balliol lands in Dumfries and Galloway were given to the Douglas family and Robert Boyd an early supporter of Wallace who had switched his allegiance to Bruce and who's military experience had helped secure victory at the battle of Bannockburn, was given the Balliol estate, in Ayrshire, of Kilmarnock along with the estates of West Kilbride and Portincross which had belonged to the de Ross family who were staunch Balliol supporters. 

The Balliol family's connection to the Scottish throne was not severed however by the death of John Balliol in Normandy around 1315. After the death of Robert the Bruce, he was succeeded by his four year old son, David II. John Balliol's eldest son, Edward saw an opportunity to re-establish his family on the Scottish throne. With English help Edward Balliol invaded Scotland and devastated the Scottish army, led by the Regent, the Earl of Mar at Dupplin Moor in Perthshire and had himself crowned King of Scotland at Scone in 1332. For a while Scotland had two Kings until Balliol was forced by the Scots loyal to David II to retreat again to England. Edward Balliol returned to Scotland the following year and won a massive victory over the Scots at Halidon Hill, close to Berwick. The flower of Scottish chivalry was crushed with many of the most important nobles loyal to the house of Bruce losing their lives, including the old campaigner Robert Boyd. David II was forced to flee to France for a while. Edward Balliol was again sworn in as King and as a reward for English help he granted the lands of Lothian (including the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh!) to the English King, Edward III (Edward I's grandson). 

The Scots soon regrouped and Balliol was again forced to retreat south across the border in 1334, but was again restored to the throne a year later with English support, before being deposed (again!) in 1336 by the resurgent Scots. 

Balliol tried once more, after the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346 which resulted in the defeat and capture of David II by the English, Balliol led an uprising in Galloway. It failed and the Balliol family finally gave up their quest for the throne, Edward relinquished his claim in 1356 and retired (with a healthy pension from the English King!) to his estates south of the border.

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