Scotland in the 14th century is a country still finding its bearing and fighting for its independence from England. The population at the beginning ranged around 1 million, and they fought the harsh reality of their environment. They preserved and fought hard to carve out a future defined only by them. Edward I of England decided he would have a personal claim to Scotland in the 1290s.
In 1290 Margaret, Queen of Scots and Maid of Norway, died after her journey to Scotland from Norway where she had been raised. Her father was King Eric II of Norway and her mother was the daughter of Alexander III of Scotland. Upon her grandfather’s death, Margaret was the only viable heir; her death created a vacuum of power waiting to be grabbed. The throne would remain unoccupied until a victor of the 13 candidates was shown. Nobles created the “Community of the Realm” to help govern in the meantime, and they chose Edward I to act as referee for the claimants. Edward agreed so long as the victor declared fealty and obedience to him as King, which they agreed too. The main contenders were John Balliol, whose great grandfather (David of Huntington) had been brother to William I; and Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale and grandson to the same man as John.
John would win and was declared King of Scots in 1294, but he would prove ineffective before being disposed of in 1296 by the same man who placed him there, Edward I, and the King decided to attempt annexing Scotland into England. The next decade would be a blood bath as Scotland did everything to fight this becoming a reality. The Council of Twelve was formed, and they built an alliance infamously known as the Auld Alliance with France (part of the reasoning for the forced abdication of King John). The Scots fought vigorously to defend their independence without a King, but with the death of William Wallace in 1305, the necessity for a leader became clear. They needed an opponent to claim the throne against Edward I.
Their options were Robert de Brus and a man named John Comyn III of Badenoch. Comyn was a descendant of Donald III and was brother-in-law to John Balliol. The men of Scotland were divided between the leaders, making it hard to win a decisive battle against the English. The details of what happened next are foggy. It is unknown if it was planned or an unfortunate fate that changed everything. Robert invited John to the Church of Grey Friars in Dumfries to discuss their differences and uniting their cause on Feburary 10, 1306. An altercation broke out and Robert stabbed Comyn in front of the high altar of the church.
Robert immediately sought forgiveness from the church through the Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Whishart. The bishop offered him absolution in exchange for his devotion to the church as King of Scotland, but the Pope would excommunicate him for the act when the news reached him. Robert then fled to Scone where he was coronated as King of Scots, though an important coronation piece was missing after Edward I stole it in 1296: the Stone of Destiny. Robert was crowned alongside his second wife, daughter of a power Irish noble, Elizabeth de Burgh. There was a 14-year age difference and Robert had been a widower with a four-year-old daughter when they married, now Princess Majorie. The celebration and victory would soon wear off though as Edward I moved to put down this rebellion to his control. Anyone found by the English who had sided with Bruce were executed, including three of his four brothers. His wife and daughter were the only two captured who were not executed; they would spend the next eight years as English captives.
In 1307 Robert adapted guerrilla fighting tactics that used the dense environment to his advantage leading to a clear victory in May. A few months later, in June, Edward I died and his son, who had been fairly active in these battles, became Edward II. He would continue his father’s campaign to hold Scotland, but Robert’s tactics would make it impossible. In 1314, he won a massive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn where he had been severely outnumbered. For the most part Scotland had won its independence back, and had its Queen and Princess returned to her. It was at this point many Scottish lords gained abundances of power through acquiring traitors land, some eventually owned more of Scotland than the King himself. Edward would continue to push for control but in 1520 nobles of Scotland sent the Pope the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ pleading for recognition of their independence and it would be granted four years later. In 1527 Edward II was disposed by Isabella of France on behalf of her son, and had no interest in continuing the conflict with Scotland and a peace treaty was signed. During this period Robert and Elizabeth had four children: Margaret, Maud, David II, and John (the boys were twins but John would die young). Elizabeth would die the same year as her son after falling from her horse while traveling to Cullen. Robert would follow her in 1329 after being plagued with illness.
David II succeeded his father at the age of 5 and already married to Joan of England as part of the peace treaty (with expectations of it being consummated when David was 14 in 1338. Sir Archibald Douglas was his regent and soon a rival claimant came in the form of Edward de Balliol, son of King John. In 1332 Douglas was defeated and Edward III became de facto King through Balliol. David fled to France for protection. He was well cared for there and in 1339 he began attempting to help Philip VI in his battles against Edward III (though there was little he could do to assist the futile entanglements) before returning to Scotland in 1341. In 1346, he was wounded and captured by the English just as the Black Death arrived. Joan, who had stayed by his side through most of this, was used as a hostage though her elder brother did suggest annulling her marriage and giving her hand to the much older Edward Balliol. Nothing came of this but when a ransom was met and David returned to Scotland in 1357, he was madly in love with Katherine Mortimer. Joan left for England and never returned. In 1360, Katherine was murdered by the nobles who loathed her. Joan would die in 1361 and David would marry his new mistress, Margaret Drummond. David had a few problems though, one Scotland was going broke trying to repay his ransom. The King became so desperate he even offered to bequeath Scotland to Edward III or one of his sons (likely Lionel of Antwerp). His second problem was his insufficient children. In 1370, he was 45 without an heir from his own body, his nephew–son of his sister Majorie, Robert fulfilled that role. David attempted to divorce Margaret and while it was granted in Scotland, that would not be the end of it. Margaret traveled to Rome and plead directly with Pope Urban V reversed the decision. He died in 1371 and she followed him in 1375.
Robert II became the first Stewart monarch upon David’s death, but he was 8 years his predecessors elder. He was war hardened from defending Scotland, and had acted as High Steward of Scotland. He had been married twice and had five sons and eight daughters between the two. He decided on a different way to control his nobles from previous Scottish Kings and began delegating titles to his sons to exert authority. He rewarded nobles well from forfeiting land and titles, so resentment did not build as he did this, and in the end his sons controlled 8 of the 15 earldoms. In 1373, he had parliament draw up his line of succession detailing under what circumstance each of his sons could inherit his throne.
He worked hard to build Scotland up after the decades of war it had endured. He commissioned ‘the Brus’ by John Barbour to help bolster the crowns image, used wool trade to help stabilize fiances, halted the ransom payments after the death of Edward III, and traveled to remote places of Scotland. This all worked to bolster support though he did still have Scots assisting the English and behaving traitorously. England would continue to be a problem until the Scots were dragged into the Anglo-French peace talks taking place. He would have issues with his son Alexander, Earl of Buchan allowing lawlessness to plague the north, and his heir Earl of Carrick was chosen to handle the situation. The King died shortly after resolving this in April 1390. His son succeeded him, John, as Robert III, who continued to have issues control the North, as we will learn about when we return to Scotland in the next century!
Scotland by the end of this century was at a population of less than half a million. Plague and war had demolished their way of living, but they preserved and moved forward, and in the end they were rewarded with their independence and a future that was entirely their own to carve out.
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