England are two nations divided by their experience of history.
That divide was never wider than during the Wars of Independence
in the 13th and 14th centuries when a chance event brought an era
of relative friendship to an end in violent conflict.
The crisis began
in 1286 when Alexander III fell from his horse on the sands of Kinghorn
and broke his neck. After Alexanders death, Scotland was governed
by the premier nobles and bishops of Scotland, known collectively
as the Guardians of Scotland. In 1286 Alexanders heir to the
throne was Margaret, the Maid of Norway, but her death in 1290 brought
Scotland to the brink of civil war as two claimants emerged for
the vacant throne, John Balliol and Robert Bruce (grandfather of
the more famous Robert Bruce who fought at Bannockburn).
had the most lawful claim, since he was descended from a male ancestor
of Alexander III. He headed the powerful Balliol/Comyn faction that
controlled much of the north and Galloway.
The claim of Robert Bruce was closer by degree, but through a female
ancestor. His powerbase was in the south, in Ayrshire and Annandale,
and was backed by the powerful Stewarts.
To avoid civil
war someone would have to mediate and make a decision, and soon
the Guardians turned to Edward I of England as a respected king
and neighbour to adjudicate the contest.
and the Diplomacy Game
soon realised he could exploit the situation to his advantage. He
invited the Scots to Norham Castle, just on the English side of the
border. However, the Scots declined, fearing this would give Edward
symbolic authority over them. He
then asked the Scots to acknowledge his overlordship. The Scots declined,
stating they could find no historical evidence for Edwards claims.
The task then fell to Bishop Wishart of Glasgow to tell Edward, to
his face, that since there was no King of Scots, the Guardians of
Scotland could not surrender any Scottish sovereignty to England,
since only the rightful Scottish King could do so.
Thus far Edward's plans had been foiled, but, being an expert in legal
matters, he cunningly exploited medieval law to achieve his end. Edward
was to adjudicate between the two claimants, but if there were three
or more, he would have to judge, and a judge had to have authority.
a veritable avalanche of claimants, with Bruce and Balliol under
the immediate pressure of others seeking Edwards favour. Of
the two original claimants, Bruce was the first to pay Edward homage;
Balliol, seeing his kingship slipping away, followed suit later.
had what he wanted: whoever the king was to be, he
had already recognised English overlordship. In 1292
John Balliol was judged to be the winner and
was proclaimed King of Scots at Berwick. No sooner was
Balliol crowned than Edward began active interference
in Scottish affairs, intervening in legal cases, keeping
taxes and demanding Scottish troops to fight in France.
Rapidly the Scots realised they would have to fight
Edward - not a task undertaken lightly as Edward had
one of the most formidable military machines in Europe
at the time.
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