scottish history
A service from

One, Two, Three, Four, Five

The Highland Clearances

Scottish Origins... up to William Wallace

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

Battle of Falkirk & Execution of Wallace

History of the Kilt

Patrick Geddes

Tragedy at Glencoe


Scottish William Wallace
Chapter Five (Conclusion) - The Lion to Wallace

One, Two, Three, Four, Five
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[Scottish Coat of

Scottish Arms.

After David I's death, his grandson Malcolm IV succeeded him to the throne of Scotland in 1153. It was a turbulent and precarious reign. There were rebellions in Moray and Galloway. Malcolm IV was surrounded by Norman advisors and this, in itself, caused many uprisings. It took several attempts before Malcolm could quell the revolts -- with Norman help. But the bad feelings continued.

In 1157, English King Henry II Plantagenet succeeded in getting lands back in Northumbria by threat of force. Malcolm IV aquiesced and gave back the land with no opposition. When he died in 1165, his brother, known as William the Lion (for his red rampant lion on a yellow field) was king of Scotland. These colors and the red rampant lion were to become Scotland's heraldic colors (flag).

[Royal Shield]
Royal Shield of Scotland.

William the Lion of Scotland began an alliance with France that would eventually lead to the "Auld Alliance." Lowland Scotland and England had been having a series of battles over possession of Northumbria in North England. William the Lion wanted it back, (as his predecessor Malcolm IV had returned it to England under threat of invasion), and started the alliance with France leading to a conflict with Anglo-Norman England. He launched a grand invasion of England in 1174 to reclaim Northumbria. Henry II was now King of England and involved in France, so William the Lion invaded. But the enterprise misfired, due to their own rashness and to an east coast mist, attributed by both sides to be divine intervention. The Scots were heavily defeated at Alnwick and William the Lion himself, taken prisoner and sent to Normandy. There he was forced to sign the Treaty of Falaise. By this humiliating document, Scotland was placed under feudal subjection to England, the Scottish church put under the jurisdiction of the English Primate, Northumbria confirmed as English territory and the castles of Southern Scotland garrisoned by English troops.

Fifteen years would pass before William the Lion was able to redress the balance. In 1189, Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lionhearted), needing money for a Crusade, agreed to give back the castles and renounce his feudal superiority over Scotland in return for 10,000 marks. This sum was a huge sum of money for Scotland to pay and it took them many years and much taxation before they were able to repurchase their own castles and land.

Three years later, Pope Celestine III released the Scottish church from English supremacy and declared that thenceforth, it should be under direct jurisdiction of Rome. It was the beginning of nearly 100 years of relative peace between England and Scotland.

Scots kings had other problems to worry about though, Celtic Chieftains of the west (who still enjoyed a great measure of independence) were in a more or less state of insurrection against the central monarchy. Fergus, Prince of Galloway had rebelled no less than three times against Malcolm IV, and now in the reign of William the Lion, Fergus's sons rose again, massacring with particular gusto, the Anglo-Norman garrisons which had been stationed in southeast Scotland under the Treaty of Falaise. It was to be a long time before this last Celtic stronghold in the southwest Lowlands was to be pacified.

Further north and west were the dominions of the Lords of the Isles and the Lords of Lorne. They regarded themselves as independent rulers of their own kingdoms. These are the Norse-Scots, with no particular loyalty or obligations to the Royal House of Scotland. Their allegiance (loosely) being to the Kings of Norway. Remember that in the reign of Malcolm IV, William the Lion's predecessor, the Norse-Scot blooded Somerled (progenotor of the great Clan Donald), King of Morvern, Lochaber, Argyll and the southern Hebrides and Uncle by marriage to the Norwegian King of the Isles, had shown his contempt for Scottish Kings by sailing up the River Clyde in his ships and sacking Glasgow. They were eventually overcome by Malcolm's High Steward, Walter FitzAlan, and Somerled himself was laid low by an unlucky spear thrust. But to the Norse-Scots hearty warriors, that was just a setback and Somerled's descendants, the MacDougall Lords of Lorne or Lorn, and the MacDonald's Lord of the Isles; as well as the MacLeods (pronounced Mac-louds) and the MacLeans (pronounced Mac-lane) were, in their turn, to carry out the tradition of independence.

William the Lion died in 1214 and was succeeded by his son Alexander II, a capable ruler who put to good use the administrative machinery created by David I. The down side of his reign is the inherited domestic Clan problems.

There were insurrections in Galloway (again), Argyll, Moray and Caithness in the far north. He died in 1249 while on his way to attempt conquest of the Western Isles whose Lords still chose to give their allegiance to the kings of Norway. (If any was given to anyone).

So, next comes Alexander III who took up his father's cause and launched raids at the Hebrides (part of the Western Isles). It wasn't long before old King Hakon of Norway decided to retaliate.

In the summer of 1263, King Hakon assembled a great fleet with which he sailed to Scotland. Alexander III, a shrewd man, managed to open negotiations with the Norwegians and Islanders and delayed it until October. This was the season of autumn gales, and as he'd hoped, played havoc with Hakon's fleet as it lay in the Firth of Clyde. The Norwegians fought their way ashore at Largs in Ayrshire, where they were defeated on land and at sea by the Scots and had to withdraw in disorder. King Hakon of Norway died from injuries from battle at Kirkwall on his way home. His successor, Magnus, signed a peace under which the Hebrides became officially part of Scotland , though remaining in practise, an independent kingdom under the Lords of the Isles, who for their part paid no more heed to their Scottish rulers than they had to their Norwegian overlords. Orkney and the Shetland Islands were left, for the time being, in Norwegian hands.

The remainder of Alexander III's reign was peaceful and prosperous. His marriage to Margaret, daughter of English King Henry III, secured peace with England, while their daughter Margaret married to the King of Norway in 1283, set the seal on the peace treaty of 20 years before, between Norway and Scotland, and established after four centuries of war and strife, a friendly relationship between the two countries which has lasted ever since.

The home trade improved, revenue increased, law and order were fairly well maintained, education within limits prospered. Building was up, both domestic and ecclesiastical, and for the most part life became less dangerous than it had been.

However, fate intervened when the King of Scotland Alexander III, was riding his horse home one rainy night. He'd been thrown from his horse over a cliff, and now, Scotland was leaderless.

With Alexander III's death, went the dream of the relative peace Scotland was enjoying. Alexander III only had one heir left alive -- Margaret, the infant princess of Norway. She was called the 'Maid of Norway'.

The current English King, Edward I 'Longshanks' was a ruthless, formidable man who wanted to rule Scotland as he now ruled Wales. His forces had defeated the Welsh forces and now was under complete dominance of England. He wanted to do the same to Scotland. But instead, he arranged for a marriage of his son to Alexander III's granddaughter, the infant Margaret "Maid of Norway".

However, fate dealt another difficult hand to Scotland -- the little princess had taken ill on her way to England and died in the Orkney Islands.

Scotland was left with no heir to their throne, and a Norman Bishop of Scotland (Bishop Fraser of Norman descent) wrote to Edward I urging him to come to Scotland and choose the next king. He added in his letter that John Balliol was most likely the more amenable choice. Balliol and Robert the Bruce were the two claimants to the throne that had the best claims. Edward I was familiar with both the Balliol and Bruce families, and had misgivings about Robert the Bruce's loyalty to England. So he chose John Balliol.

Immediately, Edward I had Balliol swear fealty to him and made an agreement that Scotland would supply men and money and arms to England for its upcoming war with France. Balliol was humiliated, he went about trying to convince Scottish Nobles that he didn't sell out to the English, but few believed him. He was given the name "Toom Tabard" meaning empty coat. Many believe this refers to the humiliating ritual Edward I put Balliol through, but most likely it was a term similar to "lame duck" as applied to American Presidents. In any event, Balliol was now desperate to show to his fellow Scots that he wasn't weak willed, so he signed a treaty with France "The Auld Alliance" of Scotland and France that would last until 1746.

Edward I now decided to use force to take Scotland and he rode north to crush the Scots. He attacked Berwick, a prosperous city then, killing Scots women and children as well as the Scots army. When Edward was done campaigning , he left Scotland a devastated mess. Edward I "Hammer of the Scots", put the Earl of Surrey (John de Warrenne) and Hugh de Cressingham (High Justicar), in charge of Scotand and returned home to England. His remarks to one of his aides as they rode south to England was this rude comment of Scotland ....."It does a man good, to rid himself of such shit".

He was, of course, referring to Scotland and it's people. Edward I rode home confident that Scotland was now subdued. He was very wrong. The atrocities he and his army committed in Berwick would fuel the fires of rebellion in Scotland. And when a little known man, named William Wallace, came to the forefront of Scottish patriotism -- he made history. William Wallace is THE greatest Scottish patriot Scotland has ever had, and he came when the Scots needed him most.

*** At this point, the movie "Braveheart" picks up the story. Although factually incorrect at times, the movie was an excellent work and deserves to be recognized as the single most important film ever made about Scottish history. ***

Also at this point, the two part essay on "The Battle of Stirling Bridge" picks up the story.

Scotweb's Scottish History Magazine
is edited by
Robert M. Gunn

Please email comments and suggestions to

All original material © Robert M. Gunn 1997-2003 unless stated
No parts to be reproduced without prior written consent

Scottish History site provided courtesy of
This site is hosted by Scotweb - see our range of kilts and tartans