Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot
Synopsis: This essay looks at the politics of Scotland between the rising in 1296 and the surrender in 1305.
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With the end of Balliol's four year reign, the invasion of Scotland by Edward in 1296
and the humiliating defeat of the Scots nobility at Dunbar it is not surprising that a few
Scots should change sides and support Edward.
The Scots nobles, contrary to common opinion, did in fact support Wallace and Moray in
their fight for the freedom of Scotland. This is seen by the fact that those nobles who
had tried to suppress the rising of Wallace and Moray, were after Stirling Bridge, willing
to fight and 'neither came nor sent' to Edward's York Parliament.
However with the defeat of Wallace at Falkirk and his resignation of the guardianship
the nobles seemed to have lost their new found courage. The fight did continue with Robert
Bruce Earl of Carrick and John Comyn at the sharp end and still with the support of the
majority of the nobility. This partnership could not last because of the ambition of Bruce
to win the crown of Scotland which he considered to be rightfully his.
The important thing to realise is that the risings of 1297-8 had all been in the name
of King John with the intention of putting him back on the throne of Scotland. Bruce from
1298-1302 seems to have been fighting not for Balliol as the other guardians were but for
his claim to the throne.
This could be a reaction to the contemptuous reply which Edward gave to Bruce of
Annandale (The Earl of Carrick's father) who asked, after the defeat at Dunbar, if he
could have the throne for which his father had competed in vain.
"Have we nothing else to do," said Edward "but win kingdoms for
you?" The implication here being that Bruce would have to beat Edward before he could
claim the throne. His actions could have been out of sheer patriotism rather than a move
at the throne.
The divisions which existed among the Scots were confined to two factions those of the
Bruces. And that of the Balliols -which included the Comyns.- These divisions were
exacerbated by the fact that many of the Scots nobles held land in both England and
Scotland. They did not want to see their lands confiscated, coupled with the fact that
they relied on a regular income and settled residences. It was also hard for the nobles to
wage a war that was mainly guerrilla based when they had been used to cavalry and castles.
A fact to be borne in mind here is that up until Dunbar the Scots had not fought a major
war since 1235 while the English army had been fighting wars against the Welsh and the
French for years and were well trained and well led.
It has been stated that there was a general pro English feeling in Scotland, as by the
late thirteenth century Scotland had become 'Anglicized'. This would explain the divisions
among the Scots if it were not for the fact that the English speaking counties in Scotland
did wish to remain part of Scotland. Although they were not moved to the
same antipathy of the English domination as the rest of Scotland and consequently their
resistance was less prolonged.
The Scots were not as divided, as has been commonly stated in the past, until the
period between 1302-5 (although it must be said that few primary sources from this period
have survived especially the period 1301-3) when Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick changed
sides. (it should be noted that in a letter from a spy in the Scottish camp to his English
master there was a report about a scuffle betwen Bruce and Comyn -this I feel shows the
tensions bubbling just beneath the surface of the Scots.) At this point the situation
changed from being a national struggle to being one between the Balliol supporters, plus
those of the 'Community of the Realm', who did not care who held the throne, against the
English and the Bruces and supporters who were now fighting purely for their right to the
throne of Scotland. Again here it should be pointed out that the Bruces wouldn't fight for
Ballliol while in later years the Comyns fought against Bruce but not for Edward.
It should be pointed out that Bruce who had been a guardian for about two years did not
'turn traitor' as some historians have claimed, but did in fact wait until a period of
prolonged truce before cutting himself away from a cause that he was finding more and more
impossible to support simply because if it was successful it would mean an end to his
claim to the throne forever. Indeed it is to his credit that he stuck with the cause for
From the period from his surrender to Edward up until his bid for the throne in 1306
Bruce was in the words of Dr. Barron "ostensibly loyal" to Edward indeed even
helping him during his invasions of Scotland in 1303-4. This assistance is however due to
a hatred of the Comyns, who were now in complete control of Scotland in the name of King
John. The phrase "ostensibly loyal" being used because Bruce, on the 11th June
1304, entered into a secret agreement with Bishop Lamberton to help one another in times
of danger. This agreement is significant as it proves that Bruce still had his eyes on the
Scottish throne and that Lamberton was still working for the Independence of the Scottish
When the cause of Balliol had tumbled into ruin in the spring of 1304 it is not really
surprising that Lamberton, who was not thrilled with the party fighting for Balliol,
looked for a saviour for his cause to free his church and his country.
He turned to the Earl of Carrick now claimant in his own right to the Scottish throne.
(His father had by this time died.) The fall of the Comyns gave Bruce the chance he needed
to gain the throne, as the rival line who owed the crown to Edward had now been crushed
In summing up, the main reason for dissension in the Scottish ranks owing to the
rivalry among the three main groups in Scotland namely the Balliols, the Comyns and the
Bruces. Neither the Bruces nor the Comyns wished to see the other on the throne of
Scotland while the Balliols, who had the support of the Comyns, wanted to see themselves
re-established on the throne.
The hatred of the Balliols was intensified in the eyes of the elder Bruce whose last
act was a defiance of Balliol when he appointed the Bishop of Glasgow which was strictly
speaking the concern of the Crown. Indeed when the summons of "free service" was
made by King John in preparation to meet the host of Edward the Bruces refused to answer
it. This fact meant that the lands of the Bruces were confiscated -as were all the lands
of those who became "enemies of the community"-.
This fact coupled with the fact that some English landholding Scots did not wish to see
their lands confiscated, led to the split among the higher echelons of Scottish feudal
society. For it was only here that the split occurred; most of the Common people not
caring who had the throne and since they held no land, English estates did not matter to
Ewan Innes, August 26 1989