Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Edward I - Hammer of the Scots

There is a lot of rubbish talked about Edward’s invasion of Scotland, so I am going to tell you the facts before you start.

An uncertain succession
The story starts in 1286 when the king of Scotland, Alexander III fell from his horse and died.  The only heir was a child – ‘Margaret, Maid of Norway’ – but she too died, on the sea voyage to Scotland.

By this time there were 13 claimants to the Scottish throne and in 1291, to avoid a civil war, the leading nobles of Scotland (who were called ‘the Guardians’) asked Edward I of England to judge between them.

Edward started by making all the Scottish nobles swear homage to him (which they did), and then, in 1292, he chose John Baliol (who, to be fair, probably did have the best claim).  Edward then, however, proceeded to bully and humiliate Baliol, treating him – not as a fellow king – but as one of his nobles.

Baliol bites back
By March 1296 the Scottish nobles had enough.  With (or without) Baliol’s agreement, they made an alliance with France and invaded England.

Edward was ready.  He marched north and sacked Berwick, massacring the inhabitants.  By October 1296 he had defeated the Scots, symbolically torn the royal coat of arms from Baliol’s coat, and forced 2000 Scots nobles to do homage; ‘a man who gets rid of a shit does a good job’ he is said to have remarked.


William Wallace
The nobles were defeated, but not the Scottish people.  In May 1297, according to the chronicler, ‘William Wallace lifted up his head’.  Inspired by his rebellion, the Scots rose up, defeated a rather incompetent English force at Stirling Bridge (September 1297), and even invaded England.

Edward raised another army, and marched into Scotland again, defeating Wallace at the battle of Falkirk in July 1298.  But – with all the Scots in open revolt – the reconquest of Scotland proved a long and difficult affair. 

A long and difficult war
It took Edward seven years to regain control, 1297-1304.  Slowly, the English recaptured the castles, but the countryside round about was controlled by the Scots and the English garrisons were as good as prisoners in their own castles.  Meanwhile Edward was at war in France and Wales.  He was desperately short of money; and his attempts to levy taxes caused a crisis in England in July 1297.  Even as late as 1303, a part of his army was ambushed and defeated by Wallace at the battle of Rosslyn.  In the end, Edward was forced to adopt a ‘hearts and minds’ policy, telling his officials to win over the ‘middle sort’ of Scots with good government and fair laws.

But the Scots, too, were stretched to the limit.  After seven years of war, in 1304, they surrendered.  Wallace was captured and executed in 1305.

These are the facts of the matter, as far as I am able to tell the tale.

How you interpret this story, of course, is another matter and will depend, I suppose, to an extent upon whether you are 'Scottish' or 'English' in your sympathies.

No comments: