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William Wallace

When Edward I came to the English throne in 1272, he turned his attention to the conquest of Scotland; for it was the resolve of this ambitious king, from the very outset of his reign, to extend the authority of the English crown over the whole of the island of Britain.

The most noted of the early Scottish sovereigns are Malcolm II (?-1033), who, through the gallant defense of his country against the Danes, deserves the title of the Alfred of the North; Duncan (1033-1039), well known by Shakespeare's semi-historical drama "Macbeth"; and Macbeth (1039-1054), the murderer of Duncan. During the reign of the successor of Macbeth (Malcolm III) took place the Norman conquest of England. Many of the English nobility, impelled by the tyranny of the invaders, fled into Scotland, where they were kindly received at the court of the Scottish king.

It should be borne in mind that by this time the ruling class in Scotland had adopted the speech and manners of the South, and become English in all save name and blood. William the Conqueror, in order to relieve his dominions of the constant threat of invasion by the Scots and the emigrant nobles who had made the northern country an asylum, led a strong army against the Scottish king Malcolm, and forced him to swear fealty and do homage.

By this transaction was revived and strengthened an old claim of the English - dating from the time of King Alfred's son Edward - to the suzerainty of the Scottish realm. A misunderstanding respecting this matter was the cause of many of the wars that from this time on to the union of the crowns of the two rival kingdoms in the person of James Stuart I (in 1603) were waged by the sovereigns of England against the Scottish kings. The English always contended that the Scottish king should do homage to the English king for the whole of his realm, while the Scots maintained that he owed fealty to him as his superior lord only for lands held in England. The Norman and Plantagenet kings down to the time of Edward I were constantly quarreling with the Scots about this matter of English overlordship and Scotch vassalage.

In 1285 the Scottish King Alexander III died, leaving his kingdom to his infant grandchild Margaret, the "Maid of Norway." A happy solution to the disputes of the two kingdoms was now proposed by the marriage of the little princess with the son of Edward I.; but during her passage from Norway to Scotland the child-queen, overcome by the rough voyage, sickened and died. Had this proposed marriage not been thus frustrated, the union of the two kingdoms might have been anticipated by three centuries, and all these three hundred years of rivalry and contention avoided. The ancient Celtic line of Scottish chiefs was now extinct.

Thirteen claimants for the vacant throne immediately arose. Chief among these were Robert Bruce and John Balliol, distinguished noblemen of Norman descent, attached to the Scottish court. King Edward I of England was asked to act as arbitrator, and decide to whom the crown should be given. He consented to do so, and met the Scottish lords at Norham; but before taking up the question he demanded that the Scottish nobles should acknowledge him as their feudal suzerain. As Edward had a large army at this moment on the march up through England, the Scotch chiefs could not do otherwise than admit his claims to the suzerainty of their country, and do homage to him as their overlord. Edward then decided the question of the succession in favor of Balliol, who now took the crown of Scotland as the vassal of the English sovereign.

Edward's unjust demands on the Scottish king - whose nobles he summoned, in plain violation of feudal customs, to aid him in his foreign wars - led Balliol to cast off his feudal allegiance, and seek an alliance with the French king. Edward at once attacked the Scottish town of Benvick, and, by an indiscriminate slaughter of eight thousand of its inhabitants, struck such terror into the entire country that the gates of the chief cities were thrown open to him as he advanced. Balliol was soon in his hands, and was thrust into an English dungeon.

Scotland now fell back as a fief, forfeited by treason, into the hands of Edward, and all the Scottish chieftains and nobles were required to swear fealty directly to the English king as their feudal suzerain. The two kingdoms were thus united in a single monarchy. As a sign that the Scottish kingdom, even as a dependent state, had come to an end, Edward carried off to London the royal regalia, and with this a large stone, known as the Stone of Scone, upon which the Scottish kings, from time out of memory, had been accustomed to be crowned. A legend declared that the relic was the very stone on which Jacob had slept at Bethel, and which he afterwards anointed and set up as a memorial pillar. The block was taken to Westminster Abbey, and there made to form the seat of a stately throne-chair, which to this day is used in the coronation ceremonies of the English sovereigns.

The two countries were not long united. The Scotch people loved too well their ancient liberties to submit quietly to this extinguishment of their national independence. Under the inspiration and lead of the famous Sir William Wallace, an outlaw knight, all the Lowlands were soon in determined revolt. It was chiefly from the peasantry-who, unlike the nobility, had never sworn allegiance to a foreign and hated king-that the hero Wallace drew his followers. With an army composed mainly of the stout Scotch yeomen, he defied the forces of the English near the city and castle of Stirling. When summoned by the English commander to a conference, he sent back word," We are not here to treat, but to set Scotland free." In the battle which followed, known in history as the Battle of Stirling, the English were completely overthrown, and Wallace assumed the title of "Guardian of the Realm."

The success of the rebel chieftain roused Edward to an unwonted effort for the rescue of his threatened authority in Scotland. He marched into the country at the head of the largest army he had ever gathered, and in the battle of Falkirk inflicted a terrible defeat upon the patriot forces (1298). Wallace escaped from the field, but only to fall through treachery into Edward's hands, and be condemned to death as a traitor. His head, garlanded with a crown of laurel, was exposed on London Bridge.

The romantic life of Wallace, his patriot services, his heroic exploits, and his tragic death, at once lifted him to the place which he has ever since held, as the national hero of Scotland.

The struggle in which Wallace had fallen was soon renewed by the almost equally famous hero Robert Bruce, who was the representative of the nobles, as Wallace had been of the common people. The Scottish chiefs rallied at his call, and in 1306 he was crowned King of Scotland. Edward immediately set out to reconquer the kingdom; but the monarch was now old and feeble, and, overcome by the hardships of the march, he died just as he touched the borders of Scotland (1307).

In the death of Edward the English people lost one of their greatest and best-beloved sovereigns. " He was," says Green, " the first English king since the Conquest who loved his people with a personal love, and cared for their love in return." He so improved the laws of the realm, and made such great and beneficent changes in the administration of justice, that he is often called the "English Justinian." But with all his chivalric and admirable qualities, he was imperious, harsh, and sometimes cruel. He inspired fear rather than that love which he is said to have coveted. A subject, entering his presence with a petition, fell dead at his feet, just from sheer fright. His treatment of his Jewish subjects, whom he drove from his kingdom, illustrates how admirably he could act the part of a bigot and tyrant.

Finally, in the year 1328, the young king Edward III gave up all claim to the Scottish crown, and Scotland, with the hero Bruce as its king, took its place as an independent power among the nations of Europe. The independence gained by the Scotch at Bannockburn was maintained for nearly three centuries,-until 16o3, - when the crowns of England and Scotland were peacefully united in the person of James Stuart the Sixth of Scotland. During the greater part of these three hundred years the two countries were very quarrelsome neighbors.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:08:48 ZULU