Wars of Scottish independence highlight the development of Scotland’s identity as a nation. It is a series reflecting the improvement in the effectiveness of the government, and it shows how Scotland influenced European trade and politics.

The first war of Scottish independence was a series of military campaigns fought between English and Scottish forces. It began from the invasion of Scotland by England in 1296 and lasted till the formulation of the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328.

The period of the reign of Alexander III was seen as a period of harmony and economic stability. However, in 1286 falling from a horse led to his sudden demise. Post that, Scotland was being governed by bishops and nobles, known as the Guardians of Scotland. The heir to the throne was his granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway. However, Margaret fell sick and she died in Orkney in 1290.

This brought Scotland to the brink of a civil war, as several families became claimants to the vacant throne. 2 major claimants were John Balliol and Robert Bruce. With this, King Edward I of England was invited to arbitrate.

Balliol was the grandson of the eldest daughter of Huntingdon, while Bruce was the son of Huntingdon’s second daughter. Thus, Bruce mainly relied on the proximity of his relations, as he was closer to Huntingdon than his rival, however, Balliol’s claim was based on primogeniture (right to succession, being the firstborn child), and therefore Balliol’s claim was considered to be superior.

King Edward I, however, tried to manipulate the situation and used it to his advantage. Before the adjudication could even begin, he demanded that both the contenders recognize him as the Lord Paramount or the Overlord of Scotland, i.e. the Scottish supreme lord.

After both the contenders paid homage to King Edward I, John Balliol was judged to be the King of Scots in 1292. Once this happened, King Edward began to interfere in Scottish private affairs. Soon the Scots realized that they would have to fight Edward, and in response Scots signed the Auld Alliance, with England’s enemy, France. It was a treaty signed by John Balliol and Philip IV of France against King Edward I of England, saying that if either country was attacked by England, the other country would invade England. Post this, Edward’s army swiftly stormed into Berwick, the border-town of Scotland.

King Edward defeated the army at the town of Dunbar in Scotland, and King Balliol was forced to surrender and was immensely humiliated. He was stripped of the crown, and his insignia (symbol of governing body or authority) was ripped from his coat, and he was called names like ‘toom tabard’ meaning empty coat.

However, such humiliation didn’t suffice. The Stone of Destiny, where all the Scottish kings were inaugurated, and one of the holiest relics, the Black Rood of St. Margaret, were all taken away. Edward also remarked ‘A man does good work when he rids himself of shit’.

There was widespread discontent throughout Scotland, leading to a revolt in 1297. Risings led by two knights, William Wallace and Andrew Murray, loosened the grip King Edward had established over Scotland.

In 1297, the Scottish army, on the command of Murray and Wallace met the English army at the Battle of Stirling bridge. The English cavalry proved ineffective, and then the bridge collapsed when the English army was crossing. It was the first key victory of the Scots, however, Murray was wounded so severely that it led to his demise. Despite that, it’s still called a big win because, for the first time in history, a group of heavily armed knights were defeated by spearmen.

In 1928, Wallace was appointed as the Guardian of Scotland, in the name of the exiled king John Balliol. In July 1928, King Edward invaded Scotland again. Edward’s army attacked Wallace’s force near Falkirk. The English army fired scores of arrows over huge distances, leading to many Scottish deaths. This came to be known as the Battle of Falkirk. The defeat maligned the reputation of Wallace’s military. He resigned from his position as the Guardian of Scotland and retreated to the woods.

After Wallace, the position of Guardian of the kingdom was jointly held by Robert Bruce and John Comyn. Around 1302, Robert Bruce gave his allegiance to King Edward, but he continued to secretly advance his ambition. He made a pact with William Lamberton for their commitment to future perseverance for the Scots and their independence. If anyone of them would break the pact, he would have to forfeit 10,000 pounds.

However, the existence of such a pact could not remain a secret, leading to suspicions. Bruce proposed to the other guardian Comyn that they should negotiate and he should support Bruce’s claim to kingship in return for Bruce’s lands as compensation. However, in the desire to ruin his rival, Comyn leaked this negotiation terms to King Edward.

In a private meeting with Comyn, Bruce stabbed him for his treachery. In less than seven weeks, Bruce was declared as the king of Scotland.

After being defeated at the Battle of Methven, his wife, brothers, sister and daughter were captured by the English. However, he again rose to power with a large number of Scottish victories, influenced by the death of King Edward I in 1307. Scotland won the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, after which the female relatives of Bruce were released.

In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was signed by Scotland affirming its independence from England. The invasion of England by Robert Bruce in 1328, forced King Edward III of England, to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which recognized the independence of Scotland, with Robert Bruce as king.

To further seal the deal, Robert’s son, David married King Edward III’s sister. That was exactly what marked the ending of the first Scottish independence war in 1328.

Referred to BBC article.

Referred to the Historic-UK article by Ben Johnson.

The other articles in the series are:

How did Canada get its independence?

Maji Maji Uprising

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