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History of Scotland: Emergence of the Border with England

Updated on August 26, 2014

In spite of his English connections, David I pursued the policy of his predecessors of expansion southward, and due to English weakness in the reign of Stephen, he succeeded in mastering the northern counties of England. However, Henry II recovered control of these lands on his succession to the English throne. In an attempt to regain them for Scotland, William the Lion was captured at Alnwick in 1174 and forced to accept the Treaty of Falaise, by which he recognized that his whole kingdom was held as a fief from the English king. Suzerainty over the kingdom of Scotland was surrendered by Richard I of England in 1189 in exchange for funds needed to finance his crusade.

Thus, the frontier was fixed in practice during the 13th century by the Tweed River, the Cheviot Hills, and the Solway Firth, and for about 100 years there was a period of comparative peace between England and Scotland. Partly for this reason, the reigns of Alexander II (1214-1249), successor to William the Lion, and Alexander III (1249-1286), are sometimes regarded as Scotland's golden age. A system of centralized government was established, trade and agriculture prospered, and the Hebrides were recovered from the Norse kings.

From the Wars of Independence to the Union of the Crowns: 1286-1603. The deaths of Alexander III and, four years later, his infant granddaughter Margaret, the maid of Norway, on her way to become queen of Scots, enabled Edward I of England to secure recognition by the Scots of his claim to be feudal superior of all Scotland.

John Balliol (reigned 1292-1296) was chosen king of Scotland, and after his coronation at Scone he paid homage to Edward I as lord paramount.

Treated as a vassal, Balliol was goaded into defiance, trusting partly to the alliance he had made with England's enemy, France, in 1295. Thus began the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Edward's campaign in Scotland in 1296 was a complete success, and Balliol had to resign his crown. William Wallace then rose and routed an English army at Stirling Bridge (1297), only to be completely defeated the following year at Falkirk.

Edward was preoccupied with French wars and internal opposition, but by 1305 he had captured Wallace and regained control of Scotland.

The Scottish cause was unexpectedly taken up and carried to a successful conclusion by an Anglo-Norman noble, Robert the Bruce (Robert I, reigned 1306-1329), whose grandfather had been the chief rival to Balliol in the competition for the Scottish throne.

Although he had murdered his most dangerous rival, John (the Red) Comyn, in the Franciscan church in Dumfries in 1306, shortly before assuming the crown, Bruce was supported by most of the Scottish clergy and lesser gentry.

While Edward II of England was wrangling with his barons, Bruce steadily extended his power in Scotland. Victorious at Bannockburn in 1314, he secured the freedom of his adopted country, although this was not formally recognized until 1328 by the Treaty of Northampton.

Bruce died the following year, and the new and ambitious king of England, Edward III, gave support against Bruce's son, David II (reigned 1329-1371), to Edward Balliol (son of King John Balliol) and reopened the Wars of Independence.

Edward Balliol defeated David II's supporters near Perth in August 1332 and was crowned king at Scone the following month, acknowledging Edward III as his feudal superior. In 1334 he ceded to Edward III th e southern counties of Scotland from Haddington to Dumfries, while David II went into exile in France. The Scots nationalists soon defeated Balliol, but David II, when attempting to invade England as France's ally in the Hundred Years' War, was taken prisoner at Neville's Cross (1346). To secure the return of their king in 1357, the Scots undertook to pay an enormous ransom. By making heavy taxation necessary, this helped foster regular representation of the burghs in Parliament. Until his death in 1371, David II's Anglophile tendencies threatened Scottish independence.


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