Scotland and the Normans

The Normans were never able to penetrate very deep into Scotland. As the land was considered to be fairly poor and a long way from their centre of government, the Normans eventually gave up the idea of conquering Scotland.

For the next two hundred years relations between England and Scotland tended to be fairly friendly. Occasionally English kings made claims to the territory, but little effort was made to take it by force.

In 1286 the king of Scotland, Alexander III fell from his horse and broke his neck. Alexander's three children had already died, so his heir was his three-year-old granddaughter, the Maid of Norway. When the Queen was six years old it was agreed that she should marry the eldest son of Edward I of England. Edward hoped that in this way his son would eventually become king of both England and Scotland. However, Edward's plan failed when in 1290 the Maid of Norway died while on the way to meet her proposed husband.

There was now a struggle for the throne of Scotland. Thirteen different people put forward their claims and Edward I was asked to decide who should be the next king of Scotland. Edward chose John Balliol. This upset the other claimants who argued that Edward only selected Balliol because he had a weak character and was easy to control.

This fear was justified when Edward began to undermine Balliol's power. For example, Edward announced that, in future, Scottish people could appeal to him if they were dissatisfied with decisions made by their king.

In 1296, under pressure from his powerful lords, John Balliol told Edward that he was renouncing the homage that he had made to him. Edward was furious and demanded that John Balliol meet him in Berwick, Scotland's main trading centre. When the Scottish king did not turn up, Edward's army killed about 13,000 people who lived in the town. Edward ordered that the dead were not be buried but had to be left lying in the streets as a warning to others.

When he heard the news, John Balliol surrendered, but many Scots were unwilling to accept Edward as their king. In 1297, William Wallace led a rebellion against the English. His most famous victory was at Stirling Bridge, where Scottish infantrymen were able to defeat a large English army of mounted knights. Wallace continued to create problems for the English army until he was captured in 1305 and executed for treason.

The following year Robert Bruce became the new leader of Scotland's resistance to English rule. Bruce avoided pitched battles and instead relied on guerrilla warfare. His tactics against the English were very successful and Edward had to concentrate on holding on to a few of the main towns and castles in Scotland.

After the death of Edward I the war continued to go badly for England. Bruce took castle after castle and eventually only Stirling was left in English control.

In 1314 Bruce besieged Stirling Castle. In an attempt to save the castle Edward II decided to march north with the largest army that had ever left England. Bruce was waiting for him, and at Bannockburn, just south of Stirling, Edward's army of 23,000 men suffered a terrible defeat. Although outnumbered, Scotland's foot-soldiers had beaten England's mounted knights.

Bruce now controlled Scotland and in 1320 he issued the Declaration of Arbroath. The declaration ended with the words: "for as long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will never on any condition be subjected to the lordship of the English". For a while it looked as though England was willing to accept defeat, and in 1328 Edward III recognised Scottish independence and Robert Bruce's right to be king by signing the Treaty of Edinburgh.

However, despite signing this treaty Edward, like his father and grandfather before him, was determined to conquer Scotland. After Bruce died of leprosy in 1329, Edward launched another attack on Scotland. Although Edward III won an important victory over King David II (Robert Bruce's son) at Haildon Hill in 1333, the continued use of guerrilla tactics made it impossible for the English army to subdue the Scots. With the costs of fighting the war creating problems with tax-payers in England, Edward III eventually decided to withdraw from Scotland.

Primary Sources

(1) Song, The Reign of Edward I (c. 1290)

The Scots raise their spears armed in their rags... The kilted people, numerous and savage, fell at Dunbar, and now stink like a dog. Vain glory made the deceitful people deny the true lord of Scotland... the wild people of Scotland soon break their faith... Scotland will not be obedient, it forces the king with his army to return... and reduces them to slavery... the English like angels are always conquerors.

(2) Matthew of Westminster, Flowers of History (c. 1310)

William Wallace, a man void of pity, a robber given to arson and murder, more hardened in cruelty than Herod, more raging in madness than Nero... was condemned to a most cruel but justly deserved death. He was drawn through the streets of London at the tails of horses, until he reached a gallows... especially prepared for him; there he was suspended on a halter; but taken down while alive, he was mutilated, his bowels torn out and burned in a fire, his head then cut off, his body divided into four, and his quarters transmitted to four principal parts of Scotland.

(3) Andreas Franciscius, Journey to England (1497)

The whole island is divided into two parts, one of which is called England, and the other, in the north, Scotland. At the head of Scotland is a King who rules very fierce and courageous tribes, who are always the enemies of the English, and very frequently at war with them.

(4) Jean Froissart, Chronicles (c. 1395)

The Scots are tough and very bold and active in the use of arms and in fighting. Their opinion of the English was low, as it still is to the present day... The Scottish men are right hardy, and good travellers in armour and in war. When they come into England, they will drive their whole army 24 miles in a single day. During a war they will live for a long time on half-cooked meat, with nothing to drink but water from the rivers. Nor do they carry any pots or pans, since they cook animals in their skins... Also, behind his saddle each man carries a broad metal plate and a little sack, full of oatmeal. After they have eaten their meat, they put this plate on the fire, and mix some oatmeal with water.