Kings and Queens of Scotland



The Contested Throne and the Interregnum



John Balliol

John Balliol: (born c. 1250, reigned 1292-96. died c.1313)

There were no successors to the Celtic kings through the male line. But in England David, Earl of Huntingdon and grandson of King David I, had had three daughters. Now the main contenders for the throne were descendants of these daughters: John Balliol was grandson of the eldest, and Robert the bruce, Earl of Annandale, sone of the second. bruce was a generation closer to royalty, but Balliol was descended from the eldest. On this ground of primogeniture Edward selected Balliol. All the candidates had been compelled to swear homage to the King of England; and Balliol assumed the kingship as Edward's feudal vassal. This was Scotland's most inglorious king, despised by his people and posterity as "Toom Tabard" (a royal cloak with nothing inside it). Even he finally made resistance to the overbearing Edward, and was humiliated, imprisoned and exiled for his pains. It was at this time that Edward had the Stone of Destiny removed from Scone to Westminster Abbey.



William Wallace

The Interregnum: (1296-1306)

Scotland was now ruled as if it were a conquered land under military occupation. At this time arose the first great national hero, William Wallace, whose campaign of resistance went on until he was betrayed and handed over to the English in 1304. The savagery of his execution was never forgotten. Leadership in the fight for independence then was claimed by Robert the bruce, grandson of the Earl of Annandale and so a remote descendant of the kings. Unlike Wallace, he was not seeking a restoration of Balliol: he was determined to gain the crown for himself. In 1306 he slew a rival, Balliol's nephew John Comyn, in church at Dumfries. A month later he was crowned by the Countess of Buchan (representative, as a MacDuff, of the old Celtic nobility) in front of a few people, at Scone.


The Bruces


Robert the bruce

Robert I : (born 1274, reigned 1306-29)

Excommunicated and by no means universally accepted, bruce still had a long way to go. He was a king in hiding, and the celebrated spider legend, attesting to his perseverance, dates from this time. The death of the grim Edward I in 1397 was a fortunate event, but bruce's ambition, determination and leadership were tested to the full in the next seven years of guerrilla warfare. By 1314 he was master of all Scotland except for Stirling Castle. It was to relieve the English garrison there, and reinstate English hegemony, that Edward II brought his vast army North in 1314, only to suffer the decisive defeat at Bannockburn. Many years passed before bruce was freed from excommunication and his claim to the kingship accepted by the Pope - arbiter of such matters in an age when kings were believed to be divinely appointed - and by the English government. But when he died, without achieving his ambition to fight on crusade against the Moors in Spain, he passed on a kingdom that was unitedly and consciously Scottish as never before.



David II

David II: (born 1324, reigned 1329-71)

The son of bruce's second marriage, David was another child king, five years old when he acceded. There was trouble from the Balliols, and Edward, son of the disastrous John, had himself crowned at Scone, but as a puppet of Edward III of England. In 1334, David and his Queen Joanna (daughter of Edward II) were sent to France for safety, while Andrew Murray as Guardian of the Kingdom maintained a guerrilla campaign against Balliol's attempt to rule. David was able to return in 1341. He invaded England five years later, was taken prisoner and remained in captivity for eleven years. During this period Robert the Steward, son of David's half sister Marjorie, supervised affairs in a grisly time of plague, lawlessness and Border strife. David made his second return in 1357, at a price of a vast ransom to be paid over ten years, and thereafter concentrated on ruling his run down and unsettled kingdom.


The House of Stewart

Surnames in the fourteenth century were not the fixed things they are today, and men were often known by their functions, their nicknames or, in the Gaelic/Norse areas, as the sons of their fathers. Among the officers of the court since the reign of David I was the High Steward, and Robert I's daughter Marjorie married Walter the Steward. David II died childless, and his nearest heir, the son of Marjorie and Walter, became king at the age of fifty five. Thus from the Stewards emerged the Stewart dynasty which would eventually reign over Scotland, England and Ireland.

Robert II

Robert II: (born 1316, reigned 1371-90)

Previous kings of Scotland had maintained b diplomatic links with France, as a counterbalance to the might of England, but under Robert II the "auld alliance" emerged in full vigour, and French troops landed in Scotland to help against the English attack. When not fighting the English, the Scottish barons fought among themselves: it was a troubled and unruly period. Robert was a weak king; he knew himself to be a jumped up baron and had neither the ability not the will to impose authority.


Robert III

Robert III: (born c. 1337, reigned 1390-1406)

His baptismal name was John, but memory of John Balliol was too recent, and as king he took the more illustrious name of Robert. But he was another weak and ineffective ruler. His own family were behaving like brigands: his brother Alexander, "the Wolf of Badenoch", burned Elgin Cathedral and committed many other acts of banditry in the Highlands. Robert's sixteen year reign continued the chronicle of plagues, battles, raids and counter raids. His depressive nature seems to foreshadow such distant descendants as the Old Pretender. Just before his death he was given the news that his 11 year old son, James, who had been sent to France for security, had been captured at sea by the English. On his deathbed he asked to be buried on a dungheap.


James I

James I: (born 1394, reigned 1406-37)

It was not until James was nearly thirty that he was able to return to his kingdom. His uncle, the Duke of Albany, ruled, or presided over the unruliness of the other lords. James, short, stout, energetic and impatient, set out to change all that. He was a man of culture, action and ideas, the author of The Kingis Quair (King's Book), a love poem to his English bride, Joan Beaufort. With a view of what a king was supposed to do, he made efforts to discipline the lawless nobility, and set out to improve the king's position by encouraging commerce (for taxes) and military strength, forbidding football in favour of archery practice. But he inevitably made powerful enemies, and a group of conspirators stabbed him to death one night as he tried to hide in the stinking outfall of the privy in Blackfriars' house in Perth. His reign set a pattern for the Stewart kings to follow him: coming to the throne as children, emerging from minority to assert themselves while still in their teens. With limited resources they had to establish control over powerful and unscrupulous barons. Each reign was a struggle to maintain the balance of power.


James II

James II: (born 1430, reigned 1437-60)

One of James's I killers, the Earl of Atholl, was a claimant to the throne, but tradition held firm. He was gruesomely crowned with a red hot iron, then beheaded, and James's six year old son was crowned king - the first to be crowned in Edinburgh and not at Scone. As a child he endured a chaotic life as the prisoner of different factions and b men, but as a young man asserted his own authority and became himself the prime mover of events. Nicknamed "James of the Fiery face" from a red birth mark, he matched any of his barons in ruthlessness. With his own dagger he stabbed the Earl of Douglas in Stirling Castle, and destroyed the power of the "Black Douglases'", who controlled the Border and much of the south. James II was well embarked on a b handed reign, maintaining the policies begun by his father, when he was killed by an exploding cannon while trying to retrieve Roxburgh Castle from the English.


James III

James III: (born 1452, reigned 1460-88)

Here was yet another boy king, and also destined for a violent death. It was through his marriage with Margaret of Denmark that Scotland gained Orkney and Shetland, pledged against a dowry that was never paid. The politics of the time were profoundly influenced by events in England, where the warring Yorkists and Lancastrians both sought Scottish alliances, and even a great baron like the Lord of the Isles was prepared to see the kingdom broken up in order to secure control of his own dominion. James's personal relations with the barons, including his own two brothers, were hostile; rough types happiest on the jousting field, they despised his intellectual and cultural interests. Unusually among the Stewart kings, he did not succeed in playing them off against each other, and eventually a group of them combined against him. He faced an open rebellion that had seized his own son as its figurehead, was defeated in battle and killed by an unknown hand after it, at the age of thirty six.


James IV

James IV: (born 1472, reigned 1488-1513)

The fourth James made a marriage with Margaret Tudor, daughter to Henry VII of England. This was to be of profound importance to his great grandson, James VI. James wore an iron chain as a public penance for his involuntary part in his father death. He was an ardent pilgrim, making regular visits to such shrines as St Duthac's in Tain, in the Highlands. But he was far from being the contemplative type. Eager, affable, popular, he ranged the country as none of its kings had done before. He spoke Gaelic, and managed to achieve somewhat more control in the Highlands and Islands. Even in the disturbed years of the first Jameses, Scotland had seen the foundation of universities and the growth of a national literature based on English (Gaelic culture and its oral tradition continued to flourish, unheeded outside the Highlands; now the new learning took great steps forward. But James also looked abroad and wanted to play a part in European diplomacy and war. He amassed armaments, especially ships, far beyond what the country could afford. When Henry VIII and Louis XII of France went to war, James took a great army south to support the French. Just over the Border, at Flodden, he was shatteringly defeated, and fell fighting on the battlefield.


James V

James V: (born 1512, reigned 1513-42)

The new king was one year old. His English mother was briefly regent, then the Duke of Albany took over and brought the boy up under the aegis of the French alliance. When James was about 12, his mother regained control of the government, but the king was in the hands of the "Red Douglases" under the Earl of Angus until 1528, when he escaped from their clutches and set about becoming master of the kingdom. Seeking a bride with a rich dowry, he married first Madeleine, daughter of the French king Francis I, who died almost immediately, then another Frenchwoman, Mary of Guise. James V ruled vigorously and with an eye to enlarging the royal treasure chest, which rankled both with the nobles and with the Church, which supplied most of the money. During his reign there were further improvements in the operation of the law. With a taste for the architectural styles of the time, he extended his father's palaces at Stirling, Falkirk and Linlithgow. He was also celebrated for his incognito excursions by night and his numerous children outside his marriage. The Pope, anxious to hold Scotland's loyalty during his struggles with Henry VIII of England, gladly agreed to bestow high church rank and benefices on these infants. Always anti-English in his outlook, James eventually antagonised Henry to the point where an English army was sent to invade, and defeated the Scots in the ramshackle battle of Solway Moss. James, exhausted and depressed, died shortly afterwards in Falkland Palace. He was still a young man: his daughter and heir was only a few days old.


Mary Queen of Scots

Mary: (born 1542, reigned 1542-67, executed 1587)

She is perhaps the most famous of all Scotland's monarchs, although her reign was a disaster for herself and the country. Of all the child heirs she was the youngest; throughout her childhood her mother, the resolute Mary of Guise, was Regent, and struggled to maintain the French connection against the pro-English faction, which was growing in strength as Protestantism took hold. But in 1560, the year of Mary of Guise's death, a Protestant government, with English support, sent her French troops and advisors home. Mary Queen of Scots' early years were eventful. At the age of six she was sent to France; still as a child she was wedded to the French heir, Louis, and actually reigned with him as Queen of France (he was titular King of Scotland). But he died in 1561, and as a nineteen year old widow she came home to meet the rigours of the climate, the domestic arrangements and the Protestant Reformers. Seven years later she fled to England, to whose crown she had never given up her claim (in the eyes of Catholics, Elizabeth I of England was illegitimate and had no right to the throne). It was not Mary's Catholicism that had ruined her, but her inept rule and her choice of men. Mary had defended herself and her religion staunchly in her debates with the reformer John Knox, but she was happier on the hunting trips in the hills than in the violent and changeable jungle of Scottish politics. First she had married Lord Darnley, an ambitious playboy of royal blood, and soon tired of him. His jealousy helped provoke the lurid murder of Mary's secretary, perhaps lover, David Riccio. But Mary could not escape implication in the murder of Darnley himself, found strangled in the garden of his blazing house. Her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, was an unscrupulous Border warlord. The increasingly violent demands for Protestant reform opened up wide divisions in the country, but the throne remained the one unifying influence. However, when Mary and Darnley produced a son, she was no longer vital: the succession was provided for. The baby boy became the ward of the Protestant party; and eventually Mary's enemies combined in rebellion: she was defeated, imprisoned, forced to abdicate, escaped, and fled humiliatingly to sanctuary with her great rival, Elizabeth. She remained a frustrated captive for nineteen years. Once it seemed she might have been Queen of Scotland, England, Ireland and France. Now she fretted, plotted, was drawn into the intrigues of others. Eventually the English executed her for treason, in 1587. Since then, the torrent of words has never ceased: plays, operas, novels, biographies. The elements of light and dark in her life - glamour and scandal, courage without judgement, good fortune and bad - are endlessly explorable. Failure raises more questions than success.


James VI/I

James VI: (born 1566, reigned 1567-1625)

The first Stewart kings, conscious of their non royal origins, were hesitant monarchs. The ninth had no such anxieties. He wrote two books on kingship and fostered the notion that a king had a God given right to rule. Because of his mothers abdication, he too was a child king and learned the hard way how to play off the bitter and violent factions in the country and even in his own household. He was well educated in the style of the time, having had Latin thrashed into him by the eminent scholar, George Buchanan. James had much to look forward to if he could survive: he was the nearest heir to the childless Elizabeth I of England, as a result of the marriage between James IV and Margaret Tudor. He took good care not to offend Elizabeth or her government, making only a token protest even when his mother was executed. But James VI was in any case perhaps the most successful Stuart King (they had adopted the French spelling of the name). His autocratic aims were clocked in humour, informality and a wide range of interests. He had a view on everything: he wrote a "Counterblast Against Tobacco", without result, but his belief in witchcraft caused the persecution and death of many helpless old women. Perhaps the greatest achievement of his reign was the publication of the Authorised or "King James" Version of the Bible. The width of his interests and his readiness to make a statement earned him the description "the wisest fool in Christendom", which has rather unfairly dogged his reputation. His affection for male favourites caused whispers of homosexuality, although he and his queen, Anne of Denmark, also produced eight children. In 1603, on the death of Elizabeth I of England, James received the long anticipated call from London, and set off with, among other things, his golf clubs. Despite a promise to return often, he came back to Scotland only once in the next 22 years, governing at long range through a Privy Council. James was keen on the political union of "Great britain", but Scotland was to remain a separate state for another century.

The Dual Kingdom...

Back to page one...

Back to Ness-Scape..