As the late great Patrick McGoohan put it so succinctly in the motion picture Braveheart: “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s so full of Scots”.
Edward I, the “Hammer of the Scots”, may, in his frustration, very well have uttered these words when confronted by yet another upraising by these stubborn northern rebels.
Was Edward really such an arrogant and ambitious land grabber who absolutely couldn’t stand being opposed (he reportedly was very much prone to near mythical rages)?
On the surface that is exactly what he seems to have been. Storming into Scotland, massacring nearly the whole population of Berwick-on-Tweed and spreading mayhem wherever his armies marched, while, at the same time, demanding total subservience from ‘his subjects’.
You might say that history and pro-Scottish sentiment have turned the English Plantagenet king into a power hungry despot.
And how about this ‘overlordship’, that Edward claimed he was entitled to.
Yes, Scotland could have a king, but only as long as Edward was recognized as his liege lord.
The majority of the Scots scoffed at the Idea and it took many years of bloody warfare to finally convince the English that they had no business north of Tweed. Even than the notion lingered for a very long time.
So, where did this Overlordship originate.
In the middle ages it was very common for kings to acknowledge overlordship of foreign kings for their lands in these foreign countries.
Mind, we’re talking of ‘lands’. It was totally unheard of to extend the concept of overlordship to the nation as a whole.
After 1066, the Normans, having successfully cowed all English resistance, swept into Scotland in 1072. The Scottish king Malcolm III was forced to bend the knee and acknowledge William the Conqueror as his overlord.
Malcolm III however supported the English rebellions and launched attacks on northern England to re-establish independence from the pushy Normans.
In 1174, in the Treaty of Falaise, William the Lion did submit to English overlordship after his capture, but in 1189 Richard I of England ‘sold’ that right back to the Scots again in the ‘Quitclaim of Canterbury’. That was supposed to be the end of it.....but was it?.
The sudden death of Alexander III in 1286 plunged Scotland into a crisis of succession.
The more when his successor, the ‘Maid of Norway’, the seven-year-old heir to the Scottish throne, died in late September 1290 while enroute from Norway to Scotland.
Scotland was in uproar. No king meant a very uncertain future.
Edward must have watched it all from the sidelines and had English monasteries search their archives for legal evidence of English overlordship in Scotland.
When the request came from the Scots to help choosing a new ruler from the many claimants Edward was of course delighted. Whatever had come out of the archives, it spurned Edward on as he acceded to the Scottish request. Yes he would help them out but they would have to acknowledge him as their overlord.
The Scots did not take that claim too seriously, but when Edward finally chose for Balliol and then proceeded to treat him as a vassal and a complete simpleton to boot, they really got worried.
What followed you can find at the History page. Look for “The English state their claim’ and “The Wars of Independence’.