John Balliol

John, King of Scots is usually known as John Balliol or, correctly, John de Balliol. He was born in 1248, the son of Dervorguilla of Galloway and John, 5th Baron de Balliol, Lord of Barnard Castle and founder of Balliol College in the University of Oxford, one of the first colleges founded in Oxford. As his father was before him, he was Lord of Hitchin. Following the death of Margaret, Maid of Norway in 1290, John Balliol was a competitor for the Scottish crown in the so called ‘Great Cause’, as he was a great-great-great grandson of King David I through his mother, being senior in genealogical primogeniture but not in proximity of blood. He submitted his claim to the Scottish auditors in an election overseen by Edward I of England. The Scottish auditors’ decision in favour of Balliol was pronounced in the Great Hall of the castle at Berwick and he was inaugurated at Scone, 30th November, 1292, St. Andrew’s Day.

Edward I, who had been recognized as Lord Paramount of Scotland, the feudal superior of the realm, steadily undermined the authority of King John. Tiring of their deeply compromised king, the direction of affairs was allegedly taken out of his hands by the leading men of the kingdom, who appointed a council of twelve-in practice a new panel of Guardians-at Stirling in July 1295. These men then went on to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France, to be known, in time, as the Auld Alliance.

Edward I then invaded, commencing the Wars of Scottish Independence. The Scots were defeated at Dunbar on 27 April 1296.

John abdicated by a Deed signed in Brechin castle on 10 July 1296. Here the arms of Scotland were formally torn from John’s surcoat, giving him the abiding name of ‘Toom Tabard’ (empty coat). He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at first, but eventually released into the custody of Pope Boniface VIII on condition that he remain in a papal residence. He was later released around the summer of 1301 and lived the rest of his life on his family’s ancestral estates in Picardy.

John died in 1314 at his family’s barony at Hélicourt, France. He was survived by his son Edward Balliol, who later revived his family’s claim to the Scottish throne, received support from the English, and had some temporary successes.