With the death of Alexander III, who’s body and horse had mysteriously turned up on sands at Kinghorn. It is assumed he had fallen from his horse and died on the beach. His death resulted in a power vacume, temporarily filled by the ‘guardians’, who were four nobles and two bishops chosen to look after Scotland. The succession of the monarchy hinged on the arrival of Alexander’s granddaughter, the Maid of Norway but tragically she died on her way to Scotland in 1290. A choice had to now be made from a series of 13 contenders – most of these were puppets for the English King, Edward I. There were two main contenders; John Balliol, Lord of Galloway and Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale. The Scots themselves couldn’t choose as both men had their supporters. But fortunately, or unfortunately as it turned out Edward I, the highly respected King of England volunteered to decide. Edward arranged a meeting with all the contenders at Norham Castle, near Berwick, just south of the Anglo-Scottish border.
When the Scots arrived the English King was determined to take maximum political advantage of this situation. Edward asked the Scots to acknowledge his position as the Lord Superior of Scotland before he would judge the case of the various claims. The Scots were rather non plussed by this and replied that the only person who could possible give away rights of the Scottish Kingdom was The Scottish King himself and of course there was no Scottish King so therefore there could be no reply to Edward and these terms. Edward got around this by approaching the competitors individually and asking them to acknowledge his position as the Lord Superior of Scotland which of course many of them were prepared to do. It is interesting to note that one of the first to do so was Robert Bruce (4th/5th May) while John Balliol doesn’t come to agree to this until May 10th. The court case drags on until November 1292 when John Balliol wins and is decreed to be the Scottish King by the Court and this is ratified by Edward in November of the same year. But in reality the real winner was Edward, Balliol was King but under very stringent conditions exercised by the English King. There was now more interference from the English crown to the Scottish crown than had ever been before.
Edward I undermined John’s authority and demanded homage to be paid to himself, he held legal authority over the the Scottish King. Scotland was now contributing to the protection of England in the expected war with France. The new King repeatedly humiliated Balliol who was too weak to resist, and the Scots resented Edward’s demands. The direction of Royal 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. In the late summer of 1295 a delegation left Stirling for Paris to negotiate a treaty with the French King, the terms were simple; should Edward attack France, then the Scots would wage war against the English, in return the French promised support should Scotland be attacked. The French agreed. When Edward went to war against France in 1296 the Scots duly marched into England. The fuse was lit. Edward responded and sent the largest army ever seen, 30,000 soldiers marched north. What followed was one of the worst massacres in British Medieval history. Edward ordered 7,500 souls in Berwick, of both sexes to be massacred. After this and Dunbar resistance to Edward buckled. Castle after Castle fell, it was took Balliol 8 days to negotiate the surrender. It was hardly surprising as Edward held Balliol responsible. Edward was angry, Balliol had acted contemptibly and illegally. He was Edward’s man and yet he had conspired with the French and attacked English soil. He would have to be punished along with the Scots if they refused to submit. But Edward wanted more than a simple surrender, he wanted a show. Paraded as a penitent before Edward, Balliol was stripped of his Kingship, the Royal insignia ripped from his clothing earning him the cruel nickname Tomb Tabard (Empty suit, King nobody ). Balliol was broken and humiliated, he was sent to the Tower of London and then to exile in France. Still Edward was not content and set about plundering the Country, systematically stripping all Scotland of symbols of sovereignty and Independence. The crown jewels, the holiest relic of Scotland and the Stone of destiny were taken. Edward then took a tour of Scotland, but this was no holiday. Everywhere he went he forced nobles to sign up to his new regime, to put their names to what became known as the most infamous document in Scottish history; the ragman rolls. In the end there were nearly 1900 names on it, essentially acknowledging Edward as their Lord and Master, basically the King of Scotland. Representative from all across the Scottish Kingdom were forced to submit their seals of submission – nobility, land owners, politicians, religious heads all signed.
Scotland is now without a King; beaten, broken and humiliated. The Winter of 1296 was one of the Countries darkest.