William I “the Lion” (known in Gaelic as Uilliam Garm or William the Rough), reigned as King of Scots from 1165 to 1214. His reign was the second longest in Scottish history before the Act of Union with England in 1707. He became King following his brother Malcolm IV’s death on 9 December 1165 and was crowned on 24 December 1165.
In contrast to his deeply religious, frail brother, William was powerfully-built, redheaded, and headstrong. He was an effective monarch whose reign was marred by his ill-fated attempts to regain control of Northumbria from the English.
Traditionally, William is credited with founding Arbroath Abbey, the site of the later Declaration of Arbroath. Interestingly, he was not known as “The Lyon” during his own lifetime, and the sobriquet did not relate to his tenacious character or his military prowess. William adopted the use of the Lion Rampant by his right to do so under the law of Heraldry.
The “Lion” became attached to him because of his flag or standard, a red lion rampant (with a forked tail) on a yellow background. This (with the addition of a ‘double tressure fleury counter-fleury’ border) went on to become the Royal standard of Scotland, still used today.
William was a key rebel in the Revolt of 1173-1174 against Henry II. In 1174, during a raid in support of the revolt, William recklessly charged the English troops himself, shouting, “Now we shall see which of us are good knights!” He was unhorsed and captured by Henry’s troops and taken in chains to Northampton, and then transferred to Falaise in Normandy. Henry then sent an army to Scotland and occupied it. As ransom and to regain his kingdom, William had to acknowledge Henry as his feudal superior and agree to pay for the cost of the English army’s occupation of Scotland by taxing the Scots. This he did by signing the Treaty of Falaise. He was then allowed to return to Scotland.
The Treaty of Falaise remained in force for the next fifteen years. At the end of that time the new English king, Richard the Lionheart, agreed to terminate it in return for 10,000 silver marks. Richard needed the money to take part in the Third Crusade.
William died in Stirling in 1214 and lies buried in Arbroath Abbey. His son, Alexander II, succeeded him as king.