In 1287 Alexander III, King of Scots, died suddenly after falling from his horse at Kinghorn; the succession crisis that followed presented Edward with a golden opportunity to expand on his conquest of Wales; with the absence of an immediate heir, the Scots throne looked likely to pass to Alexander's infant granddaughter, Margaret, the 'Maid of Norway', the daughter of the King of Norway; rival Scottish claims for the right to succeed as the next monarch led to the Norwegians approaching Edward; Edward planned to wed his own son Edward to Margaret and thus control Scotland via matrimonial rights; the Scots nobles agreed that Margaret should be queen but events were thrown into turmoil when Margaret died en route to Scotland.
With the succession crisis still looming large and rival claimants still in fierce competition the Guardians of Scotland needed to find someone to adjudicate the claims and help break the deadlock; the perfect candidate was Edward; as an internationally respected king and a recognised expert on legal matters of state Edward was a logical choice; this seemed to be a good decision at the time, considering that England and Scotland had enjoyed an extended period of relatively peaceful co-existence; claims of English overlordship over Scotland were seen to be a thing of the distant past, but the Guardians were in for a shock.
Edward I - Feudal Overlord:
In a series of political manouverings Edward insisted that he be recognised as feudal overlord of the Scots before a new Scots king was appointed; the Guardians refused but Edward, the legal expert, got his wish; at the time there were only two rival claimants Robert Bruce and John Balliol and Edward's role was adjudicate; if there were more than two men then, under medieval law, only a judge could be expected to pronounce a verdict and as a judge Edward had to have authority and in royal matters authority meant overlordship, so Edward found other claimants for the vacant throne to put pressure on Bruce and Balliol; the plan worked and one by one they came forward to swear allegiance; from that point on, with all principle claimants as his vassals, it did not matter who became king; ultimately Balliol took the crown.
Edward's subsequent heavy-handed treatment of the Scots, demanding taxes and soldiers to help fight his wars, etc, led to the first inklings of rebellion; in 1295 the Scots signed a mutual aid treaty with France, later to be known as the Auld Alliance, this pact with Edward's enemy brought about swift retaliation from Edward; he destroyed Berwick, slaughtering thousands of the town's inhabitants, before pushing deeper into scotland; in 1296 the Scots met Edward in battle at Dunbar but was decisively beaten, repeating his accomplishments in Wales, Edward had now conquered Scotland's armies.
In a similar tactic to the those he employed in Wales Edward stripped the country of its treasures and symbollic icons of nationhood as easily as he stripped Balliol of his status as king; most notably the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny was removed to be sent back to England; the message was clear, there was to be no other king in Scotland but Edward; his campaigning, however, had left him seriously short of funds; he could no-longer afford to build costly castles to control his new domain as he had in Wales.
Just as he had with the welsh, Edward had underestimated the Scots and
within a year rebellions against English control broke out, notably
led by Andrew Murray in the north and William Wallace in the south of
the country; Wallace was the younger son of a Scottish knight and minor
landowner; his name, Wallace or le Waleis, means the Welshman, and he
was probably descended from Richard Wallace who had followed the Stewart
family to Scotland in the 12th century; little is known of Wallace’s
life before 1297; he was certainly educated, possibly by his uncle,
a priest at Dunipace, who taught him French and Latin; it’s also possible,
given his later military exploits, that he had some previous military
Even though Scotland had supposedly been conquered, beneath the surface there were deep resentments; many of the Scots nobles were imprisoned, they were punitively taxed and expected to serve King Edward I in his military campaigns against France; this led to the flames of revolt spreading across Scotland.
In May 1297 Wallace was in Lanark; it is said that he was visiting his wife, the beautiful Marion Braidfute, who he had married in secret; Lanark Castle was held by an English sheriff, Sir William Heselrig; when Heselrig’s soldiers learned that Wallace was with Marion they surrounded him; Wallace escaped but Marion was captured by Heselrig; the English sheriff then had Wallace’s wife put to death; that night Wallace and his men made their way back to Lanark Castle under cover of darkness, broke into Heselrig’s bedchamber and hacked the English sheriff to death; soon after this Wallace's uprising gained momentum, as men ‘oppressed by the burden of servitude under the intolerable rule of English domination’ joined him ‘like a swarm of bees’.
From his base in the Ettrick Forest his followers struck at Scone, Ancrum and Dundee; at the same time in the north, the young Andrew Murray led an even more successful uprising; from Avoch in the Black Isle, he took Inverness and stormed Urquhart Castle by Loch Ness; his MacDougall allies cleared the west, whilst he struck through the north east; Wallace’s uprising drew strength from the south and with most of Scotland liberated, Wallace and Murray now faced open battle with an English army.
On the 11th September Wallace and Murray achieved a stunning victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge; the English left 5,000 dead on the field, including their despised treasurer, Hugh Cressingham, whose flayed skin was taken as a trophy of victory and to make a belt for Wallace’s sword; the Scots suffered one significant casualty, Andrew Murray, who was badly wounded and died two months later; this left Wallace as the 'Commander of the Army of the Kingdom of Scotland’ and Wallace was subsequently knighted and made Guardian of Scotland in Balliol’s name at the forest kirk, at either Selkirk or Carluke.
It was a remarkable achievement for a mere knight to hold power over the nobles of Scotland; in a medieval world which was obsessed with hierarchy, Wallace’s extraordinary military success catapulted him to the top of the social ladder; he now guided Scottish policy; letters were dispatched to Europe proclaiming Scotland’s renewed independence and he managed to obtain from the Papacy the appointment of the patriotic Bishop Lamberton to the vacant Bishopric of St Andrews.
William Wallace was a true Scottish patriot who had no intention of submitting to English rule or domination, but a year after the battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace lost the battle of Falkirk, probably due to the relentless arrows of King Edwards army; this loss affected Wallace's reputation badly and in September 1298 he resigned as Guardian Of Scotland in order to make way for Robert Bruce, but in 1302 Robert Bruce drew up peace plans with Edward, which Wallace did not agree with, so he went to France, Scotland's old ally, to plead for help which he did not receive, he returned in 1303.
Even though most scottish nobles finally capitulated to Edward's rule Wallace would not and managed to evade capture until August 1305 when a Scottish knight John De Menteith, who was loyal to King Edward, captured him at Robroyston near Glasgow; Wallace was taken to London and placed on trial for treason; according to records Wallace claimed he could not possibly be guilty of treason as he had never sworn loyalty to Edward, but found guilty, William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered on the 23rd of August 1305 and his limbs were sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Aberdeen to be put on public display on pikes as a warning to others.
Robert the Bruce:
Robert the Bruce's ambition to be king was realised in 1306, but news of the coronation of a new Scots king brought Edward's army northward and a series of swift victories saw Edward victorious and the new King of Scots on the run; Edward then apparently assumed the scottish rebellions were finally over, so the news of Bruce's return with a handful of followers was given scant regard by Edward, but within a year Bruce had defeated the larger English forces and regained control of swathes of Scotland; the minor rebellion had become a sizeable uprising.
Despite ill health and advancing years Edward, the Hammer of the Scots, marched his army north again to rid himself of Bruce once and for all and in 1307, with Scotland in sight, Edward died at Burgh-on-Sands; the campaign for the conquest of Scotland passed on to his son, Edward II; the Scots were relieved to find that the brutal and effective military prowess displayed by the father were absent in the son and in 1314 Bruce defeated the larger English force at Bannockburn and Scotland was no longer conquered by the English.
On his death bed accounts credit Edward I's dying wish to be that his bones be left unburied as long as Scotland was unconquered; mercifully this request was ignored as arguably, England's greatest king, and Scotland's greatest enemy, his temporary interment would have lasted an awful long time.