The death of Margaret, the granddaughter of King Alexander III, in 1290 sparked a succession crisis in Scotland. With her death, 13 rival claimants pressed for power. The two leading claimants for the Scottish crown were Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale (grandfather of the future king Robert the Bruce) and John Balliol, Lord of Galloway. Fearing a civil war, the Guardians of Scotland requested Edward I of England to arbitrate between the two powerful families. With the support of Edward, Balliol was appointed king of Scotland.
Balliol was a weak king. His reign was undermined by Edward, who treated Scotland as a vassal state. In 1295, he signed the Auld Alliance with France, sparking English condemnation. Edward invaded Scotland, defeating John and the Scottish army in the Battle of Dunbar. In July 1296, Balliol abdicated the throne. While most of the country had been subdued by the English army, in 1297 William Wallace and other Scottish nobles were able to instigate a revolt. Edward again deployed the English army north to subdue the Scots, but his army was decisively defeated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
With the English army defeated, Wallace went on the offensive. After successfully raiding northern England, Wallace was appointed Guardian of Scotland (de facto head of state). Edward responded by leading another English army into Scotland. On 22 July 1298, the two sides clashed in the Battle of Falkirk. The English overwhelmed the smaller Scottish force, killing three of Wallace’s most trusted commanders. Following the defeat, Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland. He would later be captured and executed by the English in 1305.
The death of Wallace did not end the Scottish revolt. Robert the Bruce rose to power in 1306, following the murder of John Comyn (the Guardian of Scotland). Launching yet another revolt against England, Bruce managed to defeat Edward II in the Battle of Bannockburn. In May 1328, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, formally recognized Scottish independence with Robert the Bruce as king.
Look for more information regarding the First War of Scottish Independence and the Battle of Bannockburn in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #300 article “Battle of Bannockburn” and join the conversation on Facebook!