People of Medieval Scotland
1093 - 1371

Historical introduction

Historical background

The foundations of modern Scotland were laid in the period 1093–1314. The very existence of burghs and parishes, counties and sheriffs, Scots law and Scots coinage, charters and government administration, were unknown before 1093. Even our idea of Scotland as a country stretching north from the Tweed and the Solway, and the Scots as its people, would have been unimaginable. By the time that Alexander III suffered his fatal accident on the night of 19 March 1286, however, burghs were to be found in all areas bar the West Highlands and Islands; parishes had been established across the whole country; there were counties and sheriffs throughout the land apart from the West Highlands and Islands; a system of royal justice accessible to all freemen had taken root; coins were minted in nearly every royal burgh; charters had become the norm in establishing property-rights; and royal government was routinely conducted in writing and records were kept centrally. The kingdom's borders had become established roughly in a way that was to endure: by the end of his reign Alexander III's realm included Berwick and the Isle of Man (neither of which is in Scotland today), but did not yet stretch to Orkney and Shetland. As a result of all these changes 'Scotland' and 'Scots' came for the first time to be thought of as referring to the country and its people that were ruled by the king of Scots. It was not only those of Gaelic origin who identified themselves as Scots, but also those of Norman (Bruce, Hay), Breton (Stewart), French (Balliol), Flemish (Douglas, Murray) and north British (Galloway, Scott, Galbraith) and English backgrounds whose family names resound across Scottish History.

For more information on the period before 1286, see

The extinction of the royal dynasty with death of Alexander III’s granddaughter, Margaret, in September 1290, led to Edward I’s determined assertion of his claim to be overlord of Scotland. John Balliol was inaugurated as king of Scotland on 30 November 1292, and immediately paid homage to Edward I. After coming under intense pressure from Scottish leaders to resist Edward’s erosion of Scottish sovereignty, he disobeyed Edward’s demand for military service, an act of defiance that led to Edward’s invasion of Scotland in March 1296. By the end of August 1296 Edward’s authority had been recognised by the great majority of Scots of regional and local significance, from Caithness to Berwick. Just over a year later, however, Wallace had emerged as leader of a rising against Edward’s rule that cancelled most of Edward’s conquest. From 1297 to 1303 a significant part of Scotland was ruled by leaders acting in the name of the absent King John Balliol. The last of those governing in King John’s name, John Comyn, came to terms with Edward I on 9 February 1304. The second phase of the war began with Robert Bruce’s killing of John Comyn on 5 February 1306. This transformed the situation radically, setting off a civil war between the Comyns and their powerful allies and relations and Robert Bruce and his followers. The Battle of Bannockburn did not bring the king of England, Edward II, to recognise Robert Bruce as king of an independent kingdom. It did, however, establish Robert Bruce’s mastery of Scotland, an achievement that was consolidated at the parliament of Cambuskenneth in November 1314.

For more information about the Wars of Independence, and the nature of Scotland’s broader relationship with England prior to the Wars, see


Timeline 1070–1331

ca 1070: The English royal family, ousted by William the ‘Conqueror’, duke of Normandy, take refuge in Scotland. Margaret, a member of the English royal family, marries Mael Coluim (Malcolm) III at Dunfermline.

1072: William the ‘Conqueror’, king of England, invades Scotland. At Abernethy (just south of Perth) Mael Coluim (Malcolm) III does homage to William and gives up his eldest son, Donnchad (Duncan) as a hostage.

1093: Mael Coluim III killed on raid into England. His brother Domnall Bán (Donald III) takes the throne.

1094: Donnchad (Duncan) II, son of Mael Coluim III, obtains English help in seizing throne from Domnall Bán. Before the year is out, Donnchad is killed by Domnall, who becomes king again.

1097: Edgar, son of Mael Coluim III and Margaret, takes the Scottish throne with the help of William II, king of England. Domnall Bán is imprisoned and mutilated.

1100: William II of England dies. His brother Henry I becomes king, and marries Matilda/Maud/Edith (yes, these are all names of the same person!), daughter of Mael Coluim III and Margaret. David, youngest son of Mael Coluim III and Margaret, is looked after by Matilda.

1101: Pope sends letter to Scottish bishops instructing them to obey the new archbishop of York. This is probably the context for an uncompromising statement of St Andrews’ claim to be the archiepiscopal seat of Scotia (i.e.Scotland north of the Forth) which is found in a version of the St Andrews foundation-legend composed at this time (1093x1107).

1107: Edgar dies; his brother Alexander becomes king. Alexander I’s position as client king is demonstrated by his willingness to fight for Henry I king of England in Wales. Either now, or soon after, Alexander I’s younger brother, David, is established as ruler of (what is now) southern Scotland.

1113: David becomes earl of Huntingdon.

1120: Alexander I ‘head-hunts’ Eadmer of Canterbury as the new bishop of St Andrews. Eadmer is a keen proponent of the archbishop of Canterbury’s claim to exercise jurisdiction over Britain. Alexander I refuses to compromise on his control of the church in his kingdom, and relations break down between him and Eadmer. Eadmer returns to Canterbury.

1124: Alexander I dies and is succeeded by David I.

1125: David I pushes for St Andrews to become an archbishopric. He fails, but succeeds in having Robert, the new bishop of St Andrews, consecrated by the archbishop of York without the need to swear obedience to the archbishop as his metropolitan.

1135: Death of Henry I of England. The succession is disputed between Stephen of Blois (whose mother was Mary, another daughter of Mael Coluim III and Margaret) and Matilda, daughter of Henry I. David I backs Matilda.

1138: David I, despite suffering defeats in his invasions of England, is recognised by Stephen as ruler of NW England; David’s only surviving son and heir, Henry, is recognised as earl of Northumberland.

1149: David I knights the future Henry II of England at Carlisle (one David’s chief residences). Henry II recognises Scottish control of the northern counties of England.

1152: David’s only surviving son and heir, Henry, dies, leaving three immature sons: Mael Coluim (Malcolm), William and David. Mael Coluim is recognised as David I’s heir, and William is installed as earl of Northumberland.

1153: Death of David I; Mael Coluim IV (aged 12) succeeds him. There are no mature descendants of Mael Coluim III alive who were in a position to claim the throne ahead of the boy Mael Coluim. (Alexander I’s illegitimate son, Mael Coluim, had been imprisoned in Roxburgh Castle since 1134.)

1157: Mael Coluim IV agrees to return northern counties of England to Henry II in return for his being recognised as earl of Huntingdon.

Death of Robert, bishop of St Andrews. This leads to a fresh attempt to obtain archiepiscopal status for St Andrews. Again, this fails, but the new bishop of St Andrews (Arnold, 1160-2) and his successor are allowed to be consecrated without professing obedience to York.

1159: Mael Coluim IV fights in Henry II’s army at Toulouse, and his knighted by him.

1160: Mael Coluim’s absence at Toulouse is resented by Scottish earls who besiege Mael Coluim at Perth. Fergus, king of Galloway, retires (under duress?) to the monastery of Holyrood.

1164: Somairle (Somerled) king of Argyll and the Isles invades up the Clyde, and is killed in battle at Renfrew.

1165: Death of Mael Coluim IV; his brother William becomes king.

1173-4: William participates in revolts against Henry II by leading raids into northern England. In July 1174 William is captured. This leads to the first written submission by a king of Scots: the ‘Treaty of Falaise’. Edinburgh and Roxburgh castles are surrendered to English garrisons.

1176: Pope Alexander III, concerned by the powers claimed over the Scottish church by Henry II, and the consequent diminution of papal control, becomes the first pope to support Scottish claims to independence from the archbishop of York.

1179-87: Domnall son of William son of Donnchad II leads a revolt in Moray and challenges William for the throne. He is finally defeated by Lachlan/Roland, lord of Galloway.

1189: Henry II dies, and is succeeded by Richard I, who (for a large sum) gives a written concession to William I (known as the ‘Quitclaim of Canterbury’) cancelling the Treaty of Falaise.

1192: The pope, in the bull Cum universi, finally recognises the independence of the Scottish church. There is still no Scottish archbishop, however. Instead, each Scottish bishop is directly and independently under the pope’s authority. This does not apply to the bishop of Galloway (who is happy to be under the archbishop of York’s authority) or the bishop of the Isles (who is under the authority of the recently created archbishop of Trondheim in Norway).

1196: William I subdues the earl of Orkney (who controlled northern Scotland). The lord of Galloway and the king of the Isles are instrumental in defeating the earl of Orkney.

1201: Recognition of William’s son, Alexander (then aged 3), as heir to the throne.

1212-15: The sons of Domnall son of William son of Donnchad II (the ‘MacWilliams’) lead another revolt on Moray.

1214: William dies; his son Alexander II (aged 16) is king.

1215-17: Alexander campaigns in northern England and is recognised by many Northern English barons as their lord. When Henry III of England’s supporters regain the initiative against their opponents after the battle of Lincoln Alexander II loses northern England.

1221: Alexander marries Joan, sister of Henry III of England. Alexander first raises the subject of securing papally sanctioned coronation for kings of Scots. This is resisted by kings of England.

1225: Pope instructs Scottish bishops to meet together in annual councils to oversee running of church in Scotland (except Galloway and the Isles).

1230: The MacWilliams are finally destroyed.

1234-5: Revolts in Galloway after the death of Alan, lord of Galloway, and Alexander II’s refusal to recognise Alan’s illegitimate son, Thomas, as lord, or at least to prevent the division of Galloway among Alan’s daughters. Alexander II’s victory is secured because of the intervention of Ferchar Mac in tSagairt, earl of Ross.

1237: Treaty ofYork. Alexander II formally renounces claim to northern England. In the formal ceremony of the treaty, Alexander II is treated as an independent monarch. The treaty is framed as an agreement between two sovereigns.

1249: Alexander II dies while on campaign in Argyll. He is succeeded by his son, Alexander III, who is not quite 8 years old. A further attempt to secure papally sanctioned coronation (and anointment) is refused; but the pope rejects Henry III’s claim that the king of Scots is his vassal.

1250: Canonisation of Margaret, wife of Mael Coluim III, and ancestor of the Scottish royal dynasty.

1251: Alexander III marries Margaret daughter of Henry III. Henry III abortively raises issue of homage.

1260: Alexander III’s request to the pope for coronation and anointment is rejected, but the pope formally recognises the liberty of the Scottish kingdom.

1263: King Hakon VI of Norway invades the kingdom of the Isles; his forces are rebuffed at Largs. Hakon dies in Orkney on the return journey to Norway. MacDougall (Meic Dhubhghaill) kings (now lords) of Argyll recognise authority of king of Scots.

1266: Treaty of Perth: Hakon’s successor, King Magnus, formally cedes the kingdom of Man and the Isles to the dominion of Alexander III.

1275: Rising in Man against Scottish rule is brutally suppressed.

1278: Alexander III rejects Edward I’s claim to homage for the kingdom of Scotland.

1284: Death of Alexander, son and heir of Alexander III. Community of the realm formally recognise as heir Alexander III’s only living descendant, his young grand-daughter, Margaret, daughter of King Eric of Norway.

1286: Death of Alexander III. Six Guardians appointed by the ‘community of the realm’ to govern the kingdom in the absence of Margaret, Alexander III’s grand-daughter.

1290: Negotiations for marriage between Margaret and Edward, son and heir of Edward I ofEngland, are concluded with the ‘Treaty’ of Birgham (18 July; ratified by Edward I on 28 August). Scottish independence is expressly guaranteed.

By end of September 1290: Margaret dies in Kirkwall while journeying from Norway to Scotland. Civil war begins to beak out between Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale, and John Balliol, Lord of Galloway, who both claim the throne. Bishop Fraser of St Andrews asks Edward I to intervene.

May 1291: Edward I meets Scottish leaders on border at Norham. The Scottish leaders expect him to act as an arbitrator between Bruce and Balliol (which would mean that Scottish independence was formally recognised). Edward I announces, however, that he will act as a judge (which means that his jurisdiction as overlord must be recognised). The Scottish leaders refuse to accept this.

June 1291: Negotiations continue at Norham. The English army assembles in readiness for a possible invasion. Edward I orchestrates a number of further claimants to the Scottish throne. This makes the situation much more complicated than could be resolved simply by arbitration between Bruce and Balliol, as the Scottish leaders hoped. Edward I also outmanoeuvres the Scottish leaders by getting the claimants (known as the ‘Competitors’) to recognise Edward I’s overlordship. John Balliol is the last competitor to agree to this. In the end, Edward achieved recognition of his overlordship, and was given custody of Scottish royal castles, without the need for an invasion.

August 1291 –November 1292: The ‘Great Cause’: the court case to decide who, should be king. The jury was composed chiefly of Balliol and Bruce supporters in equal number. In the end the majority (including some initial Bruce supporters) decided for John Balliol. Robert Bruce, the aged Lord of Annandale, resigned his title to his son, Robert, who in turn resigned his earldom of Carrick to his eldest son, also Robert, the future King Robert I. In this way Robert Bruce, the future king, entered the political elite in his own right as earl of Carrick, aged 18.

Nov.1292-Jan.1293: King John Balliol does homage to Edward I; Edward I hears appeals from decisions made in the highest Scottish courts, thus demonstrating that he exercises ultimate jurisdiction in Scotland. King John declares the ‘Treaty’ of Birgham null and void.

June 1294: Edward I at war with Philip IV of France. King John and Scottish nobles summoned to fight for Edward I. They fail to appear as requested.

5 July 1295: Parliament at Stirling: government taken from direct control of King John and entrusted to council of twelve.

23 October 1295: Treaty with France against Edward I. (Edward I only aware of this after his conquest of Scotland and seizure of government records.)

March 1296: Edward I responds to repeated disobedience of King John and Scottish leaders by invading Scotland.

30 March 1296: Destruction of Berwick, which was at that time Scotland’s wealthiest burgh.

27 April 1296: Battle of Dunbar. Scottish army routed; most of Scottish leaders captured.

July 1296: Submission of King John. In Edward I’s eyes John now ceased to be king of Scotland.

September 1296 Edward I leaves Scotland under the control of John, earl of Warenne.

Spring and Summer 1297: The unprecedented (in Scottish experience) financial demands by Edward I’s officials provoke revolts across Scotland. Two leaders emerge: William Wallace in the south, and Andrew Moray in the north. Among the very few ‘regular’ Scottish leaders not in captivity, James Stewart, Robert Bruce earl of Carrick, and Robert Wishart bishop of Glasgow demonstrate support for Wallace and Moray.

11 September 1297: The combined forces of Wallace and Moray defeat Warenne at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. All but South-East Scotland liberated. Moray dies of his wounds, leaving Wallace in charge of Scotland. Wallace is in due course recognised as Guardian in the name of King John.

3 November 1297: William Lamberton (a Balliol supporter) elected bishop of St Andrews.

Spring 1298: Scottish leaders fighting in Edward I’s army in Flanders abandon Edward I and return to Scotland.

1 July 1298: Edward I leads a huge force into Scotland.

22 July 1298: Battle of Falkirk. Edward I defeats Wallace’s army, but he is unable to advance further. Only parts of southern Scotland are restored to English rule.

By end of 1298: Wallace resigns as Guardian. The new Guardians are John Comyn the younger of Badenoch, and Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick.

1299: Tension between Bruce and Comyn leads to appointment of Lamberton bishop ofSt Andrewsas chief Guardian. Scots take Stirling castle.

10 May 1300. Parliament at Rutherglen. Bruce resigns as a Guardian and is replaced by Ingram de Umfraville.

Summer 1300: Edward I campaigns in Galloway. Most of Scotland still held by Guardians in name of King John. King John now in papal custody.

1301: John Soules appointed sole Guardian. King John transferred from papal custody to his ancestral castle at Bailleul in Picardy. The return of King John is eagerly anticipated. Edward I campaigns in south and takes Bothwell castle.

Beginning of 1302: Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, fearful of King John’s return, submits to Edward I, and marries daughter of the Anglo-Irish earl of Ulster.

11 July 1302: French defeated by Flemish at Battle of Courtrai. French now want peace with Edward I, and are no longer willing to back King John’s return to Scotland.

24 February 1303: Battle of Roslin. Comyn and Fraser defeat English sheriff of Edinburgh.

May 1303: The king of France makes peace with Edward I, leaving the Scots out in the cold. Edward I launches his third major invasion of Scotland. He overwinters at Linlithgow.

9 February 1304: Comyn and the rest of the Scottish leaders governing in King John’s name surrender to Edward I.

March 1304: Edward I calls a parliament at St Andrews, and Scottish freeholders submit.

21 April 1304: Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale, dies: his son, Robert earl of Carrick, becomes head of the Bruce family.

11 June 1304: Robert Bruce earl of Carrick forms secret alliance with Lamberton, bishop of St Andrews.

20 July 1304: Fall of Stirling castle.

February 1305: Westminster parliament: new constitution for Scotland ordered.

23 August 1305: Capture and execution of Wallace.

15 September 1305: Westminster parliament: promulgation of Ordinance for Government of Scotland.

10 February 1306: Robert Bruce murders John Comyn in Dumfries

25 March 1306: Robert I inaugurated as king at Scone.

19 June 1306: Robert I defeated at Battle of Methven. Members of his family and many supporters are captured and executed. He flees west with a small band.

February 1307: Robert I returns to Carrick.

May 1307: Robert I wins Battle of Loudoun Hill.

7 July 1307: Death of Edward I.

May 1308: Robert I destroys Comyn heartland of Buchan.

June 1308: Balliol heartlands in Galloway attacked.

August 1308: Macdougall, Lord of Argyll, a prominent Comyn/Balliol supporter, defeated at Battle of Brander.

31 October 1308: Another prominent Comyn/Balliol supporter, the earl of Ross, submits to Robert I.

16-17 March: Robert I consolidates his position after his victories on the civil war by holding a parliament at St Andrews.

1310-11: Edward II campaigns without much success in southern Scotland.

29 October 1312: Treaty of Inverness with Norway.

January 1313: Robert I takes Perth.

February 1313: Robert I takes Dumfries.

May/June 1313: Robert I takes Isle of Man.

Spring 1314: Roxburgh and Edinburgh castles taken for Robert I.

23-24 June 1314: Battle of Bannockburn.

November 1314: Cambuskenneth parliament: forfeiture of Robert I’s remaining opponents.

1315-18: Edward Bruce campaign in Ireland as king of Ireland. His death leaves Robert I with only one heir, the infant Robert Stewart, son of Robert I’s daughter Marjory.

1318: Edward Balliol, son of King John (who had died 4 years earlier), arrives in England from Picardy to promote his claim to the Scottish throne.

6 April 1320: The Declaration of Arbroath.

4 August 1320: Parliament at Scone: brutal suppression of ‘Soules’ conspirators who were plotting to kill Robert I and make Edward Balliol king.

January 1324: Pope recognises Robert I’s title as king of Scotland.

April 1326: Treaty of Corbeil with France.

15 July 1326: Robert I’s infant son, David, recognised as his heir.

20 January 1327: deposition of Edward II. Robert I leads a raid into northern England with a difference: he now begins to act as if north England is part of his realm. This provokes the English government of Edward II’s queen, Isabella, and her partner, Mortimer, to sue for peace.

17 March 1328: Treaty of Edinburgh. Formal recognition of Scottish independence and the Bruce kingship. Edward III, not yet old enough to rule, disapproves.

12 June 1328: Marriage of David Bruce and Edward III’s sister, Joan.

7 June 1329: Death of Robert I. Days later the pope grants the honour of coronation and anointment to Scottish kings.

1331: Coronation of David II.