King Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286, leaving his four-year old granddaughter Margaret (called “the Maid of Norway”) as his heir. In 1290, the Guardians of Scotland signed the Treaty of Birgham agreeing to the marriage of the Maid of Norway and Edward of Caernarvon, the son of Edward I, who was Margaret’s great-uncle. This marriage would create a union between Scotland and England. The Scots insisted that the Treaty declare that Scotland was separate and divided from England and that its rights, laws, liberties and customs were wholly and inviolably preserved for all time.
However, Margaret, travelling to her new kingdom, died shortly after landing on the Orkney Islands around 26 September 1290. With her death, there were 14 rivals for succession. The two leading competitors 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 civil war between the Bruce and Balliol families and supporters, the Guardians of Scotland wrote to Edward I of England, asking him to come north and arbitrate between the claimants in order to avoid civil war.
Edward agreed to meet the guardians at Norham in 1291. Before the process got underway Edward insisted that he be recognized as Lord Paramount of Scotland. During the meeting, Edward had his army standing by, thus forcing the Scots to accept his terms. He gave the claimants three weeks to agree to his terms. With no King, with no army ready, and King Edward’s army at hand, the Scots had no choice. The claimants to the crown acknowledged Edward as their Lord Paramount and accepted his arbitration. Their decision was influenced in part by the fact that most of the claimants had large estates in England and, therefore, would have lost them if they had defied the English king. However, many involved were churchmen such as Bishop Wishart for whom such mitigation cannot be claimed.
On June 11, acting as the Lord Paramount of Scotland, Edward I ordered that every Royal Scottish Castle be placed temporarily under his control and every Scottish official resign his office and be re-appointed by him. Two days later, in Upsettlington, the Guardians of the Realm and the leading Scottish nobles gathered to swear allegiance to King Edward I as Lord Paramount. All Scots were also required to pay homage to Edward I, either in person or at one of the designated centres by 27 July 1291.
There were thirteen meetings from May to August 1291 at Berwick, where the claimants to the crown pleaded their cases before Edward, in what came to be known as the ‘Great Cause.’ The claims of most of the competitors were rejected, leaving Balliol, Bruce, Floris V, Count of Holland and John de Hastings of Abergavenny, 2nd Baron Hastings, as the only men who could prove direct descent from David I.
On August 3, Edward asked Balliol and Bruce to choose forty arbiters each, while he chose twenty-four, to decide the case. On August 12, he signed a writ that required the collection of all documents that might concern the competitors’ rights or his own title to the superiority of Scotland, which was accordingly executed.[note 1] Balliol was named king by a majority on 17 November 1292 and on November 30. He was crowned King of Scots at Scone Abbey. On December 26, at Newcastle upon Tyne, King John swore homage to Edward I for the Kingdom of Scotland. Edward soon made it clear that he regarded the country as a vassal state. Balliol, undermined by members of the Bruce faction, struggled to resist, and the Scots resented Edward’s demands. In 1294, Edward summoned John Balliol to appear before him, and then ordered that he had until 1 September 1294 to provide Scottish troops and funds for his invasion of France.
On his return to Scotland, John held a meeting with his council and after a few days of heated debate, plans were made to defy the orders of Edward I. A few weeks later a Scottish parliament was hastily convened and twelve members of a war council (four Earls, Barons, and Bishops, respectively) were selected to advise King John.
Emissaries were immediately dispatched to inform King Philip IV of France of the intentions of the English. They also negotiated a treaty by which the Scots would invade England if the English invaded France, and in return the French would support the Scots. The treaty would be sealed by the arranged marriage of Edward Balliol (John’s son) and Jeanne de Valois (Philip’s niece). Another treaty with King Eric II of Norway was hammered out, in which for the sum of fifty thousand groats he would supply one hundred ships for four months of the year, so long as hostilities between France and England continued. Although Norway never acted, the Franco-Scottish alliance, later known as the Auld Alliance, was renewed frequently until 1560.
It was not until 1295 that Edward I became aware of the secret Franco-Scottish negotiations. In early October, he began to strengthen his northern defenses against a possible invasion. It was at this point that Robert Bruce, 6th Lord of Annandale (father of the future King Robert the Bruce) was appointed by Edward as the governor of Carlisle Castle. Edward also ordered John Balliol to relinquish control of the castles and burghs of Berwick, Jedburgh and Roxburgh. In December, more than two hundred of Edward’s tenants in Newcastle were summoned to form a militia by March 1296 and in February, a fleet sailed north to meet with his land forces in Newcastle.
The movement of English forces along the Anglo-Scottish border did not go unnoticed. In response, King John Balliol summoned all able-bodied Scotsmen to bear arms and gather at Caddonlee by 11 March. Several Scottish nobles chose to ignore the summons, including Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, whose Carrick estates had been seized by John Balliol and reassigned to John ‘The Red’ Comyn. Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick had become Earl of Carrick at the resignation of his father earlier that year.