The First War of Scottish Independence lasted from the outbreak of the war with the invasion by England in 1296 until the de jure restoration of Scottish independence with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328. Scotland's de facto independence had been restored in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn.
On 30 March, King Edward I was at the outskirts of Berwick-upon-Tweed (Scotland's main commercial centre at the time) with his main army. Edward offered Berwick's citizens unconditional surrender, but their response was to taunt him with obscene remarks and gestures, before defying him to do his worst. The earthwork defences proved to be inadequate as the English forces quickly overran the earth-and-wood ramparts, throwing Berwick's citizens into panic. The only resistance offered was from the thirty strong Flemish community, who barricaded themselves in the town's Red Hall, as they put up a gallant fight. But it all ended in tragedy when Edward torched the Red Hall, burning all its occupants alive.
In the sack that followed close on the English assault many of the townspeople were massacred, although the actual number has been subject to much exaggeration, both then and later. The carnage continued until Edward finally called a halt. Meantime, he accepted the surrender of Sir William Douglas the Hardy, the castle's garrison commander, who instantly swore his allegiance to him. By 5 April, King John Balliol sent an envoy to Edward, with a letter formally renouncing his allegiance. 'What folly he commits!' exclaimed Edward grimly. 'If he will not come to us, we will go to him.'
The English army, under the command of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey confronted the Scottish army on 27 April in the Lammermuir Hills, near Dunbar. The Scottish army had the advantage, as they held the higher ground. Yet at the last moment before the battle, the Earls of Atholl and Mar pulled out and the loss of their men dealt a grievous blow to the Scottish side.
From their vantage point, the Scots observed the English as they broke formation and formed groups to cross the valley that separated the two sides. John Comyn misinterpreted the manoeuvre, believing that the English were in fact retreating. The Scots were already fired up and, eager to fight, charged down the hill, straight towards one of the English groups. The English forces, veterans of campaigns in Flanders and Wales, stayed calm and collected. They regrouped, and charged directly at their pursuers. The Scots were outflanked and before they could make any evasive manoeuvres the English cavalry had already carved a line out of the Scottish ranks. The Scots were then quickly overpowered as the English engaged them from all flanks.
The Battle of Dunbar was a disaster for the Scots. At a single stroke the English had captured one hundred and thirty important knights, and resistance in Scotland rapidly crumbled, as it deprived Scotland of her most experienced military commanders.
On 28 April, Dunbar Castle surrendered to the English, followed by Roxburgh Castle on 8 May, then Jedburgh and Dumbarton Castles. Edinburgh Castle managed to hold the English at bay for several days before finally yielding. By mid-June 1296, Edward I had reached Stirling Castle, but found it had been deserted by its garrison. Then the English proceeded northwards through Perth, Montrose, Aberdeen and Banff, routing out any pockets of resistance.
John Balliol knew that his position was untenable, since those nobles who were not captured or killed were rapidly distancing themselves from him. Therefore he addressed a letter to Edward I, begging for forgiveness on the errors of his ways and stating his intention to abdicate. At Stracathro on 7 July, King John publicly admitted the errors of his ways and confirmed his reconciliation with Edward I. On 10 July 1296, at Brechin, he donned a white robe, stripped of any royal insignia and carrying the white rod of a penitent, formally abdicated as King of Scots in front of the Bishop of Durham. The ceremony was repeated again at Montrose, but this time in front of King Edward I. Balliol and his son, Edward, were escorted to England and incarcerated in the Tower of London.
At Scone, Edward removed the Stone of Destiny and transported it to Westminster Abbey. At Edinburgh he confiscated the Scottish regalia, including the Black Rood of St Margaret, and a large cache of official documents.
On 28 August a parliament was convened at Berwick, and two thousand prominent Scottish landowners were summoned to appear with a signed and sealed document prescribing their homage to King Edward I, not as their Lord Paramount, but as the King of England. Among the names that appeared on the Ragman Roll, were Robert Bruce, 6th Lord of Annandale and his son, the Earl of Carrick. Edward appointed three English officials to govern under his name; John de Warenne as Governor of Scotland, William Ormsby as Justiciar, and Hugh Cressingham as Treasurer. Edward finally left Scotland on 19 September 1296, commenting that "he who rids himself of shit does a good job". It appeared that Scotland had been conquered.
Andrew de Moray was the son of a northern landowner, Sir Andrew de Moray of Petty. Andrew and his father were both captured in the rout after the Battle of Dunbar in April 1296. Andrew the younger was initially held captive in Chester Castle, on the Anglo-Welsh border, from which he escaped sometime in the winter of 1296-97. The escapee quickly returned to his father's castle at Avoch on the northern shore of the Moray Firth, where he raised his banner in the name of Scotland's king, John Balliol. Moray quickly gathered a band of like-minded patriots around him, and employing hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, began to attack and devastate every English-garrisoned castle from Banff to Inverness. The entire province of Moray was soon in revolt against King Edward's men, and it would not be long until he had taken control of it. And once he had secured Moray, he was free to turn his attention to the rest of the north-east of Scotland.
Wallace rose to prominence in May 1297 when he killed Sir William Haselrig, the English sheriff of Lanark. Wallace killed the sheriff and members of his garrison at Lanark, with the aid of Sir John Graham. The news of Wallace's latest attack on the English rippled throughout Scotland, and it had the effect of rallying like-minded men to join him. The rebels were supported by Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, who longed for the defeat of the English. The blessing of Wishart gave Wallace and the rebels a veil of respectability, as previously the nobles considered them as nothing more than mere outlaws. He was soon joined by Sir William Douglas and others.
In early June, Wallace, at the Bishop of Glasgow's request, planned a symbolic strike to liberate Scone, the seat of the English appointed Justiciar of Scotland, William Ormesby. It was from Scone, a site held sacred by the Scots, that William Ormesby would dispense his heavy handed form of English justice. Ormesby was forewarned of Wallace's imminent assault on Scone and hastily fled.
On hearing about the extent of Moray and Wallace's success, Edward I, although engaged in events in France, sent a force of foot soldiers and horsemen under Sir Henry Percy and Sir Robert Clifford to resolve the 'Scottish problem'. Edward also received reports that Sir William Douglas had defected to the rebels and ordered Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick to deal with Douglas. The Earl of Carrick, together with his father's vassals of Annandale, were dispatched to attack Douglas's stronghold in Lanarkshire. Whilst travelling north to face Douglas, Robert began to think about where his loyalties truly lay and he decided to follow the Scottish cause, being quoted as saying "No man holds his flesh and blood in hatred, and I am no exception. I must join my own people and the nation in whom I was born".
Bruce had everything to lose by turning away from Edward I. It was to be a crucial decision for Robert, his first political act of independence from his family. The confederacy of men that Bruce joined included the Steward and William Douglas, but they were inept and dissension broke out in the Scottish camp when the Scottish and English armies met in July 1297 near Irvine. Many of the Scottish lords felt unhappy about being led by one they felt was inferior to them in status. They therefore capitulated to the enemy. The only avenue left to Wallace was to retreat north, avoiding a battle. Percy and Clifford assumed that this was the end of the problem and retired back to the South only to be followed once more by Wallace and Moray. These two divided their forces and in a short time again forced the English south of the Forth, leaving them holding only the castle of Dundee.
While laying siege to Dundee castle, Wallace heard that an English army was again advancing north, this time under the Earl of Surrey. The siege was entrusted to the leading men of the town, so that the progress of the English army could be halted. Wallace and Moray, who had recently combined their forces, deployed on the Ochils overlooking the bridge crossing the River Forth at Stirling and prepared to meet the English in battle. At the time, Wallace and Moray were both in their late twenties and neither could yet claim to be Scottish national heroes. They were not recognised by their aristocratic enemies in Scotland as anything more than local commanders. Under Wallace, the Scots, - commoners and knights, rather than nobles, - were united in a focused fight for freedom from foreign rule. Whereas the Scottish nobility had usually given in to English demands for allegiance, Wallace's patriotic force remained unequivocally dedicated to the struggle for Scottish independence.
After clearing the English out of Scotland, Wallace turned his mind to the administration of the country, and one of his early intentions was to resume commercial and diplomatic ties with Europe and win back the overseas trade which Scotland had enjoyed under Alexander III. Any evidence of his administrative acumen was probably destroyed by Edward's officials after his execution. There is, however, one Latin document in the archives of the Hanseatic town of Lübeck, which was sent on 11 October 1297 by "Andrew de Moray and William Wallace, leaders of the kingdom of Scotland and the community of the realm." It told the people of Lübeck and Hamburg that their merchants now had free access to all parts of the kingdom of Scotland, which had, by favour of God, been recovered by war from the power of the English.
Only one week after this document was signed, Wallace picked up the sword to mount an invasion of England. Crossing into Northumberland, the Scots followed the English army fleeing south in disarray. Caught between two armies, hundreds of refugees fled to safety behind the walls of Newcastle. The Scots laid waste a swathe of countryside before wheeling west into Cumberland and pillaging all the way to Cockermouth, before Wallace led his men back to Northumberland and fired 700 villages. On his return from England, laden with booty, Wallace found himself at the pinnacle of his power.
In March 1298, Wallace was knighted, reputedly by one of the leading nobles of Scotland, and was appointed Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland in the name of the exiled King John Balliol. Although the Scottish nobles appeared to have accepted Wallace's leadership after the Battle of Stirling Bridge and his English expedition, he had little faith in their support and set about dismantling the system of feudal vassalage and replacing it with a proper militia which would owe allegiance to Scotland rather than to individual chiefs. He also began preparations for what must surely follow; confrontation with Edward.
In January 1298, Philip IV of France had signed a truce with Edward that did not include Scotland, thereby deserting his Scots allies. Edward returned to England from campaigning in France in March and called for his army to assemble. He moved the seat of government to York and on 3 July he invaded Scotland, intending to crush Wallace and all those daring to assert Scotland's independence. On 22 July, Edward's army attacked a much smaller Scottish force led by Wallace near Falkirk. The English army was at a technological advantage. Its longbow-men decimated Wallace's spearmen and cavalry by firing scores of arrows over great distances. Many Scots were killed at the Battle of Falkirk, although it is impossible to give a precise number. Although Edward failed to subdue Scotland completely before returning to England, Wallace's military reputation was ruined. He retreated to the thick woods nearby and resigned his guardianship in December.
In May 1300, Edward I led a campaign into Annandale and Galloway. With the success of the English at Falkirk, Edward must have felt in a position to bring Scotland under full control on a permanent basis. To do this required further campaigning in Scotland to follow up on the success of 1298, eliminating the last opposition and securing the castles providing the focus for further resistance to royal control. The English took control of Caerlaverock Castle, but apart from some small skirmishes, there was no action. In August, the Pope sent a letter demanding that Edward withdraw from Scotland and, due to the lack of success, Edward arranged a truce with the Scots on 30 October and returned to England. That year, Robert Bruce finally resigned as joint guardian and was replaced by Sir Ingram de Umfraville. In May 1301, de Umfraville, John Comyn and William Lamberton resigned as joint guardians and were replaced by Sir John de Soulis as sole guardian. Soulis was appointed largely because he wasn't part of either the Bruce or the Comyn camps and was a patriot. He was an active Guardian, and made renewed efforts to have John Balliol returned to the Scottish throne.
In July 1301, Edward launched his sixth campaign into Scotland, aiming to conquer Scotland in a two-pronged attack, with one army commanded by his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, the other and larger under his own command. The prince was to take the southwestern lands, and the greater glory, so his father hoped. But, while the prince held cautiously to the Solway coast, the Scots, commanded by de Soulis and de Umfraville, attacked Lochmaben in early September and threatened the king’s forces at Bothwell, all the while maintaining an awareness of the prince’s whereabouts. Though Edward captured Bothwell in September, and the prince had earlier helped in capturing Robert the Bruce's Turnberry Castle, Edward I and his son met to winter at Linlithgow without having damaged the Scots’ fighting ability. In January 1302, Edward agreed to a nine-month truce.
It was around this time that Robert the Bruce submitted to Edward I, along with other nobles, even though he had been on the side of the patriots until now. There are many reasons which may have prompted his turning, not the least of which was that Bruce may have found it loathsome to continue sacrificing his followers, family and inheritance for John Balliol. There were rumours that Balliol would return with a French army and regain the Scottish throne. Soulis supported the return of Balliol as did many other nobles, but the return of John as king would lead to the Bruces losing any chance of ever gaining the throne themselves. Also, Robert’s father was old and ill, and may have wished his son to seek peace with Edward, who, he was convinced, would be victorious over the Scots. The elder Bruce would have seen that, if the rebellion failed and his son were against Edward, he would lose everything; titles, lands, and probably his life. Edward also came to see that he needed a Scottish noble like Bruce as a friend, rather than as an enemy at this time; he was facing both excommunication by the Pope for his actions and a possible invasion by the French.
However, though recently pledged to support Edward, it is interesting to note that Robert the Bruce sent a letter to the monks at Melrose Abbey in March 1302 which effectively weakened his usefulness to the English king. Apologizing for having called the monks to service in his army when there had been no national call up, Bruce pledged that, henceforth, he would “never again” require the monks to serve unless it was to “the common army of the whole realm,” for national defence.
More serious to the Scottish patriots than the apparent loss Bruce was the loss of support from Philip IV of France and subsequently, the Pope. Philip faced revolt at home and became too involved in his own difficulties to care about the Scots. He had also created a schism between himself and the Pope, whose support for the Scots faded without Philip’s influence. It seemed that Philip had such difficulties that he was willing to sign with Edward a peace treaty excluding the Scots, an act that the Scots knew would spell their doom. A powerful Scottish delegation, led by Soulis, went to Paris that autumn to try to head off such an event. In his absence, Comyn was appointed as Guardian.
In November 1302, when the temporary truce between the Scots and the English ended, Edward delayed calling up his army until spring. Over that winter, however, he sent Sir John Segrave and an army on a scouting expedition into the area west of Edinburgh. They were ambushed by Comyn and Simon Fraser, who had ridden all night to meet them. The Scots attack led to the capture of the severely wounded Segrave and, although his army later rescued him, the Scots were exultant at their success. Their successes, however, were rendered useless in May 1303, Philip formally signed a peace with England and omitted any consideration for the Scots.
Edward I was now free from embarrassment abroad and at home, and having made preparations for the final conquest of Scotland, he commenced his invasion in the middle of May 1303. His army was arranged in two divisions—one under himself and the other under the Prince of Wales. Edward advanced by the east and his son entered Scotland by the west, but his advance was checked at several points by Wallace. King Edward reached Edinburgh by June, then marched by Linlithgow and Stirling to Perth. Comyn, with the small force under his command, could not hope to defeat Edward's forces. Edward stayed in Perth till July, then proceeded, via Dundee, Montrose and Brechin, to Aberdeen, where he arrived in August. From here he marched through Moray, before his progress continued to Badenoch, before re-tracing his path back south to Dunfermline, where he stayed through winter.
Early in 1304, Edward sent a raiding party into the borders, which put to flight the forces under Fraser and Wallace. With the country now under submission, all the leading Scots surrendered to Edward in February, except for Wallace, Fraser, and Soulis, who was in France. Terms of submission were negotiated on 9 February by John Comyn, who refused to surrender unconditionally, but asked that prisoners of both sides be released by ransom and that Edward agree there would be no reprisals or disinheritance of the Scots. The laws and liberties of Scotland would be as they had been in the day of Alexander III, and any that needed alteration would be with the advice of Edward and the advice and assent of the Scots nobles.
Excepting William Wallace and John de Soulis, it seemed that all would be forgiven after some of the more famous leaders were exiled from Scotland for various periods of time. Forfeited estates could be recovered by payment of fines levied in amounts deemed appropriate for each individual’s betrayal. Inheritances would continue as they always had, allowing the landed nobility to pass on titles and properties as normal.
De Soulis remained abroad, refusing to surrender. Wallace was still at large in Scotland and, unlike all the nobles and bishops, refused to pay homage to Edward. Edward needed to make an example of someone, and, by refusing to capitulate and accept his country’s occupation and annexation, Wallace was the unfortunate focus of Edward’s hatred. He would be granted no peace unless he put himself utterly and absolutely in Edward’s will. It was also decreed that James Stewart, de Soulis and Sir Ingram de Umfraville could not return until Wallace were given up, and Comyn, Alexander Lindsay, David Graham and Simon Fraser were to actively seek Wallace's capture.
In May, having eliminated most Scottish opposition, Edward turned his attentions to Stirling Castle, laying siege to it with great determination. Asked by its defender, Sir William Oliphant, if he had permission to surrender or must hold the castle, Edward refused, saying, “If he thinks it will be better for him to defend the castle than yield it, he will see.” After three months of terrible bombardment with every siege engine Edward could bring to bear, the defenders still held the castle. When they could hold out no longer, they offered to surrender unconditionally, but Edward refused to accept. He would first bombard the castle with ‘The Warwolf,’ his new trebuchet. After a day of horrific punishment, the destroyed castle was allowed to submit, and about fifty men surrendered.
Meantime, while Robert Bruce outwardly maintained loyalty to Edward, he was secretly advancing the objects of his own ambition and while engaged in assisting Edward in the settlement of the Scottish government, on 11 June 1304, with both of them having witnessed the heroic efforts of their countrymen at Stirling, Bruce and William Lamberton made a pact that bound them, each to the other, in “friendship and alliance against all men.” If one should break the secret pact, he would forfeit to the other the sum of ten thousand pounds. Though both had already surrendered to the English, the pact indicated their deep patriotism and commitment to their future perseverance for the Scots and their freedom. They now intended to bide their time until the death of the elderly King of England.
Now, Scotland lay defenseless and Edward set about absorbing her into England. Homage was again paid to Edward by the nobles and a parliament was held in May 1305 to elect those who would meet later in the year with the English parliament to establish rules for the governance of Scotland by the English. The Earl of Richmond, Edward's nephew, was to head up the subordinate government of Scotland and control the castles of Roxburgh and Jedburgh. Justices were to be appointed in pairs of one Englishman and one Scot. Militarily strategic localities were controlled by English sheriffs and constables, but most others were by Scots. A council was formed to advise the Earl of Richmond, and among those were Bruce, Comyn and Lamberton. For all the apparent participation by Scots in the government, however, the English held the real power.
While all this took place, William Wallace was finally captured at Robroyston near Glasgow on 3 August 1305. He was delivered to the English by retainers in the service of Sir John Menteith. Wallace easily had been the most hunted man in Scotland for years, but especially for the previous eighteen months.
He was quickly taken through the countryside of Scotland, his legs bound beneath his horse, towards London, where, after a show trial, the English authorities had him horribly executed on 23 August 1305, at the Elms of Smithfield in the traditional manner for a traitor. He was hanged, then drawn and quartered, and his head placed on a spike on London Bridge. The English government displayed his limbs in a grisly fashion, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth.
On 15 September, the English parliament met with the Scots representatives to decide the ordinances of government for Scotland, and in the midst of listing punishments to be meted out to other Scots, Edward ordered Robert Bruce to put his castle at Kildrummy,“in the keeping of such a man as he himself will be willing to answer for.” This suggests that Edward suspected Robert was not entirely trustworthy and may have been plotting behind his back. Bruce, as Earl of Carrick and now 7th Lord of Annandale, held huge estates and property in both Scotland and England and had a claim to the Scottish throne. He also had a large family to protect. In addition to his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjory, there were his brothers, Edward, Alexander, Thomas and Nigel, his sisters Christian, Isabel (Queen of Norway), Margaret, Matilda and Mary, and his nephews Domhnall II, Earl of Mar and Thomas Randolph. If he claimed the throne, he would throw the country into yet another series of wars, and if he failed, he would be sacrificing everyone and everything he knew.
The pact which Bruce had made with Lamberton was not so secretly managed and suspicions were awakened. This led to a conference with Comyn in which Bruce proposed, as the best means of preventing future trouble and for restoring their own privileges and the rights of the Scots, that they should henceforward enter into an understanding with each other. Under this, Comyn would support Bruce's claim to the throne and receive Bruce's lands as compensation or vice versa. But for some unknown motive, probably a desire of ruining his rival, Comyn revealed the conspiracy to Edward. Bruce was at the English court at this time and, after being warned of Edward's knowledge of the conspiracy, had to flee back to Scotland.
He arrived in Dumfries and found that Comyn was there. At a private meeting with Comyn at the Greyfriars Church, Bruce reproached Comyn for his treachery, which Comyn denied and Bruce, in fury, drew his dagger and stabbed, though not mortally, his opponent. As Bruce ran anxiously from the church, his attendant named Kirkpatrick entered and, finding Comyn still alive, killed him. Bruce and his followers then forced the local English judges to surrender their castle. Bruce realised that the die had been cast and that he had no alternative except to become either a king or a fugitive. The murder of Comyn was an act of sacrilege, and he faced a future as an excommunicate and an outlaw. However his pact with Lamberton and the support of the Scottish church, who were prepared to take his side, in defiance of Rome, proved to be of great importance at this key moment when Bruce asserted his claim to the Scottish throne.
He went to Glasgow and met with the patriot Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart. Rather than excommunicate Bruce, Wishart absolved him and urged people to rise in his support. They both then travelled to Scone, where they were met by Lamberton and other prominent churchmen and nobles. At Scone Abbey, on 25 March 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned as King Robert I of Scotland.