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Wars of Independence
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Wars of IndependenceAFTER ALEXANDER Ill's DEATH in 1286, Scotland was plunged into dynastic strife with 13 claimants to the throne. England's powerful Edward I tried to take advantage of Scottish turmoil. Asked to pick a king, he chose John Balliol, great-grandson of David I.

JOHN BALLIOL (1292-1296)
In 1292 a Scots king sat on the Stone of Destiny for the last time. John Balliol (born c. 1250) had affirmed Edward I as his overlord, but after three years he rebelled, only to be crushed by an invading English army at Dunbar, where 10,000 Scots perished. Edward removed the Stone of Destiny and Balliol had the royal arms stripped from his tunic, earning him the mocking title of "loom Tabard' ('empty coat'). Freed from a spell in the Tower in 1299, Balliol died in Normandy in 1315.

John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, was appointed Guardian of Scotland, but the Scots chafed against English rule. Enter the landless second son of an obscure Scottish knight, William Wallace.

Thousands flocked to join Wallace, outlawed for murder. He defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and then led a pillaging expedition into England. In 1298 he was appointed Guardian of Scotland.

Wallace refused the Crown, while reorganizing his army to meet the expected onslaught from Edward I. The crucial battle was at Falkirk, where Wallace's infantry was battered to defeat by English cavalry. Two bitter rivals - Robert Bruce, 2nd Earl of Carrick, and John Comyn (the Red), nephew of Balliol - succeeded Wallace as joint Guardians. Neither had any liking for Wallace, who vanished from the scene until 1305, when he was betrayed and taken prisoner near Glasgow. He was put to death in London, but the war was not yet over.

Born in 1274, Bruce was the great-great-grandson of David I. In 1306, he tried to heal his breach with Comyn, but Comyn told Edward of their agreement, and Bruce narrowly escaped capture by the English. Bruce met Comyn in Greyfriars Church, Dumfries, where he stabbed his rival to death. Declaring himself King of Scotland and its 500,000 or so inhabitants, he was crowned at Scone in 1306.

As Edward I advanced against the Scots, Bruce took to the hills and islands (the legend of the king and the spider dates from this time). Waging a guerrilla war, he defeated the English troops at Glen Trool and Louden Hill. Then in July 1307, Edward died and the English troops were withdrawn, leaving only the garrisoned castles. The Scots retook these one by one, until by 1314 Stirling was the only Scottish castle in English hands. Victory at Bannockburn in 1314 over Edward II 's much larger army confirmed Brace's triumph.

In the winter of 1306/7 Bruce and his men lived as outlaws, often hiding in caves, and it is in such a cave that the legend of the king and the spider is set. Bruce, on the point of despair, is said to have watched a spider trying to spin a web. Six times it failed before it succeeded. Bruce was inspired to carry on his campaign against the English.

John Balliol pays homage to Edward I of England on 26 December 1292. Edward claimed overlordship of Scotland.

'For it is not glory, it is not riches, neither is it honours but it is freedom alone that we fight and contend for... '
Declaration of Arbroath

Wars of Independence

Wallace used skillful tactics to defeat the superior English forces, cutting off the cavalry from the main army as they crossed the narrow bridge. Many knights were trapped between the river and Scottish spears.

Wars of Independence

Wallace stands at Bemersyde, east of Melrose.

Wars of Independence

This 19th-century mural of Bannockburn, by William Hole, shows Scottish infantry with their long spears at close quarters with the English cavalry.

Wars of Independence

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