The First War of Scottish Independence was a pivotal event in the history of Scotland and England. It marked the beginning of a long struggle for Scottish sovereignty and identity, and shaped the political and cultural landscape of both nations for centuries to come.
The war lasted from 1296 to 1328, with several periods of truce and negotiation. It involved many battles, sieges, raids, massacres, betrayals, alliances, and heroics on both sides. It also featured some of the most famous figures in Scottish history, such as William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, James Douglas, Andrew Moray, John Comyn, Edward I of England (also known as Longshanks or Hammer of the Scots), Edward II of England (also known as Edward of Caernarfon), and Edward III of England.
It all began with a succession crisis in Scotland after the death of King Alexander III in 1286. He had no surviving sons or brothers, and his only heir was his three-year-old granddaughter Margaret (also known as Maid of Norway). A group of Scottish nobles and bishops formed a council to govern Scotland until Margaret came of age. However, Margaret died on her way to Scotland in 1290.
This left Scotland without a clear successor to the throne. There were several claimants who had some degree of kinship with Alexander III or his ancestors. The most prominent ones were John Balliol (also known as Toom Tabard or Empty Coat), Robert Bruce (grandfather of Robert the Bruce), John Hastings (Lord of Abergavenny), John Comyn (Lord of Badenoch), William de Vesci (Lord of Alnwick), Nicholas de Soules (Lord Chancellor), Patrick Dunbar (Earl of March), Roger de Mandeville (Earl Marshal), Eric II (King of Norway), Floris V (Count of Holland), and Edward I himself.
To avoid civil war among these claimants, the council decided to ask Edward I to arbitrate their claims. Edward agreed on condition that he would be recognized as Lord Paramount or overlord of Scotland. The council accepted this condition reluctantly.
Edward held a court at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1291-92 to hear the arguments
of each claimant. He eventually chose John Balliol as King of Scots because he had the strongest genealogical claim and was also seen as weak and pliable by Edward.
Edward began interfering in Scottish affairs, undermining King John. The final straw came in 1294 when King Edward requested that Scotland provide troops and funds for his campaign against France. Several powerful Scottish lords persuaded John to refuse. Edward responded by invading Scotland at the head of a large army and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April of 1296.
In July, King John was deposed and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edward convened a parliament at Berwick, where the Scottish nobles (Robert the Bruce among them) paid homage to him. Scotland had been effectively placed under Edward’s rule.
A revolt by the Scottish nobility against Edward in 1297 ended in capitulation at Irvine in July of that year. Despite the setback at Irvine, William Wallace and Andrew Murray continued the resistance and their forces inflicted a stunning defeat on the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297, where Murray was mortally wounded.
The following year Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk by an English army led by Edward himself. In 1305 Wallace was captured and executed.
In February 1306, Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, made his move for the vacant Scottish throne in rather dramatic fashion when he and his supporters killed his rival, John ‘The Red’ Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, before the high altar inside Greyfriars church in Dumfries.
Bruce and his supporters were soon defeated and he was forced to seek refuge in the western highlands and islands. He returned to his earldom of Carrick in early 1307 and it was here that he began a seven-year campaign in Scotland that would culminate with his victory over Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, although the war would continue until 1328.