Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baliol, John de (1249-1315)

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BALIOL, JOHN de (1249–1315), king of Scotland, was the third son of the preceding John de Baliol, of Barnard Castle, and Devorguila, daughter of Alan of Galloway. His elder brothers, Hugh and Alexander, having died without issue in 1271 and 1278, John succeeded to the large inheritance of the Baliols of Barnard Castle in Northumberland, Hertfordshire, Northampton, and other counties, as well as to their Norman fiefs, and in right of his mother to the lordship of Galloway. Prior to the disputed succession which arose after the death of Alexander III, Baliol scarcely appears in history; but by an inquest as to the extent of the vill of Kempston, in Bedfordshire, in 1290, we learn that he was forty years of age in the year preceding, and was then served heir to his mother Devorguila, who died on 28 Jan. 1290. He also then succeeded to other manors in England, Fotheringay and Driffield. On 16 Nov. 1290 John Baliol, already styling himself 'heres regni Scotiæ,' grants to Antony Beck, bishop of Durham, the manors which Alexander III held in Cumberland, or the sum of five hundred marks if Edward I did not confirm the grant. On the death of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, grandchild of Alexander III, on 7 Oct. 1290, no less than thirteen claimants presented themselves for the crown of Scotland; but of these only three seriously contested the succession. John de Baliol claimed in right of his maternal grandmother, Margaret, the eldest daughter of David, earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion, and grandson of David I. Robert Bruce, earl of Annandale, claimed in right of his mother, Isabel, the second daughter of the same earl; and John Hastings claimed in right of his grandmother, Ada, the third daughter. The claim of Bruce was rested mainly on his being one degree nearer in descent; that of Baliol on his descent from the eldest daughter; and that of Hastings on the ground that the kingdom was partible, as an estate, among the descendants of the three daughters. By the principles of modern law the right of Baliol would be incontestable; but these principles were not then settled, and it was deemed a fair question for argument by feudal lawyers of the thirteenth century. But what tribunal was competent to decide it? At an earlier period it would have been submitted to the arbitrament of war. The parliament or great council of Scotland, which had already begun, in the reigns of the Alexanders, to organise itself after the English model, or by development from the Curia Regis, might have seemed the natural tribunal, but this would have been only a preliminary contest before the partisans of the rival claimants resorted to arms. The legal instinct of the Norman race, to which all the competitors belonged, suggested or acquiesced in a third course, not without precedent in the graver disputes of the later Middle Ages — a reference to a third party; and who could be more appropriate as a referee than the great monarch of the neighbouring kingdom, to whom each of the competitors owed allegiance for their fiefs in England? This course was accordingly proposed by Fraser, bishop of St. Andrews, in a letter to Edward before Margaret's death, but when the news of her illness had reached Scotland. After some delay, caused by the death of Eleanor, the mother of Edward I, that monarch summoned a general assembly of the Scottish and English nobility and commons to meet him at Norham on 10 May 1291. Its proceedings were opened by an address from Roger de Brabazon, chief justice of England, who declared that Edward, moved by zeal for the Scottish nation, and with a desire to do justice to all the competitors, had summoned the assembly as the superior and direct lord of the kingdom of Scotland. It was not Edward's intention, the chief justice explained, to assert any undue right against any one, to delay justice, or to diminish liberties, but only, he repeated, as superior and direct lord of Scotland, to afford justice to all. To carry out this intention more conveniently, it was necessary to obtain the recognition of his title as superior by the members summoned, as he wished their advice in the business to be done. The Scottish nobles asked for time to consult those who were absent, and a delay of three weeks was granted. When the assembly again met, on 2 June, at the same place, the nobles and clergy admitted Edward's superiority, but the commons answered in terms which have not been preserved, but are described by an English annalist as 'nihil efficax,' nothing to the purpose. No attention was paid to their opinion, and another address, reiterating Edward's superiority, was delivered by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who called on the competitors to acknowledge his right, and their willingness to abide by the law before their lord Edward. This was done by all who were present, and by Thomas Randolph as procurator for Baliol, who was absent. Next day Baliol attended and made the acknowledgment in person. The acknowledgment was embodied in a formal instrument signed by all the competitors on 4 June, which declared their consent that Edward should have seisin of the land and castles of Scotland pending the trial, upon the condition that he should restore them two months after its decision. Immediately after the recognition of his superiority, and the seisin given in ordinary feudal form, Edward surrendered the custody of Scotland to the former regents, adding Brian Fitzallan to their number, and appointing Alexander de Baliol chamberlain and the Bishop of Caithness chancellor. The castles were delivered to Edward's officers, Umfraville, earl of Angus, alone refusing to give up Dundee until promised an indemnity. On 15 June Baliol and Bruce, along with many other barons and the regent, took the oath of fealty to Edward, and his peace having been proclaimed as superior of Scotland, the proceedings were adjourned to 2 Aug. at Berwick. Before the adjournment the court for the trial of the succession was appointed, consisting of twenty-four Englishmen appointed by Edward and forty Scotchmen by Baliol and Bruce respectively. The court met on the appointed day, and the competitors put in claims, but only three were pressed by Bruce, Baliol, and Hastings. After the petitions had been read there was another adjournment to 2 June 1292. The question was then raised by what law the case was to be determined, whether by the imperial laws or by the law of England and Scotland, and if the latter differed, by which. The commissioners asked time to consider the point, and at their next meeting, on 14 Oct. declared that the king ought to decide according to the law of the kingdom over which he reigned if there were any applicable, and if not make a new law with the advice of his council. They added that the same principles should govern the succession to the crown as that to earldoms, baronies, and other indivisible inheritances. Bruce and Baliol now gave in their pleadings. The former rested his claim (1) on a declaration of Alexander II in his favour at a time when he had no issue; (2) on the law of nature, which he alleged preferred the nearer in degree as heir; (3) on certain precedents derived from the Celtic law of tanistry, by which the brother had been preferred to the son as nearer in degree in the succession to the Scottish crown; (4) on similar instances in other countries, where the direct line of descent had been passed over; and (6) on the impossibility of succession through a female, as Baliol's claim was based on the right of his mother, Devorguila. To these arguments Baliol answered (1) that Alexander's declaration was only in the event of his having no issue, an event which had not occurred; (2) that the feudal law and not the law of nature was applicable; (3) that the cases in which a brother had been preferred to a son were inapplicable, for a son was nearer to his father than his father's brother, so that these cases told the other way, and were precedents for preferring the more remote degree; (4) that whatever might be the law in other countries, the feudal law of England and Scotland recognised representation in the elder line in succession to earldoms and baronies; and (5) that the argument against descent through females was equally adverse to the claim of Bruce, who also claimed through his mother.

The commissioners decided in Baliol's favour, declaring 'that by the laws and usages of both kingdoms in every heritable succession the more remote by one degree lineally descended from the eldest sister was preferable to the nearer in degree issuing from the second sister,' and on 6 Nov. Edward confirmed their decision.

A question which had been nominally reserved, whether the kingdom was partible, was now taken up, and decided in the negative, and on 17 Nov. 1292 the final judgment was pronounced: 'As it is admitted that the kingdom of Scotland is indivisible, and as the king of England must judge the rights of his own subjects according to the laws and usages of the kingdom over which he reigns, and as by those of England and Scotland in the succession to indivisible heritage the more remote in degree of the first line of descent is preferable to the nearer in degree of the second, therefore it is decreed that John Baliol shall have seisin of the kingdom of Scotland.'

Two days later the seal used by the regents was broken, and they were ordered to give seisin to Baliol. On 20 Nov. he swore fealty to Edward at Norham upon Scottish ground, on the 30th he was crowned at Scone, and within a month, on 26 Dec., he did homage to Edward at Newcastle.

There is no reason to doubt the justice of the decision between the competitors; and if the rules of descent were uncertain in such a case before, this solemn decision, after careful argument, aided in fixing the principle of representation and the preference for the senior line of descent. But the acknowledgment of Edward's title as superior, which the necessities of the case had wrung from the competitors and the barons, was a different matter. It was attempted to be supported by returns obtained from the English monasteries and religious houses of precedents dating back to Saxon times of a similar recognition; but no returns were sought from Scotland, while those received were evidently prepared to suit the wishes of Edward. The earlier precedents from Saxon times and from the reigns of Canute, William the Conqueror, and Rufus were instances of isolated conquests of brief duration and doubtful extent. No mention is made of the more recent points in the long-protracted controversy, the surrender of all such claim by Richard Cœur de Lion in the treaty of Canterbury, or the treaty of Salisbury, by which Edward himself had acknowledged the independence of Scotland, or the refusal of Alexander III to do homage. A further consequence of the recognition of Edward's title as superior, which had apparently not been foreseen by Baliol, but can scarcely have been overlooked by the astute feudal lawyers who counselled Edward, or by that monarch, was soon brought to light. As Edward was superior, an appeal lay from the court of his vassal Baliol to his own court at Westminster. Within six months after the decision in favour of Baliol a burgess of Berwick, Roger Bartholomew, presented such an appeal. Baliol in vain referred to the clause of the treaty of Salisbury, by which no Scotch cause was to be heard out of Scotland, and he was compelled to make an implicit surrender of the right to independent jurisdiction. Shortly after he was himself summoned in a suit at the instance of Macduff, earl of Fife, to appear before the judges at Westminster, and declining to attend he was condemned for contumacy in October 1293, and it was ordered that three of his castles should be seized to enforce the judgment. He again yielded, and promised to appear at the next English parliament to answer in the suit. He accordingly attended the parliament held in London in May 1294, but either quitted it suddenly to avoid being compelled to take part in the French war then in contemplation, for which offence his English fiefs were forfeited, as is stated by John of Walsingham, or granted the revenue of these for three years as an aid to the English king, according to the more common account of the English chroniclers, consenting, at the same time, to surrender Berwick, Roxburgh, and Jedburgh to the English king. The Scottish writers attribute Baliol's quarrel with Edward to his being required to plead in person in Macduff's suit, and other indignities put upon him when in England. Whatever the precise cause alleged, the real question at stake was the independence of Scotland; and on his return to Scotland Baliol or his parliament determined to brave the displeasure of the English monarch. The summons addressed to him and his barons to send men to the French war were treated with contempt; and at a parliament at Scone all the English at Baliol's court were dismissed, the fiefs held by the English forfeited, and a council of four bishops, four earls, and four barons appointed to advise or control Baliol.

Next year an alliance with Philip the Fair was made, by which the French and Scotch kings promised to aid each other in the event of an English invasion of their respective countries, and Philip agreed to give his niece, Isabel de Valence, the daughter of the Count of Anjou, in marriage to Baliol's heir. In 1296, Edward having invaded Gascony, the Scotch proceeded to carry out their part of the treaty, and with a large force, headed by six earls and not by Baliol in person, ravaged Cumberland, but failed to take Carlisle. This was towards the end of March, and Edward, with his usual promptness, before the close of the month advanced in person with a better disciplined army to the eastern border, and stormed Berwick (30 March). While there Henry, abbot of Arbroath, brought him a formal renunciation of Baliol's homage and fealty, which had been agreed upon by the Scottish parliament. In words of Norman French, preserved by the Scottish chroniclers, Edward exclaimed,'Has the foolish fellow done such folly? If he does not wish to come to us, we shall go to him.' No time was lost in the execution of the threat. On 28 April his general, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, captured Dunbar; in May Roxburgh and Jedburgh surrendered; and in June Edinburgh Castle was taken by Edward himself. Stirling, Perth, and Scone yielded without resistance, and on 7 July, in the churchyard of Stracathro, in Forfarshire, Baliol renounced his alliance with the French king, and three days later, at Brechin, Baliol gave up his kingdom to Antony Beck, bishop of Durham, as the representative of the English king, and, apparently on the same day, appeared before Edward, who was then at Montrose, and delivered to him the white rod, the usual feudal symbol of resignation by a vassal of his fief into the hands of his superior. (The notary's instrument, dated Brechin, 10 July, is printed by Stevenson, 'Documents illustrative of Scottish History,' ii. 61, and the surrender at Montrose, of the same date, is in the 'Diary of Edward's Scottish Campaign,' ii. 28.) Edward went as far north as Elgin, ending his triumphant progress there on 26 July. 'He conquered the realm of Scotland,' says a contemporary diary, 'and searched it within twenty-one weeks without any more.' But the conquest was rather of Baliol than of Scotland; for although Edward took the oaths of the leading men in the districts he passed through, he did not remain to confirm his victories. By 22 Aug. he had returned to Berwick, carrying with him the coronation-stone of Scone, the regalia of Scotland, and the black rood, sacred as a supposed relic of the cross of Christ, and as the gift of Queen Margaret. At Berwick Edward convened a parliament for Scotland, and received the homage of all who attended. He allowed the nobility who submitted to retain their estates, and conferred on the clergy the privilege of free bequest they had not hitherto enjoyed in Scotland; after appointing officers of state as his deputies, of whom Earl Warren, as guardian of Scotland, was the chief, and entrusting the castles to English custodians, he returned to London.

John Baliol and his son Edward were carried as captives to England, and remained prisoners, at first at Hertford and after August 1297 in the Tower, until 18 July 1299, when, on the request of the pope, they were liberated. Placed under the custody of Raynald, bishop of Vicenza, the delegate sent by the pope to make peace between France and England, Baliol pledged himself to live where the pope ordered. After various wanderings to Wissant, Cambrai, Châtillon, in November 1302, Baliol took refuge on his French estates, where he led an obscure life until his death, without making the slightest effort to recover the kingdom he had lost. For a time he was regarded as its virtual sovereign, and when Wallace, by his valour and generalship, roused the patriotism of his countrymen, abandoned by the king and most of the nobles, and drove out the English, recovering for a brief space the independence of Scotland, he governed under the title of 'guardian of the realm of Scotland and leader of its army in the name of Lord John (Baliol), by the consent of the community.' But in the future of Scotland, whether prosperous or adverse, John Baliol had no longer any share. The war of independence, the careers of Wallace and Bruce, grandson of the competitor who better understood the temper of the Scottish people and became their king, lie outside of the biography of Baliol. He died early in 1315 at Castle Galliard, in Normandy, according to tradition, blind, and probably about sixty-five years of age, of which four only had been spent on the throne and fifteen in exile. By his wife Isabel, daughter of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, he left, besides other children, a son Edward, who succeeded to his French estates, and made an attempt to recover the Scottish crown [see Baliol, Edward de]. The Scots gave to Baliol the byname of the 'Toom Tabard' ('Empty Jacket'), or 'Tyne Tabard' ('Lose Coat'), as the English gave John that of Lackland. His christian name of John was not allowed to be borne by John, earl of Carrick, who, when he succeeded, took the title of Robert III. A tradition of late origin and doubtful foundation grew up that his family name, owing to his impotent character and abandonment of his country, became so discredited that those who inherited it took the name of Baillie, a common one, while that of Baliol is an unknown name in modern Scotland. The retreat of the head of the family from Barnard Castle to Normandy, and the extinction of its principal cadet, the Baliols of Cavers, in 1368, sufficiently account for the disappearance of the name.

[The documents relative to the trial of the succession to the crown of Scotland are printed by Sir F. Palgrave in Documents and Records illustrating the History of Scotland, preserved in the treasury of her Majesty's Exchequer, 1837, but his commentary on them is to be accepted with reserve, as that of a partisan of Edward. For the other facts in the life of Baliol, reference must be made to the ordinary histories, of which the chief English chronicles are those of Rishanger, Hemingford, and John of Walsingham. The Scottish authorities, Barbour's Bruce, Wyntoun's and Fordun's Chronicles are of somewhat later date. Some important documents are contained in Documents illustrative of the History of Scotland, 1286-1306, edited by Rev. J. Stevenson, Rymer's Fœdera, ii., and Ryley's Placita. The best modern authorities are Lord Hailes's Annals and the Histories of Tytler and Burton. The anonymous Life of Edward I, the greatest of the Plantagenets, represents the English view of the origin of the war of independence in an extreme form, which should be corrected by reference to the more impartial English histories of Hallam, Pearson, and Green, and Pauli, Geschichte von England, vol. iv.]

Æ. M.