Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/William the Lyon
WILLIAM the Lyon (1143–1214), king of Scotland, second son of Henry of Scotland [see Henry, 1114?–1152], was born in 1143. His father died in 1152. His grandfather, David I [q. v.], was succeeded in 1153 by Malcolm IV [q. v.], William's elder brother. It seems probable that he began his military service in Malcolm's wars against Fergus, the chief of Galloway, in 1160, and against Sumerled, lord of the Isles [q. v.], in 1164. He appears to have acted as guardian of the kingdom during 1164–5. Malcolm IV died unmarried on 9 Dec. 1165 at Jedburgh, and on 24 Dec. William was crowned at Scone by Richard (d. 1177?) [q. v.], bishop of St. Andrews.
In 1166 William went to the court of Henry II at Windsor, in the hope of obtaining the retrocession of the earldom of Northumberland, which had been ceded to Henry in 1157. He did homage for and received back the honour of Huntingdon, but was refused the Northumberland earldom. Whether in the hope of obtaining it by his services, or eager for military glory, he accompanied Henry as his vassal in the fief of Huntingdon to France. Though he is said to have distinguished himself in the war, he did not long remain, and a violent quarrel broke out between him and the English king (cf. Lyttleton, Life, iv. 220). Soon after his return, in 1168, he sent an embassy to France to make an alliance with Louis VII. This is the first distinct and authentic notice of a league between France and Scotland, afterwards antedated to the time of Charlemagne. At Easter 1170 Henry held a court at Windsor, when William and his brother David were present. William and David both did homage to Henry's son at his coronation on 15 June, probably for the fief of Huntingdon, which William now surrendered, by the form of subinfeudation to his brother.
In 1173, after Becket's murder, Henry II was confronted by a formidable conspiracy of his three sons, in alliance with the kings of France and Scotland. In return for his aid the younger Henry granted William the earldom of Northumberland, and his brother David that of Cambridge. William at once attempted to take possession of the coveted earldom. He wasted the English borders, but failed in the sieges of Werk and Carlisle. Richard de Lucy [q. v.], the English justiciar, retaliated by a raid on southern Scotland, and succeeded in obtaining a truce, which was renewed till the close of Lent 1174. This enabled him to send a reinforcement to the south of England, where David, earl of Huntingdon, was assisting Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester (d. 1190) [q. v.], against Henry. On the expiry of Lent William invaded Northumberland, wasting the country round Alnwick, which was his headquarters. The Yorkshire barons, led by Ranulf de Glanville [q. v.], came to the rescue of Northumberland, and on 13 July, while riding with a small band of followers near Alnwick, William was taken prisoner. On 31 July he was brought to Henry at Northampton, tied, it is said, under a horse's belly. He was confined for a time in Richmond Castle, but was soon removed to Falaise in Normandy. There, on 8 Dec. 1174, he agreed, as the price of his release, to the ignominious treaty of Falaise.
Its terms were: (1) William became liegeman of Henry against every man for all his lands, and took an oath of fealty to him as his liege lord and to his son Henry. (2) The bishops, abbots, and clergy of Scotland were to take the oath of fealty in like manner. (3) William, his brother David, and his barons agreed that the church of Scotland should be subject to the church of England, as in the days of his predecessors the kings of England. (4) The barons and other men of Scotland were to do homage and fealty to Henry and his son. (5) The castles of Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Edinburgh, and Stirling were to be delivered as pledges, and certain nobles and their heirs as hostages. (6) When the castles had been delivered, William and David were to be liberated. The nobles not present when the treaty was made were to agree to the same terms, and those present promised to assure their doing so. The bishops, earls, and barons promised, if William receded from the terms of the treaty, they would side with Henry and his son against him. The subjection of Scotland was never so clearly stated in words, and the terms contrast strongly with prior and subsequent cases of ambiguous homage.
Next year, on 10 or 17 Aug. 1175, the treaty of Falaise was confirmed at York, and William, with the Scottish barons and clergy, did homage to Henry. But at the council of Northampton in January 1176, held by Cardinal Petreleonis, the papal legate, the Scottish prelates, relying on the terms of the treaty by which the Scottish church was only bound to acknowledge the same subjection to the English ‘as it had been wont to acknowledge in the days of Henry's predecessors,’ and taking advantage of the rival claims of the sees of Canterbury and York, declined to submit to either of the English archbishops as their superiors, and Henry permitted them to depart without requiring their submission. The pope, Alexander III, supported the Scottish bishops, and in answer to a letter—extorted or possibly forged—from William, in which he asked the pope to recognise the supremacy of York, wrote to the Scottish bishops on 30 July 1176 forbidding them to do so (Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, ii. 245).
In 1178 William founded the abbey of Arbroath for Tyronensian Benedictines from Kelso, whose abbot surrendered all claim of jurisdiction over the new abbey, but its consecration was delayed till 1197. It was dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket, whom William had known when at the court of Henry at the commencement of his reign, and who had been specially commended to William by Pope Alexander III (Materials for History of Becket, Rolls Ser., v. 243), and, although William's conflict with the pope shows he did not accept the high-church doctrine of Becket, the dedication can hardly have been intended otherwise than as a side-blow at Henry II. Arbroath was his only personal foundation, and there, as was natural, he was buried. Before his death he had enriched it with thirty-three parish churches, lands from the Forth to the Ness, and the custody of the Brecbennach, the sacred banner of St. Columba. Arbroath became one of the richest monasteries in Scotland. Its association with the great Scottish saint and the great English martyr undoubtedly had political as well as religious motives.
About this time began the contest between William and the pope as to the see of St. Andrews. It was a step towards the complete severance of the church of Scotland from the church of England and its comparative independence even of the claims of Rome. On the death of Bishop Richard [see Richard, d. 1177?], John the Scot, an Englishman of great learning and archdeacon of St. Andrews, was elected bishop by the chapter; but William, desiring the promotion of his own chaplain Hugh, obtained Hugh's consecration as bishop. John appealed in person to Alexander III, who sent him back to Scotland with a legate Alexis, a Roman subdeacon. A council at Holyrood held in 1180 annulled the appointment of Hugh and confirmed the election of John, who was consecrated at Holyrood by his uncle Matthew, bishop of Aberdeen, on Trinity Sunday 1180. William retaliated by banishing John, the bishop of Aberdeen, and their adherents, and put Hugh in possession of the see. John returned to Rome, and the pope granted the archbishop of York [see Roger, d. 1181] legatine powers to excommunicate William and place Scotland under interdict, but John is said to have intervened and prevented their execution. In the following year (1181) William of St. Carilef [see Carilef], bishop of Durham, failed in a personal interview with the Scots king to effect a compromise, and the pope issued a mandate to the king to install John within twenty days under pain of excommunication. Henry II, according to Hoveden, now interposed, and William, who visited Henry in Normandy, became reconciled to the bishop of Aberdeen and to Bishop John, and offered to consent to John being appointed to any vacant bishopric; but the pope was not satisfied, and the archbishop of York excommunicated William and placed his kingdom under interdict. Fortunately for Scotland, Alexander III died before the close of the year, and his successor, Lucius III, accepted the compromise Alexander had refused. In 1183 John was appointed bishop of Dunkeld. Hugh received from the pope the see of St. Andrews and William the Golden Rose, the annual gift of the pope to the monarch who showed himself the most dutiful son of the church. But the dispute as to St. Andrews was not yet over. William again quarrelled with Bishop John, and Lucius III summoned both Bishop John and Bishop Hugh to Rome. John obeyed, but Hugh refused to come, and in 1188 was suspended for contumacy from his see by Clement III, the successor of Lucius III. At last a settlement was effected by which John secured the see of Dunkeld and the revenues due to him before his consecration; and Hugh, who surrendered the see of St. Andrews into the hands of the pope, received it back from him, and went to Rome to be absolved of his contumacy. He died there of the pestilence in August 1188.
In April 1189 William's kinsman Roger, second son of the Earl of Leicester, was appointed bishop of St. Andrews by the king, John being present and ‘not contradicting,’ but his consecration was delayed till Lent 1198. This long conflict was even yet not entirely wound up. It seems clear, however, that William had substantially gained his point so far as independence of the church of England was concerned, and a bull of Clement III on 13 March 1188 signalised his triumph by declaring that the church of Scotland was directly subject only to the see of Rome; that no one except the pope or a legate a latere should pronounce excommunication or interdict against Scotland, and that no one should hold the office of legate except a Scottish subject or a depute a latere corporis sui of the pope. This bull was afterwards confirmed by Cœlestine III and subsequent popes. The independence of the nine Scottish bishoprics from any claim to jurisdiction by the English sees of York or Canterbury was expressly recognised. Galloway alone was left a suffragan of the see of York.
The independence of the church was speedily followed by the restoration of the independence of the kingdom. Richard Cœur de Lion, having succeeded to the English crown on the death of Henry II on 6 July, surrendered by the treaty of Canterbury on 5 Dec. 1189 all claims to the superiority of Scotland. The consideration for this treaty was the payment of ten thousand merks, equivalent to 100,000l. of present value, which Richard urgently required for his projected crusade. By the terms of this treaty Richard (1) restored to William, king of Scots, his castles of Roxburgh and Berwick. Negotiations for their restoration had been opened the year before his death by Henry, but he made it a condition that Scotland should pay a subsidy of a tenth for the crusade, and the barons and clergy refused to accept the condition. (2) He freed William from all obligations which Henry had ‘extorted from him by means of his captivity,’ with a salvo of his right to all his brother Malcolm had performed to former English kings for his lands in England; in other words, he renounced the treaty of Falaise. (3) The marches of Scotland were restored as they had been before William's capture. (4) Richard restored to William the earldom of Huntingdon, and all other feus to which he had right in England; and (5) delivered up all evidences he had of homage paid to Henry by the barons and clergy of Scotland. The raising of the ten thousand merks treated as the ransom of William was effected by aid of the prelates and barons in an assembly at Edinburgh in 1190, which is one of the steps in the history of the rise of the Scottish parliament.
In his controversy with the pope and in taking advantage of the necessity of Richard Cœur de Lion, William had shown himself an able diplomatist. He did so also in that favourite subject for mediæval diplomacy—royal matrimony. In 1184 William had made proposals of marriage with his cousin Matildis, daughter of Otho, the duke of Saxony, and granddaughter of Henry II. Henry agreed, but the pope, Lucius II, refused the necessary dispensation. Two years later Henry offered him the hand of his cousin Ermengarde, daughter of the Viscount of Beaumont, and, the offer having been accepted, their marriage was celebrated with great pomp at Woodstock in September 1186. Besides her personal dowry of 100l. a year and the services of forty knights, the castle of Edinburgh was restored to Scotland as an inducement to the marriage. By this English connection and the renunciation of the Scottish homage by Richard Cœur de Lion peace between England and Scotland was secured for a century.
Already in the later years of Henry II William had begun to use the opportunity which more amicable relations with England gave him to subdue his rebellious outlying provinces, and to extend the settled boundaries of the Scottish kingdom. In Galloway the death on 1 Jan. 1185 of Gilbert, who had maintained practical independence both of England and Scotland, led to a disputed succession, and Gilbert's nephew Roland, the son of Uchtred, whom Gilbert had murdered, acquired the lordship. Roland had married a daughter of Richard de Morville [q. v.], constable of Scotland, and was favoured by William. Henry II required William to bring Roland to the English court, where in 1186 he took the oath of fealty, and gave his sons as hostages that he would abide the decision of that court as to the claim of his cousin Duncan, the son of Gilbert, to the lordship of Galloway. The claim does not seem to have been pressed, and on Henry's death in 1189 William gave the earldom of Carrick, then part of Galloway, to Duncan on his ceding the lordship of the remainder to Roland, thus securing two vassals and dividing the rebellious province.
In 1187 William turned his attention to the north, where six years before Donald Bane, commonly called MacWilliam, who based his claims on his descent from Malcolm Canmore [q. v.], had raised a formidable rebellion and was supported by many northern nobles in Moravia, the modern shires of Inverness, Elgin, and Banff. He had seized Ross and wasted Moray. In the summer of 1187 William advanced with a large force to Inverness. He wisely included in it the Galwegians under their chief Roland, thus bringing the Celts of the south to oppose the Celts of the north. In the battle of 31 July at the Muir of Mamgarvy on the Upper Spey, probably in Badenoch, MacWilliam was defeated and slain. His death put an end to the revolt, and no general highland rising took place during William's reign until towards its close Guthred, a son of MacWilliam, made a raid from Ireland in the winter of 1211. He was defeated in the following spring by the Earl of Atholl and William Comyn, earl of Buchan, who had been given the command of four thousand men detached from William's own force. He returned in the spring of 1212, and was finally betrayed by his followers and slain by the Earl of Buchan in June of that year.
So completely were the Moray highlands subdued that William was able to advance further north and make Caithness, which then included Sutherland, subject to the Scottish crown. Earl Harald, son of Maddad, earl of Atholl, and grandnephew of Malcolm Canmore, had become sole earl of Orkney, including the Shetlands and Caithness, in 1158, by the death of his co-earl Earl Rognwald. He held the islands under the king of Norway and Caithness under the king of Scotland, but his vassalage to either was constantly disputed and almost nominal. After losing the Shetlands owing to his participation in a dispute about the Norwegian throne, he in 1196 invaded Moray. William went with a great force against him and recovered Moray. Harald took to his ships, and William destroyed his castle at Thurso. The wind drove Harald back to Caithness; he threw himself on the mercy of William, who allowed him to retain half of Caithness on condition of his giving his son Thorfin as a hostage; he conferred the other half on Harald Ungi, a rival claimant to both earldoms. Eventually, on Earl Harald's refusing the conditions imposed by the Scots king, William sold Caithness to Reginald, son of Somerled, king of Man. Reginald overran Caithness, but was defeated by Harald. In 1202 William again invaded Caithness, and Harald was forced to sue for peace, which was granted on condition of his paying every fourth penny of his dues to the Scottish king, amounting to a tribute of two thousand silver merks. Four years later Harald died, and was succeeded by three sons. David and John divided the Caithness possessions of their father. William had once more in the year of his death to make an expedition against this unruly province, but John, who was then sole earl, submitted to him, and gave his daughter and heiress as a hostage.
Among the early Scottish kings William was the chief founder of burghs. Almost all the chief towns of modern Scotland, with the exception of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stirling, and the bishop's burgh of Glasgow, trace their erection or the grant of privileges to his reign. Perth, Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose, Elgin, Forres, Kintore, Banff, Nairn, Inverness, Lanark, Rutherglen, the ancient rival of Glasgow, Ayr, and Dumfries received charters granting always privileges of trade, and generally the right to common as well as burgess lands. To Aberdeen, originally a bishop's burgh, and to all his burgesses in Moray and north of the Mount, William is supposed, on the evidence of a single charter, which appears never to have been acted on, to have granted a ‘free anse’ in imitation of the Hanseatic League, which might have led to a court of northern burghs similar to the court of the four burghs in the south. The remarkable extension of the burghal spirit points unmistakably to the growth of trade, and to the wise policy that led the king to rely on the chief centres of trade for pecuniary aid, and before long created the third estate of the realm. The first-fruits of this system were gathered when at the parliament of Stirling the burghs granted William an aid of six thousand merks. Under the disguise of feudal forms their creation was the first step in the overthrow of the feudal system in Scotland.
William was a vigorous legislator, and though only fragments of his laws remain, they show the character of his legislation. With few exceptions, which deal with the regulation of trade, the laws made relate to criminal law, its better enforcement through the king's officers, and the gradual substitution of Norman feudal for the older Celtic customs. The king appears in them, as do many of his predecessors and successors, in the character of the protector of the labourers of the ground against the oppression of the nobles. It was specially provided that equal justice was to be done to poor and rich, to religious men and husbandmen; and that barons and others when travelling should not quarter themselves on the country, but pay their way; nor when at home were they to live off their tenants' lands, but from the produce of their own lands, their rents and dues.
William was not uniformly supported by the church, and in the early period of his reign was even described as its oppressor. But after his death the Scottish ecclesiastical chroniclers, Wynton, Fordun, and Bower, united in praising him as a great king and a good man. A certain stringency and suspicion in the law with reference to priests perhaps reflects his quarrel with the pope. Some laws or decisions in particular cases preserved as precedents with regard to the Galwegians show that William made a compromise as to their old custom of purgation, of which they were allowed an option in lieu of the new Norman law of trial by jury, but he insisted that the king's writ should run in Galloway and be enforced by the local officers (sergeants or mairs) under severe penalties.
The relations of William with England after the accession of Richard I may be briefly told. In 1192 he contributed two thousand merks towards Richard's ransom, and remained his friend till his death, although Richard, like Henry, steadily refused to restore the three northern counties to Scotland, or even Northumberland, for which William offered fifteen thousand merks. In 1195 a proposal was started that William should marry his eldest daughter to Otho (afterwards the Emperor Otho IV), son of Henry, duke of Saxony; Otho's mother was Matilda, daughter of Henry II, and he was thus nephew of Richard, who was to make him his heir. The Scottish barons, however, objected; nor was a meeting at York between William and Hubert Walter [see Hubert], the archbishop of Canterbury, when the project was so far modified that William was to cede Lothian and Richard Northumberland and Durham to Otho, more successful. The Scottish queen was now pregnant, and William preferred to wait for his own heir. Soon after the coronation of King John in 1199 William sent ambassadors to demand restitution of the northern counties. John replied that if William would come in person he would ‘do him right in this and all his demands,’ and sent the bishop of Durham [see Philip, d. 1208?] to conduct him to Nottingham, where they were to meet on Whit-Sunday. William declined to come and threatened war. John then placed the northern counties under the charge of William d'Estutville and went to Normandy. William collected an army, but warned, it was said, by a vision at Dunfermline, dismissed it without entering England. He declined again to meet John at York in Lent 1200, and negotiated with Philip of France for the marriage of his son with a French heiress. Alarmed at this, John sent in the end of October the bishop of Durham and several nobles with letters of safe conduct, and William at last consented to meet the English king at Lincoln on 22 Nov. 1200. He did homage to John, ‘saving his own rights,’ and renewed his demand for the northern counties as part of these.
John promised to give his reply on Whit-Sunday 1201, but instead of complying with the demand, which was not to be expected, he began the erection of a border fortress at Tweedmouth, on the English side of the river, which William twice destroyed. A personal conference at Norham, which passed without result, is mentioned by Fordun as having taken place in 1203; but it is difficult to fit in this interview with John's known movements during 1203–4. A state of armed neutrality represented the position of the two countries till 1209. William was too much occupied with the affairs of his own kingdom, John with the French war and his contest with the pope, for open hostilities. In August 1209 John advanced with a large army to Norham, and William led his forces to Berwick; but neither the Scottish nor the English barons were inclined to fight, and peace was made. John engaged not to rebuild Tweedmouth; William agreed to pay fifteen thousand merks, gave hostages, and delivered his daughters Margaret and Isabella, for whom John promised to find suitable husbands. According to the Scottish chroniclers the elder was to be married to the heir to the English crown, but this is not stated in the English accounts of the treaty, and was expressly denied by Hubert de Burgh [q. v.], who married Margaret after the death of King John. William and John met at Durham in February 1212, and afterwards at Norham, where Queen Ermengarde is said to have assisted in negotiating peace. The dates of the treaty as given by Fordun and the ‘Patent Rolls’ do not afford materials for checking it, but the treaty was made immediately before the visit of Prince Alexander to London, in the spring of 1212. It was agreed that on the death of either king the other should support his heir, and William granted John the marriage of his son Alexander within a period of six years, provided the marriage was not a disparagement to the son of a Scottish king. Both William and Alexander took an oath of fealty to Henry, the son of John. Alexander, the heir-apparent of William, did homage at Alnwick for the English fiefs which his father resigned to him [see Alexander II].
It is not clear why William yielded so much to John, whose throne was already beginning to totter. Something was no doubt due to his age and infirmity. Possibly, too, his English wife, a cousin of John, may have exercised some influence over her aged husband, and she may not unnaturally have preferred English marriages for her daughters. But the granting of the marriage of his son Alexander to John is not easy to explain, and appears more favourable to the view that he acknowledged John as his superior, not only for his English fiefs, but for his kingdom, than many other matters which have been pressed into its support. Bishop Stubbs inclines to adopt it, and points to numerous attendances of William at the English court from 1176 to 1186, and his meeting Richard at Canterbury in 1189. But, on the other hand, the treaty of Canterbury expressly relieved him from the treaty of Falaise, and the only homage he paid to John was at Lincoln in 1200, when his own right was specially saved. The homage of Prince Alexander for the English fiefs appears to have been partly devised to solve the question on the Scottish side, as, according to Fordun, it was stipulated that the homage should be paid in future always by the heir-apparent, and not by the king, which would have prevented any ambiguity as to its nature (cf. Stubbs, Constitutional History, i. 556 n.)
William died at Stirling on 4 Dec. 1214, and was buried at Arbroath. His son was crowned at Scone on the following day, a celerity which shows that his death must have anticipated. He had two bastards, Robert and Henry, and several illegitimate daughters, whom he married to Norman nobles settled in Scotland. His legitimate daughter, Margaret, was married by Henry III to Hubert de Burgh, earl of Kent [q. v.] and justiciar of England; and Isabella to Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk [q. v.] Little is known of William's personal character, much of his character as a ruler and his public acts. He secured the freedom of the Scottish church from dependence on any English bishop, and its liberties from the aggression of the see of Rome. He freed the Scottish kingdom, though not so decisively, from the vassalage to the English king, which had been the result of his capture at Alnwick. He extended the acknowledged boundaries of the Scottish kingdom, both in the south and north, though he failed to recover the northern English earldoms. He improved the law, and by founding so many burghs took an important step towards the development of the constitution. Till old age overtook him he did not shrink from military expeditions, which, except in his mishap at Alnwick, were usually successful. But the more his history is studied, the more doubtful it appears whether the name of the Lyon may not have been due to the accident of his adopting it in his arms rather than to any special skill or prowess in war. Wisdom in policy rather than military genius or personal bravery appears to have been his leading characteristic.
[The long life of William the Lyon, which deserves a separate monograph, can only be understood by piecing together Scottish, English, Roman, and Scandinavian sources. Fordun and Bower's Scotichronicon is the best Scottish authority. Wyntoun is brief. Something may be gleaned from the Chronicle of Melrose and Lanercost, and the Vetus Registrum of Arbroath. The assises or laws and the assemblies, scarcely yet parliaments, of William, and several important charters are in Act. Parl. Scot. (Record ed.) vol. i. The English chroniclers Langtoft, Hoveden, and the so-called Benedictus Abbas, are contemporary, and valuable for the relations between William and the English king. The conflict as to the see of St. Andrews is in the Papal Records collected in Stubbs and Haddan's Councils, vol. ii. The conquest of Caithness is given by Fordun, and more fully by Bower, but their accounts require to be supplemented by that in the Orkney Saga (Joseph Anderson's translation, pp. xxxix–xliv), and by Munck in his Norske Volks Historie. Of modern writers, Hailes's Annals and Robertson's Scotland under the Early Kings are the best. Hill-Burton's account of William in his History of Scotland is unsatisfactory.]