Scotland: The Struggle with England

The Struggle with England

In the reign of William the Lion Scotland became a fief of England by a treaty extorted (1174) from William by Henry II. In 1189 Richard I sold the Scots their freedom, but he couched the agreement in ambiguous terms that allowed later English kings to revive the claim. The Norsemen were gradually pushed out of Scotland and finally defeated in 1263; only the Orkneys and Shetlands remained in Norse hands until the 15th cent. When Alexander III died in 1286, his heiress was the infant Margaret Maid of Norway; she was betrothed to the son of Edward I of England but died (1290) as a child. In the ensuing struggle among many claimants to the throne, Edward I declared for John de Baliol (1249–1315), who was crowned (1292), with Edward acknowledged as overlord of Scotland.

In Edward's war (late 13th cent.), with Philip IV of France, the Scots allied with Philip, thus beginning the long relationship with France that characterizes much of Scottish history. Edward won Scottish submission, but Scotland rose in revolt, first under Sir William Wallace, then under Robert the Bruce (later Robert I). Robert was crowned king at Scone in 1306, recaptured Scottish castles and raided across the English border, and finally defeated Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314. Edward III in 1328 signed a treaty acknowledging Scotland's independence, but during the troubled minority (1329–41) of David II he supported the pretender, Edward de Baliol, and invaded Scotland.

The reigns of David II and his successors (of the royal house of Stuart) were years of dissension and turbulence among the nobles and royal heirs and of repeated attacks from England. Social chaos was compounded by the scourge of the Black Death plague epidemic, which killed nearly a third of the population. In 1424 James I, who had spent his youth a prisoner at the English court, returned to Scotland. James vigorously attempted to revamp the laws and to establish control over his nobles. His murder in 1437 threw Scotland back into the old pattern of civil conflict during long royal minorities over the next century (see James II, James III, and James V). A brief respite of internal peace in this period of strife was provided by the reign of James IV, who perished with the flower of Scottish nobility at the battle of Flodden Field (1513).

James V perpetuated the French alliance by marrying Mary of Guise, who brought a large French contingent to Scotland with her. The Reformation came to Scotland primarily through the efforts of John Knox (1505–1572; see also Presbyterianism and Scotland, Church of). The religious issue was inextricably connected with opposition to the French Roman Catholic party of Mary of Guise (queen regent after James's death in 1542) and of her daughter Mary Queen of Scots, who lived in France as dauphine and then as queen.

By the time Mary Queen of Scots arrived (1561) in Scotland, Catholicism had almost disappeared from the Lowlands. The turbulent career of the young queen hinged primarily on her personal involvements and on the conflict between the crown and the nobility, now divided into pro-French (Catholic) and pro-English (Protestant) parties. Elizabeth I of England maintained the Protestant party with money and arms. Mary's struggle ended in her loss of the throne (1567), imprisonment in England, and execution (1587). Her son, James VI, broke away from his guardians in 1583 and accomplished the difficult task of subduing the nobility and establishing once and for all the supremacy of royal authority. In 1603, on Elizabeth's death, he succeeded to the English throne as James I of England. United under one crown, Scotland and England were finally at peace.

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