John Balliol

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John Balliol with his wife Isabella de Warenne, Seton Armorial, 1591

John Balliol (actually John de Balliol , called Toom Tabard ) (* between 1248 and 1250; † before January 4, 1315) was a Scottish king . His brief reign was the start of a series of wars between Scotland and England that spanned several centuries.

Origin and heritage

John Balliol came from the Anglo-Norman Balliol family . He was the fourth and youngest son of his father of the same name, John de Balliol, and his wife Dervorguilla . His father was a northern English baron who owned Barnard Castle and other estates in Northumberland . Possibly John was born in Picardy , where his family owned other lands near Hélicourt and in Vimeu . Little is known about his childhood and youth. His mother was a very pious woman, and as the fourth son, John probably received no chivalric training, but was earmarked for a profession as a clergyman. He probably visited either the Novice School of Kathedralpriorats of Durham or the general Almonry school in Durham . There is evidence that he was able to read himself in 1294. His father died in 1268, after which his eldest brother Hugh inherited the family's estates. However, he died childless in 1271, and since his two other brothers Alan and Alexander had also died childless by 1278 , John was quickly recognized as the legal heir to the family's estates. Nevertheless, almost a year passed after the death of Alexander de Balliol before he could take over his inheritance. During this time the family's holdings in Northumberland were under royal administration. Only after Balliol had paid homage to the English King Edward I for his goods, which he held as crown vassal , and Bishop Robert von Durham as another liege lord, was he allowed to take over his inheritance. Why the king delayed the handover of the inheritance is unknown. In addition, his inheritance was greatly reduced, because both his mother and Agnes de Valence and Aliénor de Genoure , the widows of his brothers Hugh and Alexander, each had a right to a comprehensive widow .

Worked as an English magnate

As an English magnate, Balliol initially achieved no major political significance. Nor did he care much about Scottish politics, although his mother owned extensive estates in Scotland and his sister Eleanor had married John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, an important Scottish nobleman. He was apparently negotiating with the Scottish King Alexander III. about the release of Thomas of Galloway , his mother's half-brother, who was imprisoned in Barnard Castle after a bloody inheritance dispute since 1235. However, the negotiations were not pursued after the king's death in 1286. Only after Balliol was deposed as King of Scotland in 1296 was Thomas of Galloway released after more than sixty years of imprisonment. Balliol, on the other hand, often took care of his French possessions. Evidently in 1283, 1284 and 1289, possibly also in 1282 and 1285, he visited his lands in Picardy, sometimes for a long time.

Role during the unresolved question of succession from 1286

In March 1286 the Scottish King Alexander III had an accident. fatal. Since his only descendant was his granddaughter Margaret , who lives in Norway , the succession to the throne was unclear. Within a month of the king's death, there is said to have been a bitter argument in the Scottish Parliament between Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale and Balliol, who both claimed the throne. Balliol justified his claim to the throne with the descent of his mother from the Scottish royal family. She was the second daughter of Margaret, the eldest daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon , a younger brother of the Scottish King William I. Balliol did not initially become a member of the Regency Council that took over the government of Scotland, but he was generally accepted because of his ancestry as a potential heir to the throne. Eventually, however, the Scottish nobles agreed to recognize the Norwegian Princess Margaret, the granddaughter of the late king, as heir to the throne.

After the death of his mother Dervorguilla in January 1290, Balliol was able to take on a rich inheritance with extensive possessions in England and Scotland. Until the beginning of March he took possession of the English lands, when he also took possession of the Scottish lands, including Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbright in Galloway, and received the title of Lord of Galloway , is not known. Through this legacy Balliol had risen to become a wealthy magnate and thus became an object of royal desire. In May 1291, the English king confiscated Balliol's possessions and cattle because of alleged debts of over £ 1,235. Balliol apparently paid a smaller sum to the king, which initially meant that the debt was settled. In 1293, however, the King of England waived £ 3,000 from the fee of over £ 3,289 that Balliol owed him for the transfer of his inheritance.

Descent of the aspirants to the throne from the Scottish royal family

One of the contenders for the Scottish throne

With the death of Magaret, the Maid of Norway , on the crossing to Scotland in September 1290, the Scottish succession to the throne was again unclear. Balliol now renewed his claim to the throne, referred to himself as heir to the throne of Scotland and was looking for supporters. Four earls, several other magnates, plus six bishops and eight abbots supported his claim to the throne. Balliol met with Bishop Antony Bek of Durham, the King's agent for Scotland, and sought his assistance. At the end of 1290 or beginning of 1291, however, seven Scottish earls are said to have warned the English king not to prematurely recognize Balliol as king. Balliol was generally considered to be the most promising candidate for the throne, but Robert de Brus also insisted on his claim to the throne. When an open war of succession was looming between Balliol and Bruce, and since there were a number of other aspirants to the Scottish throne besides Balliol and Brus , the Scottish nobles finally agreed to leave the decision to a court assembly chaired by the English king. He accepted the task and on June 2, 1291 initially demanded that the aspirants to the throne recognize his sovereignty. Balliol gave him this on June 3rd. Balliol was allowed to appoint forty of the 104 members of this assembly who were to decide on what would later be called the Great Cause . His brother-in-law John Comyn of Badenoch, who himself had a claim to the throne, supported the representatives Balliol was allowed to nominate for the meeting. On August 3, 1291, Balliol established his claim to the throne in front of the assembly. Its main competitor was Robert de Brus, who was a son of Isabel, the younger sister of Balliol's grandmother. As the nephew of Balliol's grandmother, Brus had a closer relationship to the Scottish royal family than Balliol and thus established a stronger claim to the throne. The court assembly finally followed Balliol's argument that he had the stronger claim to the throne as the grandson of the eldest daughter of Earl David of Huntingdon. This was confirmed by the English king on November 17, 1292. In the closing stages, three other heirs to the throne, namely William de Ros , William de Vescy and Count Florens of Holland, had supported Balliol's claim to the throne, but they may have been bribed by him. On November 30, 1292 Balliol was enthroned as King of Scots in a solemn ceremony in Scone . Since the Earl of Fife was a toddler and could not perform the ceremony, the English Baron John de St John took over his task.

King of Scotland

Takeover of government

Although Balliol had ascended the throne with the support of the English king, he acted independently as a king and was not a puppet of Edward I. He quickly succeeded in building an effective administration. His royal household was able to act as early as 1292. As king, he relied on numerous confidants and allies who served him as advisors or officials. Many of them were followers of the Comyns , and among his counselors were two of the former Guardians, Bishop Fraser of St Andrews and John Comyn of Baden . Both, like Gilbert and Ingram de Umfraville , were related to him by marriage. His relative, Alexander de Balliol , served as Chamberlain and had held this office since 1287. Another relative of his was Hugh de Eure (also Iver ), who had already served his father as executor and now Balliol served as envoy. In 1294 he appointed Master Thomas of Hunsigore as his chancellor. Master Thomas was from Yorkshire and had long been associated with the Balliol family. Even Walter of Cambo , a former Sheriff of Northumberland, and William of Silksworth were followers of Balliol and now served as royal officials. On the other hand, Bishop Antony Bek of Durham, the feudal lord of some of his family estates, and his vassal John de Lisle of Northumberland tried to use Balliol's new position as king to their advantage.

Between February 1293 and May 1294 Balliol held four parliaments, through which he was able to considerably expand his royal authority. Unprecedented here was his request that anyone should report violations and crimes to the king and the council during a parliament. At the beginning of 1293 Balliol ordered the formation of three sheriff domes in the western Highlands , while he appointed William, 3rd Earl of Ross Sheriff of Skye , Alexander MacDougall, Lord of Argyll († 1310) sheriff of Lorn and James Stewart sheriff of Kintyre . The loyal MacDougall, who was a brother-in-law of John Comyn of Badenoch, he apparently handed over the overall supervision of the three new sheriff domes. With these new administrative districts, the king wanted to extend his authority to western Scotland. On the other hand, his authority was not unchallenged, as the appointment of a new bishop for the diocese of Whithorn shows. Although Balliol had supremacy over the diocese as king and Lord of Galloway, he had to recognize Thomas of Dalton , a candidate supported by Brus, as bishop in 1294 . Balliol also used his position as king to his own advantage and that of his family. For example, in August 1293 the Scottish Parliament recognized his claim to an uncle's inheritance in Berwickshire . In 1293 he gave merchants from Amiens in Picardy a letter of protection to promote their trade in blue dye.

Dispute over sovereignty with England

Balliol's rule was quickly strained by a conflict with the English king. The English king openly claimed sovereignty over Scotland from December 1292, which he had secretly planned from June 1291 at the latest. In doing so, he referred to the homage that Balliol had paid him in June 1291. Balliol was not ready to acknowledge this, as he had only paid homage to the English king in his role as referee in the Great Cause. The sovereignty of the Scottish king has now been encumbered by a series of appeals proceedings by which Scottish courts have turned to the English king. The eleven known appointments, which came from nine plaintiffs, shaped Ballio's rule. Of the plaintiffs, three were English people who turned to the English crown because of their dissatisfaction with Scottish politics. The appointment procedure of Master Roger Bartholomew from Berwick was clear initiated politically by Edward I to test the Scottish reaction while the action brought by Macduff of Fife to land in the northern Fife, the'd withheld Balliol, was doubtful. Balliol initially defied the demands of the English king to answer for these complaints before the English parliament . Finally, in the autumn of 1293, he appeared before an English parliament. In doing so, he challenged the Parliament's right to appeal to Scottish courts. But then, under pressure from the English king, he revoked his protest and renewed his homage to the king.

Open conflict with the English king

When the English king called Balliol and 26 Scottish magnates to France for military service in June 1294 , the Scots silently ignored this. Before May 1295, the French King Philip IV declared that the Scots were not enemies but friends of France. At the beginning of July, a Scottish parliament in Stirling then appointed four ambassadors to negotiate an alliance with France . This alliance was concluded in October 1295 and approved by Balliol and Parliament on February 23, 1296. It included a military alliance between France and Scotland, and a marriage between Balliol's eldest son Edward and a niece of the French king was agreed. During parliament in Stirling, the magnates elected twelve guardians who took over the reign either because of Balliol's poor health or because of his lack of trustworthiness. Nevertheless, the magnates were apparently firmly committed to Balliol and his family's claim to power. This France-friendly policy naturally provoked the English king, who was still at war with the French king. Edward I now demanded the surrender of a number of Scottish castles and towns as security for the Scottish acceptance of the resolutions of the English Parliament. When the Scots refused, open war broke out with England . The English king gathered an army with which he moved to Eastern Scotland at the end of March 1296. On April 27, an English army under John de Warenne , Balliol's father-in-law, clearly defeated a Scottish army in the battle of Dunbar . Balliol withdrew northwards through Angus in an aimless and unsuccessful escape before sending envoys to the English king at the end of June and asking for peace negotiations.

King John symbolically broken with his crown and scepter, depicted in the Forman Armorial , written for Mary
Queen of Scots in 1562

Abdication, imprisonment and exile

Forced abdication

Edward I learned of the content of the Scottish alliance with France only after the victory. Nevertheless, he was initially willing to treat Balliol with care after his task. Possibly he wanted to offer him an English earldom in exchange for his voluntary renunciation of the throne. However, Bishop Antony Bek, the agent of Edward I, then insisted on a formal transfer of power over Scotland, the formal breaking of Balliol's seal and his unconditional submission to the English king. Eventually Balliol had to submit three times. On July 2nd he had to admit his rebellion against the English king as his overlord in Kincardine , on July 7th he revoked the alliance with France in the churchyard of Stracathro and on July 10th he renounced his kingdom and his royal title in Brechin Castle . Then he is said to have been taken to Montrose Castle , where he had to repent publicly. The royal coat of arms was removed from his tabard or tabard , which gave him the nickname Toom Tabard ( German  empty tabard ). His possessions in England had been confiscated by the English crown during the war.

Captivity in England

Thomas and Henry of Lancaster escorted Balliol from Montrose to Canterbury . From there he was brought to London, where he was held in early August, first in the Tower of London , then in mild custody in Hertford . In Hertford, for example, he was allowed to hunt until August 1297. He was then imprisoned again in the Tower of London until July 1299, where he was allowed to leave the Tower at least once and was the guest of the Bishop of Durham in a house outside London. On that occasion he is said to have accused the Scots of trying to poison him. There had been a rebellion against English rule in Scotland since 1297, with the Guardians elected as leaders acting on Balliol's name.

Exile in France

In June 1299, England and France signed an agreement that supplemented the armistice that was signed in 1298. At the urging of the French king and Pope Boniface VIII , the English king accepted that Balliol was transferred to papal care. This gave new hope to the Scots, who continued to wage a war of independence in Balliol's name against the English king. Balliol left England via Dover and reached Wissant on July 18 , where he was handed over to the ambassador of the French king and the papal legate Rinaldo da Concorezzo . Balliol had to swear to live in the place to which the legate or another representative of the Pope assigned him. Four days later, Balliol was given to agents of Bishop Guy II de Collemède of Cambrai, and later he was taken to the castle of Gevrey-Chambertin , which belonged to the Abbot of Cluny . At the beginning of October 1301, English officials learned that the French king Balliol was living in his own castles in Picardy. The English feared that the French would resume the war with England and bring Balliol to Scotland with a large army. Even after his forced abdication, Balliol was considered the rightful king in Scotland. The Scots hoped that the Pope and the French king would support his reinstatement or the succession of his son Edward to the throne . Both the Pope and the French King had given assurances that they would support Balliol's claim, and Balliol's influence may have made John Soulis the sole Guardian. At the beginning of 1302 even Edward I considered the return of Balliol as possible, although he no longer wanted to recognize him as king. However, after the crushing defeat of a French army in the Battle of Kortrijk in the war against Flanders in July 1302, the prospect that France would effectively support Balliol's claims dwindled. Despite intense efforts by Scottish envoys, England and France signed the Treaty of Paris in May 1303 , which ended the war between the two empires. In the treaty, the French waived any further support for Scotland. Balliol himself may have agreed to this, since in November 1302 he authorized the French king to negotiate with England on his behalf. As an exile living in France, Balliol had little choice but to accept the decisions of the French king. After the peace agreement with France, the English king concentrated his efforts on the war in Scotland. There he was apparently able to achieve military and political control by 1304. After the peace treaty between England and France and the successes of the English king in Scotland, Balliol's importance and his chance of regaining the throne had fallen sharply. Then in 1306 Robert Bruce , the grandson of his adversary Robert de Brus, rebelled against English rule and was crowned King of the Scots. Balliol was no longer considered a legitimate king, but he did not give up his claim to the throne until his death. There is evidence that he last appeared in March 1314, he probably died at the end of 1314. The French King Louis X learned of his death on January 4th, 1315.

Marriage and offspring

Balliol was believed to have married Isabella de Warenne , the second daughter of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, in February 1281 . With her he had two sons:

His eldest son Edward became the heir to the remaining estates in France. From the 1330s he tried in vain to enforce the claim to the Scottish throne militarily .


According to the primogeniture , Balliol was the legal heir to the Scottish throne in 1290. Robert Bruce, who successfully asserted himself as king after 1306, had himself recognized by a parliament in 1309 as the legitimate heir, with which Balliol's rule was presented as unlawful. Bruce had this view confirmed in a peace treaty with England in 1328 . This probably led to the fact that, apart from the few years of his reign, relatively little is known about Balliol's life. This makes him one of the most unknown kings of the high and late Middle Ages of the British Isles. Historians have mainly dealt with his reaction to the appeal proceedings against the English king and the circumstances surrounding his abdication. It is generally assumed that he was overwhelmed by the difficult political situation at the time. He could not withstand the pressure of Edward I, as the personal confrontation during parliament in 1293 clearly showed. As a person of English origin and later derided as Toom Tabard, he was not fondly remembered in Scotland. When John Stewart, Earl of Carrick ascended the Scottish throne in 1390, he settled as Robert III. title so that it would not be associated with the failure of his namesake John de Balliol.

Fictional representations

John Balliol has been portrayed in the following dramas:

See also


  • Geoffrey Stell: The Balliol family and the Great Cause of 1291–2 . In: Keith John Stringer (ed.): Essays on the nobility of medieval Scotland . John Donald, Edinburgh 1985, ISBN 0-85976-113-4 , pp. 150-165

Web links

Commons : John Balliol  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Michael Prestwich: Edward I. University of California Press, Berkeley 1988, ISBN 0-520-06266-3 , p. 371.
  2. ^ Geoffrey Stell: The Balliol Family and the Great Cause of 1291-2 . In: KJ Stringer (Ed.): Essays on the Nobility of Medieval Scotland , John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh 1985, ISBN 0-85976-113-4 , p. 161.
  3. ^ Geoffrey Stell: The Balliol Family and the Great Cause of 1291-2 . In: KJ Stringer (Ed.): Essays on the Nobility of Medieval Scotland , John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh 1985, ISBN 0-85976-113-4 , p. 156.
  4. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 25.
  5. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 55.
  6. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 52.
  7. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 42.
  8. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 56.
  9. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 69.
  10. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 44.
  11. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 71.
  12. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 83.
  13. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 103.
  14. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 129.
  15. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 134.
  16. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 168.
  17. ^ Geoffrey Stell: The Balliol Family and the Great Cause of 1291-2 . In: KJ Stringer (Ed.): Essays on the Nobility of Medieval Scotland , John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh 1985, ISBN 0-85976-113-4 , p. 160.
  18. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, p. 68.
  19. ^ Geoffrey WS Barrow: Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland . Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1965, pp. 363-364.
predecessor Office successor
(until 1290)
King of Scotland
Robert I.
(from 1306)