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Balliol, John

Balliol, John (c.1250–1313), king of Scots (1292–6). The son of John Balliol of Barnard Castle, he was descended through his mother from David earl of Huntingdon, the brother of William the Lion, king of Scots (1165–1214). The Balliol family held lands in France, in northern England, and in Galloway. These last gave John a stake in Scotland and a number of strong supporters when the crown became vacant on the death of Margaret, the ‘Maid of Norway’, in 1290. In addition, he was linked with the powerful Comyn family through the marriage of his sister to John Comyn of Badenoch.

The verdict of Edward I's Parliament at Norham went to Balliol as descended from the eldest of the three daughters of William the Lion's brother; and he was duly enthroned as king of Scots on 30 November 1292. There is every reason to think that this judgment was acceptable to most Scots.

Edward I, however, had insisted that all the claimants acknowledged his right to be lord superior of Scotland, a claim for which there was little unambiguous evidence. Balliol therefore had to perform homage and fealty to Edward before his enthronement. This enabled Edward to assert what he believed to be his rights over Scotland and Edward's claims plagued John's entire reign. He faced nine appeals to Edward from disgruntled litigants, in the course of which he had in 1293 to appear in Edward's Parliament and was humiliatingly adjudged to be in default. Far more serious was Edward's demand in 1294 for military service in his French wars by John himself and all the most prominent nobles of Scotland. Edward was for the moment distracted by a serious Welsh revolt, and the Scots were able to get away with excuses. But it was clear that Edward would not let this go on indefinitely, and the Scottish nobles, distrusting King John's determination to resist, set up in July 1295 a council of twelve which took power out of John's hands. The council allied formally with Philip IV of France in October 1295; and prepared to resist Edward by force. From this point, John lost control. In 1296 Edward I took Berwick. Scottish resistance was destroyed by Earl Warenne at Dunbar, and John was forced to resign his kingdom into Edward's hands at Montrose in July. Balliol was brought a prisoner to London; and the rest of his career had little impact. Though the Scottish opponents of Edward continued till 1304 to act in his name, and though in 1302 Edward I recognized that his restoration was still a possibility, Balliol himself in 1298 declared formally that he never wanted to have anything to do with Scotland again, because of the treachery of the Scots. In 1299 he was transferred to papal custody and in 1301 was released to his ancestral lands in Picardy, where he died in 1313. Balliol was clearly not able to resist Edward I; yet his only Parliament enacted sensible measures to administer the western Highlands, which suggests that in other circumstances he could have been an effective king.

Bruce Webster

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John Balliol

John Balliol. See Balliol, John.

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