John of Scotland

John of Scotland

name = John
title = King of the Scots

caption = King John, his crown and sceptre symbolically broken as depicted in the 1562 "Forman Armorial", produced for Mary, Queen of Scots.
reign = 17 November, 129210 July, 1296
coronation = 30 November, 1292, Scone
predecessor = Margaret "(disputed)"
successor = Robert I
consort = Isabella de Warenne
issue = Edward
royal house = Balliol
royal anthem =
father = John, 5th Baron de Balliol
mother = Devorguilla of Galloway
date of birth = c.1249
place of birth = unknown
date of death = 25 November 1314
place of death = Picardy, prob. Hélicourt
place of burial= prob. Hélicourt|

John de Balliol (c. 1249 – c.25 November 1314) was King of the Scots (1292-1296).

Early life

Little of John's early life is known. He was born between 1248 and 1250 at an unknown location, possibilities including Galloway, Picardy and Barnard Castle, County Durham. [G. P. Stell, "John [John de Balliol] (c.1248x50–1314)", "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2005 [ , accessed 25 July 2007] .] He was the son of Dervorguilla of Galloway, daughter of Alan, Lord of Galloway and granddaughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, by her husband John, 5th Baron de Balliol, Lord of Barnard Castle.Dunbar, Sir Archibald H.,Bt., "Scottish Kings - A Revised Chronology of Scottish History 1005 - 1625", Edinburgh, 1899: p. 115] From his mother he inherited significant lands in Galloway and claim to Lordship over the Galwegians, as well as various English and Scottish estates of the Huntingdon inheritance; from his father he inherited large estates in England and France, such as Hitchin, in Hertfordshire.

Accession as King of Scotland

Following the death of Margaret of Scotland in 1290, John de Balliol was a competitor for the Scottish crown in the so called 'Great Cause', as he was a great-great-great-grandson of King David I through his mother (and therefore one generation further than his main rival Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale, grandfather of the future Robert the Bruce), being senior in genealogical primogeniture but not in proximity of blood. He submitted his claim to the Scottish auditors in an election with King Edward I of England as the arbitrator, at Berwick-upon-Tweed on 6 June, 1291.Dunbar, Sir Archibald H.,Bt., "Scottish Kings - A Revised Chronology of Scottish History 1005 - 1625", Edinburgh, 1899: p. 116] The Scottish auditors' decision in favour of Balliol was pronounced in the Great Hall of Berwick Castle on November 17, 1292 and he was inaugurated accordingly king of Scotland at Scone, 30 November, 1292, St. Andrew's Day.

Edward I, who had coerced recognition as Lord Paramount of Scotland, the feudal superior of the realm, steadily undermined John's authority. He treated Scotland as a feudal vassal state, and repeatedly humiliated the new king, who became known as "Toom Tabard", (Empty Coat), due to his lack of real authority. Tiring of their deeply compromised king, the direction of affairs was allegedly taken out of his hands by the leading men of the kingdom, who appointed a council of twelve - in practice a new panel of Guardians - at Stirling in July 1295. These men were more likely a group of advisors to King John, and they went on to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France, which became known as the Auld Alliance.


In retaliation Edward I invaded, commencing the Wars of Scottish Independence. The Scots were defeated at Dunbar and the English took Dunbar Castle on April 27, 1296. John abdicated by a Deed signed in Stracathro near Montrose on 10 July 1296. Here the arms of Scotland were formally torn from John's surcoat, giving him the abiding name of "Toom Tabard" (empty coat).

John was imprisoned in the Tower of London briefly at first, but eventually released in July 1299 and allowed to go to France. When his baggage was examined at Dover the Royal Golden Crown and Seal of the Kingdom of Scotland, with many vessels of gold and silver, and a considerable sum of money, were found in his chests. Edward I ordered that the Crown should be offered to St. Thomas the Martyr, and that the money should be returned to Balliol for the expenses of his journey, but he kept the Seal himself. [Foedera, vol.1, part 2, p.909] Balliol was released into the custody of Pope Boniface VIII on condition that he remain in a papal residence. He was later released around the summer of 1301 and lived the rest of his life on his family's ancestral estates at Hélicourt, Picardy.*

However, as his abdication had been obtained under considerable duress, his supporters subsequently argued that he was still the rightful King of Scotland. When the Scots rose in rebellion in 1297 under William Wallace and Andrew de Moray, they claimed that they were acting on behalf of King John. Although rebellions in Scotland continued over the years, this claim looked increasingly tenuous as John's position under nominal house-arrest of the papacy meant that he could not campaign for his release and return to Scotland, despite the Scots' diplomatic attempts in Paris and Rome. After 1302, he made no further attempts to extend his personal support to the Scots. Effectively, Scotland was left without a monarch until the accession of Robert the Bruce in 1306.


John died around 25 November 1314 at his family's château at Hélicourt in France. [ Fordun, "Annals": 95] On January 4, 1315, King Edward II of England, writing to King Louis X of France, said that he had heard of the death of 'Sir John de Balliol'Dunbar, Sir Archibald H.,Bt., "Scottish Kings - A Revised Chronology of Scottish History 1005 - 1625", Edinburgh, 1899: p. 117] and requested the fealty and homage of Edward Balliol to be given by proxy.

It is supposed that he was interred in the church of St. Waast at Bailleul-sur-Eaune, though this is another man by the name of Jean de Bailleul.

He was survived by his son Edward Balliol, who later revived his family's claim to the Scottish throne, received support from the English, and had some temporary successes.

Marriage and Issue

John married, around February 9, 1281, Isabella de Warenne, daughter of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey and Alice de Lusignan. Her maternal grandparents were Hugh X de Lusignan and Isabella of Angouleme, widow of King John I of England.

John and Isabella had one son:

* Edward Balliol, Scottish pretender, (d.1364). Married to Marguerite de Taranto, daughter of Philip, prince of Taranto (d. 1332) - annulled or divorced with no issue.

There is no authority on which to base speculation that there were the following children:

* Henry de Balliol. He was killed in the Battle of Annan on December 16, 1332, leaving no issue. [Dunbar, Sir Archibald H.,Bt., "Scottish Kings - A Revised Chronology of Scottish History 1005 - 1625", Edinburgh, 1899: p. 118]

* Agnes (or Maud) de Balliol was married to Bryan FitzAlan, Lord FitzAlan, and feudal Baron of Bedale. They were parents to Agnes FitzAlan (b. 1298), who married Sir Gilbert Stapleton, Knt., of Bedale [ Norcliffe of Langton, M.A., Charles Best, editor, "The Visitation of Yorkshire, 1563-64" by William Flower, Norroy King of Arms, London, 1881, p. 294 and footnotes] (1291-1324). Gilbert is better known for his participation in the assassination of Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall.


*cite book|last=See also: Beam|first=Amanda|title=The Balliol Dynasty, 1210-1364|year=2008|publisher=John Donald|location=Edinburgh

s-ttl|title=King of the Scots
years=1292 — 1296

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