Bruce, Balliol and the lordship of Galloway: south-western Scotland and the Wars of Independence
By Richard Oram
Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Vol. 67 (1992)
The role of South-Western Scotland in the Scottish Wars of Independence is one of the forgotten chapters in the history of the region. As an area where the interests of several key players in the wars – John Balliol, John Comyn earl of Buchan and John Comyn lord of Badenoch, and Robert Bruce lord of Annandale and his son and grandson of the same name – all collided, Galloway was destined to be one of the major battlegrounds of the wars which followed the deposition of Balliol. The internal divisions within the region which became apparent in the course of the sixty years after that event mirrored in microcosm the political cleavages within Scotland as a whole and the ebb and flow of the fortunes of both sides is chronicled closely by events in Galloway.
Overshadowed by the better documented and more closely-studied Bruce campaigns in the north-east, the savage civil war which convulsed the lordship between 1306 and 1314, and again from 1332 to 1356, is a neglected area of potentially great value, as it stemmed from a failure of Bruce policies. When faced with the evidence for the success of Robert I in achieving lasting and stable political settlements in most parts of his kingdom, the failure to establish a sound political structure in what had been the heartland of Balliol’s Scottish lands is a phenomenon which cannot be conveniently overlooked. The reasons for the failure were in large part deep-rooted in the politics of the succession to the throne of Scotland after 1286, but the ultimate failure was purely personal, solely the responsibility of the king.
Alexander III died in 1286 without a surviving male heir, leaving as successor his infant grand-daughter, Margaret, the ‘Maid of Norway’. There had been signs of disturbance in the kingdom once the king’s death became common knowledge, for, despite the existence of an acknowledged heir in the person of Margaret, she was but a child and one of suspect health. Rather than a prospect of future stability under a young queen, and a continuation of the prosperity which most of the kingdom enjoyed under the government of Alexander III, there seemed a real threat of a break in the royal succession and a period of upheaval as rival claimants jockeyed for position. It was recognized in Scotland that if Margaret died while still a child there were two principal claimants to the throne: the aged Robert Bruce of Annandale, son of David, earl of Huntingdon’s second daughter Isabella, a man who claimed to have been recognized as long ago as the reign of Alexander II as nearest heir to the crown after the king and his sons; and John Balliol, grandson of Earl David’s eldest daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Alan, lord of Galloway.