John of Scotland

John Balliol and his wife.
John Balliol and his wife.

John, King of Scots is usually known as John Balliol or, correctly, John de Balliol. He was born in 1248, probably at Barnard Castle, the son of Devorguilla of Galloway (d. 1290; daughter of Alan, 5th Lord of Galloway (d. 1234)), and John, 5th Baron de Balliol (d.1269), Lord of Barnard Castle and founder of Balliol College in the University of Oxford, one of the first colleges founded in Oxford.

Accession as King of Scotland

Following the death of Margaret, Maid of Norway in 1290, John 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 farther 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 overseen by Edward I of England at Berwick-upon-Tweed on 3 August 1291. The Scottish auditor's decision in favour of Balliol was pronounced in the Great Hall of the castle at Berwick on 17 November 1292 and he was crowned accordingly king of Scotland at Scone, 30th November 1292, St. Andrew's Day.

Edward I, who had been recognized as Lord Paramount of Scotland, the feudal superior of the realm, steadily undermined the authority of King John. He treated Scotland as a feudal vassal state, and allegedly humiliated his appointee. Tiring of their deeply compromised king, the direction of affairs was finally 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 then went on to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France, to be known, in time, as the Auld Alliance.

Edward I then invaded, commencing the Wars of Scottish Independence. The Scots were defeated at Dunbar on 27 April 1296.

John abdicated by a Deed signed in Brechin castle 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). He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at first, but eventually released on condition that he took up exile in France, where his family had estates, in Picardy.

However, his abdication had been obtained under considerable duress, and 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 apparently made no attempt 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 before 1315 at his family's barony at Bailleul, France. 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 children

John married Isabella de Warenne (d. before 23 October 1295), daughter of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey (1231-1304) and Alice de Lusignan. Her maternal grandparents were Hugh X de Lusignan and Isabella of Angouleme, widow of John I of England.

John and Isabella had four children:

John's putative daughter Agness Maud Balliol was married to Bryan FitzAlan, Baron of Bedale. They were parents to Agness MaudFitzAlan (born 1298), who married Sir Gilbert Stapleton, Knight of Bedale (1291-1324). They had two sons. Gilbert is better known for his participation in the assassination of Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall.


  • "Scottish Kings 1005-1625" by Sir Archibald H. Dunbar, Bt., Edinburgh, 1899.

Title last held by
King of Scots
Title next held by
Robert I
Monarchs of Scotland (Alba)
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