Where Scottish and English History Collides: the 13th Century


By Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D., Catholic University of America

England and Scotland hosted each other’s exiles when Scotland was ruled by Macbeth and other Scottish kings in the 11th century. Naturally, there were important points where Scottish and English history met to make great changes, even if those changes were not planned or expected. Read on to find out how these little meetings changed the Scottish world.

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland.
English and Scottish history crossed paths many times, but only a few of those cross points were significant. (Image: Axis12002 at English Wikipedia/Public domain)

When the famous Norman conquest happened in 1066, the English king, Harold Godwinson, was killed at the Battle of Hastings. A less famous aspect is that a royal English claimant called Edgar Aetheling survived. He was originally from an Anglo-Saxon royal family but had grown up in exile with his two sisters.

Edgar Aetheling

When William the Conqueror marched victoriously to London, after King Harold died at Hastings, Edgar’s supporters quickly submitted to him. Edgar had no other choice either until he was fed up and went to Scotland for allies.

Malcolm Canmore was the king of Scotland at that time, and he supported Edgar by agreeing to marry Margaret, one of his sisters. Most probably, there was also a promise of northern English territories to Scotland. Unfortunately for Edgar and Malcolm, they lost the battle. Malcolm had to acknowledge William’s over-lordship and expel Edgar from Scotland. Edgar died at the age of 75 and never gained the throne. What remained of the deal was Malcolm and Margaret’s marriage.

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Queen Margaret of Scotland

One important crossing of Scottish and English history was the marriage of Malcolm and Margaret. It was a lasting marriage, and the couple were so in love and devoted that when Margaret heard of Malcolm’s death in battle in 1093, she died three days later. She was famous for her piety and was canonized in 1250 by the Catholic Church.

Edgar had never married, and their other sister, Christina, became a nun. Thus, Queen Margaret of Scotland represented the true line of the Anglo-Saxon royal family. In 1100, William’s son, King Henry I, decided to marry Malcolm and Margaret’s daughter, princess Edith, to unite the old Anglo-Saxon claim to the Norman claim with his own.

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Queen Matilda and Her Brother

After the marriage, Edith was renamed Matilda so that the French-speaking Normans could pronounce her name. Matilda invited her younger brother, David to England. After spending some time at the English court, David learned some feudalism practices, which he took back with him to Scotland.

In 1124, he unexpectedly became the king of Scotland because all his older brothers died. David ruled for 30 years, during which he invited many English knights to stay. He gave lands and titles to them and made another important knot in Scottish and English history.

Many of the great families of Scotland, including the Bruce family and the Stuarts, were founded by these knights. David and the kings after him implemented English rules of succession in Scotland, and the throne battles began to fade.

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John Balliol, the Empty Suit

When fighting over the throne was fully outdated, Scotland was left with no king in 1286. When King Alexander III died, he had only one granddaughter who also died soon after. The Scottish asked King Edward I of England to pick a king for Scotland. He chose John Balliol, another heir of a northern French family, not Robert Bruce, with Anglo-Norman and Celtic blood.

John lost popularity quickly, and the Scottish nobles nicknamed him “Toom Tabard” or “empty suit”. That is how incapable he was. In 1296, Edward defeated him in a battle and changed the place of coronation stone, igniting another battle.

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Sir William Wallace, the Braveheart

The movie Braveheart depicted some of the events of this time, sometimes inaccurately. The clothing, colors, beliefs, and ideas, and some of the characters are not at all in accord with reality. In real history, no Irish soldier would willingly fight against the Scots, Lowland Scots did not wear tartan cloth, no Stephen existed, and the blue color was not there.

The painting by Daniel Maclise shows Wallace's trial in Westminster Hall.
Sir William Wallace was the character that the movie Braveheart depicted. However, there was a mismatch of fiction and reality in the story. (Image: Daniel Maclise/Public domain)

William Wallace gave the English in Scotland a hard time for almost a decade. He defeated them at Stirling Bridge in 1297, and he was named Guardian of Scotland. In 1305, he was captured and executed much more cruelly than depicted in the movie by Mel Gibson.

At the same time, Robert Bruce, the grandson of the unsuccessful claimant, began to lead the Scottish resistance to English rule and brought along another three centuries of Scottish independence. In 1603, the independence was accidentally lost when Queen Elizabeth I died without heirs and left the kingdom to her cousin, James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England.

Thus, Scottish and English history again connected until the next moves parted them toward independence.

Common Questions about Scottish and English History

Q: How did English history affect Scotland?

English and Scottish history always had its ups and downs. Scottish kings and queens found their way into England, English feudalism traveled to Scotland, and the two countries engaged in many battles until stable peace was developed.

Q: How did feudalism enter Scotland?

Matilda, a half-Scottish, half-Anglo-Saxon queen in England, invited her younger brother to England for a while. He learned much about the English court and feudalism, and when he went back to Scotland, he became the king and ruled based on what he had learned in England. This was an important point in Scottish and English history.

Q: Who was Sir William Wallace?

William Wallace is the main character of Braveheart, the movie that shows a part of English and Scottish history. He defeated the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297, but was finally captured and executed cruelly in 1305.

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