NQ Scottish History

Scotland 1286-96: The succession problem and the Great Cause

Alexander’s only surviving heir, his 3-year-old granddaughter Margaret, daughter of King Eric of Norway, was sent for, but it was clear that a child so young would need a guardian to manage the Kingdom until she was old enough to rule.

Parliament was convened at Scone in April 1286, where six men were elected Guardians of Scotland and charged to protect the interests of their young queen, and to find her an appropriate husband. It was finally agreed at Salisbury that young Margaret would be betrothed to Edward, the son of King Edward I of England, and brought over from Norway. The Scots drew up the Treaty of Birgham, which assured Scotland’s independence despite the union between the Scottish queen and the heir of England.

When young Margaret succumbed to illness on the voyage to Orkney, however, Scotland was left without an heir. As no one in the kingdom could be considered entirely impartial, King Edward of England was invited to assist in the selection of a new king of Scotland. Edward held court at Norham from May 1291, finally delivering his decision in November 1292: John Balliol was to be the next king of Scotland.

  • Photograph of a 19th century sulphur cast of a seal impression. The impression was made from the reverse of the Great Seal of the Guardians of Scotland dating from around 1286

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Key figures

Historical debate

Primary sources