William I


A portrait of William I

William I was born in 1143 and crowned king in 1165 at the age of twenty-two. He was to reign for an impressive forty-nine years and reached the grand age of seventy-one before his death in 1214. The first few years of his reign saw an influx of new families into Scotland whom William gave lands in return for military service as part of the feudalisation of the country. The arrival of new Anglo-French families who paid homage to the king led to some consternation and resistance from the existing locals.

In 1174 William, keen to assert his claim to Northumbria, joined the revolt against Henry II of England and was captured in battle. William was by all accounts a brawny man and enjoyed battle leading his men into the charge but his horse was slain and pinned him to the ground. After his capture Scotland was occupied and William had to pay homage to Henry along with a large fee to get his throne back. The agreement between the kings was known as the Treaty of Falaise.

In 1181 William was challenged in the north by Donald mac William, (son of King Duncan II). Supported by a few lords, including the Norwegian Earl of Orkney, Donald attacked in Ross and Moray and indeed Ross was lost to the king. In 1187 the king marched to Inverness with a large army and re-established royal authority.

The Northern Isles still lay outside his reach and had stronger ties to Norway than to Scotland. In 1197 the king's army destroyed Thurso on the northernmost coast and he was able to force Earl Harald to hand over his son Thorfinn as a hostage. Earl Harald held Orkney and Caithness but in 1198 Caithness was given to the king of Man for an annual fee. Harald was furious and invaded Caithness in 1201, during the attack the bishop of Caithness was mutilated and King William responded by blinding and castrating the unfortunate Thorfinn whom he was still holding as a hostage. Harald was defeated again in 1202 and agreed to pay £2000 so he could have Caithness back.

There were continued problems in the north for the rest of William's reign and there were also uprisings in the south at Galloway. Though it should be noted that overall he was gradually consolidating royal power throughout the rest of the country and extending the rule of law.

Around 1189 Richard the Lionheart agreed to cancel the Treaty of Falaise for the sum of 10,000 merks which he required to launch his crusade. When Richard was captured in 1193 Count John tried to seize the English throne and William refused to support him and even paid 2,000 merks towards Richard's ransom.

When Richard died in 1199 William agreed to support the new King John in return for consideration of his claim to Northumbria. Negotiations dragged on for years and almost came to violence at times but a satisfactory resolution was never reached.

William died in 1214 and was buried in Arbroath Abbey. He was succeeded by his only son Alexander. William posthumously got the title William the Lion largely because the chronicler Fordun called him the "Lion of Justice".