The Ragman Rolls

Ragman Roll

When King Alexander III fell off a cliff one dark and stormy night in 1286, it created a problem. His heir was his granddaughter the Maid of Norway. Sadly she died when she was still a child – possibly as a result of extreme seasickness when she made the crossing from Norway to the Orkneys.

And so dear readers we arrive at 1291. There are many claimants. It swiftly became obvious that no one was going to back down and graciously recognise someone else as king. Scotland was on the edge of a civil conflict. The two key contenders were John Balliol and Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale. King Edward I of England met with Scottish nobles at Norham on Tweed. He graciously volunteered to look at the cases of the claimants to determine who should rule Scotland. The only fly in the neighbourly gesture was this demand that everyone signs an oath of loyalty to him and that whoever he selected should recognise English overlordship…sounds decidedly Machiavellian. And ultimately it was. But at the time Edward was concerned that if he made an unpopular choice his decision would be ignored.

Many of the nobility refused to sign an oath but others did. The rolls of signatures became known as Ragman Rolls. Some people think that the name ‘ragman’ came abut because of all the seals attached to the document. An alternative theory is that is comes from the papal tax record compiled by a man named Ragimunde. There is more than one Ragman Roll. The one signed at Norham in 1291 is smaller than the roll signed in 1296 when Edward invaded Scotland.

And I’m informed the word rigmarole derives from ragman roll – and that ladies and gentlemen made my evening!