John Baliol was an important man. He was also a very rich one thanks to his marriage to Devorguilla of Galloway 1223. She and her husband had nine children. It was through Dervorguilla that the Baliols made their claim to the Scottish crown. Such was her love for John that after his death she founded Sweetheart Abbey – she also had his heart embalmed…as you do. Whilst John may have been much loved by his wife I doubt whether her half brother Thomas – somewhat confusingly sometimes known as Thomas of Huntingdon- felt so warmly towards the man for a variety of reasons.
Devorguilla’s father, Alan of Galloway, died without legitimate male heirs meaning that his daughters, or rather their husbands, inherited – except in Scotland at that time the law did not restrict male heirs to those born inside wedlock. Alan’s illegitimate son Thomas was able to gain enough support and finance to make a bid for the lordship of Galloway. Unfortunately this was not what Alexander II of Scotland wanted at a time when he was trying to control an assortment of earls and lords as well as negotiate a peace deal with the English. By breaking up Alan of Galloway’s estates between the three sisters Alexander was able to weaken the power of the Lord of Galloway and prevent it from behaving as a semi-independent kingdom. It probably helped that the Anglo-Scottish lords that the sisters were married to were either jolly good friends of his or vaguely related to him.
Mathew Paris described the mini war that followed whilst The Lannercost Chronicle records that Thomas was captured in 1235 as well as the rest of his sorry tale.
Thomas, whose father had once tried to secure him the crown of the Isle of Man, soon found himself securely confined behind Barnard Castle’s stout walls in the heart of Baliol territory, not on the whim of John Baliol but on the orders of King Alexander II who was decidedly unimpressed by the people of Galloway who wanted Thomas in charge of them rather than the husbands of Thomas’s three half-sisters. He put down their uprising against his authority with a degree of gusto.
In 1286 Thomas’s nephew also called John Baliol tried to have Thomas released but the Scottish council refused. Barrow suggests that Thomas’s plight reflects the fact that the ordinary people of Scotland wished to follow their Celtic traditions whilst the leadership of the country had an Anglo-Norman feudal agenda (Barrow:9).
Thomas remained in Barnard Castle for sixty years until he was released, aged eighty-eight, in 1296 by the Bishop of Durham on the orders of King Edward I who had his own reasons for upsetting the balance of power in Scotland. By that time Alexander III had hurtled off a cliff on his way home to his young bride, the Fair Maid of Norway had died on her way to Scotland and the country was knee deep in contenders for the crown. Edward I suggested that he would choose who would be king and Scotland would recognise English overlordship as well as getting a king who owed everything to Edward – cue Scottish Wars of Independence. Thomas was sent home to Galloway with a charter listing the liberties on offer to the men of Galloway by Edward and which underlined the fact that Edward was not supporting the Baliol claim to the Scottish throne.
Barrow, G. W. S. (2005) Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univeristy Press
Oram, Richard (2012) Alexander II: King of Scots 1214-1249. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd
Watson, Fiona (1998) Under the Hammer: Edward I and Scotland, 1286-1307. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd