William the Lion

William 'the Lion'
King of the Scots
Reign 9 December 1165 – 4 December 1214
Predecessor Malcolm IV
Successor Alexander II
Spouse Ermengarde de Beaumont
Margaret, Countess of Kent
Isabella, Countess of Norfolk
Alexander II of Scotland
Father Henry of Scotland
Mother Ada de Warenne
Born About 1143
Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, England
Died 4 December 1214(1214-12-04)[aged 71]
Burial Arbroath Abbey

William the Lion (Mediaeval Gaelic: Uilliam mac Eanric; Modern Gaelic: Uilleam mac Eanraig), sometimes styled William I, also known by the nickname Garbh, "the Rough",[1] (c 1143 – 4 December 1214) reigned as King of the Scots from 1165 to 1214. His reign was the second longest in Scottish history before the Act of Union with England in 1707, (James VI's was the longest 1567–1625). He became King following his brother Malcolm IV's death on 9 December 1165 and was crowned on 24 December 1165.

In contrast to his deeply religious, frail brother, William was powerfully built, redheaded, and headstrong. He was an effective monarch whose reign was marred by his ill-fated attempts to regain control of Northumbria from the Normans.

Traditionally, William is credited with founding Arbroath Abbey, the site of the later Declaration of Arbroath.

He was not known as "The Lion" during his own lifetime, and the title did not relate to his tenacious character or his military prowess. It was attached to him because of his flag or standard, a red lion rampant (with a forked tail) on a yellow background. This (with the addition of a 'double tressure fleury counter-fleury' border) went on to become the Royal standard of Scotland, still used today but quartered with those of England and of Ireland. It became attached to him because the chronicler Fordun called him the "Lion of Justice".

William also inherited the title of Earl of Northumbria in 1152. However he had to give up this title to King Henry II of England in 1157. This caused trouble after William became king, since he spent a lot of effort trying to regain Northumbria.

William was a key player in the Revolt of 1173–1174 against Henry II. In 1174, at the Battle of Alnwick, during a raid in support of the revolt, William recklessly charged the English troops himself, shouting, "Now we shall see which of us are good knights!" He was unhorsed and captured by Henry's troops led by Ranulf de Glanvill and taken in chains to Newcastle, then Northampton, and then transferred to Falaise in Normandy. Henry then sent an army to Scotland and occupied it. As ransom and to regain his kingdom, William had to acknowledge Henry as his feudal superior and agree to pay for the cost of the English army's occupation of Scotland by taxing the Scots. The church of Scotland was also subjected to that of England. This he did by signing the Treaty of Falaise. He was then allowed to return to Scotland. In 1175 he swore fealty to Henry II at York Castle.

The humiliation of the Treaty of Falaise triggered a revolt in Galloway which lasted until 1186, and prompted construction of a castle at Dumfries. In 1179, meanwhile, William and his brother David personally led a force northwards into Easter Ross, establishing two further castles, and aiming to discourage the Norse Earls of Orkney from expanding beyond Caithness.

A further rising in 1181 involved Donald Meic Uilleim, direct descendant of King Duncan II of Scots. Donald briefly took over Ross; not until his death (1187) was William able to reclaim Donald's stronghold of Inverness. Further royal expeditions were required in 1197 and 1202 to fully neutralise the Orcadian threat.

The Treaty of Falaise remained in force for the next fifteen years. Then Richard the Lionheart, needing money to take part in the Third Crusade, agreed to terminate it in return for 10,000 silver marks, on 5th December 1189.

Despite the Scots regaining their independence, Anglo-Scottish relations remained tense during the first decade of the 13th century. In August 1209 King John decided to flex the English muscles by marching a large army to Norham (near Berwick), in order to exploit the flagging leadership of the ageing Scottish Monarch. As well as promising a large sum of money, the ailing William agreed to his elder daughters marrying English nobles and, when the treaty was renewed in 1212, John apparently gained the hand of William's only surviving legitimate son, and heir, Alexander, for his eldest daughter, Joan.

Despite continued dependence on English Goodwill, William's reign showed much achievement. He threw himself into government with energy and religiously followed the lines laid down by his grandfather, David I. Anglo-french settlements and feudalization were extended, new burghs founded, criminal law clarified, the responsibilities of justices and sheriffs widened, and trade grew. Arbroath abbey was founded (1178), and the bishopric of Argyll established (c.1192) in the same year as papal confirmation of the Scottish Church by pope Celestine III.

William is recorded in 1206 as having cured a case of Scrofula by his touching and blessing a child with the ailment whilst at York.[2] William died in Stirling in 1214 and lies buried in Arbroath Abbey. His son, Alexander II, succeeded him as king, reigning from 1214 to 1250.

Marriage and issue

Due to the terms of the Treaty of Falaise, Henry II had the right to choose William's bride. As a result, William married Ermengarde de Beaumont, a granddaughter of King Henry I of England, at Woodstock Palace in 1186. Edinburgh Castle was her dowry. The marriage was not very successful, and it was many years before she bore him an heir. William and Ermengarde's children were:

  1. Margaret (1193–1259), married Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent.
  2. Isabel (1195–1253), married Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk.
  3. Alexander II of Scotland (1198–1249).
  4. Marjorie (1209–44),[3] married Gilbert Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke.

Out of wedlock, William I had numerous children, their descendants being among those who would lay claim to the Scottish crown.

By an unnamed mistress, the daughter of Robert Avenel, Justiciar of Lothian:

  1. Isabel Mac William (Isibéal nic Uilliam) (born ca. 1170), married firstly in 1183 Robert III de Brus (died ca. 1191)[4] and married secondly Sir Robert de Ros, of Helmsley (died 1226)[5]

By an unnamed daughter of Adam de Hythus:

  1. Magaret, married Eustace de Vesci Lord of Alnwick

By unknown mothers:

  1. Robert de London[6]
  2. Henry de Galightly, father of Patrick Galightly one of the competitors to the crown in 1291[7]
  3. Ada (died 1200), married Patrick I, Earl of Dunbar (1152–1232)[8]
  4. Aufrica, married William de Say, and whose grandson Roger de Mandeville was one of the competitors to the crown in 1291[9]

Fictional portrayals

William I has been depicted in a historical novel. :

  • An Earthly Knight (2003) by Janet McNaughton. The novel is set in the year 1162. William, younger brother and heir to Malcolm IV of Scotland, is betrothed to Lady Jeanette "Jenny" Avenel. She is the second daughter of a Norman nobleman and the marriage politically advances her family. But she is romantically interested in Tam Lin, a man enchanted by the Fairy Queen.[10][11][12]



  1. ^ Uilleam Garbh; e.g. Annals of Ulster, s.a. 1214.6; Annals of Loch Cé, s.a. 1213.10.
  2. ^ Dalrymple, Sir David (1776). Annals of Scotland. Pub. J. Murray. London. P. 300 -301.
  3. ^ Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom, A.A.M. Duncan, p527
  4. ^ Balfour Paul, Vol. I p.5
  5. ^ Douglas Richardson, Kimball G. Everingham, Magna Carta ancestry: a study in colonial and medieval families. Genealogical Publishing, 2005. pg 699. Google eBook
  6. ^ Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom, A.A.M. Duncan, p175
  7. ^ Balfour Paul, Vol. I, p.5
  8. ^ Balfour Paul, Vol. I, p.5
  9. ^ Balfour Paul, Vol. I, p.5
  10. ^ "An Earthly Knight", description from the cover
  11. ^ "An Earthly Knight",Review by J. A. Kaszuba Locke
  12. ^ "An Earthly Knight",Review by Joan Marshall


  • Ashley, Mike. Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens. 1998.
  • Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: Story of a Nation. 2001.

External links

William the Lion
Born: ? c. 1142 Died: 4 December 1214
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Malcolm IV
King of Scots
Succeeded by
Alexander II
Scottish royalty
Preceded by
Malcolm, Earl of Huntingdon
Heir of Scotland
as heir presumptive
27 May 1153 – 9 December 1165
Succeeded by
David of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry of Scotland
Earl of Northumbria
Succeeded by
Deprived of title and lands by Henry II of England
Preceded by
Malcolm IV of Scotland
Earl of Huntingdon
Succeeded by
Simon III of St Liz

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