The second of the infamous ‘Ragman Rolls’ was created on the 28th of August, 1296, by the order of Edward I of England.
The ‘Ragman Rolls’ conjures up all sorts of images; some of them amusing – something like a medieval ‘Steptoe and Son’. It also conjures up a variety of feelings, most of which, amongst Scots at least, range from anger and resentment to angst and recrimination. The cause of all that anguish is, of course, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, a.k.a. ‘Longshanks’, formally Edward Plantagenet, His Highness King Edward I of England. Quite frankly, Edward was a bucking fastard and a thief. Apart from stealing the ‘Stone of Scone’, he also stole Scotland’s self-respect. Ultimately, he got his comeuppance, but only by proxy as his son and grandson were to suffer defeats by the self-determining and self-respect-regaining Scots under Robert the Bruce. But even that wasn’t to last. Like a lot of things, it’s a cyclic process; it just depends on the radius.
The background scenario to the first so-called ‘Ragman’s Roll’ was the indeterminate situation prevailing in Scotland after the death of Alexander III. The Scottish King left no direct heir when he died in 1286; certainly no male heir in direct succession. He did have a wee granddaughter who was the offspring of his daughter Margaret and King Erik II of Norway, also called Margaret, but more often referred to as the ‘Maid of Norway’ in view of her tender years; she was three. His daughter wasn’t in line for the Throne, which would have meant Erik becoming at least, King Consort of Scotland, because she had died giving birth to wee Maggie. After Alexander’s death, Scotland’s Nobility gathered in Scone and prepared to welcome their infant Queen with pledges of loyalty. They formed a six-man Guardianship to rule on her behalf , but significantly, the composition of the Guardians excluded two men. Those were Robert Bruce, the 6th Lord of Annandale, and John Balliol; both men who would be King; both descendants of the grandson of David I. After the death of David I, the Crown passed in turn to two of his grandsons. He had a third grandson, David, the 8th Earl of Huntingdon, but he never got a sniff at the Throne, because his elder brother, William, had a ready-made heir. Bruce and Balliol were descendants of the 8th Earl of Huntingdon and as such, were a long way from becoming King – unless something was to happen.
One event that happened pretty soon was that Edward I of England, who was the brother in law of Alexander II, decided it’d be a good idea if his son was betrothed to the ‘Maid of Norway. With many a precedent in terms of Scottish Kings having English Queens, maybe there weren’t too many alarm bells ringing. But, think about it, if Edward, Prince of Wales married Margaret Eriksdotter, he’d be effectively King of Scots – and one day King of England. What a nice peaceful little coup that was going to be – and it was ratified in 1290 by the Treaty of Birgham. So, in 1291, young Maggie was duly despatched in a ship from Norway, but tragedy struck when the bairn fell sick and the puir wee thing died in Orkney during the voyage.
The aforementioned Bruce and Balliol, plus another eleven assorted Scottish Nobles, immediately threw their hats into the ring and declared their various claims to be King of Scots. Complicated disnae do it justice and there was no sign of an easy solution or compromise, until ‘Uncle’ Edward ‘volunteered to help them decide. A great conference was held at Norham on Tweed in May/June, 1291, at which the canny Edward (who said Scots were canny; maybe we learned it then?) insisted on all the Nobles signing an oath of loyalty to him and handing over control of their lands and titles. The idea being that the decision was to be based on a line of succession, uninfluenced by title and status, and that Edward would redistribute those once the matter was resolved. The document signed by most of the Noblemen at that meeting in Norham is called the first of the ‘Ragman Rolls’. Back in November, 1291, Edward found in favour of Balliol, who then paid homage to the English King, whereupon the smiling, smirking Edward promptly reneged on all pledges, promises and treaties made during the intervening period – the Interregnum – when Scotland was sans Monarch. Scotland was under English rule.
These days, the term ‘Ragman Rolls’ is applied to the collection of ‘instruments’ by which the Nobles of Scotland subscribed allegiance to Edward I of England, during the time between the ‘Conference of Norham’ and the final award in favor of Baliol, and a similar collection, which occurred during the summer of 1296, after the 1st Battle of Dunbar, and at the ‘parliament’ of Berwick on the 28th of August, 1296. It is commonly stated that two thousand of the Nobles of Scotland applied their seals to the ‘Ragman Roll’ in Berwick in 1296. However, it is likely that many of the seals were collected during the course of Edward’s ‘Progress’ through Scotland during that summer, when he demanded various acts of homage and fealty from the great and the good. For example, between the 15th and the 19th of July in Aberdeenshire, Edward I received homage from a succession of Nobles and Clergy, including Sir Norman de Lesselyn (Leslie), Sir Alexander Lamberton, Sir Gilbert de la Haye, Sir Hugh de la Haye, Sir William Innes, and Henry, Bishop of Aberdeen. Leslie, however, was summoned to appear at Berwick.
The 1296 ‘Ragman Roll’ remains a valuable statistical document concerning Scotland. It was originally four great rolls, comprised of thirty-five pieces of parchment sewn together and upon which were affixed the seals of the two thousand Nobles and Clergy who paid homage and fealty to Edward I. There are lots of complex theories about how the ‘Roll’ got its name, but my simple offering is as follows: (i) this document got its name, because the various wax seals and banners (or ribbons) of its signatories made it look like several dozen rags were hanging off the parchment or: (ii) the other reasonable idea is that it was a derogatory name derived from either ‘ragmenni’ or ‘ragr’, words of Icelandic origin, which mean respectively, ‘a craven person’ or ‘cowardly’. On the basis that Balliol became known as the ‘Toom Tabbard’, surely a similar mocking, self-deprecatory nomenclature would have been applied by contemporaries to that tragic act of mass abdication in Berwick.
A long time later as a consequence of the 1328 Treaty of Northampton, the 1296 ‘Ragman Roll’ was returned to Scotland. That original has long since perished, but records of both ‘Ragman Rolls’ are preserved in the Records Office in London. There are some famous names recorded on both of those lists if you want to check it out, including Sir Thomas de Coleuill (Coleuile), del Counte de Dunfres as he was styled.