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William I of Scotland and Henry the Young King

4 December 1214 marked the end of a long and eventful reign. King William I of Scotland died, having ruled forty-nine years and was succeeded by his only legitimate son, Alexander. William, also known as the Lion, was one of the most vivid figures of the twelfth-century Britain. He is best remembered for being the one-time ally of Henry the Young King. But how did the Scottish king ever get involved in a project known to posterity as the Great Revolt of 1173-74, the project that proved so disastrous for him and his countrymen? It seems that in this particular case the king of the Scots had a very real grievance.

                      William I the Lion of Scotland (sixth from the left)

Inauspicious beginnings

William (b.1143) was the second son of Henry Earl of Huntingdon and Ada de Warenne. After his father died in 1152 the boy was invested as an Earl of Northumberland by his grandfather, king David I. David held the earldom through his wife Matilda de Senlis, Countess of Northampton-Huntingdon [their marriage had been arranged by David’s brother-in-law, Henry I of England]and had it confirmed in a formal charter. In 1149 he was promised by Henry fitz Empress [future Henry II] that “all the land north of Necastle and the Tyne should belong to the kings of Scotland for ever”. As the time showed, Henry did not intend to keep his word. On David’s death in 1153 and Henry II’s accession to the throne of England a year later the balance of power shifted dramatically in the latter’s favour. David was succeeded by his eldest grandson, Malcolm, at the time still a minor. In 1157 Henry II arranged a meeting with the Scottish king at Chester and demanded the return of Northumberland. Sixteen-year-old Malcolm’s position was a weak one and he had no other choice but to give way and pay homage to Henry thus becoming the English king’s vassal. He also surrendered his grandfather’s lands and was restored the earldom of Huntingdon in return. This is how William lost Northumberland. As it turned out he never came to terms with the loss and regaining what he thought was rightfully his became his life ambition “bordering on with obsession”. On Malcolm’s death in 1165, twenty-two-year-old William succeeded the throne. Soon afterwards, in 1166, he met with Henry II at Genest near Le Mont-Saint-Michel and requested restoration of Northumberland, but in vain. Two years later he tried again, this time seeking help of the French king. If this very act was meant as provocation, it worked. The king of England was enraged, the Anglo-Scottish relations damaged, and William listed among Henry’s enemies.

Unfortunate alliance

The Anglo-Scottish relations improved in 1170 when William accepted Henry’s invitation to spend Easter with him at Winchester. Together with his younger brother, David of Huntingdon, William took part in the coronation of Henry’s eldest son on 14 June 1170, and a day later paid homage to the Young King, “forming the personal bond that proved his undoing”. William and the Young King first met in 1159 at Poitiers, where the four-year-old princeling was staying with his mother, queen Eleanor for the time of Henry II’s Toulouse expedition. William accompanied his brother Malcolm, who was performing a vassal’s duties to the king of England, and they both set off south from Poitiers together with the greatest army that Henry ever mustered. They were knighted in the course of the campaign- nineteen-year-old Malcolm by Henry and seventeen-year-old William by Malcolm- on 30 June at Perigueux. The next meeting might have occurred in 1163, when Malcolm was summoned to England. In the opening days of July ‘Malcolm king of Scotland, Rhys prince of the southern Welsh, Owen prince of the northern Welsh and all noblemen of Wales paid homage to the king of England, and to Henry his son, at Woodstock’ as Ralph of Diceto noted in his Images of History. There is no mention of William, but he might have accompanied his brother south on the occasion. When William and the Young King next met, William had been king of Scotland for five years. He was invited by Henry II to take part in the Young King’s coronation at Westminster, and paid homage to the newly crowned king a day later. Thus how the king of the Scots became the Young King’s vassal. Three years later young Henry sent his envoys to Scotland asking for William’s aid in the rebellion against his father. William agreed, and no wonder for he was promised Northumberland in return. Jordan Fantosme*, the author of the metrical chronicle describing the Great Revolt on English soil and, if we are to believe him, the eyewitness of the key events, quotes Henry the Young King’s letter to William:
To the King of Scotland, William, the best,
To whom our lineage was formerly ancestor.
The king Henry the young sends you by love,
You must remember me who am your lord.
It seems to me very marvelous, and I have fear in the heart,
Of so rich a king, of a man of thy valour,
Who has such strength of people and such vigour in himself,
That you will not help me in war, if you like, at first,
To war against my father, thou and thy counts.
I will give thee the land which thy ancestors had,
Thou never hadst from a king so great an estate in land,
The land beyond Tyne, under the heavens I do not know a better,
Toy shall have the lordship in castle and in tower;
We will give you Carlisle, that you may be stronger,
All Westmoreland without any contradiction,
That you will help me with strength and readiness
Drive away those who hold these lands.
William was Henry’s chief ally and linchpin of the uprising on English soil. With Henry the Young King and Louis VII of France busily occupied on the Continent, it was William who invaded the north of England, first in 1173 and again in early spring of 1174. Ill-prepared and lacking siege-engines he made little progress and was forced to withdraw to Scotland. He tried again in June 1174. With the cream of Scottish aristocracy and his ‘Galwegians … light-armed, agile men, easily recognized by their bold heads, who carried a knife at their left sides, enough to frighten any soldiers, and who were skilled at hurling spears long distances’, William began devastating England. He met with spirited resistance and was caught unaware outside the walls of Alnwick Castle on 13 July 1174. Later the chroniclers claimed that William’s capture was the result of St Thomas Becket’s intervention for on the very morning when the English contignent under Ranulf Glanville emerged out of the mist before Alnwick to take William by surprise, three hundred miles to the south Henry was hearing mass before Becket’s tomb at Canterbury. William must have believed in this himself since “in honour of the saint, and no doubt to placate this holy defender of England’s borders” he founded the great abbey of Arbroath in late 1178. Throughout his reign he kept endowing it with wide lands and revenues from his own estates. In the aftermath of Alnwick, William, with his legs shackled beneath the belly of his horse,  was taken to Newcastle, and then sent to Normandy. He was kept prisoner at Falaise. Henry the Young King was full aware of the fact that with the capture of his chief ally the rebellion on English soil had been doomed to failure. Soon afterwards the rebellion on the Continent was over as well. To gain his release, William had no other choice but accept the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Falaise. The settlement with Henry II proved harsh. William was released on 8 December 1174, having promised to do homage for Scotland to Henry, give his brother David as a hostage and surrender the five main castles of Scotland: Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Roxburgh, Stirling and Berwick. “The Scottish Church was to be subject to the jurisdiction of that of England” and William’s nobles and clergy were to make their personal submissions to Henry. The king of England made it clear that he considered the question of Northumberland definitely closed. The treaty was confirmed on 10 August 1175 at York in a great ceremony. It was then when William and the Young King met again, both of them humiliated and downhearted. The former forced to ‘publicly performed homage and fealty to Henry II explicitly for his kingdom as well as his estates in England’, the latter involuntarily accompanying his father in his travels around England, reduced again to what he must have considered “house arrest”. Henry and William met again at Northampton, where Henry and his father held a great council on 26 January 1176. William attended the council accompanied by several Scottish bishops. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York were present, too. The meeting ended with a quarrel about subjection of the Scottish bishops -whether to York or Canterbury -  and appeal to the pope.

 The last meeting

Henry the Young King and William I, king of Scotland met for the last time probably on 27 April, 1181, taking part in a conference at Gue St Remy. Ralph of Diceto provides us with the information of the participants:

Four kings, so they say, came together in one battle and- what is more remarkable- four kings came peacefully to a conference and left in on good terms. Philip, the king of France, Henry, the king of England, Henry, the son of the king of England, and William, the king of Scotland, came to take council together and parted peacefully.
What was said and left unsaid between William and young Henry on the occasion? Were they given a chance for private conversation? Or the old king never let them out of sight? Did William bear a grudge against the Young King for his shattered dreams of regaining Northumberland? I am afraid we will never know. The chroniclers kept silent when it came to “the personal”.
Two years later the Young King was dead and William had to wait six more years for Henry II’s passing and Richard I’s accession to the throne to find his dreams of the restoration of his grandfather’s lands awoken again.

*Jordan Fantosme or Master Jordan Fantasmus, probably of Poitevan connections, was a renowned clerk in the bishop of Winchester’s household, poet and diplomat tied- by the evidence of his work- to the North of England and the Scottish royal court, especially to William the Lion’s younger brother, David, Earl of Huntingdon, whom he greatly praised, not to say idealized in his Chronicle. Fantosme’s work remains a trustworthy source of the events of 1173-74, especially the capture of king William before the walls of Alnwick on 13 July 1174.


Chronicle of the War Between the English and the Scots in 1173 and 1174 by Jordan Fantosme translated into English by Francisque Michel, Internet Archive of the Open Library
The Kings and Queens of Scotland by Richard Oram. Tempus, 2006.
The New Historians of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance by Peter Damian-Grint. Google Books
Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles  Ed. by Dr.Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Editions, 2002.
The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.
Henry Plantagenet by Richard Barber. The Boydell Press, 2001.


  1. Hi Kasia,

    I have recently discovered your blog, and am still catching up on all your posts. I found this one absolutely fascinating, particularly the promises made to William by Henry the Young King with respect to Northumberland, Carlisle and Westmoreland. I wonder if the repercussions of that promise were still affecting judgements a hundred years or more in the future.

    This was a lovely article, and I look forward to the next ones.

  2. Thank you, Jerry! I'm honoured and really glad you liked the article, especially that I have found David I of Scotland and his grandsons, Malcolm IV and William I most fascinating figures. I am going to write more about Plantagenet- Scottish relations in the future, on due occasions. I really appreciate your comment. Thank you for paying a visit to our Lesser Land.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, Louise! I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

  4. The photo of William I at the top of your post is amazing! Where is it from?

    1. I believe it's from the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

    2. Yes it is. Sorry, I read Stephanie's comment in a hurry and forgot to reply. It is a part of a frieze which goes round the Main Hall of the Gallery below the first-floor balustrade. It was created by the artist William Hole in 1898 and depicts 155 men and women deemed in the late 19th century as the greatest in Scottish history.


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