Logo: small map of Scotland
Link to Scottish Biography Index








Arbroath Abbey
Arbroath Abbey

William I (a.k.a. William the Lion and, in Gaelic, Uilliam Garm or William the Rough) lived from 1143 to 4 December 1214 and was King of Scotland from 9 December 1165 to 4 December 1214. His reign was the longest by any Scottish Monarch before the Union of the Crowns in 1603. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

He was the grandson of David I and younger brother to his predecessor, Malcolm IV. William was a striking contrast to his frail brother, proving to be a strong king whose reign was undermined only by a fixation on regaining control of Northumberland from the English.

Arbroath Abbey at its Height
Arbroath Abbey at its Height

In 1166 William went to Normandy with Henry II of England, and in 1170 he spent Easter at Windsor as a guest of the English King. In the early years of his reign he also, however, showed his suspicion of Henry's intentions by entering into what has since become known as The Auld Alliance, a mutual defence agreement between Scotland, France and Norway.

This came to a head when in 1173 three of Henry II's sons, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, led a revolt against him. In return for a promise Scotland could have Northumberland, William I intervened on behalf of the rebels. In an engagement with English troops, William became separated and was captured at the Second Battle of Alnwick. He was taken as a prisoner to Henry in Northampton, then to Falaise in Normandy. Meanwhile, an English army occupied key parts of Scotland.

In order to obtain his freedom William signed the Treaty of Falaise on 8 December 1174. Under the treaty the Scots were taxed to pay the costs of the occupying English army and the English were to retain control of key Scottish castles like Stirling and Edinburgh. The treaty also stipulated that William acknowledge Henry II of England as his feudal superior. As a result, in 1186 Henry arranged for William to be married to Ermengarde de Beaumont, a granddaughter of King Henry I of England. Her dowry was Edinburgh Castle.

In 1189 Henry II was succeeded by Richard I. In order to finance the third Crusade, Richard sold England's rights under the Treaty of Falaise back to William I for the sum of 10,000 marks (a mark was an accounting unit roughly equal to two-thirds of an English pound or one-and-a-half Scottish pounds) under the Quitclaim of Canterbury.

In 1197 William became the first King of Scotland to gain real (as opposed to nominal) control over Caithness. During his rule he established many royal burghs in eastern Scotland up to the Moray Firth, and extended the use of sheriffs in the same area. Perth and Stirling became major centres of royal administration.

William was also known for his support for the Scottish Church. In 1178 William I founded a monastery at Arbroath for a group of Tironesian monks previously resident at Kelso. He also bestowed considerable lands and great wealth on the Abbey. In 1182 Pope Lucius III bestowed in him the great papal honour, a Golden Rose. In 1188 Pope Clement III gave his personal protection to the Scottish Church. And in 1192, the Pope issued a Bull that recognised the independence of the Scottish Church (previously under the authority of the Archbishop of York) reporting directly to Rome.

William died on 4 December 1214 in Stirling at the age of 71. His son and successor, Alexander II helped carry his body to its place of burial in front of the high altar in the still only partially completed Abbey Church at Arbroath.

Top of Page Top of Page