Page:Robert the Bruce and the struggle for Scottish independence - 1909.djvu/80

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Robert the Bruce.

[1286 A.D.-

There was no scarcity of claimants to the throne. Fordun's account of what ensued during the winter of 1290-91 is probably near the truth:

"The nobles of the kingdom, with its Guardians, oftentimes discussed among themselves the question who should be made their king; but they did not make bold to utter what they felt about the right of succession, partly because it was a hard and knotty matter; partly because different people felt differently about those rights, and wavered a good deal; partly because they justly feared the power of the parties, which was great, and partly because they had no superior who could, by his unbending power, carry their award into execution or make parties abide by their decision."

In short, the military and political weight of the chief claimants was so nearly balanced that any decision which might have been made would have been the signal for civil war. Matters had arrived at an impasse, and any attempt to solve it would have caused a conflagration. Under these circumstances, it is fair to enquire whether Bishop Fraser has merited the obloquy which has been heaped on his memory because of his letter to King Edward.

It has been mentioned above that dissensions had arisen early among the four surviving Guardians of the realm. The supreme authority seems to have passed into the hands of two of them, the Bishop of St. Andrews acting for the north, and John Comyn acting for the south. On the death of the Maid of Norway, the policy of the faction which these two Guardians represented was to elevate John de Balliol to the throne, on the understanding that the suzerainty of England should be acknowledged. The Bishop's allusion in his letter to "the faithful men