AS we have seen in recent weeks, the early history of Glasgow was very much a tale of bishops and clergy as the Christian settlement founded by St Kentigern developed into a small town centred on the Cathedral, the centre of Glasgow diocese.

It’s not surprising that bishops feature so prominently in that early history – it was either the bishops themselves or their acolytes who wrote the history in terms of charters and records which the church preserved.

Last week we saw how Bishop Robert Wishart came to national prominence as one of the six Guardians of Scotland after the death of King Alexander III in 1286. Alexander’s rule had been good for Scotland and Glasgow which thrived at the time – the first timber bridge over the River Clyde may well date to the 1280s.

Having been consecrated Bishop of Glasgow in 1273, Wishart was keenly aware that the independence of the Scottish church was constantly under threat from English archbishops, notably those of York, who wanted all the Scottish dioceses answerable to them.

There were constant letters to and from Rome as the Scottish bishops sought to defend Scotland as answerable only to the pope, and to be fair, most popes of that era agreed with them and warned off the predatory English clergy.

It was first of all to defend the Scottish church from English takeover that Wishart became what he is known to history – the Warrior Bishop. He fought for his bishopric, he fought for his Scottish church and eventually he fought for Scotland, and as we shall see next week, he paid a heavy price for doing so.

First of all, however, he tried diplomacy and tact, including his role as negotiator when the two greatest Scottish houses of nobility, Balliol and Bruce, vied to take the Scottish throne.

From 1286, the six Guardians ruled Scotland in place of the infant and uncrowned queen, Margaret, Maid of Norway, and in 1289 and 1290 Bishop Wishart was one of the Guardians who negotiated the Treaty of Birgham, otherwise known as the Treaty of Salisbury, which planned for Margaret to marry Edward, son of Edward I of England and the future loser of the battle of Bannockburn. The marriage was part of Longshanks’s plan to bring the two kingdoms under control of his family, albeit that the treaty guaranteed the independence of Scotland and the Scottish church as demanded by Wishart.

Margaret died in September, 1290, even as she was travelling to the land she was destined never to visit, never mind reign over – she died in Orkney which was then a Norwegian possession.

Now there was greater urgency for the settlement of the Great Cause, the dispute over who had the best claim to the Scottish throne, which was basically a contest between the House of Balliol and the House of Bruce.

In a desperate attempt to avoid civil war, the Guardians asked Edward Longshanks to preside over the process, and in doing so he asserted his overlordship of Scotland by appointing 104 auditors to decide who should be King of Scots, though John Balliol and Robert the Bruce’s father nominated their own auditors to the panel. Longshanks summoned the nobility of Scotland to a meeting at Norham-on-Tweed in May 1291, and there he insisted that the nobles sign the first of what became known as the “Ragman Rolls”, the four records of those who at various times acknowledged Edward as

their overlord.

Edward gave a bombastic speech asserting his rights as he saw them and at least two chroniclers insist that Bishop Wishart replied on behalf of the community of the realm. I prefer the Scotichronicon version as translated by Spottiswoode: “But where it pleased the King to speak of a right of supremacy over the Kingdom of Scotland, it was sufficiently known that Scotland from the first foundation of the State had been a free and independent kingdom, and not subject to any other power whatsoever. Howbeit, the present occasion hath bred some distinction of minds, all true-hearted Scots will stand for the liberty of their country to the death, for they esteem their liberty more precious than their lives, and in that quarrel will neither separate nor divide.”

The chronicle of Andrew of Wyntoun was written almost a century after the event and has a poetic licence about the speech:

Excellend Prynce (he sayd), and Kyng,

the ask ws ane unleffull thyng,

That is supery oryte;

We ken rycht noucht, quhat that suld be;

That is to say, off our kynryk,

The quhilk is in all fredome lik

Till ony rewme, that is mast fre,

In till all Crystyanyte,

Wndyr the sown is na kyngdome,

Than is Scotland, in mare fredome.

Off Scotland oure Kyng held evyr his state

Off God hym-selff immedyate,

And off nane othir mene persowne.

Thare is nane dedlyke king with crowne,

That ourlard till oure Kyng suld be

In till superyoryte.”

That the speech was recorded at all shows that Wishart was de facto leader of Scotland at that point. He had made a mortal enemy in Longshanks, however, and would pay dearly for it.

The Bishop of Glasgow was not afraid to let the English king know that whoever became king, he would serve the new monarch and when Edward decided on

the advice of his Scottish auditors that John Balliol and not Robert the Bruce’s father had the best claim, it was Wishart who supported Balliol, even after the new king swore an oath of fealty to Edward – the action that gained him the nickname Toom Tabard, or empty shirt. Wishart appears to have become Balliol’s chief advisor, and he was instrumental in persuading Balliol to stand up to Edward, rejecting Longshanks’s demands that the Scots join him in a war against France in 1294.

By the following year, the Scottish nobility had suffered enough of Balliol and effectively deposed him temporarily, appointing a Council of Twelve in July, 1295. Wishart was to the fore in all the machinations of the time, not least with the Auld Alliance treaty signed with France’s King Philip IV in October, 1295 – it was originally called the Treaty of Paris but with each subsequent renewal the name Auld Alliance stuck. We know all this because Edward Longshanks said so in a later letter of complaint to the Pope: “Bishop Wishart, without hesitation or compunction, aided and abetted the new king in all his treasons. It was the bishop who instigated Balliol to ally himself with the King of France, to which alliance the bishop affixed his seal.”

But in 1296 Edward was about to become the Hammer of the Scots and Wishart was one of many who rose in armed defiance of Longshanks. Next week we’ll see how that defiance brought war to the streets of Glasgow.